The Quux Conundrum

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So back before I was even haploid, there was the Vietnam War, and in order to avoid going to it and fighting an indigenous enemy with shoddy gear, many folks wanted to go to college. And colleges thus ended up expanding and covering a larger portion of the 18-22 portion of the population. (Note: this rant is NOT about Vietnam.)

And expand they did. The Partisan Review says enrollments went from 3.5 million to 12.5 million from 1960 to 1997. Faculty has swelled from 235,000 to 900,000. And since the sciences are not everyone's cup of tea, the arts and humanities departments did a lot of expanding. However, they expanded in a very Ponzi-esque manner.

Each field in the humanities must teach a number of students FOO who attend class merely for the sake of their own erudition (or degree..), a number of students BAR, who will work in a job related to the field and BAZ, who will be the next generation of professors in the field.

So for literature, we have FOO, who have English requirements to fill, BAR, composed of authors, critics, and high school English teachers, and BAZ, who teach the next set of FOO, BAR, and BAZ.

But the increased pressure in the late sixties and early seventies added QUUX, composed of students likely to regret their college choices, for no reason other than that there was money and bragging rights to be made this way. (No head of a faculty ever brags of shrinking a department's enrollments.)

And lo, in order to cover up the Quux Conundrum, many departments of the humanities decreased the number of hours a professor is meant to spend with students, and thus was born the teaching assistant. But the TA's, drawn forth from the ranks of the Quux, aspired to make the rank of Baz, and be professors. Pretty FOOBAR, no?

And so, to relieve the pressure, forthward came the communications major. In this manner it became de rigeur for such trades as the journalist's to come after a sojourn at college.

And that was bad enough.

But the bubble kept growing, and the Quux Conundrum grew more dire. And so it came to pass that academia would hit the rock bottom. Thus came "Film and Media Studies."

Every wee'un at some point aspires to be a Hollywood name, and academia moved to cash in. In earlier times an aspiring star would pack up, go to Hollywood, and either come back rich or call home crying after a few months. Now, it's 4 years of college, and then a try for it. That's just wrong. Being a starving artist is bad enough. Bad a starving indebted artist? This is why a 4 year college effort is not an appropriate as a prelude to a film career, a venture that is as dependent on the fickleness of the general public as the cinema.

Enter the next salvation of Academia: Web Design. It's fresh. It's flashy. It combines elements already under the firm control of acadamie, i.e. writing and graphic design. But the novelty of the medium puts it more in the hands of young independent punks than stodgy old professors.

So, what role should academia have in preparing people for carreers in Web design? As little as possible, I hope.

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Omri Schwarz, March 11, 2001