I've been thinking about colleges a lot lately. My niece, who will be graduating from high school, has been accepted to five schools, and is about to undertake the intellectual labor of discerning among them which will be the best fit for her. My sister, her mother, called me to ask what I thought about where she should go. I have, of course, my opinions. (Just call me on the phone--I'll share them!) Talking to her reminded me of the weeks last fall, when I drove every day to the University because the historian was recovering from open heart surgery in the hospital there. Every day, I drove into the University, sometimes along Foothill and into Ft. Douglas, sometimes up First South past the Engineering Building and up North Campus Drive. Whatever way I went, I was reminded of what an enormous, busy place it was. How much happened there, how much work, how much research, how much learning.
David Kirby, poet who teaches at FSU, said, upon the occasion of his university choosing a new president (he said it on Facebook):
...a major university is a city-state, like Rome or Athens or Carthage. A major university has everything. It sets an example. It teaches people, and not just students, to do, to feel, to think. Knowledge of every kind flows like a river from a great university. And so do values such as respect for the earth, for others, for oneself. This only happens if thousands of people, from first-year students to Nobel Prize winners, are toiling away at every aspect of human activity, not just the ones you see on the surface.Kirby said this back in the fall, just before the surgery, so it was on my mind as I drove every day into the city-state that is our state's great university. Every day, I thought about the everything, or the almost everything, that lived and was nourished in that place. I teach at a smaller school with a different mission, but I feel and live and breathe the ways that the work we do there--all of us, from the people who care for the buildings and grounds to those who advise the students and register them for classes, to the students themselves with their hopes, their big hopes, and the teachers like me--how vital it feels, and on a good day, how irreplaceable.
I am thinking about all of this as I think about and try to comprehend what seems incomprehensible there in Arizona, and hope, really hope, that somehow we can do better, all of us. That this kind of failure can somehow be repaired.