A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, April 25, 2005

Aye carumba

I taught a graduate level course a few years back, and it was quite surprising to me how many graduate students not only couldn't write well, but could barely write at all. There were some great papers, and the majority of the students were engaged and thoughtful and wrote effectively if not spectacularly. But some of them... aye carumba! It made me wonder how these kids got into grad school in the first place.

Unfortunately, I think I know-- by comparison to some of the undergraduates at our universities, these guys look like rocket scientists. I had a question today while I was on reference desk that just stunned me. Guy has me come over to the computer he's working at and asks me what the message on the screen means. He's in the online registration web site, and he's trying to sign up for Psych 101. The message says, "This course has been taken previously and may not be repeated for credit." Or words very close to that effect. What do I say to that? "It means that since you already took that class, you can't take it again."

"Oh. Really?"

"Yes. You might try talking to the department to see if they can make an exception, but you're not going to be able to register online for that course."

"I can't register for it now? I want to take it again to get a better grade."

"No, you can try talking to the department, but unless they say it's okay, you can't take the course."

"Oh. Okay, thanks."

That's not word for word, but it's close. How'd this guy get into college in the first place? It makes you worry for the future of the country.
Alright Nick, no snark here.

I worked ref desk in the periodicals department at UW-Platteville's illustrious Karrmann Library. Periodicals, right? Magazines, you know?

In the Karrmann, they had segregated periodicals on a separate floor, so rather than using the numbering system, they just shelved them according to title. What is known as alphabetically to us librarian types.

Now, you should be aware that P-ville was home to a significant number of phys ed majors (as well as industrial tech - hey, I'm not picking on majors here, but... well, read on)

So one night I'm handling the periodicals desk, and a beefcake lookin guy (hence the crack at phys ed majors. I don't know for sure he was a phys ed major, but he looked like one.) comes up and says:


"Can I help you?' says I, unaware of how much brain twisting stupidity he was about to lay on me.

"Umm.. I'm looking for Time."

"Time the magazine? Current issue is upstairs. The rest are in the stacks" I say, vaguely waving toward the stacks in the latter half of the alphabet.


"...where what?" now I really don't get what he's asking.

"Where in the stacks are Time magazine."

"ummm... down there." I manage to say, pointing down the line of shelving, where the ends are titled using 4" letters, pretty clear to me even with my glasses, and say -N - O/P - Q/R-, and eventually getting to T. Recognition still isn't clicking on my friends face. "Under T." He looks down the row. At this point I don't know how much more information I can give that he'd find useful.

Finally I say, "The magazines are filed by title, Time is under T; the letters are on the ends..."

"Yah Ok Fine" he blurts out, and walks down to the stacks.

After that, I found that working drunk helped put me on a level footing.

On particularly cynical days, I like to believe he's still there, stuck in the neighboring aisle, confused by TV Guide.

Gotta remember Nick that the truly exceptional cases stick out in our minds. I've remembered that doofus for 22 years. The people who had their shit together didn't need my help, so I never really saw them. But I remember Time-Boy, and man, I really could use those brain-cycles now. But it's like having a song in your head, like Seasons In the Sun, and you can't get it out...
Two thoughts on this one. 1)Could part of this be happening because a university/college diploma is the new high school diploma? 2)Could this be happening because the place where you work (easy enough to find, I just googled your name with the word archivist attached) has a "we'll pretty much take anyone" attitude? I looked on your admissions website and it appears they blanketly take the top 50% of any graduating class. And, that doesn't include those who I presume they admit on a probationary status.

I also found this tidbit on a page from your university:
"By 2003 about 60% of the incoming students that were tested entered unprepared for college-level mathematics and 84% entered unprepared for college-level English."

Explains a lot, no? Yikes!
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