[Milton-L] Wittreich and Carol Barton

Richard Hardiman richard.hardiman at greyfriars.ox.ac.uk
Wed Apr 18 16:48:12 EDT 2007

As a final year undergraduate I'm unable to stop myself making a case for
the other side here.

I'm studying in the UK, forgive me if this is old ground for you - but
here's some background on the situation in this country:
There are four degree classes: 1st, 2.1, 2.2 and 3rd. A first is attainable
only by a combination of extremely hard work and a lot of luck - I know
plenty of people who 'should' have got this grade, but didn't for reasons
out of their control. Most get 2.1s, to the extent that it's rapidly
becoming the standard. If you get less than a 2.1, to be honest, you're
probably better off saying you didn't go to university.

Without a first (for funding applications), or bankrolling parents, getting
onto a graduate program (as I hope to do) is damn nigh impossible. Without a
2.1 getting any kind of graduate level job is damn nigh impossible. That's
fine, completely fair. But without a BA you pretty much condemn yourself to
a life of low-skilled, low-paying jobs, not going to university is simply
not an option. The government has done its level best to get EVERYONE to go
to university - and like all 'one-size fits all' solutions too many people
are being shoved into an expensive system they have no business or
inclination to be in. The system of fees has only just been introduced over
here, and it's not embedded in society yet by a long way. You could very
easily end up with a 2.2, no hope of a graduate salary, and £12000 of debt
without it being your own fault. While studying I've had more than one
lecture series pulled, without explanation, apology or reorganisation; I've
had individual tutorial sessions cancelled at the last moment - I've a
friend who had a tutor who consistantly turned up drunk to one on one
sessions. Added to that I've had the financial worries of coming from a low
income background with inadequate state support - I don't know if you've
ever lain awake worrying about the fact that at 21 your personal credit
rating is in the toilet, but I can assure you it's not nice.

Overall, my experience of university has been fantastic, I've had some
wonderful teachers, several of whom I see socially and have enjoyed
stretching my brain to (and often beyond) breaking point. But in the
instances cited above, and many more, I feel that I and my peers are let
down by the system, by society and by individuals who couldn't care less
about teaching anymore. In a reductive sense I feel like I've paid a lot of
money, come with a mind ready to learn, and been shafted. So yes, at those
moments I do feel like a consumer who has been compelled to buy a broken
product - and it makes me justifiably angry.

This is just my experience, but I've been reading a lot of comments here
which generalise about undergraduates as devil-may-care wastrels unaware of
the privilege they have had conferred on them by working with great minds.
It's too broad brush, it's too dismissive, and, quite frankly, it's beneath
the intellectual level of this group. If I made such brash assertions in an
essay I'd be shredded by any tutor worth their salt - and rightly so.

Finally, before I close my rant and resume revision, I've got to say that I
found the suggestion made yesterday, that the 'me-ist' culture of
undergraduates could account for the massacre at Virginia Tech appalling.
Cho Seung-hui was a troubled individual who did something beyond terrible;
to grab a tub and start thumping, less than twenty four hours after the
event, using senseless death to score political and social points is just
not on.

Thanks for reading, I hope I've not offended anyone.


On 4/18/07, Wittreich, Joseph <JWittreich at gc.cuny.edu> wrote:
> Christine,  Since you are so public, I should be too.  You are one of
> those students, your memo aside, whose imprint in there forever.  You are
> still amazing.  What you say of me is what I have always said, and comtinue
> to say, of John Shawcross, and what I know her own students feel about
> Barbara Lewalski. Thanks.  JW
> ________________________________
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of Christine Gray
> Sent: Tue 4/17/2007 5:53 PM
> To: 'John Milton Discussion List'
> Subject: [Milton-L] Wittreich and Carol Barton
> I know exactly what Carol means about attitudes towards professors in the
> past.
> As a graduate student, I had the extreme and unusual privilege not only of
> taking two courses taught by Joseph Wittreich but also of working for one
> year as his research assistant and spending a lot of time at the Folger
> for
> him.  He was my version of a movie star--only better: gracious, kind,
> generous, humorous, and, of course, erudite.
> I'm not especially familiar with attitudes at universities today; however,
> when I teach at Hopkins, I do witness that same admiration of/for
> Wittreichian professors.
> Back to lurking--Christine in Baltimore
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
> Sent: Monday, April 16, 2007 10:00 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] keep your pronoun to yourself, please
> I will say Carol Barton's description of past attitudes is probably an
> accurate description of specific environments as specific colleges and
> universities, but I don't know (literally -- I am ignorant) how
> accurate a description it is of the general college/university
> environment of the past.
> I will say it is still applicable today of graduate student attitudes
> in many institutions.  It's true of many student attitudes in my
> current grad institution (students go there to study under particular
> profs).  A new Ph.D. in her late 20s said to me two years ago  the
> same thing Carol Barton said on this list earlier today, particularly
> expressing surprise and disappointment at some undergraduate student
> attitudes she encountered her first year teaching.
> So I don't think Carol Barton's statement is that wide of the mark.
> My only disagreement would be that it's not limited to the good old
> days, but does still exist in grad students today, and in some seniors
> who have committed to a discipline.
> Jim R
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