20.11.10

when in university...

a few thoughts during the days at the university as non-student and non-teacher.  it's a weird place to be a simple worker. as far as i am concerned, as skilled my work may be, for the social ranking, a casual employee falls somewhere between the regular employee (like the caretakers and office admins) and graduate assistants (as they are never in an objective position. thorny cushion really).  so you may be curious, how does monkey see the school social structure?  well, before i put it out there, i have to clarify that unlike the universities of the medieval period, the post-modern institution is... well, an institution.

what is a university?  well, the word comes from the latin word universitas.  along with growth of towns, which made congregation of specialists and wanna-be-specialists possible, associations of various natures, much like guilds for tradesmen, came to existence.  the difference between the pre-medieval and medieval universities? one may now get a diploma.  the earliest famous university is university of bologna, where one of  my favorite author, umberto eco, still teaches. awesome.  university became a shorten expression for: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, a community of teachers and scholars.  and yes, academic freedom was one of the very first thoughts that came into series of priorities.  hence, let's just call the initial model of a university as a place to learn and exercise academic freedom and... there was no tuition!  like current military academies, ex. west point, someone else paid for your university (usually by the church).

what do i see as the university now? well, we see it as a necessity (as if you would die if you dont advance from university from high school) for a normal life (ie. financial median earning power).  tuition is high and often an undergrad degree is never enough, for the actual position you may want to eventually get to.  so, an extended form of a high school, really.  what about that distinction on paper- diploma? well, it's fairly easy to obtain:

1. apply to universities, get accepted
2. find a mean to pay for it
3. do not fail classes. file right paper works
4. with enough time, you get a paper
5. youve graduated!

and let me just add that... being in univ education usually can guarantee some outcomes. no, coming out better educated is not one of them. but, yes, being poorer is almost guaranteed!

well, when one started to charge for the rights to education, as it costs the society to run such institution, one would think that we would exercise our consumer power, as we often do. we complain about our coffees too hot. too cold.  we complain about fast foods that it's unhealthy and should not be sold to us.  we complain the cheap product that we bought broke down. we even buy clothing, wear and bring it back.  and tuition isnt a small spending.  unless you are bright (or live in uk, as i am told, where they often do degrees within three years), most likely you will take four years to complete a bachelor's degree.  well, bachelor's degree takes about 127-132 hours of college credits, it now takes a good 4.5 years on average.

instead, in universities, these young adults often look themselves with pride, forgetting the very words they use to describe selves.  the whole idea of bachelor's degree stems from the word baccalaureatus, which comes from baccalaureus, an advanced student.  so really, it just means you have advanced as a student.  what is a good student? since we are borrowing from the old times, let's see what student means...

etymology would describe that the english word student came in 14th century, from french, estudient, one who is studying, from the latin word studium- to study.  so what is to study?  well, here's something from online etymology:
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=study

study (v): early 12c., from estudier: to study,
from studiare, from latin studium: study, application,
originally: eagerness, from studere: to be diligent (pushing forward)
from (s)teu- to push, stick, knock, beat.
noun means: application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge.

damn. it's a verb. did you see that?

a student then is a simple noun form of a verb, someone who studies, who pushes, who is diligent in pursuit of knowledge.  dont even get me started on the word learn.  all i would say is 'learn' is a... verb.  again.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=learn&searchmode=none

learn (v): leornian: to get knowledge, be cultivated
german lernen: to learn, or lais: ' i know'
with precontext:
to follow or find the track.

university is a noun. but everything else in there involves verbs.  is it a coincidence? no. i dont think so. but because it involves life's normality such as tuition, pay cheques, tenuer process (which i think is mentally retarded concept), distinction between the job categories (ie. not all your 'profs' are professors.  especially in music school, i bet most of them are instructors/adjuncts/tutors, who gets paid... well, slightly better than bank tellers), workloads, territories- physical and mental/conceptual, often it is easy to lose the very sight of things.

with couple good friends who have sat in all-around-academic chairs (with ten years spent at universities, i know that these people are also rather versed in the art of deciphering the mysterious academic fog regarding the 'respectable' university lingos), we often exchange thoughts that just steams up our heads. just to make sure that one have not completely lost it and became insane.  you know what they say, if it's just you, you are insane. if there's a good group, it's a trend! hahaha.  and recent talks have brought old thoughts back into life. and here i am, a lowly casual employee, trying to make a few interesting points.  if it offends you, please remember, it's just a musing. from a monkey. hey, im somewhere below regular univ. non-academic employees.

and before it all happens, let's see how i see the social ranking of the universities:
1. students who pay (your tuition fuels the place)

2. teachers (they are respected- supposedly, for their knowledge):
tenure-track will include:
- distinguished/endowed chair (kingpins, like being canadian senate)
- full professorship (senior, tenured, safe for life)
- associate professorship (mid-level, usually tenured)
- assistant professor (entry smallfry, yet to be tenured)
non-tenure track:
- research prof (no teaching, just working, salaries are NOT from tuition but from external)
- adjunct instructors/lecturer/associates (paid for hours they 'work')
- full time instructors (non-tenured full time teachers)

3. non-academic full time employees (without office, it'll never run)
(oh wait, with office, it barely runs... you didnt hear it from me though)

4. casual employees (we come and go)

5. graduate assistants (ooooh.... there'll be light someday)

you see, most university takes undergrads because they want to be there and the institutions can charge them tuition, in my opinion.  that tuition, with external fundings- private or public, like taxes, fuels the institution. yes, most of the undergrads are... consumers! you arent there because it's for free and yes, your teachers and staffs are... service providers.  and no, they are not doing charity work.

so why so passive when it comes to getting your money's worth as a student?
5k is no biggie for you?
lucky you. haha.

however, remember that what i would call an 'old institution mentality' carved in ivory would like to convince you that the social ranking should be reversed on top....

1. teachers ('we are empowering you. giving you our precious time')
2. paying students (since you pay, we have to keep you content)
3. staff
4. grad students as GTAs (get outta there, mate)

so what are the thoughts that monkey have leaking from ears? well.

1. get your money's worth: you need a service? perhaps you arent the only one who needs that service or facility. ask for it. ask until it's given to you. it'll never be given to you unless... admin had spare time (which they never do), or well, it'll never be given to you. speak up. be a noisy consumer. dont tell me your 5k isnt as important as a bloody mcdonald coffee.

2. realize you are there to learn. it means you would go do shit.  ya, like obtaining skills of- well, teaching yourself how to learn. that's what your teachers are for.  it's simpler to tell one how to interpret or physically execute a musical passage (since we are in music school) than teach you how to practice. so rarely they'll volunteer that information. but think what you may need to do once you graduate. do you wanna hire a teacher all your life? you must be rich or in dire need of companionship.  get down to business and see what you are and what your doing.

3. look at the very words you use so often: 'practice.'  one of the things that makes me laugh is what i call a 'hopeful' practice. it's funny because we all do/did it. and boy it is... silly. you start from the top of the piece, play till you get stuck. now, repeat the passage over and over again. when succeeds after million tries, proceed to the next part. wait. ooh. youve just lowered your chance of playing it right even more by practicing.  if the odd was 1:10 (right to wrong execution), now it's at least 2:20.
if something isnt happening, wait. pause. think. why is it not happening? learn to dissect the problem. you dont know how? well, that's what your profs are getting paid for. that should be a lesson.

4. remember that bachelor's degree doesnt carry much anymore. you finished 4-5 years of univ. now what? how marketable are you? what do you know how to do?  to practice 10 hours a day for a recital program a year means... well, may be you have 5 hours of music.  that's 5 hours. what are you going to do for rest of your life with that?  make sure those 5 hours are only an illustration of your obtained skill, rather than the sole product of your young life.  true, it's not always about money, but when they send you the first repayment form, i bet you would wish you have money. we all do.

5. teachers have lives too. as much as you are proud to study with them, they are their own person before anything else. if they are busy and swamped with students, well, remember, he/she may remember your needs as much as you would.  take notes. write it down. inquire.  they wont be able to encompass the all-you, they are busy. instead, give them some tangible things they could do for you.  simple admiration is something you do as a teenager with picture of the teenage vampire heroes.

6.why are you there? who are you?
before you commit further into academia, try to see why you are really there. being in school (a passive state) does not make you learned (as learn is an active verb. it's not a bloody noun).  being in school means that you couldve been somewhere different. possibly more fun.  so make it worthwhile. if it's boring, determine why it is boring.  if the answer still is simple boredom, well, go do something else.  what did bachelor's degree did anyone anything?
nothing.

7. dont be wasteful.  dont waste your teacher's time with stupid things they cant help you with.  dont waste tax payers' money with failing a course you never studied for. though you pay, there are other people's money invested. for OUR future. so stop being a baby.  so you pay while you are there. someone else had to pay in some form for the building to exist, the profs to be educated, you to be educated enough to get there, the subject to exist in academic disciplines, etc etc. it's not all just you. so stop taking advantage of things. be honest.  be efficient.

anyways, am sure there'll be more things from monkey head in same vein for a bit longer as i am working at the univ.  sometimes things i see makes me really question sanity of the general population. but then, im nobody. im just me. and that's enough for me to think and make statements of my own context: in this time, university.  if you want, do pick up a fight with me for insulting the ivory tower. go ahead. but before that, make sure that you feel as if you got your bang-for-buck from the ivory tower you love so much.  before you confess your admiration for your teacher, while respecting, try to think what is it that he/she actually have contributed for you and what you have contributed back.  they arent replaceable batteries. they need recharge. give something back.  actually go learn from them. what a concept.

and now to bed. love to you all. mad phd casual employee monkey's all ready for sleep. mmmm. sleep. im a simple person. as long as i dont have to do the things i hate, it's a good day. hope yours was as good.

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