Anne Matthews
Anne Matthews
Bright College Years:  Inside the American Campus Today
ISBN: 0226510921
Bright College Years: Inside the American Campus Today
Ms. Matthews talked about her new book, Bright College Years: Inside the American Campus Today, published by Simon and Schuster. In the book, she attempts to answer some basic questions the public has about college campuses today such as what college is for and what is going on inside U.S. colleges and universities, including fraternity life, college administration and classroom teaching. She spent four years on one hundred campuses to research the book.
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TRANSCRIPT
Bright College Years: Inside the American Campus Today
Program Air Date: May 18, 1997

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Anne Matthews, author of "Bright College Years," Ron Powers writes a little note on the back of this book that you wrote that said, `She may never eat lunch in a faculty lounge again but Anne Matthews has earned an even better table in the pantheon of distinguished American illuminators.' Why did he say that about the faculty lounge?
Ms. ANNE MATTHEWS, AUTHOR, "BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS: INSIDE THE AMERICAN CAMPUS TODAY": Well, Ron's like me. He's lived in both worlds. He's been a journalist and he's also taught on campuses. And he knows that campuses don't like their secrets to be made public. It's--it's one reason I wrote about it, actually, because I have been born and raised on campuses, and the secrets of higher education, I think, ought to be better known. It's--you know, we can call it a consumer issue I suppose.
LAMB: Name one secret.
Ms. MATTHEWS: The fact that you can go four years as an undergraduate at many, many campuses and--famous ones as well as obscure ones--and never speak directly to a college professor, never have a conversation with a faculty member.
LAMB: Why is that?
Ms. MATTHEWS: The trend these days is to have campuses be cost efficient and often cost-efficiency means huge, huge, huge, huge lectures. At the University of Illinois, a--a kid's parents recently sued because the brochures said that they were going to get an intimate, caring education and their daughter was stuck in a--a lecture section of over 1,000 people. And they said, `You know, wait a minute.' And, unfortunately, campuses tend to take what the market will bear. And so if you can get away with teaching kids chemistry by the thousands, or American history by the thousands, that's what they tend to do.

The most vulnerable, I think, are the really large state universities. Michigan State and Illinois are both infamous for having enormous sections. And it's too bad because, you know, the Big Ten campuses, as a whole, I think, are some of the most interesting in--in the US educational system.
LAMB: Where did you start out, personally, with schools?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, I was born in Lafayette, Indiana. My father was a--a graduate student in psychology at Purdue and so I was almost literally born on a campus. My mother was a librarian at the--at--at the Purdue University library. And so I was--I was raised in labs and libraries and library stacks and I used to go around when I was six or seven years old with them to American Psychological Association meetings and they'd give me this stack of scientific handouts and I would go up and down the aisles passing them out. And then I--I learned to give hand signals as they delivered their papers, you know, `Slow,' `Faster,' and, you know, `Uh-oh, the guy from Stanford just fell asleep,' you know, `do something.'
LAMB: How many different campuses have you lived on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh, Purdue, as a child, and then we moved to the University of Wisconsin in the early 1960s, and my father joined the medical school there. And I was, essentially, raised on the UW campus. And when I was 21, I was graduated from Wisconsin and went off to Princeton for graduate school and ended up teaching there and running the writing program at Princeton, with various excursions to Middlebury and Edgewood College and Rutgers and, you know, guest stints at--at half a dozen more.
LAMB: Where are you now?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I'm at New York University. I'm in the graduate program. I teach history of journalism and graduate seminars in--in feature writing and literary journalism.
LAMB: What kind of a school is New York University?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's a very interesting school. It used to be--you know, it's--NYU, I think, is proof that there are second acts in American higher education. It used to be a commuter college, respectable but grimy. You know, it was called a subway school. Under President Jim Hester in the '60s it really started to take off. He did a wonderful job. And then Jay Oliva now has managed to make it very chic, very well-funded, slicked up the campus, made it a very hot school. There--fashions in schools come and go, and NYU is currently a--a hot school.
LAMB: Who owns it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's a private school.
LAMB: How big is it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Good question. They--they're trying to count, but it changes every--it's about 16,000 undergraduates and maybe about the same for graduate school. I--I spend all my time in the journalism building, so I don't get out much.
LAMB: Where did you get the title "Bright College Years"?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's the title of a song from the 19th century. It originated at Yale, but it was popular on campuses all over the country. And the first verse is: `Bright college years, with pleasure rife, the shortest, gladdest years of life.'
LAMB: "Inside the American Campus Today"--why do you think people want s--want to know that information?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, because campuses are heavily funded by the taxpayer. And I found as I went around on campuses and tried to gather the various stories that go into the book that professors and faculty and administrators were surprisingly anxious to share their vision of the world inside the walls with those that underwrite it. And, unfortunately, the average American college consumer is a very cautious consumer, trusts the campus enormously. We've always said--the campus has always said to us, `Trust us.' And for d--for centuries, we have, touchingly so. But i--these days, it seems that a few questions are in order for the world behind the--the beautiful recruiting videos, like: What's going on in there? What's a campus for? Is it supposed to make you rich or decent or wise or a member of the educated working poor? And the campus is not used to being questioned. It's very interesting. It's a--it's a public service institution with mixed feelings about the public.
LAMB: I think I remember your statistics on liberal arts education: $28,000 a year; $1,000 each school week; and $83 an hour, if I remember right.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Every time you skip a class--i--cutting class is getting more expensive than--than it used to be.
LAMB: What do they do with all that money?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, you know, people tend to think that if you pay tuition, you get a specific basket of services that mostly apply to you. And that's no longer the case. You pay tuition, and it goes to support an enormous, far-flung, complicated organism known as the campus. And campuses can take your money and they can, you know, act like a bank or an investment house and they can put it in--oh, Harvard put $10 million into House of Blues cafe chain, and they're doing leverage buyouts in the Caribbean and supporting experimental housing for the poor, and they're having transgender coordinators and wok stations in the cafeteria and hiring professors from other campuses.

And the campuses tries very hard to be all things to all people these days. And, increasingly, legislatures are saying, you know, `Can we underwrite this? You know, you guys are going to have to compete for money now with highways and prisons and health care.' And the campuses are saying, `Why don't you love us anymore?' It was always OK. For 350 years, the American campus has solved all its problems by adding more programs or more students or both. It's been a force-entry winning streak. And, suddenly, the public is not so enamored of its campus bargain, and the university often doesn't quite know what to say.
LAMB: When you went around to do your research, how many campuses did you go on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I spent four years, and I--I did about 400 campus interviews. I went to about 100 campuses.
LAMB: Was there any campus that wouldn't receive you and wouldn't talk about this?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, I just tended to sort of sidle on to campuses as a private citizen, and often I knew people on the faculty, and I'd go around with them or, you know, I'd ask my students, you know, `Do you know anybody at this school?' And very often, they'd have a friend of a friend who would take me around and let me into their world, whether it's a frat party or kids in the computer lab late at night. And for administrators, I would just call up and say, `May I follow you around? May I watch your day?' And one of the most fascinating campus visits I made was to the College of Charleston, which is one of those schools that never makes the top 10 lists and, you know, very few people outside the Southeast have heard of it. It's, in that respect, a very average American campus in that there's...
LAMB: South Carolina?
Ms. MATTHEWS: South Carolina. There's--you know, there's 2,000 college campuses and only about 50 are really name-brand schools. But at the College of Charleston, I--I went around with President Alex Sanders for a day and saw his life. And it was extremely clear to me at the end of an exhausting 14-hour day that quality education is not necessarily found at the name-brand schools.
LAMB: Tell us more about Al Sanders.
Ms. MATTHEWS: He--he was--he was a great character. He's a marvelous college president. He used to be a--a--a judge in South Carolina, and his experience in the courtroom and in the jails and the prisons, you know, fi--fits him marvelously for dealing with students and faculty and alumni and parents. He was very funny, unflappable, and he works like a maniac. His calendar for the last year shows, I think, two nights at home. And he's a natural extrovert, which helps a lot when you're a--a college president. But he's not entirely popular, I found, with his faculty. Some of them are very grateful for him, and others get a little stiff-necked because he says things, like, `You must do advising,' and they go, `Well, tell the kids to look in the catalog.' He goes, `No, no, no, no,' you know? In--in Circuit City now you walk in, trying to buy a TV or a washing machine, and you get people called advisers, and they will talk, compare the prices until they're blue in the face. `And going to college these days,' Alex Sanders told me, `is very like going to Circuit City, willing to spend $100,000. And are you going to say to these kids, "Look in the catalog"? You tell me.'
LAMB: You--you say that he's--told some stories, and one was about a woman named Dorothy and a fraternity.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, fraternities I found to be a--a festering and increasing problem in American higher education. You know, the Greek system is enormous. It was--it was left as road kill, basically, in the '60s. And I, for one, was--was not terribly sorry to--to see the fraternity influence wane on campuses. You know, a college should be someplace where you find out that peer pressure is not the only way to conduct your life. And it's amazing, but now there's 3,000,000 college men full-time and 400,000 of them belong to fraternities. And they all feel, obviously, that they have to buy their friends in--in some way. And sororities are growing just as fast.

At the College of Charleston, the seven fraternities are very strong, as they are throughout the--the Southern college system. And South Carolina is the only state that still flies the Confederate flag above the Statehouse. And one of Alex Sanders' fraternity houses was flying the Confederate flag as well. And he came out of the president's house one day and found a--a campus custodial worker weeping. And she's a--a woman who is, you know, black and from the area, and he'd--he'd gotten to know her. And he said, `Dorothy, what's the matter?' And she said--well, you know, she pointed; she couldn't talk. She pointed to the flag on the fraternity house, and finally she said, `You know, I don't mind cleaning up their messes. I really love the students. But that flag makes me think they hate me.' And Sanders went to the fraternity and he said, `Men, you've got to take down the flag.' And they stiffened, you know, they looked like, you know, w--just guard dogs. They stared at him and said, `Why? It's our right. It's our heritage.' And he said, `Well, it makes Dorothy cry.' Absolute silence. `Oh, we didn't mean to make Dorothy cry.' And they discussed it, and, astonishingly, the Confederate flag has come down.

And Sanders is realistic about it. He says that, you know, in a--in a year, in four years, when all the fraternity boys who had this discussion leave campus, it may well go up again, because there's very little institutional memory on a college campus. But, for one moment, they realized that true intellectual curiosity, true compassion, is not the right to display but to think of to whom you--you display. And they let imagination rule habit. And, you know, if you can come off a college campus having learned that one lesson, you're doing pretty well.
LAMB: Where do you find the most fraternities and sororities in--on--on what campus?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Penn State is the nation's leader in fraternities and sororities. There's 58 fraternities in all. And it's just astonishing.
LAMB: What is it about Penn State that...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Fraternities are very old in American colleges, something like kudzu or poison ivy. They--they entered the college life in the 1770s. The first is founded at William & Mary. The social fraternities really take root in the 1820s, when campuses are kind of at their low point and there's nothing to do. Teaching is very pro forma; the students are confined to their room most of the time. And so secret societies and frater--ternity--and fraternities really become extremely popular, and they just never gave up.

The interesting thing about Greek life today is--well, some fraternities or some elements in some fraternities are trying to be more responsible. They'll have date rape seminars. They'll do housing projects for the homeless. They'll do fund drives. They try and--not to make it the "Animal House" stereotype that--that others rightfully uphold. There's black fraternities, and there's Puerto Rican fraternities, and there's fraternities for--for Hispanic women. And the--the fraternities for people of color are really taking off. There's gay fraternities. They--they have a toasting song, the--the mighty Lambda man who--who took the fight and won the prince's heart that night. They're out there, too.
LAMB: How many Americans go to college?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's stabilized. It's--it's very interesting. Higher education is now a mature industry. It never has been before. It was always a growth industry. But now about 60 percent of high school seniors will try some form of campus experience. Most will go to a--a four-year campus. Quite a few, for financial or academic reasons, stay with the community college system. But there's about nine million people full-time at any given moment and about 11 million that are floating in the system somewhere.
LAMB: What's the average cost?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's very hard to--very hard to make to make an average because the two systems are so skewed.
LAMB: Two systems?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Public and private. There's more private campuses in the US than public, which I didn't realize when I--I started investigating this. And, you know, you can still get an excellent college education at any public campus in the US. See, campuses really expanded in the '70s with the federal money, then the federal money died and it started raising tuitions in the '80s. And the myth became truth that price--price was thought to equal quality. And now in the '90s, they're having to downsize and they're having to discount. And that's seen as the way to survival.
LAMB: How much federal money or what kind of federal money...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...got into it back in the '70s?
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's the odd thing. After World War II, there's so much research money in the sciences, and, in the social sciences, especially, billions and billions being poured into campus with no apparent strings. And so it's called, you know, the `While you're up, get me a grant' period because I--I mean, I remember that, seeing my parents go through that. And you could get astonishing grant money. And a lot of good research was done in those periods, but people became artificially dependent on outside money. And, you know, it's an improvement over the system in the 1920s and '30s, when you had to really depend on private donors and plead with the--with legislatures for, you know, test tubes and--and guinea pigs. But...
LAMB: What--what downsized it then? What happened?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot of education economists would really like to know. Reagan came in and a lot of power went back to the states, and the legislatures turned more conservative and they started to ask about outcomes--ask rather pointedly about outcomes. And there's no way for campuses to quantify their product because thousands of people sweep in and then they sweep out, most of them with diplomas. And, in the end, you know, the--the credential makes you a walking advertisement for a campus, but the campus isn't responsible if their product goes bad, so to speak.
LAMB: What's the length of time the average student spends at college?
Ms. MATTHEWS: College registrars are interested in that. It's been four years, normally; it's up to six now because there's a lot more--the--the--the average college student is changing rather--rather radically. You know, the--taken as a whole, the American college population is part-time, female, public campus, older and heavily in dept. And wh--what we think of as--as the classic college student--a kid, 18 to 22, going full-time, living on campus--that's just one in five of American undergraduates today.
LAMB: Can't remember--you had a statistic that you had $100 billion in endowments for all schools?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes, that's true. But it's not equally distributed. The top 50 tend to control or corral an enormously large percentage of that money--I mean, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Texas, Berkeley. The great universities are, essentially, independent nation states, and a--a two-tier univ--a two-tier universe is clearly forming. And the great fear of higher education is that the 21st century will be winner-take-all because you have about 50 name-brand schools who have protected themselves beautifully with their investments; their endowments could support them till the year 3000 without raising another cent. And there's everyone else who's facing increasing, grinding scarcity and very hard times.
LAMB: Harvard leads the endowment business. Do you know how much their endowment is?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Harvard doesn't like to talk about these things. There's a--a very mysterious group up in Cambridge that calculates college endowments, and Harvard's--I think it's approximately, you know, the gross national product of Belgium at the moment.
LAMB: Seven billion dollars or $8 billion?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes, at least. Oh, I think it's larger; it's more like $14 billion.
LAMB: What's the endowment for Princeton, where you went?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's about $4 billion at the moment--about $4 billion.
LAMB: Where's the money come from?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot of it comes from alums, and that's the secret for the older campuses, very often, is that they don't so much admit undergraduates--promising undergraduates--very energetic, very smart, very talented kids. They are all of that. But Harvards and Yales and Stanfords and Princetons and--and Dukes, they admit future alumni. And so when you invest in a kid, you're investing in a lifetime span. And, you know, income does play a certain part in the calculation, sure.
LAMB: But why do people give? And what's the difference between men and women and how they give?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Women and men give extraordinarily different--differently. It's kind of depth-charged that higher education never expected because, you know, a College Board study recently pointed out that campuses are spending more. Since 1994, American colleges and universities have spent more on fund-raising and on ads and on publicity than they have on libraries and teaching stipends and scholarship aid. And that's an amazing shift.

Men, an expert on this told me, generally give to preserve, and women give to change. And--but until now, college fund-raising offices have not recognized this--this basic fact. To them, women graduates have always been something out of Jane Austen: Men make the money; women marry it. And women are increasingly financially independent. They control amazing amounts of--of assets. They are far more debt-free. And when the campus fund-raising officers come around these days, women from 21 to 80 are saying--are saying, `Ah, really? Now tell me more. Why are there no women on your Priorities Committee? Why are only 10 percent of your faculty--your tenured faculty women? What's going on here?'
LAMB: In your book you also have a reference to the University of Phoenix...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...as the only for-profit university in the United States?
Ms. MATTHEWS: There's a couple others that are--are springing up, but there's a--there's a high mortality rate among start-up colleges. There's something we don't tend to think about, that colleges are being born and they're dying all the time.
LAMB: What did you find out about the University of Phoenix? And where is it? I mean, it's obviously in Phoenix, but is there a campus?
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's the interesting thing that they're able--campuses have two fixed costs: the physical plant and the tenured faculty. And the University of Phoenix not only issues stock--you can buy stock in the University of Phoenix--but it has no campus and it has no faculty. It runs entirely on adjuncts, who are paid about $1,000 per course, which is shockingly low even by adjunct standards. And they've got a--an 800 number and they've got a toll-free research desk. And they meet in motels and on Army bases and in rented garages. And it is the most well-overhead operation you've ever seen.

Now it horrified the University of Arizona and ASU and Northern Arizona, too. They screamed and screamed. But the accr...
LAMB: Why?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, the accreditation wars are fierce still and not really settled out. And Arizona said, you know, `These people are not accredited. They don't have a campus. They aren't, by our definition, a university.' And the University of Phoenix said, `You know, define university.' And for the moment, they're running 60,000 people through with--to get--you know, in the--just the last few years they've--they are--they are a factory for MBAs and for undergrad degrees.
LAMB: What's it cost?
Ms. MATTHEWS: You pay by the course. It's--it's--it's complete retail. And I--I saw their catalog and talked to some of their grads, and you pay, you know, $500 or so for a--for a course. It's not inexpensive. They got into a little trouble because, early on, they were doing things like giving people college credits for life experiences. You just had to explain that you had a hard time in your divorce, and they would say, `Fine. Three credits.' So they've--they've calmed that down a little. But it's still extremely unorthodox.
LAMB: You say that there are two cost centers...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...that make college expensive: tenure and the physical plant.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: Talk about tenure. Are you tenured, by the way?
Ms. MATTHEWS: No, I'm not. I--I'm an adjunct. I--I'm a visiting professor, which means I just come in and do one course--one course every semester, by my own choice.
LAMB: Do you do other things?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh, yeah, I--I--you know, the usual committee work and...
LAMB: No, but I mean...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh.
LAMB: ...do you have another job?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, what I do is--is I--I write books and articles, and most of my income comes from a--a free-l--being a free-lance writer.
LAMB: So in any given semester, how much do you teach?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I teach one sem--I've been at NYU three years, and I teach one graduate seminar each semester, which is either--it's either split two and two, or else it's a one four-hour run.
LAMB: You say in the book that most adjuncts make $1,000 a course?
Ms. MATTHEWS: If they're lucky, yeah.
LAMB: Why do you say if they're lucky?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, because a college credit costs the same if it's taught by an adjunct or a tenured professor, and it also carries the same academic value. And this is--instead of margin, it's keeping a lot of colleges afloat because there's a--a very distinct hierarchy among professors. Professor's an all-purpose title. You know, my students call me professor, even though I just come in once a week and I'm not tenured, I'm not a permanent member. And you can be a professor if you stay for 70 years and, you know, sign that contract that says, you know, `We're going to feed and water you until you die because you are a permanent member of--of this academic society.'

But the problem with the system is that it's gotten seriously out of whack, and so there's--it's top heavy with a lot of tenured people who came in in the '60s and the '70s who now reaching a sort of contented middle age. But the education machine kept grinding through the '70s, through the '80s, through the '90s. And so there are immense numbers of highly qualified, extremely intelligent, potentially very hard-working, devoted PhDs who are utterly frozen out of the system. And there's just not enough jobs, especially in the humanities because the--the academic party has moved, in effect, from the humanities over to the campus and science side of--of the university.

So there's an amazing oversupply of people, who are experts in, you know, 17th century iconography or, you know, 18th century English journals of--of Northumberland. And--and they are willing to work for peanuts.
LAMB: What does it mean to be tenured?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It means that--well, in a historic sense, it means that you've benefited from that great revolt of the faculty after World War I, where they said, you know, `We're not going to have hired hands anymore. You know, we are independent people. We're not ushers. We're not high school teachers. We are scholars, and we need to know that we can take on long-term projects.' And so the universities grudgingly said to people, `OK, we will hire you. We'll hire you for life.' And only racehorses and royalty get this deal in--in the world today. It's the most amazing hangover from another world. It's very feudal.

And being tenured is the freest job in the world. Basically, the university says, you know, `You have to teach a little.' Some people get out of teaching altogether. `You have to think a lot.' And all they say--after you get tenured, and they say, `Well, we'll pay you for life, but you've got to keep your brain alive. You've got to stay in the conversation. That's all we ask.' And a lot of people do and a lot of people don't, and some are bitter about tenure because there is a lot of deadwood on American faculties, people who--who, you know, relax. They get comfortable; they stop thinking. They had six ideas; they published them all. They sit back and they can't be fired and they can't be downsized ever.
LAMB: When do you get tenure?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It depends. Usually, if you follow a standard academic career, you'll go to college, you'll find somebody in college who says, `Hey, you can do graduate school.' You go off to graduate school, you get the master's. You go on for the doctoral program, which takes anywhere between seven and 10 years in most fields these days. The job market's so bad that you might do it postdoc, you might do two postdocs. By this time you're about 30, maybe 35. You're ready to apply for your first job. You know, this--a lot of people with PhDs get their first real jobs in their 40s. You know, it's an amazing elongation of--of adolescence.

And then once you're hired on what's called tenure track, you have seven years up or out. And after seven years, if your department decides that they want to keep you around, that you fit into the--the--the family or the--the drama of the department, they'll offer you a lifetime position. And you teach as long as you like. You can't--you can't fire people or--or move them out because of age reasons. And so it's possible to be tenured from age, say, 35 till 90.
LAMB: Is there a legal document you have once you're tenured?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it's--it depends on if the campus is unionized. See, Rutgers is heavily unionized, and the SUNY campuses, the State University of New York campuses, also are--are union. At Princeton they get what's called the Tiffany Letter. And this little note appears from the president's office, and it says, you know, `Sir, Madam, I have the honor to inform you that your salary will be such and such. Very sincerely yours,' the trustees or the president. That's it--no contract, nothing.
LAMB: What's the legal th--attachment in all this then?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, that's a really good question, and that's--there's a lot of tension about that because the American Association of University Professors has--has had a lot of test cases where people are hired as adjuncts for over seven years, and at that point many of them can sue or try to sue, saying, you know, `I've been--taught here for seven years, ergo I'm a real professor. You can't fire me.' And so what campuses tend to do is usher you out after six and a half years. They're very, very ca--very cautious about that.
LAMB: Would you change tenure?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it's not a perfect system, by any means, but higher education is singular. It's not efficient. Learning is not efficient. And very often it can't be run like a business, though a lot of administrators would like to. I think tenure probably has to stay because higher education is all about waste and it's all about choice.

And so y--there's eight hundred and thou--there's 800,000 faculty in the US, and of those, maybe 8,000 will have a really good idea at some time in their career, an idea that will change a field or change a direction of thought. And maybe eight of 800,000 will, with the--the benefits, the protection, the calm, the peace, the--the sanctuary of the campus--eight out of 800,000 in the course of, say, a century, will have an idea that will change the world. And that's--that's the bargain that campuses, that universities, especially--research universities--have--have made with society. It's very hard to explain to people the--the ratio of p--of--of productive faculty in the true sense to normal faculty.
LAMB: You say that the highest paid professor in the United States is at Cornell and that this surgeon, male, makes $1,779,730. How did you find that out?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It was in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an absolutely wonderful journal published in Washington, DC, that has an almanac of--of statistics. It's something that's read by administrators mostly, but a lot of faculty could--could benefit by it from taking a look now and then.
LAMB: How can somebody in a college make $1.7 million?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, apparently he knows how to remove hearts from chests with greater efficiency than anyone else on the planet, and so he--he or his lawyer or his agent was able to persuade Cornell that--that--that he was worth it. And faculty do have agents now. You know, this star system on campus is creating a good deal of--of bitterness and it's understandable.

You know, when I was--when I was growing up on campus, which was not all that long ago, everyone was poor together. You know, the campus was a kind of sweet backwater that not very many Americans explored. And, you know, peop--society didn't expect that much from the college and, you know, it didn't get all that much. And then, when the federal government started investing heavily in it, the stakes became a lot higher. And so what you wanted wa--you wanted stars. You wanted competitive hiring.

And so when money entered the social equation in the campus, it changed a lot. And so what you have now is people in geology or material science or med school saying to the poets and the classicists and the folklore specialists, you know, `You people ride on our backs,' you know, `We deserve all our perks. We produce. We have outside contracts with corporations,' you know. `You sit around and--and think about verbs and Homer,' you know? Please. And it makes the--the classicists and the--and the poets very anxious.
LAMB: By the way, did you talk to any agents in this project?
Ms. MATTHEWS: No. I--I--I talked to faculty who had agents, but they--they got embarassed and--and upset and said, `Well, it's--it has nothing to do with my scholarly life, the fact that I just sold my book to the movies, the fact that I just got a MacArthur and--and,' you know, `bought a villa in--in Italy.'
LAMB: What do you think of MacArthur grants? And tell us what they are, first.
Ms. MATTHEWS: The MacArthur grants are a fascinating--oh, it's been going on more than 10 years now. It's a very '80s supply-side idea being practiced by the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, that if you throw money at genius, genius will become even more productive. It's--essentially replicates the question of tenure. If you take all these people and you feed and you water them and you make them happy, they'll produce wonderful things.

And the MacArthur has had a secret--extremely secret collection of selectors and nominators and judges for the last dozen years. And they go out and they--they fan out and they say, `Well, so and so is--is an unrecognized genius and so and so's an unrecognized genius. We should give them $350,000 for the next five years to do whatever they want with.'

And it's a great idea. It's absolutely fascinating. And they've found some terrific people. There's a juggler named Michael Moschen who's amazing. There's a--a doctor who does public health in Georgia who was a real find. There's some great woodworkers. There's people who do wonderful things for, you know, building Third World wheelchairs and people who do public organizing--Appalachia. The ones outside the academy, I think, have been much more successful.

But about three-fourths of MacArthur winners have been tenured faculty, and they don't need the money, but they do need the fame, because if you get a MacArthur, you can write your own ticket to any campus in America, except possibly Harvard, where they have an oversupply.
LAMB: You say that a small college professor, a full professor...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...will make on average $53,000 a year, that a state school full professor...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...will make $65,000 a year. Is that the extent of the money they make, or are there other ways for them, when they're in schools, to make money?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it depends, because colleg--college culture is so split these days between a teaching college and a research university. And if you're in a small private college that advertises a lot of personal attention for the kids, you often have more contact hours than a high school teacher. You're in there constantly, running biology labs and taking the kids on field trips and running yet another discussion section for the seniors. It's very, very, very high contact.

You--in a research uni--and so there's--the faculty at the small colleges, private schools, are usually so exhausted they have no time for--for outside labor, as much as they might want it. At research universities you can, indeed, have a very profitable other life, doing consulting or doing public appearances, you know, getting on the speech circuit, writing books, writing best-sellers, you know.

Erich Segal wrote "Love Story" at Yale in 1970 and started this whole trend, basically. His colleagues were horrified, but he became a zillionaire and his book was--was sent to the movies, and then suddenly every professor in America suddenly thought, `I can do that, too.'
LAMB: You write a paragraph on what you think an education is.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: I'm going to read it. `In the end, an undergraduate education is not so much a pile of notebooks mouldering in the bottom drawer, but learning to talk in front of a group, to read and to summarize, to reason on demand, to push yourself late at night, to live and work with people you might never speak to in ordinary life, to think against the grain, to manage time, to not be afraid or rejecting to say every other sentence, quote, "in my high school, we were,"--unquote.'

Is that it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's it.
LAMB: Wha--how did you conclude that? I mean, what at--at what point did the--did you decide that's what an education--an undergraduate education was all about?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, two things: I spent a long time at Princeton working with freshmen and sophomores. I taught in the Woodrow Wilson School, taught public policy writing, and I taught literature and writing courses at Princeton for many years, and I ran the writing program for four years as I became a college administrator. And I realized as I was doing it that I was sitting in the middle of one of the great untold stories in American life, what really happens in--on a college campus.

But listening to the--listening to the kids as they came into my office, crying or upset or triumphant or bewildered, was what really made this book start because I started taking notes. I couldn't resist. My--my reporter's instinct kicked in. I thought, `These people are telling me wonderful, amazing things about what it's like to be young in America in the late '80s, early '90s, mid-'90s.' And there was one thing that made me--listening to them, made me conclude that if college works, all those things have--have to be part of it.

And also I talked a lot with professors, especially older professors who had been teaching for 30 and 40 years and had seen every possible combination of undergraduate trauma or depression. And I asked them what they thought success was in teaching. And some of them said, `Well, success is when the student destroys the teacher, takes off and says, "No, I don't think it's like that." When the kid learns to think independently of you, OK, you've achieved something.'

Others said, `Well, it's when they come back after five years and realize that, you know, they gave you a very hard time as an undergraduate, but that the struggle in the end was worth it, that--that they were thinking for themselves.' And between the students and the professors and the maybe 50 percent of amer--of administrators who know and care and love their students, that it's a kind of composite conclusion.
LAMB: `To talk in front of a group.' Have you seen people in your teaching experience change in front of your eyes, that--that one trait, able to talk in front of a group?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. When they come into college, it's--it's amazing. You know, the--adult learners are great. I--I would love to have more adult learners, because they do know how to talk and they do know enough about life and they can share it with the 17- and the 18-year-olds who've never been away from home; they've ne--something like 85 percent of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody else, which is why, you know, the old--the old college dorm or the old college roommate are almost as extinct now as--as the old college textbook.

Students come to college either having been extremely sheltered and pampered or else having had extremely hard lives. And they have to learn to talk with each other, which is tough, and it's--it--it--it's--it's very, very difficult to know when a kid is going to make it and when they're going to drop out, because so many do drop out.
LAMB: How many drop out, out of these--if 60 percent of high school kids go to college, how many of those make it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, about half of them won't see graduation and about a fourth don't return for sophomore year. But the machine just needs to suck in more warm bodies every year. And so a lot of people go to college under, essentially, false pretenses. They don't know what to expect. They're going to be thrown into the pool and they are going to drown.

But the myth of college is that everyone gets a chance. And a lot of these people get a chance, but they are very badly prepared by their--their--either their life circumstances or their high school education. So when I say talking in front of a group, it means that somehow they've managed to--to discover in themselves enough--enough talent to--to say, `OK, I can do this.'
LAMB: You say that the average credit card debt for...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm.
LAMB: ...a college kid is $2,000 and their average income a year is $4,000.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes. The--the two jobs on college campuses where they're actually hiring, as opposed to, say, the--the English department or the history department, one is residency Rambo, the person who checks in-state residency, because people are so desperate for in-state tuitions that, you know, often they'll--they'll try to claim a fictitious address, so you've got to check out virtually all the--the in-state applications these days.

And the other thing is credit card counselor, because the commercialization of the campus is one of the most interesting and depressing things that I found in my--in my tours through the--this parallel universe of higher education. The commercial culture has infiltrated the campus culture to an enormous extent.

You know, college used to be a place where--where you would be ad-free for four years, where you would be, you know, segregated, but in an interesting way, from the dominant culture. Whether that's your church or your family or the--the commercial American culture or what--what have you. Whatever you came from, college was so decidedly other that you had to say, `OK. I've got four years to think about incredibly irrelevant things, learn things I wouldn't learn otherwise.'

But these days, the--the sense of passing on to another planet or through a veil or into another world, I think, is being diminished and--and not for the best--by the fact that administrators are saying, `Well, OK, maybe to pay the bills, we should make faculty entrepreneurial and student life more commercial and administrative style corporate, because romantic inefficiency doesn't pay the bills. Maybe we should be training kids to work for the corporations that donate to our campus, for instance.'

And that makes a lot of alumni hyperventilate, a lot of faculty hyperventilate, but the administrators say, `Look, we're losing money every year. It costs $17,000 to keep any student on any American campus when you add in all the costs.' And the stationery may say, `Veritas,' which is fine, and a lot of--a lot of people in the college world still believe that the point of a campus is to explore things that--that, you know, you--you normally don't make connections that--that you normally don't.

And a lot of people agree with the University of North--Northern Colorado, you know, because their--their stationery now says, `Quality, diversity, personal touch.'
LAMB: Go back to that figure. Did you say $17,000 a year to educate a student?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: On average--all campuses in the United States?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Average of all campuses--Chronicle of Higher Education.
LAMB: And how much of that in--in the state schools is paid for by the taxpayer?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's hard to say because campuses--one reason tuitions are going up--I mentioned Alexander's before. He calls tuition the fastest growing special tax in America today. And it's become that in many ways, because campuses never know where their money is coming from year to year, because there's--their revenue streams are tuition and fees, federal money, state money, gifts and whatever the endowment's making on--on the stock and bond market.

And the only thing--as costs are rising all the time, the only thing that you can really control is tuition and fees. And so when you get in trouble, that goes up. And at the moment it's about $17,000 a year to tak--to keep a kid in school.
LAMB: The--you had some names in here...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...I wanted to ask you about.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
LAMB: Elihu Yale...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...Nicholas Brown and Ezra Cornell.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Some of the great early suckers of higher education. They were--they were persuaded by early administrators and Cot--that investing in a campus would be a great thing. And Cotton Mather told Mr. Yale that to put his name on a college campus would be better than having it on an Egyptian pyramid. He agreed and he--he funded and helped found Yale. Sti--Yale was founded as kind of a retort to--to Harvard's laissez-faire liberal theology. Yale was going to be very, very strict.

And Nicholas Brown was a merchant in Providence who answered a want ad in the local paper. The--the college trustees and faculty literally put an ad in the paper, `Wanted: One Patron.' And in return for funding, they changed the name of the college to Brown University. And, you know, so it goes.
LAMB: Where did Princeton get its name?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Princeton is named after William of Nassau, who was ruling in the late 17th century, and the reason that this school--the main hall is called as Nassau Hall and it's known as Old Nassau Hall, is because he--it was one of his--Nassau was one of his principalities. He was William of Orange. Hence, they actually have a convoluted way that the Princeton colors are orange and black.
LAMB: What is the night campus syndrome?
Ms. MATTHEWS: The night campus syndrome is probably the scariest thing I found in higher education. I heard about it through my students, who would come in and say, `Well, I don't have my paper done because I was up till three in the morning taking my roommate to the Rape Crisis Center. I was up till four in the morning throwing up with my fraternity brothers. I was up till 5:00 in the morning on a--on a road party to the next state.'

I'd say, `Excuse me?' And they would say, `No, no. You--you have to. You don't understand.' And I--I realized, no, I didn't understand. And very few campus adults do understand, because after sundown on campus, there are no adults, technically speaking, except the security people and the people in the infirmary. Everyone else takes off.

A residential college faculty is extremely rare these days. Administrators live off campus, the staffers tend to go home and so the kids are technically adults, as the legal department will happily tell you at any university. And they say, `Well, they're adults. We trust them to make their own decisions.' And for about half of American undergraduates the adult decision, even though the drinking age is 21, they're 18 and adults and they decide that they are going to become binge drinkers. And...
LAMB: What's a binge drinker?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Binge drinker is somebody who--men who take more than five drinks in succession, women four--different body mass. And about half of students today are drinking less, according to a recent Harvard School public health survey. Half of them are drinking a lot more--a lot more. And what this means is that when kids get drunk they tend to do stupid things, so campus crime is going up and getting more intense.

And campuses didn't understand the body count for a while, why kids were, you know, being raped; they were being assaulted; they were having their possessions stolen on a regular basis; why the Coke machines would be body slammed and the--and the lights shot out with BB guns and the lampposts head-butted and, you know, sinks and toilets torn out every weekend.

So they started to investigate this about 10 years ago, and it turned out that a lot of campus crime was not intruders, it was not people from off campus, that 80 percent of student crime--campus crime tends to be student-on-student, and 90 percent of it involves drinking or, much less often, drugs.

The intensity is changing most. You know, an argument becomes assault; pilfering becomes grand auto theft. And if you're going to look for your basic campus criminal, it will most likely be white, male, probably an athlete, probably a frat member.
LAMB: What's happening to the mix on campuses, diversity?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. It's getting a lot more diverse and that's great. It--I think age is the most interesting addition to the mix because one college student in four now is over 25. The great America of the 21st century will be older women. And that'll change campus life a good deal.

You know, campuses are not democracies. They never have been. It--a campus is a place with one foot in the 12th century and one foot in the 21st. But two things that have become democratized--and high time--are the undergraduate faces. Undergraduate admissions has become much more merit-based and the campus--the undergraduate course catalog has become much more democratic.

You can major in anything--the--the range is astonishing. You can major in wine-making at the University of California at Davis. You can major in mall management at the University of Connecticut.
LAMB: You say there are 800...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...800 majors?
Ms. MATTHEWS: At least. And there's--so there's wine-making, there's mall management, you can major in astrophysics at MIT. You can major in meditation at Naropa, the only--the only Buddhist campus in--which happens to be in Boulder, Colorado. You can major in pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. You can get a BA in virtually anything imaginable.
LAMB: If you had it to do--do it over again, would you--what would you do about your education, based on your study?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I would do--if--if I w--if I were reforming higher education and redoing my life, my recommendation would be the same. Not all 18-year-olds belong on campus, by a long shot. Not all 19-year-olds belong on campus. And a lot of the--the babysitting problems, so to speak, and a lot of the remedial and academic catch-up that happens in the first--those first crucial two years could be avoided, I think, if people would take two years off.

If--14 years of schooling as a national average, as Clinton wants, is--is a marvelous idea, but it doesn't necessarily have to be straight through, I think. People come to campus at 20 or 21 after having spent time traveling or working or helping with Habitat for Humanity or teaching inner-city kids how to read or being in the military or having held down a genuine job, they understand the enormous value of a college education. They're ready to work; they will work; they do work.

But funneling kids for reasons of status or boredom or fear or whatever, straight from--straight from high school into the college campuses, you know, it was a model that worked in the 17th and the 18th century when college students were all much younger than they are now. But now I think if you got kids who are more akin to the first GI Bill generation, the people who had seen the world in the most very depressing form and then flooded onto the campuses, you know, they were probably the most interesting generation in the 20th century to be on the campus or, faculty say, to have taught.
LAMB: Go back to Al Sanders, your...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...president of Charleston in...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...South Carolina. Here's a quote from him. He says, "Their parents look like central casting. Every fall, Ozzie and Harriet bring their freshmen down here, buy the notebook paper, hang the posters, hug all around, go home and immediately get divorced. The kid lands in my lap a total wreck." How much of that goes on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot. The student services empire has grown enormously in the last 25 years, partly because parents tend to think that the campus can be everything to everybody and very often they assume that the campus will be a--a good babysitter and therapist as well. Babysitting and therapy are two reasons that tuitions are going up. You know, student vandalism is a reason tuitions are going up. Malpractice insurance for campuses is another reason. You know, the--the--the efflorescence of--of frills is--is a fourth reason tuitions are going up.

But people simply assume that the campus will change lives. And they think it's--it's like some kind of, you know, bath that you can drop a kid in and they'll come out the other end perfectly matured. And that's not fair to the campuses or to the kids.
LAMB: What's the National Alumni Forum?
Ms. MATTHEWS: National Alumni Forum is--they've been pretty quiet recently. They're a group of conservative academic scholars, alumni, and they'd like to...
LAMB: Run by Lynn Cheney still?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Run by Lynn Cheney still. They're trying to essentially have an alumni takeover of campus by checkbook power. And they say to campuses--sometimes successfully, sometimes not--`We don't like what you're doing. We don't want a department of, you know, gay paraplegic studies. We don't approve of that sort of thing. We will underwrite the great books. We will underwrite a new dorm. But we're going to practice behavior modification and not pay you for--for things that we don't care for.'

It's a--an--it's an interesting attempt to turn the campus back to the world of, say, 1951. And campuses were great in 1951, but they were not 21st century campuses.
LAMB: This is out of context, but I got to ask you about Steve Mann.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, OK.
LAMB: Why did he make your book?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Mann i--is somebody that a lot of undergraduates would dearly love to be. He's a sort of secret hero of--of the wired, undergraduate world. He's a grad student at MIT, and he is a cyborg, essentially. He goes with a camera on his head and he's got glasses where he can get e-mail on the lenses. And there's a keyboard attached to his belt. And so he can go to the grocery store, look at a stack of lemons and say--and wait for his wife at home to look at them through the camera on his head and then type a message to him, `Steve, buy a dozen,' or, `Forget it. Go get the Campbell's Soup.'

And I find that one of the great splits on campus--and it's increasing, it's widening, and I don't know any way to cure it--is between kids who have been brought up in an electronic world and camp--and faculty, even faculty my age, who were formed under the lost empire of print--and it--it is a lost empire. Students in my ex--you--occasionally, you--you'll get a kid who's spent their adolescence in their bedroom reading about the French and Indian wars, you know, that's great. But it's--it's pretty anomalous.

Students increasingly know about the world through the screen and not through the page. And so I found that if you ask them, `In what episode of "Gilligan's Island" was the phrase `Tiki, tiki, Brady' used?' They will instantly be able to name the--the episode and recite a long stretch of dialogue.

If you say to them, `Why did Nora in "A Doll's House" not just go to law school,' they--they--they can't figure it out. They think it would be a good idea if Nora had gone to law school. And so there's--the undergraduates are interestingly disconnected from a sense of history. You know, they're smart, they're hard working, but they have been formed by TV. They've been formed by TV in ways we are only starting to understand in the humanities.
LAMB: You write that at `thoroughly wired campuses...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: ...like Dartmouth or the University of California at Santa Cruz...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...70,000 to 100,000 messages pass daily through their local system.' About what?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It can be changing the date of a field trip. It can be a faculty member writing back about a kid's paper. A student can have found a terrific URL for a site in a history course or a science course and be sending it to the class newsgroup.
LAMB: This is e-mail?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It--it's e-mail and it's--and also surfing the Net through things like Cyberdog and the--the problem--the only problem with Internet-related teaching, I've found--99 percent of it is a marvelous thing--the only problem is for kids that mothers have modems now. And mothers in Osaka or Ann Arbor will follow along with their kid's online class assignments. And they write the kids e-mails, `Have you done your homework? Are you-all partying? Send me--send me an--an e-mail copy of that term paper.' That's the only drawback. Electronic teaching, I--I think, is going to be unalloyed joy for--for the faculty members that are able to make the jump. A lot of them can't.
LAMB: Eighty-five percent of the students...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...live off campus after the first year?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes. The--you know, the old--the dear old college dorm is essentially extinct. The--and the inclination is to--and when you have an older campus population, to find your own--your own arrangements. So you're much more likely to find undergraduates now not in dorms. And the idea of--of a house mother is out of the Dark Ages. The condo, the apartment, living at home, buying your own house while you're in school, group shares, co-ops--there's all kinds of living arrangements, but the dorm is less and less a feature of undergraduate life.
LAMB: We're about out of time. Did you really find a campus the--New Hampshire's Thomas Moore, only 76 students?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Can they make it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: So far. There--there's a lot of interesting little start-up campuses, boutique campuses. St. Thomas Aquinas out in Southern California is another. They tend to be conservative and they tend to be contrary, but they're also very interesting.
LAMB: The book is called "Bright College Years" and our guest has been its author, Anne Matthews, who teaches, adjunct professor at New York University and writes books. Thank you very much.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Thank you.


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