On Student Apathy

Over at Minding the Campus, Prof. Jason Fertig from Southern Indiana University has a thoughtful essay on the rise of student apathy on campus. It’s a timely piece, considering that we’re likely to hear much talk about the plunge in youth voting after the much-hyped college vote in 2008 — a vote that in retrospect seems to have been driven more by a sort of trendy enthusiasm than any kind of true political engagement.

Professor Fertig hits many of the themes we’ve been discussing here at Phi Beta Cons, including low study hours, extended adolescence, the primacy of partying, and declining marriage rates. The common picture is one of self-indulgence, a self-indulgence that colleges only reinforce when they consciously promote your college career as the “best four years” of your life and wish their students a weekend of “glorious consensual sex.” 

It’s all mildly nauseating.  I suppose that our “best years” are not the years we spend with a loving spouse, raising children, and serving our communities as best we can. I enjoyed college and law school, but no day of college compares to my wedding day, and no single year of school compares to any year being a father to my three children. I wouldn’t even trade the hardest year of my life — my year in Iraq — for my best year in school.

But what can we expect? Apathy is learned behavior, and colleges do nothing but encourage it through their ever-lowered academic standards and ever-increasing student life budgets. More Magic Kingdom than study hall, our campuses cater to our worst and least constructive impulses. As academics survey the hung-over faces that populate their classrooms and glittering new student centers, they see only the world they helped create.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.