The State of Our ‘Public Ivy’

When a contentious journalist and social critic spoke at the College in early March, few could have anticipated the reaction that would ensue. Ours is a decrepit, dying culture, Chris Hedges insisted, shackled by corporate titans who profit from our endless, gullible consumerism. Our infatuation with celebrity, lack of critical self-awareness, and blind deference to institutional structures have systemically lulled us into a complacent malaise, thereby allowing the privileged elite to maintain their tyrannical grip on power.

We are being fed illusions, Hedges charged, which serve only to distract us from what truly demands our attention, including economic injustice, political corruption, and imperialist conflict. The once mighty vessel that is America, Hedges prognosticated, is accelerating on its inevitable descent into watery oblivion.

In the event’s aftermath, the faculty email listserv lit up with messages of praise, anger, and dismay. Many said they found Hedges’ near-apocalyptic tone profoundly disturbing; others decried his presentation as sorely devoid of historical context. Still others dismissed his cultural forecast as needlessly bleak, especially as delivered to an audience of college students craving inspiration. A few dissenters exalted the lecture as a timely and welcome challenge to the unsustainable status quo.

None could deny, however, that Hedges had accomplished something remarkable: he launched what actually resembled a campus-wide conversation, unbound by the limits ordinarily demarcated between students and faculty. Three weeks later, a panel organized by Profs. Bob Anderson and Celia Chazelle brought together eight intellectually engrossed individuals (four of whom have contributed to The Perspective) from across the social sciences to discuss a question that predictably yielded no concrete answers: How do we change the world?

But that there was even a panel in the first place – which refreshingly consisted of both students and faculty – is a testament to Hedges’ unmistakable ability to steer our discourse. Rather than commiserate, we collaborated. Rather than sulk, we strategized. Indeed, in the weeks after his TCNJ appearance, it seems a crack emerged in the otherwise impenetrable “Empire of Illusion” which Hedges so brazenly denounced.

A thought-provoking panel, however, is not nearly enough. It is our task on this campus to cut through the noise and the nonsense, the false axioms and the faded dogmas – all of which circulate too freely around us. We must confront with tenacity even that which makes us discomforted and disillusioned. We must not fall victim to the temptations of mindless chicanery and misdirection. We must steer this collegiate vessel toward a more honest assessment of our institution and ourselves.

Unfortunately, our entire student government apparatus has become more of an obstacle than an ally.

In rejecting a bid from the College Democrats to bring both Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson – two individuals with singular roles in history who would provide much needed insight to our campus – the Student Finance Board made clear their position that The College of New Jersey cannot handle quite so much intellectual stimulation. The SFB said a Nader/Jackson joint discussion would be one political event too many after the Student Government Association unilaterally decided to invite former Republican presidential candidate and Fox News host Mike Huckabee. His television-ready charisma is sure to make for a worthwhile event, and we will certainly be in attendance. But we see no reason (especially in light of Robert Hickman’s article on page 7) why Huckabee’s appearance should prevent another productive event with Nader and Jackson.

Instead, insultingly, we are served up gimmicky bunk like Tucker Max and “The Scary Guy,” both of whom made off with tens of thousands of dollars garnered from our tuitions. Perversely, it seems, we are funding our own delusions. If we as an institution wish to be truly considered a “public ivy,” we must challenge ourselves to seek analytical rigor and stimulation over hollow diversions.

The Perspective strives to strip away the artificial veneers that surround us, wherever they exist unchallenged:

Our cover story for this issue – the result of a year-long investigation – has revealed that the Campus Police Department, far from unified in their efforts to keep us safe, is wrought with internal division and strife. We are alarmed that those allegedly responsible for perpetuating racial hatred within the force remain employed and comfortably insulated by bureaucratic incoherency. We call on the College administration, including President Gitenstein herself, to acknowledge this sorry state of affairs and take appropriate action.

With callous budget cuts, massive healthcare overhauls, and other daunting woes that demand our careful attention, this campus can no longer afford to be an “Empire of Illusion” unto itself.

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