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April 2014 - Volume 20, Number 2


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What Should One Expect at College?

by Deborah D. Thornton

Similar to the Frank Capra comedy-drama which made Jimmy Stewart famous, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the new book by David Stag, Bill Smith Goes to College, contains angst, drama, and humor. Stag’s message is timely as hundreds of high school seniors throughout Iowa prepare to finish high school and make their college selections – including our son. What should we, both parents and student, expect at college? You might find it surprising!


Our ingénue, Bill, is in fact from a small town in Iowa. His parents have saved their whole lives to provide him with the opportunity to do more – achieve more – than they have. They want him to have the “best” education. But, Bill finds out that education isn’t really what goes on at Mountebank University.


Among other things, what goes on is co-ed bathrooms. Girls and boys use the same bathroom, at the same time, even showering. As fiction mirrors reality, some colleges in Iowa actually do have co-ed bathrooms. And students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire just held a three-day sit-in at their President’s office, petitioning for, among other things, co-ed bathrooms. Who in their right mind would ever want co-ed bathrooms? At the same time, there is ever greater focus, both at fictional Mountebank and in reality, on alleged sexual harassment and misconduct by our young men.


Bill finds this all very confusing as he wasn’t brought up this way. He resorts to showering in the middle of the night to avoid bathing with girls. This, along with being assigned to a dorm room which isn’t really a room, but part of the lounge and kitchen, is the first of many strange happenings. In one exchange Bill’s protector, Clyde, tells him, “Look around you. This is the real world. Or maybe it’s not.” Clyde then adds, “It’s not you. It’s them.”


When he starts classes Bill finds he’s not taking classes in engineering, his major, but instead is registered for a strange variety of random subjects, in which the professors don’t even teach the assigned subject. There are no answers to straightforward questions and long lines for every administrative request though lots of administrators.


Worried about the cost of college and wondering if this is actually what he should be spending his parents’ hard-earned money on, an international student Bill has befriended asks him why they’re paying cash for tuition, then elaborates ‘“That’s not the right way to do it,’ said Sunir. ‘We learned this last year. You must borrow the money, I am sure of that. There was no talk of this saving you speak of. When you need the money, you borrow it. When you borrow it, you promise to pay it back. Then you wait for them to tell you that you don’t have to pay it back. This is quite exciting. If you just wait long enough, they will say it is no longer necessary to pay the money back. It makes it much easier that way. It’s a very good system.’”


As my family tries to settle on where our son attends college and how we’re going to pay for it, Sunir’s advice may (unfortunately) be useful!


Bill eventually finds out that he can’t even flunk out – the system won’t let him – but he must conform to pass. Bill finds it difficult to do this, to just go along to get along, and tries to address the corruption with his professors, with little success at first.


For fun he attends a college football game, ending in disaster as the students riot and destroy campus buses – an event which is traditional and planned for by the administration. “The good thing about football is that you can just sit back and enjoy the violence, even if you don’t know what’s going on.”


Clyde rescues him after the football game in a very funny experience on a motor scooter, and as part of his mentoring keeps telling Bill that everyone will have to pass a test at some point that determines what type of person they will be when they grow up. The test finally happens after Bill discovers the truth of the situation, and as all heroes should, wins the girl.


The topics parodied in the book are relevant today, including campus free speech, degree content, graduation time, housing arrangements, and student loan debt. I recommend all college-bound students, and their parents, read it.


Additionally, Bill Smith Goes to College could be made into an excellent satire comedy movie, along the lines of Blazing Saddles – if the administrators of the real colleges and universities being parodied will allow it! Not a role for Jimmy Stewart; but Jack Black as “Clyde” and an Adam Sandler-type actor as “Bill” could be quite funny. Not only would it be funny, but it might open some parents’ eyes about what is really going on when their children go away to college.


Bill Smith Goes to College, by David Stag, 2012, available at David Stag is a retired Engineer who holds several patents. He currently lives in North Carolina.


FACTS & OPINIONS is one of our quarterly membership newsletters, arriving in January, April, July, and October. It consists of short articles of public interest with an emphasis on current issues.


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