I have to admit something. I love Lewis & Clark. I know that makes me less LC than your average ambivalent Birkenstock-wearer, but I must tell the truth. It is the norm around these parts to complain about the various amenities or lack thereof, and I cannot say I have never taken part. But there is a productive way to engage with our community and what we could improve that a lot of us do not take part in.
I love LC. I loved living in Copeland G-Wing freshman year, even though the common room would be littered with baby carrots on Saturday mornings from a neighbor’s food fight the night prior. I loved traipsing through the gardens at night, eating grapes during the blackouts by the clay tennis courts. I loved living in Hartzie sophomore year. I loved working at the Pioneer Log even though my boss back then was a raging misogynist who would tear me down regularly. I loved my classes and my professors. Perhaps if I recounted every beat of my experience, every class and professor, I could demonstrate the logic of my opinion. Somehow I do not think it will do the trick.
Cynicism is certainly easier; there are many forces that might compel us to see the world that way. Start thinking about the job market and student loans and it may seem like a foregone conclusion. This is not to say that thinking critically about this community we are all a part of is a bad thing or that criticism of LC, in general or in specific, is unwarranted; it is quite the opposite. Regular appraisal of LC by its students is a necessary part of the ecosystem. Student action can have a real impact around here; see the YikYak protests three years ago that revamped General Education or ASLC’s emergency funding of the Counseling Center last year. The sad fact is that most student criticism is often uninformed. This profound lack of curiosity is as surprising as it is troubling. We as students should have the opposite impulse, we must at least attempt to understand before we critique or burn the place down, as the case may be. Blind bitching does not have the same effect. It is crucial that students ask why things are the way they are when issues arise. This is not to imply that all these issues can easily be explained away, however the continued diatribe of “I spend $60,000 a year here, why can’t I do X?” as applied to everything from living situations to print balances does little to further discussion or enact change. We see a lot of landscaping around campus, sure, but did you know that LC is an Oregon Historical Site and must maintain itself in a particular way to keep those benefits? Did you know the college is extremely tuition dependent and the commitment of 20 new students can have a major impact on the budget? I say this as editor-in-chief of the Pioneer Log, advantaged in that I have been actively collecting information about this place for the past four years. For others, the information is understandably more difficult to obtain and digest, plus the administration can be difficult to pin down on sensitive issues, especially if one is working alone. That said, it is not unobtainable. With greater communication, our campus can broaden our institutional memory and reinforce the changes we are interested in. The baseline must be curiosity, and if we can muster that, which we are undoubtedly capable of, we can ask the questions that most need answering.
LC, I love you, and I know that you have problems. Budget cuts, professor departures, the Pio is late, the Bon uses a lot of onions, General Education is still not fully reformed, we do not have an emergency plan when the big earthquake hits, there are shield bugs all over the place, Maggie’s only just started offering normal Cheez-its, each more important than the last. At the core of the complaining is care. There is an inevitable care that is developed for this place, and greater understanding will only deepen it.
I understand why people complain, and a lot of it is often valid. The Pio is sometimes late, the Troom isn’t open for dinner, we spend too much money on landscaping. Where is my tuition money going? I spend (a discounted) $60,000 a year I should be able to print as many pages as I damn well please! But I think this central focus is misguided. First, students should make an effort to understand why things are the way they are before launching into a tirade about the Bon and its penchant for onions. This profound lack of curiosity is as surprising as it is troubling. We as students should have the opposite impulse, we must at least attempt to understand before we critique or burn the place down, as the case may be. If something is important to the student body, that force can carry significant weight to change things. Blind bitching does not have the same effect. We see a lot of landscaping around campus, sure, but did you know the College is an Oregon Historical Site and must maintain itself in a particular way to keep those benefits? Did you know the college is extremely tuition dependent and the commitment of 20 new students can have a major impact on the budget?
In these complaints I see something else too. I see a level of care about this place. And how can you not care about LC? This is the place of your friends and professors, it’s where you live and spend a lot of your time. If there wasn’t care there it would be much easier to take a Nietzschean nosedive into nihilism if there was no potential for progress. Ultimately each of us wants to relate ….
Our current budget shortfall is not the first and it won’t be the last. In the two years since Dean Kodat left however, priorities seem to have shifted somewhat. Crucial to LC’s success is the student experience and the caliber of faculty we have and those we are able to attract. Student experience cannot be sold on the shoulders of College Outdoors and the Overseas Office forever, wonderful though they may be. Tuition dependency is the current fact of our situation, though the efforts of President Wiewel in the fundraising and Josh Walter in future giving have promise in alleviating that sometime down the line. Our predicament is not a unique one, many small liberal arts colleges are hard hit since the 2008 recession stagnated student’s ability to pay and with the unpredictability of enrollment. Classzilla was a reprieve in this struggle against these forces of uncertainty that introduced its own issues.
College is an anxious time and there are good reasons for that anxiety. In this midst of this though, let us not forget what makes this place great, what we may omit in conversation in favor of bemoaning the Bon. For me it is people I’ve met, classes I’ve taken that pushed me, professors I’ve had the pleasure of learning from, antics in the garden on warm and cold days alike. We live in a hilltop oasis — shield bugs be damned– in a great city with a lot to explore and discover.