"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Second Semester Madness



Now that the Final Four has

given way to the Big Bore, and

we're faced with the mundane

reality of getting through

another 12 months without an

NCAA basketball championship in

progress, we guess it's safe to

say life goes on.


There's something faintly

overblown about March Madness -

something that smacks of

plaid-striped pants and a

handshake at the College Fair

that goes on a little too long.

You thought it was good clean

fun among amateurs who play the

game because they love it,

right? They're just

well-rounded students who happen

to be pretty good athletes on

the side, right? Aside from the

fact that most of these fellas

are more familiar with 12 hours

on a Greyhound than nine weeks

on a syllabus, we'd bet dollars

to doughnuts that the Arizona

Wildcats aren't nearly as

excited this spring as the

Arizona admissions officers.



Remember that magazine you used

as a coaster for your coffee,

then your beer, and by the

second overtime, your vodka

gimlet? That was US News &

World Report's Best American

Colleges and Universities issue.

Back in February, the editors

compiled their list of America's

best institutions of higher

learning. We've long wondered

what qualifies them to issue

such summary judgment,

spearheading a whole cottage

industry of recommendations,

endorsements, and inevitable

snubs. The only thing that's

more presumptuous and pathetic

than this soft-headed

glad-handing are the schools

that trumpet the results.


Obviously, the calculus involved

in deciding the nation's best

schools is more mysterious than

any Gaussian theorem, and the

only equation which has more of

a random walk is the one Rolling

Stone used to figure the "number

one party school." That's why US

News' decision to recall the

issue, due to an error in their

law school assessments, seems

too quaint. It implies that

there's an objectively correct




If any of them had gone to the

business schools they so

heartily endorse, they might

have realized how much cheaper

it is to publish corrections in

the next number. It's hard to

believe that an error in

opinion could result in such a

blatant act of ass-covering -

unless, of course, there was a

small ... shall we say ...

endowment at stake.


All of which is a supreme

disservice to America's

potential class of 2001. So

Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Yale,

and Brown are the best schools

in the country. And this is

news? With the upscaling of

everything, and the "Chivas

Regal Effect" putting college

tuitions in the price-range of

executive homes, what really

needs to be said is that the

academy is being run like a

cutthroat business these days,

more interested in showing the

board a swollen general fund

than turning out an educated

generation. The nation's

universities have become little

more than a place to buy an

expensive and ultimately useless

scrap of sheepskin - one that

would be eminently more useful

in the climate of these

overeducated, underemployed,

escapist times if it came in a

different shape.



What's worse is that students are

ultimately the rubes in this

widespread grift. Convinced

their job prospects will crater

if they don't get into the best

schools, kids today are little

more than glorified couriers on

an errand from the bank to the

university, carrying a

five-figure, federally

guaranteed check from the teller

to the registrar. When the

party's over, the keg is dry,

the basketball team went pro,

and the bills are due, there you

stand with your liberal arts

degree, as unemployable as you

were four years ago. And there's

your alma mater, sitting on a

pile of not-for-profit.



It would be considerably cheaper

to flirt with drugs, alcohol,

sex, and 19th-century

romanticism without actually

matriculating. Rather than

slumming your way through some

random bachelor's program, take

a tip from your favorite

Division I basketball team: If

they're not going to pay your

way and turn a blind eye to

academic standards, if they

can't guarantee pre-grad

placement on a pro team and a

slick pair of velvet shorts,

then you may as well cut to the

chase and look for gainful

unemployment straight away.

Never mind your own student

loans. You better start socking

away the dough for your

children's tuition, which at

current rates of acceleration

ought to make the GNP look like

chump change.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner

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The Fish

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The Barrel
[Predictions by Suck]

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The Gun

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Other Work By
E.L. Skinner
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