April 26, 2012

A Farewell to Arts

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Arts suffered a devastating blow last week …

It all began with a rumor, a whisper. Text messages, tweets and speculative Facebook threads followed. The air was heavy with anticipation. Whispers soon became shouts, the voices of Yogurt Crazy loiterers swelled with enthusiasm: Justin Bieber, Cornell University Class of 2016. Oh my f****** God.

But, as tends to happen with rumors, Bieber ’16 was quickly dispelled. I didn’t want to believe it wasn’t true. I really didn’t. But the online backlash was too powerful to ignore. Justin Bieber isn’t Cornell bound, and he apparently never was. (As a recent Sun blog post explained, a Cornell student started the rumor as a joke).

My initial “OMFG!” of hope and excitement quickly turned into an “OMFG!” of indignation, fear and profound disappointment.

As I get ready to bid Cornell goodbye and leave the Arts section behind, Justin was my reassurance: I could leave knowing the arts and liberal arts at Cornell had a protector. With Justin (musician, auteur, film star) at the campus’ helm, I thought, the arts will be restored to their rightful glory. Theatre, Film and Dance will return. Cornell Cinema will play movies to completely full theaters and visual culture colloquia will be as well attended by undergrads as a capella shows.

When the rumor was debunked, my initial dread returned. Without Justin, what does the future hold?

All joking aside, I am worried about the fate of liberal arts at Cornell. In a short month, I will be an alumna. When I come back to visit my alma mater in a year, 10 years or 20 years, what will the school look like? What will its students care about?

Diversity of opinion is one of the things that makes Cornell great. I’m glad I chose to get a liberal arts degree in a place where there are people studying things like hotel management or agriculture. Had I chosen a small liberal arts college where the most popular major is, I don’t know … gender studies, I would have graduated with a skewed perspective of the world. Cornell has, to some extent, popped the sheltered, liberal bubble I was accustomed to living in.

I worry about what I see as a trend towards careerism on this campus. This academic year, AEM grew into the formidable “Dyson School.” Cornell pledged to devote itself to a new tech campus. And while the Arts Quad is (finally) getting a new humanities building, the project and its symbolism are not enough to convince me that the humanities at Cornell are alive and well.

I don’t think the obsession with a career is a phenomenon unique to this university. Nationally, it seems like students are more focused than ever on the so-called “next step,” on getting that dream job. They spend their college years racking up internships, which are often unpaid (a concept that frankly strikes me as nothing more than a sparkly form of exploitation) and enrolling in “practical” classes with a real-world component.

Education has an inherent value. Real-world experience only has a hallowed place within an educational culture that maintains post-graduate employment as the object of a college education.

Call me old-fashioned, privileged or naïve, but the way I see it, college is not merely the path to bigger and supposedly better things. It may not be the ‘real world’ in the sense that the term is used, but I’ve found these past four years to be incredibly, sometimes painfully, real.

Maybe this is a bit too heavy for my last column ever at The Sun. Last-ever columns are usually filled with weepy reflections and sentimental “thank you’s.”

I couldn’t stomach the idea of another column like that. And in some sense I think my little ode to Arts and Sciences is the most appropriate way to say goodbye. Cornell has profoundly shaped me. Thinking about leaving overwhelms me. To say I’ll miss it would be a gross understatement.

All I can hope for is that students in the Class of 2016 (despite being Bieber-less), and all the classes afterwards, have the chance to experience Cornell as I did.

Of course, things will look different in the future. There will be new buildings and, if the past couple years are any indication, I won’t recognize most of the Collegetown bars (R.I.P. Palms, Dino’s, J-O’s). But I’m okay with all of that as long as the school’s spirit remains similar. I want to make sure the Arts and Sciences is still around, still relevant and still promoting intellectual engagement.

Original Author: Hannah Stamler