This University Bu$ine$$

“The best things in life are free,” I heard the radio belt-out. I believed that thoroughly until, at the age of 5, I asked the lady behind the counter in Chalk River for a little bag of penny candy. As it turns out, the best things in life were 50 cents. The bruised banana my mom left for me in my lunch bag was free.

Moving through life, the cost of the “best things” in life continued to astonish me: vacations, formal dresses, beer money, and, incredibly, education. Education was the key to happiness. I had been hearing that refrain long before high school – all the way back to when mom finished Cinderella stories with, “but she refused to marry him, because she wanted to get her University degree and get a good job first.” In Deep River, the message is: a University degree is tantamount to success.

Once I got to University, however, I was surprised. When I looked around the drunken frosh-week campus, I did not see the leaders of tomorrow. I felt stuck in overcrowded lecture halls with professors as bored with the material as I was. I was floored, then excited, and finally disillusioned, when I attained an A- in Physical Geography: a full-year course where I had skipped all but the second lecture.

I watched the money I had painstakingly saved mopping floors in the Tim Hortons’ smoking room seep through my bank account in tuition fees, boarding costs, textbook sales and ATMs. I lived on a shoe-string budget, despite spending tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t get me wrong: I was having a blast. The armchair accountant in me (I majored in Psychology) demanded to know what I was getting for my money. At the end of the year, it became clear: I had paid for five “credits”. I was buying my degree.

The Canadian University system is, in my over-educated opinion, a business model. The buy-in is $100,000.00 over four years. In that four years, as long as you fulfill your end of the bargain (make timely payments, regurgitate key words on assignments and exams, and enlist in the mandatory courses), you will emerge with two pieces of paper: a transcript and a degree. The latter, nobody will ever ask to see except your grandmother.

For free, I’ll give you three lessons you can learn in University.

  1. BUSINESS: The customer is always right. Going to University or College does not require a genius mind or much of a work ethic: it is a business. A time-consuming homework assignment or an unsatisfactory grade can be quickly bumped-up with a well-timed complaint (bonus points if mom or dad made a sizeable alumni donation). The student knowledge pool does not fund these small utopias – bums in chairs do. Public relations and student satisfaction can outweigh the need for academic integrity in an institution. Fear of litigation can deter an institution from standing-up for its teachers. A professor’s motivation to keep their job or secure tenure can overcome their desire to ensure the proper transmission of important knowledge.

 

  1. LANGUAGES: Universities speak in dollar bills. The dude who still spells Freud with a “y” will be graduating with the same Psychology degree you are. The “mandatory” new $300 version of the Professor’s textbook is differentiated only from last year’s $20 used textbook by three new sentences and a colour scheme. Your hard-working 4.0 GPA roommate will be denied entrance into a semester when his OSAP loan did not come through before the enrollment cut-off.

 

  1. ECONOMICS: University bachelor degrees are a dime a dozen. When everybody gets a degree, the value of all degrees declines. On a resume, University completion is the new high school. If you do not have something to supplement your shiny papers, like a trade or nepotism, you are probably going to be hanging out with your degree in your mom’s basement.

 

Sure, a University degree can be a step to success in many cases. A B.A./B.Sc./B.Eng. is a necessary rung on the ladder to any Professional designation or degree. As savvy consumers, however, it is important to walk into a six-figure investment with your eyes wide open and considering all available options before deciding on the default path.

As a Deep Riverite graduate from two Universities with a law degree, I understand the potential necessity of “paying to play”. However, reviewing the Sunshine List replete with Hydro tradesmen, firefighters and police officers who are not still repaying massive student loans, one will recognize that “playing it smart” can also mean not investing in seven years of University tuition and residence costs.

Are the best things in life free? Sure. Everything else costs hard-earned money. I am loathe to overspend on the very institution that is supposed to teach how to think critically. The University investment may not be the right one for every 20-something and certainly is not the right investment for most career paths.

I have learned lots since that day at DJ’s convenience store. I worked a lot of jobs, saved lots of money, blew that money on University, and came through the other end with degrees, and later a job. The things I value most, (cue: nostalgic violin music) I acquired during the time I was dropping bills, but did not actually pay for: life lessons, relationships, character. Sadly, we cannot live on the free things alone.

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False Equivalence

Several young street merchants approached my friend offering knock-off designer bags in Taiwan. “Same! Same! But different…” Speaking in a learned language, these young kids were candidly expressing a concept the President of the United States does not understand: false equivalence.

If you have been living under a rock (or perhaps on Indian Point, or camping somewhere off the grid, or snug in your basement watching Netflix), you have saved yourself the horror of watching the racist Nazi BS south of the border.  Spoiler alert: we are about to end your blissful ignorance. Take a swig of your margarita and let’s dive in.

The quick recap is that August 11 and 12 marked a two-day revival of neo-Nazi extremist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. The group began with a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue. The demonstration ended with a murder and white nationalists CARRYING TORCHES yelling blatantly fascist and racist slurs: “blood and soil,” (invoking the Nazi philosophy “Blut und Boden”); “Jews will not replace us”; “Go the f*** back to Africa” and “F*** you fa**ots”.

As a quick aside: I realize this is a community paper. As I sit at my computer now, I contemplate removing these hateful words, the crass references to violent and offensive language. Unfortunately, white washing this event, this hate, and this violence, does not make it go away. We need to witness the magnitude of what is happening and see it for exactly what it is.

Back to the States. The newly minted President of the United States clearly has a situation. A situation that is monumentally terrifying and that calls out for action. He addressed the situation by condemning violence – ON BOTH SIDES. Jaw drop.

Nazis vs. People against Nazis. Seems like a clear-cut bad guy vs. good guy scenario, right?

Voldemort vs. Harry Potter.

Cancer vs. Patient.

Mosquitos vs. Deep Riverite.

Apparently, Trump did not think so. His staff did. Trump, who wastes no time in condemning anything (the news, the London Mayor, the FBI, Amazon.ca), did his best to avoid condemning a race-based protest. Instead, he likened the self-proclaimed ethnic cleansing group with the citizens who showed-up to protest hate.

Violent Hate Groups cannot be equivocated to those who defend themselves and others against violent hate groups. Don’t take it from me, ask a veteran.

We can break it down logically as well. We can find some similarities between the groups. Both involved people. Both groups attended at the same location. Both were yelling. The scene became violent. This does not make both groups equally blameworthy.  Virginia Senator Kaine identified the difference: the violence “was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts.”

In any conflict, we can find some similarities. More level heads and clearer minds can and should identify when one of the parties has crossed the line. Identifying, addressing and condemning morally blameworthy acts is particularly important for (a) a world leader to do (b) in a time of crisis, and importantly (c) any time when Nazis are involved.

The responsibility to loudly, publicly denounce and decry hate speech does not stop at the feet of a world leader. It extends to the public, to the cities where hate is, and to the doorsteps of little towns where we hear about it. Last week, comedian Tina Fey sarcastically joked that we should drown our outrage in sheetcake. The satire was lost on some, and so the point must be made clear. Simple. No matter who or where we are, we do not tolerate Nazis. We need to loudly encourage those who defend against hate.

Some things are simple: simple enough for kids to understand. Lex Luther and Superman are both superheroes, of course. In that way they are the same. Their differences, however, cannot be underplayed. We condemn Lex Luther’s evil attacks on innocent people. We support Superman’s defence of humanity.

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Life lessons come in strange forms. The Life Lesson Trifecta hit me in the summer of 2014. One hot Kingston afternoon, my dog nearly managed to have me eating out of the palm of his hand – or, rather, from the bottom of his dish.

As a first-time dog owner, I had a lot to learn about training a 65-pound, sweet, high-energy labradoodle puppy. His weight, energy and determination turned many of our walks into complex, dynamic obstacle courses. A brisk winter walk became a dog-propelled tobogganing adventure, a jog by the lake turned into a puddle jump and log roll, a stroll through the park became a series of red rover games with unsuspecting strangers. Max passed puppy school three times, only to school me outside of class: he knew what to do – and he knew he didn’t have to do it. I had run out of options until I came upon the website for the Dog Whisperer of Kingston, Ontario.  “Just $100. GUARANTEED SATISFACTION. UNLIMITED FREE FOLLOW-UPS, if Needed.” This Dog Whisperer scooped me: mind, hopes and wallet.

The Dog Whisperer’s entrance was as grand as his promises. He rolled-up like a gangster and parked out front in his decked-out station wagon that read “Ain’t Misbehavin” in big, bold font. My plans for the afternoon were now public knowledge. The 5’10, 110-pound middle-aged man sauntered to my door, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Max, sensing the upcoming snafu, eagerly ran to meet the knock. Using my extremely graceful one-legged, two-armed, dog restraining, double door pulling manoeuvre, I opened my door for the Dog Whisperer.

“STOP! He announced. We will do it AGAIN! This time – I am the King!”

His extremely strange announcement worked. Max and I both stopped mid-door routine. Max searched my eyes to find out who in Dog’s name I had invited into the house. This was going to be a ride.

The next thing I knew, the Dog Whisperer was taking us out for a walk in the streets. I was on full display before my neighbours, friends, and the general public. He explained that, if I want to be king, I need to act like the king.  His voice inflated as we walked out the door: “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” he shouted. He pointed downward, and proclaimed, “THIS IS MY SIDEWALK!” He pointed at my elderly neighbour’s Toyota: “THIS IS MY CAR.” A young family with a child and a baby walked by, and he yelled “THIS IS MY BABY!” Needless to say, the family made a sharp left turn off of my street.

I was about to suggest that we retreat inside when I heard a low groan from a nearby dog. The Dog Whisperer was instantly intrigued. To my dismay, a very pregnant woman sat with her children, an elderly woman, and a medium sized boxer in a muzzle only 20 yards away. Oh, Good Lord. Max and I were ready to bail, when the Dog Whisperer pulled on Max’s leash. As expected, the Dog Whisperer had sniffed-out a learning opportunity. We walked over to the area he had already designated HIS park. The pregnant woman asked us to just walk away. The Dog Whisperer was not having any of it. “I AM THE DOG WHISPERER,” he announced. The woman started to plead, “Turn around, sir. Don’t come closer”. “YOU NEEDN’T HAVE ANY FEAR” he proclaimed, pulling Max with him. The boxer’s groan turned into a growl. The pregnant lady stood up and loudly proclaimed right back: “MISTER, I AM 8 MONTHS PREGNANT WITH AN ANGRY DOG AND AN OLD MOTHER. YOU NEED TO BACK UP!!” The Dog Whisperer had missed the memo: She was King. This was HER park.

The lesson continued for another hour and a half. I was poked and jabbed while the Dog Whisperer demonstrated on me how he would physically get Max’s attention. We returned to my home where he and Max chased each other in laps through my hallway, past my glass dining room table and over my furniture. The piece de resistance, however, he kept for last. “I need crackers!” He implored. I told him I was gluten-free. We began a bizarre negotiation about crunchy food I may or may not have in my cupboard. We eventually settled on raisins. The Dog Whisperer had a final exercise for me.

At this point, I realized I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I watched as the tall middle-aged man in my kitchen grabbed Max’s full dish of dog food and raisins, and sunk to his hands and knees. I gasped as he stretched his head forward to eat the raisins out of Max’s bowl of dog food. The Dog Whisperer’s food concentration was broken only to give an occasional growl to Max and I. Max again looked up at me, as if to ask if I was crazy enough to join this guy on the ground. I was not.

The Dog Whisperer had been in my life for two hours. While Max still could not be walked steadily on his leash, I learned three important lessons:

  1. Nobody – not I, not Max, not the Dog Whisperer – nobody is the king of the world. You can only ever be the king of you.
  2. Read guarantees carefully – free services are only worth what you would be willing to pay for them in the first place.
  3. No level of dog obedience is worth eating dog food for: Max knew this beforehand. I needed to see it with my own eyes.