Culture and Anarchy 2.0: No Ideas without Ideals (2nd of 5)
And now we turn to the runaway hit from Rutgersfest 2011, a video that to date (some 48 hours out from the event) has garnered more views than all the other videos of fist fights, drunken walks, revelry, and stupidity from that day combined: “This Is Just 2 Crazy: Fight Outside Rutgers Fest 2011!(Girls Poppin Off On Everybody & Boyfriend Fights 3 Chicks While His Girl Gets Jumped).” This video, captured by a cell phone, has far surpassed interest YOungRic0’s “Rutgers Fest Fight 2011,” which captures the same fight from a different angle: “This is Just 2 Crazy” is now over 300K on worldstarhiphop.com and is making its way onto the pages of other hiphop sites, news agencies, bloggers, fans, and even porn distributors. What’s the difference?
Is it quality?
“This is Just 2 Crazy” is further from the fight and displays in a much narrower format, yet is has five times as many views as “Rutgers Fest Fight 2011.” So, if it’s not quality driving the difference in reception, what is it?
Before getting to the videos, some context.
Any student from Rutgers-New Brunswick would be able to identify the location of this four-minute convulsive brawl: it’s in front of the Rutgers Student Center, at the heart of the College Avenue Campus. No more than one hundred yards from where these young men and women are throwing their punches is the site of the first college football game, where Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in 1869.
Three Years Ago, Rutgers Spent $120M to Add Seats to the Football Stadium on Busch Campus
Across the street from the College Avenue Student Center is Brower Commons, which serves as a “Speaker’s Corner” of sorts, where students advocate for various causes, Greeks work off their community service hours fundraising for this and that, and bands play. It’s not an ideal place to congregate since, well, it opens out onto one of the busiest streets in New Brunswick, but it’s what we’ve got:
Use your mouse to see what the crime scene looks like during the day.
Shortly after he returned to Rutgers in 2002 to lead the university, President Richard McCormick had a vision for transforming the College Avenue Campus, reducing the traffic through the heart of the campus and using landscaping features to provide visual evidence of the boundary between town and gown. This bold plan, which came to be known as the “Greening of College Avenue,” has not come to pass for many reasons: improving public space seems a disposable luxury when state support for higher education is in steep decline; the local talent for seeing such a large scale project through to completion never materialized; private fundraising for the project never got off the ground; and the project never really got much traction within the university community. Trees are nice and all, but what about classrooms with ceilings that don’t leak, better lecture halls, more and better teachers, better dorms, etc., etc.
We’re an urban campus.
Should the improvement of this main thoroughfare have been a priority?
Leadership requires vision or perhaps it might be better to say that it once did. It’s a commonplace now to see the job of university president as combination glad-hander and rainmaker, with the “vision thing” taken care of in committee. The Greening was a vision that was intended to solve a real problem: there is no sense of place on College Avenue, no readily available and reliable means to know where the campus’s jagged edges end and the surrounding and interpenetrating town of New Brunswick begins. Indeed, there are two blocks of property right in the middle of the College Avenue Campus that belong to the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. And much of the property on the near side of College Avenue is privately owned–by fraternities, the credit union, the Second Reformed Church of New Brunswick.
Where does Rutgers begin? Where does it end?
The Greening probably isn’t the answer to these questions; the failure of the initiative has, however, left those questions unanswered at the level of the visual, which means that the border between those who live on the university and those who live outside it is not clear.
Rutgers is a big public university and counts, among its assets, more than 365,000 living alumni and alumnae. That’s a lot of degree-carrying graduates and yet, in 2009, the endowment for the university had only the 107th largest endowment in the country, $500M.
For a sense of scale, it helps to know that in 2009 Rutgers was just behind Bryn Mawr College ($527M/104th) with its 1,700 students and Lafayette College ($568M/91st) with its 2,500 students.
These are just numbers. What do they mean?
Well, one quick measure of the quality of life on a college or university campus is endowment dollars per enrolled student. This is a useful number because the endowment provides the college or university administrators with money above and beyond tuition and fees that it can devote to the upkeep of the physical plant, to the recruitment of a strong teaching force, to supporting new initiatives, and to beefing up campus security, for example.
It’s fair to say that I am comparing apples to oranges: a large publicly funded university spread across New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, and Camden is designed to be different from small, private, geographically contained liberal arts colleges like Lafayette and Bryn Mawr. There’s a difference in scale and mission: a Rutgers education costs roughly one-third of what an education costs at the small, elite liberal arts colleges because of its size and its commitment to making higher education available to all who qualify for admission.
So, apples to apples:
Rank in terms of endowment size in parentheses.
In this fairer comparison, the graph ends up posing the same question the previous graph posed, only less abrasively. Why is Rutgers University, home to one of the nine colleges established before the American Revolution, so impoverished compared to its peers and near neighbors?
There are many factors that have led to this state of affairs–far too many to open up for consideration here. The relevant one for our purposes concerns the quality of student experience on campus. It’s a seemingly simple equation: admit good students, provide them with a good education, and wait forty years or so for the giving back to commence.
While I can only speculate about what the university was like forty years ago, it’s a truth everywhere acknowledged that Rutgers has long struggled with an image problem in the state. Rutgers Day, which was launched a few years back, is one of many efforts commenced over many years to combat the public sense that the university doesn’t serve the state as well as it might. Rutgers Day functions just like The Ag/Field Day and Folk Festival, also held in the spring: all are meant to bring visitors from around the state on to the flagship campus of the state university, where they are free to roam the grounds, eat carnival food, let the kids run around, and sit in on mini-educational and -cultural events.
Not that it matters, but Rutgerfest was never designed to be a public relations vehicle of this kind. (Come to Rutgers and Get Shot! isn’t exactly enticing.) On paper, there’s no ambiguity about the target audience and the function of Rutgersfest: funded by the mandatory student fees, organized by the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA), Rutgersfest is meant to be a spring stress reliever (albeit one that falls just two or three weeks after Spring Break) for students at the university. Like the Snooki event discussed in the previous post, Rutgerfest is organized by students, with student fees, for students. End of story.
Sounds simple and clear, until you look at a campus map. Because Rutgers-New Brunswick is not one campus, but five discontiguous ones, each without clear borders, boundaries, or margins, there’s no stopping outsiders from attending free events held outdoors. At least, no way without the addition of a significantly larger campus police force, physical barriers, busses for mass arrests, martial law, tanks in the streets, etc.
Well, maybe not those last two entries on the list. Maybe.
Seems like a lot of bother for an afternoon free concert and the opportunity for university students to do some “Bouncy Boxing” or to give the padded “Gladiator Joust” a try.
Flayl Away You Crazy RUPA!
How much does it cost to go to Rutgers, anyway?
This helpful chart from the Star Ledger tracks the increase in tuition and fees over the past decade:
Has your earning power increased this much over the past decade?
For most of us, the answer to that question doesn’t exactly require a call to one’s tax advisor or a review of one’s W-2s.
And most students can answer that same question pretty easily for their parents.
Indeed, according to the Project on Student Debt, 62% of students who graduated from a college or university in New Jersey in 2009 had taken out a student loan, leaving with a degree and an average debt of $22,731.*
As it happens, Rutgers students have established something of a tradition of protesting the annual tuition increases, which involves the establishment of “Tent State University” for a week every spring on the Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus. The idea is that setting up a tent shantytown students and faculty have to walk by on their way to and from class heightens awareness about the cost of higher education and the bleak job prospects just beyond the years spent toiling in the Ivory Tower.
Well, maybe shantytown is something of a stretch, but you get the point.
This year, Tent State went up as the crime scene investigators and the street sweepers concluded their work on nearby College Avenue following the riotous revelry of Rutgersfest. The timing’s not great, obviously: Party at Rutgersfest on Friday; Recover from Party Over the Weekend; Protest Cost of Higher Ed on Monday, but whatever. The bigger problem, from the protestors’ point of view, is the impossibility of drawing crowds the size of Rutgersfest.
One last piece of our contextual puzzle, before turning our attention to “This is Just 2 Crazy” which, just by the by, has rung up another 50,000 views since I started this entry:
Views as of 9AM EST, April 19th, 2011.
The video is no Slim Thug (400,000 additional views) or class act at PVAMU (200,000 additional views), but its out there doing its thing and will still be at it once I complete this last bit about student protests.
Rutgersfest was also preceded, this year, by a protest march meant to raise awareness about the cost of higher education in New Jersey. The trouble naming the event is telling: in print publicity, what is called “The Day of Protest” was really a couple of Wednesday afternoon hours of protest; in the organizers’ video, what is termed “The Walk into Action” inadvertently captures the sense that whatever action is called for is elsewhere and there’s not exactly much urgency about getting there.
But, I make too much of words. On to the business of protesting.
The mechanics of protesting seem pretty straightforward.
- Organize interest in a common cause.
- Strategize about how to bring attention to the cause.
- Present one’s grievances to a higher authority.
- If those grievances are not attended to, repeat, in increasingly visible ways.
Just before Rutgersfest, on April 13th, a handful of students (hundreds as compared to the tens of thousands who showed up on April 15th for the music and fun), met on Voorhees Mall for a statewide “Day of Protest” over the rising cost of higher education.
Day of Protest, College Avenue Campus, April 13th (l) and Rutgersfest, Busch Campus, April 15th (r)
The Rally turned into a March, as these things do, with chanting, the beating of a drum, a couple of bull horns, the waving of some handmade posters. The procession went straight to Old Queens, the central administration building, and then into the building and up the stairs to the President’s office. Everyone seems surprised not only to find the President in his office, but that he’s willing to take up the bull horn and respond to a rather eclectic set of demands, ranging from the immediate recension of a transcript fee to the freezing of tuition to greater student representation on the Board of Governors.
As the front edge of the protesters crowd into McCormick’s office, Joel Salvino, student representative on the University Senate, alternately reads and shouts the protestors’ list of demands, his words often swallowed up by chants of:
EDUCATION IS A RIGHT. FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT
YOU CAN’T RAISE OUR TUITION WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION.
Chants, by definition, simplify matters; they’re an expedient way of creating a sense of unity and giving voice to a mass concern. Granting the chant’s utilitarian function, it is, nevertheless, unfortunate that neither of the chants that rallied the protestors is factually true.
The third chant:
KEEP RUTGERS PUBLIC
is problematic in a different way. While the protestors’ intent is clear–namely that higher education should not be priced out their reach–there is another sense in which the very publicness of the institution–that is, its reliance on the state for funding–now comes with so many bureaucratic strings, payoffs, and obligations that breaking with the state might actually allow the institution more leeway to contain costs and to support innovative teaching and research. That’s a more complicated argument to follow, though, and thinking it through takes time, attention to details, negotiations, and planning. The most common examples people turn to in making this argument are the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. And, of course, at the Ivies, there’s the effort now to spare lower income students from graduating with any debt.
But, details, details: on to the bullhorn!
Pipe that shit down!
McCormick makes the unfortunate decision to take the chant “Keep Rutgers Public” as an invitation to explain what he thinks the chant means: increased support from the state and continued access to higher education in New Jersey by a student population that looks like the population of New Jersey as a whole. It’s stump speech material from the circular file delivered without conviction. Just after McCormick moves on to the students’ third demand, the protestors grow restless: they don’t want the party line; they want action! They’ve got questions and they want answers!
Eventually, the protesters who can’t squeeze into the President’s office begin chanting, “COME OUTSIDE, COME OUTSIDE.” McCormick accepts the invitation, but demurs when asked to join the protest march back down College Avenue to Brower Commons, just across from the Student Center. So after milling about for some additional presidential dilating on why tuition is unlikely to be frozen, the students take their dog’s breakfast of demands and their chanting entourage to the streets.
In the clip below, I’ve excerpted from a piece called, “Rutgers Students Invade President’s Office,” filmed by Carmen Rao and edited by Dennis Anderson.
Takin’ in to the streets!
To say that the students are marching in the past is not to criticize these particular students or their cause; it is to make a statement about the status of protest strategies that worked in the United States before cable television, but which have now been bled of all effectivity by the proliferation of on-demand viewing and social media. Like their teachers and the administrators who oversee their university, these students are walking backwards into the future, relying on methods of communication, strategies of dissent and, indeed, arguments about education that are virtually without significance in the media-saturated, networked world of the 21st century.
A simple observation to underscore this point: from this video, we learn that there is–or rather was–meant to be a mass meeting on April 17th at 2pm.
The way the video has been edited, there’s no knowing because the location is never explicitly stated.
Obviously, those present heard the location, which surely was announced, or at least heard that there was a location (bullhorns distort sound, so there’s no guaranteeing that anything said into the bullhorn is heard clearly by all in an outside space, with traffic going by, people talking, the wind blowing). But, if it’s to be a mass meeting, how is this information meant to travel? Not via the broadcast video, apparently.
Perhaps the meeting was at Tent State down on Voorhees?
If I’d seen the video in time and was inspired to attend, that’s where I would’ve headed. But anyone have been there? Was anyone? As on April 20th, there’s no followup video documenting the next step in the plan.
This hiccup in the information flow invites the question: what, exactly, is this video for? What work is it meant to do? If not a vehicle for building support to the cause, for communicating a richer understanding of the issues, or for getting the word out, what is its project?
In my classes, I’ve been asking my students whether or not it makes sense to publicize a vision of university life that is idea-driven in an effort to counter the viral effect of videos that only capture the Bacchanalian collegiate events and their consequences. They share my concern that the images of Rutgers students and the Rutgers campus that has proliferated in the wake of Rutgersfest don’t represent them; they’re troubled about the rebranding of Rutgers as party central.
But they also know how the Web functions at this time so, reasonably enough, they ask me: who would be the audience for idea-driven work?
Can you have ideals without ideas?
Views as of 11am EST, April 20th, 2011
While the “Day of Protest” videos haven’t exactly taken off, “This is Just 2 Crazy” seems to have picked up a fresh head of steam over the past 20 some hours, gaining on Ole Slim Thug and the skankfest at PVAMU. And YOungRic0’s alternate view on the fight, mentioned at the beginning of this post, isn’t doing too poorly either: over 123K views now. So, that’s 600K views of this fight in front of the Rutgers Student Center in under five days.
No traditional protest can compete for attention with the internet. No version of higher education can proceed in opposition to or in ignorance of the internet. No culture of ideas can be sustained in the twenty-first century by the work of people committed to paper and prestige.
No ideals without ideas.
This is the second of five installments in the Culture and Anarchy 2.0 thread. A summary of all five parts, with links to the other sections, may be found here.
Part 1 of this meditation on campus violence may be found here: Broadcasting the End of Civilization.
Part 3: “Bitches Poppin’ Dudes” up next.
*The Project on Student Debt numbers are, at best, a very general guess, based as they are on information from only twenty-one of New Jersey’s thirty-six colleges and universities. The 2009 report may be found here.
Endowment data was drawn from the most recent Digest of Educational Statistics, which may be found here.
All enrollment data was drawn from http://collegeapps.about.com/
The RUPA advertisement comes from RUPA’s page devoted to Rutgersfest, which may be found here.
The Rutgers tuition chart comes from here.
Information on “Day of Protest” drawn from this report.
Part 2 of “Walk into Action” may be found here.