VI. Relations To The Outside World
Contrary to the image of the ivory tower so dear to the lay public, no university or college is really very discrete from the larger community. The students and teachers of the School of General Studies, by the very nature of their extensive outside commitments, are even more deeply involved in that outer world than their counterparts at a conventional undergraduate school.
An adult student must occasionally appear as a student in relation to his employer, his family, and to many others. Society does not provide a guide for such relationships. No novels, television plays, or handbooks of etiquette tell us whether or not it is appropriate for a junior executive to ask to leave early on Wednesdays to attend school. Nor do they tell a husband what to say when his wife suggests having a baby-sitter between three and five every afternoon so she can sit in the library and study, and so forth. The unclarity is in fact so great that it is frequently unclear when one appears as a student, if at all. At times, people fail to see the older persons who attend the School of General Studies as students and fail to respond to them as students:
When I left some acquaintances at lunch once and said ĎSorry, I have to go to class now,í one of them said, ĎOh, what are you teaching?í
The adult students usually seem to develop a great deal of poise in handling such confusions of roles. In the long run, however, they would be greatly helped by some public recognition and awareness of their role.
It is not possible to review all the repercussions of an adultís decision to become a student. The studentsí commitments outside of school are too varied, and the consequences of college attendance upon the rest of their lives vary enormously from case to case, depending on the nature of these commitments. Let us, therefore, restrict ourselves to some illustrative cases.
Particularly severe are those adjustments that involve the scheduling of work. At the beginning of each semester the student commits himself to attend classes at specific hours for the entire semester, that is for four subsequent months. This does not provide enough flexibility from the point of view of some employers. The result may be a dilemma such as this posed by one student:
I signed up for three evening courses last September. Now (in November) my boss has to transfer me to a night shift. I donít know what to do: to keep my job and lose 250 dollars I paid in tuition or to take another daytime job for a lower salary.
How this particular dilemma was resolved is not known but the fact that the School has a high drop-out rate of employed students is clear.
A pre-social worker, who is a Delayed Transfer, portrays some of the dynamics of being a wife-worker-student in the following words:
I arranged it so that my children stay in school all day. They don't come home for lunch anymore. I don't feel as though they need me at home as much as they used to. Now, after I have started at the University and get home, they are excited to see me.
(What is your husbandís attitude? How did he feel when you first decided to go to college?)
He didnít object Ė he thought it was all right. Before I started going to school, if we didnít go out with friends on Friday or Saturday night, we would stay at home. He never wanted to go to a movie and that kind of thing. But, now on weekend evenings if we arenít going out with friends and I start to study, he suggests that we go to a movie. He doesnít like the idea of my spending time on study at home. He doesnít mind the time I spend at school or object to it, but he doesnít seem to like the idea of my devoting too much time to study at home.
This statement indicates some of the problems of the wife-student: the redefinition of the mother-child role ("They donít come home for lunch anymore"); the childrenís evaluation of an adjustment to this change ("They are excited to see me"); the re-definition of duties in the wife-husband role ("On weekend evenings when I start to study"); the husbandís evaluation of and adjustment to this change ("He suggests we go to a movie. He doesnít like the idea of my spending time on study at home"). We see how the motherís new activities brought about new evaluations from her children and husband. New prescriptions could emerge in the mother-child role Ė e. g., concerning luncheons Ė because this did not challenge the childrenís position. The husband, however, felt declassed when he saw his wife studying at home, so in this case the new pattern was met with resistance.
Students who have high-salary jobs face an additional difficulty. The prestige of an undergraduate student may be lower than the prestige of the positions they hold. This dilemma and a possible solution is illustrated by a Delayed Starter:
At first I told everybody that I had started college. I was so proud of myself. But, some of the reactions I have gotten from people have made me more careful, so I have stopped advertising it. Some people thought I was a queer bird going to school at my age and made me feel inferior. Also, I am executive secretary of a small community agency, and we have one social worker on the staff. I have decided not to tell her. She has a Masterís degree. Since she works for me, it would only upset our relationship if she knew I still have years left to my Bachelorís.
Apparently, this woman finds it more convenient to conceal from her workmates the fact that she is presently a college student.
The teacherís relationships with outsiders are more clear-cut. However, some of them have scheduling problems similar those of their students. In one case, for example, the wifeís complaints about her husbandís frequent evening work became an important consideration in his decision to resign from the School of General Studies. Likewise, a part-time teacher often finds scheduling at his down-town business a problem.
If I should mention a draw-back it would be that the job (with General Studies) curbs my possibilities for travel; I have to schedule my travel so that I can meet the class.
Another obligation of teachers to the outside community is a source of strain. Teachers at times receive requests to write letters of recommendation for their students. It is customary for such letters to include not only evaluations of intellect, but also evaluations of character. Sometimes forms are to be filled out that include specific headings for character information. In a conventional college, students and teachers often form a rather close-knit community and the teachers have reasonable opportunity to observe the students and get an impression of their individual traits. In the School of General Studies, opportunities to secure such information are rare: students and teachers do not see much of each other outside the prescribed hours. Several teachers have mentioned how difficult they found the furnishing of character information about the students to outside agencies:
Either you write nothing, and the receiver thinks the student is a problem case, or you write a routine statement that isnít likely to help anyone very much.
In due time, outside agencies might learn not to expect the same detailed character information from an adult college as from conventional colleges, but this is at present not the case. Nor have any other methods of dealing with this problem been accepted. A proposal by an administrator to require Advisors to Students to supply character evaluations was voted down by the Advisors.
Of course, most of the formal and routine relationships with the outside group are dealt with by administrators. To maintain buildings, to have clerical supplies on hand, to pay bills and salaries through bank accounts, to make sure that the validation program conforms to the statutes of the State of New York, to furnish all kinds of agencies with statistical reports, to send a studentís grade sheet to a professional school in which he wishes to enroll, all this and a thousand other tasks necessarily involve the administrators with outsiders in more or less routine dealings.
But since the college is new and unique, the Dean finds it essential to spend considerable time simply presenting and explaining it to the larger community. The themes that the Dean appears to find most effective for legitimizing his adult college and creating enthusiasm for it are: the idea that persons of any age can learn, the idea that no one has to give up, even when adult, the American dream of securing a better position through education, the idea that a large share of those over-aged for a conventional college are persons of high intelligence who constitute a large reserve of intellectual and technical manpower that can be made useful for society through colleges of this kind, and the fact that the School of General Studies is successfully demonstrating the validity of these ideas in graduating a large number of adults of whom nearly two-thirds continue to further graduate and professional training.
When ideas such as these become gradually known and accepted, it will be much easier perhaps for students and teachers to handle their relations with outsiders. These ideas serve to legitimize the School by pointing to its contribution to accepted values in terms of social mobility and learning and to its services to industry and government in terms of trained manpower.