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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Avoiding Self-Parody

[Papa Smurf] — Some Collegiate Way readers may be familiar with the popular public radio program Car Talk, which is as famous for its comedy as for its automobile advice. One of the humorous skits they read a few weeks ago was based on a computer-generated mailing from a local shopping mall. The mall could determine the names and addresses of all its customers from their credit card records, and could tell who had been shopping recently and who hadn’t. Anyone who hadn’t been to the mall for a few months was sent a pseudo-personal letter from “Mary” saying, “We’ve missed you at the mall! We’d really like to see you, and I hope you’ll stop by again soon!” A waggish customer passed on to the Car Talk folks a hand-written letter sent in reply: “Dear Mary — I miss you too! Things have been so hectic lately with getting the kids ready for school, and Jim’s new job. Maybe we can get together for coffee next Friday? Let me know if that would work for you!”

The occasion for the humor, of course, was the phony personalness of the original message. The shopping mall marketing department got what it deserved.

Moving from commerce to education, no one can deny that students have been making fun of, well, old people, for as long as there have been students and old people. And they will continue to do so until the end of time. But there’s no reason us old people need to go out of our way to supply them with their material.

Phony personalness is something for which college students have an especially acute ear. In our communications with them we should be sure that our own hearing is as sharp as theirs. The posting below is something I recently came across in an undergraduate blog at a U.S. public university (which will remain nameless). Sad to say, the vice president who authored the mass mailing got what he deserved, too. The student writes:

Well, This Is Kinda Creepy

I was just checking my school e-mail, since I know a professor will be forwarding something we need for a lab to that address, and noticed that there was an e-mail from the school’s VP For Student Development about the voting for student government.

I did a quick read-through, and it was as boring as you would expect. However, there was one sentence at the end that kinda weirded me out:

“Be well my students, and know that we care about you in all ways with the purpose of creating new possibilities one student at a time.”

“Be well my students”? That’s pretty damn close to how Papa Smurf would talk to the rest of those little blue midgets he had runnin’ around that weird, shroomy Smurf Village. And when a school Vice President starts sounding like a cartoon character that is as trippy as a Smurf, you know there’s a problem.

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