iPods Vs. Cigarettes

Looks like Duke is going to give a free iPod to every incoming first year this fall, according to today’s Chronicle of Higher Education. The article reports, “The goal of the giveaway is education, not entertainment, Duke officials say.” While I don’t doubt that there are many fine uses for the iPod (the article lists some great ones) I wonder a few things about a trend I see in higher education.
My aunt, who attended Duke in the mid fifties says they gave her incoming class a carton of Camel cigarettes. Keeping in mind that the Dukes made their fortune through tobacco and the very eccentric daughters kept camels under a tent on their manicured, cliffside Newport estate well into the 1990′s, was that goal education too?
What is this move toward glamming up a university’s leisure amenities (the gym, the student union, the rooms) about? Is it cheaper than paying professors more, giving more scholarships to needy students, hiring more associate professors instead of lecturers? It seems like our society (our coporations) are usually more inclined to financially support mindless products in higher education than productive minds. At least in the fifies, they were brutally honest–cigarettes were for fun, to attract students to a “fun” school. Though I’m not arguing against better exercise facilities and more technology in higher education and I do see the educational benefits that result from these improvements, I find myself wondering how, if, and when these amenities will improve our current, most serious problem at the university level: how do we insure that the students, who are currently shouldering tens of thousands of dollars of debt, can pay for it?
And finally, why doesn’t anyone give me a free iPod?

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