Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.8.07

Memo to: History
Re: The quality of my education

The UO was not my first choice. I am a lower-class Oregonian, and attending this school was more a matter of convenience than of opportunity. If I were from a wealthier background, I might not have gone to school in the U.S. This school, like many others in America today, does not appear to hold academia as its top priority. The UO has a reputation for being a party school, more connected to California than rural Oregon. My impression of earning a degree was akin to the system of Papal indulgences of 500 years ago: If I spend enough money for a piece of paper, I avoid going to hell — working minimum wage and thinking that is all that is available to rural Oregonians. Getting out of hell meant getting an education. My only other reasonable option was to join the military.

Perhaps there’s some truth to this prejudice about education. But I was grievously wrong. My experience has surpassed my expectations. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to certain professors for doing their job right. The history department in particular has an exceptional professionalism. I may not have been the best student towards my teachers, but my teachers have never let me down. Their work is commendable; they are the reason I kept going here instead of someplace else. That someplace else may have been Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea.

When these professors feel they are neglected by the university system, I find myself sympathizing with them. They are an invaluable intellectual elite — yet it is clear to anyone who pays attention that they aren’t high up on the list of priorities. It isn’t just a matter of paying them what they’re worth. It is a matter of status, and it is above all a matter of preserving academic integrity in an era where integrity elsewhere is being sapped. When my heroes at this school say that the athletic and business departments are getting more focus than the history department, I listen to them. And I believe them.

This is how I see it in a larger context: I do not care one bit about Ducks vs. Beavers. They are both products of Nike. What I care about is the U.S. vs. Terrorists, and I also care that we are losing ground in the war on terror. As history shows us, those who choose to remain ignorant about the sans culottes of the world occasionally get mauled by them. I owe a special thanks to professors Alan Kimball, Ken DeBevoise, Charles Hunt and Arif Dirlik for providing instruction on this key issue.

To paraphrase something professor Glenn May told me recently, we cannot think of college as merely four years of drinking followed by a piece of paper. When schools become like this, we get people like George W. Bush. It is embarrassing to me that this inept president has a degree in history but little understanding of the subject. The mission of my history professors is to remove ignorance of this kind from my mind, and for doing this I thank them.

For anyone who still doesn’t believe we are entering a crisis of ignorance, I simply ask you to ask the students at the UO who Ken Kesey was. Everyone knows who our official patron is: Phil Knight. What gets me is that kids today are forgetting our unofficial patron-hero, the King of the Merry Pranksters … and his emblem was the peace symbol. Go ahead. Shake your head at those who have forgotten the precious history of the previous generation. Yet don’t feel too jaded by these kids who play with MySpace and texting during class; some of us still value the work of our teachers. We still revere you as heroes.

Ian Epstein is working on a degree in history at UO and working for the UO Housing Department.