Tailgates, Togas and the Budget Crisis

As a rule, I start off most quarters optimistic. No matter what doom I’ve endured the previous 10 weeks with a deadbeat TA or scoliosis-inducing stack of books, there’s unceasing hope for that silver-screen moment during Week One when an electrifying professor (“visiting lecturer” or “cute MFA student” will do) snaps me out of my sleepwalk with a riveting lecture and reading list that claims a tasteful blend of tragicomedy, mystery and sex. (Obvious bonus points for any further exploration of those themes in office hours).

Once again, my quarterly fantasy’s proven more than a little far-fetched. Maybe I’ve gone soft in my third year, but I don’t remember ever feeling as overwhelmed or as isolated by Week Three as I do now. Entire history books have gone unread and papers unwritten — and while I do hazily remember passing seventh-grade Language Arts, I still can’t seem to master something called a grammar tree, which apparently I have to if I ever want to graduate with a B.A. in writing.

A guiltier lit major might look inward: at class time wasted sleeping, or working, or, in moments of fleeting contemplation, estimating how much time remains before he finally breaks down and cusses out the Greenpeace dude on Library Walk. (Negative 19 days and counting.)

But I don’t actually feel guilty, and I don’t think I’m the only one. The truth is, it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to motivate yourself when you have no connection to the people you’re learning from. For what won’t be the last time in my college career, each of the lecture halls and seminar rooms I have class in is stuffed to max capacity. In one, an upper-div history class with an enrollment of 200, my professor’s even set up semi-mandatory weekly sections to break up the anonymity.

For all UCSD’s talk of “excellence,” taking furious notes from the 20th row back doesn’t inspire the all-consuming love affair with coursework that so many ad campaigns and campus tours made me imagine.

To be clear, I don’t blame my professors. Most of them teach two classes or more at once, and a grammar tree, truthfully, only leaves so much room for spellbinding, urban-high-school-movie-style instruction.

Professors aren’t responsible for everybody crowding the aisles in lecture, either. UC President Mark G. Yudof is an easy target for that one, but it’s not exactly his fault: The UC system is pretty damn broke, and with a $500-million budget cut due for fall, will be significantly broker in no time (translation: 300-seat history classes).

Most student government hopefuls last week — invigorated by the prospect of serving you, the students, or maybe that ‘B’ spot upgrade — had exactly the answer for old curmudgeons like me: raising our own tuition for sports teams and a frat row. But what do I know? Maybe a toga party, for now, is the best defense against isolation we can hope for.

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