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Mike Johnson '11: From one lemming to another

Welcome to the recession. In just the three short weeks since we all arrived back on campus, we've seen an explosion of money-related articles and opinions columns published in The Herald. Brown students are pinching their pennies, and whenever one slips through our collective fingers, we're going to let you know about it.

Most notably, Brown's identity crisis as being not only an educational institution, but also an entity making forays into dining services and investment has been called into question, with Kshitij Lauria '13 claiming that the University should adopt "the Unix philosophy of doing one thing and doing it well" (Refactoring the refectory, Sept. 16).

It's true; Brown has made some significant advances outside the area of education. The University has fed us, housed us and provided health insurance to those who don't have their own. Brown has put forth a line of bottled water, sold books and slapped its brand all over the clothing of sports teams, selling merchandise to fans across the country. For shame, Brown! How can you sleep at night?

While all of this is going on, the student body sleepwalks through its four-to-five years of undergraduate study, naively accepting everything it's told by early morning emails and bulletins from the Deans. Or this is what some would have you believe — we're sheep, and we need to open our eyes before we follow each other off the ledge, or some metaphor I've heard.

Lauria would like to see the Ratty shut down and reinvented as something akin to a food court, accepting individual payments via our meal plans, rather than taking meal credits for an all-you-care-to-eat buffet. He cites that football players are bigger, and therefore eat more food, and the rest of us shouldn't "subsidize their upkeep."

I agree; I don't care to subsidize vegetarianism, because my love of red meat is just too great to suffer them eating leaves and stuff that grows in the dirty, smelly earth any longer. But under the current system, I have to put up with the "Roots and Shoots" line, and have to walk past their righteous indignation whenever I want a grilled cheese.

Simon Liebling '12 argues that money should be a secondary concern in education ("Brown, Inc.", Sept. 10), claiming that all this emphasis on research is pushing the humanities out of vogue at Brown, and that the University's hunger to maximize "profit" is sullying our experience.

Truthfully, I don't know much about the economics of the University, and I'm sure Liebling would agree with me that perhaps that should be changed. But I know that sometimes you need to spend money to make money, and that as high as our tuition may be, undergraduates are certainly not footing any significant portion of the bill.

We're fortunate enough to have had some really rich, really generous people donate money back to Brown to fund projects. The new athletic center is a long time coming. The OMAC, with all its charm, is a death trap. Our swimming pool was condemned. We need a safe place to work out, and for our athletics teams to train, because to be honest, we need to court more extremely rich, extremely nice alumni to donate more money to us, and they really like football.

The new Creative Arts Center will finally provide Brown students with a space to sculpt, to paint, to write, to perform — all the creative pursuits currently homeless. We have more research labs than creative arts buildings on campus — not a tough trick, with zero creative arts buildings. As a writer, I usually hang out in Starbucks with my Apple laptop looking down my nose at everyone else, but I realize that's not everyone's cup of grande macchiato.

Most recently, Deniz Ilgen '13 decried the state of undergraduate dorms, claiming that while living in buildings with history is cool, living in buildings we're afraid will kill us is not ("Tradition: good or bad," Sept. 17).  At the risk of being self-serving and citing myself, this is an issue about which I have also raised some concern ("Home is where the heart is," April 13). It's curious that we pay all this money for room and board, and then again in damage fines, to see shabby rooms with crumbling walls.

The crux of the matter is not the average Brown student's propensity to complain. Collegiate cynicism is pretty widespread, and in the information age, we can find something to be angry about fairly quickly, and then tweet and post the night away. But the fact remains: Why are we here? Is it to fund the Brown University construct-a-thon?

We're here to learn. We're here to question. We're here to grow. It's a good idea to expand the meal plan, perhaps striking a deal with Thayer Street businesses to use meal credits there. It's a pretty good idea to have a little more common sense in how the University spends its money. It's a wonderful idea to make dorms livable again. But, Brunonians, it's even better to take a deep breath, and think about what you're about to say. One thing I've learned at Brown is that no one is ever entirely right.

 Mike Johnson '11 celebrates the addition of grilled cheese to the Bistro line.


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