Last month I attended a planning session for the USD strategic planning committee. The event was sparsely attended, but our small group did focus on one subject in particular: student morale.
It’s an interesting time to write about this because many of us, including me, are becoming a little burned out here at the end of the semester. Having a slightly lower morale seems natural right about now. Nevertheless, in our planning session we felt that the level of energy, enthusiasm and sociability on campus left something to be desired.
I’ve been told that at certain other schools there is a more extroverted and competitive spirit in the classroom. I can’t verify whether the grass is greener on the other side, but I do think there’s a very quiet midwestern temperament that a lot of us bring to the classroom and to campus life.
Another factor is that many students work and even live outside Vermillion. The campus feels very quiet on the weekends, as many students opt to drive home rather than stay in the dorms. There’s no easy fix for a lot of these things, and they are probably beyond the control of the school entirely.
Potential solutions may do as much harm as good. Consider if the classes were arbitrarily made more difficult, and the students were forced to band together and study intensely to succeed. This might work, but it’s probably too draconian to force the student body to bond over a forced march.
Every once in a while some extraordinary group of friends and peers manages to create a community of excellence. I’m especially thinking about the “Tubingen Three,” the classmates Hegel, Schelling and Holderlin, who were talented thinkers. Ambitious local cadres exist in sports as well, and probably every other field, such as the literary circle of the Lost Generation in Paris. One always hopes such groups could be inspired here at USD.
I also wonder if, rather than being a problem, the lethargy of student life is a sign of success. For most students, it will be hard to be equally enthusiastic about every class they end up taking here. An undergrad education is often broad rather than deep. Most students, I think, have some general education classes they dread. There is, hopefully, something to be said for this “well-rounded” approach. However, the price may be some dull classrooms.