Dan: It’ll look good on my C.V.
You know when you read something and thing “man I wish I could put it like that?”. Well, a friend posted this as a note on Facebook, and that’s exactly my reaction. Being between finishing and graduating probably puts him in a better position than myself. I don’t think its a uniquely York problem, and I think everyone, even non-students need to really stop and think about the issues he raises.
Instrumentalism plagues higher education. From our courses, to our social life we employ a calculating form of reason, attempting to work out what is most expedient to achieve our aspirations. When asked, why do you do x? The reply too often is ‘it’ll look good on my C.V’. Having just finished my course and having sat on the outside circle of York’s campus life, I write this article for catharsis.
Student apathy is omnipresent at York. Our YUSU elections have a ridiculously low turn-out, the UGMs are worse and in actuality York’s political discourse is dominated by an elite: those who aspire to join the political class and understand what the prerequisites are. Our students are academically apathetic, crunching numbers working out just how many hours they have to work in order to achieve their desired grade, as oppose to learning the course. Our courses, being limited to having ‘transferable skills’ are watered down. Our Seminars are quieter than the library. Our journalists seem more concerned with writing news story that will attract the attention of fleet street, than broadening campus debate. To paint the picture fully is unnecessary. Suffice to say, a large proportion of campus activity is treated as a means towards a pre–established end.
Too often the positions in YUSU or in societies are not filled by people passionate about the role as an end in itself, rather, it is a means to their end, a chink in their armour. Such conditions are the cause of the breakdown of university life, which is already under threat from the ever increasing tuition fees. Understanding the problem of instrumentalism can help us resolve some of the deep-seated issues at York and may allow us to cast off the malaise that this university is under and start afresh.
The mantra of the times is: grit your teeth, get through it, and, maybe one day you’ll reach your end. However, our teleology is never fully actualised; in fact, true satisfaction is achieved by a select few. The consequence of such a pursuit, for the majority of us, is not a sense of satisfaction but what Hegel called bad infinity: the constant striving to attain the unattainable. Along the way in our paths towards what we desire we destroy the roles we occupy. We are always looking to be y, and are never content with what we are doing. The quientessential York student has a deep sense of dissatisfaction.
This dissatisfaction is contingent upon the defeatist almost fatalistic mentality engrained upon us by the status quo. Our course does not have to be laborious, if you feel it is, complain, you’re fucking paying enough! Our politics do not have to be esoteric and elitist, if they are, vote RON, stand yourself, or, simply do not complain when the Summer Ball has Lemar headlining. Concern with what we are doing, as opposed to what it will lead to could see a real change manifest. I was a Halifaxer who stood idly by to watch JJ’s go under. I did nothing to stop the University laying off the porters. I failed to vote and watched a pirate be elected as the head of the Student Union, epitomising the student’s conception of York’s political life. I naively believed that no one shared my taste in music, my politics or my interests. I ended York shattering these delusions: my fellow students are not what I first thought they were.
This University, contrary to popular belief is not filled with idiots. Many of the heads of societies genuinely care. However, there is there is a veneer in York. Popular culture tells us that student politics is a waste of time. We go to a Centre-Right university, full of Oxbridge rejects, wishing to put their stamp on the world and using York as their instrument. This is true of many young political minds on campus and we all can spot them a mile off. However, they do not represent mass opinion. Mass opinion chose York, we wanted more than what we have and the apathy needs to stop. I have found out that little bit too late to actually get that sense of satisfaction that I chose York for. Hopefully the people reading this haven’t.
University is more than box on a C.V, it is at least 3 years of real freedom. Student politics is more than a way into a think-tank, political party or the civil service and our courses are more than a means to an end. Instrumentalism is omnipresent and many of the people reading this are perpetuating the very problems that are destroying York’s potential. These problems can only be fought if people are more concerned about the means. I studied philosophy and the most frequently asked question is ‘what are you going to do with that?’ Is it just me, or is there such a thing as an end in itself? I chose to study philosophy at York; that was my end. However, my course, like my University, did not live up to the hype. Faced with a challenge, I gritted my teeth, got through it and took a step forward, only to realise I am less free now than I ever was at university.
The masses of York view campus life with disdain and within every one there is a level of disappointment, lamenting fatalistically ‘these were supposed to be the best days of my life’. I can make this assessment as I am one of the silent majority of York, too disheartened by the status quo to challenge it. Instead, I spent my first year as Victor Meldrew, a recluse bound to my room. My second year I succumbed: ‘if I can’t beat them, join them’ (my choice was Gallery). Finally, all too late I realised that this shitty university is not necessarily shit, it just needs to wake up.
Dan Renwick will graduate from the University of York this month. He played an instrumental role in both DISARM and the inception of the Palestinian Solidarity Society, and was inspiring to work with.