The USAification of the University is absolute… back to school anno 2006

OK, so this my 6th consecutive summer that ends with picking up the books and starting university. However, this time it’s different. First of all, I really don’t need to go there anymore, so the pressure is a lot lower. But secondly, “school start” has changed quite a bit the last few years, and this year the USAification seems to be perfect.

Now what do I mean by the term “USAification”? Well, it’s a whole series of things, but as today I really haven’t attended any class but have just been working up on down on campus, I really can’t say so much about what the contents of the teaching or the way the teaching is conducted differ. Today it was all about looks and activity other than purely educational ones.

First of all, as I’ve probably mentioned before, our system changed quite a bit two years ago, going from a university that was based on a system of self learning with exams only every year or so, to the US system with midterm papers, seminars, direct contact between teacher and student and exams at the end of every semester. Now although that change happened two years ago, most of us were still socialized into the old system. There are many bad things to be said about the new system – most significantly that the academic level in all subjects I have seen, seems to have declined enormously. On the other hand, the students seem overall to have a better social network.

Now this was the first semester start as far as what I remember that looked 100% American. You could notice it immediately at their looks: while during the last two summer you still had a group of highly individualized and dorky looking students that were left overs from the old system, today everyone was either carrying an ibook, had a ipod, or at the very least a “skater chain” (a large chain going from one pocket to another to which the keys are connected, allegedly it helps real skaters to not loose their keys when falling during a stunt; for everyone else it’s a style they copied from some MTV show). And then they walk around in groups – networks of friends that usually last from high school.

Now also under the old system you’d have those kinds of people popping up at semester start. However, they’d be in the absolute minority, and you’d usually see them individualize and loose their friends within the first three weeks. Not so now – now these people stay together, and skater chains are no longer a relic from high school that only shows up as long as the new comers haven’t quite understood the intellectual side to university – I believe I have even seen them arranging small skating competitions between the buildings of the faculty of humanities and the social science faculty. And then there are the “fathers” – volunteers that show groups of new students around. At least they’d be “old school” up until last summer and you could clearly make out who was the “father” when they walked around. Not so any longer, wearing a baseball hat apparently no longer is a sign of not belonging at the uni.

Now you might say: “so what? It’s only looks!” But unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Not that I have anything against environmentalists or indigenous people, but I think the following presents quite clearly what the UiO has become. All over campus you had people trying to get students to sign up to send money to the rain forest in some way or another. I didn’t hear there whole lesson, also in order not to be asked to pay, but I gathered some from the conversations they had with others. Now the main guy walking around looked like a figure from a Hollywood block buster complete with all the stuff you’d wear while in the rain forest. But hey, as one of my class mates pointed out: he probably is just that interested in the rainforest.

My critique is not against this guy or against any other group that does anything similar. It is not against the Norwegian society at large or against Oslo in particular. But what this seems to be for me is the completely “commodification of rebellion” – the rain forest is far away and so no or very few Norwegian political leaders have to stand trial for anything going happening there (sort of like the “Free Tibet” thing in the States or “Save the Whales” in Germany and Australia). And the way you protest is through consumption – which fits very well with today’s consumer society you find amongst the most well off in capitalist society….

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