Beloit College spreads the misery

How does one get a job at Beloit College?

I'm certain its academic-achievement standards take a back seat to qualities such as kicking handicapped people who trip on the sidewalk, purposely taking up two spaces parking one's Prius at Trader Joe's and being that guy at the faculty mixer who has one glass of wine and tries to lecture all within listening distance about the evils of capitalism, money in politics, etc.

In other words, a Beloit College faculty member is the type of person you always try to avoid in social situations, but who inevitably seeks you out and throws a steaming cup of pseudoerudite know-it-all bullpoop on your evening, causing you to hate everyone and everything more than you already do.

I'm starting to wonder if "Beloit College" even exists beyond a meme-creating Internet landing spot with the sole purpose of sparking water-cooler conversations at low-level white-collar workplaces across the county. You know, the $29,000-per-year cubicle farms that hire failed liberal-arts majors who tend to gravitate to something like the Beloit Mindset List and read some sort of cultural importance into it.

For those with lives too jammed with meaning and adventure to follow such things, the Beloit College Mindset List is an annual report created by two faculty members, who go by Ron and Tom, that notes the cultural touchstones of freshmen entering college that year.

This year's list deals with the college class of 2016. In Beloit's own words, the list "was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. It quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation."

The assumption is that 18-year-olds obviously won't understand in-class references to Norman Bates or Lou Reed because, y'know, they weren't born when these things were relevant.

For instance, this year's list notes that for today's college freshmen, "Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway" and "They have never seen an airplane 'ticket.' "

Some other gems hidden in the list: Did you know these freshmen aren't aware that "White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited"?

I'm sorry, but I never knew this policy existed, and neither did my parents.

And there's this: "Michael Jackson's family, not the Kennedys, constitutes "American Royalty."

American royalty? Are you kidding? I think this list more accurately reflects the cultural stasis of the baby boomers who wrote it than the mindset of freshmen. The idea of "America royalty" has not been relevant in 50 years, if it ever was. Who the hell is writing this?

Get the idea?

Yeah, me neither.

Some of the items on the list are somewhat interesting. Beloit reminds us that today's college newbies were not born when "Pulp Fiction" was released in theaters.

That resonates with me because "Pulp Fiction" was a fairly massive, cultural signpost for this writer. In fact, I was that dork freshman who had the wall-sized black-and-white dorm poster of Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield plastered on his wall.

The thought of people driving cars, much less entering college, who weren't born in "Pulp Fiction"'s heyday makes me feel old, broken and alone in the world.

The real kick in the pills for me when it comes to this list is that it's released in late August each year.

My birthday is Aug. 24.

So every year about the time that I'm reminded my relevance is evaporating into a thin haze, out comes a list that's so shallow and grating that it makes me thankful to know I'm one year closer to the grave.

The major assumption of this list — that a teacher should be mindful of making outdated cultural references to a room of empty-eyed 18-year-olds lest you confuse and alienate them — reminds me of my struggles as a freshman writing instructor at Oregon State University.

Standing in front of a room of people eight to 10 to 20 to 30 years younger than you is a tough proposition. Teaching is as much about confronting your own philosophical and ethical thresholds on a daily basis as it is about beating knowledge into the heads of teenagers.

However, the one thing I would not do in my teaching days is stay away from "outdated" cultural references when attempting to make a point.

I routinely made reference to "The Godfather" in my classes. One of my more talented, but flat-out lazy, writing students would frustrate to no end, but I made it my mission to force him to complete his assignments and realize that critical thinking and writing is an important value to take from college.

This student dropped yet another late paper off at my office and tried to offer some lame explanation, to which I rose from my seat and said, "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"

The kids looked at me funny for a moment and starting laughing. He got the "Godfather" reference, and I'm convinced this moment helped build a rapport between us that carried until the end of the term.

I don't care when someone was born. There are cultural touchstones that span generations and defy some fake college's glib list.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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