The Basket of Deplorables vs. the Soufflé of Adorables

The soufflé is a difficult dish to master. Even seasoned chefs can tell you that this very fragile, puffy delicacy will collapse if you open the oven at the wrong moment. Mirroring the vulnerability of the soufflé, a nation of undergraduate and graduate students is on the verge of a hysterical collapse following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.

Just as the frustrated chef’s anxiety comes from the perpetually delicate soufflé, the educator’s anxiety comes from a perpetually delicate generation of students. Post-election safe spaces abound at campuses nationwide, where mollycoddled students are offered coloring books and puppies (not a joke), and administrators implicitly signal to the campus minority that voted for Trump that their political philosophy is damaging to their eggshell peers.

My own law school sent an email offering group stress-relief and individual therapy sessions to grieving students. The higher-tiered University of Michigan law school one-upped us, though, by providing a “[p]ost-election [s]elf-care” session replete with play-dough, Legos, and bubbles.

If my school had only asked, I could have brought all those items in. Although it might’ve taken a while to find the play-dough, which is kept in storage with the rest of my 10-year-old daughter’s old toys that she’s outgrown.

After receiving that email from my law school, my wife explained the soufflé-making process to me, which I thought was quite the apt analogy, given college students’ exaggerated victimhood:

Whipping egg whites, the first step in achieving a perfectly rising soufflé is a sensitive task.  Egg whites are particularly touchy, and so the bowl must be pristine. One drop of fat or oil in your mixing bowls and they won't whip.

Sarah Klotz, a Butte College assistant professor, recognized that her post-election egg whites no longer felt their school was the pristine bowl it was meant to be. In place of a planned lesson on Emily Dickinson, her 25 students would instead “talk about their feelings.”

The structure seems strong and high-walled, but is very dainty and must be handled extremely delicately.

Wrestling with defeat, 150 Rice University students clasped hands, hooked arm in arm, and formed a circular wall of anti-Trump solidarity. The student who organized that event encouraged the maudlin display by saying “[y]our voice is wanted, it is desired. Let’s spend a few moments locking arms, holding hands, and feel like one big family.” 

It must have perfect conditions, if there's even one small element that it doesn't approve of, the structure will not hold.

Eerily, University of Denver has placed a surveillance camera to keep watch over its “free speech wall,” following the defacement of a Black Lives Matter message and the addition of lyrics from the Minor Threat song “Guilty of Being White.” In the spirit of chilling speech, the university explained that “[anonymity] allows one to disrupt community standards without facing the impact and accountability of their work… A camera has been put in place to monitor The Wall.”

You might recall the anti-authoritarian Pink Floyd album (also named) The Wall: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”

But credit given where credit is due, you must hand it to the University of Denver. The school is apparently running a master class in irony.

A professor of mine argues that this is a problem of bad priorities, that schools simply shouldn’t bother obsessing over students’ psychological health, because that isn’t a school’s prime task. “Students are ‘apprentices’ and ‘have no right to participate in the shaping of… their instruction.’”

That seems to me to be intuitively correct. But it’s like saying “if that frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hops.” In practice, academia has shifted schools’ curriculums, over time, to teach courses that won’t help students pay back their loans, let alone live the economic life of their parents’ generation. It might not matter if useful courses were forced on them, because students are so emotionally frail they don’t believe they should have midterms or low grades anymore.

It puffs up with air.

Economic security is not the sole purpose of education, of course, but many courses aren’t teaching anything intrinsically valuable either. I’ll concede that many subjects are worth learning, even if they won’t get you a job. (Nobody’s hiring an interior decorator because they have a masterful knowledge of The Federalist Papers.) But when UPenn, which costs $69,340 to attend, offered a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet,” there was nothing valuable being offered, economically or intellectually.

There are a few ways the problem of oversensitive and poorly performing students might be solved. First, federal loan programs ought to provide disincentives for majors with low returns (like gender studies). A limited number of tuition loan applications should be granted, with each area of study receiving a higher or lower rate of approval for loans depending on how graduates in that area perform after graduating from a given school. This would mean that if only eight graduates with gender studies degrees from Butte College ever went on to get jobs, that only eight federal tuition loans would be approved in that whole college for that major thereafter, until graduates’ employment prospects improved. 

Finally, for those special few who are genuinely talented, a specialized exam could be created to assess their ability in a specific field before they even attended college. If a kid scored a 100% on such an exam, let’s say in the subject of physics, he would be able to get a loan to study physics. If a kid scored 100% on the same exam but in philosophy, he would still get his loan to study philosophy. The same principle of qualification by examination could be extended to grad school applicants. And then real talent, even in liberal arts, still has an opportunity.

(This is all accepting that federal loans exist. Principally, I believe the very existence of the federal loan program is a big problem.)

More importantly, kids would begin to understand again that attending school is a privilege and not a right. Otherwise, we’ll just be left with the university soufflé: high-rising, filled with hot air, and only one loudmouth president-elect away from falling apart.

Alex Grass is a fellow at the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy at Cardozo Law School. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Gina, and his two children, Joseph and Lucia. 

The soufflé is a difficult dish to master. Even seasoned chefs can tell you that this very fragile, puffy delicacy will collapse if you open the oven at the wrong moment. Mirroring the vulnerability of the soufflé, a nation of undergraduate and graduate students is on the verge of a hysterical collapse following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.

Just as the frustrated chef’s anxiety comes from the perpetually delicate soufflé, the educator’s anxiety comes from a perpetually delicate generation of students. Post-election safe spaces abound at campuses nationwide, where mollycoddled students are offered coloring books and puppies (not a joke), and administrators implicitly signal to the campus minority that voted for Trump that their political philosophy is damaging to their eggshell peers.

My own law school sent an email offering group stress-relief and individual therapy sessions to grieving students. The higher-tiered University of Michigan law school one-upped us, though, by providing a “[p]ost-election [s]elf-care” session replete with play-dough, Legos, and bubbles.

If my school had only asked, I could have brought all those items in. Although it might’ve taken a while to find the play-dough, which is kept in storage with the rest of my 10-year-old daughter’s old toys that she’s outgrown.

After receiving that email from my law school, my wife explained the soufflé-making process to me, which I thought was quite the apt analogy, given college students’ exaggerated victimhood:

Whipping egg whites, the first step in achieving a perfectly rising soufflé is a sensitive task.  Egg whites are particularly touchy, and so the bowl must be pristine. One drop of fat or oil in your mixing bowls and they won't whip.

Sarah Klotz, a Butte College assistant professor, recognized that her post-election egg whites no longer felt their school was the pristine bowl it was meant to be. In place of a planned lesson on Emily Dickinson, her 25 students would instead “talk about their feelings.”

The structure seems strong and high-walled, but is very dainty and must be handled extremely delicately.

Wrestling with defeat, 150 Rice University students clasped hands, hooked arm in arm, and formed a circular wall of anti-Trump solidarity. The student who organized that event encouraged the maudlin display by saying “[y]our voice is wanted, it is desired. Let’s spend a few moments locking arms, holding hands, and feel like one big family.” 

It must have perfect conditions, if there's even one small element that it doesn't approve of, the structure will not hold.

Eerily, University of Denver has placed a surveillance camera to keep watch over its “free speech wall,” following the defacement of a Black Lives Matter message and the addition of lyrics from the Minor Threat song “Guilty of Being White.” In the spirit of chilling speech, the university explained that “[anonymity] allows one to disrupt community standards without facing the impact and accountability of their work… A camera has been put in place to monitor The Wall.”

You might recall the anti-authoritarian Pink Floyd album (also named) The Wall: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”

But credit given where credit is due, you must hand it to the University of Denver. The school is apparently running a master class in irony.

A professor of mine argues that this is a problem of bad priorities, that schools simply shouldn’t bother obsessing over students’ psychological health, because that isn’t a school’s prime task. “Students are ‘apprentices’ and ‘have no right to participate in the shaping of… their instruction.’”

That seems to me to be intuitively correct. But it’s like saying “if that frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hops.” In practice, academia has shifted schools’ curriculums, over time, to teach courses that won’t help students pay back their loans, let alone live the economic life of their parents’ generation. It might not matter if useful courses were forced on them, because students are so emotionally frail they don’t believe they should have midterms or low grades anymore.

It puffs up with air.

Economic security is not the sole purpose of education, of course, but many courses aren’t teaching anything intrinsically valuable either. I’ll concede that many subjects are worth learning, even if they won’t get you a job. (Nobody’s hiring an interior decorator because they have a masterful knowledge of The Federalist Papers.) But when UPenn, which costs $69,340 to attend, offered a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet,” there was nothing valuable being offered, economically or intellectually.

There are a few ways the problem of oversensitive and poorly performing students might be solved. First, federal loan programs ought to provide disincentives for majors with low returns (like gender studies). A limited number of tuition loan applications should be granted, with each area of study receiving a higher or lower rate of approval for loans depending on how graduates in that area perform after graduating from a given school. This would mean that if only eight graduates with gender studies degrees from Butte College ever went on to get jobs, that only eight federal tuition loans would be approved in that whole college for that major thereafter, until graduates’ employment prospects improved. 

Finally, for those special few who are genuinely talented, a specialized exam could be created to assess their ability in a specific field before they even attended college. If a kid scored a 100% on such an exam, let’s say in the subject of physics, he would be able to get a loan to study physics. If a kid scored 100% on the same exam but in philosophy, he would still get his loan to study philosophy. The same principle of qualification by examination could be extended to grad school applicants. And then real talent, even in liberal arts, still has an opportunity.

(This is all accepting that federal loans exist. Principally, I believe the very existence of the federal loan program is a big problem.)

More importantly, kids would begin to understand again that attending school is a privilege and not a right. Otherwise, we’ll just be left with the university soufflé: high-rising, filled with hot air, and only one loudmouth president-elect away from falling apart.

Alex Grass is a fellow at the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy at Cardozo Law School. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Gina, and his two children, Joseph and Lucia.