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News
The fall of education to commercialise


By Sabrina Noble
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 4, 2003

It's probably hard to imagine that at a public university, professors could be told where they could and could not order their classes' textbooks. If they chose to defy orders, they'd have to work on a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, as if they were at risk of losing their jobs or having their departments' funding cut entirely. Where could such an outrage possibly be permitted?

The answer is at the University of Arizona.

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Sabrina Noble
Contributing Writer

Students who have studied within the English, sociology, history or women's studies departments have probably heard of Antigone Bookstore on 411 N. Fourth Avenue. Once, these departments openly ordered many of their textbooks from this small, private vendor rather than from the UofA Bookstore. At one point, around 30 classes sent their students to Antigone for their books. By doing so, they supported a privately owned bookstore in a market increasingly dominated by heavyweights like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Then an angry parent ended it all when she alleged that Antigone catered to lesbians.

First, this accusation is false; Antigone carries many books of diverse interests. Second, lesbian literature is not illegal. Yet, in 1999, Rep. Linda Gray threatened to cut the UA's women's studies program funding if it did not take a more conservative approach. The UA rolled over by creating a policy forcing all professors to order their books through the UofA Bookstore.

Many readers are probably wondering about the relevance of this issue, since the fallout occurred four years ago. But both Antigone Bookstore and many university departments are dealing with the aftermath. Antigone has a lot less business since the fiasco. Women's studies still does not dare to go through Antigone because of the consequences threatened by the vindictively conservative bullies holding the state's purse strings. And those few professors who do doggedly persist in resisting the university's cowardly command now place their orders in secret. The simple act of purchasing books has become a silent protest against an issue that never should have even been considered by an institution dedicated to protecting and preserving free thought during times of intolerance.

How has the student body managed to overlook or forget such a brazen demonstration of ignorance on behalf of the university's administrators?

While it could be said that purchasing books from the campus bookstore is more beneficial to the campus because it brings students' money right back through ASUA, is the revenue really worth it? Is the money we recycle by violating faculty's rights enough to make us ignore the general prejudice against lesbians and other minorities? That's precisely what the original action against Antigone Bookstore represents blatant hatred and discrimination on the behalf of loud conservatives and all the other voices too timid to stop them.

If the university was willing to compromise its ideals in this case to keep money rolling in, what other bargains will it make? Perhaps administrators can jump through hoops after dollar bills floating on the shifting political breeze, but they can't do so without dropping the values of higher education along the way. Students cannot learn in an open-minded and intellectually accepting environment if the people running it are letting its foundations sink beneath a rising tide of ignorance. The university is selling out.

The Antigone controversy is not the only example of a time when revenue prevailed over principles on this campus. The over-booking of the residence halls in recent years (this year by nearly 300 students, despite the addition of Villa del Puente) demonstrates a greater concern for numbers than people. Freshmen this year were housed in converted lounges or with RAs; Residence Life just got that much more in room and board.

Even during the budget cut crisis, when many students' majors were being changed or eliminated, the new student union and ILC went up. The union looks like a shopping mall. The ILC was designed for the express purpose of catering to large lectures and providing easy access to information not from human beings, but from computers. The bookstore's books seem to take second place to the staggering variety of themed merchandise one has to wonder if the bookstore was built for students or for alumni.

How far will this build-it-and-they-will-come mentality reach? Where did the university's primary focus education, if we've forgotten go? The University of Arizona needs money to run, but if it sells its heart, it's nothing but another big business, and the students aren't commodities they're overhead.

Sabrina Noble is an English and creative writing senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu


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