Suing the wrong people

“Trina Thompson, 27, of the Bronx, [who] graduated from New York’s Monroe College in April with a bachelor of business administration degree in information technology” is suing the school because she has no job, claiming, “‘The office of career advancement information technology counselor did not make sure their Monroe e-recruiting clients call their graduates that recently finished college for an interview to get a job placement. They have not tried hard enough to help me.’ She suggested that Monroe’s Office of Career Advancement shows preferential treatment to students with excellent grades. ‘They favor more toward students that got a 4.0. They help them more out with the job placement.'”

We snicker too easily. Reporter Jason Kessler, who I’m guessing did a little better when he went to school, writes, “As Thompson sees it, any reasonable employer would pounce on an applicant with her academic credentials, which include a 2.7 grade-point average and a solid attendance record.”

Thompson clearly sees employment as the purpose of a university degree. Speaking of the many graduates facing unemployment this year, she says, “It doesn’t make any sense: They went to school for four years, and then they come out working at McDonald’s and PayLess. That’s not what they planned.” Of course it’s not what they planned.

And indeed, according to the U.S. Census bureau, people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher earned an average $59,097 in 2003. But also according to Census bureau figures (in 2004, the most recent available), more people (22.93%) in Thompson’s age group (25-29 years) have Bachelor’s degrees than ever before, presumably chasing that income.

Do jobs actually exist for all these people? Anecdotal evidence for a while has suggested the answer is no. And in the current economic climate, it’s not hard to see how a C/C+ average might be a handicap. The advice I’ve been hearing is both that you don’t a GPA below 3.0 on a resume and that employers know you don’t put a GPA below 3.0 on a resume.

So it’s Thompson’s fault, right? She should, we could argue, have worked harder. Setting aside that some people may not have the capacity to do better, and setting aside the severe disparities in primary and secondary education in the U.S. (see Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools), the Anglo-American world has a poor attitude towards intelligence. Edward W. Said writes in Representations of the Intellectual,

Commenting on the announced themes of my Reigh Lectures–Representations of the Intellectual–a sympathetic journalist states that it was a most “un-English” thing to talk about. Associated with the word “intellectual” was “ivory tower” and “a sneer.” This depressing train of thought is underlined by the late Raymond Williams in Keywords. “Until the middle twentieth century unfavorable uses of intellectuals, intellectualism and intelligensia were dominant in English,” he says, “and it is clear that such uses persist.”

Consider recent U.S. presidents: The Bush administration successfully advanced the most anti-intellectual policies ever, denying greenhouse warming, promoting abstinence-only sexuality education, and twisting intelligence estimates to support claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Bill Clinton loved MacDonald’s Big Mac hamburgers and actually tried to tell the U.S. public that fellatio with Monica Lewinsky is not sexual intercourse. Barack Obama seems to think he can get re-elected by favoring the rich, which, if you believe he was elected rather than selected, is certainly what George W. Bush did.

Indeed, working class whites are notorious for voting against their own interest, apparently because they blame competition from people of color for their declining prospects rather than the wealthy who have exported their jobs. A “Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they ‘believe in the theory of evolution,’ while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way.” And “most Americans – 63 percent – believe the Bible is literally true and the Word of God.”

In such a climate, a 2.7 GPA doesn’t seem so bad.

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