Watching a Godson graduate from SUNY Stony Brook, with questions about his -- and our -- future

By SUSAN LIPPMAN

Initially, I was delighted to attend my Godson’s graduation from Stony Brook University. I'm calling him Danny (not his real name), to protect his privacy. I was very proud of him, because he graduated cum laude. He’s a very bright, personable young man. However, although I never told him, I was a bit disappointed that he chose to major in business, a very popular major today, but one that supports corrupt companies, such as Goldman Sachs and the now defunct Lehman Brothers, and one that does little or nothing to support critical thinking.

Danny wants to be a lawyer, and, indeed, I believe he will be an excellent one, but his undergraduate education in business is designed, I believe, to prevent him and others like him from critically analyzing political systems. So many problems we face as a society today, from real estate tax breaks for the rich to the criminal deterioration of public housing, are the ethical consequences of unregulated private corporations and wealthy campaign contributors seeking maximum profit with no consideration for people. Having a concern fellow human beings is not taught in business courses. For example, Danny told me that he took a few economics courses. However, he never read anything by or about Karl Marx, nor was the Marxist ideology, social or economical, even mentioned. Indeed, you didn’t need be a Marxist to understand the importance of the man’s economic philosophy in our world. Marx believed in establishing a more equitable social and economic order, and this was based on his very prescient explanations of capitalism.

The graduation itself was a model of conservative ideology, and the brochure I read from the Business Department commended people whom I never heard of, but those strongly affiliated with, of course, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

Danny had an internship at a large Wall Street bank, where he will be working.

And who was the guest speaker at the graduation, none other than corporate, conservative Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), whose policies on just about everything are not too different from those of our current president. In fact, prior to becoming president, Donald J. Trump contributed financially to Schumer’s campaign. Schumer actually opposed Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, one of the few positive things that Obama did during his administration. Schumer is a strong supporter of the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, something opposed by almost every nation on earth except the United States. Schumer also spoke highly of Henry Kissinger, who was largely responsible for the death of Allende in Chile and the subsequent murderous regime there, headed by Pinochet. Kissinger also had a huge role in causing the disastrous Vietnam War. Surely, the Stony Brook administration could have chosen a truly progressive person to be the keynote speaker. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that there was not a word of protest against Schumer’s presence there. I believe that most students and their families didn’t have a clue about just how reactionary Schumer actually is, since he pretends to be a progressive.

After the ceremony, when Danny introduced me, his mother and sister and some close friends to several of his advisors, we read a brochure that stated that Stony Brook was planning massive cuts to its humanities programs, including Spanish language and literature, French language and literature, and several art and music programs, among others. Danny told me that he and many other students organized a protest against these proposed cuts. I was very proud of him for participating in that.

Stony Brook claims that it can no longer afford such programs, but most know that the claim is a blatant lie.

As early as 2009, Chris Hedges wrote about the virtual abolishment of humanities and liberal arts programs in most universities, noting that only eight per cent of students in the United States received degrees in the humanities. Most universities, he noted, were mostly vocational factories, where amoral corporate values were taught, especially competition. He noted also that many bright students were buying into the corporate way of thinking that minimizes the ethical consequences to business decisions, because students were never taught to critically think for themselves. "Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice," Hedges wrote. This corporate way of thinking is deceptive, and I would argue a lie, because it doesn't allow students to see the whole truth of their actions once they pursue careers in business. Indeed, Hedges noted, as did Francine Prose, in her recent article about Stony Brooks’ proposed cuts, that the humanities are the disciplines that teach critical thinking, and they teach about other cultures. Critical thinking is not what most universities are about, since most have ties to Wall Street firms and military contractors.

I noted at the graduation that there were a whole lot more business and engineering students, than, for example, social work students, or foreign language majors, already. Perhaps that explains why there was no protest again Schumer as the keynote speaker.

So why did Stony Brook propose to cut their paltry humanities program even more? Students who think critically are terrifying to a corporate establishment, and, of course, to many of the school’s wealthy benefactors.

Of course, the highly-paid administrators would never think of taking a pay cut, nor would they reduce even just a little the exorbitant salaries of the athletic coaches, who are regarded as much more important than humanities’ professors, because they bring the school a lot of dough and no critical thinking whatsoever. Francine Prose, of The Guardian, noted that Stony Brook is planning to spend a great deal of dough improving its image and logo, obviously more important than saving the humanities, which teach the students to think critically and to question the structures of society.

At the graduation I wondered what I would study, if I were to suddenly become young again and return to college. Were I to go back, I would chose Spanish language and literature as a major, and French language and literature as a minor. Well, if I were to start Stony Brook in September, then it would be quite likely that my choices would no longer exist.

If the trend in the universities continues much longer, we’re in deep trouble. We may find someone a lot worse than Donald Trump leading this nation and the human world into extinction.

I cried when I left that graduation, and not only because graduations are very emotional experiences, but for the education that most students never got, and probably will never get, and for the humanities professors who are about to lose their jobs.