In the first act of 1984’s Ghostbusters, the university dean tells our parapsychologist heroes that their funding has been pulled and they have to get off the campus immediately. Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, responds “But the kids love us.”
Truth is stranger than fiction. Bill Murray’s line is the excuse for the American university’s indulgence of macabre, niche courses in today’s college curricula: The kids love them. In college catalogs across the country, there are courses like “Wizards & Vampires in Film, TV, and Literature” (Chadron State College), and “Using our Brains: An Interdisciplinary Study of Zombies in Popular Culture” (University of Denver). But thirsty vampires and zombies feeding on brains rarely nourish the intellect. And these courses are feeding on your wallet.
It’s a feeding frenzy. At the University of Denver, for example, the cost of attendance is $57,498 per year. Taking this first-year seminar course on zombies (which is an introductory course for freshmen) will cost a student and/or her parents over $5,700. That’s a lot of money for courses that often focus more on television and movies than on the serious literature that really is brain food. Parents, students, and taxpayers might question whether or not students are actually building the versatile and analytic skillset employers value in the present job market. A recent study by the Committee for Economic Development tells us they often are not.
National studies continue to show that colleges and universities are increasingly sacrificing courses of intellectual sustenance for curricular candy corn. Trick-or-treat, students.
In the scene following the Ghostbusters’ expulsion from Columbia University’s campus, Dan Aykroyd’s character laments to Dr. Venkman, “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities and we didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector… they expect results.” Yes, indeed. And there is a lean and hungry global market in which graduates compete. Leave the things that go bump in the night for Halloween, and give students on campus what they need to succeed.