Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Here's your money...wait...what?

You know how you shouldn't go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.  You’ll find yourself unloading the bags at home asking why on earth you bought three packages of Fig Newtons and seven varieties of Doritos but no toilet paper or bread. 

Well, I have a similar rule; don’t write your column when you are angry…

I am now going to break that rule.

How many gentle readers out there have a child in college at this very moment?  How many gentle readers out there became less gentle thinking about the process of dealing with colleges?  I like to think I am pretty even keeled but I have spent a lot of time with the demeanor of Bruce Banner’s big green friend the last several days, all due to the world of higher education.

Both of my parents, two of my siblings and I all attended the University of Kansas.  I look back on many parts of my life in Lawrence with positive nostalgia.  I am a huge Jayhawk basketball fan.  So, it was natural for my children to approach the university with favorable thoughts.  Now, my two daughters are going there this semester.  Not only are my daughters going there but large chunks of my once and future earnings will be going there as well.  It is ungodly expensive but that is not why I am angry.  I knew that part of the deal long before either child was even out of kindergarten.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong.  If you pay me I work for you but if I pay you then… You.  Work.  For.  Me.  This is the crux of my Hulk smash attitude.

The University of Kansas may have a whole bunch of eggheads working for them.  People with advanced degrees in all sorts of intellectual pursuits but they seem not to have learned that basic equation of customer and service. 

My children are often treated like employees.  Not just any employee but the kind of employee who is on a plan of improvement because he has shown the initiative of a plate of over-cooked noodles and the intellect of the plate upon which the noodles reside.  I understand there are expectations for fulfilling requirements like which classes should be taken and then the tasks within said classes.  I have no problem with that.  That is part of the expected covenant between the parties involved. 

Let me give you examples using other employer/employee relationships to illustrate my point.

Let’s say I am the CEO of a Fortune 500 business (I do not have the temperament for such a job but, hey, this is just for the sake of illustrating a point).  It is 8 o’clock Sunday evening.  I send you an email.  It is expected you will be checking your work email at such a time of the weekend.  The content of that email requires you to write a two page memo about a segment of the business which was never part of your job description.  I pay you so that is acceptable.

Flip to college.  My daughter gets an email from an instructor at 8:00 PM Sunday night telling her she has an assignment, an assignment heretofore never mentioned in any class or syllabus, due the following day.  Wait a minute, I’m paying you to do a service for me.  This ain’t part of the deal. 

If I pay you it is acceptable for me to expect a certain level of myopic focus on your part. 

Let’s say I am paying you to paint my house.  I expect while you are at my house, you paint my house.  Not spend time pursuing your hobby of raising parakeets. 

Flip to college.  My daughter is expected to myopically focus her life on a single aspect of her college experience by her professor.  Forego all the other stuff they pounded into her during orientation that she should get involved with a myriad of activities and groups.  As well as forego the things which feed her soul between working truly hard on the regular expectations from all of her other courses.  Once again, I’m paying you.  This ain’t part of the deal. 

I still have fond of memories of attending KU.  Two of my favorite memories ever are sitting with my father watching KU win the national championship in 1988 and sitting with my daughter watching KU win the national championship in 2008.  I have a hope Bill and Young Mr. Wiggins will give us a championship in 2014.  But I have to say I no longer bleed crimson and blue.  I bleed confused and annoyed. 

Christopher Pyle apologizes for venting his spleen all over your nice clean computer screen.  He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not All Matriculations are the Same

Another big jump in the lives of the Pyle family of western Kansas is happening soon.  In a bit more than a week Kid #1 will be joined for the first time by Kid #2 attending classes at the University of Kansas.  There are a lot of different things going through my mind as I see them pack all their stuff in preparation for college life.  Since my chief goal with this column is humor I will not describe many of the things going through my head because I am a great big sap and having my girls leave home brings out epic levels of sap.  I’m talking Vermont in syrup season levels of sap.   
Therefore, in order to avoid tear stains on my keyboard, we are going to push Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman to the side, climb into the Wayback Machine and visit young Christopher as he wandered the streets of Lawrence and the hallways of higher learning at KU back in the mists of antiquity known to historians and scholars as “The Early 80’s”.

I was not a highly motivated college student (and for you kids heading off to college that was a big mistake, more on that later).  My older brother actually filled out my college application forms because he was determined to broaden my horizons whether I wanted to enlarge them or not.  He also went with me to Lawrence to enroll in classes and select an apartment.  Then he left and I had to actually do everything else myself, the heartless twerp. 

I lived in what we lovingly referred to as the student slums my entire college career.  This was great for the clinical introvert Chris, because he does do better when he can recharge in solitude but is was not good for the pathological introvert Chris who would go several days in a row without talking to another human being entirely too often. 

My first apartment was actually a single room roughly the size of your average maximum security solitary confinement accommodation with access to a bathroom and a kitchen down the hall.  Since I sprung the extra ten bucks for the mini-fridge (in order to avoid the awkward forty to fifty seconds of bumping into somebody else from the building as I shuffled to the kitchen for my nightly can of Pepsi) the rent was a whopping $100 a month.  Let me tell you the price matched the level of luxury it implies.
My second year at college was the anomaly.  I shared two floors of an old house with my brother and my best friend.  That year I was borderline social.  I had a part time job which required me talking to people, even pretty girls.  We even hosted parties.  The rest of my college career I lived alone in basement apartments, one of which was at the bottom of a dead street.  The symbolism was not even lost on me at the time. 

My girls have a lot more to take with them.  Some of it is because they are girls.  Some of it is because they are young at a time in the history of the world when there a lot more gadgets.  Some of it is because they wish to live like fully evolved humans.  When I moved to KU I had a reasonable amount of clothes, a portable black and white television, a cassette tape player, two each of spoons, forks, knives, plates and cups (eventually I had many more cups - about a gross of convenience store plastic cups) and some basic school supplies, not including a calculator because I hoped to be finished with math. 

This brings us back to the lack of motivation issue.  I didn’t really know what my passion was so when I went to college I mostly just fell into a course of study.  I majored in Film Studies which at KU during this time was just a bunch of classes on film history and aesthetics, no film making at all.  This prepared me for a cracking good career in video rental stores, and we all know how well that industry thrives to this day.
Actually, I get annoyed when people look at college as nothing more than a conduit to the workforce.  My lack of passion was the reason for the lack of career, not a poor choice of major.  If I had been fully engaged I would have gone to USC and made movies.  Now I want to go back to college and become a real writer.  Timing is everything in life.

Christopher Pyle will pretend the girls are just in the basement a lot the next few months.  You can contact him at