People smoked on buses and airplanes, they smoked in restaurants and bars, they smoked in movie theatres. People even smoked in hospitals and grocery stores. I remember seeing a guy pick up a head of lettuce in the produce section of my local supermarket, and he had a cigarette wedged between the fingers of the same hand that grabbed the lettuce. Hey, no problem!
It's not like people didn't know that cigarettes were dangerous to our health. We all knew people who died slow, painful deaths from lung cancer and emphysema. We all saw elderly people who were basically living skeletons with sunken chests, yellowish skin, and discolored teeth. We knew why cigarettes were called coffin nails. But we ignored all that to appear cool.
Meanwhile, the cigarette industry advertised their products on television. I must have seen the Marlboro Man a thousand times on TV--that rugged, ruddy-faced cowboy with a viral cigarette clamped in his perfect teeth. But the Marlboro Man was a cynical, vicious lie. Robert Norris, the original Marlboro Man, didn't smoke.
America's college presidents are like the cigarette industry in the 1950s. Just as Madison Avenue pitched cigarettes as sexy, university leaders blather on and on about the value of higher education, how American graduate schools are the envy of the world, and about the big income bonus that comes with a college degree. They dress up in clown suits (academic regalia) on commencement day as if they were bestowing a high honor on the rubes by handing them diplomas.
But for millions of Americans, higher education's cheery bullshit about the benefits of a college degree are lies. More than 45 million Americans are student-loan debtors; collectively they owe $1.6 trillion. Eight million people are in income-based repayment plans that can last as long as 25 years. Millions have defaulted on student loans that they can't discharge in bankruptcy. College debt hampers Americans from buying homes, getting married, and having children.
Pompous college presidents, administrators, and professors think of themselves as superior individuals with keenly attuned social consciences and highly developed intellects. But they are lying to themselves and the world at large. In reality, they're the new Marlboro Man, selling products that they know are often dangerous.
|Cigarettes are sexy and American higher education is the envy of the world.|