Rise and fall of great empires similar to University

Columnist and Columnist

Of all places to have an academic epiphany, I was sitting in a hostel no more than a few hundred yards from Loch Ness’ northern coast.

Firstly, no, Marshall Erickson and I did not find Nessie but we did give it a good try.

More importantly, this moment didn’t just change my academic career, but also my outlook on the rest of the world.

While studying at the University of Sheffield in Great Britain, I took a class titled “The Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire.”

While conventional wisdom for nearly 1,500 years pointed to decline and fall, a differencing opinion began in 1971 when a tremendous British historian revolutionized this and all historical fields.

My British professor and peers strongly felt in favor of this new opinion which believes Rome did not decline and fall but instead, morphed in to an entirely new manifestation which can be viewed as better, worse or about the same. I leaned heavily towards decline and fall; after all, to dramatically simplify this, I challenge any of you to point to the Roman Empire on a map.

What I did not realize was I was not just disagreeing with my peers and professor on this one issue. In fact, we were debating large scale geo-political perceptions of our surroundings and none of us had any way of adequately grasping the tremendous scale of our cultural differences.

I struggled with this issue horribly. That is, I struggled until that otherwise uneventful day in Scotland.

I was in the hostel talking with an Irishman who was about my age. Overlooking his distaste for Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” and the obvious poor taste in film, this man was very intelligent. At one point we began discussing my studies and I mentioned the conflicting debate with my peers. What resulted is among the most brilliant comments I have ever heard.

Without thinking for even a moment, this Irishman expressed his distaste for the English and revolutionized my perception of geo-politics. He said, in response to my peers not believing Rome had declined and fell, “Those Brits only think that because their empire has, in fact, declined and fell. Thinking that is a coping mechanism for their declining civilization.”

The ramifications of this are enormous. The difference in opinion between my classmates and I was not based upon academic achievement but was, however, based upon our society’s differencing philosophic approach to ideas like culture, society and empire.

This idea, however, does not require an ocean between members to elicit different reactions. Take for instance a common debate at the University. Long after the faculty actively pursued and voted to be represented by a union, the last vestiges of this argument refuse to go quietly into the night via faculty and administration alike.

This issue is raised with regularity in this very forum and is almost comically stereotypical when you consider the circumstances. It is reasonable that those in favor of running the University like a corporation would have a predisposed dislike of unions. These people continue to keep the debate alive amid a point in time in which the Faculty Association is needed the most.

Many would consider an inquiry to where a public university is spending money to be a natural and commendable service. This interest is, however, not shared by any who harbor this preconceived anti-union sentiment. Students are already viewed as clients opposed to pupils; do the voices which operate against the collaboration of students and faculty truly have our best interest at heart?

An establishment, which actively attempts to chastise those who wish to propagate a beneficial environment for students and faculty, reminds me of a quote from Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Avatar.”

“They’re [peeing] on us without even the courtesy of calling it rain.”

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