La Ciccia (and some thoughts on role models in universities)

That is a Sardinian restaurant in San Francisco, and it was my pick from the San Francsico dining bleg from last week.  I recommend it highly, focus on the appetizers and the pastas (uni!), as the meat dishes are less interesting.

Much of the table talk was on whether the true function of universities is to expose us to a wide array of vivid role models, so we could reject most of them and accept a few, thereby giving us a motivated path forward in life.  One implication of this is that (lower-level) university athletics might be undervalued, because coaches and even fellow athletes can serve as useful role models in a way that most professors cannot.  The question also arises whether we might have more efficient ways of exposing people to vivid role models than through college or university attendance.  The “so many professors” approach of the university seems stifling and inefficient, not to mention lacking in diversity, once you view the question in these terms.

Is there such a thing as a “professional role model”?  That would mean a person who hasn’t done very much but somehow reflects a lot of positive qualities and can inspire others.  Or is that a contradiction in terms?  Must the role model have actually done something significant?  I believe that professional role models are possible and indeed they exist right now, even if they are not labeled as such.

Is the main function of role models to be accepted and emulated, or to be rejected?  Do not underrate the latter possibility.


One useful service that getting an MBA provides is that it exposes young people to a wide variety of jobs, allowing you to develop a better sense of what people do all day in different careers. That was particularly useful to me because I started my MBA as an unworldly 21-year-old.

Unfortunately, few top B-Schools accept students straight from college anymore, so this benefit is lost. The B-Schools figured out that their reputations depend primarily on the starting salaries of their graduates, so the easiest way to boost their salaries upon exit is to boost their salaries at entrance. Thus the typical person admitted to a big league MBA program is five years out of college and already making high five if not six figures.

I think you're not seeing the main benefit of having a more experienced class: people can actually relate the cases to their own experiences and comment on them. I don't hold my (top-tier) MBA in particularly high esteem but it most certainly would have been even less valuable without experience in the business world before. Both on my as well as everyone else's side.

Besides, people are at least as interested in salary multiples rather than absolute exit salaries. Though, in my case, the salary bump was insignificant but I knew that, going in with a salary already at the median exit salary (significantly above if you take into account that my full ride was paid by my employer).

I got a lot out of having older, more experienced classmates in B-School. The question is whether the almost complete ban on young MBA students, which was happening already in the early 1980s at Stanford (and was heavily driven to game ratings by driving up post-B-School starting salaries), makes sense.

They're finding ways around it. Harvard has a program to accept college seniors, send them out to work for 2-4 years, then come back to HBS with guaranteed admissions. Yale has a similar program, that I think has students do one year in class, 1-2 years of work, and then their final year of MBA. This is their attempt to capture top students before they are lured away from b-school by rapid promotions and raises (particularly likely for bright types who enter finance) without suffering the consequences of "unworldly 21 year olds" in their classrooms and graduation salary statistics.

Why waste your time getting a useless 'degree' in nothing, just to "expose young people to a wide variety of jobs"?

Join a consulting firm, travel (internationally - & get paid for it), and actually WORK in a wide variety of client companies in different industries!

Oh, and btw………you'll learn more than you would in Stanford's MBA program. A LOT more.

This. And then you go do the MBA anyway, as part of a socially accepted way to take a year or two off...

Re: "professional role models," consider this story, about a 26-year-old who briefly held three jobs that she didn't like, and is now a full-time "Beverly Hills, Calif.- based speaker and career coach to teens and young adults." So the job definitely exists, though that doesn't necessarily mean that it is filled by the right people.

yeah. if you can't be an engineer, than at least learn people skills. It goes a long way

It makes sense that an academic's role models would be encountered in college, but I don't think the rest of us feel that way. Most of my role models are family members or friends.

Jack Lalanne made a lifetime of inspiring others and getting paid to do it. He could certainly be said to have been a professional role model. He's one of mine.

Yeah but that's part of the point. College is a forced, high-collision grouping together of people. So it exposes one to (1) more peers, and (2) more different sorts of peers than one would otherwise encounter. So even for those prone to look among peers for role models, the environment encourages that.

The "scared straight" people might not be professional, but they certainly are held up as a type of role model.

Well, I happen to have 'vivid' memories of my old Drill Sergeant - I'm sure others can relate. Also, define 'done very much' ? Messiah or Bishop might qualify. Surely actors have the greatest opportunity and widest audience for role modelling, albeit at arms length? Bill Cosby could be considered a professional role model for a number of fathers. Q: How important is it that role models occupy positions of authority?

Function or value added? Certainly it is not the "function" of universities to expose students to various role models: my 8th grade educated blue-collar, pensioner grandfather never stepped foot on a campus. Neither did my professors much mention the Mexican-American cook at my favorite restraunt, who lived his life in quiet dignity, remitting all his payments back home and not seeing his wife longer than two weeks out of the year. University seems much more like brick-and-mortar lifestyle advertisement for the SWPL lifestyle. Not seeing your wife and sending all your excess earnings to your home nation? Not in the cards for SWPLs.

SWPL = stuff white people like for those who don't know

Kidding, right? Between episodes of college, I got summer work as a carpenter, something that I really liked. Hard as hell. But working with an old pro the third summer, seeing that one could make a life of it, raise kids, pay mortgages, --- that was the first time I could see my way clear of the K-16 indoctrination leading ineluctably to the bureaucracy. It made a huge difference to my life, which is now three-quarters run, still building, slower and with more pain. And I have been that professional role model for at least two men who are excellent practitioners, and as you say, perhaps many more who are not carpenters!

The worse problem is that the K-16 doesn't seem to know there is any alternative to itself, being peopled by those who either thrived in it or liked the security.


Also see Eric Hoffer.

So you were exposed to a variety of role models in your college episodes. They probably played a big role in demonstrating the bureaucracy that you made a conscious choice to avoid. Identifying those role models and subsequently rejecting them had an important and positive effect on your life.

yes dat. My grandfathers both had masters degrees and worked in agency and academia; my grandmas had bachelors degrees. Dad was a ph.D and worked in state land mgmt. My family had lost the thread of options outside government. I found myself ill-suited to that, and indeed was a miserable, if capable student.
It is a great relief to find in life a channel, or an eddy, where you don't piss everybody off, all the time....
I don't regret my college time at all -- in fact I paid off my student loans to my parents by building them a house.
You can imagine that my two kids heard a fair amount about alternatives to K-16. They were both valedictorians, to my great satisfaction. Not everybody has to be left-handed....

Is this yet another defense of high athletic budgets in higher ed? We are already facing a serious bubble problem in tuitions flying through the roof ahead of inflation and far ahead of the rest of the world, with students having to go into serious debt. This has got to stop, and a non-trivial part of this is the explosion of spending on athletics, particularly football and basketball coaches, in 40 states one of these is the highest paid public official in the state. As it is, while these overblown jockstraps justify themselves on how much money they supposedly bring in (look at the donations by alumni given to football and basketball!!!), the hard fact is that only 20 universities in the US actually have money-making athletic departments. On top of bloated administrators and their bloated salaries (faculty-student ratios and real faculty salaries have barely changed in nearly half a century, but most higher ed "reformers" are all about getting rid of faculty in favor of MOOCs or whatever, not trimming administrations and athletics), the athletic bureaucracies and coaches are horrendous. I do grant that the lower level sports may deserve some support, and maybe there are some role models for some of the athletes there, but do the regular students have to pay a lot more so a handful of people barely in college mostly because they are good at some sport might get a role model?

I remind that the University of Chicago has no athletics, at least none competing with other colleges or unis, and they are a very good school. This is just a pathetic joke.

The University of Chicago athletic department would be very surprised to hear that they don't compete in intercollegiate athletics.

I said it under the prior post and I'll say it again, competitive athletics is more worthwhile than a serious chunk of the classes offered at universities. Sport offers accountability and clear feedback on your efforts, it teaches good health habits, time management, dedication to something larger than oneself, team dynamics, real experience with the emotional highs and lows that we'll all face, and a common experience with future colleagues, etc. The challenge and opportunity offered by sport certainly bettered Michael Oher's life.

I stand corrected on UoC not having athletics, but they did not for many years.

No, you're wrong there too. They dropped the football team from 1940 - 1962, but other intercollegiate teams still played.

That is not remotely true. You're confusing their lack of a football program with a lack of athletics in general.

And this was a period of rising academic excellence at the University of Chicago. Did not hurt them, even if they undid their decision.

None of this undoes my main argument, which is that huge amounts of money get wasted on college athletics. Can the sums spent be justified by the small numbers of people supposedly getting role models?

That is a paper, Barkley

Maybe student athletes are students deserving the extra investment and greater individual role modeling.

It has had a competitive fencing team since its founding, except for 1996-1997...

Sports are in the sales department. One shouldn't expect sales to make a profit. In fact it would be kind of weird.

Has anyone wondered if high school should be extended?

The benefits you describe do not require professional-level facilities and stadiums or coaches with seven-figure salaries or the admission of barely literate students to play on the teams.

Barkley, have you ever stopped to consider:

1. That you support administrative burden for markets, but not for yourself.

2. That you 'work' for an institution which apparently can't fire you for making ridiculous claims against some of it's customers while advertising your name and association.

I'm just pleased you enjoyed my (first) recommendation. :)

"Is the main function of role models to be accepted and emulated, or to be rejected?"

I like this question.

Perhaps the master's main role is to be rejected. A pupil is in a state of perpetual revolt against the master. You must try all the wrong ways to do something because otherwise you won't understand why the right way is the right way.

Or maybe the master must be accepted and emulated but finally rejected as the pupil finds his or own way.

Maybe the Sith had a good thing going after all.

"... One implication of this is that (lower-level) university athletics might be undervalued, because coaches and even fellow athletes can serve as useful role models in a way that most professors cannot."

More oxygen so of course more impact.

Is funny to read of "intellectuals" talk about people who have done nothing . . .
Like how the f would they know?
Did they work at a trade? Like Karl Popper? Or just been in the system so long that they have a point of view?

A reservations-required Italian place in San Fran does not seem like a "Tyler place," but what do I know?

He goes back in the kitchen and eats with the immigrant laborers.

Would literature fit the bill for a professional role model? It exposes people to a wide range of personalities and ways of living, inspiring both emulation and rejection. And certainly imaginary people have accomplished very little of significance.

I think we used to call this "church" or, more broadly, "civil society." It was a lot cheaper than a 4 (or is it 6 these days?) year degree.

I could imagine the job intellectual personal trainer existing, but I couldn't see
It in the current university model.


Why are we acting as if there aren't already role models in the professional world? Bosses, older colleagues/associates - they don't count? Seems more economically effective, seeing as THEY pay YOU (unless you're a schmuck who falls for the offer of an ambiguous "mentorship" in exchange for a salary way below what you're worth)

There are a group of professional role models – motivational speakers. Some of them have professional or political experience, but some are selling a personal motivational philosophy. The clearest example I can think of is “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey.

So, if that is correct how cheaply can we provide a university education?

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