It’s fascinating hearing students, when asked what they want to be in life upon graduation, say “leaders” and “role models.” Admissions brochures of colleges and universities stress that students attending their institution will receive an education elevating them as role models and leaders in all walks of life. I wonder.
From time to time, student bicyclists are killed in collisions with cars and other vehicles. In almost every case, they die from head injuries, which could have been prevented or minimized by wearing helmets. The day after a bicyclist, who was not wearing a helmet, was recently killed in a campus collision, I watched to see if there was an increase in bikers wearing helmets. His death was publicized in the student newspaper and the police report. Of the numerous bikers I observed, only three wore helmets, about the usual fraction. This oblivious behavior is disappointing given the high cost of investment in human capital.
Bikers are informed that they are subject to the same rules of the road as other vehicles, meaning that they have to obey “stop signs.” Several times a year Stanford police stand at corners in an effort to enforce the rule. One afternoon, I watched three policemen standing on a corner, their cars visibly parked a half-block away, write tickets to bikers who pedaled straight through the sign. Only when bikers saw their fellow students receiving tickets did they stop before proceeding across the road, until the police left.
Perhaps the most egregious shortcoming I witnessed took place ten years ago during a lecture given by the late Jacque Derrida. They were several clearly visible signs in the auditorium stating “No food or drink allowed in the auditorium.” Nonetheless, several students brought in food and drink and sat themselves down on the floor directly under the sign nearest to my seat (and that of the university president who was just a few rows behind me). Either the students can’t read or believe that these rules do not apply to future role models and leaders. The fire safety sign that stipulated maximum capacity was also disregarded, with students sitting on the ledges, in the aisles, and standing in open spots.
No doubt I would be regarded as a troglodyte (primitive reactionary cave-dwelling humanoid) if I brought any of these observations to the attention of future leaders and role models.