The Santa Clara
October 12, 2017
Five years ago, I came up with the preliminary idea for a finance tech product and dropped out of school to pursue its development. Back in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, I spent a great deal of time reflecting and thinking while in the harsh and stunning beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.
One of the thinkers I encountered during my sojourn was Peter Thiel, an intellectual, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. I instantly admired him, his success and his authoritative intellect and voice. One of Thiel’s key ideas was that the university system was a bubble that would soon break, calling it “a dinosaur of top-down pedagogy”— out of touch with the modern world. He believed that the university did not adequately prepare students for the workforce, on top of being exorbitantly expensive.
According to Thiel, students and potential students would get fed up with the student debt they accrued. The cost of modern education combined with its lack of relevance and practicality would be its downfall.
I agreed with these sentiments. It was just as well that I had left school when I did. I was now on my way to bigger and better things, and would never need to return. Thiel’s arguments seemed to speak directly to the rebel within me, and I was happy to lambast my past affiliation with Santa Clara and the university system.
As the years went on in Alaska, I began to think of Santa Clara once more. I launched the project back home but the leap to real world success was quite a chasm to overcome. In fact, there was really no way to do it without an intermediary. Santa Clara, I remembered, had been that intermediate step. It had been a place where I could prepare for the real world amid an environment of growth and connection, all aimed at lifting up the students and through them, the world.
Against my expectations, I began wanting to be a college student again. And this fall, three weeks ago, I did just that. Upon landing at Santa Clara, I felt myself once again at home, in the land of opportunity and possibility. Amid the motivated students and supportive faculty, I felt my Alaska-weary body and mind alight with the power and potential I had within me, the ability that was stirring now in this inspirational environment.
On Oct. 2, I attended the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics event, “Free Speech and the University Under Assault.” I sat in the front row and scrutinized Nicholas Dirks, the former Berkeley Chancellor, as he claimed that the modern university is under attack—financially, politically and so on. I remembered Thiel’s words and thought, “Thiel would love this talk, and he would want to see this man finished off.” Sitting there, I pondered for a minute whether Thiel was actually right. Are the modern challenges facing the university in fact agents of the institution’s longawaited demise?
Yet such thoughts seemed so wrong, face-to-face with Chancellor Dirks. He spoke at length at the value of the university as a protector of free speech, and the intellectual tradition. Universities, he said, were one of the only places in which extreme ideas could be expressed and discussed. Looking at him, I saw the university values embodied, and I began to think of Peter Thiel like Caiaphas in the Gospels—an intellectual powerhouse whose mental deductions lead them to call for the crucifixion of a positive force in society. During the speech, Dirks took on a messianic quality in my mind. He seemed fair and balanced, and in him and in the institution he represented, I saw a greater good that ought to be preserved, not destroyed.
It seems that the destruction or reduction of the American university would be a great tragedy for the nation. I advocate a path of continued development, and a deep appreciation of the system that is currently, as Dirks put it “under attack.” The university deserves to continue on to even greater heights. In this way, our nation is strengthened and made great.
Joe Bredar is sophomore business major.