Paul Greenberg

Every teaching assistant at a large state university has had the experience. At least I did as a TA in the University of Missouri's history department. Sometime during the semester you'd get a call from a junior assistant coach -- as new to the academic life as you were -- who just wanted to drop by and have a Coke.

How strange. I was mystified the first time it happened. What did he want, the pleasure of my company? Had he confused me with a football fan? Didn't he know that us intellectuals prefer baseball? Ah, the arrogance of youth. I kind of miss it.

After some puzzling small talk -- what do you think of this weather? where you from? -- my visitor got around to the point: He mentioned a student in a freshman survey course, a student whose name didn't register at once. Mainly because he just sat there without anything to say. His thoughts, if any, were clearly far away. Maybe on the football field?

It seems that said student had failed a quiz or two, not surprisingly, and he would make an awfully fine guard or tackle or whatever if only his grades were better and he stayed eligible, and could I see my way clear to ... well, even I could see where this was heading, and the conversation was closed.

The young coach had carried out his assignment, I'd done my duty, no hard feelings. That's the way it worked. Every system has its little accepted corruptions that accumulate like sludge on the gears. I don't know if that kind of visit still happens. It shouldn't.

There's been one big change since my days behind the lectern. It's no longer the coaches who appeal, wheedle, growl, grovel, or whatever it takes to raise a student's letter grade. It's the students themselves.

Naturally enough, a team of academics has written a paper about this sad trend. ("Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting and Motivational Factors"). The syndrome now has a name (Academic Entitlement) and an abbreviation (AE) -- just like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Doubtless there will soon be federal grants and endowed chairs to study AE and a drug to treat it. And sure enough, it'll turn out to be more widespread than anyone ever suspected.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.