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The NYTimes had an article entitled A Death Sparks a Demand for Care. The article focuses on the recent murder of Damian Turner. I had met Damian on occasion, and he was good friends with many of my neighbors. He was shot earlier this summer within view of the University of Chicago Hospital. Because the U. of C. closed its Level 1 trauma unit, Damian had to be transported to a hospital 10 miles away to receive care.
Treating trauma — victims of shootings, stabbings, car crashes and other accidents — is highly specialized and expensive. Level 1 trauma centers are staffed with 16 medical specialists, like brain surgeons and orthopedic experts, 24 hours a day…. The University of Chicago, which had one of the busiest trauma centers in the state, got out of trauma care in 1988, largely because of costs. “We drew the entire South Side,” said John Easton, a spokesman for the medical center. “That became overwhelming. It put an enormous strain on the hospital.”
While nonprofits should do what they can to avoid mission creep, I question whether becoming an ivory tower is a more desirable alternative. The term “ivory tower” implies, “a wilful [sic] disconnect from the everyday world,” and is often used to pejoratively connote academic elitism. The term originates from the Hebrew scripture, Song of Solomon, and carries a connotation of elegance and purity. Usually, the term is applied to stodgy academicians who are so wrapped up in their disciplines that they lack the sufficient social skills and basic vernacular to relate to the rest of humanity.
Of course a school is obligated to educate its students, but is that its only obligation? Should a school also have an obligation to the community where it resides? Perhaps the concept of the “ivory tower” can be extended beyond professors, to an entire institution.
The University of Chicago could renew it’s commitment to serving the residents of Chicago’s South Side. It could offer a more holistic education to its students, training individuals to be public servants rather than simply being repositories of information.
The U of C isn’t the only school that I’ve seen who is guilty of being an ivory tower. Although it is well-meaning, my alma mater, Anderson University, sometimes toes the line of being an ivory tower. AU is seated in one of the most economically depressed cities in the country. The issues faced by Anderson, Ind. closely mirror (and at times surpass) those faced by Flint, Mich. This Rust Belt town is home to a picturesque, homey university. Not surprisingly, you don’t have to travel far from AU’s campus to see disparity, inequality and injustice. To be fair, some students take a general interest in the larger community. Some organize service days or get involved in various Campus Ministries. However, a significant portion of AU students go their entire college career without seriously engaging the community of Anderson.
A university’s sole aim shouldn’t be to simply create repositories of information. We have books and libraries for that purpose. Universities should seek to provide a holistic education to their students. They should strive to prepare their students to engage their culture, community, society and world. They should train them to be public servants.