Sofa bans, extreme religion and dismay on US campus

09 Sep 2010

 It's the start of the new academic year at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, one of the top public universities in the USA. Parents in giant 4x4's are dropping off their kids. The shops are busy selling 'UofM' sweatshirts and student text books and college football is back on TV. 

So, here's a flavour of what's in the air in US campuses like this.

The age-old tradition of students sitting out on the porches of their houses is under threat as the city council wants to ban the use of upholstered furniture outside. Seems a shame to me - it's what being a student is all about...'porching it up with the guys' as one student put it.

On 'the Diag' - the centrepiece of the campus - an evangelical street preacher berates the crowd of wide-eyed and amused new students. His supporter holds a placard telling 'lesbians, homosexuals, fornicators, fraudsters and the godless' that they will 'burn in hell'. Surprisingly the campus police don't turn a hair at this vicious message ... but then this is a country were it would be legal for a Florida pastor to burn the Koran in public. 

The start of the new university year has brought growing questions about whether it is a good investment to go to university. Fees have gone up again. Prominent on the bookshelves in Ann Arbor are two books reflecting this mood. Their titles say it all:

 'Higher Education? How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids'  and

 'The Five Year Party - How colleges have given up on educating your child and what you can d about it'


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