Point Conversion

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“The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill has already been embroiled in a scandal for allowing its athletes to enroll in fake courses for easy credit. Now, the whole controversy has a rather potent visual symbol to go along with it: a 146-word, ungrammatical essay on Rosa Parks that earned an A- for a real intro class.” – Slate, 03/27/2014

“Even as their spending on instruction, research and public service declined or stayed flat, most colleges and universities rapidly increased their spending on sports, according to a report being released Monday” – New York Times, 04/07/2014

The Campus Guide led us down the promenade, the artificially-created pond at the North-most edge of the extended quad glistening a clear, pure shade of whitish blue in the soft sunlight of summer.

“I hear the equipment in your labs is a cut above,” I mentioned to make conversation. “Reg was really excited about being on the cutting edge.”

Reg, a step ahead, looked back at me with unbridled teenage hatred, and I couldn’t help but smile: whether by defense mechanism or natural perversion, my natural reaction over the past 17 years to his enraged bemusement regarding his father’s sense of humor. Of course, Reg was the only one who got it anyway, because no one else on the tour knew his ultimate goal was to become a surgeon.

“Definitely,” said the Campus Guide, a tall bald man with a white beard, “our Medical School is consistently ranked among the top ones in the country. But what I really wanted to show you, to finish out our tour…” he paused for dramatic effect as we came to the top of a hill that overlooked the far side of the campus landscape, “is this.”

Below us, carved into a long lopsided oval with twisting turns and sudden curves was the black tarmac, stands, and pit stop areas of a professional race track. All of the parents and prospective students stopped to stare.

“Is that…?” I asked.

“Yep,” the Guide said proudly. “It’s a full new world-caliber F-1 Speedway. Here comes the U team now – practicing as usual!”

An assortment of F-1 race cars careened from the obscured side onto the track and zoomed past, strangely devoid of any decals or advertising logos. Collegiate F-1 racers, I reasoned, could not secure endorsements.

“You have an… F-1 team?”

“Of course,” said the Guide.

“Maintaining that must take hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“Only the best for our students. We always stay competitive in today’s cutthroat academic landscape.”

“But what does F-1 racing have to do with a medical school-” I started to ask, but the Guide cut me off.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “A campus F-1 race team is so 2033. Well, don’t worry. This year we’ve answered the gauntlet of our closest division competitors – if you’ll look up to the Southwest…”

We turned up as the sound of roaring turbines drowned out the ambient sounds of the scene – a squadron of precision jet fighters in the college’s colors swept over and past us at breakneck speed, maneuvering into distinct formation groups and twirling about before yawing towards the lake and disappearing again.

“That’s right,” the Guide said, “the wait is over – the Campus Precision Formation Jet Flying Team planes have arrived, purchased straight from the latest NATO contracts-”

“That must have cost a fortune!” I said.

“Don’t worry!” the Guide said patronizingly, patting my shoulder. “The Low-Orbit Spacecraft Jetpack Diving Team wasn’t far behind.”

From above, clusters of divers in full astronaut suits with helmets in college colors started descending on trails of flame from their rear-mounted jetpacks, dropping some kind of prop on parachutes.

“They all have jetpacks!” I said. “There’s a Low-Orbit Spacecraft?”

“Oh, the students love it. They come out in droves – school spirit!”

“But what does any of this have to do with a medical education?” I asked.

“Are you implying there’s no direct relationship between an institution chosen to provide an education at great cost to both tuition-paying families and the public taxes or private endowments that support it and an expensive physical sports spectacle that provides no academic benefit but takes up a large percentage of the institution’s budget and its students’ enthusiasm and focus?” the Guide asked, shaking his head and enunciating with little pauses in an oh-you-I-know-you-must-be-joking kind of tone.

With a dive-bombing sound, a solid brick of gleaming yellow crashed into the Earth before me and exploded the dirt just inches away from my foot, leaving a deep and cracking crater. “Are they dropping gold bricks?” I asked.

“The kids go wild!” the Guide said, laughing. “They love it! Now if you’ll turn back to the Campus Racetrack..”

On the track below us, giant robots the size of skyscrapers were now descending, one in the shape of an enormous mechanistic dinosaur, and the other a multi-armed steel knight design: from their joints came the sounds of hydraulics and engines as the knight spun a glowing laser sword the size of a tractor trailer and the dinosaur responded with a roaring blast of fire from its mouth.

“Certainly,” the Guide smiled, “you’ve heard of our recent rebranding as the premier Giant Laser Murder Robot team school.”

“How’s the tailgating?” another parent asked.

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