Sunday, January 16, 2011

How a University Should Be

I had the opportunity to visit Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB), the university my friends in Caracas, Venezuela attend. Entering the university campus, I felt like I was leaving Caracas and entering California. The campus was an oasis of palm trees, green spaces, and well-constructed buildings. The university received a grant with the stipulation that it must always take care of the environment, a fact that was clearly noted walking around the campus. One grassy area was covered with a living art installation, foliage that changes colors with the seasons.

My friend showed me the cafeteria where students can eat for dirt cheap. True, there wasn’t a fantastic selection of food – a tuna fish sandwich, orange juice, and watermelon – but who can say that they genuinely enjoyed their college cafeteria’s food? Plus, the meals there are infinitely cheaper than the $10 meals they serve at American universities.

My friend explicated that USB is one of the best universities in the country. For many years, it contained the largest Internet center in the entire country. I was surprised that a school was the first place to embrace such a costly technological advance. My friend commented, “Isn’t that how a university should be, a center of learning and achievement?” I had to agree. The university set a precedent in Venezuela with its principles of academic integrity and honesty. My friend explained that unlike students in other schools in the country where students assist just to have fun, students at USB spend most of their time studying. Many of the students in fact receive job offers from other countries because of the reputation of their school. The university is truly a beacon of academic achievement and political freedom.

The cost of education at USB is only 55 bolivares fuertes. That’s $12 per year! For $30, a student can attend classes, eat, and use the ample physical fitness facilities. As I admired this haven within a city often described as hell, my friend proposed that I send my kids there: “It’s cheap and the education is good. All you need to do is pay to become a Venezuelan citizen.” Hey, that’s not a bad idea…

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