Universities Prevent Learning

Robert D. Eldridge

 If I were to state, “universities prevent learning,” the reader might think I am crazy. Universities, as well as colleges, technical schools, and other institutions of higher education are supposed to be the very ones imparting this instruction and providing the place to learn.


 In fact, sadly, that is not always the case. Indeed, quite often the universities prevent the very chance to learn that our young people and others so desperately need and desire.

 Why is this?

 There are many, many reasons. Having worked at Osaka University, a national university considered one of the best in the country, I can attest to some of the problems I witnessed there with restrictive rules, bureaucratic mentalities, intra-department and interdepartmental politics, and other problems, including the surprisingly low expectations of the faculty and students.

 But another issue is more deliberate. Namely, there were ideological forces at work to prevent students from having opportunities to learn. I would like to introduce four examples of them here, one from mainland Japan and the other three from Okinawa. All of them concern the U.S. military—the same U.S. military providing assistance to the Government of Japan at the latter’s request in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures.

 In March this year, I had offered to a private university in Miyagi Prefecture a guest lecture about Operation Tomodachi and the importance of disaster preparedness and cooperation. I timed the talk for a trip I was planning to make to Tohoku region on the 5th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

 My host was a longtime friend and former academic colleague. He was enthusiastic about the talk, especially since he and his family, as residents of Sendai, experienced some suffering as a result of the disaster. I saw them briefly when I was serving up at Camp Sendai as part of the U.S. response known as Operation Tomodachi, both to see how they were coping as well as to learn from a local citizen how they appraised the recovery efforts.

 However, at least one of his colleagues was not. The professor opposed someone from the U.S. military speaking at the school. It did not matter that I was not working for the U.S. Marine Corps at this point—I was “tainted” because I had once worked for the government. As a result, the students of Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University, a Christian school and others who would have attended could not learn about the U.S.-Japan cooperation and natural disasters—the very thing that is happening in Kyushu now.

 Exactly six years before this incident in early 2010, I was scheduled to give a talk at Okinawa Christian University. At that time, the subject of my talk was “Using English in Your Future Careers.” I was to speak before the class of a senior professor who taught English and who had studied in America on a scholarship provided by the U.S. government. However, when she mentioned my talk to the faculty meeting, the committee blocked it simply because I was worked for the U.S. military. I found this highly disturbing as the talk had nothing to do with the base issue or the alliance, and was meant to help the students realize their dreams in the future international careers.

 A similar thing happened a couple of years after this. Meio University, a public university in northern Okinawa which was once considered a moderate, internationally minded school, invited me to give a talk as part of its study program on peace and security, but cancelled the invitation, again, due to the fact that I worked for the U.S. military.

 All three of these situations were particularly bizarre because I had a well known academic career, in which I had won numerous awards for my scholarship. I was also known as a popular professor at my previous university, helping the students with many aspects of the academic studies and professional life. The above universities, in other words, were placing ideology over education, politics over programs, causes over children.

 Another equally disheartening event happened when Okinawa International University and several other schools in Okinawa, including Ryukyu University, failed to share the announcement for an internship program I made within the Marine Corps in the summer of 2010 for Japanese students to experience working and in our headquarters building. They denied, in other words, the chance for the students to have a life-changing experience—which should be what education is all about. (One student from Okinawa, who did have the chance to participate in the internship program, is currently helping out in Kumamoto Prefecture as a professional interpreter in the disaster area for international residents.)

 University professors often criticize and treat the military, whether American or Japanese, as uneducated, unsophisticated, and stubborn, but it appears that the shoe is on the other foot. It is a terrible shame that the professors hold the students hostage to the same biases and prejudices they hold. Ideology cannot overcome ignorance. Only education and exchanges can.