“I’m used to explaining to people why my jokes are funny.” – Gilbert Gottfried
Who remembers Gilbert Gottfried? Depending on your age you might remember him as the original voice of the Aflac duck, Jafar’s sidekick Iago in Aladdin, or just some guy with a funny voice who talks with his eyes closed. Then again, you may not know who he is at all. That’s because as a comedian, he’s pushed the envelope a few times and got in trouble.
Once, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he made an ill-timed joke about missing a plane. Ten years later he tweeted jokes about the Japanese tsunami. He recovered from the first slip by making a different joke. The second one cost him his job as a duck and is why he’s been incognito for a few years. Not the first or second times he’s told a joke that offended as it fell flat, probably won’t be the last.
This weekend he was asked about taking these kinds of risks in today’s more “sensitive, politically correct environment” and responded that he felt jokes probably should come with instructions these days. If you think the joke is funny, he said, laugh. If you don’t think it’s funny, don’t laugh. Just remember that you pay comedians to tell a joke. This is the same as paying a theme park to put you on a roller coaster or paying a movie theater to see a horror flick. If you get scared, excited, or otherwise stimulated, then scream. If not, then don’t. What he didn’t say is something I’ve said many times before, paying for these experiences is a choice.
So it begs the question, why do you pay to go to school? Why do you pay to take a class? The basic answer would be to learn something. Something you didn’t know before. Doesn’t make much sense to pay to hear something you already know. Learning, then, is an experience like being amused, being excited, and being scared. Learning is also like these other experiences in that to truly have an impact, you need to be pushed. If you scream and giggle, that’s cute. But you will forever remember the first time an experience truly terrified you. Maybe it was at Halloween Horror Nights. Maybe it was in that slingshot chair down in Kissimmee’s Old Town. But you learned your limit, or maybe set a new goal to get past!
You attend elementary, middle, and high school because you have to. Ditch too many classes and you get a visit from the authorities. Or at least your parents do. But once you’re in college, it’s a choice. Until MOOC degrees are widely accepted, there are no free higher ed options. You are paying for the college experience and choosing to put yourself in it.
Dean Jarley has been very direct about the need for changes to our student experience. When the Dean met with community leaders, employers and alumni he asked for their “perceptions” of our College. Sadly they had none. No perceptions. We had also set up structures and practices that allowed (I’d say, “encouraged”) students to become anonymous. Anonymous students in a College that creates no perception in the community.
Last year the faculty of UCFs College of Business made a decision to change their curriculum. Faculty met to discuss ideas. Credit hours for core classes were reduced. Career classes were added. More changes will be coming as well. Good changes that will benefit our students and better prepare them for success after graduation. These changes will ultimately create a culture in our college where it’s not ok to be anonymous; where you will be pushed to take risks, be engaged, and possibly fail in a safe environment.
Some of you will applaud these changes. You are making a choice to attend our College and want to be pushed, want to be challenged. Some of you won’t. You prefer a safe list of things to do and think that will prepare you for life after graduation. Some of you will accept the Dean’s challenge to move out of your comfort zone and take risks. Some of you want to play it safe.
You could fill a library with books written by “experts” who say the time for change in higher education is nigh. For 20 years we’ve heard grand predictions that the world will overtake us, that technology will replace us, and that this new brand of student will be failed by us. Over that same time you could paper the walls of that same library with editorials, articles, and studies also talking about the need for change. What’s happened? Colleges of business still pretty much teach business the same way my dad learned in the early 60s (I’d go back further, but I don’t have a point of reference beyond my dad). We lecture, we do cases, we do some experiential learning. Accounting is still pretty much algebra, Economics is still supply and demand, the “4 Ps” go back to 1948, calculus was invented over 2000 years ago. If you are happy with the status quo there are still plenty of places to buy it.
I’m excited by the fact that UCFs College of Business faculty recognize the need for change. I hope that we’ll push the envelope. I hope that the culture of risk taking and learning from failure is something that will begin to attract students, faculty, and employers to our College and not just be a talking point. Career classes that push you to think about your future are just the start. We are incorporating Bloomberg terminals in Finance and getting rid of bake sales, car washes, and emailing your parents for money in Cornerstone. I hope to see more changes as our faculty are challenged to push, prod, challenge, engage, and teach you. I hope it makes you uncomfortable, because that’s where awesome stuff happens. And if you don’t like being prodded, if you don’t like being challenged…
“Some comedians tell nice jokes that you can tell to your kids. Some use bad words – they work ‘blue.’ If you don’t want to hear a joke that’s blue, you shouldn’t go to a comedy club where a comedian who makes blue jokes is performing.” – Gilbert Gottfried