Its been a while since the ol' Burb Fixer dropped the RANT bomb...
Our summer intern just bailed on us today. Apparently the job was below her. Based on my discussions with the Director, she felt that the work was not important enough for her and weren't fulfilling her expectations to change the world within 6 months of beginning work. She was working on a project that was going to shape our annexation policy for the next several years. She was working on another project that was likely to result in a more streamlined permitting process. Alas, this was not up to her expectations. What's worse is that I, as well as others, really took her under our collective wings to show her why these projects were important. The whole time she was here she was never asked to perform the mundane clerical tasks, like copying, babysitting phones, etc.
I know what you're thinking... "So an intern flaked out on you--this is nothing new." What is bothering me is that I know the underlying reasons she flaked out (other than bratty-ness).
I believe the majority of universities are performing a disservice to their students, particularly to undergraduates, as they prepare to enter the job field. So many universities have planning faculty comprised entirely of ivory tower academics that have never set foot in a planning office. These professors are painting an inaccurate picture of the profession--glamorizing it as the ultimate "change the world" profession where you are rewarded on a daily basis for you work toward the betterment of mankind. While all of us have that idealistic world tucked away somewhere in the back of our mind (we wouldn't be in public service otherwise), we know and comprehend that there are only a handful of glamor projects available during the course of our careers. We work on projects that may never see the light of day. We work on projects whose results won't be readily known until 20-30 years down the road. We spend the majority of our time guiding people through the bureaucratic process, writing countless staff reports on everything ranging from a simple setback variance request to an amendment to the future land use map to allow for TODs near the newly proposed rail stop. We research issues in the back room do help design appropriate floor-area-ratios. Rarely do we get to design that community-altering project, that legendary project written up in countless textbooks. Professors often tell you otherwise--preaching the latest and greatest planning ideas and never accounting for the difficulty in implementing them while working through the public forum.
Professors need to get real. When you join the planning profession, you are not signing up for a life of glamour projects where your name routinely makes the front page of the newspaper. You are signing up for a career in public service, where there is a calling beyond egos obcessed with high-profile, immediate, tangible results. We are in public service. We represent a calling to promote the public good. We are not in it for the money. We are not in it to have our name in lights. We are not mini-dictators that can wave a magic wand to turn the whole world into a New Urbanist Scandanavian Paradise where people gladly ride bikes everywhere, singing kum-ba-yah on the town square.
We live in the real world, and so should professors. I'm not saying to remove idealism from the curriculum; I'm saying to stop sugarcoating it to a point that students are traumatized and angry for wasting 4-5+ years of their education.
I still have my idealism, but I keep it on the shelf right next to reality.
I feel better now.