We have been here at Ouachita Baptist University for less than three months but we’ve already experienced what I’ve been told (and I believe) is, without a doubt, the biggest event of the year here: Tiger Tunes. Tiger Tunes is a musical show featuring acts performed by some of the campus social groups (fraternities and sororities that are unique to OBU) as well as Campus Ministries, Campus Activities and the band. The event is competitive, with awards for best choreography, best costumes, best overall act, etc. The money raised through ticket sales and donations (totaling over a million dollars since it started 35 years ago) goes to student scholarships, but the real excitement is generated by the competition itself. The football team is undefeated so far this season but all the talk and energy on campus so far this semester has been focused on Tunes. The heat generated by the awards is so great that people who have nothing to do with OBU have to be brought in to judge the event. Doesn’t it seem that every university has something like this that is the center of gravity of university life (OBU’s Tiger Tunes was patterned after Baylor’s “Sing”)? Our undergrad experience at A&M back in the day featured the all-consuming Aggie Bonfire, an event with considerably more hair on its chest; so much so that it became too dangerous to continue (the stack collapsed in 1999 and killed a dozen students).
If I were to look at Tunes strictly through the eyes of the grumpy professor, I would want it abolished or drastically scaled down, which would be tantamount to holding the tide back. The prep for Tunes for the rank and file social club members starts with the beginning of the school year and for the month leading up to homecoming, they’re spending three hours a night rehearsing. Poor classroom attendance is a problem and a lot of the students have a tougher time than usual staying awake or concentrating. The whining and complaining about academic requirements crescendos in the week leading up to Tunes, as if continuing with classes in the middle of a fall semester that also features a fall break long weekend and a Thanksgiving break were some onerous, unreasonable expectation.
But the fact that just about every university seems to have a Tunes-type event (or several), combined with the fact (I take it as a fact because I heard it from a prof who was here then) that Tunes started 35 years ago because students were spending too much time and money working on homecoming floats, convinces me that an event like this is not only unstoppable, but a necessary and strongly positive part of college life. Each group is forced to put together a routine and employ everyone in a way that showcases the abilities of the most talented members and covers up the limitations of the less musically talented. There’s no faculty advisor standing over them telling them to keep rehearsing or to schedule another practice or make the costumes better. It’s completely student-led and that’s the real key: you become an adult when there are no “adults” standing over you making you do stuff. Obviously, most of us are not destined to sing and dance professionally, but the leadership and followership required for a social group to do Tunes is exactly what it takes to make a good business, church, team and family. And while I'm on the subject of being a grownup, I'll just add that there's another important element to the relevance of Tunes: the fact that classes and quizzes and mid-terms should go right on. For one thing, we need to be fair to the 2/3rds of the student body that does not participate in Tunes. And in adult life, you choose to participate in "extra" stuff. Want to go run the Chicago Marathon on a Sunday in October? Super. Your boss is still going to expect you to be standing tall at work at 8 a.m. in Texas on Monday morning. When we're kids our parents decide for us. When we're grown up we make our choices and manage the consequences.
So for me, the crusty old professor, the challenge is to generate excitement about learning Spanish in the same way that Tunes captures the imaginations of so many students. The main ingredients will have to be teamwork, autonomy, fun and competition with publicly advertised consequences. How do you do that in a traditional classroom that is generally anathema to all of those things? I don't know yet, but I have some ideas.
Just don’t expect to see me in a chicken suit.