Sunday, April 24, 2011

Students and Narcissism 2 - A Challenge to Providing Academic Customer Servive

Part 1 of this article at

It is interesting that the narcissistic personality replaces socialized means to achieve the goal of success in college and actions on campus with personalized means but the students maintain the institutionalized goals of good grades for example.  The clash of a common goal but different expectations for use of institutionalized means yields a great deal of friction between students and the college and has generated much of the backlash against “the students we get here nowadays.” It also powers the attitude of many faculty that the university needs to recruit “better” students i.e. those that will conform to the college’s traditional and even proscribed institutionalized means to achieve the culture’s goals of good grades and a job.

It is furtheEdit Postsr interesting that the narcissistic student often does not achieve his goals as a result of the rejection or ignorance of the means. For example when it comes to dropping a course there is a definite prescribed means to follow to accomplish the goal of dropping.  There is usually an add-drop form to complete and file at the very least. At some schools, the student needs to get the signature of the faculty member teaching the course; a signature of an advisor and then even sign a waiver indicating he or she is aware of the potential consequences to schedule, graduation time and even financial aid from dropping the course. But the narcissistic student tends to accept the goals but reject the means making him what the sociologist Robert Merton called “an innovator “which is a deviant behavior leading to an anometic frustrating and unintended result. The student substitutes his own means for that of the college and simply does not go to class again.  The narcissist believes “without my presence, the class does not exist for me anymore so I have dropped it.” The result is that the student has not dropped the course in the eyes of the school; is charged for the course; and gets a failing grade.

This is not to say that the Me Generation student will accept the result which creates a real shock to his system and goals. He cannot understand how the school could have made such a mistake and will plead his case for the grade to be dropped as he believed he dropped the course.  “I did not go so the course ended. And I should not have to pay for the course if I were not there. And I do not accept the failing grade.”

This is an example of how and why there is so much conflict on campuses today. The Me Generation still clings to the cultural goals but not the means. They expect to have their personal, innovative approaches substitute for the cultural norms of behavior and how to accomplish things. There are two systems in conflict over the means to the end. This can also be seen in the clash of language that exists on campus.

Students believe that they are entitled to use whatever language and means they wish in a conversation with anyone. They do not recognize or accept  the social norms for example that place an individual such as perhaps someone in the financial aid, bursar or registrar office as have any level of superiority through position. They do not realize or accept that there is a decorum and conformity to language that is expected in an academic professional setting. And they are surprised when they are rebuffed for using vernacular or slang such as the “f-bomb” or other adjectives and adverbs common to their everyday relaxed peer group language.  Moreover, the recipient of the language is surprised when the language comes out and will almost always respond in an open or covert negative manner. Cursing and swearing are not considered institutionalized language in an academic setting. This clash of cultures also causes some definite clashes on campus.

The narcissist personality of segments of the Me Generation is a major source of conflict on campus but it is also a major source of self-conflict for students.  When students retain the goals (good grades, high GPA, graduation, a good job…) but reject the institutionalized means, norms and rules they are living a deviant existence that quite often leaves them frustrated. Rules, norms and socialized means provide order and stability. Take them away and there is a striving for the goals but without the means that may be needed to get to them; add/drop is such an example. Without the rules there is also lack of boundaries or solid sense of where one fits into a culture or in this case a university/college. This can lead to a lack of identity and feeling of place which is needed for an affective connection to the school and its society. This can lead to a sense of isolation within the larger college campus and society.

This is made even stronger by the reliance on technology for contacting and making “personal” associations with others and society. Technology and cyber-communication are now almost the equal to face-to-face communication. The Me Generation does not feel the need to actually be in the same room as another to be in a direct communication. A phone call is equal to a person-to-person in the sane space discussion. A text and return text is equal to a phone call. There is an ad on television that shows two people sitting together at a table and one texts the other rather than talking to break up with him. When he asks “you’re breaking up with me, she texts back that she is. There is no need to actually orally say the relationship is over; the texting is the oral communication’s equal. Emails are in a similar category and instant messaging, though used less than texting now, is the same as talking person-to-person.

Groups are formed on-line. Direct communication is a tweet or a texted message; maybe not even a phone call which permits at least some level of human contact. Technology allows the individual to be in cyber touch with others without ever having to actual touch or be touched.  But this may not be to the students’ benefit  or yield feelings of actually being, actually touching and being touched by a community which is a human need. In fact, the lack of human interaction and “touching” another in some manner is seen as a very harsh punishment as in solitary confinement or breaking someone down. 

This can be proven in a simple experiment.  Have a group of people all agree to ignore the next person who joins the group. To make no oral or actual contact as if the person is not there. When she says hello, no one responds. When she repeats it, no one responds. She is treated as if she is not there. Within a very short time, she will start to get quite upset and demand that she be recognized and included in the group. If the experiment goes on for any period of time she will get quite angry and very frustrated at not being recognized and becoming part of the group. People cannot tolerate lack of inclusion and the actual and/or psychological touch that comes with that. People have a need and rive to be part of a community and for many, technology provides a level of that involvement but it has its limits.

On-line courses are one of the strongest examples of how technology generates contact but without any actual human connection.  Students never see, hear or gain any human touch with the professor. They do not see, hear or communicate in person with any other members of the class. It is a static individual channel one to one to one contact through technology and cyber space. The student works in isolation broken only by a solitary email to another and then waiting for a response. The student is actually cut off from the others in the class by actual space working is his or her own room away from others.  The work is isolating and impersonal leading to feelings of loneliness in a cyber-crowd that exists only in the technology of on-line education and the belief of the student. It could be that the other students in the class exist but that is accepted on faith not knowledge.

Civic disengagement, the act of doing things in groups, being involved with others and society has dropped off according to Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone (2000).

During the first two-thirds of the century Americans took a more and more active role in the social and political life of their communities…we behaved in an increasingly trustworthy way toward one another. Then mysteriously and more or less simultaneously, we began to do all those things less often...
   More of our social connectedness is one short, special purpose and self-oriented…what sociologist Claude Fischer, Robert Jackson and their colleagues describe more hopefully as “personal communities.” (P183-84)

Combine the solitariness of the technological world students live in plus the lack of rules and boundaries to guide them due to an anometic approach to see their place in the world with a narcissistic personality that further isolates individuals and the result is civic disengagement and personal communities that do not have others in them except perhaps through technology.  Civil disengagement and personal worlds allow the narcissist personality, the self-focused student to substitute his rules and values for those of the academic community. This leads to even greater anomie and a sense of isolation. The narcissistic students live lonely self-contained, self-regulated lives on campus. They also lead lives that are in conflict with the larger academic society that actually controls most of the rules the students either reject or don’t know but either way, don’t care.

The result of their narcissist world of isolation and conflict with the academic world leads to conflicts and disappointments with some successes such as grades which are almost uniformly high. They end up overly focused on themselves, their values and wants while not feeling close to others or being part of a group with rules to follow. This in turn yields what the staff, faculty and administrators feel and see as inappropriate behavior and conflicts in offices and on campus.

Another result is the students feel detached from the school and one another. They live lives alone. Alone from actual groups and interactions with others. The result of this detachment is loneliness and depression.  In fact the narcissism of the current student bumping up against the experience of school with its realities alongside of having no or few real people to turn to for help (if the narcissist can admit he needs help) may be a major cause for the increases in depression that have been reported.

If this article had merit for you, you'll want to get a copy of the best-selling book on customer service in colleges The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education by Dr. Neal Raisman, the article's author. 

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