To Infinity and Beyond: Imagining Liba College Futures and Other Science Fictions

Short Stories

By Ami Regier

***

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. What small colleges do that no other form of higher education can do, he thought, is create a world. It is a very special, intense world, characterized by full-body, full-mind, live time scenarios 24-7, involving arduous journeys through the rugged terrains of, among others, liberal arts, technology, music, undergraduate research, and athletics. With much creativity, small colleges create their own educational structures and intercollegiate competitions. While musing about this, the president was multitasking along with the first-year students, having occasional google hangouts while reading the community-wide text Reamde, by Neal Stephenson. Reamde imagines that videogame realities are starting to intersect with real-world economies and power-brokers. In Reamde, students in China hack into Russian mafia financial data in order to make college tuition money. The data sets get imported into the game and held for ransom. Students problem-solve how to win access to the data sets in gaming logic (by winning in the game construct) but end up resolving real-world conflicts. When the president read the line about how people were tracing each other’s locations in two realities, the president turned to the webcam and shouted “Brilliant—that’s it!” Before long, the college had shifted the location of classroom learning into narrative worlds. A new major combining gaming, programming, international business, and writing was developed. Students developed problem-solving methods in the narrative context of multiplayer games, writing the next plot event after each problem was solved. As in Reamde, tuition money could be sited in the game, with portals for payment and collection based on student research, labs, logic proofs, performances, and creative activities built into the game. Soon, students world-wide were enrolling in the narrative world of Liba College. Residential inhabitation was optional, but students tended to choose it, because they could live as their game avatars and written selves during the duration of each class segment. Invented lives of mathematicians, economists, scientists, computer programmers, musicians, innovators, and super-athletes became real lives.

***

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. The soccer coach was desperate. Both of them were reading Outcasts United along with first-year students. They put their heads together as they thought about the vision of a community transformed by refugee resettlement and the interesting role of soccer therein. They texted a social media mogul. Could Liba College and the local community assist families who had been granted asylum by the U.S. and who now needed to settle somewhere? Would an endowment from their new foundation be possible to make Liba into a work college, where all students as well as refugees could cooperatively work for their education? Could a small college help a Midwestern rural community develop a vibrant economy and multicultural community? The mogul said yes, but said she would want all local universities to cooperate, helping each other with TESOL expertise and other needs. All the campuses would be needed. She and the president contacted the governor’s office to see if a public-private venture could support higher education statewide. He contacted the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Research Center to see if the denominational library and archives could be expanded into a research center of immigration issues with their help. College presidents and political leaders got together and met with the wind turbine manufacturing company coming in to the Flint Hills area to discuss jobs for graduates if a new Independent Colleges United developed energy engineering and technology programs. The Social Work Department worked with the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution to contact immigration and resettlement resources and develop a resettlement and education access system. The new state of Palestine was contacted to see if the Middle East needed a college campus extension in the Midwest. The soccer team fleured. The Kansas governor was voted out by the electorate when he tried to pull the social media mogul toward other projects in the state and away from higher education and refugee resettlement. The Literary Studies and Communication Arts departments merged into Human Rights Media Studies. Various local campuses tripled in size, attracting students from across the Midwest, as well as a small but growing number of students from the international families resettled in the region.

***

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. He decided to invite Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Huma Abedin to campus, and to task them with redeveloping the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution into the Border Issues Mediation Institute. Huma Abedin accepted the invitation. Students joined the Occupy Colleges movements, and began by Occupying Convocation, calling for an end to patriarchal lectures in favor of mediated dialogue. The students then Occupied the President’s Office and then Occupied the Board until they hired Huma Abedin as president, who began a new movement for multiparty democracy. The movement grew while a great fire swept through Washington, D.C. after an electromagnetic pulse event virally wiped out power and capacitors on the East Coast, including all airplane and vehicular traffic. The resulting exodus caused a Midwestern influx, albeit a slow one. Bicycle shops and the Amish organized workshops on alternative transportation, and helped the convoys begin, which came to be reported in international media as a modern multiethnic trail of tears. The Midwest became the new center of a diasporic nation, and the modified-ziggurat administration building became a parliamentary house of the new Labor Party of the Plains, built by a coalition of family farmers, pre-turbine wind power visioneers, organic beef, chicken, and goat farmers cum former faculty and staff, immigrants, and migrant labor who migrated from the West Coast, because California and Washington had fallen into the ocean after a series of earthquakes. 

*** 

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. He had been following with interest the debates over eminent domain when the House Appropriations Committee had appropriated the other college campuses in the tallgrass region in order to provide beds and facilities for the overflowing prison population. All of the modified-ziggurat administration buildings had functioned reasonably well as panopticons without much modification, but the residence halls could only be modified into low-security facilities. The president could see that Liba College would be next, so he was wondering if a creative, proactive deal could at least delay the inevitable. He was wondering about subleasing the Mods as housing for a low-security, family-friendly immigration and deportation staging area, since the sanctuary highway was known to come through the area although no one knew exactly where. Storm clouds had been hovering for a week, and the humidity was thickening. The wind, for once, had stopped. Many students were at the state capitol, lobbying for amnesty for undocumented persons. When the storm broke, it started far away, built a wall cloud and then rotated into a multiple-vortex tornado just south of Wichita, eventually heading straight north for the campus. The tornado turned the modified ziggurat administration building into a giant limestone parthenon. The college president was found under a limestone slab that had toppled from the northeast tower, where the president had gone to face the incoming devastation. The athletic teams, led by multicultural students, lifted the two-ton block of stone up and over, and gave him CPR, using the new method without mouth-to-mouth while singing the correct BeeGees song for proper cardio rhythm. He was saved. While he was in the hospital, students hacked his electronic rolodex to contact the Salina Land Institute, the Kansas Center for Rural Poverty, the Sierra Club, Ted Turner, the American Indian tribes of Kansas including the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation, and called a meeting. One student donated a kidney to the president, since they both had the same rare blood type. The student-run meeting produced a research-based vision: the land would be given back to the original indigenous inhabitants and the Buffalo Commons would at last become a reality. Concessions were won so that a few anthropologists and environmental biologists could stay in the region to document the results of the experiment, but in general, civilization could start over. A small limestone marker commemorated the history of colleges in the tallgrass prairie. Soil samples were taken and put in a buried time capsule so that they could be compared in 100 and 1000 years.

***

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. She recognized the drift of the state away from its history of populism to an epochal conservatism, and recognized that the college had remained in a liberal bubble. She decided to invite the U.S. Representative for the state, a recently elected Republican (there were no elected Democrats to invite). Faculty murmured. Then she facebooked an energy mogul in nearby Wichita, to propose that a local college would make an interesting experimental opportunity for interests wishing to create a conservative think tank. The heat sizzled on the Flint Hills. The energy mogul family made a major donation to a state university. Faculty flared. The faculty body would need adjustment. Perhaps by endowing some new chairs, new faculty could be brought in with fresh views. The faculty wrote thinly-veiled fictional allegories in protest. The drought worsened. The college developed competing Walmart Professors of Free Market Ideologies. Multicultural and commuter students protested. The college donated the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution to the American Heritage Foundation, and became focused on Christian education. Students came in the thousands. Concessions were won for scholarships to missionary churches internationally as a way to develop a multicultural student body. The state GOP held annual caucuses in the modified-ziggurat administration building.

***

The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. One day, she received a call from the state regents who had been told by their consulting agency on the future of higher education that the state’s crisis need would be the expansion of community colleges in order to make education accessible to a wider demographic. Thus it came to pass that Liba College received an offer to go into a private-public partnership. The regents reorganized and rehabilitated the Independent Colleges United as community colleges. They kept the faculty and staff, patiently enduring endless thinly-veiled fictional allegories. After a brief period of shock, the constituents of Liba College took the lead, seeing the joint venture as the extension of the mission of multiple small colleges on the plains to offer education as a basic human right. Community colleges, they said, offer truly democratic education. The universities no longer do so, they pointed out, after the populist movement when Kansas universities had offered the lowest tuition rates in the nation and open enrollment. Liba College embraced the mission fully. With public support, college education could become affordable again. The residential model of education could become affordable again. Faculty won concessions related to independent research, so that some upper-level academic programs could be offered in specialty areas as extensions from the university system so they could keep their remaining upper-level students. The students rejoiced. Taxpayers in the state contributed gladly to higher education. Small limestone markers commemorated the ongoing story of colleges in the tallgrass prairie.

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