Dropping out, Defended

Written by

Bwog guest  Coogan Brennan, a Campus Character in these pages many months ago, was CC 02008.  


supermanLet me say, first, it’s an absolute honor and pleasure to be here on Bwog. I never thought I would reach the echelon of being an actual poster on Bwog. It just goes to show the saying is true: reach for the stars—even if you miss, you’ll be floating off into space like those bad dudes at the end of Superman II.  

The staff here has been kind of enough to let me jot down a few thoughts here about life after being a Columbia undergrad. Most people will tell you about the benefits of going to Columbia or they’ll commiserate with you about the troubles inflicted by Columbia, and may even help you find a life after Columbia. Few, however, will tell you about the glory awaiting you as a Columbia dropout. 

Better Loan Rates: Anyone watching the American economy closely knows a successful business start-up today needs to be able to play the market for a low-interest-rate loan.

For example, I’m trying to start up a non-profit organization called The Manhattan Project. When I sit down with people to discuss the idea, everyone says, “What a hair-brained idea! Who on earth would possibly go for that sort of thing?” I then casually mention that I had heard a similar thing before, during my college years (Them: “Where did you go to school?” Me: “In New York City…Columbia? Have you heard of it?”). I had dropped out, ostentatiously finding the curriculum “personally unsatisfactory.” To the naïve bystander, I instantly achieve a reputation smorgasbord of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs,  Ted Turner, Michael Dell and Nina Totenberg. In short, an unstoppable speaking machine.

Dropping out of college definitely gives you the upper hand in some respects.  Numerous luminaries have quite publicly moved on to better things instead of receiving a college diploma. So you’re in good company. Also, if you have any brilliant idea you’ve thought out comprehensively, it’s merely a matter of time before you find an investor with whom you can properly express your earnest enthusiasm for a project, possibly scoring a big-ole check to help you continue living and making trouble in The Real World. 

Cooler Stories: Let’s just saying that you’re taking a Real Break from The Real World (“Fall Break” to your collegiate compadres). The fact that you dropped out of college instantly transforms any environment. For instance, I was in a bar with friends, striking up some casual conversation with the other patrons. I was working the scene with the classic Core cocktail conversation (a little Bernard de Mandeville here, a Foucault reference there: Me: “Oh, you’ve read the Bible AND the Qur’an too?” Them: “Actually, I dropped out of grad school before I could…” Me: “Bummer—So, anyway, like I was Fatima—not Padma—was Muhammad’s youngest daughter.”).

I’m totally in control. It becomes apparent something’s up, people are uncomfortably forced to ask what my field of study was in college. At this point, I lower my eyes—kind of sheepishly—pretend to be searching for something in my jacket pocket real distracted-like and turn to them—somber eyes—and say to them, “Actually, I just dropped out.”

The atmosphere totally changes. People start slapping me on the back and buying me drinks. It gets wild. I can’t mention everything that happened because Bwog strictly regulates comments concerning CTV. I can probably say that if Bradley Blackburn and his camera crew people were there, academic censorship would be the last thing you’d have to worry about (right, Brad? *wink). 

Enjoying the best parts of Columbia without having to endure the worst parts: A good friend of mine, who graduated a year early, expressed her dislike thusly: “I love the people, I just hate the school.” I couldn’t agree more. I keep in contact with my Columbian friends and I am extremely proud of my Columbian accomplishments, both academic and extracurricular. However, I felt totally uncomfortable transferring over $25,000 of somebody’s money to structure a bureaucratic corporate system. I couldn’t reconcile the feeling that very few teachers actually cared about me as an individual. I can hear the naysayer retort, “Quit crying, you privileged snob, what did you expect?” Well, I guess I expected a little more personal respect from the Columbia faculty, staff and administrators who are supported, at least in part, by my tuition. I felt as though many people just wanted to make sure I passed my classes, didn’t fuck-up real bad and would I please hand over a government-issued license to properly sign in my anarchistic friend I met at Critical Mass?

No use in holding a grudge, though, right? What’s the saying? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? That’s funny, because it seems to have made me jaded and cantankerous. Anyhow, I still have Columbia’s name on my resume. If someone wants to look at my transcript, it’ll be on Columbia stationary (thanks for the complementary copies, Student Services!). I routinely check books out of the Columbia library, access JSTOR and other online databases through Columbia portals (crucial for self-education) and use Cubmail—old school Cubmail, not this tepid-alternative-to-Gmail gimmick (CUIT needs to clean up the “Do NOT match” search feature in this version, btw).  Most importantly, I know I’ve met some of the brightest, most creative people of my generation, not to mention a few instructors (Prof. Andrew Delbanco and Heather Samples, to name two) wishing to produce truly independent minds.

Columbia taught me to think for my self by fighting for my self. Sometimes I wonder if the actual, teleological end of the Core Curriculum is to foment dropouts. I mean, do you think Nietzsche would have taken a swim test before writing Genealogy of Morals? Hell no! One of my favorite Columbia dropouts, Mortimer J. Adler, came close to finishing the Core but eventually, after repeated attempts to fulfill the gym requirement, left. I can sympathize, as I personally came dangerously close to flunking a Yoga class in my last semester.  

There’s no sense in pushing yourself to be another Kerouac, or any other dropout society views misty-eyed. If you are considering dropping out of undergrad, let’s just say you’re in good company. And if you do decide to follow that dream and enter the sacred realm of college dropouts? Let me know, I’ll buy you a drink.

Mr. Brennan blogs in Oakland, California.

Tags: ,


  1. so, in summary...

    I am cool because I did not have the mental capacity to complete a college degree. Not being able to earn any money and spending too much time in bars boasting about said mental incapacity also makes me cool.

  2. sigh...  

    stationery... you smug fuck. I'm not jealous. I'm not jealous. I'm not jealous.

  3. I can't  

    can't decide whether you are insanely corny or somewhat admirable. I do know that you should be doing better things in your glorious dropout time than posting on bwog.

  4. w/e  

    using bill gates as an excuse to drop out is lame.
    pretending you are incredibly smart because you remember a few names from the Core books is stupid.

  5. dur  

    "The decentralization of media and internet content demands new tools for receiving information. The Manhattan Project is a lofty endeavor wishing to foster development of tools for the proliferation of decentralized media while maintaining a level of quality control, embodied by fact-checking, in the blogosphere"

    What does that actually mean? Besides "I really hope there are venture capitalists out there stupid enough to throw money at me?"

    Plus, Columbia is a good school and all, but it's not Harvard in terms of cachet... I recall most recently while trying to get a student discount I mentioned I went to Columbia and the guy asked me if that was a CUNY school...

  6. funny.

    How funny. I had Heather Samples as a University Writing teacher myself. I certainly wouldn't consider her among the "brightest, most creative" people I ever met.

  7. gym

    Incidentally, was it really the gym requirement that fomented your departure?

  8. dumb  

    i don't think it is an impressive thing to have on your resume "CU drop out". Its more likely to have ppl buy you beers than get you hired...

  9. lame  

    i always seemed to miss why people thought coogan was worth listening to. this article might help people come around.

  10. also  

    read the manhattan project website. it speaks for itself. obviously written by someone who couldn't even cut it in the anthro department.

  11. coogan fan  

    shut up you silly fucks! coogan was one of the few impressive people in my cc class. columbia has been a huge let down for a lot of very thoughtful people, and coogan clearly got the message that the core is a form of indoctrination-- you get to choose if you want to buy in, and he doesn't!

  12. well this is true...

    Columbia taught me to think for my self by fighting for my self.

    Dropping out is not the greatest idea ever, but he's right about that.

    • agreed.  

      i didn't really see eye to eye with coogan while he was here, nor do i agree with the bulk of what he's saying here, but i do agree with this: "Columbia taught me to think for my self by fighting for my self."

      and at least he has the balls to put all this out there, knowing that he will be ridiculed. that's something.

  13. ....  

    I also had Heather Samples, the very opposite of bright and creative.

  14. Well  

    This guy seems like he belongs with college dropouts like Yoko Ono, Rosie O'Donnell, or Rush Limbaugh. You know, the most annoying college dropouts that walk the earth.

  15. the hate

    is unnecessary, on so many levels. i haphazardly met coogan my freshman year here, and he was one of my favorite things about columbia. he is intelligent, humorous, and so sincere. i was wondering what happened to probably my favorite campus character ever. coogan honestly made columbia a better place not just for me, but for so many other people. the fact that he has acted in sincerity and decided to discontinue his columbia education is no reason to give him shit. not many people have the courage to do the same, or to articulate what it is that columbia is failing to do. for me, it's enough that columbia's failing to retain coogans. makes me sad.

  16. anonymous

    Maybe Coogan's professors didn't care about him as an individual because he's nothing special.

    It's probably a shock to some people when they move out into the big wide world and find that not everyone shares their mother's special affection for them.

  17. for the hills  

    it certainly takes more discerning eyes in a place like columbia, or NYC, than others, but there are genuine people here. there are professors who care and recognize. to leave columbia is one way of demonstrating that it is unusually hard to find these people. another is to keep searching for them until they are found. the latter is a way of empowering that which you value.

  18. transfer  

    coogs, you oughta be a bit more honest. Your whole article described good reasons to transfer, not to drop out. Why didn't you mention the fact that you had personal issues that made you want to leave? I mean, hell, I don't even know what they are and I know you, but really, you could have at least mentioned that you have them. Hope things are working out for you out there.

  19. REALLY?

    I mean, for those who haven't met Coogan (and for those who have but seem to be forgetting it), Coogan is a very humorous person. Are you really taking him seriously as patting himself on the back for dropping out? I did not for one second think he is suggesting he is the shit for dropping out, or that he is recommending it. He wrote a fun and interesting article with a lot of humor about his post-CU life, the with the topic being his status as a dropout. Lighten up, people! :) :) :)

    • coogan

      Hey all--

      Just like to let everyone know how much i appreciate taking you taking the time to comment, even if i don't agree with your thoughts.

      i'd especially like to thank my friends who commented. i miss all of you very much and, even though you didn't sign your comments, i can pretty much tell who everyone is. i hope to see you all soon.

      for the haters, fuck you. first, only one spiteful comment was signed with an e-mail and i feel as though even he didn't want to continue a dialogue. don't use my satirical piece to project your sadness or any difficulties you're going through.

      bradley's my boy, mark krotov is a god.

  20. ohhh  

    livin the dream man, livin the dream...
    kudos to you brave sir

  21. to coogan  

    ignore the haters. everyone i speak to here generally hates this fucking place. you have respect from me, sir.

    • really?  

      Who the hell are you and why are you here? I and everyone with whom I speak loves this place! You should probably leave and let more of the people who want to be here come.

      • anonymous

        Well, when you've only spoken to your fellow students sitting inside a hunger-strike tent, you'd expect some bias.

      • Disagree  

        I was pretty let down by the entire Columbia experience, frankly, but with one semester left I can't muster up the guts or the willful career-dive that dropping out would send me on. Maybe it's the "if you don't like it here, leave" attitude. Or the insane inferiority complex everyone here has to find.

        I dunno, man. I have some great friends at this school, and I like Butler a lot, but the waste of time that my major has been and the hyper-judgemental social climate have been making me wish I'd left for quite awhile.

  22. love loves  

    *love this place. And there I was trying to make a grammatical point, too.

  23. in other news...  

    bradley blackburn is a god. he's like nancy grace but hotter. excelsior!

  24. Also  

    Weird... the other campus character from that month had *already* dropped out. B&W sees the future?

  25. tempted  

    i really see the logic in that last paragraph. columbia totally teaches you to fuck the system - so fucking it is the only way to show them that you learned anything.

    i think a lot of people missed that point during the hunger strike: it wasn't that they were protesting the existence of the core, they were taking the core and living it, and proposing that others do the same.

  26. Flapjack Slim  

    coogs, I love you. we still dance late at night in computer banking terminals.

  27. agreed  

    agreed to the fact that its rather humorous.

  28. tada can one read "better loan rates" as the first reason and NOT think that he is at least partly joking?
    I feel that a real argument for drop outs would support the ppl that were thinking about it, and not talk about how much "fun" it is, unless to cheer them up.

    also, Bill Gates type argument is clearly also a joke.

    people need to read bwog posts without being frustrated prior to the fact. maybe have a joint or somethin, foos.

  29. gross

    I don't buy that he's just "being humorous." He obviously thinks that he's the shit for dropping out, which is pretty sad. YES! There have been impressive people who are drop outs. But guess what? There have been a lot more impressive people who are grads.

    Columbia provides an amazing education. Yes, the bureaucracy can be annoying, but the resources are there if you are not too lazy to utilize them.

    Oh, and I think Nietzsche DID take a swim test before writing Genealogy of Morals.

  30. yeah  

    I don't think dropping out is worth cheering unless you have some sort of loose plan. Impressive drop outs are not impressive just *because* they dropped out. I hate when people who've accomplished nothing put themselves in the same basket as wildly successful drop outs. I'm not saying this to be mean, I think he's a good and nice guy and all, but he was in my cc class and was dim as hell. One of those people that just talked to hear himself talk, saying nonsensical things without putting any thought into his comments. And I get where he's coming from about some of the professors, and sure it can be cold, but this school is notorious for refusing to hold your hand. Many of us knew that before applying and love it for that reason. Anyway, I think dropping out for its own sake is just as bad if not worse than formal education (without a plan) for its own sake.

  31. Well

    Coogan seems to have plans and ambitions, so at least he has something to focus on. It is disappointing that he will not return as a student, and that he could not see the 4-year undergrad experience as something valuable, if only for the experience of youth/a full mind/intellectual apathy as a consequence of oversaturation. Getting old sucks...

  32. CC'08

    Heather Samples is the biggest jerk I ever met at Columbia, not to mention the worst instructor I ever had there. She should have been prosecuted for obstructing academic freedom.

    Columbia is a school that I otherwise fondly admire for having made such a profound uplifting impact in my life.

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.