WARNING: This post contains significant spoilers about the Disney/PIXAR release Monsters University. If you have not seen it, and don’t want to know the end, don’t read this. That said, once you have, please come back and read this 🙂

The beginning of Mike’s journey to the scare floor.

There is a montage at the end of Monsters University that features our two main monsters, Sulley and Mike, moving from their unfortunate and unexpected expulsion from college, to their first day on the coveted and idealized “scare floor” at Monsters, Inc. They start in the mailroom, and gradually move through posts on the janitorial staff, cafeteria staff, and scream can testers before they make it to the proverbial “big dance” of the scare floor.

The viewer can see through the collection of photos and news clippings that depict their transitions that their relationship as friends grew stronger during this time, and they built great relationships with other staff members in the building as well.

I’ll admit, it was hard for me to watch this movie, or any movie about college, without my “higher ed practitioner” hat on. So needless to say, I had some questions about the film after I stepped away from the theater. The biggest was this: what does this career trajectory say about a college education, or rather, about a lack of one?

Did Mike and Sulley have to work their way up through the system because they didn’t have college degrees? Further, does this mean that those who do have college degrees should be excepted from the hard work these two monsters had to do?

I spoke with a few coworkers on Friday about what we felt our roles were at student events. The most notable quote that came from that discussion, in my estimation: “if a table needs moving, I don’t care what role I’m in, I’m moving it.” 

Are we conveying to our students that sometimes they’re going to be the ones to do dirty work?
We tell them often that their degrees alone won’t be enough, and that their supplemental experiences (like in athletics, leadership, or service and volunteer work) will set them apart, yes. But do we also tell them that those experiences and credentials won’t eliminate the need for doing dirty jobs?

I see and hear about a lot of dissonance about what sort of work one can do after getting a college degree, or even (if not more) with a master’s degree. And at the risk of sounding harsh, we need to get over ourselves about that. Call it paying dues, call it earning stripes, call it what you want- sometimes dirty jobs need doing and we need to do them. What’s more, your instinct to dive in and take care of the dirty job should never wane. It shows loyalty, creates relationships with people you may not otherwise meet, reflects and maintains humility, and ultimately is just the right thing to do.

So if I were living and working in Monstropolis, I’d love to get in there next to Mike and Sulley. College degree or not, that’s how you get to where you want to be in life. Big dreams come with hard work, so I’m getting in there and working for it. How about you? And how about your students?

2 thoughts on “Dirty Jobs: Not Just for Monsters

  1. Like you, I entered the movie with my higher ed hat on. I think I saw the same theme through a slightly different lens. First of all – and all privilege on the table – one of my first thoughts was that it was a bit odd that, given the seemingly blue collar, factory oriented job that was depicted in the first movie, a college degree was a requirement. That said, knowing that it was, it may be no small feat that Mike and Sulley were able to work their way up from the mailroom. How often do opportunities like that still exist (in general, much less our field) to truly work your way up without having the educational prerequisites? Mike and Sulley were clearly more than qualified to work on the scare floor, and yet, in a different system, would they have even gotten the opportunity?

    I could, of course, also riff on the student experience, fraternity and sorority life, etc. etc. etc. in the film, but that’s another story for another post. I’ll just shut up and order my Oozma Kappa letter shirt.

  2. Curtis, that’s a really interesting question. I think that also lends itself to the question of how many jobs require college degrees that shouldn’t (or master’s degrees that shouldn’t…?)

    I agree with you about the potential for an additional post- I’ll leave that to you and hopefully come to the comments with additional insight 🙂

    Related: how do I get this hat off?

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