Humor/whimsy

Dog's degree disappoints a cat family (essay)

The news that the BBC-sponsored dog named Pete, using the alias Peter Smith, has procured an online M.B.A. from the American University of London has sent our household into a literal tailspin.

It is not the first time that our cat, Finn Segal, has disappointed us by failing to live up to our expectations, but this may be the last straw. Perhaps most disconcerting is that even now he shows no concern and has stubbornly assumed his usual meatloaf position in a sunny spot.

It’s not that Finn, with a little training, could not master the computer keys. He is already adept at stepping on the capslock and delete buttons. And he darn well has a working knowledge of the internet; it’s just that this slacker would rather spend 8 hours a day watching cat and chipmunk videos on YouTube than applying himself to “International Finance.” 

Especially galling is the fact that not only could our cat have been a contender, but he also let slip through his paws the definitive answer to the time-honored question of “Just who’s smarter: dogs or cats?”

In fact, I will wager a six-month supply of Revolution Parasiticide (for fleas, ear mites, and heartworm) that Finn was the first to complete an online class. Just last winter, we enrolled in an online course in "Introduction to Poetry." While it is true that we registered under my name alone, Finn was with me every step of the way.

Moreover, I am now willing, given the present circumstance and dismaying news about Pete, to come forward with an admission: Finn logged more hours than I did. By the fourth lesson, he had moved into the alpha chair in the study, freeing me up to take care of other tasks around the house and the town. I have many warm memories from that time, when I would peek into the study and see Finn curled up on my desk chair, quietly napping as a soothing voice read from the works of John Keats, Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens.

As of today we are instituting a new instructional regime for Finn. He will still be allowed to go outside and he will still be permitted to watch YouTube -- but only after he has completed his M.B.A.-related coursework for the day.

After all, if he could complete a session devoted to the poems of John Ashbery, Finn should have no trouble at all with “Taxation and Accounting.”

Carolyn Foster Segal is professor emerita of English at Cedar Crest College. She currently teaches at Muhlenberg College.

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Image Source: 
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Harvard's $6.5B Campaign. Bill Gates. A match made in heaven? (essay)

{Ring…ring…ring…}

Bill Gates: Oh, come on. Pick up!

{Ring…ring…}

BG: Last chance!

Fund-Raiser: Hello! Office of development, Harvard University. How can I help you?

BG: I want to speak with a fund-raiser.

FR: Speaking!

BG: Great. This is Bill Gates. You know, THE Bill Gates. The Microsoft guy.

FR: Yeah, O.K. Like I haven’t heard that one before.

BG: No, really. Don’t I sound like Bill Gates? Should we Skype instead?

FR: Uh, sorry, Mr. Gates. What can I do for you?

BG: I just attended Harvard’s campaign kickoff event. Very impressive stuff. $6.5 billion is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you say?

FR: The biggest ever!

BG: Well, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can help. I’d like to begin discussing a gift.

FR: That’s fantastic! How much… er, what are you interested in supporting?

BG: I’m not sure. I’m a bit of a techie, you know, so computer science and engineering pique my interest. But if I were to go that route, I might as well donate to MIT.

FR: {nervous laugh}

BG: Kidding. I’m also into social causes and international concerns, so perhaps something at the Ed School or Kennedy School could be interesting. But of course I’m a businessman at heart, so I kind of gravitate to the B-School.

FR: Perhaps you should speak with the president or the business dean.

BG: In time. For now, I’m just exploring options. I could fund scholarships for undergrads. I did attend the College, you know.

FR: For about a week, right?

BG: Something like that. And I’m a proud alumnus.

FR: We’re proud too.

BG: In fact, I’m thankful enough to make a really significant gift to your campaign. I hear these mega-campaigns get 95 percent of their money from only 5 percent of the donors. Is that true?

FR: Absolutely. We’re not raising $6.5 billion a hundred grand at a pop.

BG: And what’s the highest gift you’re expecting?

FR: Lead gifts can total 15-20 percent of the goal.

BG: So that’s, let me see… carry the four… about a billion dollars?

FR: Suppose so.

BG: Wouldn’t that be a record too?

FR: Sure would!

BG: Hmmm…. So back to the B-School. What if I gave half a billion to rename it?

FR: Say what?

BG: The Gates School of Business. Think it would fly?

FR: I… uh… don’t think so.

BG: Why not? I could rename Cleveland for that amount.

FR: Harvard Business School has more brand cachet than Cleveland.

BG: A cool billion? Would they go for it then?

FR: I’m not sure the name is for sale. Even for that sum. We have too much brand equity at stake.

BG: But I’d be adding value to the brand! Gates… Harvard… business. Come on now! I bet my pal Warren would think it’s a great idea.

FR: Get him to match your gift and maybe we’ll talk. Meanwhile, how about naming a building?

BG: For a billion? Must be one hell of a building. How about the Gates Campus at Harvard Business School?

FR: Sounds like we’ve built a fortress to keep people out.

BG: Nah… I still think naming the school is the way to go. Everything has a price.

FR: That’s for others to decide.

BG: Two billion… Gates University… hmmm…. Sorry, was that out loud?

FR: I’ll patch you through to the president’s office. Thanks for calling, Mr. Gates!

BG: How much to rename the Ivy League? Hmmm….

FR: Transferring!

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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Short-term courses for maximizing learning -- and revenue (essay)

The administration at U of All People is nothing if not financially expeditious (some faculty have put it another way, not printable in this periodical). Jacking up students’ expenses is unpopular, for instance, but extracting extra tuition money can be accomplished in subtle ways. Starting a few decades ago, U of All People set the minimum credit hours for graduation two courses over a full course load every semester. That way, students had to take extra classes, often during the summer. This concept was shamelessly copied by other schools.

In fact, the short-term courses were a hit, since the workload was lighter, and the school could get the same amount of money in less time. Then one day, the Dean of Others’ Affairs had a bright idea: if students were willing to sign up for an eight-week or even a four-week course, why not offer a three-week course? Thus was born Wintersession and Maymester, a concept that other schools shamelessly copied.

Now that earnings are flat in this economic climate, the innovative folks in Long Hall have come up with a new plan, Pack-It-In Pedagogy, a term invented yesterday by our newly appointed Time Management Expert. To expedite the plan, each department has been tasked to come up with at least one course offering. Eventually, we expect other schools to shamelessly copy the concept. Meanwhile, below are just a few classes to maximize student learning while also boosting revenues.

WinterInterSplinterSession: Three Days That Can Change Your Life

English 1.25: Shakespeare: The Play. Students read Hamlet one day, see the film the next day, and take the final exam on the third day. “The key is to be representative,” says Professor Bowdler. “To expose these students to a great work — isn’t that enough?”

*

What Are You Doing This Weekend?: Special Two-Day Courses

Chem Lab 9.5, in which students carry out one experiment. “It’ll be a reaction that gets to the heart of what chemistry is all about,” says Professor Boom. “Bunsen burners, Erlenmeyer flasks, yellow and red powder — the works!”

History 10.5: Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Students eat bread one day and attend a circus the next. Instructor: TBA.

*

Give Us a Day, and We’ll Give You a Grade: One-Day Workshops

Geology 1.1, where students split open and examine one basalt rock. “The universe in a grain of sand,” is how Professor Geode puts it. “It’s fascinating, what one can glean from a single work of nature.”

Psychology 2.3 (online): the students each read a different chapter of the textbook on Blackboard and give their opinions of it in a discussion group. Together, by the end, they’ve gone through the entire book. No instructor; peer review.

*

 

60 Minutes: Hour-Long Intensives

Math 24.1. Students tackle one difficult equation. As Professor Quad, this year’s winner of the Pretty Good Teacher Award, notes: “Why clog the syllabus with problem sets that just repeat? Less is more.”

Spanish 0.2: Students learn three verbs and two nouns, then use them in conversation. Access to language lab included. Independent study. Monitor: TBA.

Astronomy 0.6, in which students creep outside to look at the stars. In case of clouds, students will draw zodiac pictures for a portfolio. “The sky’s the limit!” — Professor Centauri

Phys. Ed. 1.23: Really tough Zumba class; warm-up not included. Staff.

Art History 8.3 (hybrid): Students receive a PowerPoint lecture on various paintings and then compare them to other paintings online. “Put some art in your life!” says Professor Sfumato.

*

MOOCs in a Minute

Videotaped lectures are run at eight times the normal speed. In advanced classes, the speed jumps to 16x.

---------

The U of All People administration is delighted with our proposals and is moving ahead with all possible dispatch. All we need now is a slogan for advertising these new courses.

“Got time for a quickie?” is the current favorite, but without the suggestive accompanying graphic.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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A special syllabus for graduate students for the course 'Social Theory Through Complaining'

Sociology 710: Social Theory Through Complaining

Fall 2013, Tu 9:50am--1pm.

Course Description

This course is an intensive introduction to some main themes in social theory. It is required of first-year Ph.D. students in the sociology department. Each week we will focus on something grad students complain about when they are forced to take theory. You are required to attend under protest, write a paper that’s a total waste of your time, and complain constantly. Passive-aggressive silence will not be sufficient for credit.

Course Schedule

1. Introduction: This Has Nothing to Do With My Research Interests

2. This is All Just Obfuscatory Bullshit and Empty Jargon

3. It’s Not Like We Can Even Predict Anything

4. Isn’t It More Complicated Than That?

5. Aren’t These Things Mutually Constitutive?

6. But What About Power?

7. We Could Easily Fix This Mess With Some Basic Math

8. This Field Is Sexist and Racist to Its Rotten Core

9. What is Theory Without Praxis?

10. THANKSGIVING BREAK. If You Can Call It a Break

11. Look, If Everything Is Socially Constructed, Then Nothing Is

12. Can You Believe We Didn’t Read Any __________?

13. Conclusion: This Whole Project Was an Exercise in Symbolic Violence

Kieran Healy is associate professor of sociology at Duke University.

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Universities deal with extreme heat

Smart Title: 

At colleges in regions unaccustomed to the extreme heat, students and employees try their best to stay cool.

U of All People's highly detailed campus crime report (essay)

U of All People is a crime-free campus—or so the administration for years wanted you to believe. This past November, the assistant football coach’s assistant was found breaking into female students’ dorm rooms in Long Hall to secure what was later described as ladies’ footwear. But the crime was concealed until game season was over, after a losing record and shrinking budget would have forced the assistant’s assistant to leave, anyway.

When the campus police chief finally broke the news last month, many women students (and a few boyfriends) were outraged and marched on the campus security office. “Hell, no! We want accountability!” they chanted without rhyme or meter. In an effort to placate the protesters, the provost, who has a nasty habit of interfering with everything, has ordered campus police to fully disclose every incidence of crime on school grounds. Below is the first U of All People Police Report, for the month of May.

5/2/13

            An unidentified student was found intoxicated and rotating in a dryer in the laundry room in Over Hall. Waving his hands in a menacing manner, he spilled a cup of Jack Daniels and Coke into the detergent reservoir of a nearby washer.

5/3/13

            A male student’s wallet was stolen from his dorm room in Dunn Rick Hall and returned the next day with $50 more in it than it originally contained. The student remains uncertain whether to press charges and has left his wallet in an open area in case the thief makes a return visit.

5/5/13

            Two female students were arrested in Watta Hall for possession of drug paraphernalia, though they claimed that they didn’t even know how to spell paraphernalia and that the bong in question was just a large, misshapen Lucite vase.

5/5/13

            A female student was issued a warning for jogging the wrong way on a one-way street. This matter is under investigation.

5/10/13

            A female student in Winnertek Hall reported an act of simple assault, but upon the advice of her pre-law roommate upgraded it to complex assault with intent to do mischief, creating a nuisance, disturbing the peace, loitering, and littering.

5/12/13

            A misguided male student was arrested and charged with harassment, though he appears to have been alone at the time. The student is due to appear at municipal court for reasons that remain odd.

5/15/13

            A female student was arrested for driving without a license or a car. Police are investigating the incident.

5/16/13

            A male student reported that some unknown person or persons had scrawled perfectly harmless non-racial epithets on his door that proved hard to remove.

5/17/13

            Two male students were brought in for indecent exposure in student parking lot C, but not before enduring fifteen minutes of laughter and taunts from the witnesses.

5/19/13

            The Dean of Students, Chet Whitey, has been charged with not having the students’ best interests in mind. The investigation has been shut down by the Office of Student Affairs.

5/21/13

            There were no criminal actions on this day, we thought you’d like to know.

5/22/13

            Some little wise-ass bastard keyed the chief of police’s cruiser. An arrest is pending, as soon as some culprit is found.

5/25/13

            Two women in Long Hall reported a man who said he was from the athletic department, trying to sell ladies’ footwear, later identified as stolen goods. The women were doubly annoyed when they found it was their own footwear.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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A dean's thoughts on honor (and burden) of reading names at commencement (essay)

Commencement: T-minus 6 weeks.  Into my hands, my assistant Jan places a black three-ring binder.  In it, in 14-point font, triple-spaced for easy reading, are the names the registrar has determined should be read at commencement: students who are expected to complete their requirements either by the end of the semester or, in a few cases, the end of the summer. My hands begin to shake. The notebook feels like it weighs 12 pounds. It becomes, in an instant, The Notebook.

How I ended up with the job of reading the names at commencement is one of the many quirks of history that make up Wheaton College, the small liberal arts institution in Massachusetts where I work. My predecessor did it to great acclaim during her 23 years in the post I now occupy (dean of students), so when she retired and I stepped in, I am not sure anyone gave it a second thought. "You read the names at commencement!" I was told repeatedly as my first year wore on. At first I was baffled, then a little freaked out.  At every other institution I'd been at, the dean of students was lucky to sneak into the faculty procession, or occasionally get onto the platform if none of the academic deans minded.  But his or her part in commencement, the most academic of academic ceremonies, was minimal.

I think what worried me most was a singular experience I had witnessed at another small liberal arts college where I once worked. The new provost was given this task, and so thoroughly butchered even the easiest names (I think she suffered from severe stage fright, because she was normally not an inarticulate person) that she never quite recovered her credibility with the community and was gone after her second year. What I learned from that disastrous day was an obvious lesson: when a student has chosen a small college where being known is an expectation, when a family has paid a small fortune for a student to attend a small college, there is simply no excuse for a mispronounced name at the most public of ceremonies.  

It doesn't matter if that name is seven syllables long, is Chinese, Thai, Croatian, Arabic, if it looks utterly different than it sounds, if the middle name is so obscure and tongue-twisting that you think it had to have been the result of a bet the parents lost, or an inheritance they hoped to secure. You'd better get it right.

And thus it begins.

Five minutes after receiving The Notebook, I send out an e-mail to the senior class, asking them to send me the phonetic pronunciation of their names, even offering examples of popular faculty whose names they will recognize, or to call the "pronunciation hotline" I created two years ago that allows them to record their names for me to hear.  I sign the email, "Dean Will-yums."

Seven minutes after receiving The Notebook, the first of about 75 e-mails arrives in my inbox.  In my e-mail, I have encouraged them to challenge me, that I am pretty decent at accents, and if they give me their best description of the way their name is pronounced in their non-English language, I will do my best to master it. They take me up on my offer. Students with complicated names take great care to coach me, giving me examples of words their names sort of rhyme with. One student with the last name Dikicioglu writes, "It's like three men's names:  Dicky, Joe, Lou."

Over the next few weeks, the e-mails continue to trickle in. They often involve a back-and-forth exchange.  "What about your middle name?"  I ask, if they have not mentioned that in their pronunciation coaching.

"You don't have to say it."

"But what will make your parents happy?  Will they want to hear it?  It will be printed in the program."

"No one will care."

But someone may care. Someone may take my omission of a middle name as an indication that Wheaton College does not know, or care, about their student. They will be so stung by this apparent lack of singular affection that they will discourage their neighbor's child from attending Wheaton. They will ignore future requests for donations. They will sneer whenever their student mentions his or her alma mater at a family dinner. "Those people!  $50,000 a year and they didn't even care enough to read your middle name -- your beloved grandfather's name -- at graduation!  You should have gone to Brown."

And so another source of anxiety:  My failure to read a student's middle name may be the first step on the road to the college's eventual ruin. Or maybe not.  I try not to think about it over the next several weeks while I wander around campus, Notebook always in hand, trolling for seniors.  

"Any seniors here?" I call out, looking around a dining hall at lunchtime. Some will tentatively raise their hands, nervous to be noticed, so close to graduating, by the dean. I plop myself down at their table and open The Notebook, seeking clarification on the names of anyone within earshot.

My anxiety isn't helped by the number of people on campus who know this is my role and ask me during the few weeks preceding commencement, "How are the names this year?  Any really tough ones?"  I smile and nod. There are always tough ones, given our international student population, but I know those are often the least treacherous.  

As anyone who has done this particular task can tell you, concentration is key -- that I must focus so thoroughly on the task in the moment that a circus clown could walk up on stage in big floppy shoes and plant a kiss on the president's forehead while I’m reading, and I wouldn't notice. I would stay zeroed in on The Notebook, lest I lose my place, or mispronounce "Robert," or God forbid, skip "summa cum laude" after someone's name.

It's for this reason that I rehearse the list, dozens of times.  I close the door to my office, or place The Notebook on my bedroom dresser, and begin.  I work from start to finish, becoming more comfortable with the tongue-twisters and more familiar with the rhythm of the names that follow one another.

This leads to an interesting set of exchanges on campus.  At this point in the semester, when I see a senior, I don't say, "Hi, Conor."  I say, "Hi, Conor Peter O'Riordan."  Hilary, whom I've known since her first semester, is "Hilary Isabelle Lahan," but in my mind, I see the word "Lay-in", which is how she's coached me to pronounce her name.  

When an off-campus acquaintance tells me her niece is graduating from Wheaton and gives me her name, I immediately spout off "class gift co-chair," one of the officers whose positions place them at the front of the line and the first pages of The Notebook.

The Notebook rarely leaves my sight, annotated as it is by hints and tips and alternate spellings and accent marks that only I can make sense of.  Once in a while, Jan gently pries it from my hands to make an adjustment requested by the Registrar -- usually a name to be removed.  I twitch until she hands it back to me.  If she has had to replace a page, perhaps because a student has indicated they will be there after first saying the opposite, Jan will have carefully recreated the pencil marks I have next to or above the names on that page.

Commencement:  T-minus one day.  We hold a rehearsal attended by most of the seniors who will be in line the next day.  They are sleepy -- some almost catatonic – after a week of Senior Class festivities. Wheaton is almost 180 years old, and if there's one thing we've got down, it's Senior Week. The week begins with the White Glove Brunch (no, no one wears them, but the seniors do get dressed up and show off their best table manners), then comes hoop-rolling, later in the week a very formal dance at a Newport, RI, mansion, the next night an event where seniors circle the pond with lit candles; yes, the quaintness that one expects from a college that started off in 1834 as a woman's seminary, guided by a firm and formal Victorian woman who loved to garden.  

So by the Friday morning of the rehearsal, my seniors are exhausted.  Trust me -- the amount of partying during the week at these and less formal events is more than Eliza Wheaton probably ever enjoyed in her lifetime.   And so like zombies they file into the field house and collapse into folding chairs.  Pomp of the Living Dead, I think to myself.

We hold rehearsal in the field house, though Commencement itself is held on the Dimple (the concave "quad" in the center of the campus).  The field house allows us a bit more environmental control, necessary when one's commencement ceremony is the academic equivalent of the Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony.  The students are alphabetized and sorted into groups with underclass leaders holding large signs on posts.  On each of these is a vegetable (don't ask; it's just a Wheaton thing), and seniors are assigned to their groups in alphabetical order.  Fiddleheads here.  Artichokes there.  

This is necessary, I have come to learn, because the seniors are distracted and barely conscious and seem to have forgotten their alphabet.  The more alert underclass students become border collies nudging them into the correct order, which, because they approach the stage from two different sides of an aisle, means half must be in reverse alphabetical order.  Being in the correct order is critical, because Wheaton is one of the few remaining colleges to hand their graduates an actual diploma on the stage.  Students cannot be out of order, or diploma chaos ensues.  

And so during rehearsal they are checked off, instructed, checked off again, and then called to attention by the faculty marshal who tells them they will now hear their names and cross the stage. The underclass sign-holders step aside and the groups become one line circling the field house’s indoor track  I step to the microphone and tell them, "I'm going to say your name.  If it is not exactly what you want to hear me say tomorrow, please stay after we're done. Form a line up here, and tell me what you want to hear."

I begin, and can see on their faces that even in their sleepy state, they are listening keenly.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, 20 or so wait to give me further directions. "Can you say my middle name, even if it's not on my diploma?"

"Of course," and I write in their great-uncle's four-syllable Slovakian name.

"Can you not say my middle name?"

"Of course," and I cross out "David." Damn.

Our Chinese students will offer additional pronunciation coaching, prodding me politely to utter sounds that have no equivalent in English.  I try, and try, and finally they smile, bow slightly and thank me, walking away wondering what it will sound like tomorrow.

Commencement: T-minus one restless night. I read the list four or five more times, working hard to get the new information correct.  At this point, I know what name will come up on the next page as I turn it.  I think about our registrar telling me that on a listserv, a group of her colleagues often discuss name-reading at commencement, and that a number of institutions have hired professional readers. Others have the student read their own names.  Still others have the student hand an index card with their name on it to a reader, who gets an immediate lesson in pronunciation before the student crosses the stage.  

Wheaton has... me. I know that I am only one link in a chain of deans going back almost two centuries, and this is my lot, as well as my privilege.  I go to sleep clutching The Notebook. Okay, not really, but it's within sight as I drift off into fitful dreams of prairie dogs in black robes, hyper-alert, to hear the name their parents bestowed upon them years before.  When I awaken in the dark, I whisper one student's name, "Oludamilola Osinbajo," over and over like a quiet incantation and fall back to sleep.

Commencement: T-minus 45 minutes. The line-up begins. I wander around, clutching The Notebook, checking a few final pronunciations, negotiating the use of middle names one last time.  

It's time to go.  We process around the Dimple and up the center aisle, and as I take my seat on the far right side of the platform, Jan appears at ankle-level, and I hand her The Notebook.  Her job is to make final adjustments -- remove students who have not shown up, add students who have shown up unexpectedly, while another staff member quickly shuffles the diplomas in the carts at the back of the platform to match list and diploma.  

For the 30 minutes this takes, I feel my pulse race. I imagine different reasons The Notebook doesn't get returned to me:  Jan is kidnapped.  She gets a call that her husband won Powerball and she chucks it all for a life of ease, right at that moment, leaving The Notebook on an empty chair. She... and then she appears below me, alongside the platform, and one last time hands me The Notebook.

The ceremony has been going on for a while -- honorary degrees, remarks by Wheaton's  president, the class president, I don't know what else.  Honestly, the circus clown could have come and gone.  I am as focused as I am capable of being, locked in like Junior Seau on a quarterback during the snap count.  

And then it is time.  I stand up and step to the podium.  I look out at the faculty in the seats behind the seniors. Several make exaggerated  gestures of looking at their watches. I learned in my first year that the faculty would chide my predecessor to keep the pace up. They apparently have the same expectation of me.

I hear nothing other than the blood circulating in my skull. I open The Notebook and turn to the first page, trying not to feel the weight of Wheaton history on my shoulders. I am unsuccessful at that, but I take a deep breath and find the first name.

The faculty marshal summons the first row of students and, holding the first one at the bottom of the ramp, looks at me. I nod. I begin. "The Officers and SGA Executive Members of the Class of 2013. Benjamin Wentworth Fagan, President." I get through the dozen officers and start the alphabetical list.  I look to my right again as the faculty marshal holds the first in the alphabet. I read, "Rasheeda Nayyar Abdul-Musawwir." She crosses in front of me and smiles, a familiar greeting between me and this very accomplished senior.  For the briefest of moments I find myself thinking about her.  And then snap to attention. Focus!

I find the rhythm two pages in, my practice paying off.  I read the easy ones, the hard ones, the Latin honors.  I pause for a sip of water.  The students walk past me at the podium, some of them smiling at me, others staring at the diploma in the president's hand, just eight feet away, like a golden retriever stares at a tennis ball.  I pass the Ds, the Js, the Ms, my confidence building as I go. I hit the Rs and know I'm rounding the final turn.  The Ts, The Xs. The homestretch.

After almost 400 names, I turn to the last page, a lone name: "Benjamin Lewis Zucker." The crowd cheers, the seniors whoop and dance at their seats. I sit down, still clutching my notebook, now with a small "n."

What was so hard about that? I ask myself. I can't wait for next year.

Lee Burdette Williams is vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Wheaton College, in Norton, Mass.

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Charles Eliot returns to Harvard after 100 years (essay)

Mark: President Eliot! I didn’t realize you’d be attending this alumni event. You know, given that you’ve been dead for almost a century.

Charles: Yes, it’s the strangest thing. Last I remember, I was skating on Fresh Pond….

M: Cryogenics are quite wonderful. Didn’t do much for Ted Williams, though.

C: Who?

M: Not important. I’ve read a lot about you. Harvard’s president for 40 years. You really were (air quotes) “Charles in Charge!”

C: (blink…)

M: Well, you’d never last that long today, especially spouting controversial views on education and society like you did. Didn’t work out so well for the last guy here.

C: Our positions demanded that we take leadership of the intellectual and moral issues of our day.

M: Now you’re just expected to raise money.

C: We did that as well.

M: Oh, it’s a different ballgame these days, a lot more complex. Higher expectations and greater accountability. But more perks and better pay, too. Some university presidents make over a million bucks a year. Can you believe it?

C: That’s preposterous.

M: You should ask President Faust about what today’s presidency entails.

C: Yes, I’ve been meaning to speak with him.

M: Her.

C: What?

M: Her. President Faust is a woman.

C: (air quotes) “Drew” is a woman?

M: Oh, yeah. Harvard’s first female president.

C: A woman president. Astounding.

M: Not really. Half the Ivy League has had female presidents.

C: Half the what? What’s an Ivy League?

M: It’s an intercollegiate athletic conference with Harvard and its peers.

C: Harvard has no peers.

M: Uhhh…

C: And that’s an idiotic name, Ivy League. Who coined it?

M: A sportswriter, I believe.

C: Figures. I detest collegiate sport, especially football. Barbaric. And the hooligans who play it. What a scourge on the academy. Have they done away with it yet?

M: Not exactly.

C: To me, exercising the intellect is far more important. I started the elective system, you know.

M: Yes, I know. And now we’ve taken that concept, a pragmatic extension of the curriculum, to a new level. Thanks to MOOCs, colleges are bringing courses to the masses, and often at no cost to the student.

C: Free courses? That’s truly preposterous. And who are these mooks you speak of?

M: MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.

C: Another idiotic name. Why not Free University Course Content? Oh… never mind. And I won’t bother to ask you what online means.

M: Just as well.

C: Surely no reputable institutions are in this business.

M: Princeton, Penn, MIT, Stanford…

C: That upstart out West?

M: That’s the one. And Harvard.

C: Heresy. Harvard cannot allow just anyone to feed from its trough. We must maintain impeccable academic standards and grant entry to only the brightest minds. Consider the possible damage to our…

M: Brand?

C: Reputation.

M: That ship has sailed. These days anyone can say they’re studying at Harvard, even though for now they won’t be getting degrees. Or even course credits. Again, for now.

C: (gulping martini…)

M: Of course, employers know the difference. Saying “I attended Harvard” doesn’t always mean the same thing.

C: It did in my day.

M: A lot has changed, Mr. President. You need to catch up on the last 90 or so years. Higher education is a different world. It’s more democratic and inclusive, but at the same time it’s even more selective than in your day. You’ll be pleased to know that Harvard routinely places first or second in U.S. News, a magazine that purports to rank colleges based on quality.

C: Second?

M: It doesn’t mean much to those ranked near the top, but the wannabes make a big deal out of it.

C: You’ve lost me.

M: Places like Harvard don’t worry about attracting the best and brightest.

C: Except that these MOOCs will attract all form of cretins who wish to suckle from Harvard’s teat in a shameless attempt to profit from our good name.

M: I…um…wouldn’t exactly put it that way.

C: So you approve of these MOOCs, do you?

M: Let’s just say I’m in favor of expanding educational opportunity, and that I doubt the reputation of places like Harvard will suffer as a result. At least not yet. If elite institutions start making relatively cheap degrees available to anyone with a computer, I might change my mind.

C: Computer, MOOCs, online, women presidents. It is all very perplexing. I suppose you will next tell me that we no longer require literacy in Greek and Latin for college entrance.

M: Let’s get another drink, Mr. President. This might take a while.

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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The Conference Connoisseurs review restaurants for academics (essay)

The accountability craze is everywhere. In our new feature, an assessment expert and an institutional researcher review restaurants in cities where academic conferences abound. First up, Chicago.

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Diary of a snowstorm (essay)

2 p.m.

Dear Campus Community,

I imagine you have heard by now that the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning, noting the possibility of considerable snowfall for our region beginning this evening. However, because of differing weather models, which call for anywhere from a dusting to more than a foot, we cannot accurately predict the university’s course of action at this time. This might amount to only a minor weather event.

We will make an announcement regarding tomorrow’s classes and operations by 6 a.m. Please stay tuned for email updates.

Thank you for your attention. Enjoy your evening.

Best wishes,

Jack Valtraides
Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises


***

3:40 p.m.

Dear Campus Community,

Updated Weather Service models are predicting more significant snowfall than earlier reports. Some are calling for upwards of a foot of snow. Still, there is a very good chance that this storm will amount to only a modest total, so we can assume for now that classes and operations will be on a normal schedule tomorrow.

Thank you for your patience.

Best,

Jack Valtraides
Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises


***

4:15 p.m.

Dear Colleagues,

As you can see, the snow has already begun, well ahead of predictions. This may indicate that snow totals will exceed projections or, perhaps, that the storm will depart the area earlier than expected.

Again, we will update you regularly regarding campus operations and tomorrow’s schedule.

Please drive home safely.

Best,

Jack Valtraides

 

***

 

6 p.m.

Everyone,

We now have approximately two inches of snowfall and are bracing for a major event. The latest Doppler model suggests we may experience as much as 12-18 inches by morning. But hey, this is New England, and we hearty types are used to it. Typical winter around these parts.

Please stay tuned for updates and possible cancellation notices.

Jack Valtraides


***

8:15 p.m.

Folks,

A quick storm update. Snowfall totals are now predicted to exceed two feet. Visibility is zero, and major highways are closed. Looks like I’m stuck here on campus for the duration. At least I’ll be able to attend to emergencies should they arise. I bet those of you who made it home are happy.

Jack


***

9:50 p.m.

Hey, people.

The storm brought down a small tree, which hit a transformer and knocked out power to campus. Normally, utility crews would already be on the scene, but it’s just too darn sloppy out there. Repairs will have to wait until at least the morning. Thanks to generators, some buildings are running with limited power. Still, it’s plenty cold in my office, in case you care.

Jack


***

11:18 p.m.

Hey.

The blizzard rages on, and I’m still freezing. It’s not like I can sleep, anyway, because I don’t have a cot in my office. Even the groundskeeper from "Rudy" had a cot, for cripes sake. So I’ve spent a good bit of time wandering through the semi-lit academic buildings for kicks and giggles. By God, those faculty offices are a wicked mess. What’s wrong with you people? How about spending some of your ample free time (like, you know, the whole summer) tidying things up? Would it kill you?

Dang it’s cold in here. Maybe some of you who lost power know what I’m talking about.

Jack


***

1:03 a.m.

Nothing much going on except a few crazy frat boys running around half naked throwing snowballs at each other. Must be smashed. Bet their parents are really proud. Rite of passage, my keister. In my day, the only rite of passage was joining the Marines. Today’s generation? A bunch of spoiled, self-important brats. Hey, but they pay our salaries, right?

In case anyone gives a damn, we still haven’t made a decision about tomorrow’s classes and work schedules. Yeah, as if you’re all awake reading this.

Did I tell you dilettantes how friggin’ cold it is in here?

J


***

3:12 a.m.

So I managed to scrounge up a small space heater, which is barely enough to keep my toes warm. But heck, who am I to complain? I have a steady job, and I make a decent living serving you people. Oh yeah, I make the big bucks and have the plush office and perks like you upper management geeks. Not. Hope you’re warm and snuggly in your McMansions, dreaming of your ski trips and fancy dinners and “conferences” in exotic places. I’ll just stick around here and take care of campus. No worries. Sleep tight.

And for the record, we still haven’t heard about tomorrow’s schedule. Are we closed? Can anyone make a decision?


***

4:31 a.m.

Anybody awake yet? Are we closed or not? (As if we don’t know.) No, let’s give it another hour and a half. Maybe by then the sun will be shining and it’ll be 70 degrees, and the birds will be singing and sugar plum fairies will be prancing around campus. And I won’t be stuck here anymore, freezing my hind to the bone. Yup, I’ll wait. I have nothing better to do.

Have I told you how much I love this place?


***

5:57 a.m.

Dear Campus Community,

Due to the severity of the overnight snow storm, the university will be closed today. All classes are canceled. Essential personnel should report to work as scheduled. Please stay tuned for additional email messages, and be sure to consult the university’s website for updates.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure keeping everyone apprised of our situation during the night. I enjoyed working with each and every one of you over the past couple of years, and I wish you all the best. I am officially announcing my retirement and heading to Boca.

All this is someone else’s problem now. God I hate snow.

Yours,

Jack Valtraides
Former Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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