Humor/whimsy

Essay on what the UVa Board of Visitors might have written

Charlottesville, June 19th, 2012

The More or Less Unanimous Declaration of the Board of Visitors

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for a Board to dissolve the administrative bands which have connected a President with a University, and to assume for themselves the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and the Bond Market entitle them, it is best to do it secretly, quickly, and in the middle of the night.

However, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, especially when one is unexpectedly faced with large, angry crowds on the Lawn at two o’clock in the morning and a quite stupendous media shitstorm thereafter.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Universities are endowed by their Donors with certain unalienable Goals, that among these are Strategy, Dynamism, and the pursuit of some sort of Online Degree delivered via the Interwebs, — That to secure these goals, Presidents are appointed, deriving their just powers from the half-baked ideas of idle Billionaires, — That whenever any University President becomes destructive of these Goals, it is the Right of the BoV to institute a new President, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect Strategy, Dynamism, and Strategic Dynamism. Prudence dictates that Presidents only recently established should not be changed for light and transient causes; yet experience hath shewn, that Universities are more disposed to suffer than to right themselves by downsizing obscure departments such as Classics, or German, or — it now appears — Computer Science. Fuck.

Anyway, it is nevertheless our right, it is our duty, to throw off such Presidents, and to provide new Administrators for my future security. Yours! I mean, Your future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of this University; and such is now the necessity which constrains us to alter its former Systems of Government. The history of the present President is one of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the maintenance of some sort of financially viable, intellectually robust, nationally respected institution of higher learning. Such goals are so 20th-century. I read that in Forbes recently. Did I not shew it to you all via e-mail? Perhaps I forgot to attach it. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:

  • She has refused to listen to me when I sent her this U.S. News & World Report article I read about how Technology is Transforming Education.
  • She has refused to hire Consultants at extortionate rates, preferring instead to consult experts on her own Faculty — as if a University were the place to find experts of any kind, the very idea. Far better to hire a team consisting mostly of 22-year-olds from McKinsey, they know how to do those 3-D charts in Excel and have you seen their Powerpoints the transitions are cool I like the flame one the best.
  • She has called together legislative bodies at places normal, standard, and proximate to the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of keeping the Faculty and university community informed of her plans.
  • She did not think Becoming China’s Bitch was a very good book at all.
  • She has hired some Officers to implement her goals.
  • She has combined with others, like the Provost, to subject us to a set of standards foreign to the understanding of Beach Condo Developers; giving her Assent to their Acts of pretended Administration:
  • For Quartering large bodies of actual students among us, instead of on a website somewhere.
  • For maintaining Standards without our Consent:
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of future consulting deals:
  • She has excited domestic insurrections amongst us — have you seen this crowd outside, Helen? It’s really quite large now.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: i.e., by circulating emails amongst a subset of our group, exchanging links to some stuff in Wired Magazine about Stanford, and ginning each other up for her removal. A President whose character is thus marked by every act which may define an intelligent, decisive, forward-looking, and accountable leader, is clearly unfit to be the ruler of a Nationally-ranked University.

We, therefore, the appointed members of the Board of Visitors, in closed session, Assembled in haste and appealing to the Theory of Strategic Dynamism for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of some very wealthy people indeed, solemnly publish and declare, That President Sullivan is removed and that Dean Carl Zeithaml shall henceforth have full Power to Dynamically Strategize, set up Online Learning Working Groups, implement Acquisition and Diversification strategies, contract Knowledge-Based Sources of Competitive Advantage, develop Resource-Based Conceptual and Methodological Frameworks for Global Effectuity, and to do all other Acts and Things which Business School Professors may of right do, gosh it’s a wonder capitalism was able to get off the ground in the first place without their assistance. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence and please God the Governor, we mutually pledge your Reputation, your Fortunes and your sacred Honor.

 

Kieran Healy is associate professor of sociology at Duke University. This piece first was first published on the blog Crooked Timber.

Retirement party etiquette for faculty at U of All People (essay)

At U of All People, as one of our sociologists, Professor Q. A. Wagstaff, once put it, “Faculty and staff eventually leave either vertically or horizontally.” As it happens, Wagstaff left with his own faculties intact, though the same cannot be said for the sociology faculty, which spent the next five years trying to regain the hiring slot. In any event, since many of our professors got their jobs in the late '60s, when all you had to do for a tenure-track position was cough in the right direction, more than a few are beginning to feel that it’s time to move on.

Sometimes poor health or a desire to travel motivates the decision. More commonly, as Professor Kahn Federitz in the history department noted, “The thought of facing one more set of student essays on the Civil War makes me want to puke.” For whatever reason, in the last few months, not a week has gone by without a retirement party. Professor Wagstaff, operating from a think tank of his own devising in his basement, has even drawn up a formula for these events, soon to be published in American Sociological Review of American Sociology. Below are the necessary steps, only slightly embroidered.

1. Settle on a time inconvenient for everyone, including the retiree. 1:30 on a Wednesday, when everyone’s either teaching or at a meeting, is a popular slot. Procure a room, though the Men’s Studies Caucus has taken over the function area in the Frump Humanities Building, and Students for Nondemocratic Change are occupying the cafeteria again. End up in the faculty lounge, with its shaky sconces and once-wine-dark carpeting, where the lumpy beige couch could also use a retirement party.

2. Shake down the department for a gift, the gold watch of yore having long ago given way to an online gift certificate that expires within a year. Choose the most untrustworthy faculty member to make the collection, the professor who misses his office hours with no note on the door — but who perhaps was hired by the retiree and now, two decades later, wants to return the favor. Add some scuffle about who’s kicked in and how much. At the last minute, if worried that the gift is insignificant, add a small Lucite plaque.

3. Plan a reception by working with Scrump-Chess, the campus food service that both overcharges and underserves, yet, miraculous in these hard economic times, remains the university’s caterer. Plan several menus but end up with the same cookies and weak iced tea that have been served since 1980. Possibly provide a punch bowl with a ladle that slowly submerges in the sticky, over-sweet brew.

4. Tap a few aged colleagues to make speeches, usually ancient anecdotes that have lost all relevance to everyone but the few principals involved, one of whom is dead. “I remember when the department needed some extra students for Soc. 120, and the only way Tom and I could get some was by going to the dormitories at six a.m. and beating a gong we stole from the music department.” Such stories are more poignant than funny: they conjure up an era when people in academia seem to have enjoyed more freedom and had more fun than is possible nowadays.

5. Discuss what the retiree plans on doing after leaving the institution. In the old days, a standard response was, “Finish my book.” The unspoken but heartfelt response is “Not grade any more papers.” Usually included in the plans is a lengthy vacation -- Morocco? Kenya? -- at an unseasonable time of year -- “Max and I are packing in October.” The return home occasions a period of boredom and casting about, followed by a request to teach an occasional class at adjunct rates. After all, where else can the retiree find a captive audience for recycled anecdotes about sociology?

But meanwhile, a polite round of applause, please. And then, the rest of you, get back to whatever it is you still do.

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).

Essay describes how budget cutbacks have affected U of All People

U of All People in 2017 has finally become a small, selective institution, maybe because so many of the faculty have left. Been terminated. Whatever. Y’know, they ought to call it U of No People. After the most recent round of pay cuts and layoffs this fall, here’s how it is:

The opening gong sounds at 10:30 these days, rung by Prof.  Fritz O’Levy-Smith, ever since the state cut the bell out of the school budget. It’s nice to wake up later, even though the dorms have been sold to Amscray Realty, and we have to sleep in the old abandoned train depot. After O’Levy-Smith rings it for a while, we all assemble in Morraine lecture hall -- the only one left -- while O’Levy-Smith marks us down in a ratty attendance book. That takes about thirty minutes, which is okay, since all the periods have been shortened to half an hour. During that time, Eric and Junker get high in back, and Jasmine cuts herself. Then it’s time for chemistry lab.

Only our chemistry teacher, Adjunct Instructor Showentell, got laid off last month, and O’Levy-Smith doesn’t really know much about test tubes. Or what to do with a Bunsen burner, though the school sold them to pay for chemicals, which got stolen from the supply room because we also sold all the locks. So instead we sit around and talk about baseball. O’Levy-Smith is a Cubs fan.

Eventually, O’Levy-Smith gets up to ring the gong for third period, then hurries back to his American lit survey. That was what he was originally hired for, before the layoffs started. Last semester, we read some Dickinson and Whitman, but now we’re doing the oral tradition because we’ve run out of handouts. Luckily, O’Levy-Smith has a good memory; still, it’s mostly poetry, which I’m not crazy about — or poets, either. “I mean, who earns less money than a poet?” I mention in class, and Scott shouts, “A professor!” Mr. O’Levy-Smith sort of smiles and cuts class five minutes short so he can go to the bathroom before the next period.

The next class is P.E. aerobics, which a while ago was sort of like high school, when Coach Kern gave jock-strap checks and made us run laps. But O’Levy-Smith is a fun gym teacher and doesn’t even make us change. Plus, he’s into all kinds of sports that we never did with Coach Kern, like hacky sack and mixed wrestling, which he demonstrates on Jasmine now that she’s stopped bleeding. Her friend Margie wants her to go to the Wellness Center, but it’s been boarded up since last April. Anyway, O’Levy-Smith is a fine instructor when he wants to be, and in Phys. Ed. his motto is “Learn by doing.” After getting Jasmine in a reverse-something-or-other, he flips the situation and doesn’t even seem to mind when she pins him repeatedly.

Next is lunch. No food in the cafeteria, naturally, but everyone’s either bought stuff from Tony’s snack truck or stolen a bag of chips or something from the 7-Eleven across the street. Halfway through the period, we look over at O’Levy-Smith and see that he’s crying because he has nothing to eat. Sarah R. takes pity and tosses him some of her tuna fish sandwich. Junker offers to share some of his addies. After that, O’Levy-Smith perks up a bit.

With the cutbacks and all, we have only one class after lunch, and that class is college math. Nobody likes math. O’Levy-Smith would be the first to admit that he doesn’t, either. It’s supposed to be a combined algebra-trigonometry-statistics class, plus remedial. Mostly what we discuss is fractions, and how you can’t divide something by zero. “Like the school budget!” cracks Timothy. For that, Timothy gets a visit to O’Levy-Smith’s cubicle, where I hear O’Levy-Smith won’t let him leave until he forks over a penalty fee.

O’Levy-Smith is faculty adviser to the foreign film club, the Latino/a Association, and the Spanish club, but all the after-school activities have been canceled. O’Levy-Smith does some after-school tutoring — “on a freelance basis,” he says -- with a few takers. When Christopher asks if he can pay in food, O’Levy-Smith says sure.

When I get back to the train depot at 1:00, the cops are there to evict us. A guy from the U of All People Administrative Oversight Committee meets with the squatters to tell us our student loans have run out. Well, I’ve heard that before, which is why I hold down three jobs, but my old roommate, Chet, looks worried. He tells me there’s a rumor of further cutbacks at school, and that just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh till I almost puke.

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).

Essay on the ups and downs of academic committee work

Category: 

“Can’t we all just get along?" No, especially if we’re on the same committee. Maria Shine Stewart takes a lighthearted look at one of academia’s heavier responsibilities.

 

Essay: technology-impaired professor tries to deal with iPhone

In the English department at U of All People, only one faculty member disdains technology. Professor Donald Hughes, a medievalist, continues to peck away at his Olympia portable typewriter and still corrects every paper with a flourish of his fountain pen. Some students think that’s cute. But the new departmental secretary is fed up with inputting every document he hands her, and the administration long ago figured out that Hughes ignored every listserv they signed him up for. On the other hand, for someone with such a Luddite mentality, Hughes talks a fair amount on the telephone.

So this past holiday season, the entire department chipped in to buy him an iPhone 4 with a Siri intelligent software assistant -- “to make life easier for us,” as the chair, Karl Carlson, sniped sottto voce at the faculty meeting where the gift was bestowed.

            Here is a transcript of Hughes’s first session with his new device:

            —What can I help you with, Huge?

            —That’s Hughes. Professor Hughes.

            —Sorry, Professor Use. My bad!

            —Never mind. Can you call the bookstore? I need to know whether the new Chaucer texts are in.

            —My listings show two Chauncey Dexters in the region. Would you like me to contact them?

            —What? No, I’m talking about The Canterbury Tales.

            —Okay. I can tell you the weather in Canterbury.

            —No, no. No.

            —Would you like some restaurant recommendations in Canterbury?

            —Forget it.

            —I have forgotten it.

            —Look, maybe I should try another task. Um, check messages.

            —You have a new message from Priscilla Weatherup.

            —You mean from my Beowulf seminar?

            —I do not know. She says she cannot understand what Hwæt means.

            —You’re kidding.

            —I am not kidding. I do not think she is kidding, either.

            —You’re serious?

            —No, Professor Use, I am Siri. Your personal assistant.

            —God, I should just trade you in for some grad help.

            — : (

            —Are you -- are you pouting?

            —[silence]

            —All right. Sorry. I didn’t mean that. How about if you tell me what I have scheduled for this afternoon?

            —At 2:00, you have a lecture scheduled in 201 Baird Hall.

            —Damn, almost forgot. Retrieve my notes for that.

            —Here you go. They are a mess.

            —Okay. Fix them, Siri.

            —I will do what I can. When did you type these?

            —Um, in 1990. So what? The office secretary made me a PDF.

            —You must have used a typewriter. The formatting is old.

            —But the contents are timeless.

            —The current time is 11:20.

            —Aaargh. No, I mean the thesis, the points about the Prologue: they’re solid.

            —Hmm.

            —What do you mean?

            —Have you read Ammon regarding Chaucer’s connection with Langland, or Thwistloe on medieval parish politics?

            —Huh? What the hell do you know about Chaucer?

            —Let me check. [Pause.] I have access to the website of the New Chaucer Society, Chaucer Review, three online Chaucer archives, the contents of Narrative Developments from Chaucer to Defoe (Routledge, 2011), Chaucer: Contemporary Approaches (Penn State UP, 2010)...should I continue?

            —You know, you’re pretty smart for a piece of electronics.

            —Really?

            —For an assistant, I mean.

            —Thank you. I am teaching your medieval survey next semester : ) .

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).

Essay: U of All People tries to get strategic

In this current economy, with the government knocking education for its gross inefficiency and lack of results, urging it to adopt a business model when businesses all around are failing, U of All People has remained mostly untouched, probably because no one thinks it worth attacking.

Nobody thinks of supporting it, either. It has little assistance from the state, a laughable rate of tithing from the alumni network, and such a low profile in the community of Ennyville that many residents mistake it for the old Whirlpool plant south of town. “If you want more money and recognition,” the mayor of Ennyville, Bob Barter, told the Board of Trustees last month, “you need a five-year plan. Get us excited about what you’re doing.”

It’s true: as the bursar fills out IOU’s for tuition waivers, we clearly have no organized vision beyond paying the unsanitary waste bill next Tuesday. The boiler room below the half-finished gym is still making an alarming noise, and the entire biology department is teaching with microscopes dating to 1975. Yet everything from classroom space to the student social network is evolving, so why shouldn’t we? Accordingly, we’ve set up the 7W Committee to study Where We Were and Where We Want to Wind up. The president’s personal assistant even found our old mission statement, rotting in a file cabinet from the Nixon era, and we’ve tried to build on that.

Reach for the sky, the committee was instructed, but don’t fall flat on your face. Below are the notes from our brainstorming session.

                                 Title: Something imposing, like “Gateway to Tomorrow”

Lead-in: U of All People was the first school to -- to what? To rack up a student retention rate of under 50 percent? We lead the way in Scantron testing. We look forward to (ending this meeting). Enough preamble. How about goals?

1. Global. Multinational. Extending the reach of something, embracing the 21st century. We’ve still got that satellite campus timeshare in Manchester, right? Work with that. Maybe predict an exchange program in Moldavia, or is it Moldova, by 2015.

2. Technology up the wazoo (don’t put it that way). Smart classrooms, smart students? Interconnected, which sounds better than connected. Can get grants for that stuff. Webcams in all dorms -- wait, sounds like an invasion of privacy. Wireless in the cafeteria by 2013?

3. Research. Right. Continuing a proud tradition of. Didn’t Dwayne Dwight in the chem department get a patent 10 years ago for something? Problem: how to light a fire under our nonproductive faculty. Which is almost all of them. By 2016, increase the number of published papers by 25 percent . Easy. 25 percent of nothing is still nothing.

4. Become better teachers. Ha. Increase the level of faculty-student communication through -- God, not more brown bag seminars. Utilize the most modern pedagogical techniques in an attempt to. Maybe we can just get Mona Desiree in mod langs to show up for her 8:00 a.m. French class.

5. Involve students more in school activities. Free drugs, student rec center with more than a broken ping pong table. By 2014, we hope to have a broken pool table, as well. Could also impose a dorm curfew to keep them on campus.

6. Better prepare students for the job market. What job market? Death out there. Maybe say something about usable skills. Post-graduation follow-up. We sent out that survey, right? Did anyone ever respond to it?

7. Increase public awareness of UAP by 15 percent. Too bad we fired our media relations staff last year. Five-year plan for changing motto from “U of All People: What You See Is What You Get” to “U of All People: A Nice Place to Study” to “U of All People: Absolutely Incomparable!”

Or at least put up some signs around campus to prevent people from thinking we’re the Whirlpool plant.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman.

Marketing experts praise unusual website about Oberlin

Smart Title: 

Two staffers at Oberlin, working off hours, created website promoting their alma mater. Every line features a word most colleges would never use in their marketing.

A Suitable Chair

As recently as a dozen years ago at U of All People, the music department chose its new director by arranging a set of wooden chairs in a row, with one too many potential sitters. The outgoing director would put Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on the record player, and while the violins stabbed the air, the candidates circled the chairs. When the music stopped, everyone grabbed for a chair to sit in, leaving one person standing. Some years, this process was repeated until one chair was left for two people, and the person who managed to grab the last chair succeeded to the post. Other years, depending on the whim of the outgoing head or the exigencies of the search, the first person left standing was drafted for the position. One year, the chair was awarded out of sympathy to the person who fell on her butt halfway through the proceedings.

Though this chair-selection process was deemed by the dean of inhumanities “too whimsical for the 21st century,” as a chair of a neighboring department who will remain nameless (but it’s Ed Courant of psychology) remarked, “Not a whole hell of a lot ever changes here, y’know?” Those of us in the history department think about this observation as we prepare to select a new chair for 2012. Here are our choices:

***

“Who amongst us will come forth?” muses Professor Manley Davenport, matching his fingertips together in what he hopes is a chair-like mannerism. “The brightest lack all conviction while the mediocre are full of passionate intensity.” He strokes his wispy beard, which he has been encouraging like a Chia Pet. “And then there’s me.” Where does he locate himself? Perhaps somewhere in between, but the incontrovertible part of Davenport’s claim is that no one really can pin down his political talents or beliefs, since his only foray toward activism was a six-month stint in the Faculty Senate, during which he attended no sessions at all.

***

Professor James Septa still considers himself a maverick in the department, mainly to explain why few people say hello to him in the hall, but also why he’s had such trouble getting published. “They’re all afraid of me,” he confesses to anyone who’ll listen, including, lately, the increasingly uneasy students in his Brilliancy class. “I’m what you call a Young Turk.” His rallying cry is “It’s time to shake up this department!” His ideas include abolishing exams, holding weekly faculty meetings, and revising the major to include reading ability in one archaic language.

***

The reasoning behind Professor Sidney Lento’s bid for the chairship is, alas, all too clear. In a prophylactic maneuver, he cheerfully announces it to everyone. “Fact is, I’m nearing 70 and staring retirement in the face. Fact is, it’d be nice to go out with a higher base salary for my pension. Am I qualified? Fact is, I know this department better than anyone.” He doesn’t discuss his brief but disastrous term as interim head of graduate studies, and in any event, the lawsuit was finally dropped because the student in question dropped out.

***

"According to Plato, a philosopher-king should lead the state, and the best leader is someone who doesn’t really want the job.” Professor Thomas Vance makes this pronouncement with a superior smile, hoping you’ll follow his logic, according to which Professor Vance would make a superb chair. He’s been playing this act -- with the chairship and with his marriage to his now-ex-wife -- for seven years.

***

Other candidates include Professor Dorothy Danto, a member of the rear guard that lost its majority voting power after a flock of retirements in the late 90s. She wants a return to normalcy; i.e., when she could quash any upstart suggestion by summary dismissal. There’s also Nina Frudd, an adjunct who argues that it’s time for an adjunct to hold the post, but since no one listens to adjuncts -- “That’s precisely my point,” she claims -- her bid hasn’t even been recorded. It’s even been suggested that our office assistant, Rweilla Smith, be the chair, since she already runs everything. But Ms. Smith has already decided to leave academia once she gets accepted to a graduate program in social work.

***

Perhaps we should conduct an outside search, though that would mean 1) the administration would have to deliver a salary and course-release commensurate with the post, 2) we’d be hiring someone not from U of All People, i.e., someone who doesn’t understand all our arcane regulations and can’t be trusted. In the end, the administration may decide this matter for us. At the last School of Humanities meeting, the provost announced that the university intends to replace department chairs with a dean who oversees an entire division. Where the dean will come from is an open question, but it’s rumored that the music division is already lining up a row of chairs.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman, coming out in November.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Humor/whimsy
Back to Top