Humor/whimsy

The modern German university is satirized in film

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At a fictional institution, officials obsess over assessments of research quality, pander to donors and equate educating students with job training.

A roundup of holiday videos from colleges and universities

Humor, snow (natural and otherwise) and animals make appearances in holiday videos.

A Gilbert and Sullivan take on academe (opinon)

I am the very model of a pundit academical,

I've idées fixes artistic, scientific, and political;

I’ve a hundred ways to call the admin highly hypocritical,

And sometimes it’s in phrasing that descends to the emetical;

I'm very well acquainted too with matters pedagogical,

Which I pronounce on in a tone that's truly theological,

About research esoteric I am tweeting with so much abuse,

Although the second reader called my book proposal too diffuse! 

 

I'm very good at clickbait that's superbly supercilious,

I know exactly just the thing to make my colleagues bilious,

In short, in fields artistic, scientific, and political,

I am the very model of a pundit academical.

 

I know our storied theorists, from Cleanth Brooks to Jakobson,

I lecture long on p-hacking, I deconstruct the Higgs boson,

I’ve versified Greenblatt's The Swerve in macaronics magnifiques,

And always sign off Facebook with a pithy rhyme from Kant’s Critique;

I can tell Baudrillard from Wittgenstein and H. Cixous from F.  Tönnies,

I sneer at frauds while hyping my unpublishable masterpiece,

Then I can pitch a hot take on something I’ve not read before,

And if no-one will run it, well that’s what my dormant blog is for!

Then I can speak of budgets in a manner tropological,

And turn the latest scandal into something anagogical;

In short, in fields scientific, artistic and political

I am the very model of a pundit academical.

 

In fact, when I know what's meant by “committee work” and “overload”;

When I can tell at sight a learning outcome from an add/drop code;

When such affairs as meetings and advisement I’m more present at,

And when I know a mortarboard and tassel from a bowler hat;

When I can name five colleges whose halls are hardly ivy-decked,

When I can update Blackboard without losing all my self-respect,

In short, when I get that scholars unlike me are really not suspect,

You’ll say a pundit academic’s never been so ego-checked!

For though the language in my op-eds is particularly visceral,

I fear (alas) my wisdom’s proving eerily ephemeral,

But still, in fields artistic, scientific, and political,

I am the very model of a pundit academical.

Miriam Elizabeth Burstein is professor of English at the College of Brockport of the State University of New York. She was first exposed to academic pundits nearly 30 years ago, which has not stopped her from falling into some of the same habits herself. You can find more of her work at her website, The Little Professor, where an earlier version of these lyrics appeared.

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A tongue-in-cheek table of contents (opinion)

A Critique of the Modern University

Table of Contents

Preface

Chapter 1 -- Civilization in Decline

Chapter 2 -- The Real Threat to Freedom

Chapter 3 -- In My Day

Chapter 4 -- The Virtues of Being Kind of a Jerk

Chapter 5 -- I Am Against Postmodernism

Chapter 6 -- The Car Park Is Too Far Away

Chapter 7 -- My Field Is Terrible

Chapter 8 -- Others Fields Are Also Mostly Terrible

Chapter 9 -- He Reminds Me of Myself as a Young Man

Chapter 10 -- There's Nothing Wrong With Being Charming

Kieran Healy is an associate professor of sociology at Duke University.

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A faculty member's version of the Mind-Set List (essay)

Beloit College just published its annual Mind-Set List to remind professors of the ever-growing gap between their own cultural experiences and those of their incoming students. As a service to these new students, I am now providing the faculty version of the mind-set list. Here is your guide to the college years of a typical 50-something professor.

  1. There was only one computer on campus. It was called “the computer.”
  2. The computer administrators knew everyone’s password.
  3. The computer crashed sporadically for no apparent reason. When it went down, everyone was out of luck.
  4. There was only one phone company. It was called “the phone company.”
  5. The phone company charged exorbitant rates for long-distance calls, so students saved money by calling home after 11 p.m. or on weekends.
  6. Roommates shared a single phone provided with their room. It was connected by a cable to an outlet in the wall. The phone couldn’t talk.
  7. The phone came with a phone book that listed telephone numbers, although most students memorized the numbers of their friends and relatives.
  8. A student who was not in their room was impossible to reach on the phone.
  9. Those who couldn’t afford to phone home could write letters, a precursor to email. These were hand delivered and took two to four days to arrive.
  10. Booking a flight home required the services of an oracle called a travel agent, who alone had access to the inscrutable airline flight schedules.
  11. Airplane tickets were printed on flimsy sheets of red carbon paper. If you lost your plane ticket, you were out of luck.
  12. Driving home? The interstate speed limit was 55, but everyone ignored it.
  13. Campus movies on weekends were a major social activity. On a good weekend, a student could choose from as many as three different movies.
  14. Students wrote papers on a mechanical word processor called a typewriter. At the end of every line, a bell would ring, signaling the student to slap the carriage holding the paper until it returned to the beginning of the line.
  15. High-tech students owned electric typewriters. They could perform a carriage return with the press of a key.
  16. Cutting and pasting required actual cutting and real paste.
  17. Spell check was a dictionary.
  18. Professors used stencils to produce handouts, which were printed in purple ink with a vaguely toxic odor.
  19. A textbook cost less than a calculator.
  20. A year at college cost less than a new car.
  21. There was still hope for a Beatles reunion.
  22. The drinking age on many college campuses was 18.
  23. Pete Rose, O. J. Simpson and Martha Stewart had never been to prison.
  24. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an actor.
  25. Al Franken was a comedian.
  26. Donald Trump was a real-estate tycoon.
  27. Ronald Reagan was never an actor. I’m not that old.

Robert Scherrer is a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University.

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U of All People's quest for an appropriate commencement speaker (essay)

The roses are blooming on the quad, and the adjuncts are planning how to get through the summer without salary, which means that commencement at U of All People is imminent (those roses cost money and are planted at the last minute, to impress alumni). Over the years, meanwhile, the commencement venue has moved from the amphitheater to the arts center to the multipurpose ballroom in Building A -- the space with a foldout screen to adjust for low attendance.

But the main difficulty is procuring a speaker for the graduation ceremony, to the point where we’re soliciting suggestions from even the Faculty Senate. “The list of creeps and losers speaking at the U of All People graduation exercises boggles the imagination,” claims Professor of Political Science Cam Payne, Faculty Senate head and No. 1 on the university president’s hit list. “It’s time we took a stand.” Unfortunately, Payne’s favored candidate is Adlai E. Stevenson, who died in 1965. With less than half a month to go, the speaker gap has reached epic proportions.

Here’s whom we’ve already asked:

Jess Rigged, CEO at ProTest, a company that rose to prominence in 2010 in the wake of a testing scandal at its competitor, ConTest. “We have the answer!” is ProTest’s slogan, and the company has proved its boast by providing more answers for standardized forms than there are questions listed. U of All People uses ProTest for all its metrics, including the annual assessment of its assessment programs. But Rigged has recently become embroiled in a scandal for peddling test answers to the Chinese, and his standard speech, “A Test for Everyone,” now has disturbing implications. In any event, Rigged declined the invitation, since he’ll be in Fujian that day on company business.

Rill Fickle, a senator from our state known for crossing party lines on such issues as multilingual classrooms and teacher salaries, sometimes several times during one vote. “You can’t spell ‘diversity’ without d-i-e,” he says, confusingly, or maybe just confusedly. Still, about 45 percent of the faculty voted for him last election. (His opponent, Walt Wright, campaigned to abolish higher education as elitist.) Though Fickle never replied to our request, his press secretary, Knott Frank, did, politely declining. That may have something to do with a horde of U of All People undergraduates outside Fickle's office in 2015, protesting one of his tweets: “Have student issues? Gesundheit!”

Wei Kapp, the 10-year-old founder of HornyApp, a tech start-up that grossed $37 million last year for its photo app that adds devil’s horns to people’s head shots. “You can do it with your fingers, but HornyApp is so much cooler lol,” he texted in a Bizness 2Day interview. A whopping 65 percent of U of All People students have his app on their cellphones. An inspiration to young entrepreneurs everywhere, Kapp has already pledged .005 percent of the company’s profits to his favorite charity, Safe Halloween. But Kapp has other obligations that week, including helping his father clean out the garage.

Other tries include Sue Crose, the head of Sweet Charity, an organization dedicated to improving the candy that children eat. Crose did hint that she might speak at commencement if U of All People made a major pledge, but a recent investigative article revealed that 95 percent of all donations to Sweet Charity go to cover administrative costs. By comparison: at U of All People, the administrative costs are only 90 percent.

We also reached out to the musician-writer-artist Stupor, whose self-made single “Think I’m Stupid? Stupid!” went viral on YouTube last year and won an Almost-Grammy. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to establish contact. “His EarthLink account appears to be defunct,” claimed Kant Dewett of our development office, after a quick Google search. This is a continuing issue with that office, which tends to employ people who failed at PR.

We briefly considered local lawyer and wine enthusiast Don D. Hatch, useful in reversing many DUI charges for our students and lately branching into politics. But we’ve used Hatch twice already, and the students and faculty are tired of the same speech that concludes, “A toast to the future!”

Note: We did have one person who repeatedly offered to speak at the U of All People commencement, but he wants to rebrand the school “Trump University.” We’re thinking about it.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, was recently published by Columbia University Press.

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Coloring book offers academics chance to be creative while poking fun at their lives

A coloring book from the University of Chicago Press? Yes, and it pokes fun at academe.

A humorous take on 'creative' college courses (essay)

At U of All People, it pays to be creative. At least, that’s what we’re banking on. Google and Microsoft are looking for creative people. Any successful startup in the past decade has begun with a couple of creative millennials and a laptop. Not to mention that creative writing is one of the few non-STEM growth industries in academe these days.

With students desperate to find work beyond a gig at Starbucks, you’d think they’d be less inclined to take a workshop that teaches them how to write a ghazal -- but no. Five years ago, the creative writing program at U of All People swallowed the English department in a semi-hostile takeover and now offers courses in Shakespeare and Creativity, How to Read and Write Poetry Like Sylvia Plath, and Advanced Hemingway and Faulkner Workshops. Business is good.

Of course, in its perpetual quest to boost enrollments, our administration has finally caught on to what sells seats. As of fall 2017, every department and program must have at least one course with some form of the term “creative” in its title. To attract maximum numbers, some departments have even hired copywriters for their course descriptions. Herewith, a sampling of the coming offerings:

JNLSM 220: Journalism and the Creative Edge. Got a good story to tell? Though short-form journalism was taken over by fake reporting years ago, a slavish adherence to the facts still hobbles many major news stories. Find out how to harness the power of your imagination and report what might or ought to have happened instead.

MATH 123: Beat the Curve: How to Be Creative with Statistics. If one person in a group of 100 says she’ll vote one way, and then another person joins her, that’s a 100 percent increase. Don’t like the figures? Take a look at our bar charts!

CHEM 105: Creative Chemistry in Motion. Mix something white with something black and get something purple. Or find out just what nitric acid will eat through! Never mind balancing chemical equations -- be a creative chemist! We even have cool new synergistic test tubes.

SOC 226: Big-Time Funny: Sociology and the Creativity of Humor. What makes people laugh and why? In this hands-on not-quite-lab, we make up our own jokes and try them out on each other. Prizes for the best chuckle analysis.

HIST 201: Who Won What? Getting Creative with History. Why memorize dates and names when you can create video games based on famous battles? Who’ll win the battle of Gettysburg this time? Extra gore, please!

ANTHRO 116: Creative Anthropologists Do It in the Field. What makes different cultures creative? We don’t really know, but we get mighty creative in our guesswork. Maybe it’s something tribal -- or based on urban legends.

ECON 157: Buy! Sell! Supply and Demand for Creativity. Line up five economists and get six different opinions -- now that’s creative! The secret is in our models. No, it’s in the GNP! Check out our economic role-playing app at www.uap.edu/econ.

LING 145: On the Tip of My Tongue: Speech and Creativity. What’s another word for snow? And another? And another? Isn’t this fun? Does it mean anything that snow spells wons backwards?

SPAN 222: Forget the Verb Forms -- Just tell the Story in Creative Spanish. Most upper level language courses have you learn more about the culture that speaks the language, but in this course, you write flash fiction in Spanish. Create your own story -- en español!

PHIL 206: Nothingness, Logic, and Creativity. In this seminar, students learn to argue for propositions based on sheer nonsense. Nothing is more fun than that! Get it? Get it!

ENGL 333: Chaucer Studies. The Canterbury Tales, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Criseyde. Midterm and research paper; class participation essential. [This course has been CANCELED for lack of creativity.]

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, was recently published by Columbia University Press.

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The importance of lists in literature and life (essay)

New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday for three reasons:

  1. serving my traditional feast of sauerkraut to friends
  2. reciting the holiday’s many poems on Christ’s circumcision
  3. reading lists!

All year long, I eagerly await the year-end lists of superlatives. And, throughout December, I devote whole days to crafting my list of New Year’s resolutions.

Even more than the “naughty or nice” lists of Christmas, New Year’s Day, for me, wins the prize as Holiday with the Most Lists.

This year, I nominate the Harvard University soccer team’s “scouting report” for Most Tasteless List of 2016. As a gay poet, I viewed this particular list with an outsider’s rubbernecked inquisitiveness. I saw the report as part of a degenerate literary tradition of cataloging, indexing and registering.

Likewise, back in 2012, when Mitt Romney blundered by bragging about his “binders full of women,” I recalled that many poets had produced such binders.

Among them: the late-medieval French writer Christine de Pizan, author of The Book of the City of Ladies (an archive of stories about exemplary women like the Amazons, Sappho, Dido, the Virgin Mary, etc.). De Pizan’s proto-feminist project took a cue from the 14th-century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, whose On Famous Women had sought to recuperate the reputation of women. And Chaucer, with The Legend of Good Women, parodied the whole genre of medieval lady lists.

To this list of binders, I might add Charles Bukowski’s sex novel, Women. And I cross-reference Women with books that painstakingly index gambling debts, hangovers and menial jobs.

Those writers all felt the influence of one of the greatest list makers: Dante. I discern in the author of The Divine Comedy the spirit of someone possessed by a scholastic frenzy for compartmentalizing, codifying and classifying. Dante’s masterpiece is like a neatly arranged filing cabinet (three drawers, nine folders, with each folder listing afterlife denizens).

Dante offers a stunning rebuke to all those who slander bureaucracy as soulless. His poetry illustrates how the apparent tedium of list making can express the raging passions of heaven or hell, or someplace in between.

Each time I must deal with a bureaucratic snafu, I pray to Dante -- patron saint of bureaucratic beauty.

Sometimes collecting a list -- or recollecting one -- can reaffirm our humanity. Dante’s lists helped to sustain Primo Levi. In Survival in Auschwitz, when Levi and a fellow prisoner recite from the Inferno, the poem provides them with a rare moment of normalcy.

Dante, by leading readers through intricate lists and toward his beloved Beatrice, suggests that the practice of list making, in and of itself, bears upon the great philosophical questions (like death and sex and power).

List making is an anthropological universal, and the desire to make lists speaks to a fundamental human need. Lists, by embodying a rational order, appeal to our nature as embodied, rational creatures (creatures who are all too prone to misusing our highest faculties, like when we make distasteful lists).

Note that some lists are frivolous. In Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Eliot calls the roll of various cutie-pie felines.

But other lists are foundational. Perhaps American poetry begins with Leaves of Grass, an all-consuming compendium.

Emily Dickinson, too, was “inebriate” of lists, as she would have put it. Narrating her famous postmortem carriage ride, Dickinson lists the earthly phenomena that she leaves behind her:

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess -- in the Ring --
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain --
We passed the Setting Sun --

Some other examples to add to this list of important poetic lists:

  • Paradise Lost flips through Milton’s rolodex of demons, devils and demigods.
  • The Iliad recites a who’s who of heroic warriors.
  • The Hebrew Bible is a profound series of lists (e.g., of the days of creation; of various domestic dysfunctions; of plagues and sins; of wars and kings and songs and laws).

Supposedly, W. H. Auden held that all poetry begins from a love of making lists.

But something sinister lurks beneath the will to compile lists. As Hannah Arendt suggested in her discussion of totalitarianism, the list maker’s art -- though apparently banal -- can grease the wheels of bloody regimes.

A list of objectionable lists might include: slave galley manifests, Nixon’s enemies list, McCarthy’s alleged list of State Department Communists and the blacklist, as well as the works of the Marquis de Sade. De Sade critiqued the Enlightenment with long, detailed lists of sexual tortures. His lists exposed the wicked potential of reason’s will to define and enumerate. Indeed, perhaps such lists impugn the form of the list itself.

In the case of the “scouting report,” this list might attest to the barbarism latent in male bonding. Perhaps this list reflects an innate, masculine impulse to dominate. Boys, after all, often obsess about baseball card collections and merit badges. And men often obsess about tallies of conquests, stock reports and sports statistics.

Someone familiar with Michel Foucault might develop an argument about how -- by translating the oral discourse of “locker-room talk” into the textual discourse of a written list -- the report actually renders male sexual aggression more susceptible to modern regimes of discipline.

But I have no expertise in such matters, and I certainly have no moral credibility. After all, a list of my privileges would have to include my gender, and a list of my sins would have to count up -- along with my prurience -- many instances of pride, avarice, greed and lechery.

But list making is my favorite vice. I seize upon any opportunity to compose lists. I love to craft to-do lists, grocery lists and Christmas present lists. I enjoy composing lesson plans, syllabi and bibliographies. I once wrote an erotic memoir, in which successive chapters chronicle each of my African-American ex-boyfriends (to be released this February as an ebook for Black History Month). And my life’s work is an ongoing project called The Book-Title List Book, in which I record titles for books that I have titled but will decline to write.

Along with these lists, I’m enchanted by list-like practices (such as exercise routines, the Rosary and grading papers). Procrastinating, I spend afternoons reading Wikipedia’s “List of lists of lists.”

I identify, therefore, with my fellow list makers. Just last semester, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences informed me by email that they had not included my name on their short list of candidates for an open professorship. More than feeling slighted, I swooned with enthusiasm for the fact of the list itself.

And I wondered about the other lists that Harvard might have consulted while making the decision to suspend its soccer team (for example, alumni donor lists).

Even writing this now, I prefer list making to analysis and argument. Then again, list making actually implies analysis. To make a list is to impose hierarchy, organization, order.

I have fallen captive to the spell of the list. Therefore, as I compose my list of New Year’s resolutions, I vow that this year, 2017, will be the year that I fully embrace my love of the list.

A. W. Strouse is a poet who teaches medieval literature at the City University of New York.

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Exploring academics' modest utterances that are actually boasts (essay)

So you’ve published a paper on monetary theory, snagged that fellowship for research in Rome or received an award for best teacher of the year. Or maybe you’ve just served on seven committees this past semester, from tenure review to curriculum reform, and colleagues ought to appreciate that.

But they don’t, at least not to your face. And the pathetic “Faculty News” page of your department website just doesn’t cut it. (Take a look at the listing for Professor Dale’s publication in Southwest Annandale Historical Society Notes: doubly out of date, since both the professor and the journal are extinct.)

You want to be known as the foremost expert on forensic linguistics or the one who got a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study Rilke -- back in 2011, but still. What to do? Think of Berkeley’s famous proposition, applied to academics: “If a paper is published in a journal and no one knows about it, does it make a sound?” Is it OK to toot your own horn? In this era of Facebook, are you kidding?

Consider the humblebrag, a seemingly modest utterance that’s actually a boast. The British have excelled in this charming self-deprecation for centuries: “Oh, I don’t suppose many people were in the running this year,” for instance, to explain why you won the London marathon. Only this is higher education in 2016, with access to Twitter.

Think brassier, think of that academic review coming up in 2017, and think within a 140-character limit:

Gosh, if I don’t send in that manuscript to Oxford by this fall, they’re gonna kill me!

*

I don’t see how I’m going to get any work done during my fellowship in Belize.

*

Darned if I know why the Fulbright committee chose my proposal over so many deserving others.

*

You know, if it weren’t for all the grateful letters that I’ve gotten from students over the years, I’d’ve given up teaching a long time ago.

*

Never mind all my publications. The Smoot Teaching Award I got this year makes me realize what really matters in life.

*

I keep thinking there must be some mistake: Why would the Guggenheim committee even consider my work on medieval stairways?

*

You know, I never set out to write a best seller. Everyone knows what people in academe think of that.

*

Promotion to full professor isn’t much, I guess, but I try to see it as an affirmation of all I’ve done here.

*

I don’t anticipate the deanship will give me much power, but I do intend to take the responsibility seriously.

*

It’s not fashionable to talk about service, I know, which is why I don’t discuss all the behind-the-scenes work I do for the college.

*

All that work for such a simple title: provost.

*

I’m sure plenty of people could have delivered the keynote address at this conference, but I’m the one who got suckered into it.

*

They said I’m the youngest program director they’ve ever had -- must be their code word for inexperienced.

*

The students in my econ class all say that I’m their favorite teacher, but you know what that means.

*

As an adjunct, I could just phone in my performance, but I always have to put in 200 percent. Sigh. That’s just me.

*

That’s what I told Mike -- I mean, the chancellor. No idea why he listens to me. Hey, I’m just custodial staff.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, has just come out from Columbia University Press.

 

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