Newly hired in a tenure-track position, you receive an e-mail from the university provost that reads, "You are appointed to the new Giant Ground Sloth Task Force."
You wonder what a group named for a prehistoric beast might do. Could the task force preserve a carcass found miraculously intact? Might the task force replicate sloth DNA to create a test-tube embryo? Could there be a living giant ground sloth somewhere, plodding along merrily because it doesn’t know it’s extinct?
You dash into the first meeting and see on the conference table a large plate of glazed doughnuts unlike anything you’ve encountered at a faculty gathering. You take a doughnut, glance around, and realize you are the only instructor in the room.
The person in charge announces, "I am your Special Outside Consultant. We’re here to discuss the pros and cons of replacing your university’s traditional mascot, Polly Polyp, with a new creation, Sleepy the Giant Ground Sloth."
You ask, "Why change the mascot?"
"Polyps are immobile blobs,” explains another member of the task force, the Associate Director of Sporting Events. "At games, Polly Polyp doesn’t run around or jump up and down, but stands perfectly still."
"The task force must decide whether a more mobile mascot would attract more students," says a third person, the Co-Director of In-State Recruiting.
You take a bite from your glazed doughnut and feel inspired by the glucose rush. "I have an idea for recruiting," you declare. "Our university’s mission statement says that we promote global awareness, doesn’t it?"
You hear furious clicking as everyone calls up the mission statement.
"Yes, it does," exclaims the Chief Adviser to the Associate Chancellor.
You say, "All universities make that claim, but let’s require our undergrads to take two years of one language other than English and one year of another language. We could stipulate at least one of the two must be from outside the Indo-European language family. If we did that, we could advertise that we prepare people to participate in international affairs."
"I don’t feel that we could market that concept," says the Coordinator of Full-Pay Student Recruiting. "Our new campaign is called Fun for You at the U."
You take another bite of the glazed doughnut and ask, "Doesn’t our university’s mission statement claim that we turn students into better citizens?"
Again you hear furious clicking. The Assistant to the Assistant Vice Provost declares, "Indeed it does!"
You say, "If fun is the recruiting theme, how about a required first-year course called Fun With Public Issues in which students enjoy hunting for fallacies in discourse? They could go on to Fun With National Issues, Fun With International Issues and Fun With Special Topics Issues. Each year every level could have a contest to see who could find the most ridiculous statement made by a public official."
"We already have the majority of our classes taught by part-timers," says the Assistant Dean of Intermittently Employed Professionals. "We couldn’t hire a hundred more adjuncts to teach that many sections every semester."
You polish off your treat and feel the courage that only inexperience and a glazed doughnut can bring. You say, "Our mission statement claims we value excellence of instruction, true?"
Once more furious clicking fills the room.
"True," announces the Co-Director of Large Gift Acceptance.
You say, "In the next decade we’re supposed to produce thousands more college graduates than ever before. To do that, the university plans to dump more work on part-timers, true?"
"Perhaps," says the Interim Coordinator of External Public Relations.
You say, "All universities will face this problem, but let’s get ahead of the others. Let’s transform those part-time positions into tenure-track slots."
"Impossible! We don’t have enough offices for that many additional full-time instructors," says the Associate Vice President of Space Allocation.
You try another glazed doughnut and ask a new question. "Why replace Polly, an immobile mascot, with a giant ground sloth named Sleepy?"
"We don’t want to offend alumni who identify with an immobile mascot, so we thought we might introduce one that moves, but only a little bit, and very slowly," says the Assistant to the Full Director of Alumni Satisfaction. "If Sleepy goes over, in 10 or 15 years we’ll try something more active."
Brent Chesley is a professor of English at Aquinas College, in Michigan.