At this September’s address to the minions at U of All People, the provost announced a new initiative: to become a Research I institution within the next 10 years (though the head of the Faculty Senate stage-whispered that this particular term is outdated). The next day came a correction: U of All People will become a doctoral/research-extensive or -intensive university -- or at least feature one doctoral program that’s not just in the planning stage, for chrissake (this from the Faculty Senate head, who has since been replaced by a marble bust of Sophocles).
But the idea is gaining currency here. Research schools get more money, enjoy more prestige and are eligible for reduced faculty teaching loads, so hey, why not?
First off, it’s obvious that we need a better library or information resource center or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. The Crabbe Memorial Library, built in 1955, looks its age. Never mind the decaying infrastructure or the mold problem, which a good dose of bleach could probably fix.
The collections are haphazard, depending on the discipline of the library liaison faculty member in any given year -- 67 volumes about trains, for example, from a history professor writing a book on 19th-century transportation -- and periodicals oddly slanted toward the psychology department. We have more microfilm readers than computer terminals, and you can count our databases on the fingers of one maimed hand. Though we have access to the Academics ’R’ Us search service, it barely yields results for anything beyond the last three years. Of course, we could subscribe to something like Lexis/Nexis/Protexis, but that costs. Maybe we can share expenses with the high school library in Francis, the next town over.
Second, we’d like a lower course load so that people can teach less and research more, “a chimerical idea” (comment by the provost) that the Faculty Senate has been pushing for 40 years. Our current 4/4 load doesn’t include the mandatory faculty tutoring for students at risk, implemented back in 2000, or the service requirement that involves a weekly fund-raising activity (last week, sitting in the Bean a Prof carnival booth for five bucks a shot).
More to the point: it’s difficult to pursue a research agenda when you have a stack of ungraded essays as high as an administrator’s desk. It’s been suggested that doctoral programs will allow us to recruit graduate students for slave labor teaching. It’s also been suggested, if we pursue that path, that we closely examine the Bolshevik Revolution for precedents.
Third, we need better funding for research. Ha-ha! Ah, ha-ha … cgha ghh [indecipherable coughing sound]. The Office of Research at U of All People consists of a converted janitorial closet that now houses a laptop and a guy named Dale, when he’s around. Grants are broadcast the month after their deadlines, and the last time this school saw an NEH proposal supported was back in 2006, when something accidentally got forwarded from the vice provost’s Outlook Express account.
The Summer Support Program at U of All People has been downgraded to Research Weekend. The annual grants proposal workshop, which once provided free coffee and pretzels, is now an online Q & A session with the biology department’s Professor Theodore Winkler, who once got a fellowship for something and is happy to share what little he knows.
Fourth, a Research I -- make that an expensive research institution -- should offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, at least according to the Carnegie Foundation, which should spend a day walking in our shoes. In fact, it might be nice to expand our range or update what we already offer, like the home economics program remastered as food services and management, or bring back the philosophy degree, abandoned after a survey showed that none of our three philosophy majors ever donated a dime to our coffers after graduation. We sort of envy U Too, the all-digital university that offers every online degree imaginable and some unimaginable.
Fifth, we need to award a lot of doctoral degrees, but that’s difficult when we don’t even have doctoral programs. Maybe offer a doctoral program in doctorology? All we have is a baby M.A. program in a few departments that shunt their students off to God knows where after they graduate. Perhaps other research institutions should be granting -- wonderful verb -- fewer Ph.D.s. That’s not our problem. We can’t award any degrees till we get the programs, we can’t feature the programs till we get support and we won’t get any support until we figure a way out of this catch-22.
But who knows? Maybe one day, U of All People will decide to give real research a shot and somehow buck the odds, up the standards and make the grade -- in which case, there’ll probably be some professors nostalgic for the old days, when all you had to do was sit in place in a carnival booth and get beaned by a host of resentful undergraduates.
David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Kanji Poems.
PHILADELPHIA -- The University of Pennsylvania has announced that Donald J. Trump will become the next dean of the Wharton School, one of the nation's leading business schools. For months, Trump has been polling as one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, but in what some are calling a stunning move, he officially dropped out of the race at a news conference held here today.
“I think this is a bigger deal,” Trump said of his appointment. “I mean, it’s huge. Huge. It’s more prestigious, and quite frankly it pays better. And there’s more job security. Not that I need money, of course. Or a job.”
The Trump campaign has lost momentum following several Republican debates, where experts say Trump did little to win over women, minorities, immigrants and unattractive people. His lead in the polls, once 25 points, has shrunk as he has lost ground to a surgeon who also has no political experience. When asked if his decision betrays a sagging confidence in his ability to secure the GOP nomination, Trump remained steadfast.
“If you want to see me get back in the race and win this thing, I will,” he said. “But I don’t want to. I don’t need to. I can, but I won’t. I’m on to much, much better things.”
Trump’s appointment is a homecoming of sorts for the real estate tycoon. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1968 from the then Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, a fact he’s always eager to share.
“That was a good name,” Trump said, “a great name when I was here. In fact, one of my first moves as dean will be to reinstate that name. It was great back then, and it’ll be great again.”
The university’s president, Amy Gutmann, refused to address the prickly notion of renaming the school, instead focusing on the appointment of such a high-profile leader.
“We are thrilled to have Donald Trump as the next dean of the Wharton School,” Gutmann said. “His business acumen, leadership skills and fund-raising prowess will serve the school well as we continue to redefine business education in the 21st century.”
Gutmann also deflected questions regarding Trump’s previous foray into higher education -- the ill-fated Trump University, which was established a little over a decade ago and quickly dissolved amid claims of fraud and illegitimacy. Trump, however, did not demur.
“Look, Trump University helped a lot of people make a lot of money,” he said. “It was a great institution that was ahead of its time. I have no regrets, and you shouldn’t either.”
Trump mapped out his plans for his first semester in office, including raising the school’s rankings, securing donations, and strengthening the faculty and student body.
“This is a great place, but it can be better,” he said. “How am I going to make it better? I just am. It’s really that simple. I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with complex things, and this is a complex thing that can benefit from my experience.
“The first job we need to do is become more selective,” Trump continued. “We let in too many losers. I mean, not really losers, but you know what I’m saying. I want to build a great wall around this place, a big wall that keeps out stupid people. I make deals all the time, and I’ll make deals with countries to get their best students. But I don’t want anyone from China. We’re losing to China. They’re eating our lunch. And definitely no Mexicans.”
One reporter asked Trump how he planned to gain the confidence of faculty given that he does not hold an advanced degree and has never taught.
“Look, I love the faculty, especially that one right over there,” he said, pointing to a woman in the third row. “I mean, look at that face. But, you know, I’ll deal with the tenure thing when the time comes. You can’t have deadbeats who don’t produce. It’s that simple. If you’re not the best in your field, you can get lost as far as I’m concerned. I’m the best at what I do, and that’s why I’m here.”
On the topic of being the best, Trump had choice words for Wharton’s competitors.
“We’re not number one,” he said, referring to the M.B.A. rankings, “but we are and we should be. I mean, come on, who really wants to go to Harvard or Stanford? They’re a disaster. With me as dean, it won’t be long before we’re ranked number one, or even higher. We’re going to hire great people. We’re going to make Wharton great again.”
Finally, Trump was asked why he hasn’t been more financially supportive of his alma mater despite having a self-reported $10 billion in net worth.
“When you have a lot of money like I do, you have to make tough decisions,” he said. “I have been very generous. As generous as I could have been? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t give us a lot more. People support winners. I was a winner as a Republican candidate, and I’ll be a winner as a dean.
“It’s that simple.”
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.”
I am a junior scholar with a secret: I enjoy Masterpiece Theatre’s British period drama Downton Abbey. Actually, “enjoy” is quite the understatement. And this is a very, very difficult thing for me to admit publicly.
You see, I do not watch much television. In fact, I do not even have a television. Like a “good” academic, I eschewed television watching quite some time ago and gleefully admit to this fact in certain circles -- as though a refusal to engage with popular culture by way of television watching is the academic’s badge of honor. If I watch anything at all, I stream it from my laptop as I deal with the mundane activities known to infiltrate daily life (e.g., washing dishes, chopping vegetables, folding laundry and so forth).
But I am practically addicted to Downton Abbey and can engage anyone in conversation about the brilliant characterization dreamed up and brought to life by its creator, Julian Fellowes. (Even Highclere Castle, the series’ setting, is a character in and of itself.) If I am so inclined, I can even be caught invoking a favorite line or two, as it suits my purposes (such as when the sassy cook, Mrs. Patmore, playfully suggests to the rigidly traditional butler, Mr. Carson, that if enjoying a candlelit dinner with his peers is “too democratically overpowering,” he is certainly free to explore other, less desirable options). In short, this series has left me actively refraining from counting the days until the sixth and final season airs in the States in January.
But why bring all this up?
As an academic, I find myself apologizing, or overexplaining, to other scholars my interest in this show should the topic arise. Clearly, the vast majority of the characters are white, and as such, it is not difficult to see my race represented, episode after episode. In fact, with few exceptions, race and racial diversity could not be further from the themes that carry through each season. The series mainly centers on class. Classist hierarchies, however fictionalized for ratings, dominate the narrative -- a detail consistent with the period in which the drama takes place. In conversations, I find myself explaining that I am quite “well aware of the racial and classist problematics,” as a way of introducing, framing and apologizing for my love of the show.
I am also what some might classify as a critical scholar. Indeed, critical race theory and critical whiteness studies are fields that have informed my dissertation, my research agenda, my scholarship, my work with preservice teachers and, frankly, my way of being in the world. A critical pedagogy in education is something for which I am a staunch advocate, and my life’s work involves teaching preservice teachers to deconstruct texts of all kinds for their racialized and oftentimes classist hidden curricula.
My musings about race in education have received mainstream attention, and I like to think that I am becoming more skillful at deconstructing my own positionality as a white scholar with significant unearned privilege, both socially and institutionally. I like to think that, year after year, article after article, conversation after conversation, I am becoming a bit more adept at what Professor Kevin Hylton of Great Britain’s Leeds Beckett University described in an article about critical race theory in Race, Ethnicity and Education (2012) as walking the walk, or “agitat[ing] for change and … [a willingness] to defend positions that are marginal, challenging and sometimes plain unpopular.”
Yet, in truth, my professional and scholarly life is often at odds with what sometimes occurs when I leave the classroom or the conference or put away whatever data I happen to be working with. And I find it utterly mystifying as to why an academic (or anyone, really) would have to defend the perfectly innocuous ways by which he or she experiences enjoyment.
The person’s defense often begins with three or four caveats explaining how he or she “absolutely knows how problematic [insert television show, movie, book, genre of music here] is,” and how “sorry” he or she is to have to admit this, but boy, does he or she enjoy [insert television show, movie, book, genre of music here]. It’s as though the only acceptable engagement with “less critical” forms of popular entertainment are those about which the problematic components are publicly acknowledged, or better yet, explicitly tied to critical research and teaching agendas -- as though we are not entitled to personal lives and downtime free from scholarly theories and deconstructive practices.
In truth, I find the entire dance utterly exhausting. I am acquainted with critical colleagues who enjoy rap and country music, graphic novels and reality television. I can quote, practically verbatim, the apologies and explanations that precede these admissions, as though enjoying, for example, Eminem’s music (however problematic, depending on whom you ask) somehow undermines one’s entire research agenda, academic accomplishments and larger professional goals. As though engaging certain texts for the sheer enjoyment of it is a dirty little secret, acceptable only in the context of acknowledged “problematic themes,” critical theories and apologies. My dear, dear colleagues, do trust: this is an exhausting way to be.
And so it is here that I will publicly vow to not be an exhausting academic when it comes to my colleagues’ interests. I look forward to hearing of your passions and hobbies -- perhaps they will become my own. Indeed, this is some of the stuff I live for. I relish in a catchy tune, a fun book or a television series that has inspired my own learning and inquiry into an era or topic about which I was only superficially knowledgeable before, however fictionalized for ratings.
And here is another dirty little secret for you: I read a romance novel recently and just loved it -- as in a bawling-into-my-blankets kind of love. And I assure you, my professional identity has not imploded, my years of teaching experience have not vanished into thin air and my Ph.D. has not burst into flames upon consumption.
Christina Berchini is an assistant professor in English and education studies at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.
Happy New Year! In China, this is the Year of the Green Sheep, which betokens fortune and prosperity.
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If you’ve visited campus recently, you might have been surprised by our recent growth. At the far end of campus is our new No Sweat Rec Center, with its 12,000-square-foot yoga space, ergonometric juice bar and personal trainers in a two-to-one trainer-student ratio.
Opposite from the rec center in more than location is the Six Flags Food Court, with fast food from over five nations, including ours. Stop by our Mexicana stand for a plate of re-refried beans!
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But it’s easy to get money for the amenities. It’s far harder for the humanities, where the last banner year was over a decade ago, when 2002 alumnus Greg Aryus donated $100 for a couple of library books. Well, never mind the humanities, which are hopeless these days in consumer branding. As an English department faculty member recently remarked, “Shakespeare belongs to everyone,” a lovely sentiment but not, I think, one that can be monetized efficiently.
For that matter, the natural sciences, too, have experienced setbacks, though the cyclotron accident in Mayhem Hall this past June can now be safely put behind us. The only bright light at the end of the tunnel is our Shekels School of Business, which managed to place a record 33 percent of its graduates last year, if “place” is interpreted as some kind of activity for some kind of remuneration.
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Of course, times have changed. The purpose of a university education has grown a step beyond college sports, casual hook-ups and drinking. With the national economy on the skids so long that slave-labor internships look good, it’s understandable that students demand jobs at the end of their four, five or six years here. As a recent graduate asked me just the other day, “How come I took courses in Plato and trigonometry, but the only postgraduation job I could snag was holiday helper at Kmart?” To which I could reply only, “Was that you in the green elf costume?”
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Of course, another reply is to note the very real achievements of some of our graduates:
Angelo “I’m no angel” Angelino, class of 2011, is now deputy assistant at the AMA, Association of Mob Affiliations, having recently survived what he good-humoredly calls “a brush with the law.” He’s recently donated a warehouse of major appliances that “fell off the truck.”
Dominique (Dom to her friends and clientele), class of 2008, is now mistress of her own dungeon, putting her double major in psychology and leisure science to good use. Always on the lookout for a few good subs, she’s just put out a new ad: “Check out my brand-spanking-new equipment -- and new spanking equipment!” She’s recently sent in funds for the construction of three Dom dorm rooms -- all sub-basement, of course.
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Here on campus, we haven’t exactly been idle, either, though the salary freeze since 2006 has prompted some to start enterprises on the side. The latest to do so is Professor M. T. Soote in Business, who’s begun an entrepreneurial institute that has already parlayed three bake sales into the Comestibles Exchange, with a trading value of $5 per cupcake.
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That’s about it for now -- in fact, that’s all we have -- though please remember to keep us posted, via the megaphone icon, just to the left of the empty-coffer donation icon. In addition:
Check out our revamped website, www.uap.edu, which includes links to all available social media (like us on Facebook!). This month, we’re offering a virtual UAP lapel pin for the biggest alum donor-tweeter.
Attend homecoming, which this year will feature a special reception for our largest donee, To Be Announced.
Drop in. The campus is probably somewhat as you remember it. Check out your old haunts and recall a time when food fights didn’t mean squabbling over who gets to eat.
[U of All People: Where begging for funds has become a way of life. www.uap.com/donate]
With open hands out,
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).
My employer, the University of Houston, has been in the news: after much hemming and hawing, UH confessed it has forked over $135,000 (as well as $20,000 to the agency representing him) to the actor Matthew McConaughey to speak at next week’s graduation.
The money seems to have been well spent: our brand-new stadium, which stood half empty during the football season, is filling up for this event. Still, I cannot help but wonder if the money could have been spent otherwise. Given that our university advertises itself as the House That Innovation Built, why not use the honorarium as seed money for a time machine? After all, McConaughey managed to bounce through time in Interstellar.
I know, I know: What does a liberal arts professor know about the mechanics of time travel? Not much, I admit. But being a liberal arts professor has taught me a bit more about the mechanics of the Western tradition, the great conversation, the classical canon -- or whatever label you want to slap on the great books I have taught for more than twenty-five years. Reading is just another kind of time travel, of course. And having read and taught these works, I’ve come to see them as little more than a glorious series of commencement speeches. Some of these speeches are longer, some shorter, some in rhyme, some in prose, some pretending to be history, others posing as fiction, but all offering advice on how to live our lives.
What if we could bundle a few of these figures into our machine and bring them to our stadium to speak? While our engineers are working out the kinks -- don’t forget the airbags! -- here are a few previews.
Niccolò Machiavelli: “It’s good to be here. Honest. Honestly honest. I know: Why trust the author of The Prince? Easy: if you had the Medici family as an employer, you’d be honestly glad to be sweltering in this stadium, too. Let me share with you the knowledge I’ve acquired through long experience of politics, extended reading in antiquity and a recent jab at gardening. Primo, it is a general rule about men and women that they are ungrateful, fickle liars and deceivers -- except, that is, for the men and women, garbed in your magnificent robes, sitting here today in this great arena!
“Secundo, never forget that fortune might be like a river, but the job market in the humanities is like the plumbing at my place in Lombardy: nonexistent. If you wish to succeed, keep in mind it is good to be feared, but it’s even better to have a balanced investment portfolio.
“E terzo, keep in mind that how we live is so very different from how we ought to live. And so, he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation. This is why the English majors out there should get up now and enroll immediately in your school’s hotel and restaurant management program.”
Franz Kafka: “I shouldn’t even be here. As I explained to your emissaries, my one wish was to die in obscurity. Take my friend Max Brod. Please. No, seriously, this is why I asked my friend Max to burn all of my writings. He didn’t, it turns out. Max, if you’re out there, we need to talk. Let me level with you: when I learned about this invitation, I was moved. Until, that is, I was floored by this sudden fear that I’d show up today as a beetle. With two e’s. And not the ladybug sort of beetle, but the sort that just sends shivers down your spine. A roach, in fact. Dad, Mom, Sis: if you’re out there, look, I’m not a roach!
“But I did wake up with two strange men in my hotel bedroom. All of this didn’t give me much time to prepare my remarks -- the men seemed nice enough, but they ate my breakfast -- but I do have some advice. As you march into the world, armed with your endearingly ridiculous optimism and utterly unfounded confidence, bring a book along with you -- but the right kind of book.
“We ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. I’ve always said that if the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? Oh, I see the president is waving to me: my time seems to be up. I wonder where those nice men from breakfast went. I’m sure they’ll find me.”
Friedrich Nietzsche: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one. ‘There was a madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours…’ Wait, I see several hands raised. What is that? You have heard this one? Talk about eternal recurrence, right? You know the punch line, then: the madman, searching for God and failing to find him, announces, ‘We have killed him,’ throws the lantern to the ground and blurts out, ‘I have come too early, the news has not yet reached your ears.’ Were he to see the wires running from your ears to those black wafers you carry everywhere, our madman, I think, would shatter yet another lantern. The news is still here, but still cannot be heard.
“You know, I used to say there are no facts, only interpretations. Don’t tell me -- you’re wondering, ‘What about student debt?’ Well, yes. But remember that if you stare at your bank account for too long, your bank account begins to stare back at you. For this reason, you must live dangerously! Love fate! Reject who you are: we must constantly overcome ourselves to live fully. Overcome, even -- especially! -- all you have learned at this august institution. I always said that in heaven all the interesting people are missing. How much truer for the academy.”
Jane Austen: “What dreadful hot weather we are having! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance. I scarcely recognize myself in the colors of your splendid university. But you do not recognize me at all, of course. How could you? You see, it was only a short while ago that I learned from your university’s Jane Austen specialist that posterity has not a single portrait or drawing of me.
“A certain Mrs. Woolf, I also learned today, has made much of women needing a room of their own, just as she made much of the creaky door pivot and desk blotter that allowed me to hide my writing from the world. But here I must make much of my own view: I do not regret these constraints.
“Lean in I did -- a charming phrase -- but not so far as to lose my balance. Family and friends often accompanied me as I wrote; they were my best and most critical readers. Yes, my freedom was frustratingly limited, but these limits also reminded me of duties I always treasured as a sister, daughter and aunt, as a friend as well as a writer.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. But let me add that a single man or single woman in search only of a good fortune has misunderstood the ends of a good life. As I once wrote, know your own happiness. And want for nothing but patience -- or give it a more fascinating name. Call it hope.”
Rob Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston's Honors College and author, most recently, of Boswell's Enlightenment (Harvard 2015).
Ah, spring, season of starlings nesting under our eaves, season of mud, season of literary readings.
I generally try to avoid any event whose title ends in “fest,” but a few years ago I made an exception when a friend invited me to participate with him in a poetry reading at what the sponsoring local historical society was calling Eaglefest. Because the college where I was teaching at the time emphasized community service, this seemed -- after I confirmed I wouldn’t have to perform on the edge of a rocky precipice -- like a pleasant and practical way to spend a weekend afternoon. And the fact that Eaglefest would take place on the last day of April made it seem like a perfect ending for Poetry Month.
In the days before my scheduled reading, I assembled a set of poems about nature (my own, along with works by W. S. Merwin, Mary Oliver and others) and polished an essay I had written about the great blue heron who strode around my backyard, foraging for goldfish in the tiny pond.
Deciding how to dress for the occasion was far more difficult than choosing what to read. What to wear to an event called Eaglefest? I finally settled on what my daughters call my art skirt, because it looks like one of Mondrian’s Composition paintings; a T-shirt in my default color (black); and my poet earrings (long, dangling, silver). So I was ready and feeling pretty cheerful as I walked in to register.
The first ominous note came when the woman behind the desk told me that at the last minute there had been another event scheduled for the same time: a repeat performance of “Meet the Birds” would be held in the large auditorium where the first session was currently running. The receptionist then summoned one of the organizers, who, if she could not allay my anxiety about the scheduling, did put to rest any lingering questions I might have had about the dress code.
She had removed her feathery headgear in order to socialize and was holding it tucked in the crook of one arm; a sinister-looking beak dangled precariously. The body of the costume was a baggy brown sack made of some sort of synthetic fur, and the organizer could have easily passed muster as a bear, raccoon or chipmunk. Perhaps she does so on other weekends, at other fests. Her footwear, however -- large and bright yellow -- confirmed her avian identity for this day. Think clown shoes -- with webbed toes. She offered to show me the room where my co-presenter and I would be reading, and we hobbled over to a set of stairs, which, despite my protests that I would be fine on my own, she insisted upon laboriously climbing, and she led the way to a small room tucked away in a corner of the second floor.
Back downstairs, after listening to her make several jokes about poets in the attic and how it would be easier for her to fly, and after fighting my own fight-or-flight instinct, I perched on a chair but declined her offer of refreshments. I had been hoping for a handful of trail mix and a nice glass of white wine, but the fare consisted of soda and hot dogs, which somehow just seemed wrong.
By now my co-presenter had shown up, and he introduced me to another organizer (dressed in a gray suit -- business, not squirrel), who said, “Come with me,” and whisked us through a winding back passageway so that we emerged very close to the stage where a lecturer/handler, equipped with a gauntlet and a chain leash -- both of which seemed insufficient -- was showing off a bald eagle. Rather touchingly, the eagle had one enormous wing draped around the speaker’s back, and all went fairly well until the speaker tried to put the eagle back in his cage.
He began the process by reassuring us that the eagle went into his cage much more easily than the snowy owl did his. This brought a wave of uneasy laughter -- was this an example of nature stand-up comedy? Having missed the snowy owl’s performance, I was in no position to judge, but I did notice that the man in the gray flannel suit was backing away from the stage. Next, the handler dropped to his knees while the eagle spread his wings and attempted to fly off and generally battered the cage into submission. Eventually the eagle accepted his fate, and all that remained for the spellbound audience to see were some feathers floating gently on the currents of air-conditioning. It did occur to me, while listening to the eagle shriek, that this would be a hard act to follow.
But it was time now for the reading. When he first invited me to participate, my co-presenter had told me that the society expected an audience of 400. I thought that this number seemed rather high for a poetry reading, and, in fact, there were 20 chairs set up in our little garret. And 20 chairs were more than enough, since the group that gathered consisted of my husband, whom I had routed out of the gift shop where he was admiring a tie with a silkscreened pattern of falcons, which I refused to let him buy; an artist friend of ours; my co-presenter’s wife and infant son (does an infant count as an attendee? For my purposes of counting heads, yes, an infant counts); and the woman in the bird suit.
It was clear that, here at least, Poetry Month would be ending not with a bang but with a whimper or perhaps a faint peep. “What do you think?” my co-presenter asked me. I thought that I could not compete with a bald eagle and that it was time to leave. He stayed long enough to read one poem at the start of the next “Meet the Birds” session, and I migrated across town -- to Macy’s.
Carolyn Foster Segal is a professor emerita of English at Cedar Crest College.
We at U of All People pride ourselves on pedagogy, since we have no publications to speak of (except Professor Milo Wag’s pamphlet last year on the crossbreeding of malamutes, which doesn’t really count, especially since he’s in Modern Languages).
As the president of our Faculty Senate declared last year, “Whatever we do here, since it’s not research, it’s got to be teaching, right?” Never mind that 67 percent of the sophomores polled said they could do a better job than their professors -- students, especially sophomores, are inclined to boast.
As for last semester, when a professor who shall remain nameless sublet the teaching of Physics 101 to a Leisure Science instructor who needed some cash -- apparently, the class ran quite well.
But why should we apologize? Better for us to come out in a public embrace of pedagogy, the soft science that comprises everything from making up creative syllabuses to grading all those damned assignments late Sunday evening.
To combat the charges of “You call that teaching?” we’ve begun a Teacher of the Year award in every department. Tell us who are the unsung heroes and heroines of the classrooms, and we will sing their praises! -- though we will not award any raises based on teaching, since that would be favoritism.
All nominations are anonymous; in fact, one professor nominated herself anonymously 12 times. Starting next year, we’ll have a Teacher of the Year Selection Committee, populated by former Teachers of the Year, but right now, all decisions are also made anonymously, possibly by the assistant provost’s office assistant.
Below is a selection from our inaugural Teachers of the Year. Drum roll, please...
Earl N. Meyer, associate professor of chemistry, likes to ignite students’ passion for chemistry with a Bunsen burner and counsels all students to wear nonflammable clothing to class. His lab display at the end of the semester, relying on a combination of lithium and water, has been termed “explosive” by all observers. He prides himself on always being there for his students, even at 3 a.m., though the student in question declined to press charges. “Without chemistry,” he declares, “life itself would be impossible. Without the chemistry department at U of All People, I’d be out of a job.”
Professor Penny Anti, the Eames Chair of Business, believes in learning by doing and “putting my money where my mouth is,” so every semester she gives her students real money to invest, at 15 percent interest. “One of us always comes out ahead,” she jokes. “It’s all a learning experience.” Professor Anti is also president of the Entrepreneurs Club, which last year grossed an undisclosed amount. Her motto: Business Is Good.
Odiette Amo, assistant professor of classics, is single-handedly responsible for the renaissance in classical studies, which includes two new students in the last five years -- single-handedly because she is the only professor left in the department. Her most popular activity is the Classics Olympics, in which students decline Latin nouns while riding chariot races around the football field. Her new campaign to increase recruitment, by serving as faculty adviser to Greek organizations on campus, has already bred success and confusion. Enchanted with Ovid at an early age, she recites her credo daily: “Venio, video, disco.”
Instructor Jess Anon in the English department maintains his sense of humor despite a teaching load of seven composition courses a semester. Paradoxically and annoyingly, he is the only publishing instructor in the department, author of a chapbook of verse that he assigns in every class. Founder of the Center for Support of Jess Anon in 2011, he supports the cause with an end-of-semester party and cash bar, held in his Quonset hut attached to a ventilation duct in College Hall. He also sells old Halloween candy during class.
Professor Al Cawlic in the sociology department studies the culture of 12-step programs. “To study the problem, be the problem,” he tells his student, the last one standing after another of Cawlic’s marathon binges. He’s often seen riding to work on his bicycle, and not just because he lost his license after three DUIs. Interviewed by the U of All People student newspaper at Garrity’s Bar and Grill, he told the reporter, “I like to emphasize the social in sociology, y’know? Y’know? When you think of it, everything’s fieldwork, really. I’ll drink to that.”
Associate professor Bill Demme in the mechanical engineering department is a self-confessed inspiration to his students, yet he remains practical. “Practical applications, I tell my graduate students. Keep it practical, especially since it’s my name that’s going on as coauthor, and I get 50 percent from any patents. Oh, and an active learning environment. That’s key.” To this end, he sponsors an annual canoe canoe race, in which contestants must construct a canoe out of two old canoes. As a former student commented, “It demonstrates the adage 'sink or swim,' which is how Professor Demme’s classes works in practice.”
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).
I’ve worked in higher education for 23 years, 4 months and 6 days. If you add college and grad school to the mix, I’ve been associated with universities for (let’s see... carry the five... plus two… equals) a long time.
So I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ponder our peculiar industry and consider why things are the way they are.
People always ask me that very question. Really -- they just come up to me at parties, shrug their shoulders and say, “Why?” I try not to think it’s some kind of existential query or it’s because I’m wearing a plaid jacket with a striped shirt and a polka dot tie. I might develop a complex or something.
No, I think we simply have more questions than answers. To wit:
Why does our year end in June (or July, for some) when the rest of the world thinks in terms of, you know, January to December?
Why, when we’re considering change of any sort, is the most frequently uttered phrase, “Because we’ve always done it that way”?
Why, when communicating externally, do we use jargon and buzzwords only we understand?
Why do we aim to obfuscate and befuddle in the Orwellian tradition?
Why do some believe academic freedom extends beyond the normal boundaries of free speech and, for that matter, decorum?
Why do we assume academic freedom doesn’t exist absent tenure?
Why do we think the public understands tuition discounting and won’t have sticker shock?
Why do birds suddenly appear…?
Why don’t TV crews follow athletes from the field to the library after Saturday night’s big game to show that academic ability and athletic prowess can live in true harmony?
Why does every campus community in America complain about parking as if it’s their own private hell?
Why don’t we conclude that if it takes 10 months to fill an important administrative vacancy and the place doesn’t fold in the meantime, then perhaps we could do without it?
Why are there no classes on Fridays?
Why are there classes at 8 a.m.?
Why does the Big 12 have 10 members?
Why does the Big Ten have 14?
Why does the Atlantic Coast Conference think the coast extends to South Bend, Ind.?
Why does the Big East consider Chicago east?
Why are résumés 2 pages and vitae 30?
Why do no decisions get made and no work gets done during the six weeks known as “the holidays”?
Why are we no longer permitted to utter the word “Christmas”?
Why do we hire experienced experts whose first order of business is to hire consultants?
Why do fools fall in love?
Why can’t I find SEC hockey on ESPNU?
Why do adjuncts adjunct under such conditions?
Why does the media pay so much attention to universities that collectively enroll less than 1 percent of our nation’s students?
Why don’t they pay more attention to systemic issues such as those adjuncts?
Why do students never read the syllabus until something goes wrong?
Why do employees never read the employee manual until something goes wrong?
Why do all mission statements sound the same and yet say nothing?
Why aren’t there more bowling scholarships?
Why do we still value seat time over competencies?
Why do we conflate administrative experience with ability?
Why do we need 22 assistant directors of admissions?
Why is an appendix more valuable to a book than to a human body?
Why can’t we be friends?
Why do textbooks cost more than my first car?
Why do textbooks depreciate faster than cars?
Why do people post what they had for lunch on Facebook?
Why do we respond?
Why isn’t college baseball more popular?
Why do we continue blaming rising costs on external regulations?
Why do we need climbing walls?
Why do we celebrate snow days like we’re in middle school?
Why don’t we have more snow days?
Why are the paved pathways across the quad never the shortest route?
Why don’t we do it in the road?
Why do people confuse deciding with doing?
Why do we fuss with the various Latin declensions of “alumni” when it’s easier to say “graduates”?
Why do we all say we recognize charismatic leadership when we see it but can’t seem to define charisma?
Why ask why?
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.