Going South

From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/09/10 Mon AM 09:41:21 EDT
To: <>
Subject: travel request

To Professor Michael Wall, Chair, English Department:

This has to do with the travel budget for the coming academic year. As we discussed last spring, I need something on the order of $700 for the annual Joyce conference, held this year in Miami, December 3-5. I saved the department money last year by using Blackboard exclusively rather than hand out Xeroxes, and in any event, this shouldn’t break the bank, right? Let me know soon, please, because I have to book the flight.


George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/09/17 Mon AM 09:40:11 EDT
To: <>
Subject: research request

To Myra Puckwith, Head of Research Office:

According to our department chair, Michael Wall, the entire travel budget for the English department has been frozen for fiscal 2007-08—or was it retroacted to the level of support in 1968 because of some administrative fiat? Something like that. Accordingly, he suggested that I contact you about a research grant for this December. I’m a James Joyce scholar, and I need to study the Joycean archives in Miami for a book tentatively titled Southern Joyce. I can provide full details of my proposal, including the new RPP (Research Planning and Perspectives form) from your office, along with a statement of purpose, for your perusal. Just let me know.


George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/09/22 Mon AM 011:45:03 EDT
To: <>
Subject: equipment grant

To Don Donaldson, University Procurement:

Myra Puckwith at the Office of Research read my proposal for research in Miami this December and sent me to you. Normally, a small equipment grant isn’t something that fits me, but given the circumstances, I’d like to purchase a used 1997 Honda Civic that should be able to get me to Florida and back, and which could be used for other academic trips, as well. I’ve already priced such a vehicle at Al’s Autos, and the price is surprisingly reasonable: only $700. I talked with Mark Meyers from the Physics department, and he says that last year he received $5,000 toward the cost of a new tachyon accelerator. As far as I know, the English department has been quite modest in its requests for equipment. Here’s hoping that you’ll honor my request.


George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/09/28 Sun PM 011:42:30 EDT
To: <>
Subject: request for teaching funds

To Fred Carson, Pedagogy Coach:

Pursuant to the bulletin you sent around last May, asking for innovative teaching proposals: I gather that you didn’t get many responses. In any event, here’s one I’ve been thinking about, though for a long time I wasn’t quite sure about how to put it into execution. Why not a film presentation of a great author’s critics at work? Since my specialty is the work of James Joyce, the 20th-century Irish writer, I’d like to go with that subject. Students really could benefit from a more intimate association with this important author, but Joyce’s writing is notoriously difficult for students to wade through. I’d like to grant my class a privileged access through actually viewing Joyce scholars presenting on the author and his texts—and I have a perfect opportunity to do just that at the Joyce Symposium in Miami this December. I do have some AV experience, and with the purchase of a handheld digital camera (about $500) and a conference package (roughly $700) I would come back with a two-hour DVD of Joycean scholarship that should be both dynamic and eminently instructive. I think you’ll agree that this defines the term “cutting edge” in teaching, but let me know what you think.

Thinking outside the box,

George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/10/06 Wed AM 08:27:17 EDT
To: <>
Subject: summer fellowships

To Bob Winters, Office of Summer Support:

I’m writing to you well in advance of the Summer Support deadline because I’d like to fly by you a rather novel proposal: to save time by conducting my summer research this winter in Miami (where it always feels like summer). In my case, I have a conference on James Joyce to attend this December, and if I wait till next June, I’ll miss the boat, so to speak. If you’re able to bend the rules slightly and permit this grant (around $700 will do), I promise not to apply for any Summer Support the next year—or the next three years, if you like.


George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/10/11 Mon AM 09:18:13 EDT
To: <>
Subject: emergency relief

To Philip Thrope, Emergency Aid:

Normally I’m not the kind of individual who throws himself on the mercy of the university’s charity fund, but a sudden fire has absolutely gutted my house, and I NEED YOUR HELP NOW. I’m staying with a colleague of mine from the Modern Language department, but that’s only a short-term solution. Though I’ve put a down payment on a new place, the outlay has exhausted my funds, and in any event the place won’t be ready for occupancy until next year. And I have no place at all to stay during the December break. My tentative plans involve flying to Miami to stay with relatives, but this will cost me. Can you spare money from your relief fund for a tenure-track faculty member?


George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People


From: "George Mannerly" <>
Date: 2007/10/25 Mon AM 09:01:01 EDT
To: <>; <>
Subject: book and bake sale

To All Faculty and Students:

To raise money for a conference trip to Miami, I’ll be holding a book and bake sale this weekend outside my office in 211 Hallford Hall. There’ll be a tempting array of cakes, pies and cookies (including killer brownies and a lemon pudding cake based on a recipe from Jane Austen). I’ll also be selling select volumes from my personal library, most untouched since graduate school days. I hope you’ll be able to attend.

From “Chef” George Mannerly
Assistant Professor
Department of English
U of All People

David Galef
Author's email:

David Galef is a professor of English and administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest books are the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the co-edited fiction anthology 20 over 40.

The Professor's Ten Commandments, Thanks to Notorious B.I.G.

We're staring down the barrel of another academic year. Time for a refresher course in professional deportment -- by which I mean "The Ten Crack Commandments," by The Notorious B.I.G. All you professors starting out at new institutions (like me) will be getting orientation sessions to show you the academic ropes -- procedures on academic misconduct, FERPA guidelines, sexual harassment policies, etc., but you can save some time and just listen to hiphop. "The Ten Crack Commandments" only looks like it's about drug dealing. All hustles obey the same logic, so heed Biggie's words.

Rule nombre uno: Never let no one know how much dough you hold/Cause you know the cheddar breed jealousy. Especially worth remembering at academic meetings. People want to know what you've been up to, but not if you're doing better than they are. If you're a hotshot junior professor with one monograph coming out from Harvard and another under contract at Cambridge, along with 9 major articles and 14 essay-reviews and a teacher-of-the-year award, be cool about it. And don't go around bragging about how you've got the 10 best people locked down for your edited anthology of new scholarship on Aquitanian verse, because the 11th guy, the guy you didn't ask, will be waiting out by the dumpsters with a chair leg. Don't let it get drastic.

Number two: Never let 'em know your next move/Don't you know bad boys move in silence or violence. Or, as MF Doom says, never let your so-called mans know your plans. This applies especially to bloggers. Seriously, bloggers, always assume that everyone you know, and everyone you might want to know, will read your blog. It's easy to get suckered into the illusion that you're confiding your innermost thoughts with an anonymous Them you'll never actually meet. Nope, and when you confide stuff about yourself that you wouldn't announce from the lectern of a plenary session of the American Musicological Society, you could end up like Youngblood Priest from Superfly, who accidentally kills his best friend when he drops the name of his connection in a nightclub.

As Curtis Mayfield comments in the title song: "But a weakness was shown, 'cause his hustle was wrong/His mind was his own, but the man lived alone."

Or, to put it in less poetically, if you want your mind to be you own, or if you want to be master of your own destiny, you need to live alone, metaphorically speaking; don't confide, or a weakness will be shown, and your hustle will be wrong. A hard school, I know, but then....

Number three: Never trust nobody/Your Moms'll set that ass up, properly gassed up/Hoodie to mask up, shit, for that fast buck/she be layin' in the bushes to light that ass up. Well, not your Mom, necessarily -- Actually, I would amend this one to Black Thought's line, trust your fam, or trust nobody at all. But then, you never know, do you? You never see it coming. Those of you who have been working in academe for a while, you know what I'm talking about. Those of you who are freshly minted Ph.D.’s polishing the nameplate on your new office door (you took a picture of it with your cell phone, didn't you? admit it) are going to find out.

Number four: Know you heard this before, never get high on your own supply. Admittedly, a harder one to square with academic life. But think of it this way: when you are up in front of your students, you are not necessarily "being yourself." You have a persona, or several personae, that you adopt as a way to frame the meaning of the material you're teaching, and to impart a sense of your own relationship to that material. And this is also true of the larger academic community: Chant scholars don't come across like hip-hop scholars. But don't believe your own bullshit. Keep clear, if only in your own head, the distinction between who you are for professional purposes and who you are at home. Don't let academic faction get in the way of friendship, fun, or human values generally. Be a hustler, but don't hustle yourself. William S. Burroughs puts it another way. "Hustlers of the world, there is one mark you cannot beat: the mark inside."

For me, Biggie's commandments five and seven are really two sides of the same coin: Never sell no crack where you rest at and keep your family and business completely separated. I like to keep professional and personal stuff separate. Sure, we all work at home sometimes, but when you're off the clock, you're off the clock. Don't go ruining your daughter's fourth birthday party by sneaking out to answer department e-mails. Don't screw up a good dinner party by getting in a shouting match with the orthodox Schenkerian over the ontology of background structure. And you can be friendly with your students, sure, but don't forget the sexual harassment lecture they gave you on orientation day.

Number six: That goddamn credit, dead it/You think a crackhead payin' you back, shit, forget it. For "crackhead," think "student with a late paper." For "credit," think "extension."

Number eight: Never keep no weight on you/Them cats that squeeze your guns can hold jobs too. Let your TA do the grading. Actually, no, I kind of disagree. Don't turn your TA’s into a firewall between the students and yourself. When something goes wrong in a class, it is always your problem. If you're a leader, everything is your fault. You have to be cool with that. Still, when things get heavy -- like, when you have a serious case of plagiarism -- know when to call in the specialists. Don't try to fix everything in-house. The Office of the Dean of Students carries more weight than you do, and they know how to use it.

Number nine shoulda been number one to me: If you ain't gettin' bags stay the fuck from police. Don't snitch. Academic bloggers especially, don't talk about the inner workings of your department, and don't talk shit about your colleagues. This is why a lot of academic bloggers are anonymous, of course, but sooner or later you'll make a mistake and drop an incriminating detail, and your cover will be blown. See number 2, above.

Number ten: A strong word called consignment/Strictly for live men, not for freshmen/If you ain't got the clientele say hell no/Cause they gon' want they money rain sleet hail snow. Protect your time; don't bite off more than you can chew; learn to say No. The academic equivalent of the guys who want their money rain sleet hail snow is your tenure committee, and what they'll demand, with the same inflexible rigor as a Columbian drug cartel, is a good publication record.

There's probably a few other commandments that could profitably be drawn from hiphop lyrics. I invite you to suggest them.

Phil Ford
Author's email:

Phil Ford is starting a new job as assistant professor of musicology at Indiana University at Bloomington. This essay is adapted from one of his postings at the blog Dial “M” for Musicology.

Humanities Faculty For Hire!

I’m a little tired of hearing administrators claim that the low salaries of humanities faculty are a natural result of there being no competition for our services in the private sector. If that’s their sole argument for denying us fair wages, then I say we should make it work in our favor. According to their rationale, if we could simply prove that we are indeed desirable commodities beyond academia (as our colleagues in the business or law schools do), then we could also demand heftier salaries.

Well let’s finally set the record straight: We humanities folk actually do possess a number of highly marketable skills that have heretofore gone unnoticed and underappreciated by administrators, private-sector employers, and even ourselves. If we can successfully highlight these abilities more explicitly in our day to day working lives, our paychecks will soon inflate to reflect the true worth of our labors. Consider the following:

Lunchtime Banterer. Nobody I know in other colleges, in government labor, or within the corporate world, can match the wit, range, and profundity of the conversations that my colleagues and I put on display at the local taco shop each Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Our elaborate exchanges are dense with both literary and pop allusions; devastating put-downs; cleverly layered inside jokes; self-deprecating, self-reflexive asides; impromptu philosophical rants; withering caricatures of foolish colleagues; and even ironic deconstructions of the very food before us. Only 10-plus years of intensive liberal arts training could forge the formidable verbal skills on display during these mealtime conferences.

I wonder how many corporate managers or governmental bureaucrats would pay generously to have just one of us present to enliven awkward luncheons, spice up deadly boardroom meetings, or elevate the rhetoric at boring staff retreats? All of them, I’m guessing; they just haven’t known (until now) where to find us. Two hundred dollars an hour (or perhaps $10 per clever comment) seems a fair price for our conversational skills.

(Disclaimer to potential employers beyond academia: There is a vaguely cynical, leftist slant to much of our banter that may not match the spirit of many business settings, most fraternal clubs, and any gathering where people are easily offended by detailed diatribes against the myriad evils of the Bush administration and/or corporate America in general. As long as that’s clear, I think we can move ahead with whatever plans you have in mind.)

Organizer of Arcane Information. Because I had almost complete control of my schedule during graduate school (and was eager to find ways to procrastinate working on my dissertation), I was able to spend copious amounts of time tracking down, organizing, and cataloguing an immense music CD collection. The size of the lot was matched by its eclecticism: zydeco, blues, medieval chant, grunge, Americana, be-bop jazz, Norwegian folk, etc. In order to keep track of these discs, I was forced to create elaborate systems for arranging them according to date, artist, genre, relative social significance, jewel-case condition, good to bad song ratios, and on and on. While my wife may have occasionally questioned (with some acute shortsightedness!) the value of time spent creating the intricate charts, databases, and filing systems necessary for this job, I could sense at the time that I was developing useful skills of a highly marketable nature. In fact, I feel vindicated now when I see the reactions of new friends when I first show them the sum results of my improvisational, clerical genius. Indeed, they can only goggle in amazed silence at the color-coded reams of data that I have amassed.

Let me assure potential employers that these skills have not abandoned me in subsequent, busier years; I have since applied them to corralling the contents of my massive iTunes library, to the maintainance of an elaborately rotating podcast collection, and to the sorting and indexing of old copies of The New Yorker that I have every intention of reading once the current semester comes to an end. Imagine the way that my creative, free-wheeling—but almost obsessively detailed—organizational style could shake up the filing system of the average moribund office! I may have to figure out a clever way to catalogue the flood of offers from the private sector that will soon be coming my way.

Hyper-Confident, Knee-Jerk Critic of All Things High and Low. For a number of years my family and close circle of friends have benefited from my cutting-edge, almost encyclopedic knowledge of all that’s hip in popular film, television, music, and literature. Thanks to me, they have been able to refine gradually their cultural tastes as I have peppered them continually with suggestions of what to watch, listen to, and read. I’ve also been able to give them detailed analyses of why their former (and often incorrigibly persistent) viewing and reading habits were lame, embarrassing, or otherwise uncool. My students have also benefited from these authoritative recommendations, dutifully reading (with only the occasional murmur) the great books and films that I assign to them semester after semester. (Let me clarify that I mean “great” in a hip, cultural studies sense—not the stuffy “Great Books” tradition.)

While I don’t want to deal with the hassle of actually having to become a newspaper critic (writing all those columns would be a pain), I do think that media companies would benefit from hiring me as a sort of highly-paid, free-lance consultant or “super-critic.” This is how it might work: they could simply run movie ideas, book synopses, TV show concepts, etc, past me, and my lightning quick approvals or dismissals could save them millions in wasted development costs. If the authority of my opinion alone is not enough, I could back it up (for an additional fee, of course) with some vague references to Campbellian, Freudian, or even Lacanian, theory.

Information Obfuscator. From what I can gather from watching television, there is a great demand in the private sector for people who can mess with information so that the truth is obfuscated; apparently there are all kinds of highly paid spin doctors, book-cookers, double-speakers, and manipulative adsmen out there. I’m a little hesistant, for ethical reasons, of course, to offer my services in these fields, but if that’s what it takes to convince administrators that we humanities folk are indeed valuable commodities, then I am willing to make those compromises for the greater good of our profession.

In practice, my academic writing is devoted to discovering and communicating complex, and sometimes painful and unpopular, truths about American cultural history. But in theory (and if the price were right), some of my academic writing skills could be harnessed to a magnificent manipulation of whatever facts a company or organization may be eager to warp or hide.

One possible strategy would be for me to simply apply postmodern theoretical jargon to whatever information I am to spin. But I am afraid that this would do my corporate employers little good since that rhetoric is associated with longstanding culture wars and thus may raise the ideological hackles of most mainstream, conservative readers.

More effective would be a writing style that is employed by a great number of both traditional and postmodern scholars: an excruciatingly pedantic mode that features roundabout, redundant, and repetitive overexplanations again and again; a multitude of unnecessary parenthetical asides (that while impressive in their complexity, are ultimately just showy, and superfluous adding little additional information that is useful to the reader); a slavish citing of myriad other and often better written -- texts to add heft to an argument (Prescott and James give an excellent elaboration on this concept in The Academic Writer, chapter 19); and an officious, patronizing manner of diction that happens, somehow, to be simultaneously overwrought and dull.

This brand of writing would be ideal for all types of corporate or governmental documents in which you don’t want to technically lie, but that you hope will be so mind-numbingly dense and ponderous that no one will actually be able to read it all the way through (a press release about disappointing quarterly earnings, for example).

Marxist Turncoat. As long as I’m willing to put a price on my what I will write for the private sector, I might as well put my ideological and theoretical convictions up for sale as well. My particular graduate school training immersed me in a variety of Marxist theories that were designed to question and undermine the power of capitalist, corporate, and consumer cultures in peoples’ lives. For a healthy price, I would be willing to defect from this camp and bring with me valuable information that would help corporations do an even better job at manipulating consumers and opiating workers. For example, I could offer corporate seminars on the following topics:

“Coopting and Flattening Vibrant Ethnic Subcultures for Fun and Profit”

“Using Subversive Anti-Spectacles to make your Mainstream Spectacle even more mind-numbingly Spectacular”

“Brie and Baguettes for the Nouveau Riche Buffoons: Exploiting American Consumers’ Class Anxieties”

“iPods for the podpeople: Seven New Opiates for Highly Effective Media Capitalists”

There are lots more where those came from.

Some Conclusions (to be read only by my peers in the humanities): The nice thing about the strategy that I have outlined here is that none of us will ever have to actually do any of these jobs (other than a few sacrificial lambs, of course, whose showy departures from the academy will add some necessary bite to our threats). Our goal, as I’m sure you will agree, is not to actually leave the university for corporate or governmental jobs (let’s be honest, most of us would be hopeless in holding down a traditional 9 to 5 grind), but simply to give administrators the impression that we could leave and that if we did leave, we’d be earning a heck of a lot more than we are now.

So get out there and trumpet our unique and valuable skills. And let’s be stalwart in our efforts, for there will be some awkward moments ahead for example, having to say no to lucrative corporate jobs after executives spend a great deal of resources courting us, or being forced to play hard ball in financial negotiations with stubbornly resistant administrators. But the end results will be incredible: greater respect on campus and in our communities; healthier egos; fewer debilitating panic attacks, or chronic depression about immense student loan debt; and paychecks (potentially) in the upper five digits! Best of luck, comrades, er, I mean valued corporate citizens, in the months ahead.

Kerry Soper
Author's email:

Kerry D. Soper is an associate professor of humanities at Brigham Young University.

Conference Confidential

As academics eagerly scan the latest listings for conferences to attend, this season’s offerings promise a bumper crop of something for everyone: a chance to share one’s findings on missing commas in Madame Bovary at the Annual Meeting of the Flaubert Society of America, for example, present a paper on the vibrational frequencies of wind chimes at the High Energy Physics Colloquium in Berne, or just get the hell away from campus for a while.

For those of us at U. of All People, located in the depressed region of a state shaped like a bent potato, conferences present an opportunity to travel, to stay in a hotel room by oneself and enjoy a meal out that’s not at Taco Bell or Burger King. Of course, conferences are also occasions to exchange scholarly ideas and see far-flung colleagues we may have not slept with or even encountered for years. In short, we’re the same as academics everywhere. And here are some of our choices for the coming months:

January 4-5, 2008: Seventh Annual Conference on Cold Fusion in Salt Lake City, Utah. This year’s conference is titled “Harnessing the Power of Water in a Glass.” Sample topics include “Can Cold Fusion Solve Global Warming?” and “How to Procure a Grant without Straining Credibility.” Abstracts required; research highly suggested. Guest speaker: the Energy Czar.


January 19-20, 2008: Inaugural meeting of the Arnold Frisk Memorial Society, a group devoted to preserving the memory of this prolific but unjustly forgotten author ( The Question of Whom, Writhe and Shine, A Sonneteer’s Diary). The meeting will take place at the Smithlawn Sanatorium in Bearville, Minn., where Frisk ended his days, surrounded by 70 unfinished manuscripts.


February 1-?, 2008: Conference in Belize, subject yet to be determined, but what the hell, it’s Belize in the winter. Possible topics: something on pedagogy, maybe something in the humanities, or even better, the intersection of the humanities and the sciences because that brings in a lot more people.


February 14, 2008: History Is Bunk: the one-day convocation of the D.H.T.A., Disgruntled History Teachers of America. 120 Main Street; Centerville, Anystate, U.S.A. Half scholarly presentations, half gripe session, this gathering is for those brave souls in the front of the classroom tired of teaching deadheads what happened in 1812. New addition: spousal support group and Valentine’s Day Party in Room 420 of the Holiday Inn.


March 7-9, 2008: Esperanto (Sigh) Again. Overly optimistic linguists and language teachers of all persuasions gather in Tijuana to promote the hopeless cause of this doomed but eminently practical means of communication. Special guest speaker: an actor channeling the spirit of language reformer George Bernard Shaw.


April 3-5, 2008: Sudoku R Us: Mathematics and Pedagogy for the 21st Century. Takes place on the campus of S.I.T. (Slobovian Institute of Technology) in upstate New York. Three days of workshops, lectures, and pure darn fun! Difficulty level: easy. Door prize for best mathematical costume at the Puzzlers’ Ball.


May 1-3, 2008: Conference on Conferences. Takes place in a large upscale chain hotel in a major city. Papers may range from the art of scheduling events to the provocative topic “When Is a Session a Session and Not a Panel or a Forum?” Please indicate on entry form whether you’d like to be a moderator, a contributor, or that rarest of attendees, just an audience member.

David Galef
Author's email:

David Galef is a professor of English and former administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest books are the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the co-edited fiction anthology 20 over 40.

Time's Up -- Or Else!

Three things caught my eye this morning, each conveying a “time’s up!” warning. First, while savoring my first cup of morning coffee, I encountered a long article on the front page of the Chicago Tribune’s Metro section covering former Illinois Governor George Ryan’s long-delayed passage from freedom to prison. Convicted in a corruption scandal case involving the Republican’s seedy and illegal practice of selling drivers’ licenses to truckers in exchange for large under-the-table contributions while he was secretary of state, the unrepentant Ryan lost his last chance to remain on bail when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend his freedom pending his appeal. Vying for my attention was a Trib front page story about federal interest in possible wrongdoing by the allies of Democratic Mayor-for-Life, Richard M. Daley, who allegedly have been pressuring landowners in the mayor’s home base of Bridgeport to sell to developers who, as it turns out unsurprisingly, are friends of the mayor. These alleged, shadowy practices are, thanks to intrepid investigative reporters and the feds, finally out in the light.

Upon finishing my coffee and retreating to my computer, I had my personal “time’s up!” moment when I encountered the last item in my e-mail: “Final Notice.” The sender was the University of Illinois Ethics Officer and its subject was the “Mandatory Ethics Training for Eric Arnesen.” The moment I had been dreading, when I gave it any thought at all, had arrived at last.

In my own defense, let me state clearly that I was not yet in trouble, for the deadline for completing this year’s “annual ethics training” was still a week away. However, officials for a state that regularly turns a blind eye toward corruption in the office of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich are intent upon making the rest of us know the rules. (The latest revelations concern the large commission collected by the governor’s wife, a real estate agent, for a condo sale transaction on behalf of an Illinois businessman and campaign contributor; the purchaser was a “tollway lobbyist and a longtime Blagojevich insider," according to press reports. As it turns out, the condo seller received a $2 million no-bid contract -- subsequently increased to $2.5 million -- the day before the closing; since then he has received two additional no-bid contracts.)

But I digress. If I were to go off on a tangent for every city and state corruption investigation, well, I’d never get to the part about my ethics tutorial.

The clock is ticking. I have until 11:59 p.m. on November 14 to complete my online training ... or else. The “or else” consists of reporting my name to the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor. And then what? Penalties could include “a hearing before the Ethics Commission and/or the assessment of fines up to $5,000.” For professors at a perennially underfunded public research university where parking fee increases often exceed salary raises, five grand is not something at which to scoff. And if that threat didn’t catch my attention, the rest of the sentence did: Employees failing to “complete their online ethics training during the designated window will be subject to disciplinary action by the university.” Ouch. Granted, it’s not Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, but the very idea of being drawn into the university’s bureaucracy is frightening to faculty members accustomed to being ignored and left alone.

So I can’t put it off any longer. I log on to take my mandatory “interactive” “Web-based training course.”

First things first: After accessing the program, I am invited to create a new password of between 4 and 10 alphanumeric characters. I mistakenly enter an 11 character password -- “wasteoftime” -- but happily the program recognizes neither my sarcasm nor my counting error. I’m in. Up and running.

I must now pace myself. Can’t go too fast, for my “training actions and time may be monitored”! If I complete the program too quickly, then some unseen force may yank my “Certificate of Completion” and require me to pursue an unspecified alternative route to satisfying my ethics obligation. (Seriously – a colleague of mine was penalized last year for taking and passing the on-line test too quickly! Never mind that he got the right answers and demonstrated his knowledge of our ethics obligations. He was too fast – and essentially got pulled over and ticketed by the ethics police for exceeding the speed limit.)

We begin with the “why an ethics tutorial” issue via a multiple choice question:

The State of Illinois makes me take this annual ethics training because:

  • a) Ethical conduct is required of me as a state employee.
  • b) It is required of me by the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.
  • c) Carrying out our responsibilities as state employees in an ethical manner helps to maintain the public’s trust in our state government.
  • d) All of the above.

If you guessed “d,” congratulations and move on. Now that I know that I’m doing my part to maintain the public’s trust in state government, I feel better. But other reasons, we are informed, include helping state employees “avoid inadvertently violating the law,” reminding us “that the state does not approve of ethics violations.” Given the track record of city, county, and state officials ... keeping a straight face is harder than I had expected.

So: What’s unethical? The tutorial, once we get past large quantities of material on the legislative history and administrative functioning of ethics legislation and the operation and powers of the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor (OEIG), which works with the Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) and the Office of the Attorney General, finally gets down to this.

First, the long list of prohibitions. Can’t engage in “prohibited political activities” -- that is, can’t use “state work time, property, or resources” to campaign for political candidates or on behalf of political referenda (no fund raising, petitioning, or polling; no campaign leaflets on office doors, no selling tickets to the governor’s gala ball); can’t treat state job applications differently “on the basis of the applicants’ political affiliation” (tell that to the U.S. Justice Department and just about every state, county, and municipal hiring department in Illinois -- we’ve got a long history here in the Land of Lincoln!); can’t retaliate against subordinates who turn us in for ethics violations; can’t accept most gifts from lobbyists or business entities regulated by or doing business with the state; can’t place our interests or those of friends, relatives, or business associates “above those of the college or university of the state”; can’t work on that second job (could this be an indirect acknowledgement of low state salaries? Probably not....) on university work time; can’t hire our relatives based on our “relationship with them”; you get the idea. I don’t think I needed an interactive online tutorial to learn these straightforward rules. So a hint to state ethics folks: Go low tech. It might be more useful to print these banned activities on a bookmark we can carry around with us. It would be much cheaper than a Web-based program and probably more effective to boot.

Second, the shorter “must-do” list. If contacted by the ethics investigators, “participate” in the requested interview, be truthful in your testimony, and respect the confidentiality of the investigation (no First Amendment issues in the workplace, alas); and comply with mandatory work time reporting rules by accurately and periodically reporting our work time “to the nearest quarter hour.”

Seems pretty clear cut, no? In the examples offered to help us understand right from wrong, we find no grey areas. In one case study, we are told of a “multi-year scheme by a state employee who misappropriated more than $100,000 in public assistance funds” by falsifying documents “seeking reimbursement from the state for transportation services supposedly provided to the state by the employee’s spouse” (who, as it turns out, didn’t provide those services) and then “shredded much of the evidence supporting the scheme.” In another example, we learn about a state agency claims representative who “assisted others in processing hundreds of fraudulent claim applications” through “mail fraud.”

Now I happen to be one of the few Americans who does not watch "Law and Order," even on the treadmill at my local YMCA. But I don’t need an interactive ethics program to tell me that misappropriating money, falsifying and shredding documents, hiring a spouse who does not deliver contracted services, or processing fraudulent claims applications are either ethics violations or felonies. Would I be wrong or naïve to suspect that the perpetrators of these schemes would not have been dissuaded from undertaking their scams by knowing that theft, falsification, destruction of evidence, and the like are not ethical? If then Secretary of State Ryan and his cronies had taken our online interactive tutorial, would they have hesitated before accepting “bribes for between 1,000 and 2,000 trucker’s licenses,” in the Tribune’s words, resulting in at least nine highway deaths?

I can imagine an alternative “dialogue” example between Larry and Susan -- the two fictional employees who engage in didactic conversation in our on-line tutorial -- helping us to navigate what the ethics exam writers see as murky ethical waters:

Larry: This is great. I’m siphoning off tens of thousands of state dollars by submitting false patient claims and phony invoices. That should help cover the costs of my new Michigan cabin. Maybe I should hire a relative for a no-work job too.

Susan: Before you start those back woods renovations, Larry, you should know that misappropriating state money by lying, cheating, and stealing is not ethical.

Larry: It’s not? Well, what if I just shred the evidence? They’ll never catch me and I can fish to my heart’s content on long weekends made longer by submitting falsified time sheets.

Susan: I’m afraid that too is unethical.

Larry: I hadn’t thought of that. But what’s to stop me from going ahead and violating state ethics rules anyway?

Susan: More bad news, Larry. Under the ethics law, I have an affirmative obligation to turn you in.

Larry: But, but, but (sputtering)…. I will get back at you for doing this, Susan. You’ll rue the day you ever called me unethical.

Susan: Good news for me, bad news for you, Larry. I will “confidentially” report you and besides, there’s nothing you can do to punish me. You can’t retaliate from your supervisory position over me. If you do, you can be disciplined and I can go to court to seek unspecified monetary damages.

Larry: I guess you’re right. I just didn’t know the rules. Now that I do, I won’t submit those false claims, invoices, and time sheets, and I won’t retaliate against you either. Thanks for caring enough to share this valuable ethics information with me!

Susan: Think nothing of it, Larry. Just doing my ethical duty.

This imaginary dialogue raises new issue. As state employees, the tutorial informs us, we “have a duty to report violations of laws, rules, or regulations.” How? There is one toll-free hotline for “non-emergency” violations, another for “emergency” situations, including “illegal weapons” possession, “bodily injury,” or “criminal sexual assault.” Now, when I think about “illegal weapons” usage or “criminal sexual assault,” the phrase “potential ethics violation” is not the first one to cross my mind, even after the “911” and “help!” do.

Perhaps, however, I -- and my colleagues -- have genuine reasons to worry. In a multiple choice “Self Check” in the tutorial, we learn that “time reporting is mandatory under the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.” Under the “Reminder of Key Laws, Rules, and Policies -- Personnel and Other Policies” section, we are further informed that as state employees, we are “expected to document the time that you work for the college or university accurately and on a timely basis.” Indeed, “time sheets must be submitted by each employee periodically and must document the time spent each day on official state (university or college) business to the nearest quarter hour.” Now I know for a fact that many -- perhaps all? -- of my faculty colleagues in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences do no such thing.

So there it is: A massive, universal ethics violation by my institution’s faculty. And here I am with a dilemma. Do I abide by the obligation to rat them out (rules against self-incrimination would allow me to exempt myself from my charges, right?) or do I violate the state’s ethics code by looking the other way? Imagine -- hundreds and hundreds of hearings and disciplinary actions, potentially resulting in widespread dismissals. Perhaps my colleagues would be replaced by a more ethical faculty, perhaps not. At least I do not need to live in fear of retaliation, since no one will know it was I who turned them in. And if they did, I can always seek disciplinary action and damages against those who strike back!

An alternative suggests itself. Perhaps the time reporting requirement to-the-nearest-quarter-hour doesn’t actually apply to faculty. It’s hard to imagine that the ethics czars don’t know what rules apply to which employees. But they state, categorically, that “time reporting” is required of all university employees and that time sheets must be submitted by “each employee” – no exceptions listed – to the “nearest quarter hour” – again, no exceptions listed. So I arrive at two possible conclusions: Either a) the tutorial is a poorly designed response to a poorly thought-out ethics requirement or b) it’s a secret plot to strip faculty of control over their time by falsely declaring that we are subject to specific rules that, in reality, do not apply to us.

Now, I am in no position to know whether “a” or “b” is the correct answer, since the question wasn’t on the “self-check” portion of the tutorial. Both, it seems to me, would be ethics violations. In the case of “a,” it is a misuse of state funds to produce a shoddy tutorial that wastes vast quantities of employees’ time and state dollars since, at a minimum, the public’s trust would be diminished if knowledge of this tutorial was revealed. In the case of “b” -- well, anything to strip faculty of control, under whatever pretense, is self evidently unethical. Whatever the case, I do know that I have an affirmative obligation under the law to report what I believe to be an ethics violation.

Having received my “Certificate of Completion” from the OEIG, I must know my stuff. I guess I’m obligated to pick up the phone to call my university’s ethics office to report potential violations ... by that very office.

At least I’m safe from retaliation. After all, the State of Illinois does not approve of ethics violations.

Eric Arnesen
Author's email:

Eric Arnesen, who successfully completed the on-line ethics tutorial again this year, is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A Guide for Consumers of Theology

Our recent annual “America’s Best Churches” issue drew more than the usual deluge of reader and parishioner complaints. Hence it behooves me as editor of U.S. News & World Report to again offer a public explanation of our much-misunderstood church rankings methodology.

In thanking those who took the time to write, I would remind all in the community of believers that our rankings are intended as a public service to aid spiritual consumers in making one of life’s highest-impact personal choices. We claim no infallibility in our rankings. We strive to provide accurate, user-friendly data to allow seekers of quality worship to do their homework and grasp truth with full confidence that they are comparing apples to apples. Yes, we visibly spread the word about the handiness of our shopper’s tool, but we can’t be held responsible if certain churches choose, for example, to display, as a recruiting come-on, their U.S. News ranking on a banner atop their steeple.

We reject the assertion that church reputations are made or broken based on tables published once a year in our magazine. Nor do we find any signs that “America’s Best Churches” encourages a “one-size-fits-all” path to the mountaintop. Frankly, any American who would build an entire cosmological belief system on a two-or-three-point rise in a church’s year-to-year U.S. News ranking should probably stop, take a deep breath and meditate a bit on values, personal style, and the theistic limits of magazine journalism.

As proof of our good faith, we have always been willing to consider critiques of our research metrics and make warranted adjustments in our process for arriving at the rankings. That is why we have urged restraint upon those outspoken theologians who in recent months have been encouraging church ministers to boycott our informational surveys: A boycott will only make it more difficult for our researchers to compile a full portrait of America’s religious marketplace and present all good-faith competitors on a level laying field.

Neither our openness to methodological challenges nor our efforts to keep our influence in perspective, however, should be taken as a sign that houses of worship shouldn’t continue to seek ways to improve. Indeed, many of our reader complaints stem from feelings among congregants that our surveys failed to capture such measurable steps forward as energy-efficient stained-glass windows, form-fitting cushioned pews, and imported communion wine.

Some critics charge that our emphasis on counting average Sunday service attendance unfairly favors urban congregations over rural ones. But in recent years we have refined the formula for balancing the actual turnout with the local population’s potential. And we’ve enhanced accuracy by verifying the numbers reported by church secretaries with spot-checking through on-site visits by independent observers.

As “America’s Best Churches” has evolved over the past decade, we have adopted recommendations from our “loving critics” that we loosen some of the criteria that give higher rankings to the more doctrinaire denominations. We trust that this year’s methodology no longer penalizes parishes that favor folk masses or Christian rock over traditional organ music.

Our much-maligned “enforcement of dogma” measurement, which detractors complain is biased against Unitarians and favors Catholics and evangelicals, continues to prompt soul-searching among our nonsectarian team of clerical advisers. Suggestions for further improvements are welcome.

Matters of faith are -- don’t we know it -- highly subjective. The only dogma we maintain at U.S. News is a staffwide conviction that theology consumers who’re feeling their way to divinity should not be left to approach the deity without an up-to-date and well-packaged scorecard.

One admittedly self-interested point: It is true that “America’s Best Churches” has become one of our brand name’s top publishing successes. But as a private corporation, we don’t consider that a reason to do penance. We are hard at work on the first edition of “America’s Best Mosques and Temples.” We think you’ll find it enlightening.

Charlie Clark
Author's email:

Charlie Clark is senior editor and director of press relations at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Academic Advising by a Bot

Recently, while doing some Internet research on the curriculum of programs that might compete with ours, I found myself on a Web site that refers prospective students to a variety of online degree programs. I won’t use its real name here, and will instead call it COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM, but you’ve probably seen the services of entities like this when you use search engines. Since this was not what I was looking for, I closed the browser window, only to be offered the chance to chat about my educational and professional goals with a “live agent:” “Wait! A live agent is here to assist you with any questions you might have about online universities.” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for free advice. Here is the full transcript of that conversation with the purportedly live agent, the epicene-named Morgan:

Morgan: Hey wait! We hate to see you leave! It only takes a minute to fill out our simple form, and you'll receive information about degree programs designed to meet your needs as a working adult. CLICK HERE to return.

Morgan: Just type 'HI' or 'Hello' in the space below to let me know you are there.

Me: Hi Morgan. I'm hoping you can help me.

Morgan: Hi, thanks for chatting with me.... to return to COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM, just CLICK HERE.

Morgan: E-learning is driven by student-centered learning-so you get to decide how you work best.

Me: Do you have those degrees where you just pay your money and get your Ph.D.?

Morgan: Maybe you want to study at the same time each day for a set time. Maybe you need the support of other students via online forums and e-mail.

Me: That's not exactly what I asked.

Me: What programs can I do online?

Morgan: We have the following major categories of degree available: Business, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Teaching, Engineering, Graphic Design, Healthcare, Hospitality Management, Legal/Paralegal, Liberal Arts, Nursing, Religious Studies, Science and Math, Technology.

Me: Culinary Arts? How do you teach cooking online?

Morgan: Earn your degree while you work. Distance learning is tailor made for busy working adult [sic]. You can now study on your own time, at your own pace, and out of the convenience of your own home.

Me: What e-learning platforms do you use?

Morgan: If you want a career in the culinary world, a formal education is the ideal way to get started. CLICK HERE to see all Culinary Degrees.

Me: Is there a hands-on component to the culinary arts degree?

Me: Morgan?

Me: Hello?

Morgan: With technology and current events constantly changing, college textbooks become quickly outdated. Online education has the advantage -- it's constantly on the cutting edge. For students and teachers alike, the Internet is their resource.

Me: I have a lot of questions--please try to keep up.

Morgan: Can I provide you with a link back to COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM?

Morgan: This whole process is quick and easy to get going, so why not start right now?

Morgan: Discover the best way to pay for your online education. Our search service will find the schools that fit your needs.

Me: No, I have specific programmatic questions that you're not addressing.

Me: Can I just give you some money and you'll give me a degree?

Morgan: I'll try my best to answer your question. If the question is regarding a specific degree program or school, please fill out a short form for that school.

Me: Also, what religions are covered in religious studies?

Morgan: Remember if you looking to advance your education and jump-start your career then let us give you FREE college information! CLICK HERE to return.

Me: Can I become a minister?

Morgan: A religious studies degree program, whatever its focus, has the purpose of intellectually challenging its students -- of guiding you in the study of the diverse tenets and traditions of faith around the globe. As the world grows, so does the need and opportunity for the study of religion. CLICK HERE to see all Religious Studies Degrees.

Me: This has been illuminating--I hope the faculty is as well informed.

Me: Thank you for all your help.

Morgan: The process is short, simple, and free, and an enrollment advisor from the school will be better able to answer your specific questions and find the perfect degree program for you. CLICK HERE to get started or ask away.

Morgan: You're very welcome :)

Me: I feel I have the tools to take the next step in my educational journey.

Morgan: Or maybe you find you can really express yourself using chat boards and instant messaging, whereas you were too shy to speak up in a classroom.

Me: You're a great counselor -- can I hire you away from your job?

Morgan: With technology and current events constantly changing, college textbooks become quickly outdated.

Morgan: No this is not a scam. We have helped out many people in the past, let us help you out!

Me: Clearly.

Morgan: Online education has the advantage -- it's constantly on the cutting edge. For students and teachers alike, the Internet is their resource.

Morgan: Simply CLICK HERE to get started!

I decided to share this transcript because it would be perfect for this time of year as we wade through piles of papers to grade. But I leave more troubled than amused. In our online world, how many prospective students are reassured, comforted or directed by Morgan’s college advising?

Jonathan Deutsch
Author's email:

Jonathan Deutsch is assistant professor of tourism and hospitality at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York.

The Zen of Fenton

At U of All People, Dr. Henry Fenton rose from humble instructor to professor of sociology, then to dean of liberal arts and finally to assistant provost, before retiring. Somewhere in the late '80s, he converted to Buddhism, noting that all higher education was an illusion. His style of administration exuded great calm and judgment and was admired by all except the faculty, the staff and the students. A cardboard plaque outside his former office, paid for by anonymous sources, reads “Zen and Now.”

Many on campus who knew the doctor cherish a signal event that touched them, such as the Writing of the Great Memo, which stretched from 1995 to 1999, or the Task Force of Enlightenment, which concluded that all the issues on its agenda would take ten thousand lifetimes to fix. Others recall the doctor’s dung-colored robe that was given to him by a visiting dean from Tibet, or the "Out" box on Fenton’s desk marked “satori” that was always, miraculously, empty. “Existence is suffering,” he would often intone, “but at least we’re better off than at a state university.” Even those who didn’t care for Dr. Fenton’s ways believe that he raised the art of administration to such heights, it appeared as if he were doing nothing at all.

Once, when inaugurating the construction of a new parking lot by symbolically wielding the first shovelful of dirt, he was asked by a lowly assistant professor, “Tell me, Dr. Fenton, how do you know where to start?”

The doctor scratched his head, looked into the middle distance, and smiled. “Any place where more parking is created will be welcome,” he replied. And with that, he heaved a clod of dirt into the assistant professor’s open briefcase. The assistant professor did not receive tenure, but the parking lot, now named the Henry Fenton Lot of Plenty, is revered by all who park there.

The following are some of Dr. Fenton’s more famous administrative maxims:

What is the sound of a committee with no one serving on it?

Start a study before there’s anything to look at.

Email circles endlessly in the ether.

Tenure cannot outlast death.

Before a meeting of the minds, one must have many prior meetings.

Every spring, the students return to Cancun.

Listen for the session inside the intersession: it is the sound of money.

While the faculty sleep, the pink butterfly wins the grant.

All budgets are an illusion.

To administer from home: this is contentment.

If we do not give ourselves raises, who will?

Walking along the path of rightness, here comes the provost.

Every graduation, the quad needs re-sodding.

The building of buildings acquires greater merit than the increase of faculty salaries.

Graduation is the beginning of all fund raising.

New curricula, new problems.

We are all disciples of the chancellor.

Academic scandals pass, and new ones take their place.

The wisdom of Miyazaki-sensei is useless unless he publishes his research.

Dean Ueda finally hung up on the irate alumna. The silence filled his office like a balm of nectar.

The Dean of Student Affairs is not what you think.

One foot in administration is two feet inside.

The art of saying no also involves saying yes and maybe.

The university is a universe unless it loses its accreditation.

Even a large donation cannot buy happiness. It can, however, purchase a new athletic facility.

David Galef
Author's email:

David Galef is a professor of English and former administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest books are the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the co-edited fiction anthology 20 over 40.

Learning From Cats

Academic squabbles are often compared to cat fights, but as one who has owned cats for several decades, I’ve come to believe that such analogies are unfair to felines. Cats, for instance, instinctively know to terminate a chase when they would consume more calories than their prey would provide. And even the pugilist tabbies I’ve owned eventually learned to give wide berth to rivals who consistently bloodied them. All of this suggests that cats may be more evolutionarily advanced than a lot of academics. In the spirit of all those What I Learned from My Cat books now moldering on remainder shelves, here are eight academic debates left over from last year that aren’t worth the calories, let along the anguish.

1. What Do We Do About Poorly Prepared Incoming Students? How about teach them? It seems like I’ve been hearing the same tape loop since I was 18 and was told my generation was ignoramus-ridden because it had no training in Latin. Let’s just admit that each generation comes to the table with different skill sets and move on. This is the ultimate lost chase. What students ought to know is irrelevant when faced with a classroom of those who don’t know it.

2. The Great Books versus Multicultural Readings: This is another tired horse ready for pasturage. We’ve been fighting over the canon for so long that it has escaped the debaters’ notice that the passion for books has fallen from fashion. I, for one, am grateful when students read anything and get excited. If they want to declare Neil Gaiman graphic novels part of the canon, that’s fine with me if it helps us talk about myth, archetypes, and culture.

3. Should the Academy Operate According to a Consumer Model? If you answered “no,” prepare to be boarded; your ship has been vanquished. The high price tag of higher ed makes it a market-place commodity and it’s as naïve to assert that a college education is its own reward as to believe that the Olympics are a still bastion of amateurism. Whether we like it or not, kids shop for courses just like they hit the mall. Profs and departments can assume the crusty purist’s demeanor, or they can start making course offerings jazzier and sexier. The latter path leads to the vitality, the first to extinction. If you don’t believe it, ask a classicist or a labor historian.

4. Why Should Faculty Be Forced to Be Tech-Savvy? Because it’s the 21st century, we’re educators, and we need to communicate with students. Every campus has a few cranks who wear electronic illiteracy as a badge of honor. They walk about in crumpled garb, wax eloquent about the glories of their old Olivetti, and brag they don’t use e-mail. The rest of us tolerate them as if they were an eccentric aunt, and defend them when students grouse about them. Here’s a better idea: Give students the e-mail addresses of the department chair and the academic dean. Just in case they wish to register their complaints.

5. Should Colleges Be Required to Dip Deeper into Endowment Funds? Yes, but this debate is really not worth having as the future is clear: Either everyone will follow the preemptive lead of those well-endowed schools that have begun spending a higher percentage of their endowment, or Congress will act and impose the same 5 percent standard with which foundations must comply.

6. How Can We Improve Our 'U.S. News & World Report' Rating? Unless you’re a member of an embattled admissions department, who cares? The battle worth fighting would be a campaign to put all such Miss Congeniality-modeled guides out of business. I’d happily don armor for a federated effort to do that.

7. Are Campus Conservatives the Victim of Discrimination? Does anyone have any spare crocodile tears for the group that pretty much runs the country? What a silly debate. There’s a difference between being a minority and being a victim, just as there’s a difference between free speech and the guarantee that others will agree with you. When stripped to its basics the brief is that neo-cons feel uncomfortable in places like Amherst, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Madison. Well, duh! That’s like a vegetarian complaining about the menu at a Ponderosa Steakhouse. Oddly enough, one seldom hears pleas for more feminists at faith-based institutions, pacifists at military academies, or evolutionary scientists on the Mike Huckabee campaign staff.

8. Ward Churchill or David Horowitz? Neither please! If nothing else, can we resolve that in 2008 we will uphold the principle that propaganda of any sort has no place in the college classroom? That would also solve the conservative complaint above. Best of all, it would relegate the boorish Churchill and Horowitz to the obscurity they have so richly earned.

Everyone altogether now: Meow!

Rob Weir
Author's email:

Rob Weir is the author or editor of five books. He recently gave up a senior faculty position to pursue part-time teaching, involvement with professional organizations, and freelance journalism.

A Call for Professional Attire

In his Journals, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. noted a hotel’s faded elegance: “[T]he lobby is filled with tieless men wearing double-knit trousers.”

Tielessness: a bad sign everywhere.

Professors, it's been said, are the worst-dressed middle-class occupational group in America. Instead of being role models, we’ve convinced everyone to slum. As clothing theorist Nicholas Antongiavanni explains in The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style, “[M]any came to believe the protestation of academics that taste was nothing but a fraud perpetrated by the great to keep down the people.

It was not always so. In the academic golden age, outliers who refused to follow high standards were viewed with disdain. Edward Larson describes a law professor who, after being fired, represented Scopes in the 1925 monkey trial. John Randolph Neal could walk into a faculty lounge today and, without having evolved a bit, fit right in:

Neal never spent much time on campus -- often arriving late, if at all, for class, devoting class time to rambling lectures about current political issues rather than to the course subject matter, and giving all his law students a grade of 95 without reading their exams. The dean also complained about Neal’s “slovenly” dress, which later deteriorated into complete disregard for personal appearance and cleanliness.

At the trial, “[u]nwashed and unshaven as usual, [Neal] lectured the court in a manner reminiscent of his chaotic teaching style.”

During Paul Fussell’s teaching career, “practically compulsory was the daily get-up of gray flannel trousers and tweed jacket, often, of course, with leather elbow patches, suggestive at once of two honorable conditions: poverty and learning," according to Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear. When tweed was no longer boss, however, scruffiness became the standard. At Tom Wolfe’s Dupont University, “the current fashion among male professors ... was scrupulously improper cheap-looking shirts, open at the throat, ... and cotton pants with no creases -- jeans, khakis, corduroys -- to distinguish themselves from the mob, which is to say, the middle class.”

If we’re going to have a dress code anyway, we should be able to do better than “scrupulously improper.” I therefore propose a Uniform Uniform Code (a lawyers joke -- sorry) for professors. My effort to change clothes might not be fully successful, but there’s hope. As Michael Bérubé says, “[D]ressing fashionably in academia is like clearing the four-foot high jump. The bar is not that high.”

I. The Childlike Professoriate

Why the dress problem? Professors might be grown-ups chronologically, but, if you’ve attended faculty meetings, you know we haven’t gotten the behavior patterns right. Joseph Epstein writes:

One of the divisions of the contemporary world is between those who are prepared to dress (roughly) their age and those who see clothes as a means to fight off age.... I know of associate deans who never wear neckties. Others -- balding, paunchy, droopy-lidded -- have not had a fabric other than denim touch their hindquarters for decades. They, poor dears, believe they are staying young.

Roger Kimball adds, “There is something about the combination of denim and tenure that is inherently preposterous.”

Trying to look like students is partly self-denial, but scruffily dressed faculty also have highfalutin goals. Some sartorial underachievement is aimed at furthering a "nurturing" atmosphere. The classroom setting should be non-confrontational, it’s argued, with professors and students hangin’ out as buddies.

But it doesn’t work, except perhaps for sexual poaching. Radical economist Bob Lamb discovered “that if I buy my suits at Brooks Brothers and look like a banker, it is much easier to get Harvard students to believe what I am telling them.” Bonding is nice only if you don’t expect intellectual activity.

Dress once represented a quest for excellence, not leveling, as Donald Kagan noted in a paean to Joltin’ Joe:

[H]is day was not ours. America was a democracy, but of a different kind. Its people were more respectful of excellence, both of matter and manner . . . . People wanted to behave according to a higher and better code because they believed that in doing so they would themselves become better, worthier, “classier.” Those who are too young to remember should look at the movies and photographs of games at Yankee Stadium in DiMaggio’s day. The men wore white shirts and ties under coats and hats, the proper attire in public, even at a ball game.

Russell Baker thinks the shift to shiftlessness occurred in the 1960s:

People [then] had so much money that they could afford to look poor. Men quit wearing fedoras and three-piece suits to Yankee Stadium and affected a hobo chic -- all whiskers and no creases. Women quit buying hats and high-heeled shoes and started swearing like Marine sergeants.

People generally act better when they’re dressed right. If a professor is sending a signal of seriousness, of civility, students will pick it up. I defer to no one in admiring the Marines, but the world is not a better place when everyone is swearing like a Marine sergeant and dressing in hobo chic.

II. The Code

Here’s a draft Uniform Uniform Code:

Faculty members shall, when on college grounds or on college business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.

That’s it. Brevity works. Unlike good clothing, a statute can’t cover everything.

Anyway, this is just a draft: Maybe your mother is better than mine for this purpose; the phrase “my mother” probably doesn’t work for a statute of general application; perhaps the key age for mothers should be 70 (80?). Whatever figure is used, it will have to be adjusted periodically to capture changes (downward) in mothers’ (other than my mother’s) standards.

So change what you wish, and then interpret the UUC reasonably. When in doubt about appropriate dress, check what people used to wear: it’s usually safe, as Arthur Benson noted, to dress in the “style-before-last.” For men, Fussell’s default rule works: “You can’t go wrong with the classic navy blue blazer and khakis.”

Sanctions for violators? I guess not. I’d like to take ‘em to the cleaners, but you’d wind up with idiots charging breaches of academic freedom. At a minimum, however, violators ought to be dressed down in public for dressing down in public.

III. The Tie

Are ties that important?

For men, yes. The tie is important because it’s always been important; its importance makes it important. You don’t change norms without good reasons for doing so.

Ties show seriousness -- respect for the subject, the students, and oneself (whether or not you really respect any of them). Fussell says ties “serve no purpose except vanity,” but striking a blow for civilization is a good purpose.

IV. Conceptual Difficulties

Skeptics of my project -- all poorly dressed -- see this as hopeless. I’ll deal with a few criticisms.

A. Geography

How, skeptics say, can I draft a uniform uniform code? Isn’t it inevitable that appropriate dress for the fruited plains will be different from that for the purple mountains?

Of course. When Florida professors teach in Maine, their dress should meet Maine standards and vice-versa.

That doesn’t mean anything goes. A flannel suit might not work in Florida in August, but shorts and sandals don’t therefore become de rigeur. Moms know how to dress in Maine and Florida and so should you.

B. The Sex Question

We have a sense of appropriate menswear -- Jeffrey Hart wrote that “any male professor who comes to class without a jacket and tie should be regarded with extreme prejudice unless he has won a Nobel Prize”” -- but this isn’t a males-only profession anymore. Who’s to say how the Hart principle should apply to women?

Me. The rule that applies is the feminine equivalent of the standard for men. Ask female associates at one of the Wall Street firms that haven’t succumbed to perpetual casual day whether there’s uncertainty about appropriate dress. They might not like it, but they know what to wear.

Are pants acceptable? Of course, in the right climate at the right time. Color of suit? It depends on what you’re doing. Ask your mother.

Besides, women profs have a style-guide, Emily Toth’s Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia. Some of Ms. Mentor’s more important standards are

1. Avoid poufy sleeves.
2. Dress frumpily.
3. Act like an old fart.

All good advice, and about all you need to know.

C. Outside Class

Maybe it should matter that a professor will not be teaching on a particular day. I’ll take this issue -- is class reserved for class -- under advisement, but the guiding consideration is: You’re a professional; dress accordingly. (I’m certainly willing to grant exemptions for anthropologists in the rain forest and sociologists going undercover.)

D. The Dissidents and the Tasteless

Skeptics note that some folks will flout any rules. If coat and tie are required, dissidents will break the code’s spirit by wearing CAT with shorts and sandals. You know who you are, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

And some will observe the letter of rules but with taste (or mother’s taste) that is unbelievably bad. Is any tie good enough? What about an iridescent green suit that whispers Chernobyl? Or suppose otherwise acceptable attire is covered with food that the academic, focused on the world’s intellectual work, is oblivious to. Rules are rules, but in enforcing them we should be sensitive to the feelings of those who are severely disturbed.

V. Political Over- and Undertones

Oh, I hear you say: Here’s another political reactionary (true enough) trying to impose his views on nonbelievers.

Well, others have a sense of propriety too. Ralph Nader dresses conservatively. The Green Party convention may have been a gathering of the Birkenstock brigades, but you almost never see Nader out of his gray suit, white shirt, and tie. Nader wants to be taken seriously, and so should you.
There is a political component to this. Jay Parini defends F.R. Leavis, who “made a name for himself by refusing to wear a tie at Cambridge.”

Leavis meant to appear intellectually isolated, but he was also advertising his leftism. That was desirable, says Parini, because “[t]eaching is, after all, a performance art.” Students find clues to “our attitudes toward the world, even our politics, in the styles we assume.... It pays to think of clothing as a rhetorical choice, and to dress accordingly.”

The rhetorical choice is why professors should dress in boringly similar, tasteful ways. By following the UUC, we limit the extent to which students speculate about us rather than study. Parini might want students pondering his politics -- an easy task -- but I don’t want mine ponderously pondering mine.

Does any of this matter? Richard Posner, who can hide suspect attire under judicial robes, ridicules Jacques Barzun, who had written that “[t]o appear unkempt, undressed, and for perfection unwashed, is the key signature of the whole age”: “This is absurd, and not only because Americans, however casually they dress, remain fanatical about hygiene. It is absurd in its insistence that every change in culture, even so mutable an aspect of culture as the dress code, is fraught with menace.”

And, Posner wonders, a decline from what?

[M]ost declinists at least specify a benchmark. But it is difficult even to identify the golden age of formal dress. . . . Are coat and tie formality enough? Or must the soft collar give way to the stiff detachable collar, or perhaps to the ruff? Must women wear corsets, and must men dress (that is, put on a tuxedo) for dinner?

The judge gets the crowd snickering with his riff on the ruff, but he stretches his point beyond Spandex’s limits. Any well-dressed freshman should question Posner’s premise that, just because we can’t draw a bright line, no distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable are possible.

At a minimum, I hope we can agree on one thing: Teaching is a thongless task.

Erik M. Jensen
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Erik M. Jensen is the David L. Brennan Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University. This essay is adapted from "Law School Attire: A Call for a Uniform Uniform Code," from the Oklahoma City University Law Review.


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