Thinking Outside the Quad

The notion came to me while I was on the phone with customer service for Citibank. I was walking across the empty quad trying to keep my cell squinched between jowl and shoulder, fiddling with the lock on my old leather valise -- my father’s, really, but he’s long gone. “Andy” -- "Amitava," more likely -- was having trouble locating a recent payment.

It was one of those piquant days at the beginning of the semester, the afternoon air tinged with coming cold. The quad felt bright and still. I had finished a summer of intense work on my manuscript, Neo-liberalism and the Global Lyric, and I was feeling good about my prospects for promotion. It’s not easy being a tenured radical. I have deans to appease and undergraduates to offend. Most of all, however, I have books to write, and that’s not so simple as senior colleagues make it sound. I am close to finishing my second, making me ripe for promotion to full professor -- in spite of Horowitz and his humorless ilk. I deserve it, having slaved away my virile years as an associate professor. But I’m not quite there yet. I have to complete that sticky chapter on Poetic License and Creative Commons. Then the index.

“Sir! You there sir? Very good, sir. No. I can find no record of a payment to Amazon of two hundred five dollars and ninety-five cents. You say it was for the collected works of Carl Max?”

“That’s Karl Marx, Andy, volumes one through six, and I distinctly remember making that payment. The old fashioned way. By check.”

“Very good sir. Please await the outcome of my patient inquiry while I put you on hold . . . “

I dropped my father’s valise and looked up, pasting the phone against my face. The quad was suddenly swarming with undergraduates. They surged out of classroom buildings, krill in colored T-shirts: muscles flexing, breasts bouncing, smiles flashing like newly minted money.

They were back.

I had to teach.

When would I find time to write another word?

“Sir, I am very sorry to report that despite my best efforts I cannot locate any record of a payment on the works of Carnal Mocks.”

“Andy I will consult my records. Good day -- if indeed it is day in Bangalore.”

I’d begun my day in gladness. Despondency and madness was right around the corner.

My book. My promotion.

These damn students.

Then it hit me.

Why not ship these students overseas?

Why not relocate higher education offshore?

I’ve read Friedman. I know the world is flat. I’ve heard the reports on NPR about the low cost of high-risk surgery in the developing world. If middle-class Midwesterners can fly to Mumbai to resection their large intestines, if phone calls from New York to Cincinnati can be routed through the Punjab, there’s no reason higher education can’t become a big-time player in the global economy. Colleges across America could take much better advantage of our flattened world with its telecommunications, capital flows, and transnational mobility, ridding their campuses of an unseemly physical dependence on students.

I could finish my book.

I spun on my heel -- Bruno Magli, size 9 1/2 -- and struggled against the tide of teeming flesh toward my office in Eliot. I wanted to fire off a memo to the dean with the idea hot in my head. I am lucky to have tenure, of course, and my joint appointment with the Department of Cultural Studies at least gives me a platform for interdisciplinary work. But as recently as a week ago our associate dean for alumni development and faculty research had urged a group of us associates, over buffet bisque, to “think outside the box.”

His words hit me like a headshot: “bring us your fresh ideas. We have the money to fund them, especially if they save the College money.” He spat the words out with a kind of breathless intensity. They rang in my ears as I stepped into my office, slipped my key back into the pocket of my blazer (Armani) and snapped open my MacBook Pro.

In the subject line I typed “Thinking Outside the Quad”.

dear dean squelch,

i’m writing with a bold new idea i believe can save the college large sums of money that might be better directed toward funding faculty research or alumni reunions. it fits perfectly with the new initiative announced last week by the associate dean for alumni development and undergraduate education to encourage all students to spend a semester studying abroad. while I fully support that proposal, it think it’s far too modest. why not push it to its logical conclusion? why not require every student in the college of the liberal arts to spend his or her entire undergraduate career studying abroad, preferably in the developing world?

i’m sure you can appreciate the appeal of this initiative (I call it the GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE), but allow me to describe it in some detail. as i see it, there are several compelling reasons to relocate all aspects of undergraduate education offshore. the first is economic, and even if there were no other reasons (but as you shall see, there are!),this one would justify the whole initiative. we are all familiar with the regrettably uneven distribution of wealth across the globe. as corporations have been quick to realize but universities have not, this unfortunate fact produces a similar unevenness in costs of production. considered as a commodity, higher education requires the same outlays in labor and overhead as a pair of air jordans. it seems reasonable therefore to follow the nimble lead of the nike corporation and implement a business model that redistributes the cost of producing undergraduate education to offshore locations notable for low wages and property values. I would recommend india and malaysia. both are attractive for robust telecommunications networks and deteriorating but serviceable physical infrastructure, minimizing direct costs to home institutions for internet access and student housing. even including overseas transportation, the per capita investment in offshore education falls far short of current tuition levels, accruing to home institutions a handsome increase in revenue with absolutely no adjustment in price.

perhaps you worry about the costs of staffing so many courses at institutions abroad. that’s no worry at all, since it concerns only local managers of offshore venues. here too india and malaysia are prime locations, possessing vast and undercapitalized human resources. those countries swarm with educated persons reduced to selling trinkets on beaches or washing windshields at stoplights. they would jump en masse at an opportunity to pursue teaching as a vocation at wages quite attractive to home institutions. in the unlikely event of a shortage of qualified teachers in these locales, it would easily be remedied by our regular overproduction of graduate degrees, particularly among exchange students. such circumstances could mean job placement for a whole cadre of graduate students currently devoting untold years of their lives to professional prospects that we all know will never materialize. The GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE will find jobs for them abroad, much to the delight of their spouses, children, and dependent relatives.

maybe the single most attractive aspect of global education today, however, is the effect it will have on undergraduates. they will be as well-rounded as they are well-traveled. they will be, in the noblest sense, cosmopolitans as they experience first hand the dynamism and energy of life in a developing country, its collective creativity in the face national underinvestment, the everyday struggles of its brave, brown indigenous people. it is impossible to put a price tag on character, of course, but this much is incontestable: four or five years of undergraduate education abroad will enrich the souls of our nation’s youth, preparing them through extensive personal experience to live as global citizens in a world that one day will be as diverse and as highly leveraged as america.

finally, an outcome that is no less a boon for being obvious: students who study abroad do not study here. they do not clutter our classrooms. they do not damage the grass. think of the savings of manhours and womanhours spent preparing lectures, advising students, leading discussions, grading papers, filing grades, managing complaints -- all the distracting inanities of undergraduate teaching. let them fall to the parochial ambitions of the offshore workforce. let us reserve the vision and energy of home institution faculty for the higher calling of research. it would be a truism to say that distinction in academic research correlates inversely to time teaching.

the GLOBAL TEACHING INITIATIVE will minimize the latter and maximize the former, with the inevitable result, desideratum of any dean, that most departments in the college of liberal arts will see a rise, possibly a precipitous rise, in nrc rankings. only undergraduates stand between an active research faculty and its full potential. they remain the vestige of an earlier, balefully nationalistic phase in the development of higher education. let’s step into the twenty-first century. let’s globalize higher education. let’s ship these students offshore and maximize profit and profitability. allow me to conclude with a vision of the future of higher education: campuses free of the beer-swilling spawn of an overfed bourgeoisie; faculties free to realize full productivity as researchers, writers, and public servants, and most importantly, students free to learn the ways of life in a world economy turned global quad.

I pushed the send button without even proofreading. That’s how confident I am. And that’s how enthused I remain at the prospect of a university without students. I’m not clear yet whether my Dean will adopt the GLOBAL EDUCATION INITIATIVE in toto, but she e-mailed me the next morning to arrange a private meeting. Her tone was not the usual faceless gray. Words like “innovative” and “luminous” peppered her message. I even detected a hint of administrative promise, or do I read too much into the phrase “future advancement”? Imagine. Me, the dean of alumni development and global education. I could do it. I could implement the vision.

I wonder, though, if I could serve in such an important capacity and finish my book.

Paul Youngquist
Author's email:

Paul Youngquist is a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. This essay first appeared in issue 70 of the minnesota review.

Breaking the Code

In the last three years, the History Department at U of All People has revamped its course codes four and a half times in response to complaints that the current system was either obsolete, confusing or just annoying. Clearly some coding is necessary to distinguish between what’s required for all students and what satisfies the period distribution (almost anything).

In the wake of last semester’s color-coded system, which turned out not to show up on most computer screens, the History Department Central Course Code Committee has come up with a new system (see detached memo). Please follow these codes when advising students, and remember, if you don’t like the system, you shouldn’t have begged off the committee.


HI designates History, not to be confused, though many of you are, with the new HI or Human Individuality program started by the Psychology Department; or HIST, which used to mean History but which now merely shows that you’ve been at this institution for over a decade. Example: HI 103 stands for History 103, the Study of Historical Methods course that’s now a requirement for all incoming majors (see academic catalogue 06-07) and that we foist on adjuncts to teach.

If a course is marked as HIFM, that means it’s cross-referenced with the Film Department, as in HIFM 200, Filmed History, which is not the same as FMHI, History of Film (for some reason satisfying the pre-1800 period requirement in EN, or English). HIPI constitutes our collaboration with Political Science, though we didn’t think of the way it sounded 'til after it was too late to change. Similarly, HIPE is cross-listed with Phys Ed, though this is more a theoretical possibility than anything else.

In addition, here are some special designations:

HIRT: any course taught by Professor Richard Tuttenbaum, who should have retired a while ago. Given that Professor Tuttenbaum has been using the same textbook for years, a tattered copy of Don’t Know Much about History, no HIRT course may be repeated for credit, and in fact any HIRT course counts as only two out of the usual three credits.

HITR: History in Translation, specifically French, an idea thought up by Professor Ronald Lesoeur to get that semester abroad in Paris, but which remains untaught.

HIFI: this is a joke made by our audiophile committee member that somehow got into the minutes and was uploaded into the online listings and for some tech reason can’t be deleted but which may safely be ignored.

As for numeric designations: level 100 courses are introductory classes, level 200 courses constitute our overloaded sophomore surveys, 400 level courses are tougher than 300 level courses and therefore rarely generate sufficient student enrollment, and no one knows what 500 level courses are, since we have no graduate program in history.


As you go about your student advising this fall, please print out a copy of the new course codes and refer to them whenever the need arises. In the process, please ignore all previous codes. As Santayana never quite said, “Those who remember the past are condemned to get the codes wrong.”

David Galef
Author's email:

David Galef is a professor of English at Montclair State University. His latest publication is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.

Advise and Consent

Advising season at U of All People is upon us, that time of year when full professors hide behind their office doors, practicing the fine art of seeming to be unavailable as clueless students roam the corridors. One Comp Lit professor averse to the whole process thought he was being smart in printing, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” in 52-point Helvetica above his door, not realizing that those who seek advising often have abandoned all hope.

“Abandon all cash” is illegal to post, though a quorum of the faculty in the Economics Department voted to issue a price list for services rendered.

In one department that shall remain nameless (all right, it was Psychology), at least 30 students made it from their first freshman days to graduation without ever being advised. Equally damning, twice that number in Psychology who were advised regularly never made it past their sophomore year.

“Tell ’em what they need to do. Post the info. If they don’t access it, that’s their problem,” the Sociology Department chair liked to repeat, a policy called into question after the university lost a major lawsuit levied by a disgruntled student who was never told that she needed to graduate. Starting this year, therefore, U of All People has decided to streamline the whole messy process of advising with this handy set of guidelines:


Advising For Students

If you don’t know who your advisor is, log in at <> and follow the onscreen instructions. Once you locate your advisor, contact that faculty member at once (because, chances are, that person doesn’t know either), and set up an appointment to meet.

Please bring these documents to your advising session: a #2 pencil, a #2 eraser, a list of courses you’ve taken, and a list of courses you hope to take that will be utterly compromised by the end of your session.

To make matters easier for you, we now have these resources online:

To view your unofficial transcript, go to the registrar’s homepage, input the secret code that changes daily, and click on 1. To view your fortune, click on 2. To read the instructions in Spanish, register for Spanish 101 this spring.

Advising sessions should last at least 10 minutes, despite the Theater Department’s infamous 60-second takes or the Philosophy Department’s marathon periods of two hours.

Sample questions to ask your advisor:

  • What courses do I still need to graduate?
  • Does Rhythmic Swimming satisfy the Fine Arts requirement?

Questions not to ask:

  • Why do I need to take science when I plan on being a novelist?
  • Is it true that Professor Rudin gives A’s to students who go to his parties?

Codes for checking course availability online:

C: Sorry, this section is closed or has been canceled.
O: This section is open for the next five seconds, so click now.
N: This slot never really existed but was posted simply to get your hopes up.


Additional notes:

  • Be advised that University 101, a core course that you need to graduate, is offered only every five years.
  • There is no longer a Finger-Painting concentration within the Art Department.
  • Depending on what year you entered, graduate requirements may differ. Check weekly to see what we’ve come up with.
  • You need 126 credits to graduate. Taking five courses per semester at three credits per course, you still won’t have enough. If this state of affairs bothers you, see our Maymester, Wintersession, and other revenue-boosting schemes.
  • Transfer credit: up to 30 grudging credits, and get it in writing because we may later deny it. As of September 2008, you may not transfer any course credit from the Storefront Community College that says it exists in Scranton, PA.


Advising For Faculty

Please show up.

David Galef
Author's email:

David Galef is a professor of English at Montclair State University. His latest publication is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.

'Who Moved My Cheese,' Higher Ed-Style

Mice in a maze and little people: for many (especially faculty) who work in higher education on any number of campuses, this might seem an appropriate appellation for the characters in Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? The theme of this brief book, studied as illustrative text in many leadership and change courses taken by administrators chasing after an Ed.D., is to read the writing on the proverbial wall and embrace change.

The characters in this story, as part of their jobs, have to negotiate a maze to find cheese and then, when the cheese supply becomes exhausted, face the choice of remaining in place or of changing the way they look at things in order to find more cheese. Two, Sniff and Scurry, move on and ultimately find a new supply of cheese. Two others, Hem and Haw, stick around, exhibiting a sense of denial. Ultimately giving in to hunger, Haw moves on, following his two adventurous friends, while Hem stays put, never to be heard from again. During his journey of self-discovery, Haw scribbles inspirational sayings on the wall, hopefully for Hem to follow, and eventually finds his friends and a new supply of cheese. As the story winds down, a mysterious noise is heard “offstage.”

At the end, they all, presumably, live happily ever after as a result of their adapting to change. In viewing the situation in modern academe, however, this concept of change is often equated to being "fashionable," rather than having a productive purpose, and many, it seems, feel that in order to attract students, we must be fashionable. When we were growing up, the “happily ever after” ending was the ultimate goal; however, might there be a reason the Grimm boys and others never told us what “happily ever after” was really like? In the following story, I've explored one possible definition of happily ever after, set in a situation that may feel familiar to many. Our story begins shortly after the ending of Who Moved My Cheese?


“Well, that wasn’t so bad, after all, was it?” Scurry asked. He looked at Haw when he said it but his remarks seemed addressed to Sniff, as well. They sat in the room that was Cheese Station N, enjoying a nice camembert smeared over Ritz, washed down with cheap Cabernet from a cardboard box with a handy spigot Sniff had managed to locate and drag in. A week had passed since Haw had come straggling into Cheese Station N.

“What wasn’t?” Sniff asked.


“No. Because it’s what we do. We’re professionals. That’s why the organization values us, because we do what we have to do and we do it well. That involves being adaptable and flexible.”

“Maybe, but ask Haw here if it’s what he does, as well.”

“Haw did okay. It just took him a while to come around. But once he did, he did okay.”

“Why are you two talking about me as if I’m not here?’ Haw asked

“Because you’re one of the little people. They’re like leprechauns; they don’t exist.” Scurry said.

“Whoa! That’s way out of line. No need to insult Haw just because he took a little longer to come around.”

“Did I say that out loud? Sorry. No offense meant, Haw. It’s just that, as they say, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

“I’m not part of the problem. Didn’t I even author the “Handwriting on the Wall” to document our lessons learned?

“Only after you were forced into the publish or perish situation,” Scurry said.

“That is so not right!” said Sniff. “Where do you get off being so judgmental?”

“I’m his supervisor now. I’ll be conducting his evaluations from now on. Yours, too.”

“Says who?”

“They. Them. Us.”


“You know…THEY. As in ‘ They say…”

“When did this happen?”

“Remember that noise we heard outside shortly after Haw showed up last week?? Well, I went outside to see what it was and it was the Big Cheese himself. He was so impressed with the way I scurried until I stumbled into this cheese cache that he offered me either early tenure or a nice pay raise and an administrative position. You’re now looking at the Associate Dean for Cheese Acquisition and Curriculum Development. That also makes me your boss.”

“If I remember correctly, I was the one who sniffed it out. That’s my job.”

“Details. Details. We’re getting away from the point.”

“There’s a point to this?”

“Well, yes. You have to admit things haven’t been running as efficiently as they could. Look how long it took for you to sniff out this room. And how long it took Haw to come around. We need to make some changes around here.”

“What kind of changes?”

“I don’t exactly know yet, but, well, changes.”

“Give me a for-instance.”

“That wouldn’t be right. WE need to come up with something. I’d like you all to be on board with this thing. After all, Wheatley says that people only support what they create, and I’d like to think I have your support.”

“You mean like adding to our course offerings? I’ve been thinking of an Advanced Edam course that would really benefit our students.”

“Not really, but I like the way you think. Keep guessing; I’ll let you know if you get close.”

“I’m not going to play this game. I’m busy. I have to continue refining my cheese-sniffing skills and prepare lessons and grade projects. Plus there’s the Gruyere committee, and the Brie committee and the Swiss committee, the faculty senate…”

“Good! I told you I like the way you think. We think you have too many outside responsibilities to concentrate on our true mission so from now on we won’t trouble you with having to participate in all those things. We’ve formed a Leadership Sitback Committee that will take care of all those things for you from now on. All of those piddly committees are going to be disbanded.”

“And what is a sitback committee?’

“You know. That’s where we sit back and tell you how it’s going to be.”


“Oh come on, Sniff. You know yourself this faculty has become too independent-minded. It needs to be brought under control.”

“Oh, really? And who’s on this leadership sitback committee? Any faculty?”

“Well…no. But your interests will be represented. By me.”

“What about shared governance?”

“Does the word chaos ring any bells? Remember that leadership seminar we attended? One of the slides? It’s the least effective of the organizational types.”

“I seem to remember that other types of effective organizations can grow out of chaos.”

“You’re twisting words instead of looking at the big picture, Sniff.”

“I see. Well, go do your thing; just leave me alone. I have a job to do.”

“That’s just it. I’m here to help. By the way…”

“What now?”

“We think you may be losing sight of the mission.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“You know… we. The administration. And the trustees. The guys with the money? Hello?”

“Here it comes. The threats.”

“No threats. We’re all in this together; that’s what you’re not seeing. We work together to improve things.”

“Well, I’m all about improving things, provided someone can show me some rationale. Hell, even old Haw there is capable of change when he has the proper motivation. Haw? Feel free to jump in here any time, Pal.”

“Me? Actually Sniff, I like this change stuff. It felt good once I got into it. Not to mention I got to eat all the cheese I wanted once it was over. Who knows what other good things we’ll stumble across if we start making other things happen? Besides, my “Handwriting” article was well-received. My agent tells me he thinks he can turn it into a pop psychology best-seller if I expand it a bit.”

“I see. So I’m all alone in this, hmmm?”

“Don’t think of it as an us or them situation, Sniff. As I said, we’re all in this together. We all want the same thing, right?”

“I’m beginning to wonder.”

“Well, back to the mission…”

“I thought my mission was to continue sharpening my cheese-sniffing skills and then teach our students how to sniff out their own cheese.”

“That was last semester. The trustees seem to think we’re concentrating too much on Brie and Camembert and not enough on pasteurized process slices and Cheez Whiz.”

“I see. So a bunch of used car salesmen and insurance agents who managed to buy seats on the board know what’s best for our students now?”

“I’ll ignore that. They think we’re out of touch. They want us to partner with the community. They think the current job market involves finding more of the slices and the squirt stuff, not the exotics.”

“And food service and hospitality industries. In case you haven’t noticed; we teach a little of everything. They can specialize in whatever kinds of cheese they want to find, if they feel like limiting themselves.”

“Why are you being so defensive?”

“Ah, we’re going to put this on me now? I’ll feel free to defend good practices and I’ll also feel free to change when I see the need. When I get disturbed. Remember that one? What Wheatley said, since you want to bring the experts into this, about different parts of the organization get disturbed at different times? And they feel free to change in accordance with that disturbance? And don’t forget Calabrese’s discussion of pacing requirements, while we’re talking about time frames for being disturbed and for implementing change.”

“You’re getting hostile now.”

“I’m getting disturbed, but not by what you think. And I’m thinking of making a change or two, myself.”

“Don’t be like that. We’ve always been friends. Why turn against me now just because I’m sitting in a different seat? I’m just trying to be an effective leader, and you know, as Rost said, ‘real leaders intend real change’.”

“Don’t try playing that relationship card with me. You’re being a dweeb. And I believe he said ‘real leaders and followers intend real change’.”


“And he was talking about transformation as it applies to leadership. You’ve undergone a transformation, all right.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“Enlighten me. Bring me on board. Hell, I’ve always been proactive. I’ll embrace change in a heartbeat if it helps us accomplish our mission better. I’m all about transformation if the results are positive.”

“Ummm…that’s another thing: results.”

“There’s a problem with my results?”

“Well, I took a look at your DWFI rates after the trustees mentioned them and both I and the rest of the administration feel they’re maybe a bit high.”

“My students’ grades reflect their performance. By the way, I do have a bit of academic freedom, don’t I? I’m free to teach my courses however I deem best, so long as students who succeed can meet the stated objectives. The DWFIs are the slugs and oxygen thieves. If students show up and if they do the work, they succeed. It’s simple.”

“We were just thinking your standards might be too high. Instead of having them find 4 pieces of cheese throughout the semester, why not just two? And we all know life happens. If something at home prevents them from attending classes, well, is attendance really all that important?”

“If they can’t find cheese here under controlled circumstances, how are we going to expect them to find it for themselves when they’re out there on their own? I don’t want them going out there and having an employer say ‘who ever told you that you could find cheese, anyway?’”

“That’s their problem. All we have to do is document the process. And that brings me to another thing: accountability.”

“I know all about that.”

“Not like this you don’t. From now on we’re going to document everything: we’re going to map activities to stated learning outcomes. How many left turns they have to make and how many right turns they have to make to find cheese. How many sniffs per minute. That sort of thing. You know best how to do it; you’re the pro.”

“Exactly. They brought me on board because they felt I was the best at sniffing out cheese and I had a proven track record of teaching others to find cheese. I always felt it was the results that counted. If they survive my courses they can find cheese. And as I said, if they show up and do the work, they’ll survive my courses.”

“It’s not so much the results now as the process. Do we have a systematic, documented process in place to teach cheese-sniffing? If we do that, the results will take care of themselves.”

“I see.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. I’m trying to help here and you’re not being much of a team player. What are you afraid of? Move beyond that fear, as Johnson says.”

“The only thing I’m afraid of is that you’re moving the cheese yourself and telling me I should anticipate it. I read, I keep abreast of changes in my field, I sniff out not only cheese, but changes in the cheese situation and I adapt accordingly, all without having to be told. Do you want MY opinion on what needs changing around here, given our current situation and the way things are going?”


“My point exactly.”

“Sniff, this conversation worries me, even as I sit here drinking your wine. You know, you’re coming up for cheese-tenure this year and it would be nice to be able to say that we’d like to keep you around forever. We value you as an important member of the team and consider ourselves lucky to have you.”

“You know, I was looking for a job when I found this one.”

“Sounds fatalistic.”

“Realistic. But I’ll tell you what: none of this is worth falling on the proverbial sword over. I’ll dummy down the courses and count all the procedural goose-steps. Hell, I’ll even convince them they like Cheez-Whiz. You’ve got your bobble-head.”

“But that’s not what I need. What we need. We need you to be on-board. To embrace change. Change is a good thing. It’s natural. Organic. Didn’t you read that part of Wheatley?”

“I must have forgotten. How silly of me.”

“So…are you on board?”


“We still friends?”

“Sure. Pour some more of that wine and let’s get drunk. We’ll celebrate friendship.”

Frederick Bridger
Author's email:

Frederick Bridger, instructor of Literature and Writing Skills at Montana State University-Great Falls, has published fiction and poetry in numerous venues, print and online. He coincidentally entered his "terminal year" a week before tenure eligibility, shortly after the existence of this story became known.

The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

It was a typical 1970s weekday evening. The sky was growing dark and I, an elementary school student, was sitting at the kitchen table of a modest North Jersey cape cod putting the finishing touches on the day’s homework. The back door opened -- a telltale sign that my father was home from work. As he did every day, Dad stopped in the laundry room to take off his muddied work boots. As usual, he was tired. He could have been covered with any number of substances, from dirt to paint to dried spackle. His hands were rough and gnarled. I kissed him hello, he went to the bathroom to “wash up,” and my family sat down to eat dinner.

I always knew how hard my father worked each day in his job as a general contractor. When I got older I spent summers working with him. I learned the virtues of this kind of working class life, but I also experienced the drudgery that came with laying concrete footings or loading a dumpster with refuse. I worked enough with my father to know that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. Though he never told me so, I am sure that Dad probably didn't want that for me, either.

I eventually became only the second person in my extended family to receive a college degree. I went on to earn a Ph.D. (a “post-hole digger” to my relatives) in history and settled into an academic life. As I enter my post-tenure years, I am grateful for what I learned from my upbringing and for the academic vocation I now pursue. My gratitude inevitably stems from my life story. The lives that my parents and brothers (one is a general contract and the other is a plumber) lead are daily reminders of my roots.

It is not easy being a college professor from a working-class family. Over the years I have had to explain the geographic mobility that comes with an academic life. I have had to invent creative ways to make my research understandable to aunts and uncles. My parents read my scholarly articles, but rarely finish them. My father is amazed that some semesters I go into the office only three days a week. As I write this I am coming off of my first sabbatical from teaching. My family never quite fathomed what I possibly did with so much time off. (My father made sense of it all by offering to help me remodel my home office, for which I am thankful!) “You have the life,” my brother tells me. How can I disagree with him?

Gratitude is a virtue that is hard to find in the modern academy, even at Thanksgiving time. In my field of American history, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to set the record straight, usually in op-ed pieces, about what really happened in autumn 1621. (I know because I have done it myself!). Granted, as public intellectuals we do have a responsibility to debunk the popular myths that often pass for history, but I wonder why we can’t also use the holiday, as contrived and invented and nostalgic and misunderstood as it is, to stop and be grateful for the academic lives we get to lead.

Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to do this. We get a Thursday off from work to take a few moments to reflect on our lives. And since so many academics despise the shopping orgy known as “Black Friday,” the day following Thanksgiving presents a wonderful opportunity to not only reject consumer self-gratification, but practice a virtue that requires us to forget ourselves.

I am not sure why we are such an unthankful bunch. When we stop and think about it we enjoy a very good life. I can reference the usual perks of the job -- summer vacation, the freedom to make one’s own schedule, a relatively small amount of teaching (even those with the dreaded 4-4 load are in the classroom less than the normal high school teacher). Though we complain about students, we often fail to remember that our teaching, when we do it well, makes a contribution to society that usually extends far beyond the dozens of people who have read our recent monograph. And speaking of scholarship, academics get paid to spend a good portion of their time devoted to the world of ideas. No gnarled hands here.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that seventy-eight percent of all American professors express “overall job satisfaction.” Yet we remain cranky. As Immanuel Kant put it, “ingratitude is the essence of vileness.” I cannot tell you how many times I have wandered into a colleague’s office to whine about all the work my college expects of me.

Most college and university professors live in a constant state of discontentment, looking for the fast track to a better job and making excuses as to why they have not landed one yet. Academia can be a cutthroat and shallow place to spend one’s life. We are too often judged by what is written on our conference name badges. We say things about people behind their backs that we would never say to their faces. We become masters of self-promotion. To exhibit gratefulness in this kind of a world is countercultural.

The practice of gratitude may not change our professional guilds, but it will certainly relieve us of our narcissism long enough to realize that all of us are dependent people. Our scholarship rests upon the work of those scholars that we hope to expand upon or dismantle. Our careers are made by the generosity of article and book referees, grant reviewers, search committees, and tenure committees. We can all name teachers and mentors who took the time to encourage us, offer advice, and write us letters. Gratitude may even do wonders for our mental health. Studies have shown that grateful people are usually less stressed, anxious, and depressed.

This Thanksgiving take some time to express gratitude. In a recent study the Harvard University sociologist Neil Gross concluded that more college and university professors believe in God than most academics ever realized. If this is true, then for some of us gratitude might come in the form of a prayer. For others it may be a handwritten note of appreciation to a senior scholar whom we normally contact only when we need a letter of recommendation. Or, as the semester closes, it might be a kind word to a student whose academic performance and earnest pursuit of the subject at hand has enriched our classroom or our intellectual life. Or perhaps a word of thanks to the secretary or assistant who makes our academic life a whole lot easier.

As the German theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained, “gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

John Fea
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John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College, in Grantham, Pa. He is the author of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Follow the Leader

My college makes leaders. Or at least it will just as soon as our new mission statement goes into effect. The draft of the new mission statement leaves no doubt about this: The word “leadership” appears twice, in the first two sentences, followed by “leader” in the third sentence.

The new mission statement will go into effect as soon as the faculty, staff, students, and trustees approve the following documents: “Core Focus Areas,” “Basic Principles of the Core Focus Areas,” “Strategic Plan I,” “Strategic Plans II through XXII,” and the new global menu for the dining hall.

At this time, in the interest of moving quickly on the implementation of the new mission statement, the ad hoc strategic document committee has decided not to create additional documents outlining “Basic Values,” “Core Values,” and directions for what to do should a snowstorm necessitate closing the college for a day and/or evening; the committee, however, reserves the right to create such documents in the future, should the points of contention regarding the phrasing of the new mission statement, along with the phrasing of all other documents, present, future, and past, prove to be irresoluble. And certainly we may find that it is in the best interest of all parties involved to return to a discussion about the need for such documents -- particularly if we have the snowstorm that’s predicted -- once we have completed our vision statement. But I am getting ahead of myself. First things first.

In order to the make the transition process to the new mission statement as smooth as possible, and to allow adequate time for discussion, all courses scheduled to meet between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday have been canceled for the spring semester. Instead, there will be a series of summit meetings (formerly known as workshops. Although workshops do carry the connotation of work, there can only be one workshop leader).

According to our old, soon-to-be-if-not-already-obsolete mission statement, we made critical thinkers. At least that was the plan. Repeated surveys, along with assessments of final exam scores, suggested, however, that such a mission was impractical and downright difficult to achieve. Besides, leadership has several advantages as a marketing strategy. For example, being a leader is much more visible than being a thinker. And who wants to be a follower? Let those few sorry individuals who want to be mere followers go to another college -- if they can find one that doesn’t have leadership in the mission statement.

We had hoped to have our new mission statement up and running by now -- before any more colleges beat us to it. However, being a leader in academe requires great risk-taking and innovation and is pretty tricky. Plus the mission statement sub-committee ran into some problems with a few other phrases -- things like global awareness, civic engagement (versus global engagement and civic awareness), and environmental concern (should we go for the leader-like “sustainability” or the friendlier “going green”? And will we have to create new environmental courses or can we get by with our usual Earth Day Celebration and signs in the computer labs warning about using too much paper)? And there was another problem as well: No one on the mission statement committee wanted to be the chair.

Now, even though I have experience writing mission statements, and have, in fact, even written an essay on the subject of mission statements, making me an expert -- or a sort of leader -- in the area of mission statements, I was not selected for the current mission-statement subcommittee. This is possibly due to a question I raised at a special pre-mission-statement-planning summit: If everyone wants to be a leader, isn’t that anarchy?

Carolyn Foster Segal
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Carolyn Foster Segal is associate professor of English at Cedar Crest College.

Our New and Improved Fund Raising Efforts

As a disaffected administrator at U of All People once put it, though the school endowment is not insignificant, it’s not particularly significant, either.

During the current economic meltdown, our stock portfolio has more than doubled its worthlessness. To add annoyance to injury, our neighboring institution, Hoo U, last year celebrated its half-centennial and came away from the event with $40 million in individual and corporate donations, and then, in historic tradition, toilet-papered our quad with rolls of Monopoly money.

But it remains a fact that Hoo U now has the wealth to pay for new buildings, the newest in sports team training, and even a small raise in faculty salaries. Why can’t we do better? This state of affairs is particularly embarrassing when you consider that our university lacks the proper sanitary facilities in Fine Arts Hall, or, as the building superintendent put it, “We haven’t got a pot to pee in.”

Though this is an unfair overstatement (the restroom in question has simply been out of order since 2002), the resulting public relations flap did ruffle the administration. The response was the hastily assembled Campus Fundraising Committee (no catchier acronyms were currently available) to address the matter. Chaired by Professor Freddie Mack from the economics department, the CFC is responsible for coming up with innovative ways to generate funds. Here are their ideas, ranked, as requested by the provost, from semi-plausible to desperate:

Tapping the alumni/ae mailing list: Previous attempts to bleed our graduates have resulted in an unimpressive 2 percent rate of response, but this time, instead of snail mail, we intend to make innovative use of the Web for an irresistible appeal. At this very moment, our Computer Science department is figuring out how to enclose a virtual U of All People key chain with every e-mail.

A black-tie dinner to attract well-heeled potential donors: not like last year’s attempt. This time we intend to hire a real chef rather than relying on Food Services; we’ll be featuring a few genuine celebrities as bait and not those tacky cardboard cut-outs; and we’ll even hire an after-dinner speaker, not the Dean of Liberal Arts’ brother-in-law practicing his stand-up comic routine.

Odd-year anniversary: Why wait 61 more years for our centennial? Our PR consultant has advised us that the demographics are with us, and a “Doing Fine at Thirty-Nine” anniversary is just the ticket. Our “Pushing Forty” campaign, sponsored by Rogaine and Retin-A, is a cause that our ‘90s grads can all get behind.

The Mother of All Bake Sales: A humble method to raise cash for a school trip or a special charity, this checkered tablecloth event has been rethought on a grand scale. Sure, it’ll feature those over-seeded granola bars and brownies from a mix, and of course Rice Krispies treats, but we’ll also have stale pound cake and unidentifiable-flavor cookies. Our Family Studies and Consumer Sciences program is prepared to crank out the stuff from its test ovens all winter. To surmount the usual difficulties in selling these goodies, we’re requiring a purchase from everyone entering the campus gates during the next fiscal year. And yes, we’ll cheerfully accept student debit cards.

The Human Race: It’s not a Race for the Cure or even a race for the finish line, but rather an inclusive effort that involves everyone. If you’re human, you’re a part of our race, and that means please pony up $15, every one of you. Our lawyers are prepared to argue our case. After all, our school isn’t named U of All People for nothing!

David Galef
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Disclaimer: David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.

Teaching Teaching

In the early years at U of All People, we simply recruited people to teach -- sometimes from the old bus depot -- and put them in the classroom the next week. The results were mixed but rarely dull. We gave tenure to anyone who coughed in the right direction. Beginning in the late ‘70s, when the number of qualified applicants for all available academic jobs began to achieve a 100 to 1 ratio, we even managed to hire some real professors. You might call those the Golden Years, especially since many of those teachers are now Golden Agers.

But lately, we’ve been urged by the administration to emphasize the process of teaching, maybe because of the realization that we’ll never be a qualified research institution. Of course, you can’t have high quality teaching without research on the subject, and though our School of Ed lost its accreditation years ago, this is just the encouragement it needed. With a seed grant, a half-line faculty hire, and the donation of an unused office in the old gym, we now have an Institute for Pedagogy. It’s already begun forming committees, offering informational seminars, and sending out 100 MB of e-mail weekly: just the sort of activities that make our administration happy. Below is a sampler from the Institute’s calendar for February:

February 1, noon: Brown-Bag Lunch Symposium on Profound Learning, Old Gym, Room12. Annoyed that your students learn facts for the midterm but then forget them by the week after? Find out how you can instill knowledge in your students’ brains that they’ll retain forever! Professor Ben Dover from Southwest Sideways U, a specialist in teaching the process of teaching process, will explain a few techniques that have worked for him and a like-minded colleague.

February 3, 5:00 p.m.: “Teaching as a Profession, Teaching as an Avocation, Teaching as a Calling,” a lecture in Old Gym, Room12. Professor C. D. Light from the Department of Religion will describe how he has always felt chosen to educate, from an incident that occurred in his youth. Participants are invited to share their own stories.

February 8, 7:30 a.m.: Coffee and doughnuts for the faculty in Old Gym, Room 12, as we discuss the challenges of how to reach late adolescents during those tough morning classes. RSVP at <> so we know how many crullers to pick up.

February 11, 8:00 p.m.: “What We Teach About When We Teach Teaching,” Old Gym auditorium. A panel of professors from our former School of Ed will be discussing the goals and objectives of prioritizing the aims of education in order to teach more effectively. Discussed will be directives, approaches, aims, guidelines, and other circumlocutions.

February 13, 3:00 p.m.: “Teaching as a Profession, Teaching as an Avocation, Teaching as a Calling,” a repeat of Professor C. D. Light’s talk for those who missed it. Old Gym, Room 12.

February 15, 2:00 a.m.: special meeting offered by the vice provost on the issue of teachers’ salaries. Location TBA.

February 23, 7:00 p.m. 'til-?: “Teachers in the Movies” night, Old Gym auditorium. Marathon showing of "Dead Poets’ Society," "Stand and Deliver," "Mr. Holland’s Opus," and other heartwarming films calculated to make you forget all your professional grievances.

February 28: Costume Night: Dress up as your favorite educator and surprise your class. Academic regalia from last year’s graduation available for rental at the Student Union.

David Galef
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David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.

A Guide to Administrators

Professor I. M. Sari, a senior sociologist at U of All People, has recently published a study of administrators in higher education, a somewhat baffling enterprise for a researcher who claimed in his two-year grant from the Farquhar Foundation that he’d be addressing the effects of group dynamics in urban crowds. The Dean of Humanities is currently looking into whether Professor Sari can be penalized for blatantly disregarding the terms of his four-paragraph grant proposal back in 2006.

Meanwhile, what Sari has produced, in his recent article in Sociology: Not So Hard Science, is a detailed taxonomy of types, from chancellor to assistant chair. Below are some of his categories.

The Pushover: Usually occupying a lower rank, Pushovers will grant almost anything anytime, from extra travel funds to sabbatical requests, whether or not they have the authority to do so. Pushovers have an intense desire to be liked, and are popular until the faculty figures out what little power they have, after which they are routinely ignored in favor of more efficacious administrators.

The Naysayer: Occupying any level, the Naysayer is the opposite of the Pushover, categorically denying all requests on the assumption that faculty beg only for frivolous items and are not to be trusted. Naysayers tend to relish their negative roles, for which most faculty see them as having almost unlimited power, another benefit of refusing that third request for an office chair to go with the desk.

The Underling: Also known as toadies, Underlings are always deferring to the person who got them into office, usually a provost or, in the case of an Underling Provost, a Chancellor or President. As deans or chairs, Underlings may even be people of high integrity -- except when it comes to voting on that referendum against the president’s pet building project, at which point they become oddly silent.

The Quid Pro Quo Type: Usually at the level of a chair or dean, the Quid Pro Quo Type embodies the Latin phrase “what for what.” In return for a new office allocation, for example, the Quid Pro Quo Type may stipulate that the faculty member teach a section of Bio 101, or trade a new computer for extra committee work. Also known as wheeler-dealers, Quid Pro Quo Types pride themselves on their so-called fairness.

The Academic Turned Administrator: These types publicly feel for the faculty, continually reminding everyone that they, too, were once academics. They claim to anyone who’ll listen that they long for a return to teaching and research, until someone calls their bluff, remembering what lousy teachers they were and how little they published.

The Mother of All Administrators: Usually a woman but not always, the Mother of All Administrators is not necessarily the mightiest dean but rather a maternal presence who nurtures the faculty, sometimes in embarrassing ways. How else to explain the matching pen and pencil sets for all faculty in the political science department?

The Business Model: Perpetually talking about the bottom line, Business Model types hew strictly to economics, whether the topic is class size or parking. “Cost efficient” is their mantra -- until it’s time to talk about their $200,000 salary.

The Paper Pusher: a charmingly antique term, dating from the days before e-mail and texting, when faculty mailboxes would be clogged with flyers about arcane lectures and insurance benefit reminders. Nowadays, the Paper Pusher has morphed into a large-scale electronic disseminator, issuing everything from listserv memos to giant PDF’s that require five minutes to download.

The Philosopher King: originally a term from Plato’s Republic, the Philosopher King is an intelligent person who does not wish to serve but does so anyway out of a misguided sense of duty. Disliking responsibility, Philosophers rule with a light hand, unless they find that they start to like the job, at which point they become tyrants.

The Resourceful Type: This species, able to propose a workable agenda, cohere a divided department, or run a smooth meeting, operates both upfront and behind the scenes for the betterment of almost everyone, yet manages to preserve integrity and respect. Unfortunately, the last sighting of the Resourceful Type was spotted at U of All People in 1955 and is now thought to be extinct.

David Galef
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David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.

Members Only

Last month, the Washington, D.C., newspaper Politico revealed the existence of a secret online discussion group for left-tilting reporters and academics called JournoList. The article provoked a furor of denunciation among right-wing bloggers, who took the existence of an Obamaphile wonk cabal as proof that something darkly conspiratorial must be afoot. How different things are, now, inside the Beltway. How far things have declined since the golden age of transparency under the Bush administration.

One angry conservative published a list of known participants in JournoList -- revealing, among other things, that I am one of them. This was exciting news. I had no idea I was a member. That shows you just how secretive the group really is.

So you can imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I discovered the existence of an even more well-concealed e-mail group. It connects up the nation's most powerful academics. For the sake of this article we can call it AcademoList. That is not its real name, which escapes my memory now as I type these words in the cabin where I am forced to hide. I gained access to the list's archive for just over one hour when, it seems, the systems administrator caught me snooping and locked me out -- then changed the password.

The back story of how I gained access to AcademoList is perhaps needlessly complex. Suffice it to say that there have been rumors for some time now about a black market in VHS tapes of certain cable-access programs from the 1980s, including Camile Paglia’s brief but intense period as Christian televangelist.

For years I have been trying to locate copies of "In the Kitchen with Slavoj" -- in its day, the most popular cooking program in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, even though each episode ended with the studio audience refusing to eat the dish the host had prepared. This kind of thing you don’t find on eBay.

Anyway, a friend of the publicist of a friend of mine passed along contact information for someone who might be able to help. Following a mix-up in e-mails, I was forwarded information on how to subscribe to AcademoList.

To tell the truth, I was confused by what I read, at least at first. Most of the topics being discussed involved matters that have never been revealed to the public -- though there has been at least one close call.

Members of AcademoList are powerful enough to “solve” certain “problems” through "methods" that do not leave a trace. That is why I have gone "off the grid," as the survivalists say, and am now reduced to a diet that consists primarily of beef jerky and Mountain Dew that is slightly past its sell-by date.

With hindsight, it seems clear that AcademoList's cover was nearly blown in 2006, when David Horowitz published The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Professors in America. In spite of the subtitle, the book actually listed only 100 dangerous professors. At the time, scarcely anyone noticed this. And if they had, it would not have been too surprising, since it was obvious that considerable ingenuity had been required to get it up to that length.

For example, the evidence against three scholars charged with supporting jihadi groups consisted mainly of reports that they were known around campus for eating falafel and hummus several times a week. (Admittedly, footage of this looked menacing once the Fox News people dubbed in synthesizer music.)

The mysterious “dangerous professor number 101” turns out to have been one of the founders of AcademoList -- a truly sinister figure, and indeed the single most important player in the effort to subject the United States to both Islamic fundamentalism and the gay agenda.

S/he (long story: the pronoun situation here is complicated) teaches at an Ivy League university and has discovered a previously overlooked passage in Sharia law giving permission for “the blessed union of Adam and Steve.” The discussion on AcademoList suggests that the member of Horowitz’s staff who unearthed this secret was easily bribed into silence. One can only hope the responsible voices on America’s talk radio programs will start look into it now.

Around the time all that happened, a major academic organization was holding its national convention -- during which its radical caucus accidentally passed a resolution condemning itself for complicity with U.S. imperialism.

You didn’t read about this in the print media, or even here at IHE. But AcademoList subscribers knew all about it as it was happening. Likewise, they have the inside dope on the current economic free-fall. Everyone knows the familiar account of how the trouble began -- with a crisis in subprime mortgages. It turns out that’s only half of the story.

The whole meltdown really started in mid-2005, when the academic publishing powerhouse Elsevier doubled the subscription price for Studies in Advanced Topological Regression Analysis -- a journal known for its tiny but strangely devoted following among video game designers. (Go figure.) I am told that one of its articles was an important influence on Grand Theft Auto III.

In order to absorb the six-digit increase in subscription cost, several cutting-edge research universities were obliged to triple the size of most lower-division courses, thereby eliminating hundreds of adjunct jobs. Most of those adjuncts had subprime mortgages. The rest, alas, is economic history.

Which is not to say that the financial infrastructure of higher education was all that sound to begin with. Familiar complaints about how tuition costs are rising even at schools with vast endowments take on a new significance, given what I learned from the AcademoList digital archives. This is perhaps the best-kept secret of the past few years. Shaken by the implications, I now pause to gnaw on some sustenance before continuing.

Okay, here goes.... In 2002, the board of regents of dozens of leading universities got swept up in “March Madness” and began competing to see who could spend the most on (this exact quotation is burned into my brain) “cocaine, hookers, and really bitchin’ tattoos.”

The latter were custom-made and quite expensive -- though, to judge by the JPEGS circulated on AcademoList, the regents did get quality for their money.

E-mail exchanges from the early months of ‘02 show that members were psyching themselves up by saying, repeatedly, “If we don’t do this, the terrorists win.” A lot of crazy stuff happened back then. When tuition costs seem a bit high, keep that in mind.

Revealing though this documentation of the recent past may be, most discussion on AcademoList seems to be forward-looking. One president of a small Midwestern liberal arts college recently reported that he had been able to create an endowed chair thanks to certain business arrangements reached with a former government official in Nigeria.

I also got a very quick look at a document to be issued late this spring by a consortium of academic professional organizations under the title “Peer Review in the Age of Twitter: Towards a New Metric in Scholarly Citation.” It makes the Ithaka Report seem like something dreamed up by Mortimer Adler.

Not that all subscribers are gung-ho for such changes. One college devoted to the “great books” principle will soon be requiring students not only to avoid Kindle and its ilk, but to transcribe classic works as professors read them aloud to the class. Have you really read Aristotle, after all, if you haven’t copied the Analytics by hand? One thinks not.

Unfortunately my efforts to get back on the list have failed -- so who knows what dark transactions have occurred in the meantime. At the time, I failed to take notes. I have had to reconstruct all this from memory, and report it now with some trepidation. Just in case anything dire should happen in the wake of my exposé, let me close with a final request: In any movie based on this column, I would prefer to be played by Nicholas Cage.

In an age when stories from The Onion can end up being taken as soundly reported, Inside Higher Ed must make clear that it accepts no responsibility for the claims made in the column above, which goes to press on April 1, 2009.

For an account of the holiday known as “April Fool’s Day,” readers should consult this entry at Wikipedia, the world’s most authoritative scholarly resource.

Scott McLemee
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