On Your Marks

To try to improve the well-being of its students, U of All People crafts an academic triathlon. David Galef weighs in.

March 20, 2014

At U of All People, the administration has grown concerned over the slackness of our student body. Make that bodies. The athletic facilities are so underutilized that you can see tumbleweeds drifting past the exercycles. The freshman 10, the weight gain from our students’ first encounter with our dining halls, became the freshman 15 about five years ago and has recently climbed to the freshman 25. The feat of physical prowess the students got most excited about last month was the annual hoagie-eating contest, won by the combined efforts of the Eta Beta Pi fraternity at 232 sandwiches in half an hour. When asked their favorite activity on a Sunday afternoon, 75 percent of the students answered, “A nap.”

But when an article on the subject appeared in The Weekly People last week, the Student Recreation Board fired back a reply. “Our student body is extremely active,” proclaimed Rec Board head Ann E. Robics. To highlight “the intense physical activity that our students participate in on a daily basis,” the board is now organizing a campus competition: the first academic triathlon -- but it can’t use that name, because it’s already been co-opted by a nationwide bunch of grade-school math and science nerds. Instead, the board has adopted the title TPC: Three-Part Competition, though “TPC” alone has a knowing feel to it that the explanatory part drags down, so the board is going to stick with just the initials. As physics professor Moe Mentam, academic adviser to the TPC committee, says, “All movement is good movement!”

Seven competitions have already been proposed and field-tested, just not in any actual fields. See below for what’s on the docket, complete with an almost meaningless point system. Any resemblance to the Olympic Games is more than coincidental.

            Morning class preparation:

                        * vault out of bed (10 bonus points for those sleeping in bunks)

                        * swim into cast-off clothes (tight jeans, 15 bonus points)

                        * run to bathroom (carpeted corridor counts 10 points more than bare floor)

            Making it to class:

                        * sprint to car, parked on far side of campus (illegal spots, 10 points off)

                        * drive seven laps around building where class is held (hitting pedestrians, 50 points off)

                        * return to original parking spot and run to class (stupidity, 25 points off)

            In-class phone calisthenics:

                        * thumb exercises: text 50 characters per minute (obscene messages, 10 bonus points or 10 points off, judges’ discretion)

                        * REM (Rapid Eye Movement): view smartphone screen and classroom smart board simultaneously (15 bonus points for twitches over 3 per second)

                        * curls: haul phone from under desk and surreptitiously slip it back (20 points off for getting busted)

            Changing classrooms:

                        * hoist textbooks (handicap weights at 5, 10 and 20 lbs.)

                        * jog across campus to art class held in physics lab (25 points off for getting lost)

                        * dash to vending machine during break to grab 2:30 lunch (10 points off for indigestion)


                        * walk circuits around library tables until a spot opens up (flirting in place, 10 bonus points)

                        * manual dexterity: set up laptop, notebook, cell phone, earbuds, water bottle, and snack (15 bonus points for cool hardware)

                        * task management: move among computer, phone, and notebook until time to leave (subtract 10 points for each task completed)

            Office hours:

                        * aerobic conditioning: pace outside professor’s office until beckoned in (75 points off for knocking on door)

                        * arm exercises: gesture vigorously when discussing project (10 points off for knocking over professor’s prize doohickey on desk)

                        * neck extensions: nod at everything professor says (10 bonus points for making professor think her idea was yours)

            Writing a paper:

                        * try to boot up laptop; try again; hit student writing lab (subtract 10 points if after hours)

                        * surf; cut; paste (subtract 50 points for plagiarism, if caught)

                        * pull all-nighter (disqualification for use of Adderall)

The TPC committee is currently thinking up competitions for the faculty, including the race for tenure and marathon grading sessions. And it could use more. All suggestions are welcome, though it’ll probably claim credit for any good ones.


David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).



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