Service With a Smell

Teaching, research and service? David Galef highlights a university that has the latter down pat.

May 3, 2019
 
 
Istockphoto.com/Mykyta Dolmatov

At U of All People, we pride ourselves on service. After all, we’re not the kind of institution that’s ever going to be known as a research institution. Our idea of publication is blogging for a friend (that does count, right?).

Unlike the small, elite liberal arts colleges that promise excellent teaching, our course evaluations are underwhelming (“Professor Beekman is a little shy,” wrote one student about a public speaking class. “Was he the guy up front?”) And since no one in academe really knows what service is (chairing the Committee on Committees? Faculty adviser to the Taekwondo and Anime Club?), we’ve decided to trumpet U of All People as “the university with no service charge.” (Maybe PR can massage that phrase when we’re ready to slap up something new on our website, which hasn’t changed since the last comp sci student graduated in 2007, and it’s covered with scrolling text auto music.)

Our provost, Dr. Watt Tchaganadou, recently sent a memo to all faculty members, asking us to list our service since the start of this academic year. That way, he emphasized with several incomprehensible emoji, the university community and beyond will know about all the hard work we do behind the scenes. “You are the unstrung heroes of our institution,” he wrote on autocorrect. “Tell us five things you’ve done to make U of All People a grate pubic universally!” “Thank you for your service,” he ended, prompting a reaction from ROTC, which has since dropped the siege barricade around his office.

The memo spurred all of us less distinguished service givers to come up with creative ways to massage the data. Professor Libby Artz in the newly merged department of sociology, anthropology, religious philosophy and modern languages compiled this list:

  • Spent five minutes every morning at the entrance to Damthem Hall. (The left door sticks, and I know how to give it a zetz that pops it right open -- students appreciate that!)
  • Fixed the coffeemaker in the faculty lounge so that it emits coffee rather than a death rattle.
  • Bought a new carton of dry‑erase markers and left it open in the department mail room -- all gone by noon.
  • Volunteered to serve as assistant underwater volleyball coach, though the swimming pool at the rec center was long ago turned into a snack bar.
  • Redesigned my office door so that it no longer sports the line “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” but instead reads, “Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide.”

Professor Al Phaziro in computer science wrote:

  • Responded to all 12,500 emails in my in-box, some dating back to 2010, including urgent messages about curing baldness and money from Nigeria.
  • Helped streamline the U of All People landing page so that it loads in under five minutes.
  • Agreed to run a Monday morning workshop on how to coordinate the Canvas course-management system with the rest of the world.
  • Will donate to the charity Disconnected Youth all the cellphones I’ve confiscated in class.
  • May show up at commencement for the first time in 20 years, at least as an avatar.

Meanwhile, Professor P. Dantic is trying to set an example for the entire English department:

  • Have offered to correct the writing style of my colleagues on numerous occasions, including “being that” and “hopefully.”
  • Nominated myself for deputy chair of the physics department to demonstrate interdisciplinarity.
  • Will serve as faculty adviser to the Drama Club, at least until my niece plays the role of Desdemona in the spring Shakespeare production.
  • Have agreed to: 1) post office hours on my office door and 2) show up for at least half of them.
  • Working on the fifth item.

Cherry-picked anecdotal evidence shows that our strategy is working. BuzzFeed recently included us in a list of “10 Universities That Are Trying To Make a Difference (No. 8 Will Blow Your Mind!)” though our new slogan appeared as “Service with a smell!” (Professor Al Phaziro is working with Dr. Watt Tchaganadou on his autocorrect.)

Bio

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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