Gus!... Hello, Si!... Have a seat.
Thanks!What will you have?
What do you have?A Martini, a French Martini.
A French Martini in Manhattan! I will have one too.Another French Martini, please.
How do you like retirement?No books to order, no courses to prepare, no papers to correct, no grades to assign...
No office hours, no committees, no faculty meetings...And no insomnia!
I am looking forward to all of that.How long do you have to wait?
Until June... You used to hate meetings.I still do. We hadn't been to New York in ages, so we decided to take advantage of the reduced rates in a nice hotel.
I don't blame you, but I would have expected to find you in a library, a museum, a theatre, a concert hall...You might have found me in one of those places on any other day. We decided to devote this one to shopping and, since I have this crazy idea that you shop to buy things, we agreed, after much haggling, that I had better leave it to somebody who knows what she's doing.
You sound almost conventional.That's insulting.
That's why I said it. You haven't heard any papers, asked any embarrassing questions?A few, a few.
You must have noticed: everywhere you go around here you see angry women coming at you.Original sin.
I'm not a Christian.Neither am I, but what difference does that make? You were born a man, so you inherited Adam's guilt.
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I hardly recognize you.
Revenge is uncouth.So is the truth.
What makes you think there is any?The little that I have found.
You are lucky. If there is any, we have limited access to it. Isn't that the first lesson we should teach our students?No. We should teach them that the truth exists, but they have to work like hell to find it.
I would feel as if I were sitting on a tortoise's back dangling a carrot in front of his beak.I never had any students that dumb... Well, one or two.
I used to enjoy meetings. If you saw interesting people, you could excuse yourself for looking at their badge and ask them if they knew someone you knew at the same place.You could even ask them whether he had gotten tenure.
I was more interested in whether his or her book had come out.Did you ask them what was in it?
Yes, and they would show me how interested they were.I had forgotten your sadistic side.
It was amusing.I felt ill at ease approaching people I didn't know, unless I had read a book or an article by them. The difference between the sexes merely helped to identify them. Now the men are running after the women.
The feminists will say that the women used to run after the men.Only when they needed their help and men were running after some women for the same reason. We have seen men running after Julie-Anne.
Now we watch from the sidelines as angry women grind their axe and submissive men turn the grindstone.They would turn any they could find. Haven't you turned a few yourself?
... It all depends on who you turn it for.I have always turned my own.
You are welcome to your luxury. It doesn't matter any more whether a poet wrote profound and beautiful poetry. All that matters is whether he was a woman or at least saw women as some them want us to see them.Damn! Were there any like that?
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Fortunately, the vast majority of our female contemporaries refuse to cooperate.
I used to find that a courteous and cordial distance from women inspired mutual respect, but now some of them expect me to share their contempt for men or even concede the superiority of women.Universities attract more of those than their share.
Poison ivy in a hothouse.Choking the flowers and vegatables.
Indeed!I realized we were facing a predatory mutation when I met your friend Millie in the elevator. As usual, it was full of students and professors. No sooner had I asked her how she was than she began to gush over how busy she was with her research, writing, publications, papers, courses, students... I didn't know whether to rejoice over her success or feel sorry for her, so I congratulated her on making the most of her time, but as quietly as I could. I regretted that I couldn't achieve a tone of voice unique to Si Goldstein.
It wouldn't have spilled the wind from her sails. The furies are convinced that men have been overawing women for centuries, so it's time to turn the tables on us. I don't like being relegated to a minority of braggarts.Men are incapable of treating women fairly in good faith! If we do it, it's because we are afraid of them or trying to curry favor with them!
Notice how they treat Julie-Anne.Obsequiously within hearing.
And backbitingly beyond. Sometimes I can't believe my ears, but it's useless to say anything.On the contrary, you could use that tone of voice. It would ice their fury. You could remind them of all the research for which men were admiring Julie-Anne when they were silly teenagers. They can't forgive her because she built her reputation on something more solid than a trend. A medieval manuscript would make them
What awful adolescents they must have been!You are shutting me up!
Only when I can guess what's coming.I feel sorry for their parents.
Parents feel sorry enough for themselves.You don't notice furies much on the outside and people are surprised when they hear how much influence they wield on the inside. Escape refreshes the soul. I feel free, Si, really free!
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Trends bar your windows.
You are exaggerating as usual. You can't beat a trend, but you only have to bend a little bit until it spends itself.Bending weakens your freedom and, as soon as one trend spends itself, another replaces it. Universities are trend factories.
All industries generate waste and trends are highly degradable.How about the wasted minds, the books in the library?
Some minds are born to waste themselves. The loss of shelf space is an annoyance, but at least some candidates for the PhD will delight in a neglected dissertation subject.... I'm refraining from a four-letter word that never failed to disgust you.
Thanks for your restraint! Trends only require a little lip-service. Substituting a few words for the others never hurt anyone.The hell it didn't! You forget that you are in the business of selling language and literature. They consist of words. You have to use words to express your thought and your students are listening. Trendriders wreck their worst when they dictate the substitution of new words for old ones on the excuse of social justice. Who do they think they are fooling? Vanity and vanity alone motivates circumlocutions that obscur thoughts shocking only to the self-righteous. Accuracy and concision always suffer.
Remember Tilda Libbie?I have been trying to forget her. Trendiness is the basic requirement for the chancellorship.
Remember her memo telling us, in thorough detail, how to treat any "visually underprivileged person" who might take one of our classes?When I was a little boy, I discovered that some people can't see. Nobody had to tell me that you should be nice to them and help them whenever you can. A few years later, I realized that it humiliates them when you do more for them than they want. I had already reached an age that Tilda never will. "Call me any time, anywhere, even"
Please!You don't have any sense of humor.
Yes I do. Frustrating yours amuses me.I had always assumed that Australia was a country you immigrate to and not away from. They must have kicked her out because she was talking nonsense.
The social sciences pride themselves on complicating the expression of simple ideas to impress the uninitiated.
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That doesn't keep them from milking governments and grant agencies for the exorbitant sums they squander.
Most of their employees majored in a social science.I think you have something. How many majors in the humanities and the genuine sciences would want to spend the rest of their lives wasting other people's money?
The humanities are cheap in comparison with the two sciences. I can't remember a time when they weren't nibbling at our budget on the excuse that they are useful.Useful! In medicine, they find ways to eradicate old diseases so that people can live longer and catch new ones that are worse. We can't save lives. All we can do is make them worth living.
A sinister plot!Society consists of groups plotting against each other. The motivation varies from cynicism to greed. I used to find myself conniving to lure young people into taking courses in French, majoring in French, applying for graduate study in French. At the slightest hint that they might waste their time, I would distinguish between learning how to make money and how to use their mind.
You don't think you were misleading them?No.
Then what was so sinister about working with the rest of us to recruit students for our courses and our programs?I didn't tell them that raises in my salary depended in part on the number of students enrolled in my courses.
I'm glad you didn't, but I suspect that most of them were aware of it.There never seemed to be enough of them in my classes.
I have always had the same impression.You are feeling sorry for me.
No, you wouldn't like that.I worked pretty godamned hard.
I know you did.We have a few colleagues who know instinctively how to get their students interested, in themselves at least.
Yes, in themselves especially.Do you know what charisma is?
No, but I know it exists.Most of them are incompetent or lazy.
Many of them
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I have always wondered what makes them attractive to students and unattractive to their colleagues.
The immaturity of the youthful perspective? You could spend a lot of time trying to find out. A handlebar moustache or a cute goatee works wonders.By "cute" you mean salt and pepper. When students bother to make comments on evaluations, they often say he is "neat" or she is "nice". The little circles on the scales between "good" and "bad" usually stir peremptory emotions. If all the black spots are at one end or the other, you have to wonder whether they serve any useful purpose.
Good professors are friendly, helpful...Bad professors are arrogant, disdainful... and they hate students no matter how hard they try to treat them right. In that case, they are "hypocritical". Otherwise, they are "sarcastic". Evaluations short-circuit thought by giving students all the reasons they need to justify attitudes that rarely have much to do with teaching. All they have to do is blacken the circles that appeal to them.
So you think evaluations are just a safety valve allowing them to let off steam? What about professors who don't prepare their courses, who treat their students harshly or unfairly, who neglect them for research?That's what students love to tell each other and their parents. In reality, those crimes don't pay. How many dare? I can only think of one.
Sérigny?Sérigny. Treat'em rough, the way they had treated him at Lyon III! Especially bad students and, if they complain, it's because they are bad students. Sérigny never convinced me that some of the students he was dismissing as hopeless weren't doing pretty well in my classes and vice versa.
I had the same impression, but he returned to his beloved Lyon and evaluations helped persuade him to leave.Did they? Or were they merely a pretext for your friends whom he embarrassed by asking them what they had published lately?
They are not my friends.We wouldn't have heard a peep out of them if Sérigny had kept his mouth shut and paid his dues... Like Wheelwright.
Wheelwright? He is my friend and yours too.Who isn't his friend? Everybody's friend is nobody's friend.
Gus, that isn't very charitable.Charitable! That's the word all right. Wheelwright gives lots of As and a few Bs. A student once told me that you have to try pretty hard to get a B from him.
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Both Wheelwright and Sérigny opposed my suggestion that we try to harmonize our grading standards, but for opposite reasons.
I'm afraid no one wanted to try that.Cowards, all of you! You hide the tendency to give too many good or bad grades behind the necessary subjectivity of study in the humanities. Bad grades offend most of the students who get them and good ones, most of those who don't get them. The use of a standardized grading system implies that each grade has approximately the same value whoever assigns it. The diversity of personal grading policies foments discontent and encourages complaints.
True, but the humanities diversify the minds of the professors who work in them so that each develops his own grading policy. You were asking them to abandon personal standards that they had spent much time and effort refining. The problem is more complex than you admit.This very complexity serves the interests of professors who exploit it to their advantage and the disadvantage of their colleagues, whether they want students to think they are tough or kind.
Students thought you were both tough and kind.They did? That was what I was trying to be, but it didn't persuade many of them to take my courses. I hated giving grades.
It's the other way around for me. I enjoy giving them the grades they deserve.The grades you think they deserve.
No, the grades they deserve. You have to be objective.How can you be objective when you don't believe in ultimate truth?
I can be objective within the frame of reference determined by the relative truth I have discovered. Perhaps you felt uneasy about grading because you tried to conceive a frame of reference founded on ultimate truth.... In other words, I was trying too hard and that made them suspicious.
Perhaps. Your zeal in correcting tests, exams and papers discouraged them. You covered the pages with red marks and remarks. A student once told me that they looked like they had the measles. You really have to ignore minor mistakes, particularly with graduate students who think they already know something.Those who already know something go to Princeton or Yale. I was aware that I should ignore minor mistakes, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, even though I was taking three days to do what the rest of you were doing in one. If I had ignored minor mistakes, I would have felt as if I were cheating them.
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I have always wondered.
I do like a few of them. Occasionally, I discover someone curteous, cultivated, curious... please excuse this alliteration...I was anxious to hear the next word in your series.
If it's a young man, I invite him to lunch in the Windsor Room where my other students won't see us.Unless they are waiters.
That happened once. If it's a young woman, I invite her to my house with other students or young faculty. I couldn't stand the vast majority of my students at my table or in my house. When I first began to teach in Concordia, I realized that state universities are truly democratic in the sense that all kinds of students come from all kinds of places.I had been looking forward to that, but, once I had begun to teach, I was glad that French is hard for Americans. The translated literature they kept asking us to teach for enrollment introduced me to the majority that we were usually spared.
I taught some of those too. They remind you how ineffective most public schools are, how ignorant the teachers are...And how taxpayers are being cheated, to the extent that they are not actually letting themselves be cheated.
You must have something particular in mind?I have a lot of things in mind. Take standardized tests.
What's wrong with them?Intelligence is essentially diverse. A bunch of clever mediocrities draw up a series of questions to each of which they agree on one "right" and several "wrong" answers. Since they work together, they eliminate all answers that seem implausible to them. An original and independent mind will not only see ways in which "right" is wrong and "wrong", right, but also imagine right or wrong answers that escape the mediocrities. Yet if that student yields to his better judgment, he will fail the test. Worse, the exersize tends to test his memory of facts rather than his ability to produce ideas.
Your objections seem more theoretical than practical to me. Students are not so naïve as to try and outguess the experts who devise the test. I see nothing mediocre about these experts and I think they achieve their purpose. There is no better way to test a large number of students and select the best.
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No better way? Standardized tests are certainly the cheapest and most convenient way, and that's why administrators embrace them with such determination. But they are also unfair, because they test the ability to remember rather than the ability to think. Testing the ability to think would necessitate essays and administrators hate all solutions that require much work by many employees whom they would have to pay. All they really care about is paper proof that they can show the public to justify their selection of candidates.
You would like something like the Bac, wouldn't you?Yes. The French government pays teachers to grade tens of thousands of essays every year and the public generally accept their grades. The performance of the students who continue their studies tends to justify the system. It would be hard to persuade the French electorate to substitute standardized tests for essays.
They have their traditions and we have ours. Americans would find subjective evaluation by many different teachers unfair. One teacher can compare essays with each other, but grades assigned by different teachers wouldn't conform to common standards enough to satisfy the public. Lawyers would make a lot of money.They wouldn't make a cent if you required all candidates to sign an acceptance of the evaluators' judgment like those required of participants in contests. Americans have proved more reasonable in abandoning unsuitable traditions than other nations, but companies who sell standardized tests, experts who develop them and administrators who depend on them would use any argument they could find to keep them. You already cited the difficulty of establishing common standards as an excuse for avoiding them. They have established them in France and they work.
You would never be able to establish them in the United States and anything you tried to establish wouldn't work.Never is always a risky prediction. You are going to tell me that we will never succeed in abolishing letters of recommendation.
Why on earth would we ever want to do that?In theory, the teacher, who knows his student's ability, will evaluate it honestly. In practice, he has an interest in persuading his readers that his student is a better candidate than the others. If his student wins the competition, he will have an agent willing to support his reputation in some other place. The student who has to ask his teacher for a recommendation faces the dilemma of requesting one that might disadvantage him and perhaps unfairly if the teacher has a grudge against him. Success not only depends on the content of the recommendation, but also the reputation of the teacher and some students don't have the opportunity to take a course from a teacher reputable enough to ensure it. The tradition encourages shoe polishing and advertising. I have seen a lot of both.
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The risk is not very great since, by then, there can be no further comparison with the student's competitors. Such a contradiction could only result from a crude misrepresentation, while competition often depends on subtle differences between candidates.
We do well enough by letters of recommendation and we would do worse by grading hundreds or thousands of essays. All of your reforms would run the risk of unforeseeable disaster.So would a continuation of present policies.
Let's talk about something else.All right, try this: We bought a new house in Mapleton and workers are building others all around us or, when we can get them to come, repairing the defects in ours. If I had to choose between construction workers and professors or administrators, I wouldn't hesitate. We are rediscovering healthy human beings after thirty years of living with a degenerate subspecies. How refreshing it is!
You can't be serious! I had to deal with the workers who built my house. My expectations were modest and yet I was appalled by their ignorance and vulgarity. They were so unreliable, so mendacious, so... primitive...Some of ours answer your description, but most of them don't at all. The profanity and the obscenity stop as soon as we come within earshot. We find them courteous, tactful and surprisingly sincere. More than once, they warned us that their boss was trying to cheat us. That could have cost them their job. A plumber named Moe, who kept rolling his eyes around the ceiling, showed us how his boss had ordered him to save money by routing pipes through the wall where the risk of freezing would be greater than under the floor. We told the boss that we had seen them in the wall and wanted them under the floor. What if we had added that Moe had warned us?
He was certainly the exception and not the rule.No, that isn't true.
Your reaction to the level of intelligence must have resembled mine.That's what we expected, but it was rarely what we found. We had been waiting three weeks for Zip to come and repair a ridge in the plaster raised by the edges of two badly-joined panels of drywall. Everybody said Zip could make it look flat. He turned out to be a Mexican who handled the board and trowel like an artist. When he had finished, he explained, rather eloquently I thought, how he
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had covered the ridge by a slight bulge in the plaster and blended the new swirls into the old ones. He had us look at it from both sides so that the difference in lighting enabled us to appreciate the blend. "It's like a green in the late afternoon," he said. "The light comes in at a low angle so you can plot the path of your put and compensate for the variations in the texture of the grass."
Again, the exception doesn't prove the rule.No, but several of them break the curve. If Zip were a professor of plaster, I wonder what objections the envious mediocrities of his department would make to undermine his tenure application. Maybe they would say he smears the plaster on too wet so that it takes too long to dry.
I don't know enough about such skills to argue with you, but surely you wouldn't consider them academic?What's an academic discipline at this point? Almost anything is all right as long as it concerns the immediately here and now. How many students get their degrees without any study of the past or other countries? Universities are producing learned ignoramuses who lose their way whenever they adventure beyond their own time or space. Half the faculty in the humanities and two thirds in the pseudo-sciences are journalists who cover the current preoccupations of the public.
Which would leave French out, to say nothing of poetry and the essay, but I wouldn't go that far.I would. I don't mean to say that all new disciplines are a waste of time and money. We couldn't do without computer science, for instance, although it is less a science than an applied mathematics or a branch of engineering.
You and I managed to ride the great computer wave. Others were afraid to get their feet wet.There they stand forlorn, looking out over the water.
On the other hand, you and I are incompatible even in our choice of technology.Mac and PC can correspond by e-mail.
Are you in contact with your friends in Concordia?Yes, I send them messages, but they reply less and less often.
Why did you move away? You gave up the library, the lectures, the concerts, the films, the theatre...The cocktail parties
And the students.Yes, I miss all of that, except the cocktail parties, but I don't regret my decision. I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to leave. Maybe it was because I had had enough. I had tried very hard to provide valuable services of which few others
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were capable. You and your friends -- I mean friends in the broadest possible sense of the word -- had persistently sabotaged my efforts and frustrated my ambitions for reasons that I can't respect... You asked me, Si, and I have to tell you.
Well, I asked because I wanted to know. You are aware that I don't agree with you?Of course. Universities should be places where people can disagree in good faith. Unfortunately, they are nothing of the kind.
That seems pessimistic to me. What are you disagreeing on these days?I'm not writing for the university anymore, I'm writing for myself.
What do you mean?I dedicated myself to college teaching because I had to make a living and I couldn't do anything else.
I don't know whether to accuse you of false modesty or self-denigration. It's more likely that you wanted to dedicate yourself to study. I think we have that in common. I refuse to include you among colleagues who entered this profession because they were afraid of the others. The competition would have been stiff and they would have had to work hard.Well! Let me have that in writing.
I told you, they are not my friends.I had wanted to write, not about other writers but rather to express myself. Literary criticism has always seemed parasitic to me because it feeds on others' imagination, if you don't mind my claiming a little for myself.
Hardly!I had submitted enough manuscripts often enough to convince myself that editors were right when they said my stuff wouldn't sell. I have long since realized that, despite their rhetoric, they couldn't care less about the originality of thought as long as the author is already famous or notorious. Anybody will do. Even Monica Lewinsky! The author's name appears at the top of the cover and in larger letters than the title of bestsellers these days. The lesson we learn from the great scandals of our time is the money earned by the perpetrators who tell us how they did it. People used to be interested in where the president slept. Now they pay millions to find out
I know, I know.How did you guess?
So you thought you could follow an academic career and write a little literature on the side?I thought I might be able to slip a novel in from time to time.
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Your scepticism is justified. But now I have the time to do what I have been dying to do for thirty-five years.
I'm shaking and trembling.It isn't noticeable. I have been shaking and trembling since my twenty-first birthday. Do you remember waking up an adult that morning?
If you were like me, you had gone to bed something worse the night before.I had a classics professor who shook so much that we called him "ShakAjax." He had suffered from shellshock.
You are going to tell me that you are writing a novel. I can feel it coming.What if I told you I'm not writing a novel, but rather a conversation.
A conversation? What kind of conversation? The kind we are having right now?Why not? Two old enemies from the same university department run into each other at the annual meeting of their discipline. One has retired and the other will retire soon. To their surprise, they have right much to say to each other.
You are going to put words in my mouth.If you read it, what you recognize will enrage you less than what you don't. Biography would distract me from the thought I want to express.
I shake and tremble a little less, but I'm afraid this thought will be as negative as usual and I can't believe you don't intend to publish it.Of course I intend to publish it. People who say they are only writing for themselves are liars. I intend to publish it on the internet.
How many readers do you expect to reach that way?I have no idea. Nobody else does either. I like it that way.
You do? Wouldn't you rather know whether you are wasting your time?Who knows that? Editors think they know what will sell. They base it on their experience, in other words their knowledge of the past. They are as ignorant of the future as the rest of us and maybe even more ignorant because of their preoccupation with what has been selling. With few exceptions, they are afraid of original ideas that will spoil their markets. They have a lot more success in keeping old ideas alive than guessing which new ones will interest the public. They cultivate an ignorant, vulgar common denominator by ringing the same three bells in different combinations. I'm horrified by the ease with which they seduce millions of Americans.
Well, I wish you luck and, if you publish your conversation soon enough, you will have at least one reader.I will try not to disappoint you, but why so soon?
Oh, I might forget. I promise I will throw a tantrum worthy of your expectations.
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I plan to throw an obstacle in the path of readers. I will let them read the first half free. If they want to read the second half, they will have to pay me $5 and I will send it to them.
The second half will be even more interesting than the first?Of course. Since you will be playing a leading role, however, I will send it to you free if you ask for it.
Thank you, but I will be shaking like your hero.ShakAjax didn't like being called a hero.
You should have been a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer. You would have been a happier professor.I was tempted. No head for figures. Besides, they kick each other even harder in the shins because the stakes are higher.
That sounds like soccer.Bad soccer, the kind I once played.
I was playing the piano.You made better use of your youth.
I suppose you keep up with the research in your field?I discriminate a lot more than I used to. The more I read, the more I realized that three fourths have less to say than a need to say something, whether they seek tenure, promotion or simply a raise. My field, our discipline, all of the humanities are cluttered with studies that fold repetition into the pleats of a current trend. The first paper I heard today accused Grimm once again of conspiring with Diderot to keep Mme d'Epinay from publishing her memoir novel for fear of being overshadowed by his mistress. You would have recognized the vocabulary. The second sunk Rousseau's paranoia in still another quagmire of psychoanalysis that isolated it from any recognizable criteria founded on human experience. Again, you would have recognized the vocabulary. Rousseau's name went unpronounced during the last ten of thirty minutes. The grindstone turner who presided over the session was afraid to pass the ritual note to the axe grinder. The third...
I hope you haven't forgotten?No, I'm just not sure what he was trying to say. I'm not a very good listener because I lose interest when I hear nonsense. Maybe he wanted to say that Voltaire was just a capitalist exploiting the labor of his watchmakers at Ferney and an imperialist luring them away from Geneva. When Voltaire attacked injustice, he only targeted the kind that didn't undermine his economic interests! This time the vocabulary would have reminded you that Marxism didn't fall with the Berlin wall, but merely took refuge in American universities...
Any more papers?No, I retreated to this table to drown my despair.
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... Do you miss teaching?No. I thought I would, but I don't.
You were doing some unusual things. Students mentioned them occasionally, but, since it was none of my business, I refrained from asking for clarification. I will say that the good ones liked them and the bad ones didn't, if you will excuse the distinction.I did everything in French. I thought we should be teaching students how to read and how to think about what they were reading. If I succeeded, I enabled them to read and think on their own. I spent most of every class asking them questions about the text I had assigned and trying to coax answers out of them. The more advanced they were, the more they responded and the more they engaged in discussions. I had to work harder on the lower levels. Sometimes I had to answer practically all of my own questions and sometimes we had a lively discussion with students volunteering opinions. Shy or weak students, who were often the same ones, always required special attention, which I had to limit nonetheless for fear of boring the good ones. If I had only recognized students who raised their hands, I would have wasted the others' time. As you can see, this kind of teaching was harder work than simply preparing a lecture and giving it. I had to be ready for unpredictable situations depending on who was present and how well they had read the text. Quite a few resented being questioned every time because other professors didn't do that and they let me know it by skipping classes.
They often show us a thing or two that way. They don't necessarily grow up by reaching the age of seventeen and going away to college, as too many parents assume.We owe many of our problems to parents who take the university for a never-never land where their offspring will undergo an extraordinary transformation enabling them to realize their parents' fondest dreams. Since students share only some of these dreams, they engage in a tacit conspiracy with the administration to reassure their parents. You must have noticed the starry-eyed families following their delegate around the campus on certain weekends.
I have noticed the frozen smiles. Similar illusions affect alumni and even ordinary citizens. No one seems to understand that a university faces the same kind of problems as any large, diverse public institution: money, people...Greed, graft...
You were telling me about your teaching methodology. You gave your students test and exam questions in advance.Yes. Most tests and exams challenge them to remember, rather than think about
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what they have learned. What purpose does memorization serve when they have access to books and other sources where they can refresh their memory and even expand their knowledge? The evaluation, comparison, combination and development of ideas remains secondary. I wanted to give them an opportunity to demonstrate the critical skills I was trying to teach them. I shifted the emphasis from memorization to analysis by telling them in advance the subjects of one or two essays I would ask them to write. I even let them use their books and notes because I wanted them to concentrate on rethinking the material they had learned and planning the essays they would write. They often find term papers and take-home exams hard to finish, so I required them to write their essays during a class period and most of them managed to finish on time. I even encouraged them, once they had prepared to their own satisfaction, to engage in discussions of the material with other members of the class. If they were desperate, on the other hand, they had my phone number and I was usually able to put some order in their chaos. I felt like a radar operator talking a plane down on to the runway in bad weather.
Your exams must have been more interesting to read.They were.
I can see advantages and disadvantages in your method. The greatest disadvantage would be that other professors are training students to do something entirely different. No wonder your approach exposed you to complaints from those who felt disadvantaged! The experience was certainly good for them, but I am not convinced that traditional teaching merely reinforces memorization. You and I learned that way. Furthermore, you could never persuade a significant number of colleagues to follow your example.That sounds official.
The administration would probably agree.So all the money they spend on teaching methodology results in reshuffling traditions... You are sighing?
I'm afraid they not only waste it on reshuffling traditions, but also on pedagogical phantasy.Like letting students contract for the grades they think they can make. Like dividing the class into groups and asking each student to take a turn in teaching the others in his group.
I'm sure that works fine in kindergartens and schools of education.Schools of education!
I share your opinion, but what can we do about it?Spend the money on reducing class size so that students can discuss their problems with their professors.
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They would rather put on a show in front of a big audience. The reproduction of lectures for sale to students amounts to an admission that reading is an acceptable alternative to listening. Dialogue with students obligates a professor to clarify what they find obscure. Lecturers delegate that chore to graduate assistants who can't always guess the great man's answers to questions he would rather duck anyway. Classes that number in the hundreds may save money, but the administration squanders it on other things that have little to do with genuine teaching or research. The limitation of all classes to twenty-five students should have the highest priority.
... You have some interesting ideas about teaching and other things as well, but you go too far too fast.I go too far too fast for special interests. Reform would pluck fleas from the golden fleece and they would have nowhere else to feed.
That's a bad metaphor. Fleas feed on the flesh under the fleece. The changes would cause more chaos than any improvements that they may or may not achieve would be worth.That's a bad excuse.
How do you know? We would have to implement the changes to find out and the risks are too great.The perennial excuse of privileged comfort! Instead of stirring the stew, why don't you improve the ingredients? Your friends concentrate on methods and neglect content. What you teach matters a whole lot more than how you teach it. But then they would have to do some research and that's exactly what they fear.
That's unfair.Is it? Let's take my favorite example.
I thought you would get around to your favorite example.Why not? What could be more medieval in American society than universities and departments? If an oligarchy consisted of an enlightened elite, it would be an ideal government. They seldom do because they usually evolve when people conspire to wield power together for mutual advantages that don't necessarily accommodate the needs of the whole. Have you ever heard of a university or a department that was not controlled by an oligarchy?
I can't think of any offhand, but these oligarchies rarely neglect the needs of the whole.Rarely? They sacrifice them whenever they conflict with their own interests and that happens all the time. Enlightened democracy would put an end to that.
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Utopia!Nonsense! I'm not advocating dreams, I'm advocating possibilities achievable by democratic pressure.
Too much democracy, like too much of anything, would only do harm.Enlightened democracy? Where is the harm in depriving the oligarchy of their undeserved privileges? I was never so crazy as to believe that I could reform the entire university, but George and I almost succeeded in reforming the department.
You never came close!Nearly half the faculty had confidentially agreed to vote for the charter if we had a secret ballot. We badgered Abigail to put it on the agenda for the next meeting. When she saw she couldn't refuse without offending too many people, she tried to confine the issue to a half hour during which Millie would report the results of the survey she had made of other French departments. That would have left little time for discussion of the charter. Will you agree that Millie's report backfired?
She was too cute and too clever.We weren't the only ones who didn't think her jokes were funny and who didn't like her wasting our time. George pricked her baloon when he said that a lack of democracy in other departments didn't show that there was no need for it in ours. On the contrary, I added, a lack of democracy in any department implies a need for it and especially in ours. Then Julie-Anne, who usually soars over these petty quarrels, remarked that slavish imitation of Princeton and Yale only subordinated us to them. We demanded a vote and you, seeing that you and your friends would lose, moved to table the motion until the next meeting, on the excuse that we shouldn't rush into anything that involved unforeseen consequences. It didn't matter, as I objected, that we had sent a typescript of the charter to every member of the faculty two weeks before the meeting. Then Sinkovitch stood up and thundered against a false democracy that would expose the disadvantaged to the evils of competition while Mumpet gave him his usual support.
Yesss!Abigail insinuated that her friend the dean would take the charter as a challenge to himself. Among other detrimental reactions, he would suspect tenure and promotion applications from the department of democratic laxity. This hint from the chairlady that Growly had imposed on the department against the will of the majority hardly escaped the attention of the untenured professors who supported the charter. Although we voted by secret ballot, the faculty was small enough so that we could usually guess who had voted how. The motion to table carried by a single vote.
Wisdom prevailed. The charter was a provocation. It did challenge the dean by purporting to deprive him of his legitimate control over the
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Maybe. Like Abigail, Growly got the job by polishing shoes. Shoe polishers are ruthless when they wield overwhelming power, yet the slightest cough or sneeze tames them precipitously. If another department had followed our lead, Growly would have backed down and, if others had followed, he soon would have championed the cause as if he had initiated it himself. Harnessing such horses to the chariot boosted him to the deanship. The president is the same kind of politician. Remember when Softack, who had been reaching for Gettough's cheek, came down on his wrists?
Ever so lightly! But you are casting lead soldiers again. Some administrators polish shoes as you say and some don't.All of them polish shoes. It's the minimum requirement.
That's not true.How about Abigail?
If you insisted that she polishes shoes, I wouldn't argue with you.How about Si Goldstein?
... At the beginning of a career, who can survive without polishing shoes? If you told me that you didn't even polish any then, I wouldn't believe you. I find it as demeaning as you do, I have done it as little as possible and even less since I was dean of international relations.Refusing to polish yours when you were the acting chairman of French might have cost me tenure.
You are trying to provoke me. If you had tried, I wouldn't have let you.Maybe you would have let me and it wouldn't have done any good.
Now you are insulting me.Probabilities often have that effect. Let's see how many facts we can agree on. Stop me when I say something wrong. Although Morphus Akkahanian was the chairman then, he took a sabbatical and appointed you as acting chairman. I have always wondered whether he chose that year so he could duck the controversy over my tenure application.
That doesn't sound like a fact.Do you deny it?
Not necessarily.Then it's a probability, isn't it?
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You are quibbling. In any case, Morph threw a hot potato in your lap because he knew you and your friends were determined to deny me tenure.
You were dangerous.I endangered undeserved privileges. You and your friends pulled a fast one on me. You presented my tenure dossier to the departmental faculty as outstanding in research and satisfactory in teaching and service, winking as usual at service because of the research. Although a few of the faculty abstained, none cast a vote against me. You even assured me that my dossier was the strongest one anybody could remember. Without saying so, you were encouraging me to believe that the dean's committee would follow suit. Right?
Right.I had finished my exams and turned my grades in at the end of the fall semester. I was at home writing a book. The kids were playing on the floor. Murma was shopping. Friday afternoon. Everything bad happens on Friday afternoon... Maybe I should stop there. You know the story as well as I do.
I would like to hear you tell it.The phone rang. Si Goldstein's voice sounded so sad that I hardly recognized it. I heard him telling me that the dean had turned me down, then I heard me telling him who had pulled the strings and what I thought of him. He wouldn't have liked the language I was using.
Ha! Ha! Ha! You hadn't realized yet how much I enjoy reactions to unwelcome surprizes.I found out by that very experience. For once, joy spoiled the tone of voice you reserve for such occasions. You objected to the unpleasant way I was treating somebody who only wanted to help. I burst out laughing.
You told me that I had had my Pearl Harbor and that you were going to get your Hiroshima, then I burst out laughing. I have to admit that laughter was inappropriate under the circumstances. I apologize.That must be the first time that you have ever apologized.
There were a few others.I have had some dreadful Christmases. That one was the worst.
You shouldn't be celebrating Christmas anyway.Don't you celebrate Passover?
Sort of. I drink good wine. French wine, in fact.If we had been friends, we could have toasted Christmas in my house and Passover in yours. What's wrong with folklore?
Nothing. I rather enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year... Holidays are opportunities to meet friends and have a good time... You haven't
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Impatience will focus your attention. Since you are absolutely determined to be a
Now, now!You know what I was going to say. Ezra Schneidermann was the dean then. I went to see him because that's always the first step in the ritual of appealing such a decision. The vanity of administrators has always astonished me.
What doesn't astonish you? Administrators are just like everyone else.You might as well tell me that ants and butterflies are both insects. You know, I hadn't thought of it before, but ants are the most ancient bureaucrats on earth.
You are getting off the subject again.When I get off the subject, it reminds you that there is one. I expected Ezra to be tough. Not at all. He was kind, almost as if he felt sorry for me. Once I had discussed my dossier with him, he said there were some additional documents in it that had come directly to him. I would need to see them so that I could prepare my appeal. He would arrange for me to return on Saturday morning when his secretary would be there. She had some work to catch up on. It was one of these bureaucratic sleights of hand, like a secretary entering the great office, when the interview is going badly or lasting too long, to alert Monseigneur to a call from Los Alamos. Growly gets his calls from Washington if you manage to cut through the endless chitchat he has prepared to waste your time. Every administrator has his little bag of tricks.
You keep getting off the subject.I enjoy keeping you waiting. It's a pleasure I learned from you.
You need to refine your technique.Well, I came back Saturday and Ezra's secretary, who wasn't working for her first dean, sat me down at a big desk where the dossier was waiting for me. She adjusted the lamp and told me that, if I needed anything, she would be in the next room. Only afterwards did I realize that Ezra was trusting me not to steal anything.
I wouldn't have done that. You could be trusted, but others would expect the same treatment.I guess the dean of a big school has the luxury of making a few exceptions. I browsed through the dossier looking for the additional documents he had mentioned. Letters from referees were still confidential then, so I wasn't surprized not to find them. I was surprized to find a memo from Simon Goldstein, Acting Chairman of French, dated a few weeks after the dean had received my dossier.
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In following the rules, you had shown me your recommendation, which you then inserted in the dossier before sending it to the dean. This was something else.
So?Here you were calling attention to an attached evaluation of my teaching and suggesting that it deserved consideration. I folded your memo behind the evaluation and discovered that it was one I had never seen before. You had kept it secret. You probably remember that the course was 303, Essays in French Literature, which I had taught more often than any other course... You seem eager to hear me tell this story?
I am.... The black spots on the scales between good and bad showed that this student, like most of my students in that course, thought that I was not so good and not so bad. Rarely did they make more than a few words of comment.
With mistakes in spelling if not in grammar.This one made no mistakes in either. He had filled the space reserved for comments and continued in the margin beneath it. He found that my remarks about one of the texts I had assigned were surprizingly anti-Semitic. They had shocked him all the more because everything I had said before and after that class suggested that I had no such prejudices.
How did you feel when you read that?Chills running up and down my spine. It may be a commonplace, but that's how I felt. Fortunately, it happened during Christmas vacation. If our paths had crossed...
Ha! Ha! Ha! A few centuries ago, you would have sent me an invitation to meet on Jackson Green at daybreak. A pair of foils or pistols would have been waiting on a folding table.And the champagne on ice.
They didn't have champagne yet.That depends on the period. I saw that the student was a freshman in music. I had no trouble remembering him because we only get good students from music, although they disappear after the first two years. Nathan Kritzler. He had been absent at Yom Kippur. He is probably in the oboe section of some orchestra now.
I am particularly fond of the oboe.So am I. I knew exactly what had happened. We had been reading Pascal and the text for that Tuesday included some invective against the crucifiers of Christ. I could have avoided those Pensées since the work is long and we could only read part of it anyway. I wanted my students to understand that Pascal was both a brillant writer and a Jansenist fanatic at a time when nearly all Christians took the guilt of the Jews for granted. The pope, who never changes his mind, had only recently changed his mind about that, but I refrained from reminding
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my students. I was more wary of a Catholic reaction than a Jewish, yet, as I was explaining Pascal's hatred of the Jews, Nathan looked as if I had thrown a bucket of icewater in his face. Although his French was good for a freshman, it was not good enough to keep him from missing some of those little words that make such a big difference. Since he had spoken to me a few times after class, I waited for another opportunity, but none came. He was probably embarrassed... Do you still think I am anti-Semitic?
You are going to get a bucket of icewater in the face. I never thought you were prejudiced against the Jews.You didn't?
No, I didn't....
I don't like Jewish zealots, but they can be useful. You had spoken out against Steve Wannamaker's course on the Holocaust because you thought it was Zionist propaganda. He was on the dean's tenure committee along with a few of the other self-righteous militants you have been condemning. A word to the wise...I can't believe you threw me to the lions!
Yes, I did, I threw you to the lions.And you have no... remorse?
You don't want me to lie, do you?Of course not.
No, I have no remorse... except that I botched the job. I made a mistake in timing. The lions weren't hungry.You have no scruples, no morals.
No. I am surprized you didn't already know that. You had too many Jewish friends. Ezra was a friend of your friends and, the first thing I knew, he was your friend too.He had missed Ausschwitz by a breath of air.
What do you mean?You haven't heard the story? He told it to me himself. They were crossing the border into Switzerland under the cover of an early morning mist. They heard a vehicle approaching and only the police drove there. They laid down and Ezra said the grass was so wet and cold that he still shivers when he remembers it. The vehicle passed and, as it moved away, a slight breeze blew the mist away. What if it had come a few seconds earlier? They could see the backs of two fat policemen, the one on the right holding a weapon.
I never heard anything about that.He told it to me when we discussed your memo during Christmas vacation. I told him what I just told you and he said he was going to tell the chancellor to overturn his decision.
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That's the word he used.
Everyone knows the chancellor doesn't control enough budget to wield much power, but I am surprized that Ezra admitted it.Growly would have had me pumping gasoline or hawking life insurance from door to door.
No, you would have gotten a job in a four-year college.With a heavy teaching load and a poor library. It probably would have cut my research in half.
Probably.And you wouldn't have minded?
Not in the least. I would have taken satisfaction in the elimination of a permanent threat. I wouldn't have had to oppose all your attempts to change things. I would have had more time for research. You had won the first battle. I spent the rest of the war forestalling defeat.You are being modest. You may have lost the first battle, but you won all the others and you never had to answer for your crime.
I didn't win the war.How can I make peace with the devil?
I wouldn't think of letting your steam cool. Waiter?... Aren't you going to have another one too?
I'm on medication. We were talking about the charter.You succeeded in having the motion tabled and, after the meeting, Abigail called the untenured professors in one by one to discuss their progress towards tenure, although it was a month ahead of time. A few of them she suspected of supporting the charter told George that she had found true or false weaknesses in their dossiers. Once she had stressed their vulnerability, she reassured them that she could explain the weaknesses away in her discussion with the dean.
Give me an example.We know what wonderful lectures Gervaise gives, yet some of his students found him boring. There are many possible causes of boredom, some of which implicate listeners rather than speakers, although students rarely admit that. Some of the many who take Gervaise's courses know too little French to follow him or don't try hard enough. They typically blame him. Abigail exaggerated the number who had complained and the gravity of the shortcoming as if they might keep him from getting tenure. Then she offered to explain to her friend the dean that such students take such courses because they have heard that they are exciting, but without considering that they haven't learned enough French to
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follow lectures or that they will have to listen carefully and attend assiduously to keep up with them.
I can see why Growly might accept such an argument. Even a bad lecturer in political science can interest some of his listeners some of the time. But he would need an excuse for the other listeners and the other times.How often has he repeated the story of the ten minutes he spoke at the democratic national convention?
Peyton Arnoldi, who has to listen to him practically every time, had counted 37 the last time I spoke with him. He writes such things in that agenda he slips out of his pocket as if to take notes.I have always envied your access to such sources.
I didn't know that Abigail had turned some of the untenured professors against the charter. I'm less inclined to accept Gervaise's version than to assume that she talked some sense into their heads. How could democracy govern a department, much less a university?You might have been one of the sailors on the Santa Maria who, when he saw Columbus standing on the poop, muttered to his mates: "Where on earth does he think he's taking us?"
Ha! Ha! Ha! Before long, you are going to compare me with the man who named the continent that Columbus had discovered after himself. Amerigo...Vespucci. You asked for it, you are going to get it. But first, please consider the tactic that Abigail used at the next meeting. All of us were sitting around that long, solemn table in the Distinguished Alumnae and Alumni Room -- Have I forgotten any of the words in the title?
None.The most unmotherly female I have ever known wreathed her face in a smile and sweetly invited everybody around the table to express his opinion on the charter.
You look like Sinkovitch about to stand up.I will try to stay down. Little Red Ridinghood must have seen a smile like that on the snout of the wolf in sheep's clothing. Fool that I am, I said nothing. Nothing! I could have done it politely, observing that such a roundtable confession would make a mockery of the secret ballot by which we would decide the issue. Just as politely, I could have forced a vote on the procedure itself.
Perhaps you would have lost that vote too. Abigail had already converted your majority by one into a minority by two.Maybe yes, maybe no. Her ploy might have driven two professors to abstain or vote against her. We don't know because the vote didn't take place.
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I think you are treating her unfairly. I don't like her, I don't trust her, I resent her mismanagement of the department and her delegation of routine administration to Millie. She is looking for a job somewhere else and I hope she finds one, although her fiasco in Concordia will make the presidency or deanship she once coveted impossible. She had the same illusion as you do, that administration is easy. She thought she could feminize the department so successfully that colleges and universities would compete with each other to hire her and let her wave her wand over them. But you should recognize that the opportunity she gave everyone around the table to express his or her opinion freely was intelligent, generous and, why not? democratic. I am surprized to hear you attack the one enlightened move she made.How can you defend it? After her intimidation of the younger professors and maybe others as well, she subjected us to a choice between agreement with her, disagreement with her or abstention which she had always interpreted as disagreement with her. The last two options exposed those who dared to exersize them to retaliation, which she exacted in her annual negotiation with the dean to raise salaries. Those serpent eyes always focus on the more vulnerable colleagues around the table, but never had they glared as fiercely as they did on that Friday afternoon.
The procedure was strictly democratic.Neither by intention nor by effect.
I told you: I don't like her.I believe you just as I believe you when you imply that you don't like Mumpet and Sinkovitch. But that didn't keep you from siding with them against me at every opportunity.
Why should it have? We all agreed that you were destructive and we forgot our differences in a common effort to resist you. What could have been more democratic than that?Democratic? A selfish minority defending their privileges and subverting the will of the majority by hook and crook!
We nearly always had majority support.By intimidating junior professors and suborning senior professors. That's how you managed to defeat the charter that afternoon. When you and your friends took your turns to speak, I could hear Growly in your voices.
You pronounce his name wrong.I love to pronounce his name wrong. His growl is worse than his bite.
I disagree.If you can't refute a proposition, you can always disagree with it... or substitute an alternative more favorable to your interests, as you did in the case of the
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charter. We saw it coming. George and I had even warned the troops.
You were seducing the younger faculty with your demagoguery. We just proposed a more orderly procedure. The traditional solution was obviously the best, so we advocated a committee to formulate a proposal for departmental governance, but we made you a concession by allowing election to the committee by the faculty rather than appointment by the chairperson.Talk of a rigged election! With an entire career ahead of them, the untenured faculty had the highest stakes in the game. Abigail conspired with you and your friends to discourage them from running for a seat. Your speeches urging them not to involve themselves in something that might offend senior faculty and jeopardize their chances for tenure were veiled threats. Meanwhile, Abigail and Millie were using their elbows in their conversations with the tender beloved. Why do our furies have such sharp elbows? Their Greek ancestors had sharp fingernails.
Aren't elbows more humane than fingernails? I should think you would be more sensitive to such an improvement! Where is the hypocrisy in making untenured faculty aware of the risk they would run? That seems humane to me too. Making enemies is no way to get tenure.So tenure depends on making and keeping the right friends rather than teaching and research. We have been saying so all along, but, until now, you and your friends have steadfastly denied it. The charter addressed that abuse head on, so you highjacked it by staging an election in which you yourselves formed an overwhelming majority of the candidates. In her conversations with others, Abigail insinuated that, if they ran, her friend the dean wouldn't like it.
Has there ever been an election without a campaign? What's wrong with trying to dissuade opponents from competing with your candidate? Abigail had invited all interested professors to declare their candidacy.And insinuated that all unwanted candidates would suffer the consequences, which George and I effectively did. You are a more talented hypocrite than Abigail. The eyes glare and the elbows fly even when she manages a twisted caricature of a smile.
You are insulting me again.I can't think of anybody I enjoy insulting more. A committee of five chaired by you and including Sinkovitch, Mumpet and Millie! What kind of representation is that? At best, you represented Abigail and a few shoe polishers. You ostensibly ignored the charter on the excuse that it had no legal standing, yet you systematically reversed nearly every article in it and overloaded your "governance document" with others that we had deliberately excluded, such as those that justify departmental plums: the Curriculum Committee which enables
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Millie to adulterate the curriculum with trendy material, the Teaching Committee which Mumpet uses to gather compromising evidence for tenure dossiers and the Student Committee from which Sinkovitch wangles complaints against colleagues he doesn't like, me for instance. Nor have I forgotten the promotion of the graduate advisor to director of graduate studies who, in departments where he exists, is either a power behind or an heir to the throne. Since the first appealed to you more than the second, Abigail consented to it on the condition that you do her some favors. You effectively gave her veto power over nearly every possible initiative the faculty could take and enabled her to override any objection they might have to her decisions. Worse, you increased her authority over the untenured faculty so that she could use it to subjugate them even more than before. She could make or break their careers depending on whether they pleased her or not. After denying them any representation on your committee, you enslaved them to her.
Phew!Yes, I know, you exuse this tyranny on traditional grounds.
We were only doing what senior professors have always done to preserve the rights that they have earned by years of dedication to the department. Stability and continuity depend on this tradition. The young faculty you are so anxious to defend will do exactly the same thing.For two reasons and two alone. In the first place, your "governance document" reinforces the powers you have to eliminate any who resist your tyranny so that only the docile ones will survive and docile professors usually become vindictive once they enjoy a little power. In the second, you pervert the minds of those who might have been capable of independence, thus fulfilling your prediction. You are prolonging a tradition of mediocrity that condemns the department to permanent inferiority.
You wouldn't really expect us to compete with Princeton and Yale?I would expect you to compete with Berkeley and Ann Arbor. Your friends are afraid of competition. That's why they embraced this profession. You join them in imitating the graduate departments where you did your doctorates. It took you six syllables to avoid the word "charter" and yet the content of your "governance document" reeks of servile imitation, hence, for example, the election of the chairperson which you subject to a veto by the dean. Your presumption betrays your mediocrity. You paid us an unintended compliment by stealing an idea that you were incapable of concieving yourselves and twisting it into something contemptible. The "governance document" merely enshrines undeserved privilege.
Come now! What is so original about writing down the rules and procedures by which we govern the department? You admit that the
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And added a clause inviting the dean to ignore the results of the election.
Acknowledging the dean's right to make the final decision doesn't invite him to ignore the election.What right? You are giving him a right he has abandoned.
I don't know what you are talking about.Growly persuaded his colleagues in political science to elect their chairperson so he could get the job for himself. Once they had elected him, he used it to contend for the deanship and now he appoints the chairperson elected by his colleagues in political science. In appointing the chairpeople of other departments, he continues to impose his own choice after consultations with members whose advice he heeds only when they say what he wants to hear. The petition against Abigail signed by a majority of our department didn't keep him from appointing her and he even dared to claim that the consultations had revealed a majority in her favor.
He has always had the right to choose a candidate supported by a substantial minority, likewise the right to choose between several candidates acceptable to a majority.Is a third of the faculty a substantial minority? The petition caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. Professors who disagree with the dean often keep it to themselves during consultations and he had read agreement with himself into their reluctance to express an opinion.
Growly may feel obligated to political science, but his successor will have no such obligation. Depriving the dean of his right to choose his own chairpeople would ruin the university.Hardly! It would deprive the administration of a power they have systematically abused. The administration is not the university, but a parasitic bureaucracy feeding on the substance of the university. As long as students want to learn and professors to learn and teach, there will be a university.
I feel as if I were listening to a man from Mars.I would have a tinny voice and speak pidgin.
Your drawl sounds just as eerie.You are a bigot.
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The pot is calling the kettle black. Don't we have a right to secrecy too? Can't we speak with whomever we want whenever we want about whatever we want? We spoke with old as well as young and with everybody we thought might be interested. Why shouldn't we have? I even spoke with an assistant professor who, after appearing to agree with us, ran to Abigail and wept on her lap. Can you imagine weeping on Abigail's lap? Imagine the expression on her face! I'm glad I wasn't there. It must have been humiliating for mankind.
And exhilerating for womankind. On the contrary, I'm sorry I wasn't there.I don't know whether to call you a
That would be unpleasant.I have always suspected Wendel. I had misjudged him and I should have known better because he polishes a lot of shoes.
He has a family.So do others, George for instance. A family doesn't excuse a sycophant.
The epithet is inappropriate. He saw your overture as an attempt to compromise him. He confided in colleagues he had confidence in. He discussed the matter with me and I told him to see Abigail.... I see, you told him that I was trying to compromize him.
Weren't you?No. You were an even more treacherous enemy than I thought. The first thing I told him was to ask that he keep our conversation quiet, unless he talked with George who is a friend of his. I assured him that it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to cooperate with us and that we would respect his decision if he decided against us. Respect for all opinions was one of the principles on which we founded the charter.
He didn't believe you.Am I a liar?
I didn't say that.He suspected that it was not in his interest to believe me and you confirmed it. To convince him, you reminded him of all that Abigail could do for him and how little I could do. I bet you even told him that she would reward him for tattling on me. He soon became her favorite among the assistant professors. Meanwhile, she confronted me in my office, lashing at me with her tongue. The word "charter" cracked the whip.
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To my own surprise, neither the display nor the disclosure made much of an impression on me. I somehow managed to laugh, which inflamed her ferocity, and she shook her finger in my face: "You ought to be ashamed!" I laughed again. She shrieked and leaned over my desk reaching for my face with her fingernails. I kept my eyes on her eyes, which wasn't easy, and my hands were ready, but she drew back and snarled: "Don't ever go behind my back again." I heard myself answering with a strange determination: "I will go wherever I please, do whatever I please and say whatever I please." She would have eaten me alive if she had had the teeth to do it. She put all of her energy into her final scowl. I noticed, as she left the room, that her body was frail and swayed awkwardly as she walked swinging her elbows. She looked like a pathetic victim of male aggression and I bet she gave that impression when she told the story to the other furies. Some dust under the receiver on my telephone caught my eye after she had stormed into my office. As soon as she had left, I took the rag that Murma had insisted on sending to the office in my briefcase and wiped the dust away.
She did tell the story as you suppose and get the sympathy she expected, but she didn't fool me. Actually, I envy you. I would have enjoyed the spectacle and you probably didn't, despite your laughter. On the other hand, Abigail's fury was useful in defeating the charter. Why didn't you ask her to put the idea on the agenda of a faculty meeting right away so we could discuss it in a meeting? She could have appointed a committee to develop a project. You tried to short-circuit the traditional procedure by springing a drastic reorganization of the department on us. That didn't seem very democratic to us. You think Wendel is a traitor. We think he's a hero.... Give me your honest opinion. If we had asked Abigail to put the idea on the agenda of a meeting, what would have happened?
We would have discussed it.When?
At the next meeting.At what next meeting?
I don't understand your question.You forget that Abigail's agendas bury items that displease her in the trivia with which she loads the end of the list. Once her priorities have taken up most of our time, she runs the clock out and postpones the unpleasant items to the next meeting. Then she repeats the same tactic.
The items at the end may seem trivial to you, but I can tell you that a chairperson encounters annoyances that he can best settle in a faculty meeting.
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That wasn't what I meant by trivia. When she let us discuss an idea she didn't like, she scheduled a countermeasure like Millie's survey and, if that didn't discourage us, the rest of you were ready with all the negative arguments you could find. She would already have told the vulnerable fence sitters how to vote if it came to that.
You have a gift for casting legitimate traditions in a malevolent light. How could a chairperson run his department without wielding influence? He would get nowhere.The charter wouldn't deprive him of this influence, but it would keep him from abusing it. In rewriting it, you freed him from the constraints we had placed on him and enhanced your own undeserved privileges.
Haven't I already refuted that charge? It's time to talk about something else.