Perhaps delusions of grandeur inspire me to appropriate Yeats’s title. Admittedly, the correspondence is hardly precise. You are not an infant and I, needless to add, am not a poet. Nevertheless, I have certain concerns as a father that approximate those of the poet, for they have to do with a daughter’s future. They are all the more immediate, given your choice of what social scientists, with their lyrical felicity, now call a “career path.”
I’ve said, only half in jest, that your decision to go for a Ph. D.in history must be a perverse form of rebellion. Surely it’s a decision taken despite my example and notwithstanding my advice. Like any Jewish father these days, I would much have preferred that you join your mother’s law firm. Still, there’s no question that you have the intellectual talent and imagination to make a fine historian and an inspiring teacher. In your undergraduate experience at Emory and your graduate work in England, you have developed an affinity for the academic world, at least as you perceive it. I suspect that the demanding program you have now entered into at Johns Hopkins will reinforce rather than alter your decision. My purpose, then, is not to dissuade you, but to make certain that you are forewarned about some of the less publicized hazards of the academic life. I refer not to the insecurity posed by an evaporating job market that has plagued the profession for some decades now, but to more pernicious circumstances that make the “life of the mind” not all it is cracked up to be.
My last four years as chair of a history department in a Southern state university have provided me with a perspective on the academy that is far more revealing and considerably more depressing than any I experienced as a faculty member during the preceding two decades. To be sure, the position of chair differs from place to place. In some of the more distinguished universities, it is a chore that each tenured professor is expected to fill for a term, during which one sacrifices much time for the general bureaucratic good with little or no personal reward. Mine, however, falls into that cryptic category of “emerging universities.” Euphemisms abound in academe, but the emerging university occupies a peculiar niche. Like a Third World country, it may alternately have been backward, undeveloped, or underdeveloped, before it assumed the more favorable designation of “developing” or “emerging,” a continuum whose duration can be eternal. When does an emerging university finally emerge? Even more puzzling, from what primitive murk can this process of emergence be said to have originated? On the other hand, perhaps such questions betray the attitude of an old-fashioned political historian for whom origins and process are more natural than Le Roy Ladurie’s history that does not move.
In such institutions, the chair often receives additional compensation for administering the department and may well have more power than his or her counterpart in a university already “emerged.” One assumes that power at some risk, particularly in forfeiting one’s place as a colleague. Occupying ill-defined territory, the chair is invariably considered by erstwhile colleagues to be an administrator, and by those in the upper echelons of the administration to be a faculty member. This ambiguity along with some of the functions thrust upon the chair afford a singular opportunity to study the life of the mind in some of its more pedestrian pursuits. It also situates one, willingly or not, on a voyeuristic perch from which one can observe the more dubious if less visible aspects of contemporary higher education—the perpetuation of mediocrity, the contagion of cynicism, the apparent increase in sleaziness and, as if to fortify the others, the incessant corruption of language.
Among the more tedious functions of the chair is to receive the litany of complaints about faculty. One of the more interesting that I recently rescued from the pile of memoranda, reports, five-year plans, and assorted documents on my desk, was a letter, now two years old, from a disgruntled alumna addressed to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences with a copy for me:
Dear Dean W_:
On three separate occasions in the last year, I encountered Dr. Q__, a professor in your History Department, in the process of selling refrigerators for the ____ Appliance Company. As a former student of his, I immediately recognized him. Additionally, he presented me with a business card, which I am enclosing.
For people of such academic calibre as Dr. Q__ to meet the need for additional income by selling appliances boggles the mind. For the President and the department chair to allow such is an insult to those who believe that the pursuit of academic excellence produces a field of individuals truly set apart from the rest of society. What is next, professors who are also used car salesmen? Actually, is there really any difference between one who would sell appliances and one who would sell used cars?
I am increasingly finding myself questioning the integrity of what Dr. Q__ has taught me. How trustworthy are his judgments of history, if he lacks sound judgment concerning the present and the appearance he creates of opportunism?
Certainly the luster of ___ University is tarnished as long as such practices are tolerated.
In defense of the University and its luster, I should note that it does have a reasonable policy concerning outside employment and that neither I as department chair, much less the president, was aware of Dr. Q’s additional job. In any event, Dr. Q chose not to continue it and stopped selling appliances—a decision far more creditable than that of a colleague who annually absents himself from classes that conflict with his more urgent duty as ticket manager for a major tennis tournament.
Notwithstanding this alumna’s confusion about the University’s policy, her letter provides an interesting commentary on the public’s perception of the academy. But her roseate ideal of the university as an incorruptible bastion of intellectual talent and ethical conduct is, lamentably, an anachronism, if indeed it ever applied. To a seasoned academician the more legitimate question is not whether there is any difference between the appliance salesman and the proverbially sleazy used car salesman, but whether there is any difference between the used car salesman and the academician? I use the stilted “academician” to embrace not only the professoriate, but also the administration of the university, a distinction that is frequently ignored by the general public and usually exaggerated by faculty.
In contrast to the alumna’s clarity and precision, the habitual abuse of language by academicians belies the blithe image of the university as a virtuous Coleridgean clerisy. The corruption of language is no longer merely an accretion of jargon that inevitably results from the specialization of research. It has become an embarrassment, for it is connected with a seemingly interminable supply of mediocrities who have found in higher education a fertile ground to cultivate their own self-importance. My own institution provides numerous if diverting examples: the University president who, in the company of two of his predecessors, confided to the audience, “I’m just filled with temerity to be in the presence of these giants”; a vice president for research exhorting faculty to work diligently on their “monograms”; an historian who dismissed the new president’s public support for a new library building by observing, “his hubris isn’t committed to it”; the dean of the graduate school who insisted that within the specified time span every candidate for a graduate degree have a “culminating experience.” I suppose she subscribes to the big bang theory—a Ph. D., like the university conferring it, does not emerge with a whimper. Everyone, of course, is entitled to the occasional gaffe. It is not so much the intelligence but the learning of these people that is deficient. While it may strain the imagination, one university colleague thought a reference to the “assault on the canon” to be an impending ROTC maneuver.
The invisible bureaucrats who inhabit administration buildings leave more durable memorabilia committed to print. Perhaps it is unfair to find the University culpable for a bemusing sign that adorned the wall of a student cafeteria for almost a decade: “All food leaving the building must exit through the rear doors.” But one cannot blame the caterers for an adage that now graces University stationery, announcing the institution’s dedication to educating “a non-racially identifiable student body.” A slovenliness of thought obtains when a university can proclaim such a goal while simultaneously embracing the trendy slogans of multiculturalism and diversity.
The corruption of language reinforces mediocrity which, in turn, has a tendency to reproduce itself. One of our past presidents—the one who succeeded the president filled with temerity—looked every bit the dignified academician—tall, lean, handsome, a shock of greyish white hair always neatly trimmed. He was even armed, on occasion, with what until recently was the academician’s preferred frill, the pipe. Unfortunately, university presidents sometimes have to speak, and this president shattered the illusion of gravity once he made the attempt. When his companions in the English Speaking Union were dragooned to raise the body count for a lecture by an Oxbridge scholar, he was incapable of prompting even the obligatory round of applause. Rather, the audience was utterly baffled by his abrupt and literal: “Sir, I give you the microphone.”
That mediocrity perpetuates itself was quickly established when the president arranged for the interim vice president for academic affairs—an individual I shall call Marvin—to be named to the permanent position. The University’s committee persevered in following the elaborate procedures associated with a national search, interviewing distinguished candidates from various parts of the country. But universities do not do charades very well. The eventual outcome was apparent from the beginning, in what came to be known as the National Search for Marvin.
Marvin surrounded himself with cronies, some with talent, some with none. Among them was Peter, director of libraries, who had lobbied from the outset for Marvin’s appointment. Among his arguments was that the incumbent had done nothing for the library, an example Marvin would faithfully emulate. Peter himself soon became an associate vice president for academic affairs, shuttling between the library and the administration building. He was frequently observed, shoulders stooped, as if carrying an ever increasing burden of academic weight. No one was able to determine precisely what Peter did as associate vice president, but one of his assignments must have been to boost faculty morale. He acquitted himself of this chore in a characteristically imaginative manner. Faculty whose publications or presentations were routinely listed in a monthly in-house organ invariably received a xeroxed copy of the listing, with a smiley face pasted in the margin accompanied by Peter’s personal, hand written message—”Good for you.” The student newspaper covered Peter’s plans for a three-week trip to Beijing, where he was to lecture on American higher education. It noticed his passion for Chinese food and Peter’s conviction that the Chinese had a far more nutritious diet than did Americans. “One of the things I’m interested in seeing,” Peter confided, “is whether or not I observe any fat Chinese.” He also looked forward to augmenting his collection of Coca Cola memorabilia. “I will be absolutely delighted,” he said, “if I can find some pre-1949 Coca Cola signs, calendars, posters, cans, bottles or anything that clearly was originally distributed in China.” The result of his quest remains unreported.
Such administrative leadership is hardly calculated to inspire confidence in an academic institution’s intellectual progress. I don’t mean to suggest that university administrators are uniformly inferior to faculty in intellectual attainment or even that clarity and precision, much less eloquence, guarantee thoughtful and virtuous conduct. Intellectuals, even those capable of writing an English sentence, can be infantile and churlish. My colleague, Nigel, is a case in point. Nigel is not, in the parlance of our times, on the methodological cutting edge. But he is a prolific scholar who resented his inadequate compensation. Some years earlier, I had succeeded in getting him what was then the largest raise ever offered a faculty member in our college. But the following year he responded to the disappointing news of a much smaller salary increase by peremptorily resigning from all department and university committees, to one of which we had just taken some pains to elect him. In a fit of pique, he then removed his publications from the department’s display case, thereby disengaging from the unworthy company with which his name had hitherto been associated. Nigel now chairs a history department in another public university in the state.
While such puerile behavior is in itself deplorable, the extent of mediocrity in academic administration encourages it, deepening the faculty’s frustration and cynicism. Hard times multiply the peril. With the example of so many unlearned yet well-paid administrators before them, there is an enormous temptation for faculty to escape into self-absorption. Accordingly, the atmosphere in which learning is to occur becomes instead an unfriendly environment and legitimate student inquiries are greeted with suspicion, if not open hostility. You observed such defensiveness even among good teachers when you enrolled for some language courses here one summer. Even good students are all too often suspected of questionable motives, their ingenuousness met with misgivings. To be sure, some experience with freshmen in a state university will invariably provide ample evidence to reinforce such suspicion. My colleague, Duncan, is fond of recounting his shock of recognition about our inadequately prepared students. Having delivered, by his own appraisal, a compelling lecture on the intellectual climate of the Weimar Republic, he invited questions, only to be asked where he got his hair cut. Granted, such an experience can be disheartening. Similar if less discouraging episodes abound. A reference to the Spartan ephors was somehow transformed on an examination into a discussion of the Spartan air force. The Epistles are identified as the wives of the apostles. But some innocent questions, however amusing, often reveal the working of an inquiring if untutored mind. After a lecture on millenialism in European history, I was once asked what was Jewish opinion about the Second Coming. That college freshmen might reasonably be expected to know that Jews are still waiting for the first hardly justifies the supercilious posture some faculty adopt.
Oppressed by mediocrity from above and below, the professor in an emerging university is all too easily reinforced in his world-weariness, the more so if he has failed to realize the promise of his youth. Knowing your enthusiasm for learning, Lara, I can’t tell you how painful it is to watch a colleague lapse into bitter middle age, how pathetic to observe him in the process of spreading the contagion of cynicism to younger colleagues. It can be seductive to the novice, who confuses cynicism with sophistication. The cultivation of ennui, at first a mechanism deployed against disappointment, becomes an end in itself, the mockery of students affording only temporary respite. The string of complaints is as predictable as it is recurrent.What am I doing here? Casting pearls before swine. It’s a zoo. What a dump.
As department chair, I found myself engaged in an activity that was altogether new for me. While I had always done my bit in the way of good academic citizenship—committee work, showing up for outside speakers, attending student-faculty functions—I had never before assumed the role of academic cheerleader. It’s a necessity, particularly in a department that has not received the recognition it deserves. I learned that even the most distinguished faculty require strokes, encouragement, and praise. Of course, one or two malignants positioned themselves securely out of bounds. On the other hand, even Duncan at first responded to my call for news about papers, articles, or any professional activities that I could publicize for the common good. Soon exhausted, he relapsed into his customary if gregarious misanthropy. When I discussed his effect on younger colleagues, Duncan was surprised. He didn’t know he had such influence. After all, he was only an assistant professor. Surprise gave way to perverse delight. Was he, like Socrates, guilty of corrupting the youth of the city? More, I suggested, like Harold Pinter’s depraved servant.
There are, of course, degrees of cynicism, and it is not a quality monopolized by the unaccomplished or unrecognized. It is found in all ranks and locations. And it breeds the insensitivity it is contrived to withstand. The affectation of nonchalance, the studied condescension, invites the sardonic wisecrack at the coffee table, as irresistible as it may be inappropriate. When informed about the sudden death of a colleague in the Sociology Department, a particularly jaded historian coolly inquired, “Who’s going to teach Deviant Behavior now?” Another assured him there was a host of candidates, some in our very own department.
Along with the corruption of language that fosters mediocrity, the cultivation of cynicism and the erosion of sensibility facilitate an alarming tolerance for sleaziness in academe. A measure of its presence may be sampled from a recent flap from which the dust is just beginning to settle. While it may be unusual in its flagrancy, the imbroglio I recount exposes the seamy underside of the idyllic groves of academe.
In 1985, two brothers-in-law whom I shall call Joe and Paul, established a $1, 000, 000 endowment for a Judaic Studies program at our University. Paul, like Saul Bellow’s Augie March, is American born. That distinguishes him from Joe who, as a young man, had barely escaped Hitler’s Europe and found his way to the American South. Having made a great deal of money in the jewelry business after the war, they wanted “to give something back.” And what better way to give back than through higher education, especially since Joe, the older of the two, retained an immigrant’s ingenuous faith in the efficacy of learning. Judaic Studies, somewhat like free trade in the 19th century, would be a harbinger of peace, if only in the Middle East. The endowment’s stipulation that the study of Arabic be encouraged reflected that wistful spirit.
The University at first rejected the proposed endowment, only to come around after Paul’s persistent efforts. Moreover, Joe seemed to hit it off with Marvin, now confirmed as vice president for academic affairs after the exhaustive national search. They frequently had breakfast together, and Marvin also saw Paul on occasion. The growing friendships augured well. Marvin, also American born, was of Egyptian ancestry. Here in microcosm was confirmation of the brotherhood of man and a portent of the rich possibilities for international understanding. Unfortunately, the University did not provide much of a constituency for Judaic Studies. As you know from growing up here, the Jewish community in the city is relatively small, the Jewish student body at the University minuscule. But one builds Jerusalem where one is, and Joe and Paul were here.
Neither the resources available nor the curriculum devised met the state’s requirements for formal designation as a program, a concentration, or a major, forcing the dean under whose aegis Judaic Studies was placed to improvise. He labeled the whole eleemosynary enterprise Joe and Paul’s Judaic Studies, its precise function in the curriculum left undefined.
I served on the search committee to select a director for Joe and Paul’s Judaic Studies. The committee’s first choice, a scholar of Hebrew literature, turned the job down. Paul’s apparent favorite, a sociologist from Miami whom he had met on the beach, eliminated himself with a disastrous presentation. We were left, fatefully, with Kornblatt.
Whether Kornblatt acknowledges a colleague’s salutation depends on the alignment of the stars. Why Kornblatt has been consigned to this academic wilderness God alone knows. Perhaps some sort of progressive revelation is at work here. Kornblatt may himself have some inkling, since he has studied conceptions of divine accommodation to the human condition, especially in antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Patristics is his beat.
Unfortunately, part of Kornblatt’s job is to reach out to the community, toward which he is not so much indifferent as contemptuous. What, after all, do they know? This disdain is all the more glaring in a part of the country where graciousness and indirection are so highly prized. Accordingly, when he was recruited to participate in a conference on immigration to this community, he felt put upon. Who was coming to this conference anyway? The conference organizer replied that she knew of one person at least, Herbert Bloch.”From Harvard?” Kornblatt sputtered, now seemingly prepared to accept his own participation with enthusiasm. Professor Bloch, an eminent medievalist, had friends and relatives in the city, to Kornblatt’s amazement.
Notwithstanding Kornblatt’s scholarship, after several years community response to his performance was so negative as to endanger his prospects for tenure. Nonetheless, Dean T recommended him. Dean T avoids unpleasantness at all costs, and Kornblatt could be exceedingly unpleasant. Marvin, who made the final practical determination on tenure matters, posed an interesting question. If Kornblatt were to be recommended for tenure and subsequently removed as director of Joe and Paul’s Judaic Studies, could I provide him with courses to teach in the history department? I knew that Joe entertained the possibility of dumping Kornblatt on the history department and that Dean T would hardly be averse to the prospect, I replied that we could provide some survey classes, so long as it was understood that Kornblatt was not a member of our department and that we would not, as a result, be deprived of a new position in medieval and Renaissance history for which we soon intended to search/Agreed, Marvin said.
So matters stood when, at the beginning of the following academic year, Edwina reappeared. It was remarkable to those acquainted with her talents that Edwina was in her 14th year of our Ph. D.program and had yet to undergo her long awaited “culminating experience.” With a new job prospect in hand, she announced her intention to complete her dissertation. There remained the obstacle of the graduate school’s ten-year rule, for which, I suspect, there may be no equivalent at Johns Hopkins, where intensity and financial cost combine to discourage making graduate school a career. At our university, however, to ensure that students keep up with current scholarship, no credit is given for course work toward the Ph. D.that is more than ten years old. In such cases a student can revalidate up to one-third of such courses by examination and, if necessary, repeat other courses.
Pat, the very same dean of the graduate school who required candidates for the Ph. D.to have a “culminating experience,” had earned a well-deserved reputation for stringent enforcement of the rules. Her inflexibility had been evident some years earlier when it was a colleague’s turn to renew his status as an associate member of the graduate faculty. In our emerging university, the administration deems it important that faculty, however distinguished their teaching, demonstrate continued scholarly activity in their fields. With sufficient publications in a six-year time span, one qualifies for full graduate-faculty status; some publications entitle one to associate graduate-faculty status, while no publications result in having one’s name expunged from the graduate catalog, as if one were a non-person. My friend Ralph, a celebrated teacher, had never been much of a researcher. A paraplegic as a result of wounds suffered in the final days of World War II, he was dying of liver cancer. When I asked Pat whether we might spare him the indignity of removing his name from the graduate catalog in the likely event that he had no publications, she was not unsympathetic. Nonetheless, as she reminded me, she didn’t make the rules, she merely enforced them. She was particularly vigilant in enforcing the ten-year rule.
Infuriated by the department graduate committee’s proposal that she revalidate several courses and take some additional credits to meet the requirements of the ten-year rule, Edwina leapt into action. As Joe’s niece and Paul’s daughter-in-law, she was well-connected. Joe and Paul protested to Vice-President Marvin. Almost immediately, Graduate Dean Pat, hitherto virtually immovable, concluded that Edwina had been misled by our department and had received assurances from us that the problem she now encountered could easily be overcome. To support her decision, Pat solicited a letter from a retired department chair who could not recollect precisely what agreements might have been concluded when Edwina enrolled in our graduate program in 1978.Pat interpreted his uncertainty to mean that the department had pledged itself to accept Edwina’s 20-year-old M.A. work in American literature for credit toward the Ph. D.in history. Even that did not address the ten-year rule, which was conveniently set aside on the grounds of alleged assurances that Edwina claimed she had received from yet another former chair, who vigorously denied having given any.
In these days of intertextual weaving, Pat has a formidable arsenal of theory to sustain whatever interpretation she chooses to adopt. Not that Pat is a deconstructionist; by training, at least, she is an entomologist. No matter. That Pat would interpret documents as she wished was evident in her treatment of recent evaluations of the department’s graduate programs. While the external evaluations were generally favorable, Pat fastened on a recommendation for improving communication with graduate students to vindicate her decision.
At the same time, Marvin decided to withdraw our advertised position in medieval/Renaissance history. He was dissuaded from this course by the dean of the college and me, only to change his mind once again. Cancelling the search for a medieval/Renaissance specialist, he recommended that these courses be taught by Kornblatt. Marvin was fortified in his decision, having submitted Kornblatt’s dossier to Pat who, with her training in entomology, compared his credentials with those of the finalists for our advertised position. Inspired by the diplomacy of evenhandedness, Marvin also decided to cancel the position in the department of modern languages for a teacher of Hebrew and Arabic, student enrollment in the one negligible, in the other nil. An overseas call from Joe swiftly changed Marvin’s mind.
The department, the University, and I have survived this nasty episode. Pat has retired as dean of the graduate school. Marvin, too, has been replaced, though the interminable series of farewell receptions prolonged the process. Edwina graduated with her Ph. D., she and Pat having engaged in a warm embrace as she was presented with her diploma. She now teaches history at a local Catholic college.
This unseemly chapter is hardly the sole example of questionable behavior at the University. Over the years some grades have been changed, students reinstated, and faculty hired through the exertion of improper external influence. Perhaps the emerging university is more susceptible to influence peddling than institutions of the first rank. Henry Rosovsky, dean of faculty at Harvard for a dozen years, wrote in The University: An Owners Manual that donors do not exert excessive influence. While he admits to personally interviewing some well-connected applicants to Harvard College, he insists that such occasional favors to benefactors have no effect on admissions. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that so crass an exercise of power as I have recounted would be tolerated at Harvard. But if one is to believe that more prestigious universities resist the influence of powerful individuals, even such institutions have all too frequently surrendered to the outrageous demands of the self-righteous. For example, there can be no more devastating exposure of academic pusillanimity than Allan Bloom’s depiction of the craven administration at Cornell in the 1960’s, whose obsequious response to black-power activists sustains the author’s charge about the malign combination of moralism with cowardice that he found so widespread among academicians. Lamentably, it is with us still.
I was encouraged when our new president directed that the advertisement for Marvin’s successor stipulate that candidates be individuals of integrity. But I was disappointed that the president appointed Marvin chair of a newly established University Ethics Committee to investigate the alleged misrepresentation of credentials by the new dean of the business college, who had been hired during Marvin’s watch. The dean, having since resigned his office, has been recommended by the president for tenure in an academic department in which discipline he has earned a total of six graduate credits.
The president, like his predecessor, is an economist, providing him with a background that Rosovsky, himself an economist, thinks particularly appropriate for academic administration. Economists are familiar with “trade-offs,” which Rosovsky describes as “choices that involve a little more of this and a little less of that.” The majority of humanists, he claims, find the notion repellent, while scientists consider it immoral. But a trade-off is hardly a rarefied economic concept and, in the routine of professional life, not as alien or malevolent to humanists and scientists as Rosovsky contends. Moreover, the proliferation of economists in high administrative positions in the academy may well have more to do with the perception of the university’s operations by businessmen, legislators, and government bureaucrats than with the economists’ singular familiarity with trade-offs.
The alumna who was so appalled at the sight of her professor selling appliances would, I think, be less overwhelmed were she aware of the extent to which the language of the marketplace pervades the academy. Well over a half century has elapsed since Julien Benda denounced The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, and their worldliness should no longer provoke astonishment. To be sure, Benda was condemning the intellectual’s abandonment of disinterestedness by involvement in politics, not retailing. Still, as Saul Bellow has observed, increasingly the people inside the university are identical to those outside. Indeed, the used-car salesman and the university administrator appear to be distinguished by a preposition. The former deals with trade-ins, the latter with trade-offs.
And that, Lara, seems to me the plague of the world you are in the process of committing yourself to. You were brought up to believe that ideas existed to be tested by men and women of good will. But you are entering the university—once the guardian of free inquiry—at a time when intellect is itself in danger of becoming inconsequential. Given the ascendancy of mediocre and self-satisfied administrators, it seems almost inevitable that the contemporary university reflects the ethos of the marketplace more than it reflects a commitment to dispassionate inquiry.
That being the case, perhaps we academicians ought to be more, not less, like the rest of society, entrusted with greater responsibility to the institutions we serve. While we often resent the increasing requirements for accountability, especially in state institutions, we enjoy a remarkable range of freedom in terms both of expression and allocation of time. I am not suggesting that professors forego tenure. So long as mediocrities rise to positions of authority in academic administration, the abandonment of tenure would doubtless result in the extension of whatever influence temporarily holds sway. I refer not to the supposed tyranny of changing intellectual fashions, but to the danger of entrusting power to those who are injudicious, who lack integrity, and who parade their ignorance.
Your ambition to become a scholar would have thrilled me a decade ago. But as this letter shows, I now have my doubts—not about your ability, your dedication, or your talent, all of which fill me with pride. My doubts are about the nature of the contemporary American university with whose future yours will be linked, once you join a university faculty.
Faculty are in a unique situation. While they increasingly provide the credentials to certify proficiency in a variety of professions, they no longer participate sufficiently in directing the institutions in which they operate. Greater faculty involvement in academic governance and accountability for the results might restrain some of the more egregious conduct that I have discussed. It may even diminish the rage of self-importance that infests the academic world, particularly in the humanities, where research is usually a solitary venture and one misses the moderation provided by collaborators. I confess that decades ago, for however brief a time, I thought the world revolved around the appropriations clause of the 1833 Irish Church Temporalities Act. But one grows and gains perspective.
To be sure, the Nigels and the Kornblatts will always be with us. They are occupational hazards. Nonetheless, the expectation that faculty engage in institutional governance may foster a sense of both community and responsibility, and thereby temper self-importance and the arrogance it feeds.
Even more virulent is the cynicism of Duncan, who has lost faith in what he is doing, if indeed he ever had it. I’m confident that your own character and experience will shield you from that unhappy consequence. You have had teachers who were excited by and believed in the value of education. You also know several in my own emerging university. So, with Polonius, I reassure myself more than I instruct you with the counsel, “to thine own self be true.” Or, in a more current idiom, keep the faith.