“Thou Shalt Not….”

TRUE FACT: Louisiana is poised to become the first state in the nation to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in all public-school classrooms, including those in colleges and universities.  The proposal recently passed the Louisiana legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s signature (Associated Press, May 30th). 

Of course, both public and private institutions of higher learning display a stunning potpourri of curious stuff in their buildings.  Here’s a current sampling:

— An 1871 recipe for bread pudding appears on the wall of every classroom at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.  The recipe honors the mother of George Strong, the school’s first president.  Strong maintained that his mom made “the best damn bread pudding east or west of the Mississippi.”  

— An iconic photo of Farah Fawcett, the star of TV’s Charlie’s Angels, adorns all of the classrooms at the University of Florida.  President Ben Sasse notes with pride that “Ms. Fawcett embodies — and I do mean emBODIES — the hopes and dreams of every Gator on our campus, whether they be female or male.”

— At Williams College in Massachusetts, a flashing warning sign in every hallway indicates the actions that should be taken in the event a Republican is discovered in the building (“Break Glass, Remove Axe, Eliminate Threat”). 

— A pine-tree automobile air-freshener dangles from the inside doorknob of all classrooms at the University of Houston.  According to a University spokesperson, “it can get awfully hot and humid on our campus, and if the air conditioning shuts down, we need something to take the edge off.  There’s no sweat like Texas sweat.”

— A full-color, 8″ x 10″ photo of a deer tick is placed above every toilet and urinal at Connecticut College.  The New London school is located near the state’s coastline, where Lyme Disease was first identified.  The College’s Director of Health Services notes that “many of our students sleep naked in the woods in the spring, so we want them to know what to watch out for.”

— At Babson College, a business-focused school in Massachusetts, a replica of the first silver dollar earned by founder Roger Babson is encased in a shimmering glass snow globe suspended from the ceiling in every classroom.  As Stephen Spinelli, Babson’s President, puts it, “students should be reminded of our core values whenever they look to the heavens.”

— Rules for playing Uno, the classic card game, are posted in every dorm room at Abilene Christian University in Texas.  “Let’s face it, we’re known as THE party school of the Bible Belt,” says ACU’s Dean of Students.  “Why not own up to it?”

— Crude crayon drawings of dinosaurs can be found on at least one wall of every classroom at Rhode Island College.  The artwork is by six-year-old Timmy Galvenetti, grandson of Psychology Department secretary Bernice Galvenetti.  It is not clear if Ms. Galvenetti obtained permission to put up the drawings.  (“A grandmother doesn’t need permission to do these things,” she claims.)

— At DePaul University, the dust jacket from Presidential historian David McCullough’s final biography — Tony Danza: A Life — is affixed to every door on campus.  No one seems to know why.  

 

Cryptology 501

People frequently don’t say what they mean.  This is especially true in the case of final reports issued by accreditation bodies in higher education.  These team-authored documents are typically polite — and diplomatic — to a fault.  Therefore, as a service to college and university presidents everywhere, University Life offers this guide for decoding 10 common statements found in accreditation reports. 

REPORT SAYS: “The team has identified the following distinctive strengths of your institution.”

REPORT MEANS: “Your school pretty much sucks at everything it does, but here are a few areas where you don’t suck quite as much.”

REPORT SAYS: “The major concerns that emerged during the team’s site visit include the following…”

REPORT MEANS: “Get ready.  There are a ton of dumpster fires on your campus, and we’ll just be exploring the tip of the iceberg.  Indeed, the circumstances at your institution are so dire that they require two metaphors.  You’re simultaneously aflame and sinking.”

REPORT SAYS: “Strengthening consensus-oriented decision-making within the academic units of your school is essential.”

REPORT MEANS: “At a recent Sociology Department retreat, a subgroup of decolonization theorists took several of their colleagues hostage after a raucous disagreement over the use of the term ‘Latinx’.  Negotiations for the release of these hostages have reached an impasse, even though one of them is 9 months pregnant.  The optics are not good, to put it mildly.” 

REPORT SAYS: “Increased attention to gathering outcome data on the school’s graduates would be time well-spent.”

REPORT MEANS: “Based on the team’s luncheon meeting with 4th-year students, it appears that many of your undergraduates can’t read.”

REPORT SAYS: “There is a need for more effective succession planning within certain divisions of the university.”

REPORT MEANS: “The Director of the Library is agonizingly clueless, advocating retention of the card catalog system as the foundation for all library functions, including podcast listings.  A humane institution would put him out of his misery.  He is a blind squirrel wandering around in a falcon sanctuary in broad daylight.”

REPORT SAYS: “At this point in the university’s history, a re-examination of the school’s mission may be in order.”

REPORT MEANS: “The current mission statement, which begins with ‘We hope to still be in business next week’, is probably not the way to go.”

REPORT SAYS: “A review of roles and responsibilities within the Division of Student Affairs could result in services being more responsive to student needs.”

REPORT MEANS: “Your Dean of Students came to the university after being fired as Customer Services Manager at Jiffy Lube.  Have you no shame?”

REPORT SAYS: “Inspection of the institution’s organizational chart reveals that some reporting relationships may be less than optimal.”

REPORT MEANS: “For the love of God, why does the Dean of Arts & Sciences report to the Director of Buildings and Grounds?  And does it really make sense to have a joint Department of Entrepreneurship, Physics, and Nursing?”

REPORT SAYS: “It is unclear that all empirical claims made in the college’s promotional materials are evidence-based.”

REPORT MEANS: “Where in the hell do you get off saying that ‘our students have the best sex in the Southeastern Conference’?”

REPORT SAYS: “Strategic fundraising remains a challenge for the university.”

REPORT MEANS: “The school’s last three bake sales in support of repaving the faculty parking lot have netted less than $75.  It’s time to move on.”

Good luck with your next accreditation cycle. 

 

 

“Let Me Put It Another Way….”

On May 10th the Chronicle of Higher Education observed that “a flurry of votes of no confidence in college leaders….has swept higher ed in the past month.”

In fairness, it should be noted that an increasing number of schools around the country are abandoning the blunt-edged sword of no-confidence votes in favor of more nuanced declarations of dissatisfaction with college presidents.  Here’s a sample:

— At Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, faculty recently informed the President that “Almighty God is deeply disappointed in you and beseeches you to undergo a public exorcism at your earliest convenience.  Satan must be banished from your corroded soul.”  The President complied, thus averting a faculty strike. 

— Professors at Middlebury College in Vermont voted to avoid making eye contact with the President if they crossed her path on campus and not respond if she greeted them verbally during these encounters.  This shunning led the President to agree to demands that shrimp cocktail be returned to the luncheon menu in the faculty dining room. 

— Lehigh University conducted a “Vote of Intense Irritation with the President” on May 3rd, which passed 402-53.  Three days later, the President embarked on a Mea Culpa Tour of all academic departments, washing the feet of every chairperson. 

— On May 1st, faculty at Mount Holyoke College took a We’re Not Feeling the Love” vote, which passed overwhelmingly.  Subsequently, the Provost announced that elimination of low-enrollment degree programs would always be accompanied by a bear hug and a Starbucks gift card delivered by the President to each laid-off faculty member. 

— Not all schools have chosen to pursue a kinder, gentler path. At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, faculty voted on April 25th to formally notify the President via text message that “You Suck.”  The President responded with an email that said, “No, YOU suck.”

The Takeaway: If your President does indeed suck, you’ve got options. 

 

“You Folks Can Keep Your City-Learnin’….”

“What Counts as a Rural College?”  An interesting question, and the title of a video just released by the Chronicle of Higher Education (Academe, May 8th online).  

As a supplement to this valuable resource, University Life is pleased to offer its list of 11 surefire ways of identifying a rural institution of higher education:

1 — The Drama Department’s theatrical production of Cabaret is set on a 1930’s dairy farm in Buck Grove, Iowa.  In the adaptation, Sally Bowles is a Catholic nun who works for 4-H as an agricultural extension agent.  

2 — The shuttle-bus trip to the local shopping mall takes two-and-a-half days.

3 — During final exam periods, Therapy Hens are available in the library to provide support to stressed students. 

4 — On Saturday nights, undergraduates grab a handful of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo Condoms from Health Services and head over to the campus corn maze for some heavy smooching…and maybe more.

5 — At graduation, honorary degree recipients are given a pair of Dickies Classic Bib Overalls with golden shoulder tassels. 

6 — “O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather is required reading in every undergraduate course, including labs. 

7 — In the dining hall, cow’s milk is squeezed directly into cereal bowls by seniors majoring in Udder Studies. 

8 — The school’s most popular dating app is County Fairest, where female students on TikTok prepare a box lunch for that special fella they hope to attract. 

 9 — After every tornado, the folks in Buildings and Grounds spend the day “riding fences,” which involves retrieving students blown into the barbed-wire boundary that separates the campus from the grounds of the state penitentiary. 

10 — Students protest Israel’s occupation of Gaza by tossing loaves of Zingerman’s Jewish Rye into the cow-pie pit next to the adjunct faculty parking lot. 

11 — In Friday FanDuel, esports majors wager on the size of the next litter to be dropped by the feral cat living in the horse barn. 

It’s 5:00 am.  Do you know where your wheat thresher is? 

 

“We’re Just Finishing Dessert. Could You Arrest Us In A Few Minutes?”

As tent cities protesting the god-awful mess in Gaza proliferate on college campuses around the country, a newly established settlement at Princeton University is raising the judgmental eyebrows of both liberals and conservatives. 

Rather than erecting tents, Princeton activists have imported a fleet of luxury motor homes to reside in on the campus green.  For example, sophomores Cordell Wickington, Max Fairview, and Alicia Stendlehouse are sharing a 2024 King Aire Motor Coach, which retails for $1.6 million.  

“My dad gave it to me a few weeks ago after I almost scored a goal in a lacrosse game against Cornell,” says Wickington.  “He was so proud.”

Not everyone is pleased.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders calls the Princeton encampment “a monument to conspicuous consumption” that the students should be ashamed of.  “Children are starving in Gaza while these  privileged pissants snack on caviar and cracked crab in obscenely expensive vehicles.”

Wickington’s response: “Bite me, Bernie.  Most of the time we just get take-out from the local Chick-fil-A.  We’re making sacrifices too.”

When asked to comment, Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber noted that “the folks in Buildings and Grounds are not happy with the damage being done to our campus lawn by these massive RVs.  There’s no way they’ll be able to repair the deep ruts in time for Tigermania: The Annual Croquet Tournament for Graduating Seniors.  But as long as students don’t try to drive one of those bad boys into my office, I’m not calling in the police.”

NOTE:  Guided tours of the Princeton encampment, including visits to 10 of the motor homes, will be held on Saturday, May 4th from 1:00 to 4:30 pm.  Admission is $10 for adults and $2 for children 8 and under. 

From Farm to Tablet….

Critiques of legacy admissions continue to poke the ribs of colleges and universities across the country.  Should Timmy, who keeps putting his khakis on backwards even though there’s a big “F” on the front fly, get to attend Harvard just because his mom or dad rowed for the Crimson crew team?

Well, at least one gold-plated school is attempting to finesse this anti-legacy pressure by tapping into another zeitgeist obsession: farm-to-table cuisine.  

Welcome to Yale University’s rebranding of legacy admissions as “locally sourced recruitment.”  With the assistance of Accenture, the renowned consulting firm, Yale has reconceptualized its communication strategy for legacy admissions, a policy it remains firmly committed to.  

According to Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, “characterizing our admissions policy as ‘locally sourced’ underscores Yale’s steadfast loyalty to those alumni families that contribute so much to the rich, fertile soil that constitutes our entering class every year.  

“I invite you to inhale deeply as you walk among the first-year students gathered for the welcoming address delivered by our President every fall.  Smell the soul-stirring aroma of homegrown heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavor.  Experience the pungent fragrance of russet potatoes pulled from lush earth that has been fertilized by scores of broccoli-chomping oxen.  Discover the crisp, mischievous scent of Imperator carrots large enough to bludgeon protestors with at a campus demonstration.  At Yale, we are proud to give a gilded new meaning to the phrase, ‘Farm to Table’.  Come share our bounty.”

Yale’s “Locally Sourced” campaign will begin on June 1st with a full-page ad in The New York Times.

“NO? I Don’t Think So.”

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay offers advice on “how to accept ‘no’ for an answer” when you’re an academic adminstrator (April 9th online).  

The author’s counsel is first-rate, but it fails to include five of the most effective responses to a turndown.  Here they are:

Treat the “no” as a “yes.”  This is a venerable strategy in higher education that works remarkably well.  Simply proceed with your nixed project as if it had not been nixed.  When the provost reminds you that he/she/it said “no” to your initiative three weeks ago, counter with, “Excuse me?  I never received that email, and we’re way too deep into the project to turn back now.  Here’s the invoice for the new building.”  

(Note:  If you use this approach, make sure to keep a trustworthy IT consultant on retainer to wipe your PC clean of incriminating messages on a regular basis.) 

Deploy the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Gambit.  Send the obstructionist CFO who blocked your proposal an email that says, “I know what you did last summer.  Approve my project or I go public.”  There’s at least a 90% chance that this individual did something last summer that is scandalous, illegal, or both.   The CFO, even if innocent, will fold faster than an origami swan at a truck stop.   

Play the Joan of Arc CardSo, the Dean has denied your request for a new faculty line in your department?  Not a problem.  Inform her that students in the Fire Science Club are going to build a massive bonfire on the campus quadrangle, with you at the center of the conflagration holding aloft a copy of your rejected proposal. 

This is a moderately high-risk strategy, but it’s a good test of how invested you are in the proposal.  You’ll find out what you’re made of and gain the respect of the notoriously hard-to-please faculty union at your institution.  

Engage in Intersectional Bingo.  Use an intersectional identity you embody to claim that the rejection is based on discrimination.  Combinations that have found success in recent months include vegetarian orphan (Vanderbilt), freckled non-swimmer (Bucknell), and chinless Klansman (University of Vermont).  This strategy is noted for how quickly it can turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Challenge the nay-sayer to a public duel.  Pistols, swords, box cutters — it doesn’t matter.  Extremely effective when dealing with college presidents, whose core competencies tend not to include activities requiring hand-eye coordination.  

MORAL OF THE STORY:  Taking “no” for an answer is a choice, not a necessity.  Become the leader that your parents and your dog would be proud of.   

 

“I Made It From Scratch. Enjoy!”

TRUE FACT:  In a course offered in the Master of Business and Science program at Rutgers University, students “are challenged to perform five random acts of kindness.”  This is part of an overall effort to “instill empathy in business professionals,” so that “future leaders will put the power of empathy to work alongside science, business, and innovation” (online advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, April 8th).  

Oh my.  

It should come as no surprise that this vehicle for transforming business students into human beings has hit a few potholes on the Garden State Parkway of higher education.  For example:

—  A student recently sued the school when he failed to receive extra credit for performing a sixth act of kindness during the course.  Torrance Nufsen had taken down a box of Cocoa Puffs from the top shelf of the cereal aisle in a New Brunswick ShopRite and given it to a short, stooped, 92-year-old woman standing next to him.  Unfortunately, she did not want the cereal and swatted the box out of his hand.  

Says Nufsen: “This is so f**ked up, man!  I did a good thing.  If Grandma Cranky doesn’t like Cocoa Puffs, that’s on her.”

The University’s position is that the course syllabus clearly indicates that extra credit is not given for “extra kindness.”  “Mr. Nufsen should have read that document a bit more carefully,” states the Dean of the Business School.  

The trial is scheduled to begin in late May.

—  Last November, Cynthia Flambé donated one of her kidneys to a German Shepherd on dialysis at a local animal shelter in Bayonne.  Ms. Flambé protested the B-minus she ended up getting in the course, claiming that her act of kindness was so profound that she deserved a much higher grade.

The instructor disagreed: “Donating your kidney to a German Shepherd is stupid.  The dog’s body rejected the organ and he died two days later.  That animal would have been better off if the donation had never taken place.  Cynthia is lucky that I didn’t give her an F.”   

— Timothy Gallinski lent an acquaintance $50 to buy illegal street drugs in February, but received no academic credit for the act.  An outraged Gallinski notes that “my friend Toby is hopelessly addicted to Fentanyl.  What am I supposed to do?  Tell him to get on a 6-month waiting list for a detox program in Newark?  Give me a break!”

The instructor stands by her decision:  “Mr. Gallinski admits that he expected to be paid back in full when Toby got his next paycheck from Jersey Mike’s.  I would have been much more impressed if Timothy had forgiven the loan.  Now THAT would have been an act of kindness consistent with the spirit of the course.”

Problems like this have prompted institutions to explore alternative methods for developing empathy in business students.  Foremost among these is the University of Pennsylvania, where new students at the Wharton School undergo a brain transplant before enrolling in classes.  The donors are elderly, cloistered nuns who reside in convents throughout Portugal, Spain, and Italy.  

“Let’s be honest,” says Erika James, Wharton’s Dean.  “Most applicants to our master’s program are high-achieving, ruthlessly ambitious, self-centered dipwads.  Courses requiring acts of kindness will not change these folks.  Brain surgery will.  We’re pleased with the results so far.”

Penn’s massive endowment provides the funds for all medical expenses associated with the transplant.  “Our students don’t pay a penny,” says James.  “If that isn’t an act of kindness, I don’t know what is.”

And So It Begins…..

Uh-oh.  

Responding to a strike by graduate teaching assistants at Boston University, the school’s Dean of Arts & Sciences, Stan Sclaroff, recommended in an email that instructors “engage generative AI tools to give feedback or facilitate ‘discussion’ on readings or assignments.”  Following the unsurprising backlash provoked by this suggestion, BU issued a statement insisting that “neither Dean Sclaroff nor Boston University believe that AI can replace its graduate-student assistants” (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 29th online). 

But then things got weird.

University Life investigation reveals that the Dean’s original recommendation, as well as the subsequent disclaimer, were in fact generated by a rogue ChatGPT program that had infected the computers of both Dean Sclaroff and Kenneth Freeman, BU’s interim President.  

At a hastily called press conference on Wednesday morning, the school’s Chief of Police announced that “we are currently experiencing a Level 4 AI Penetration on our campus.  Do not believe anything you read that claims to come from a source within the University.  The institution’s communication systems have been severely compromised.  I repeat, the University’s communication systems have been…”

At precisely that point the Chief’s eyes began blinking rapidly and he stopped talking for nearly 30 seconds.  A distinct whirring sound could be heard.  When the blinking ceased, he recited — in a flat, affect-free tone — the day’s weather forecast and a traffic update for Commonwealth Avenue.  Then, ignoring reporters’ questions, he walked away swiftly in the direction of the Charles River. 

Panicked BU students are now roaming the campus, overturning cars and starting fires in trash bins.  Stray dogs are attacking elderly faculty members who trip and fall over the debris.

On Wednesday evening, a text message to the BU community from President Freeman urged students to “remain calm.  There is absolutely nothing to worry about.  It’s all good.  Please return to your room, log on to your PC, adjust your tin-foil headwear, and await further instructions.”

University Life will update this story as circumstances warrant. 

Who Goes There?

How open should the search for a university president be, in terms of revealing the names of finalists to the campus community?  That question is the focus of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article by a senior partner at an executive-search firm (March 15th issue, pp. 48-49).  

Although the author provides a useful overview of major approaches to handling this issue, he does not discuss three cutting-edge strategies that have emerged in the past couple of years.  Here they are:

Orchestral Audition Gambit (OAG):  This is the new gold standard for secrecy.  The distinctiveness of OAG is that not even the school’s board of trustees knows who the finalists are for the presidency.  These finalists are selected by a higher-education search firm and individually interviewed by the board, with candidates hidden behind a screen in a darkened conference room.  (Think of violinists auditioning for a position with a major orchestra.)  As the candidates answer questions, their speech is filtered through a voice-altering microphone.  

The identity of the candidate who is ultimately hired is kept secret for at least one year after he or she takes office.  During that period the new president does not appear on campus, working instead from an underground bunker in a nearby city or town.  Bowdoin College used the Gambit method to choose its current president, and by all accounts is very pleased with the outcome.   

Cloak-and-Dagger Search:  Institutions employing this approach identify and evaluate presidential candidates without notifying them that they are being considered, or even announcing to the public that a search is taking place.  Background information on individuals is gathered using surveillance techniques typically employed by international drug cartels and carried out by retired CIA operatives. 

Once the board of trustees has made its final decision, the “chosen one” is abducted from a parking garage, taken to a secure location, and informed that he or she can either accept the position of president or be “disappeared.”  The University of California System began using this approach in 2023.  Preliminary results look promising.  

Sunshine State Strategy:  The go-to method in Florida.  Whenever a presidential vacancy occurs in one of the state’s universities, Governor Ron DeSantis assumes the office without the public’s knowledge.  A local member of the Screen Actors Guild is hired by the school’s board of trustees, provided with an academic-sounding alias (e.g., Haydon Tittleton, Jr.), and presented to the campus community as president.  This approach has been so successful that South Carolina plans to adopt it and, not trusting its own governor, has arranged for Mr. DeSantis to use the NCAA’s transfer portal to switch states.  

MORAL OF THE STORY:  When it comes to presidential searches, the evidence is mounting that ignorance can indeed be bliss.