The authors of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay argue that the term “flagship” should no longer be used to describe certain universities. They assert that the word “has outlived whatever purpose it once had, and now clearly does more harm than good” (May 14th issue).
Welcome to higher education Whack-A-Mole.
Academicians breastfeed their young on jargon, and should “flagship” leave us, one can be certain that a new, equally obnoxious term will replace it within a few weeks.
To wit, consider the following institutional descriptors that have gained currency in the past several months:
Dumpster Fires: Small, non-elite, liberal-arts colleges that were in serious financial trouble before the pandemic, and now are in danger of flaming out entirely.
Monster Trucks: Large state universities that dominate their competition in key domains (e.g., University of Alabama → football).
Bullet Trains: Schools that offer an Acela’s worth of fast-track degrees, such as a bachelor’s in 2 years, a BA/MA combo in 3, or the BS/PhD/MD trifecta in 4.
Mushroom Clouds: Colleges where over 40% of the male faculty have been accused of sexual assault AND the cafeteria workers are on strike AND the President has been caught having separate affairs with both the Dean of Arts & Sciences and the Dean’s spouse AND there are at least 3 buildings on campus named after slaveholding Confederate generals and one named after a Nazi war criminal.
Tricycles: Schools where nearly 80% of all course offerings are remedial.
Pelotons: Universities that specialize in graduate certificate programs — highly expensive, and you end up where you started.
Rusted Oil Drums: Colleges with a lot of elderly, heavily tenured faculty who are about to be dumped overboard.
Septic Atomizers: Institutions that are transitioning with great speed to a predominantly online curriculum (known as Zoom Sewers west of the Mississippi).
Let’s face it: Naming stuff is higher education’s core competency.