“Talk to Me….”

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently devoted two articles to the challenge of engaging college students in class participation (“Rethinking Participation,” September 8th online; “The Question of ‘Cold Calling’,” September 12th online).

Such attention is sorely needed.  It’s hard to avoid despair when students stare at you with an expression that says, “I’d rather have an impacted wisdom tooth extracted through my urethra than offer a comment on the assigned reading.”

Well, help is on the way.  In July Rutgers University became the first school in the nation to establish the cabinet-level position of Vice President for Management of Class Participation.  (It’s also the first university to have an Associate Provost for Pronoun Oversight.)  

The Vice President coordinates all research at Rutgers that explores the concept and dynamics of participation.   Among the findings reported so far:

—  Can aroma motivate participation?  In seven sections of Introductory Microeconomics this fall, the tantalizing scent of applewood smoked bacon is being circulated throughout the classroom via the air-conditioning system every time a student asks a question or offers a cogent comment.  Preliminary results indicate that male participation is 40% higher in these sections than in scent-less sections.  However, female participation has not been affected.  In response, investigators are examining the impact on this population of a fragrance that evokes avocado salad containing saffron and pine nuts.  

—  Is there really no such thing as a stupid question?  Alas, researchers have found that students frequently ask stupid questions.  Even worse, many of these questions are irredeemably stupid (e.g., “Are Cheetos orange when they grow in the wild?”).

—  But just because a question is stupid, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the student who asked the question is stupid, does it?  Unfortunately, it usually does.  Sorry. 

—  Irredeemably stupid?  Yep, pretty much. 

—  What is the most effective way to manage the participation of students who talk too much?  Drone-administered tranquilizing micro-darts.  This is 97% effective for students weighing less than 240 pounds.  

—  Is it ethical to use electric shocks, delivered through desk seat cushions, to increase participation in class discussion?  Yes.

—  Should breathing, coughing, and perspiring be considered class participation?  Usually not, except in situations where the instructor wants to start off with a very low bar for grading participation. 

You may contact the Rutgers Public Information Office for copies of the full reports of these studies.  

Making Yale Great Again…

The Yale Daily News reports that the school’s endowment recently dropped from second place to third among institutions of higher education, trailing Harvard and the University of Texas.  Yale’s endowment of $42.3 billion amounts to $2.9 million per enrolled student (Yale Daily News, September 1st online). 

Yale President Peter Salovey, looking visibly distressed, held a press conference on Wednesday in which he announced a number of measures to stabilize the university’s finances.  The most prominent ones include:

—  Discontinuing Pheasant Phridays in the University’s dining halls.  (“Most of the students eat only half a pheasant at most, resulting in an incredible amount of waste,” says Salovey.)

—  No longer distributing original Gutenberg Bibles to all freshmen at orientation.  Used paperback copies of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People will be provided instead. 

—  Ending the tradition of giving a Tesla to every faculty member who is promoted to the rank of full professor.  These individuals will now have to choose between a Toyota Camry and a Honda Accord, with no guarantee of receiving their preferred color.   

—  Phasing out the practice of providing fraternity members who are arrested for public drunkenness with free legal counsel from a professor holding an endowed chair at the Yale Law School.  Untenured faculty from the University of Connecticut Law School will be recruited for this purpose on an as-needed basis. 

—  Instituting a $5 co-pay for weekend helicopter service to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Dubai.     

—  No longer serving Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 at wine-and-cheese receptions for the lacrosse and corn-hole teams.  

—  Prohibiting students from filling large trash barrels with cash and setting them on fire on the New Haven Green “just because they can.”  

—  Converting the majestic Sterling Memorial Library to a high-end condominium community (Eli’s Landing).  

—  Building Connecticut’s largest cannabis dispensary (Inhale, Yale) on the campus quadrangle.

—  Installing Britney Spears and Celine Dion as Artists-in-Residence at the 64,000-seat Yale Bowl.  They will perform three times a week from May through October for the next five years.  

“My solemn pledge to all of you: we will refuse to play second fiddle to some dust-covered cowboy school whose main contribution to Western civilization has been its recipe for three-bean chili.” — Peter Salovey  



True Colors

With professional conferences gradually returning as in-person events in the Not-Yet-Post-COVID Era, adjustments are being made.  For example, in November the American Evaluation Association will use “a coding system for badges to share social distancing and interaction preferences with other attendees (i.e., one color to signify you are ok with shaking hands, one color to request social distance, etc.).”

This strategy is now being adopted by a number of colleges and universities across the country as the fall semester is about to begin.  Leading the way, by a wide margin, is the University of Kentucky, where faculty will be able to affix a variety of colored ribbons to their shirts, blouses, and blazers to communicate crucial information.  

Here are their current choices, with more to come:

RED:  If you touch me, I will hurt you.

BURNT ORANGE:  Don’t breathe on me.

DARK OLIVE:  I refuse to teach online courses.

NAVY BLUE:  I have never eaten lunch in the faculty dining room, and I have no intention of ever doing so.  Don’t invite me. 

ORANGE:  Student evaluations of my courses are invalid.

INDIGO:  The terms “intersectionality” and “lived experience” are my personal triggers. 

EBONY:  I consume a lot of grilled red meat, and it’s okay if you’re not okay with that.   

MAROON:  My pronoun preferences are “zephron,” “flasen,” and “snisk.”

GREEN:  I believe the Big 10 conference should only contain 10 schools. 

TEAL:  Masks are required in my classes, but underwear is optional. 

BLUE:  In my 15 years on the T & P Committee, I have never voted in favor of a candidate’s promotion to full professor. 

GRAY:  I think monkeypox should be called “monkeypox.”

MAGENTA:  I don’t floss. 

PURPLE:  Not sure how I feel about reparations. 

TURQIOISE:  I’ve never met a dean or provost I liked.

The impact of the ribbon system on campus climate will be assessed by a task force of the University of Kentucky Faculty Senate at the end of the semester.  




Bitcoin 2.0

No Joke:  On August 1st the University of Notre Dame became a “cashless retail environment,” with most purchases requiring either a credit or debit card (Notre Dame News, July 25th).  

Not to be outdone, rival Catholic powerhouse Georgetown University has announced that on September 1st it will transition to a prayer-based payment system for everything but tuition. 

According to Georgetown President John DeGioia, Catholic students will recite either the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary in front of voice-recognition devices located at check-out counters across the campus.  Non-Catholics can choose either a generic prayer (e.g., “Hello, God…”) or an irreverent limerick that references the Pope in some fashion (e.g., “There was a Pontiff name Francis…”).  

“By the end of 2025,” says DeGioia, “we should be able to erect a prayer-based power plant at Georgetown that fully meets our institution’s energy needs without relying on fossil fuels.  This is the best kind of win-win: fighting climate change while saving souls.”

NOTE:  Every retail establishment will offer an Express Checkout Lane for customers not currently stained by mortal sin.  These individuals will recite an abridged version of the required prayer (e.g., “Our Father, who art in heaven…Amen” or “Hail Mary, full of grace…goodbye”).  As President DeGioa puts it, “at Georgetown, we’re all about incentivizing virtue.”   

You Knew It Would Come To This…..

TRUE FACT:  A recent study indicates that 95% of all “pouring-rights” contracts between large state universities and beverage companies such as Coke and Pepsi include provisions that reward schools for selling more drinks and/or penalize them if they don’t meet a minimum sales quota (Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, p. 8).  

Less well-known, but potentially more disturbing, are merchandising agreements involving other products sold on college campuses.

For example, Trojan is the “official condom” of the University of Mississippi.  Whenever an undergraduate buys a package of Trojans, his or her major is automatically recorded at the checkout counter.  Each month during the school year, the academic department with the highest number of Trojan purchases per student receives $7,500 (plus one sex toy) for its discretionary use.

“It’s a win-win,” claims Matthew T. Farrell, CEO of the Church & Dwight Company, manufacturer of Trojans.  “Departments encourage students to have more sex, and safer sex, and that results in the departments benefiting financially.  In April we ran a special promotion for Trojan Ultra-Ribbed, and the demand was so frenzied that the campus bookstore had to extend its hours until 11:30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.  The lines were out the door and halfway around the quad.  Couples were holding hands while they waited.  Heck, even Math and Engineering majors showed up.  I’m getting emotional just talking about it.”

Not everyone at Ole Miss is thrilled with this arrangement.  The University chaplain believes that the incentive program “rewards fornication and debauchery among young people.  College students should view their bodies as sacred temples, not as throbbing, spasmodic Silly Putty.  Moreover, I don’t think it’s right for academic departments to put big posters on their office doors asking, ‘Have you had sex today?  Why not?’  And don’t get me started on the disgusting collateral litter that the housekeeping and facilities staff have to deal with every Monday morning inside and outside of the residence halls.”

Things could be worse.  Check out the Frequent Snorter Program that Middlebury College has developed in collaboration with Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa drug cartel.  


Splenectomy, Anyone?

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education“one of the main objections to active learning is that…professors simply can’t cover as much content” (July 8th online).

This challenge will be front and center at Harvard Medical School in the fall of 2022, when the human spleen will be dropped from the school’s curriculum. 

Students who wish to learn about the spleen will have to do so on their own, says Medical School Dean George Q. Daley:  “There’s always Wikipedia, which is a much more credible source of information now than it was a decade ago.”

A faculty task force at Harvard recommended the deletion in a 75-page report released in May.  The report states that “the spleen is a low-profile organ when compared with such stalwarts as the liver, kidney, and pancreas.  Although the spleen can seriously malfunction, patients who experience such problems are typically poor.  By and large, Harvard-trained physicians do not treat poor people, and virtually none of our graduates accept Medicaid.  Our students are better served by taking more elective courses that focus on managing their stock portfolios.  Mistaking a patient’s spleen for his or her thyroid is regrettable, but failing to diversify one’s investments in anticipation of a bear market can devastate an entire family and its descendants.”

Community activists in the Boston area are vigorously protesting the decision (“More Spleen, Less Green”), while lawyers for Harvard claim that the school is simply exercising its academic freedom. 



Lookin’ Good…..

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently noted that “over the years, colleges have employed a number of tactics to create the appearance of a more diverse student body than the one the institution actually has” (July 5th online).

True enough, but this phenomenon is simply the tip of the misrepresentation iceberg in higher education marketing.  Here are five examples from just the past few months:

—  A jury in Lewiston, Maine found Bates College guilty of placing photographs on its website that gave the impression the campus had more chipmunks than it truly had.  A Marketing staff member broke down on the witness stand during the trial, admitting that she had conspired with a local rodent trafficker to release over 500 Eastern chipmunks on the Bates quad an hour before a PR photography shoot was to take place.  

“College students love chipmunks,” the staff member observed.  “We hoped the critters would stay at Bates, but by nightfall virtually all of them had migrated to Bowdoin or Colby. What we did was wrong.  I understand that now.  We should never have used those photos.”

—  At Rice University, images of male Math professors were Photoshopped to remove pocket protectors and lengthen pants so that the cuffs were no longer 2 or 3 inches above the ankle.  “We just wanted our faculty to look like normal people,” said the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  “Where’s the harm in that?”

—  Website photographs of New York University showed students sitting on lush, green lawns, conversing amiably, when the reality is, there are no lawns, lush or otherwise, on NYU’s urban campus.  When NYU students sit outside and talk, they typically do so in the middle of the street or atop a dumpster.  

—  Photos depicting the Registrar’s Office at Northwestern University show smiling staff members serving smiling students.  Surveillance videos from that office reveal that it has been 12 years since one of its staffers smiled.  That individual turned out to be mentally ill; she thought she was a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. 

—  93% of all outdoor photos on the University of Washington at Seattle website show blue, cloudless skies with bright sunshine.  When presented with National Weather Service data documenting the dominance of overcast, drizzly days on campus during most of the academic year, a school official claimed that the website photos “are meant to represent the cheerful, optimistic outlook of the U of W community, rather than a weather report.  Now get out of my office, you cockroach!”

Coming next week:  How tanned are all those undergraduates at the University of Miami?


In May, the student government at the University of California at Davis held a referendum on changing the school’s mascot from a mustang to a cow.  The change would honor UC-Davis’s roots as an agricultural institution.  Over 70% of the students who voted supported the proposal (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10th, p. 10).

It is noteworthy in this age of inclusivity that the views of the 300 cows who reside in the dairy facility on campus were not solicited prior to the vote.  Last week, University Life hosted a bovine focus group in which several of the cows participated.  Here is an excerpt from that discussion:

University Life Facilitator:  “How do you feel about the proposed change?  Do you think it’s a good idea?”

Gertrude:  “Count me in!  Sally told me that the honor of representing the school at home football games would be rotated among all of us from week to week.  That seems fair.”

Maeve:  “Gertrude, you’re dumber than a horse-fly snacking on a fresh cow pie.  Do you really believe the U-C Davis administration won’t play favorites?  Hell, that wet-nosed Guernsey Marlene has been sleeping with faculty in the Department of Animal Science for nearly a decade.  Every Sunday at dawn you can see her taking the Walk of Shame back to the barn from Meyer Hall.  I guarantee you, she’ll get a chance to display her perky hindquarters at homecoming a lot more often than the rest of us.”

Florence:  “Hold on there, Maeve.  Slut-shaming is not OK.  This is 2022, not 1952.”

Maeve:  “Bite me, Florence.”

Harriet:  “Calm down, ladies, you’re missing the point.  Showing up at football games and not pooping for three hours?  This represents additional work for us.  Are they going to compensate us for that?  Are they going to give us an afternoon off in the middle of the week to make up for the Saturday afternoons we’ll sacrifice?  We’re union cattle, remember.  Everything must be negotiated.”

Blanche:  “Well, I don’t mind working on Saturdays, but I do mind standing around for hours watching a stupid football game.  Football is B-O-R-I-N-G.  It’s a waste of good grass.  They should scatter our poop randomly around the field to make the game more entertaining.  At least the event would smell better.”

Simone:  “I promise you: they’re going to parade us out to the 50-yard line at halftime and have kids from 4-H engage in milking competitions.  It will be humiliating, having to show our udders in public like that.”

Maeve:  “Marlene won’t mind.  That siliconed hussy had her udder done a month ago.  It’s bigger than a pair of water wings now.”

Serena:  “I swear to God, if a cheerleader tries to put a bonnet on my head or braid my tail with ribbons, I’ll drop-kick her sorry ass to Stockton.”

As a public service, University Life has submitted an unedited transcript of the 90-minute focus group conversation to the Chancellor’s office at UC-Davis.  


Say What…..?

Early this year the Association of American Colleges and Universities announced that it was changing its name to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, a change that “recognizes the ongoing expansion of involvement in AAC&U by educators around the world and positions the association for continued growth in global membership” (AAC&U press release, January 10th).  

To no one’s surprise, the Linguistic Society of America has responded to this development with a plenary session at its upcoming annual meeting in Denver.  The 3-hour panel will be held in the Ampersand Room of the Hyatt Regency hotel at 4:00 pm on January 7, 2023.  

Entitled “What’s in a Name?  The Long Journey from AAC&U to AAC&U,” the session will feature the following paper presentations:

—  “Huh?” – Gretchen Chardonnay, University of Michigan at Flint

—  “I Don’t Get It.” – Horace Wegnow, Grinnell College 

—  “What?” – Parnell Dobkin, Cornell University

—  “Seriously?” – Lavinia Turbell, Gettysburg College

—  “I Feel Triggered.” – Heather Snavely-Bolston, New York University

—  “I’m Not Kidding.  Seriously?” – Lavinia Turbell,  Gettysburg College 

—  “ICU, You See You, AACU: Unpacking White Privilege in Association Names” – Ellwood Barks, Colorado School of Mines

—  “You’re Sh***ing Me, Right?” – Darrell Fweck, The College of Charleston

—  “And They Paid the Consulting Firm HOW MUCH?” – Wendy Nursk, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

A monograph based on the session will be published by Princeton University Press in 2024.