“The Best of the Rest…”

You gotta give U.S. News & World Report credit.  When a number of the country’s most prestigious law schools recently decided to stop providing data for the Report’s annual rankings, the publication didn’t miss a beat.  

On Monday the company’s CEO, Eric Gertler, announced that in 2023 its law-school rankings would begin with the institution ranked #11.  Rankings 1 through 10 will no longer be used.   

According to Gertler, “we’ve come to realize that schools like Yale, Stanford, and Chicago will always be the top law schools in the nation, regardless of whether we rank them or not.  They don’t need us.  ‘The elite will forever be the elite’, so sayeth The Lord, who graduated from the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, by the way. 

“So, here’s the deal: we’re going to kick things off in 2023 with the law school ranked #11, and work our way down from there.   Our annual law-school report will be officially titled “THE BEST OF THE REST.”

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm at Cornell Law School, which finished #12 in the 2022 rankings.  As Jens David Olin, the school’s dean, observed: “Let’s face it, we just don’t have the brainpower in upstate New York to compete with places like Yale.  The faculty we attract are primarily committed to skiing, not scholarship — we’re very similar to Dartmouth and SUNY Potsdam in that regard.  But now we have a fighting chance to be #11 in the Best of the Rest.  I am SO pumped!  Who cares that we’ll be going up against law schools that operate out of food trucks on the interstate?  We’re going to crush those mofos!”

Leave it to U.S. News and World Report to come up with a strategy that King Solomon — and Yale Law School — would approve of. 

How Did You Live Without This?

Chairs, deans, and provosts all know that 5% of the faculty consume 95% of their time.  Now, at long last, there is an early warning system for identifying this annoying subgroup, enabling busy administrators to take measures to avoid interacting with them. 

Behold the Dipwad Dowser, a divining rod developed by the manufacturer of John Deere agricultural machinery (Deere & Company) in collaboration with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

Just as a traditional dowser can pinpoint underground sources of water, the Dipwad Dowser can indicate whether a person you’ve just met is likely to be a dipwad.  It is 96% effective in identifying the 5 types of dipwad most frequently encountered in higher education:

— Pestilents:  The core competency of Pestilents is recognizing, and incessantly complaining about, the negative aspects (real and imagined) of everything on campus (“The new furniture they put in my office smells funny.”).  After declaring that the glass is half-empty, they stomp on the glass with both feet and use the shards to inflict despair on everyone in the vicinity.  In their opinion, happy faculty are deluded faculty.  Pestilents consider Debbie Downers to be Pollyannas.    

Ingratiators:  Leeches envy the ability of these individuals to suck up to superiors.  (“Your comments yesterday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the unisex water fountain in the cafeteria changed my life!”Interacting with them is like drinking maple syrup from a fire hose.  After a few minutes you’re drenched in sweet slime and on the verge of barfing.  

—  Pistachios:  Remove the shell and find the nut inside.  Pistachios specialize in offering detailed, wildly unrealistic proposals that they want you to fund. (“Here’s the prospectus I’ve been working on for a Luncheon Meat Research Center to be housed in the English Department.”)

— Termites:  These folks wanted somebody else to be hired for the job you have, and they will work diligently, often behind your back, to undermine the foundations of your leadership.  Termites have an uncanny knack for spreading rumors that grossly misrepresent what you’ve said.  (“She told the Search Committee that she would never approve the hiring of a Puerto Rican!”)

— Litigators:  For them, there is no campus grievance that is too small to be the subject of legal action: classrooms that are excessively hot or cold; faculty parking lots that are too far away from faculty offices; paper cuts; smelly dry-erase markers; scratchy toilet paper; required office hours; and, of course, vaccine (and even hygiene) mandates.  (“How I smell is my business!”) Their lawyers typically operate out of vans parked at turnpike service plazas.  

The Dipwad Dowser is remarkably easy to use.  Just point the device at a faculty member you’re meeting for the first time, and let the magic happen.  The dowser will sharply angle downward if the person is a dipwad, and identify on its digital display the type of dipwad that has been discovered. 

Available in a variety of colors from the Hammacher Schlemmer website, the Dipwad Dowser (standard model) retails for $499.95. 

Can you afford not to have one? 


Yes, Martin Scorsese Will Direct….

The Stanford Graduate School of Business briefly brushed its exposed derrière against the hot stove of controversy recently when it announced plans to hold a conference on academic freedom that would be closed to the media.  After a predictable flurry of criticism, organizers decided to livestream the event via Zoom/Youtube “so that everyone can access the conference” (Chronicle of Higher Education, October 24th online).  

Sorry, Stanford, but your attempt to shield a conference from public scrutiny pales in comparison to what transpired at Columbia University in 1956.  On the evening of March 20th of that year, nearly 100 faculty members attended a secret comedy revue in the basement of Low Memorial Library.  The revue consisted of satirical skits in which professors portrayed specific Columbia undergraduates whom they intensely disliked. 

The depictions were merciless and cruel.  Hayden Krusp, a first-year assistant professor of Romance Languages, was in the audience, and he was appalled.  He informed the school’s Human Resources Department of his concerns, and the ensuing investigation resulted in 14 tenured Columbia professors being summarily fired on April 24th for “moral turpitude.”

On April 27th Hayden Krusp disappeared, shortly after he finished teaching his weekly honors seminar.  No one has seen him since.  

The case finally broke on February 18th, 1984 during an interview with a Mob hitman imprisoned at a maximum-security correctional facility near Florence, Colorado.  

Sonny “The Snake” DeMitro, serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of three members of the Zamboni crime family in Bayonne, New Jersey, revealed to his biographer that he had carried out a contract on a professor at an Ivy League school in New York City in the mid-1950s.  

According to DeMitro, “this guy had spilled the beans on some secret faculty ritual, and we were contacted by the Chairman of Columbia’s Faculty Senate.  They wanted to send a message to everyone at the institution that snitching was frowned upon.

“We had done a lot of work for Ivy League schools in the past; they pay really well.  But I gotta admit, when we snatched up Krusp as he headed back to his office that day, I was surprised.  Such a sweet kid!  There was no whining or begging when we told him what was going to happen.  Absolutely none.  I hate it when they whine; deans and provosts are the worst.  For the love of God, just take it like a man!

“Hell, I can still recall him smiling at us as we were tying him to a cinder block, getting ready to toss him in the Hudson.  It was a Friday night, and he says to me, ‘hope you have a nice weekend’.  Can you believe that?  I came close to shedding a few tears.  I’ve dumped dozens of guys — and a few dames — in that river over the years, but he’s the only one I ever had second thoughts about.”

Academy Award nominee Timothée Chalamet will portray Hayden Krusp in Scorsese’s film version of this saga, which is due to be released in late 2023.  



Not to Worry….

“How to Cope with Presentation Anxiety,” an essay chock-full of helpful advice from James Lang, recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept. 28th online).  

Unfortunately, it omits the most crucial piece of information that professors suffering from academic stage fright need to know:  NO ONE IS LISTENING TO YOU.

Consider the typical panel session at an annual conference.  Researchers have found that approximately 87% of all audience members are preoccupied with one or more of the following concerns throughout the entire session:

“Where should I go to dinner tonight?”

“Whom should I invite to go with me to dinner tonight?”

“Why hasn’t anyone invited me to go to dinner with them tonight?”

“Where’s the location of the session I’m attending after this one?”

“Holy crap!  Did I leave my cell phone in the restroom?”

“Why isn’t my book being prominently displayed by the publisher in the exhibition hall?  Those bastards!”

“Dammit, I forgot to get a receipt at lunch.  There goes the reimbursement for my cheeseburger.”

“Why do they keep the meeting rooms so cold?”

“Why do they keep the meeting rooms so hot?”

“Could that really be a pimple I feel coming up on my chin?  For the love of God, I’m 52 years old!”

“The tote bags they give us at registration keep getting cheaper every year.”

“OK, who’s the dipwad wearing Axe Banana/Turkey Body Spray?”

“Is there going to be anything worth bidding on at tonight’s Silent Auction?  No way I’m paying $75 for another necklace made of shellacked guano pebbles.”

“Why did Edelson ignore me when I waved to him in the hallway after the plenary address?  We were in grad school together.  I’ll bet it’s because he’s at Cornell now and I’m at a community college.  I knew from the beginning that he was a status-seeking son of a bitch.”

“I can’t believe they charge $8.75 for a package of four undersized Oreos from my room’s mini-bar.  Marx was right; he’s always been right.” 

“Let me just close my eyes for a minute.  I won’t fall…”

Moral of the Story:  

When it comes to making public presentations, you can relax. 

It’s not about you.

It never has been.  


The Other Shoe Has Dropped, and It’s Edible

UH-OH:  An associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley recently admitted that, for years, she has falsely claimed indigenous heritage.  Her research focuses on Native American food systems and food sovereignty (Indianz.com, Oct. 21st).  

Now, the entire house of cards she constructed over the course of her career is toppling. 

Three days ago, the supposedly indigenous foods that the professor frequently displayed at academic conferences came forward to announce that they are not what they appear to be.  The following is a partial list of the impostors, with sham identities in quotes and true identities in parentheses:

— “Sweet potatoes” (Yams)

— “Wild rice” (Basmati)

— “Squash”(Gourds)

— “Corn” (Peas)

— “Beans” (Varnished Spam nuggets) 

— “Peanuts” → (Beans)

“Avocados” → (Genetically modified raisins)

— “Pumpkins” → (Watermelons)

When asked by a reporter why they assumed false food identities for so many years, the group’s lawyer responded, “hell, the professor always had a Bowie knife and ball-peen hammer hidden in a tool belt under her blazer at public events, and she wasn’t afraid to use them.  What would you have done under those circumstances if you were an unarmed yam?”



TRUE FACT:  Following Tennessee’s stunning 52-49 gridiron victory over Alabama last Saturday, fans of the winning team tore down the goalposts and threw one of them into the Tennessee River.

Although this incident might raise a few bemused eyebrows, it doesn’t come close to delivering the wallop of surprise provided by two notorious campus celebrations of the 1970s.  

In 1970, Paul Samuelson became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.  The award was announced while his colleagues in the MIT Economics Department were eating lunch in the faculty dining room.  Upon hearing the news, these professors proceeded to riot — upending tables, engaging in a food fight that lasted over an hour, and building a huge bonfire with chairs and drapes that triggered the building’s sprinkler system. 

Campus police arrested 14 professors for vandalism, with 3 of those individuals serving 6 months in jail for assaulting (biting) the officers who were attempting to subdue them.

In the wake of the disturbance, MIT instituted a no-alcohol policy in the faculty dining room that is still in force, 52 years later.   

In a 2004 interview, Samuelson expressed regret that his departmental colleagues had celebrated his achievement in such a destructive fashion:  “I mean, these folks had PhDs from some of the most prestigious institutions on the planet.  I just don’t get it.  You can’t go around biting people.”

A mere five years after the MIT incident, an even more shocking event took place at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.  

On September 14, 1975, Elizabeth Ann Seton became the first American-born individual to be canonized by the Catholic Church.  Seton had founded a congregation of Catholic nuns — the Sisters of Charity — in 1809.  

Approximately 30 members of the Sisters of Charity were sitting in an Advanced Theology class on the Seton Hall campus when Seton’s sainthood was announced by the instructor.  According to one witness, “the sisters went absolutely nuts, whooping like a pack of wild coyotes on crystal meth.”

The women burst out of the classroom and ran onto the campus quadrangle, overturning trash barrels and lassoing students with their oversized rosaries.  They did somersaults, cartwheels, and backflips.  Several of them engaged in what is known as “nun-splatting,” in which a sister runs full speed into the wall of a building, and then collapses in a throbbing, pulsating heap.  During the chaos, three gardeners on the school’s facilities staff were temporarily taken hostage and tickled with pigeon feathers until they became incontinent.  

Afterward, none of the nuns could recall doing any of these things.  Nadine Werb, Professor of Nun Psychology at Georgetown University, notes that displays of such frenzied behavior are not uncommon in religious communities.  According to Werb, “the typical female member of a Catholic religious order is a tightly wound bundle of repressed libidinal energy — enough energy to power a Toyota Corolla for a full day at 65 miles per hour.  Every once in a while, some of that energy is unleashed, and all hell breaks loose.”


Disparate Impact, Revisited

It will probably surprise no one that “mentoring, committee work, and other campus service disproportionately burden women” at colleges and universities across the country (Chronicle of Higher Education, October 5th online).

But there are exceptions.  

Consider the University of Montana at Missoula.  

Every fall, shortly before the hibernation season begins, the U of M English Department hosts its annual Grizzly Bear Roast.  Featuring Rotisserie Brown Bear, corn on the cob, and candied yams, the Roast has been a department tradition for over 70 years.  

Responsibility for tracking, shooting, and preparing bears for the spit rests exclusively with the male members of the English Department.  

“It’s not fair,” claims Greg Lertz, an assistant professor who participated in his first grizzly bear hunt in the fall of 2021, losing his left arm in the process.  “I had absolutely zero experience with guns before being hired by the University of Montana, and I certainly had never hunted a grizzly bear.  When I came face-to-face with one in the woods last fall, I froze, and the damn thing ripped my left arm right out of its socket and started beating me with it.  Thank God one of my colleagues took the bear out with one shot; he saved my life.”  

Over the years nearly a dozen English professors have died during the hunt, including a few who perished after falling down deep ravines while being chased by bears.  Thus far the most notable fatality has been Grayson Twenge, whose 2006 biography of Vladimir Nabokov won a Pultizer Prize.  Professor Twenge was killed when he accidentally discharged his rifle while stepping out of his Prius at the hunt staging area in the Lolo National Forest parking lot. 

According to associate professor Lance Gepperman, “what makes this males-only tradition so insane is that a number of our female professors are much better than the men when it comes to handling firearms.  Hell, take Arlene.  Three years ago she dispatched both her husband and his mistress with a single bullet.  Granted, the two victims were locked in a tight embrace in bed at the time, so it wasn’t that much of a challenge, but still…”

When asked to comment on the gendered nature of the annual bear hunt, U of M President Seth Bodnar smiled and replied, “this is Montana, my friend, and in Montana we consider men to be the hunter/gatherers.  Every male applicant for a faculty position in our English Department is informed of the expectations that govern the bear hunt.  If a so-called ‘man’ is uncomfortable with those expectations, he should apply for a position at Williams, Princeton, or Berkeley, where baking scones for Sunday salons is the main extracurricular activity of English professors.” 

FOLLOW-UP:  University Life contacted the Human Resources Department at the University of Montana and confirmed the accuracy of President Bodnar’s assertion concerning the English Department’s application process.  

“Smells Like Department Spirit….”

Trisalyn Nelson’s recent article, “10 Ways to Rebuild Department Culture,” is a valuable resource for those wishing to infuse their departments with a renewed sense of community in the aftermath of COVID (Chronicle of Higher Education, September 26th online).  

However, if you really want to attain a level of camaraderie that is the envy of your colleagues, consider the following five suggestions:

—  At least once a week lead your department faculty on a march around the campus, loudly repeating a self-promoting chant.  For example, here’s a favorite of political scientists at the University of Arizona:





Can’t get it out of your mind, can you?

—  At the beginning of department meetings, employ intense icebreakers to establish lasting bonds (e.g., “Let’s go around the table and have each person tell us a little bit about their first sexual experience with a willing partner.  Fran, why don’t you start?”)

—  Hold monthly slumber parties where department members consume vast quantities of sangria and use burner phones to make harassing calls to despised high-level university administrators (“Hello, Dean Fryzell?  You suck!”).  Make sure to invest in a high-quality voice-distortion device.  (You can get one online for under $40.)

—  As the Fall semester draws to a close, have your department put on a Nativity play for the entire campus, with every department member on stage for the Bethlehem manger scene at the end.  To ensure inclusion and avoid controversy, replace the Three Wise Men with Muhammad, Buddha, and Tom Brady (in uniform, presenting the Baby Jesus with an autographed football).  

—  Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.  On behalf of your department, sue your school’s Board of Trustees.  The specifics of the lawsuit don’t matter, but insufficient parking, malfunctioning vending machines, and stale dinner rolls in the faculty dining room are all fair game.  Pick any grievance that works for you.

Your colleagues are waiting.  Start leading.  






Just Do It….

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently republished a very helpful essay, “How to Make the Most of an Academic Conference,” by Thomas J. Tobin (September 23rd online).  As valuable as this piece is, it fails to include a number of suggestions that can transform a merely good conference experience into a truly exceptional one.  Accordingly, University Life encourages readers to take the following recommendations out for a spin:

—  Go to the zoo.  That’s right, the zoo.  There’s nothing better than skipping a day of conference sessions to make time for a zoo visit.  Zoos are great; don’t let the objections of wildlife activists deter you.  If there isn’t a decent zoo in the city where your conference is being held, don’t attend the conference.  On the other hand, the San Diego Zoo rocks, so attend every convention you can find that meets in San Diego, even if the convention has nothing to do with your field or discipline.  You won’t regret it. 

—  If your conference has an awards luncheon or dinner, make sure to attend.  When the basket of bread is passed to you, place one roll on your plate and dump the remaining ones into your conference tote bag.  Try to be inconspicuous, but don’t sweat it if someone sees you.  Secretly, they’ll admire — and envy — your chutzpah.  

—  After a plenary session, go up to the featured speaker and ask her or him to autograph your neck with a Sharpie.  

—  Some conferences have silent auctions to support graduate student travel stipends or other worthy causes.  On the bidding sheet for a signed copy of a book by a noted author, write “I’ve read this and it really sucks.”

—  When you’re presenting at a panel session, place a small waste basket and a roll of toilet paper next to you in clear view of the audience.  Announce that “I had a tray’s worth of spoiled shrimp cocktail at the reception last night.  Those of you sitting up front might want to move back a row or two.”

—  If your conference begins with a high-profile public acknowledgment of the indigenous peoples whose land is now occupied by the host hotel, sit in the front row while dressed as John Wayne in “The Searchers” and stare with great intensity.  Your sense of humor will be appreciated.  

—  As the chairperson goes around the room asking individuals why they chose to attend this particular session, respond that attendance is required by my detox program and parole officer.  By the way, it feels really hot in here.  Is anybody else sweating up a storm?”

—  Assemble a three-course dinner from the complimentary Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, and fun-size Snickers provided by publishers at their display booths.  Celebrate later with a feast in your hotel room as you watch reruns of “Friends” while relaxing in bed.  Don’t forget those dinner rolls you saved from lunch!

— Back to the Silent Auction.  Find an elaborate, handmade, one-of-a-kind item donated by an attendee and write on the bidding sheet, “what the hell is this?”

Your next conference can be forgettable or memorable.  It’s up to you.  

Origin Story

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “at least 14 residential students at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, have been exposed to or bitten by bats since the start of the fall semester” (Daily Briefing, September 9th). 

For University Life readers of a certain age, this story will undoubtedly bring to mind the strange saga of BITEMAN, the Bucknell University professor who terrorized the campus community in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for more than three years in the early 1930s.

Harold Stumb, an assistant professor in the History Department at Bucknell, had been turned down for tenure in the spring of 1932.  When informed of the decision by the chair of the tenure and promotion committee, an enraged Stumb attacked him, biting him on the neck during the struggle.  Police went to Stumb’s home later that day to arrest him for assault, but found that he had abandoned the residence, having left a handwritten note that simply said, “I will bite again.” 

Indeed, less than a week later, the biting resumed.  These incidents typically took place late at night when a faculty member, administrator, or student was walking alone across campus.  Stumb, wearing a cape and mask, would approach the victim from behind, bite quickly, and flee.  

Between April 1932 and December 1935, 28 people were bitten, none seriously.  Stumb would always leave behind a reprint of one of his scholarly articles at the scene, upon which he had scrawled the message, “This alone should have earned me tenure.”

Professor Stumb, by then known as “BITEMAN,” was apprehended on December 4, 1935 when police tracked his footprints through the snow from the scene of a campus biting to a makeshift shelter on the banks of the nearby Susquehanna River.  A jury found him guilty of “disrespecting tenure and promotion decisions,” as well as non-consensual biting, and sentenced him to life in prison at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where — ironically — he died from the bite of a rabid rat in 1969. 

Inspired by the BITEMAN trial, artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created the comic-book character Batman in 1939.  At Stumb’s funeral 30 years later, Kane delivered the eulogy, noting that “in his own, peculiar way, Harold Stumb was a crusader for justice.  He sacrificed his freedom, and ultimately his life, on behalf of tenure-track faculty everywhere.”

In 2006, Stumb was granted tenure posthumously by Bucknell University, following a comprehensive investigation of his case by a committee of the American Association of University Professors.