“It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time….”

Undergraduates at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have been ordered by the Washtenaw County Health Department to “stay in place” due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases on campus (Chronicle of Higher Education online, October 20).

Behind the scenes, however, University Life has uncovered a more complicated story, both tragic and bittersweet.  

According to an anonymous University of Michigan administrator, three weeks ago the school initiated a new policy for dealing with students who tested positive for the coronavirus after violating safety protocols:  the students were required to perform community service by volunteering at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

As the administrator put it, “our intentions were noble, but in retrospect it’s clear that we didn’t think through the potential consequences of this policy.  For example, the population of the Happy Wrinkles Nursing Home in nearby Barton Hills quickly shrunk from 350 to 22.” 

“Residents were dropping like flies in a horse barn sprayed with Raid,” lamented Happy Wrinkles Executive Director Clyde Gansling III.  “It was a damn shame.  And we only had three ventilators from Family Dollar on hand for the entire facility, which didn’t help matters.”

Amidst all this catastrophic misery and shortness of breath at Happy Wrinkles there were some joyous encounters.  Here is 97-year-old Minnie Cohenstein:  “My late husband Sol was a wonderful man, but for most of our 70-year marriage he was a no-show in the romance department.  And then, at ceramics class one afternoon in the Sun Room, I met Thad, a sophomore poetry major from the University.  Never have I felt more fulfilled as a woman than during the two weeks we spent together.  I’ll just stop there.  I’m a lady, you know.” 

When asked for his comments, Thad simply smiled and said, “Minnie taught me so much.  About life.  About love.  About how a small trampoline and some clam dip be used to enhance a relationship.  I had no idea that community service could be so meaningful.  I wish her well.”

Liquid Assets?

Well, it’s come to this:  Brigham Young University-Idaho has warned its students not to intentionally expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to get more money for their plasma from local blood centers (East Idaho News online, October 12). 

In response, students at the Mormon school in Rexburg, Idaho are poised to do battle with the administration.   Here is Jason Husker-Du, a junior Political Science major and chair of the undergraduate student government’s Che Guevara Revolutionary Task Force:  “Show me where it says in the Book of Mormon, the Golden Plates, or the United States Constitution that voluntarily contracting an illness in the name of financial profit is forbidden.  You can’t show me, because there’s no mention of that topic, and certainly no mention of COVID-19, in any of those sources.  Ergo, you can’t stop us.  I’m pretty sure that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett would agree with me on this, strict constructionist that she is.  

“Simply put, BYU has no right to tell us what we can do with our immune system or our plasma.  It’s bad enough that they require us to remain virginal until marriage.  Have you seen Willow Taffeta-Newsom, my girlfriend who plays on the volleyball team?  Oh.  My.  God.”

Yesterday, the University administration blinked.   School officials announced that they would allow students to embrace the coronavirus, as long as they tithed their plasma earnings to BYU, with the funds being used to buy iPads for the school’s new Esports concentration in its Bachelor’s Pre-Med program. 

Husker-Du’s reply:  “Sure, we’ll consider their offer, as long as they’re also willing to discuss our proposal for premarital-sex vouchers for all undergraduates.  The voucher topic has to be on the table, and really, really soon.  Like, before this Saturday night.  I’m not kidding.” 




Divine Non-Intervention

In a press release yesterday, God Almighty (yes, that God Almighty) took full responsibility for the failure of Reverend John L. Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, to wear a mask at the White House Rose Garden ceremony where Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was introduced. 

“MY BAD!” said God.  “Notre Dame is a major Catholic university, and I should have provided John with the sort of guidance I routinely give to John DeGioia and William Leahy, my bros at Georgetown and Boston College.

“Here’s the deal:  I was distracted at the time of the Rose Garden event, but that’s no excuse.  I was immersed in planning Hurricane Delta, and the Celestial Council was urging me to have Delta slam Haiti and Puerto Rico instead of Louisiana.  I resisted.  Those poor bastards in Haiti never catch a break.  If it’s not a hurricane, it’s an earthquake.  And if it’s not an earthquake, then it’s decades of incredibly inept and corrupt political leadership.  The Council thought it would be hilarious to wallop Haiti again, but I just couldn’t do it.  For Pete’s sake, let’s give them time to at least buy a few hundred portable toilets before we blow away what remains of their infrastructure!  God is supposed to be merciful, right?  I realize that I got out of the social justice business a long time ago, but a little mercy never hurt anybody.

“In any event, I totally forgot about President Jenkins.  One day he’s in South Bend overseeing the Fighting Irish football team, and the next thing I know he’s sitting in a crowd of unmasked cretins in the Rose Garden.  I’m sure he just got caught up in the moment.  It’s not his fault!

“Just for the record, when I unleashed COVID-19 I had NO idea that you folks in the United States were going to f**k up your response so badly.  I just wanted to give the world a fun public health challenge to grapple with for a couple of months, and then move on.  I fully expected that ALL countries would handle the pandemic in the swift, decisive fashion that New Zealand did.  I must admit, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, really stepped up to the plate and showed me something.  She’s the real deal.  

“Her leadership has got me thinking.  I may have to revisit the Catholic Church’s policy of not allowing women to be priests.  Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary have been squawking about this issue on their Fire and Ice podcast for centuries.

“Stay tuned…..and wear your mask.”

“_____, _____, Pants on Fire!”

“This has nothing to do with money.”

That claim was made by University of Oregon President Michael Schill during a Zoom press conference on September 24th, when the PAC-12 announced that it would indeed have a fall football season, after previously saying that it would not do so because of the pandemic.  

What occurred next in the press conference can only be described as bizarre:  Schill’s image on the Zoom screen became increasingly fuzzy, and then gradually transformed itself into a crystal-clear depiction of a proboscis monkey, the one with a huge nose.  Schill’s voice continued to be heard, but now the words were coming out of the monkey’s mouth.

What had just happened?  Emory University primatologist Natalie Savoir-Faire offered a compelling explanation:

“Many people believe that when a person utters a falsehood, his or her nose grows longer like Pinocchio’s.  There IS a grain of truth in that belief, since lying is associated with a surge of adrenaline, and adrenaline can stimulate cartilage growth in the nasal region. 

“In this case, however, President Schill apparently told a lie that was SO outrageously huge that the foundational molecular structure of his body was totally reconstituted, with an emphasis, once again, on the nose.  This is a rare event, to be sure, but it does occur once every decade or so.”

Will President Schill eventually return to his human form?

“He might, but as long as he sticks to his story about the money, it’s highly unlikely.  You can deceive the American public, but you can’t fool your own protoplasm.”

“We Interrupt This Broadcast to Bring You Breaking News…..”

University Life is on hiatus this week.  Our lead reporters are on assignment in Washington, DC, covering the unfolding Greek tragicomedy surrounding the Supreme Court.  For interested readers, here are links to the two stories they have published in the Washington Post:



We are so proud of Gretchen and Hector for their fine work.  University Life will be back next week, bringing you the trenchant analysis that has won awards for higher education reporting from the National Football League, the Vatican, and Sha’nelle’s Nail Salon and Shoe Repair Shop.

Thanks so much for your continued support.  Spread the word.  






Our House, Our Rules

The University of Chicago’s English Department is getting considerable heat on social media for its decision to accept “only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies” during the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle (see departmental homepage).  

Relax, everyone.  Doctoral programs across the country expand and narrow their foci all the time.  A few notable examples:

—  The English Department at Harvard has not allowed its students to write doctoral dissertations on Shakespeare since 1998.  According to a senior faculty member there, “we had to face the fact that there’s absolutely nothing new that can be said about this man’s work.  We knew it was time to flush the toilet and lower the lid on his oeuvre when one of our students proposed a thesis entitled Sneezing as a Transgressive Discourse in Shakespeare’s Minor Comedies’.  For the love of God, enough is enough.”

—  At the University of Mississippi, dissertations on William Faulkner are now verboten.  As the English Department Chair put it, “we simply got tired of students misspelling ‘Yoknapatawpha County’, Faulkner’s fictional kingdom.  It’s a shame, because the final Faulkner dissertation we approved in 2018 was an excellent piece of scholarship: ‘Unacknowledged Influences of Wakanda on Faulkner’s Early Work: Oversight, Racism, or Both?’.”

—  Dissertations on Iraq and Iran are no longer permitted in the Political Science Department at Duke University.  “Students were constantly getting the two countries mixed up,” says a professor who wished to remain anonymous.  “Admittedly, part of the problem was the notoriously loose supervision provided by our doctoral faculty.  Students could proceed down the wrong path with their proposal drafts for months before being informed of their error.  But, ultimately, it’s the student who has to take ownership of such a mistake.  We have been unsuccessful in getting tenured professors to monitor their advisees more closely.” 

—  Finally, there is the Chemistry Department at UCLA, which in 1991 began to require that all doctoral theses focus on hydrogen, and no other element.  In the words of the Department Chair, “hydrogen is the workhorse of our universe.  It’s the most abundant chemical substance by a large margin.  Literally, it’s Element #1.  We need to find out everything there is to know about this baby!  A couple of years ago, a student came up to me and wanted to write her dissertation on terbium.  Seriously?  TERBIUM???  Terbium is the 90-pound weakling of the elements.  I threw her out of my office.  Someone told me later that she ended up transferring to the Art History master’s program.  I hope that worked out for her.”

Stay strong, Chicago.  The trolls will soon find another target to torment — probably Texas A&M University, which plans to offer Esports as its only undergraduate major beginning in Fall 2021. 

Provosts Behaving Badly….

No joke:  According to a recent article in the Lexington Herald Leader (Sept. 3rd online), the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky “was asked to sign a pre-typed resignation letter in exchange for a ‘generous offer’ that would immediately expire if he didn’t sign.”  The Dean refused to sign, and without further ado UK’s Provost proceeded to relieve him of his duties.  

The University of Kentucky now joins a growing number of higher education institutions that have engaged in personnel actions over the past few years that are bizarre enough to inspire true-crime podcasts.  Here are a couple of others that have quickly attained legendary status:

  • In 2019, Vern Pontchartrain, a professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, was promised a toaster oven by the Provost if he would resign as Chair of the Chemistry Department.  He accepted the offer:  “I had recently gotten divorced and was living in a studio apartment that had no kitchen appliances, not even a microwave.  The Provost must have known that, since he was sleeping with my former wife at the time. 

“It turns out that the toaster oven was defective, and one day it triggered a fire that burned down my apartment building while I was at school teaching an honors seminar on what makes Mountain Dew so ‘dewy’.  Fortunately, the only party injured in the blaze was Squawky, Mrs. Dinsmore’s pet parrot on the 6th floor.  He lost a wing and has a singed beak.  Now he spends about 7 hours a day screeching, ‘FIRE!!  FIRE!!  IT’S A F**KING FIRE!’

“I’m suing the University on the grounds that they should have known that a toaster oven is likely to be deeply flawed if it’s purchased from a street vendor in Indianapolis whose entire inventory is housed in a baby carriage.”

  • When University of Nebraska Psychology professor Everett Fingerling walked out the front door of his home to go to work on the morning of October 9, 2018, he had no idea that three campus police officers were crouching beside his car, out of sight.  They apprehended Fingerling, put a burlap sack over his head, and drove him to Osceola, a town 70 miles away.  Once there, they deposited him in a half-filled kale-chip silo on a cabbage farm.   

Nebraska’s Provost had ordered the abduction, claiming that conventional procedures for firing a poorly performing tenured professor were unduly cumbersome and consumed an excessive amount of his time in meetings with faculty committees, the HR department, and University counsel. 

It took Fingerling eight months, but he eventually ate his way out of the silo.  (“Now I’ve got the cleanest colon in Lancaster County, Nebraska!  Not a polyp anywhere.  Go ahead and take a look!”)  The Provost was arrested and convicted of “conspiring to assault a senior faculty member with trendy roughage.”  He was sentenced to three years of working the grill at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Omaha during the day, while confined to a halfway house for ex-offenders at night. 

Sometimes, justice does prevail.   


Pandemic “AHA!” Moments: #12 in a Series

Like many scholarly groups during the pandemic, the American Historical Association (AHA) has cancelled its annual face-to-face convention, which had been scheduled for January 7-10, 2021 in Seattle. 

What is distinctive about the AHA decision is the seismic shift it has precipitated in the way historians view their discipline, a shift that will reshape future AHA meetings.  

According to AHA President-elect Jacqueline Jones of the University of Texas (Austin), “a ‘Eureka’ moment occurred as we deliberated the cancellation.  For the most part, our field focuses on the activities of people who are long dead.  Do we really need to come together in person every year to discuss the actions of individuals who can’t be present?  I don’t think so.  Consider the panel that was held at last year’s convention on the impact of the 1789 Women’s March on Versailles on the French Revolution.  None of the women who participated in the march are still alive, so we had no representatives from that group who could speak their truth in the session.  Not even a grandchild or great-grandchild was available.  It was embarrassing!

“And don’t get me started on sessions that address any aspect of the Roman Empire.  Let’s take a quick scan of some of the emperors from that era:

  • Aurelian:   dead
  • Constantine the Great:  deceased
  • Romulus Augustulus:  like, TOTALLY dead
  • Justinian I:   teaspoonful of dust
  • Basil II:   half of one tooth (a molar) remains; otherwise, dust

“You get the picture?  There’s simply no justification for cheek-by-jowl gatherings of historians to pontificate about these guys when Instagram and TikTok are available.  

“We’re not political scientists.  They can go to a convention and at least talk about the living, and maybe even invite some of them to show up.  Who wouldn’t want to see Mitch McConnell and Yale superstar Robert Dahl debate the relevance of post-modernist gun-control legislation to American democracy in the 21st century?  Oops, scratch that.  Dahl died in 2014.  But you see what I’m sayin’, right?”

NOTE:  Beginning with its 2022 conference in New Orleans, the AHA annual meeting will include no academically oriented sessions — paper, panel, or otherwise.  Conference activities, all involving LIVE participants, will include bowling, hot tub karaoke, and beginners’ workshops in Cajun cooking and beignet dusting.  The Job Fair will be held from noon to 12:20 pm on the second day of the convention in the alcove housing the ice and soda machines on the 14th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel.  Please bring a hard copy of your CV, notarized summaries of student evaluations of your courses over the past three years, and a harmonica.  The New Books Exhibit, sponsored by Coursera, will occupy the counter space to the left of the cardboard divider at the Concierge Desk in the Main Lobby.       

In the event the host city is submerged at the end of 2021 due to aggressive glacial melting, the conference will take place at Henderson’s Petting Zoo in Enosburg Falls, Vermont.    

Two Decades of Ramen Noodles

At New York University in Manhattan, many of the 2700 students who arrived on campus last week remain quarantined in their residence halls, pending results of their COVID-19 tests.  According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “quarantined students are only allowed to leave their rooms for medical reasons” (August 26, online).  

Before you start feeling sorry for these young people, consider the saga of Gabe Snafflin, a freshman who entered the College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, Missouri) in the fall of 1964.  

Due to a housing shortage on campus, Gabe was temporarily assigned to a windowless, single-occupancy fallout shelter in a dormitory sub-basement.  In early October of that year, a chlamydia outbreak occurred at the school, and students were required to stay in their rooms until College officials notified them that it was safe to leave.   

Unfortunately, the residential life staff forgot that Gabe was living in the shelter.  As a result, they failed to inform him when the quarantine ended in mid-November. 

Long story short:  Gabe did not exit the shelter until June, 1984, when the building was about to be razed to make way for a new, upscale residence hall (Lookout Towers), and he was discovered by a member of the demolition crew who was positioning dynamite in the sub-basement.  Given that the shelter had been well-stocked with food and water, Gabe was in good health — but exceedingly pale.  (“He kinda looked like an over-sized albino mole rat,” according to the crew member.)

Exceedingly sheepish, Gabe later claimed that he had no idea that so much time had passed while he was quarantined:  “Without a window, it was hard to keep track of the days and nights.  I just figured that the chlamydia epidemic was lasting a lot longer than they initially thought it would.  Those photos they had showed us of what chlamydia does to your private parts were pretty scary, and I didn’t want to take any chances by leaving too soon.  I was all about keeping those parts in tip-top shape for that special someone who would become my wife.  

“I spent most of those 20 years reading and re-reading my Bible, along with the instruction manual for the shelter’s dehumidifier.  Believe me,  by the time I got out of that place I knew my way around a dehumidifier!”

Gabe’s parents were relieved that he had been found.  According to his dad, “we never doubted that our son would turn up some day.  We had no idea that he was living in a fallout shelter.  You know, he’s been an odd kid from the very beginning.  Bernice, tell the reporter about Gabe’s sock farm.”

Less than three months after departing the fallout shelter, at the age of 38, Gabe met and married Ginger, a local exotic dancer, and moved to the Australian outback, where he secured employment as a kangaroo pouch cleaner and dehumidifier repairman.  Now 74 years old and retired, he has no regrets about his college misadventure:  “Gosh, if I had come out of that shelter when I was supposed to, I probably never would have met Ginger.  She’s a good woman.  By the way, I’ve never had chlamydia.”

Note to NYU students:  Suck it up. 


Family Feud

Yep, it’s true:  for the first time since 1984, the Democratic Presidential ticket does not include a graduate of an Ivy League school. 

And the Vines are not pleased.  

At a press conference in Boston yesterday, all 8 Ivy League Presidents appeared in person to express their dismay.  Harvard President Lawrence Bacow claimed that the absence of Ivy League heritage in the Democratic candidates’ résumés was “outrageous.”  He continued:  “Couldn’t Mr. Biden or Ms. Harris have, at a minimum, picked up a master’s degree from our Kennedy School of Government at some point in their career?  I mean, we give those credentials away like lollipops at a county fair.  You can do the whole program in 3 weekends.”

The proceedings grew tense, however, when Yale President Peter Salovey said he would offer Biden an associate’s degree in psychology if he wrote a 10-page research paper (topic: invasions of personal space) that contained at least 3 references from scholarly journals.  “You wouldn’t even have to format the citations,” Salovey promised.  “We’ll have a graduate assistant do that for you.”

This proposal drew a sharp rebuke from Amy Gutmann, Penn’s President:  “We do ourselves no favors if we lower standards just to have our institution affiliated with the next President or Vice President.”  

Princeton’s Christopher Eisgruber immediately took Gutmann to task, telling her to “put a sock in it, Amy.  Have you forgotten that Penn gave Trump a bachelor’s degree back in 1968?  You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.”  

Her voice rising, an irritated Gutmann responded, “that fiasco did not occur on my watch, Eisgoober.  Take back what you said!”

Eisgruber:  “Will not!”

Guttman:  “Will so, if you know what’s good for you!”

“Whoa, there, boys and girls, let’s settle down.”  Dartmouth’s Philip Hanlon was trying to lower the temperature of the exchange.

“Are you really calling the President of the University of Pennsylvania a GIRL?” exclaimed Cornell’s Martha Pollack.  “You’re not even the President of a full-fledged university, you twit.  It’s Dartmouth College, remember?  Phil, you’ve always driven in the breakdown lane on the Highway of Big Ideas.  Why don’t you just buzz off and go back to carving phallic-shaped ice sculptures for next February’s Winter Carnival?”

Hanlon glared at Pollack and took an aggressive step toward her, hissing “Why, you little b……”

Don’t go there,” Brown’s Christine Paxson exclaimed, as she jumped on Hanlon’s shoulders from behind and put him in a headlock, her right knee braced against his spine.  “I dated a Navy SEAL in college, and can snap your neck like a twig.”

Columbia’s Lee Bollinger suddenly gasped “Oh, my” and fainted, collapsing like a Jenga tower of COVID-19 nasal swabs swatted by a toddler’s hand.   

Bacow:  “We’re done here.”

NOTE:  Registration for the Fall semester at the Kennedy School closes on August 31st.