The Other “G” Word…

On February 17th the Chronicle (p. 60) published a thought-provoking essay on the phenomenon of “ghosting” in academia.  Coincidentally, this article appeared on the 70th anniversary of one of the most notorious instances of the other “G” word — “gaslighting” — in the history of higher education: Dartmouth’s Dark Night.

Read and weep. 

On Monday, February 16, 1953, Gabriel “Gabe” Mussum, a freshly minted Stanford PhD, arrived at the Hanover Inn on the campus of Dartmouth College.  On Tuesday he would begin two days of interviews for an assistant-professor position in the school’s Department of History.  He checked in without incident.  

By midday on Tuesday the 17th it had become clear to both the History Department Chair and the Dean of Arts and Sciences that Mussum was not a good fit.  Most egregiously, he combed his hair straight back in an era when virtually all male faculty members at Dartmouth parted their hair on the right.  

When Gabe returned to the Hanover Inn on Monday evening, he discovered that his room key did not work.  He went downstairs to the front desk, where he was told that no one named “Mussum” was registered at the Inn.  This information came from Bernice, the same woman who had checked him in the night before.  Bernice now claimed that she had never encountered Gabe on Monday. 

Bewildered, Gabe scurried across Dartmouth College Green to the building where the Dean’s office was located, hoping to find him still there despite the late hour.  Indeed, the Dean had not yet left, but he simply stared blankly at Gabe and declared, “I have no idea who you are, young man.”  

Gabe returned to the Inn, only to find out that it was fully booked for the night.  Bernice suggested that he walk to a nearby Motel 6, which was a little over a mile away.  He departed just as it began to snow heavily.  It turned out to be the biggest snowstorm of the season: 26 inches in 4 hours.  

Gabe never arrived at the Motel 6.  On February 22nd a cross-country skier noticed a frozen human leg sticking out of a snowbank on the edge of the Dartmouth campus.  The leg was attached to Gabe Mussum. 

The case remained unsolved until 1997, when the long-retired Dean of Arts and Sciences was receiving last rites on his deathbed from a Catholic priest.  The Dean confessed: “I’ve carried this horrible secret with me for 44 years. We were just trying to save a little money on hotel expenses, that’s all.  Dartmouth’s endowment was a lot smaller back then.  I authorized the entire deception, including the changing of the lock on the door.  Am I going to Hell, Father?”

“I’m afraid so, my son.  I’ll be recommending it.”

Legend has it that the ghost of Gabe Mussum can be seen walking slowly across the Dartmouth College Green every February 17th at midnight.  He wears a tweed jacket and carries a doctoral dissertation.  His hair is parted on the right.  



“You Can’t Always Get What You Wah-aunt…”

Devotees of academic-freedom controversies in higher education have been following with great interest the ongoing saga of Hamline University, the St. Paul, MN school that fired an adjunct faculty member after she displayed an artistic depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in class — and a student complained (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 13th online).  

But now, Ground Zero for Divinity-Related Kerfuffles has shifted to Indiana, where a history professor at Valparaiso University was discharged last week after showing a Mormon painting of Jesus Christ in his senior seminar, “Utah: State, or State of Mind?”  

A male sophomore in the course said he was traumatized by the portrait, which, he claims, makes Jesus resemble “the love child of Kenny Loggins and one of the Beach Boys.  There’s no way the Son of God could look like that.  Everyone knows that the real Jesus bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Mick Jagger, leader of the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band.  Just watch any YouTube video of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount during his legendary Water-into-Wine concert tour in Northern Israel two-thousand years ago; he moves just like Mick does on stage when he’s performing Start Me Up.”

In announcing the termination of the professor in question, Valparaiso President José Padilla commented that “this student makes a legitimate point.  I’ve seen the video.  Jesus was the original Rolling Stone.  We had no choice but to take action.”  



Tabula Rasa, Squared

As Charles Dickens recently observed, it is the “worst of times” in higher education.  College classrooms have become battlegrounds, belittled by conservatives as enclaves of leftist indoctrination and scorned by liberals as political minefields where free speech is threatened even as microaggressions and traumatizing triggers run rampant.  

Is there any way out of this mess?

Florida State University thinks so.

Beginning in the fall of 2023, FSU’s Sociology Department will offer Void 101, a three-credit, Pass-Fail, content-free elective course. 

According to Department Chair Clyde Fliff, “nothing will happen in Void 101.  This in-person course will meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 am to 10:45 am, but no one will say anything during that time.  Students will sit silently for the entire period, as will the instructor.  This will eliminate the possibility of problematic interactions taking place.  Students who refrain from speaking for the entire semester will receive a final grade of Pass.

“The goal of Void 101 is to cleanse students’ minds of troubling, as well as untroubling, thoughts.  The only required text is a blank Moleskine diary.  If a student has a cognition at any point during a class session, he or she will write that thought down in the diary, tear out the page, and burn it after leaving the room.  In Void 101, an educated mind is one that is clear and free of debris, like a cloudless sky on a summer’s day in Tallahassee.  By the end of the course, high-achieving students should have nothing to write about in their diaries. 

“For far too long — indeed, centuries — colleges and universities have been obsessed with trying to fill students’ heads with content in the form of information, ideas, and values.  This needs to stop.  The time has come to empty those precious heads and take higher education to the next level.”

Students will not be allowed to visit the bathroom during meetings of Void 101, since doing so could serve as a trigger for those who might have been bedwetters as children.  

Plans are under way to introduce Void 102 (Advanced Void) in the spring of 2024.  In Void 102 total silence will still be observed in the classroom, but thinking about Division I college football will be encouraged.  

Making the Most of Your Accreditation Site Visit…

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article offers excellent advice to faculty who are planning campus visits to conduct external program reviews (January 4th online).

On a larger scale, of course, professors often serve on site-visit teams that engage in comprehensive evaluations focused on accreditation of the college or university as a whole.  The stakes are higher here, so it’s crucial that faculty evaluators be at the top of their game.  The best way to do that is to heed the experts who encourage you to keep the following issues in mind:

—  The institution being evaluated will send you a hefty self-study prior to the visit, claiming that it covers “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with respect to the school’s functioning. 

You should read this document with the same degree of skepticism you would apply to self-descriptions on a dating website.  Not many prospects will describe themselves as having low intelligence, bad teeth, and nightmare-inducing acne.  Similarly, it’s the rare university self-study that will admit, “our President is a madman and we are a Goodyear blimp of grade inflation.”

—  There’s a good chance you’ll discover a disgruntled faculty member hiding in your hotel bathroom or under the bed when you arrive in town.  He or she will urgently desire to share with you terrifying accounts of the school’s many transgressions and injustices.  This could take several hours.  Listen carefully to what they have to say, lock them in a closet, and then call hotel security.  

—  Never trust a high-level male administrator wearing a bow tie…..unless he’s discussing wine. 

—  The most knowledgeable people at the institution will invariably be department secretaries.  They know where the bodies are buried, including the ones that are still alive and twitching.  At least 80% of your time should be spent interviewing them. 

—  You will chat with several small groups of bright, personable, enthusiastic students during your visit.  Please be aware that none of these individuals actually attend the institution.  They are all drama students from New York University who are employed part-time by the Rainbow Collective, a Manhattan-based agency that provides demographically balanced teams of drug-free young people for accreditation site visits.  

— Your team will have a “work room” on campus that contains a massive amount of hard-copy and electronic data on the institution that go back to the Code of Hammurabi.   The hard-copy materials will be in binders featuring more brightly colored reference tabs than you have ever seen in your life. 

None of this information will be useful to you.  However, to show your appreciation for all the hard work that went into compiling it, please scatter the documents around the room in a manner that suggests you’ve been reading them.

—  The work room will also contain a cornucopia of snacks and beverages for the visiting team, many of which will be of high quality.  Use a duffel bag to transport all of these treats back to your hotel room at the end of the day.  They will be replenished in the morning.  

—  The main reason for taking on the demanding task of an accreditation site visit is the food.  Typically, the team gathers for dinner every night at a local restaurant.  Go to the finest establishment you can find and pretend to be members of a debauched royal family.  Order a seven-course meal and throw wine glasses against the wall.  Request a suckling pig even if no one on the team eats pork.  Offer leftovers to the adjunct faculty members who are likely to be working as waitstaff.  

—  Most team chairpersons will want a draft of your section of the accreditation report before you leave campus at the end of the visit.  This will probably require you to pull a couple of all-nighters in order to meet the deadline.  It’s a little-known fact that chairpersons carry a large supply of amphetamines in their briefcase for precisely this purpose.  You are entitled to as many pills as you need to power through, but you must take the initiative to ask for them.  Don’t be shy.  

There you have it.  Now go forth and make your next accreditation site visit the best one ever!

What to Watch Out for….

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores the questions, “Should You Lead a Department on the Brink?  And How?” (January 13th online) 

Intriguing queries, to be sure.  But they bypass the most crucial issue:  “How can I be certain that my department is indeed the sort of dumpster fire that warrants a description of being ‘on the brink’?”

Fear not.  Here are the Top Ten warning signs that your academic dinghy is sinking:

—  At department meetings, faculty members do not address each other by name; they use the phrase “demon seed” instead.  

—  The pair of consultants the department hired to facilitate team building were hospitalized with PTSD following the first session.  They subsequently left the field altogether and now own a yarn boutique in Camden, Maine.  

—  When individuals calling your department are put on hold, Siberian funeral dirges play in the background, accompanying a deeply flawed public service announcement for a suicide hot line (“This could be your last chance…”).   

—  The department’s 2022 end-of-year holiday party featured a Velveeta sculpture, soggy saltines, and tap water.  The miniature Christmas tree sitting on top of the photocopier caught fire.  A BIC pocket lighter was discovered nearby.  

—  When department members were recently asked by your school’s IT office to update their computer passwords, they were instructed to register as “Guest.”

—  Prescriptions for Zoloft and Paxil account for 72% of your department’s budget. 

—  The last time your department sponsored a team-taught course, a knife fight broke out in class between the instructors.  Campus police had to be summoned.  There were minor injuries.  

—  Facilities staff have been showing up at your department in recent weeks, taking measurements in preparation for converting faculty offices into lounge areas for undergraduates majoring in e-sports and recreational cannabis. 

—  Department members routinely key the phrase “demon seed” on the car doors of their colleagues, often leaving their initials. 

—  Although custodial staff empty the office trash baskets of department members three times a week, the refuse they remove is simply dumped in the hallway and covered with lime. 

If three or more of the above conditions characterize your department, it might be wise to think twice before agreeing to serve as chair.  

Have a good semester. 



Yep, It’s a Minefield…

Trigger incidents in college classrooms hit an all-time high in 2022, with over 4700 cases reported to school administrators by traumatized students.  On Friday, the National Association of Higher Education Trauma Professionals (NAHETP) released its list of nominees for Most Bizarre Trigger Incident of 2022.  Here are the finalists:

—  At George Washington University, senior Carson Gramly was taking a midterm exam in American Politics when he looked up and saw the instructor using dental floss to remove a bit of pastrami that had gotten stuck between his teeth at lunch.  Seeing the strand of floss reminded Gramly of a gorgeous female in a string bikini he had walked behind on a Fort Lauderdale beach during spring break of 2019.  When he caught up with her and asked if she would be interested in “hooking up,” the woman howled with laughter and humiliated him in front of his friends.  

For two months following the midterm exam, Gramly suffered from debilitating erectile dysfunction.  His frustrated girlfriend broke up with him. 

—  At the first meeting of a Moravian Poetry seminar on the campus of Kansas State University, the instructor read aloud the name “Norton Tewksbury” from the class roll and looked around the room.  Tewksbury, who was present, had an immediate flashback to a nightmare he experienced at the age of five.  In the dream, a woolly mammoth resembling his grandmother roars his name just before devouring him.

Mr. Tewksbury, screaming “don’t eat me, Grammy, don’t eat me,” jumped up from his seat and attempted to exit the classroom through an open window.  He was subdued and sedated by the NAHETP clinical psychology intern assigned to the course.  

—  When a Fairfield University professor said “Let’s take a close look at the syllabus” on the first day of Accounting Fundamentals, sophomore Melanie Slurv-Gaston mistakenly heard “syphilis” instead of “syllabus.”  Slurv-Gaston, who for years had suffered from excessive ear wax, was instantly assaulted by memories from first grade at her conservative Catholic elementary school in Greenwich.  It was there that Sister Clarice had lectured the class on the ravages of venereal disease, showing gruesome slides of end-stage patients with syphilis.  

Now traumatized — again — in 2022, Ms. Slurv-Gaston passed out, hitting her head on the side of the desk and suffering a concussion.  

—  Minutes before the beginning of a Social Psychology class at Harvey Mudd College, the instructor scrunched up a piece of scrap paper into a ball and shot it, free-throw style, into a wastebasket approximately 10 feet away.  Quentin Tarff, a freshman who observed the shot, was reminded of his unsuccessful 3-point attempt as the buzzer sounded at the end of California’s 2021 high school state championship basketball game.  His team lost, 71-69, and he was shunned by students and faculty for the rest of the academic year.  

Mr. Tarff dropped out of Harvey Mudd two days after that class session.  He is currently unemployed and spends most of his time dribbling a partially deflated beach ball in the parking lot of a deserted shopping mall on the outskirts of Claremont.   

The winner of the Most Bizarre Trigger Incident of 2022 will be announced by NAHETP in mid-February.  

Higher Education Minus-2.0

In case you hadn’t noticed, graduate and undergraduate Certificate Programs have become the new crack cocaine (or is it fentanyl?) afflicting higher education curriculum designers.  Colleges and universities are tripping over themselves as they bundle together courses and offer them as packages to prospective students.  Imagine an unshaven Associate Dean in a stained trench coat and wide-brimmed fedora leaning out of a rusted 1973 Dodge Dart on a lonely city street, asking wide-eyed children if they would like some Twizzlers, a juice box, and a ride to the zoo.  

Not surprisingly, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has taken this enterprise to the next level.  Beginning in the fall of 2023, it will offer the nation’s first graduate certificate in Managing Certificate Programs.  

The curriculum will include the following eight courses:

MCP 701: Using Nouns and Verbs to Identify Certificate Content (3 credits)

A certificate program can be organized around any noun or verb.  For example, “bacon.”  You can have a certificate that focuses on bacon.  Or “flossing.”  Or “pin cushions.”  You get the idea. 

MCP 702: The Role of In-Person Courses in Certificate Education (0.5 credit)

Ha-ha.  Just kidding. 

MCP 703: Staffing Certificate Programs (2 credits)

Must instructors be literate?  Is a literacy requirement discriminatory?  If it is, to whom should the program apologize on its website?

MCP 704: Waiving Course Requirements Based on Life Experience (3 credits)

For example, a certificate program in Walking should permit ambulatory students to skip the introductory course on Biped Locomotion.

MCP 705: Certificate Program Ethics (2 credits)

Are certificate programs inherently evil, or are they just benignly useless?  Do certificate-program administrators go to hell after they die?  If so, for how long?  Can underemployed certificate holders demand reparations, including land?

MCP 706: Transfer Portals for Certificate Programs (3 credits)

Should certificate students be allowed to take their credits with them to another certificate program if the two programs are significantly different?  For example, switching from a program in Fish Appreciation to one in Detergent Awareness?

MCP 707: Designing the Certificate Document (5 credits)

Parchment or regular paper?  Calibri, Times New Roman, or Helvetica font?  Latin, Old English, or Esperanto?  Cartoons or no cartoons?

MCP 708: Commencement Protocol (3 credits)

How to keep a straight face and avoid eye contact when awarding certificates at graduation.  Reminding attendees that there are no honorary degree recipients because certificates aren’t degrees.  Announcing tentative dates for the Fall Homecoming Tailgate Party, to be held in a local Walmart parking lot. 

Applicants for Fall 2023 admission to a Carnegie Mellon certificate program should submit a bank statement and 100-word essay on a topic of their choice by July 1st.  


Short List

TRUE FACT:  The Colorado State University System recently proclaimed Amy Parsons the sole finalist for the position of President at Colorado State University at Fort Collins.  Some professors there are distressed that the Search Committee did not invite multiple candidates to visit the campus to meet with faculty, staff, and students (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12th online).  

Relax, Fort Collins. 

Things could be worse. 

Consider the plight of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Community College (MLCC), which is located on the slope of Mauna Loa, one of the world’s largest active volcanos.  When MLCC recently sought to hire a new President, only one person even applied for the job.

“It’s a damn shame,” says Search Committe Chair Vincent Flahela.  “We have a beautiful campus, except when it’s being consumed by molten lava flowing down the mountain.  Sure, it can be a bit disconcerting to watch a desk, whiteboard, classmate, or colleague turn bright orange and melt right in front of you.  But isn’t higher education all about embracing challenges?  The fact that we only had one applicant shows how risk-averse aspiring administrators are in today’s ‘woke’ environment.  We were prepared to offer a free hazmat suit to every candidate we invited to campus, but it didn’t make a difference.  The only person who ended up submitting a CV was the Provost at Minefields Academy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.” 

At least Mauna Loa had one applicant.  Werewolf State University in Esmond, North Dakota had none when it advertised for a new President earlier this year.  According to Board Chair Millicent Paw, “candidates get turned off when they find out that nearly 85% of our student body consists of werewolves, and that our last President was savagely attacked while taking an evening walk.  But what sort of idiot goes out alone for a midnight stroll on a werewolf-filled campus when there’s a full moon?  I’m sorry, but high-level administrators need more sense than that.”

Count your blessings, Fort Collins. 

“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?