“Soft” No More…..

A recent letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Daily Briefing” complains that the term soft skills sounds sexist and devalues the humanities” (May 30th online).  

Fear not.  Help has arrived.

Here are three phrases that are replacing “soft skills” at colleges and universities around the country.

Cashmere CompetenceThis graceful wording has officially unseated “soft skills” in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  According to Wharton’s Dean, Erika James, cashmere conveys a sense of softness without any connotations of weakness.  It’s sleek.  It’s luxurious.  It rocks.  And you can never go wrong with competence.  In the business world, it’s what we call a ‘sturdy word’.”

“How You Doin’?” Proficiency — Widely used at New York University in honor of iconic “Friends” character Joey Tribbiani.  As NYU President Andrew D. Hamilton observes, “there were few women who could resist the smooth, silken appeal of Mr. Tribbiani’s greeting.  We want our graduates to be just as interpersonally successful in THEIR careers.  Every conversation in the workplace should begin with How You Doin’?

Non-Anal AttitudeLet’s be honest.  The bulk of one’s interactional prowess is simply the result of not acting like an a**hole.  Florida State University is attempting to explicitly focus students on this reality.  “We’re tired of graduating sphincter after sphincter,” says FSU President Richard McCullough.  “If this shift in language can help us achieve that, I’m all for it.”

“Soft skills,” your days are numbered.  

Making Summer Memories…

If you’re an assistant professor with young children, few periods in your life will be more stress-filled than the summer before you apply for tenure.  How can you take a family vacation when you must devote virtually every waking hour to preparing for your T & P application in the fall?

Sending the kids to a three-month sleepaway-survivalist camp in Newfoundland is likely to be prohibitively expensive.  And if yours is a typical family, all four grandparents have serious drinking problems, which means that having your offspring stay with them for the summer is not a realistic option.  

What is needed here is a little creativity.  It is in this spirit that University Life presents five expert-endorsed vacation recommendations for tenure-track faculty members facing severe time constraints.  

1 If you live near the Northeast Corridor, you can make the round trip from Boston to Washington, DC and back in a single day on Amtrak’s Acela Express (less than seven hours each way).  What kid doesn’t love a train ride?  There’s so much to see, even if much of it will be blurry because the train is going really fast.  When you arrive at DC’s Union Station, treat the family to a food-court meal at Chick fil-A or Shake Shack and then hop on the next Acela for the return trip.  If you sit on the same side of the aisle heading north as you did traveling south, your kids will experience new scenery.  Voila!  Vacation accomplished in less than 24 hours!

2 — Have your children watch the Live Cam of a bald eagle’s nest in Big Bear Valley, California.  The Live Cam operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Need we say more?  Just plunk the kids down in front of a PC with a 14-day supply of Cheetos and Mountain Dew, and then head to your home office to tackle that “Revise and Resubmit” manuscript on the Taylor Swift/Jonathan Swift connection that’s been bedeviling you.  You’ll get crucial work done while your offspring learn how our national bird feeds its young.  

3 — If you reside in a state that has legalized recreational marijuana, your vacation problems are so over.  Simply set up the kids in the den with a month’s worth of THC gummies and a couple of spinning multi-color pinwheels, and they will be mesmerized for days on end while you review page proofs for your forthcoming book on the history of Amish full-body tattoos.

4 — Is there anything more thrilling for youngsters than spending a week in the New York Public Library while you pore over the collected papers of Joan Didion?  Hell no.  Attach ankle monitors to your kids and then set them loose in this majestic building every morning.  Challenge them to find ways of gaining access to the restricted rare-book archives and removing items.  They’ll love you for sending them on this high adventure with nothing more than a penknife and a compass. 

5 — What’s more fun than popping bubble wrap?  Not a damn thing.  Buy a dozen giant rolls of industrial bubble wrap and toss them into the basement with your offspring.  The kids will have a month of nonstop excitement while you figure out how to put a positive spin on the less-than-stellar student evaluations your teaching has received over the past five years.  (Bubble-wrap vacations work best with children who are not academically gifted.) 

With these suggestions in mind, there’s no need to sacrifice your kids’ summer happiness in order for you to achieve promotion and tenure.  Good luck. 


That’s Not a Tsunami, That’s Progress…

The emergence of ChatGPT, the Artificial Intelligence text-generation technology, has professors all over the country soiling themselves as they anticipate being consumed by a tsunami of student plagiarism (e.g., see “The Review Forum” in the June 9th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Men, women, and non-binaries of the academy…..please relax.  As it always does, higher education will adapt and survive. 

Here are a couple of institutions that are leading the way.

Beginning in 2024, Princeton University will no longer award the bachelor’s degree.  Instead, graduating students will be given a Certificate of Attendance.  No written assignments of any kind will be required in undergraduate courses at the New Jersey school.

As Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber recently noted, “at an elite institution like ours, it doesn’t really matter if students learn any content or have an eye-popping GPA.  What matters are the highly resourced people you meet and the social networks you establish as you cultivate a lifestyle that will provide the level of success, wealth, and leisure you are entitled to.  That’s why a Certificate of Attendance from Princeton is much, MUCH more important than a degree.  You can’t network if you don’t show up.

“The elimination of all writing assignments in undergraduate courses will render ChatGPT irrelevant.  Hell, we lost the battle against plagiarism decades ago.  Students have always been one step ahead of us.  Let’s just acknowledge that fact and move on.  Getting rid of these assignments will provide our students with more opportunities for networking and our faculty with more time for submitting op-eds to The New York Times.  It’s a win/win.”

The University of California system has chosen a different path.  Starting next year, the only undergraduate degrees it will offer are a Bachelor of Arts in ChatGPT Management (BACM) and a Bachelor of Science in ChatGPT Management (BSCM).  

According to Chancellor Michael Drake, “the most crucial skill a 21st-century college student needs to learn is pretty straightforward: how do I use ChatGPT to produce excellent written work?  Colleges should be embracing this tool, not running away from it.  Of course, we understand that most faculty have little interest in reading ChatGPT-generated essays and papers, so our colleagues at UC-Berkeley have developed a ChatGPT text reviewer that professors can use to grade these assignments.  We’re calling the whole operation ‘Chat-to-Chat’.

“Voila!  We have replaced the outdated and inefficient internal-combustion engine of evaluation in higher education with an auto-drive system that Tesla would be proud of.”

Open your eyes.  It’s a ChatGPT world.  We just live in it.  


Replacing Taylor Swift as the Hottest Ticket of the Summer

In case you needed further evidence that higher education is facing challenging times, just take a look at the sessions being offered on the first day of the 2023 Summer Institute sponsored by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at the University of Vermont in July. 



9:00 amTeaching in Texas: How to Modify Your Bandolier to Accommodate Dry-Erase Markers and Laser Pointers

10:00 am — Jokes You Can Safely Tell in Class: “A dean, a provost, and a department chair walk into a bar.  No one cares.”

11:00 am Riding the Coattails of Your School’s Star Point Guard: How the NCAA Transfer Portal Can Deliver You to a New Job

Noon — Lunch (Eagle Mountain Coyote Sliders served with Artisan Kettle Chips)

1:00 pm Using Anagrams to Covertly Address the Topic of Race in History Courses at Florida’s Public Universities: The ACRE Project

2:00 pm — (Panel Session) Consensual Sex Between Undergraduates: Is It Really OK, Even if It’s Taking Place in the Classroom During Your Lecture?

3:00 pm — Should Profound Stupidity Be Criminalized?  Reflections of a Yale Law Professor Who Dated Marjorie Taylor Greene in High School

4:00 pm — (Panel Session) Supporting Non-Binary Students While Opposing Asymmetrical Purple/Green Haircuts: Can a Professor Do Both?

5:00 pm — (Plenary Address) Untangling the Differences Between DEI, DUI, and DWI: The Perspective of Campus Law Enforcement (Evan Treskle, Chief of Police, The Ohio State University)

6:00 pm to Midnight — Maple Syrup Sour Mash Reception on the Quadrangle (BYO Mason Jar and bail money)

The deadline for registration is Friday, June 23rd.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  This promises to be the most popular AAUP Summer Institute in a decade. 




So Close…..So Very, Very Close

The higher education chattering class was abuzz last week when it appeared that the University of Idaho was about to purchase online behemoth University of Phoenix for $550 million (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 19th online).  

But then…

…three days ago, Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa drug cartel offered $770 million for the Arizona school, and Idaho dropped out of the running faster than a Russet potato tumbling from a carton of spuds in Kroger’s produce section during an earthquake. 

The cartel intends to use the University of Phoenix for money-laundering purposes.  According to a confidential Sinaloa source, “the core values of the University of Phoenix have always been much more closely aligned with ours than with those of the University of Idaho.  It’s a natural partnership.  And the number of cartel employees who’d love to earn an online dual degree in Substance Abuse Counseling and Supply Chain Management is in the THOUSANDS!  Hell, this is the sweetest deal between Mexico and the U. S. since NAFTA!”

Sinaloa leaders promise that, once the purchase is finalized, every University of Phoenix student in good academic standing will be eligible to sponsor at least one kidnapping per academic year for a nominal fee.  As the source put it, “you want someone disappeared?  We can do that!”



Situation Ethics

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a piece entitled, “How Do You Get Professors to Respond in the Summer?” (May 10th online).  As helpful as this essay is, it omits the most potent strategy for producing an immediate faculty response:  using a panic-inducing falsehood to get the recipient’s attention.

Along these lines, here are five email messages that experienced department chairs swear by:

Accusation — “Dear Todd:  I was visited yesterday by a female student who was in your Romantic Poetry seminar this spring, and she had quite a story to tell.  It included photos.  Could you contact me when you get a chance?  I’d like the two of us to chat before I turn the matter over to Campus Police.  Thanks.”

Pay Cut — “Hey there, Millie:  The Business Office informs me that your salary is going to be reduced by 14% for the 2023-24 academic year because you missed the deadline for submitting your annual report to the Dean.  Were you aware of this?  We should probably talk.  Stop by my office the next time you’re on campus.”

Misrepresentation — “Dear Ajani:  I received an anonymous letter yesterday claiming that you are not Nigerian but Portuguese.  A 23andMe report with your name on it was attached, and it appears to support the claim.  Given that you head our Ph.D. Program in African Studies, we could have a problem here.  Please make an appointment to see me as soon as possible, and bring a Q tip with you so we can do a DNA swab.  Hope you’re having a good summer.”

Course Load — “Hello Tanya:  It looks like your senior seminar on Hemingway’s cats only has 3 students registered for the fall, so we’re going to have to cancel it.  In its place you’ll be teaching a Core Curriculum course on lust as a metaphor in the novels of Nora Roberts.  Its current enrollment is 175 and counting, so there’s no chance of this one tanking.  Let me know if you have any questions.  I’m working on getting you a teaching assistant, but no guarantees.”

Plagiarism — “Hi Glen:  Hope your first year as an Assistant Professor was a rewarding one!  Quick question:  I just got a note from Neil deGrasse Tyson saying that a chapter of your dissertation was copied, virtually word-for-word, from an article he published in 2015.  Your thoughts?  Let’s talk before he goes public.”

The Takeaway:  When you meet with them, your faculty will be so relieved to find out that you were simply engaging in harmless “fake news” that they will be more than happy to accommodate your actual summer request.  And they’ll appreciate your sense of humor. 

Okay, it’s time to go sit on your deck and have a tall glass of lemonade.  Don’t forget sunscreen. 


Do you have a microcredential?  Why the hell not? 

Microcredentials are carpet-bombing the higher-education landscape with the force of a Level 5 tornado flattening an Oklahoma trailer park on a late summer afternoon.  

In a nutshell, microcredentials are short, non-credit programs (i.e., a few courses) that are intended to enhance a student’s knowledge and/or skills in a narrow area.  Of course, obtaining a microcredential gets you a digital badge or certificate of some sort.  The latter can be easily attached to your car’s sun visor in the event you are stopped by a state trooper who demands evidence of your proficiencies. 

Intrigued?  Here are a few examples:

University of Tennessee College of Medicine

Microcredential in Appendectomy Preparation:  Learn how to get an individual ready to have his/her/their appendix removed.  Course modules include “Informing the Patient,” “Calming the Patient,” and “Making the Initial Incision.”

This credential is especially useful for students who anticipate backpacking in a national park with a friend or relative who is at risk of developing acute appendicitis.  A follow-up microcredential, Appendix Removal: Incisions 2 through 5, is highly recommended but not required.  

Claremont School of Theology

Microcredential in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, Verses 1-20:  This program covers everything in the Bible up to, and including, the creation of fish and fowl.  (“Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven.”)

Students possessing this Book of Genesis credential are qualified to establish a small church of their own in any rural setting having a population under 750.  They can also engage in sidewalk preaching on secondary streets in urban areas.

Rutgers Law School  

Microcredential in Traffic Citations:  Become an expert on the range of fines in your county for offenses such as street racing, ignoring stop signs and red lights, driving while intoxicated, and speeding through work zones.  Familiarize yourself with the special challenges associated with defending hit-and-run drivers.  

This credential does not entitle you to practice law, but it does give you the right to file friend-of-the-court briefs and purchase billboard space on any state highway that features a Waffle House restaurant.    

For the locations of colleges and universities near you that offer microcredentials, simply Google “the end of higher education.”


Emily Dickinson, Repurposed

“Embarrassing” emerged recently as the word of the day at the University of Michigan, after its Office of University Development recommended “key words” and phrases to a poetry fellow in a ham-fisted attempt to help her compose a poem for the inauguration of the school’s new President (Chronicle of Higher Education, April 25th online).  

Inaugural poems are commonplace in higher education, but University Life readers might not know that many colleges and universities also commission short poems when a President leaves the institution in disgrace.  Here’s a sampling from the past three years, organized by reason for dismissal.  In order to avoid adding insult to injury, the schools are not identified. 

Embezzlement of Funds

Pell Grant money, stolen

Where did that yacht come from?

May it sink

Ever so slowly

Into the Mariana Trench

With you below deck, dear President

Squealing like a mischief of sewer rats in a burlap sack

Thrown from a bridge

Sexual Misconduct

Couldn’t keep it in your pants

Could you?

You disgust us

Please zip up before leaving

We don’t want you scaring the earthworms

Lack of Commitment to Shared Governance

All we wanted 

Was to work with you

But of course

That was too much to ask

Of a narcissist

Get out

Overall Ineffectiveness

What were we thinking

When we hired an Oreck like you?

You suck at your job

Tone Deafness

At commencement you proclaimed

“Harry Belafonte was my favorite Negro”

And then you sang “Day-O”

HUGE mistake

So, so huge

Mind-Numbing Stupidity

“Ron DeSantis may have a point”

You said so at the General Faculty Meeting

No, he doesn’t have a point

And every breath you take

Is one too many

Finally, poetry for the 21st century. 

There’s No “I” in “Team,” and There’s No “C” in “Ornell”

The message delivered by “Power Shift,” the April 14th cover story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, could not have been clearer: “What’s considered appropriate for a college professor to say and do in a classroom has changed dramatically….student deference to their teachers is not nearly as strong as it once was” (p. 16).  

Nowhere is this transformation more evident than at Cornell Medical School in New York City.  After three months of raucous student protests, Interim Dean Francis Lee announced on Thursday that the school’s curriculum would no longer address the sexually transmitted disease (STD) of chlamydia.

According to Lee, “chlamydia is a trauma trigger for most of our students.  Many of them contracted it in middle school, while others have lost family and friends to this affliction.  Under these circumstances, forcing students to actually STUDY chlamydia is just cruel.  It adds insult to injury.  How did medical schools ever think this was a good idea?

“In the coming months our training focus will transition from panic-inducing STDs toward the soothing amniotic fluid of holistic wellness.  We will offer new courses on hummus-based healing, colon cleansing, and herbal shampoos that prevent COVID.  This initiative will be overseen by Dr. Gwyneth Paltrow, our incoming Director of Mindful Medicine. 

“Our commitment to trauma-free learning will be underscored by a name change:  Beginning September 1st, 2023, we will be known as the Ornell Medical School.  Students will no longer have to encounter the dreaded chlamydia ‘C’ — what psychotherapists call the ‘consonant of suffering’ — every time they contemplate our institution.  I must say, it’s about time.” 


On March 30th, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst unveiled a new “brand mark” designed to expand the school’s “visual identity system” (UMass website).   Yes, the phrases in quotation marks actually appeared in the announcement, unaccompanied by puzzled or laughing emojis. 

The new brand mark, otherwise known as a “logo” to rank-and-file humans, is the letter “M.”  

When a reporter observed that “M” could represent any one of EIGHT flagship universities around the country, John Kennedy, Vice Chancellor of University Relations at UMass, went on the offensive, trashing the other seven states by name.

His rant:

“Montana?  Hell, it’s not even a state, it’s a territory.  Union troops are still clearing out tribes of Chippewa, Sioux, and Crow holed up in Bozeman and Missoula.

“PLEASE don’t get me started on Maryland.  I’m not saying that students in College Park are slow, but there must be a reason the school’s mascot is a terrapin.  The state is shaped like a jigsaw-puzzle piece designed by someone who sits on a park bench all day and screams at pigeons.  No way Maryland deserves an “M.”

“Missouri?  Seriously?  You have a big ol’ arch in St. Louis that celebrates McDonald’s.  And you had a World’s Fair back in 1904.  Get over it.

“Mississippi?  God, no.  In Yalobusha and Tallahatchie counties it’s still legal to own slaves.  What kind of message does that send?

“Minnesota?  Don’t make me laugh.  The Vikings have played in four Super Bowls and lost them all.  When it’s 20 degrees below zero you cut a hole in one of your 10,000 frozen lakes and go ice fishing.  How pathetic is that?

“Maine?  Ever try to have a conversation with someone from Downeast?  They can barely speak English.  And let’s face it: without a tub of butter, Maine lobster is just a radial tire masquerading as seafood.  

“Michigan?  I’ll grant you, the University of Michigan has a terrific fight song.  But nothing beats 30,000 drunken New Englanders singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Dirty Water’ at Fenway Park on a Saturday night in July.  Close your eyes and smell the warm beer sloshing in your Dixie cup.  

“Are there any other questions?”