Mysteries of Higher Ed: #1 in a Series


Here’s the thing:  I can’t recall a single instance during my undergraduate career (1967-1971) of a student leaving class to go to the bathroom.  Not once.  The class could be 50 minutes, 90 minutes, or even 2 hours long.  We just stayed in our seats, occasionally squirmed, and then bolted for the door when the professor declared, “We’re done here.”  Today it’s a given that at least several students will depart during class to use the facilities, unless those students are wearing a stadium buddy. 

In the name of all that is urinary, what the hell is going on?  Why can’t students in 2019 hold it in?  Here are five hypotheses for your consideration:

Hypothesis 1 — The human bladder is shrinking due to ambient radiation generated by secret genetic experiments, conducted by the U.S. government, that aim to produce chickens with 8 wings for the all-powerful poultry industry.  The research has been taking place over the past 50 years in underground bunkers in the southwest. 

Supporting Evidence — This is something that our government would absolutely do.

Evidence Against —  Students at the University of New Mexico do not appear to be urinating with greater frequency than those at the University of Connecticut. 

Hypothesis 2 — Students are watching pornography on their laptops during class, and one of the side effects of sexual arousal is the urge to pee.

Supporting Evidence — Students who use laptops in class are more likely to abruptly run out of the room yelling “gotta go, gotta go, gotta go!”

Evidence Against — Given their age, most college students don’t need pornography in order to become throbbing paintballs of lust.  Nothing has changed on that score over the past five decades.

Hypothesis 3 — Students’ consumption of bottled water before and during class has increased their need to urinate. 

Supporting Evidence — Virtually no one hydrated in class in 1967.  Now students carry water bottles the size of Oktoberfest beer kegs with them to every destination, including bed.

Evidence Against — Even students who don’t bring bottled water to class are urinating more.

Hypothesis 4 — Classes are more boring than they used to be, making it easier to be distracted by the call of a full bladder.  (“Hey, I’m building up some pressure down here.  Let’s take a walk.”)

Supporting Evidence — Well, it’s true: most classes are boring.  People have died while watching PowerPoint presentations.  

Evidence Against — Classes were actually more boring 50 years ago. 

Hypothesis 5 — As our nation plunges ever deeper into a cultural abyss characterized by the disintegration of traditional social norms and an unrelenting focus on the immediate gratification of individual needs, students are more inclined to urinate whenever they damn well please.

Supporting Evidence — The next time you’re at the grocery store, try having an intelligent conversation about virtually any topic with the person standing next to you in the checkout line.  Pretty scary, isn’t it?

Evidence Against — Most people haven’t started relieving themselves in the street…….yet.

There’s a doctoral dissertation in all of this, waiting to be written.  If you’re a graduate student in sociology or anthropology, go talk to your advisor today…..and don’t forget your water bottle.



The Hunger Games

Like the common shrew, which must consume 200% to 300% of its body weight in food every 24 hours in order to survive, most U.S. colleges and universities have no choice but to relentlessly pursue new degree programs as they entice students in the increasingly competitive Darwinian dystopia that higher education has become.  Three schools are leading the way:

—  Arizona State University is poised to offer the nation’s first Ph.D. in Administration of Executive MBA Programs.  According to Dr. Talson Shad, ASU’s Vice President for Educational Ventures,  “it’s incredibly challenging to oversee a curriculum that awards academic credit to egocentric entrepreneurs and high-level managers for doing little more than telling each other war stories over a period of 18 months.  At the very least you need an occasional reading from the Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business Review that students can Kindle-browse while stopped at red lights en route to their once-a-month  Saturday class that includes 2 half-hour breaks, a 90-minute lunch, and 3 video presentations.  Making all of this look like a legitimate educational experience via a 3-page ‘reflection paper’ submitted by students as a smartphone text at the end of the semester is not a task for the faint of heart.  Of course, there’s also the job of converting EMBA graduates into generous donors to your institution, which is the whole point of having the program to begin with.  You’re certainly not going to get much cash from the folks graduating from your Executive MSW program.”

—  Southern Illinois University’s Ph.D. Program in Departmental Consolidation Coordination is scheduled to begin in September 2019.  SIU’s Provost, Melanie Swale-Gibbon, observes that “consolidating academic departments in times of financial austerity is no day at the beach.  Have you ever tried to explain the substantive logic behind merging Chemical Engineering and Romance Languages to the Faculty Senate?  What about Psychology and Soil Science?  Criminal Justice and English?  It’s a freakin’ nightmare!  The cross-training implications alone are enough to make you lose bladder control.  Our new doctoral program will give students all the tools they need to execute these administrative sleights-of-hand while maintaining a straight face.  The Physics and Political Science faculties at your school will end up begging university leaders to hold a unification ceremony in which the two department chairs, dressed in off-white, walk hand-in-hand down the aisle of the campus chapel while ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ by the Carpenters plays in the background.”

—  Perhaps the most ambitious initiative is taking place at Dickinson College, which launched its Ph.D. Program in Myth Management last fall.  As Darrell Krisk, Dickinson’s Associate Director of Meaning-Making put it, “most schools today are faced with a nearly impossible task: shamelessly pandering to students’ self-interest while not appearing to shamelessly pander to students’ self-interest.  ‘Find Your Path at Yowsa University’ — ‘At Weeble College, You’re Not a Number’ — ‘Your Key to Success Awaits You at Dribble Tech: Claim it Now’.  Kind of makes you want to puke, doesn’t it?  Our doctoral program enables graduates to create sophisticated marketing myths that are comprehensive, coherent, and seamless.  You’ll develop inspiring institutional ultra-memes that course through your school’s circulatory system, enveloping students from their initial website visit to commencement.  For instance, at Dickinson we begin by telling students, you’re so much more than a student here.  You’re part of a cosmic energy stream that erases the boundaries between flesh and spirit, empowering you to alter universal force fields using the job-related skills you develop on our campus.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, extend your wings, and fall forward into the euphoric embrace of Dickinson College.  Let the rapture begin!’  Is it any wonder that our undergraduate enrollment has increased 312% in the past four years?”

Wow.  Step aside, generic doctoral programs in Educational Leadership for harried school superintendents.  There’s a new shrew in town.  




Lost and Found

The forthcoming publication of a short story by Sylvia Plath that was discovered in the Indiana University rare book and manuscript library has scholars around the country scouring the stacks for more academic gold.  The highlights so far:

—  At Princeton, a post-doctoral researcher stumbled upon the undiluted egos of eight of the school’s English professors in a card-catalog cabinet in the library’s basement.  According to Library Archivist Gretchen Staley-Throb, “all of the egos were from tenured male professors in the 1940s.  The self-regard of these gentlemen had simply outgrown the ability of their campus offices to contain them.  Princeton’s librarians were authorized to use drainage tubes to siphon excess self-esteem from each professor’s prefrontal cortex.  Then they stored the fluid, which had the consistency of maple syrup, in colostomy bags in the card catalog.  Over the years, people simply forgot the bags were there.  We’re now in the process of contacting the families of the professors to see if they want these remains.  Some do, some don’t.”

—  At the University of Kentucky, a footlocker containing discarded academic standards was discovered in a tool shed next to the library.  When informed of the finding, Provost David Blackwell expressed relief: “I was wondering what the hell had happened to academic standards at our university.  We used to have them, and then they disappeared a few years ago.  Believe me, it’s no picnic handing out diplomas to graduates who think that Jonathan Swift is Taylor Swift’s grandfather.  Campus police are examining the footlocker for fingerprints.  We are going to find out who did this.  I bet you it was the damn Sociology Department!”

—  Finally, there is the case of Milton Friedman.  The legendary free-market economist and author of Capitalism and Freedom wrote a sequel to his 1962 opus that was never published.  It was found three days ago in a box of dry-cleaning receipts in the Friedman Collection at the University of Chicago library.  Entitled Uh-Oh, the 240-page manuscript describes Friedman’s discovery of how a series of computational errors by his graduate assistant led to a number of erroneous conclusions presented in his world-famous book.  He apologizes in Uh-Oh, writing that “in reality, capitalism is an organism that devours everything in its path in the name of all-encompassing greed, eventually turning on itself.  We are doomed.  And watch out for climate change, by the way.”




And You Thought the Irish Potato Famine was Bad…..

After humiliating defeats in its two most recent high-profile bowl games — 42-14 to Alabama in 2013 (the National Championship game) and 30-3 to Clemson last Saturday — the University of Notre Dame has decided that it’s fed up with being clubbed in these contests like a baby seal during hunting season in the Canadian Arctic.  In a New Year’s Day press release, the University announced that it will be relaxing admissions standards in 2019 to enhance its ability to recruit blue-chip athletes. 

According to John Jenkins, the school’s president, “for far too long we’ve insisted that applicants be literate in order to be accepted by Notre Dame.  This policy has not only discriminated against those who cannot read, it has deprived our football team of talented players who could contribute to success on the gridiron.  Should we really regard reading proficiency as the sign of an educated person?  I don’t think so.  We should be looking into the courageous hearts of these boys, not their minds.  Heck, it’s already tough enough to attract young people to South Bend, Indiana, where the best restaurant in town is located in a bowling alley, and residents regard movies made in New York City as ‘foreign films’.  We need to build bridges that reach these young men where they are, rather than continue to put multi-syllabic obstacles in their path.”

Notre Dame also plans to loosen its strict regulation of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for athletes.  “Let’s face it,” Jenkins notes, “for decades we have encouraged our student body to routinely consume one of the most potent PEDs on the planet — consecrated communion wafers — so it seems a bit hypocritical to prohibit an occasional steroid boost for our football squad, especially when we consider the non-Catholic players who seldom attend Mass.”

Finally, students who are currently incarcerated will no longer be prevented from playing football.  “We’re working with the warden of the St. Joseph County Jail in downtown South Bend to convert one of its residential wings into a mini-dormitory for players who are awaiting trial or serving hard time.  These students will take all of their classes online and be escorted by corrections officials to and from games, both home and away.  The public will have nothing to fear, but opposing teams certainly will!

“For example, we just accepted Clarence ‘Spleen Eater’ Tunderly for next year’s entering class.  This young man is 345 pounds of uncontrolled rage who’s doing 7 to 16 years at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville for crimes that are best left undescribed.  He’ll major in Elizabethan Poetry, assuming he gets a handle on the reading thing.  Otherwise, he’ll be in General Studies with a concentration in Crushing.”

Alabama and Clemson, take a look in your rear view mirror.  Say hello to Clarence.  

“The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth….”

Professors tend to be vigorously self-righteous when it comes to honesty.  Witness the moral indignation they display when encountering instances of student plagiarism.  Thus, it’s a bit embarrassing to have faculty members blithely offering an egregious falsehood whenever they post an “Out of Office” message on their e-mail.  The message typically says something like:

“I will be away until [date] with limited access to e-mail.”

“Limited access to e-mail”?  Oh really?  You’re saying this in 2018, when virtually anyone with a standard-issue smartphone can launch a missile from an atoll in the Pacific while sitting in a Waffle House in Tougaloo, Mississippi having grits and home fries?  Exactly how dumb do you think people are?  Probably the only place on the planet where you would have limited access to e-mail is if you were residing inside the chest cavity of a polar bear while doing research in the Arctic Circle.

Of course, you know what your message actually means.  It means that you don’t want to answer emails for a while.  That’s a legitimate desire.  What’s not legitimate is lying about it.  Thus, in the name of transparency I am providing a template for professors to use when composing their out-of-office messages.  Feel free to adapt it to your needs.

“I will be away until _______.  Please note the following:

—  If you’re somebody I enjoy hearing from, I’ll respond within 24 hours.

—  If you’re not sure the above category applies to you, assume that it doesn’t.

—  If you’re writing to ask me to serve on a faculty committee to revise the core curriculum, I will get back to you within 36 weeks.

— If you’re writing to ask me to chair a faculty committee to revise the core curriculum, I will delete your message and claim that I never received it.

—  If you are from the Business Office, requesting additional documentation of my expenses for the conference on “Marsupials in 19th-Century French Literature” that I attended in Haiti last month, bite me.  I already submitted my receipts.  If you people lost them, that’s on you.  In any event, you owe me $1,838.57.

—  If you’re my department chair, and you’d like me to teach a course that starts in 10 days because the adjunct you hired for it just failed her drug test, fuggedaboudit.

—  If you’re a student seeking a recommendation letter for graduate school, try to recall if I ever explicitly said that you should go to graduate school.  If you can’t, don’t expect a reply.

—  If you’re a student writing for any other reason, assume that I have never suggested that you go to graduate school.  Do not expect a reply, even if your e-mail has nothing to do with graduate school.

— If you’re the colleague who bad-mouthed me to the Dean three weeks ago, and who now needs my assistance with something, the answer is NO. 

—  If you have ever used the phrase “lived experience” in a sentence, you can expect a reply within 24 hours, but it will take the form of a reprimand.

OK, I’ve tried to help.  As you prepare your out-of-office messages for the upcoming holiday season, please take this opportunity to do the right thing.

Tell the truth.



Problem Solved?


It’s hard not to feel sorry for the folks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as they try to figure out what to do with Silent Sam, the bronze statue honoring a Confederate soldier that occupied a prominent spot on campus until August of this year, when protests resulted in the toppled monument being moved to an undisclosed location (no joke).

Watching UNC officials wrestle with this issue has been painfully hilarious.  Ever go to the circus and see a Volkswagen Beetle arrive at the center ring, disgorging an endless stream of clowns who proceed to run around maniacally, kicking up a sawdust storm of chaos in their oversized shoes?  OK, you’ve got the picture.

University Life has learned that a solution may be at hand.  Through back channels, the President of the United States has contacted UNC and offered to place Silent Sam near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  According to a confidential source within the Administration who uses the code name J-Kush, the President’s logic is straightforward:  “Both monuments honor soldiers.  Nobody knows who Silent Sam really was, except that his name was Sam and he didn’t talk much.  Pretty much the same story for the unnamed guys in the Tomb.”

J-Kush maintains that “there is no way we’d let protesters get near any of the monuments at Arlington, so we’ve got that covered.  Of course, the President realizes that using a U.S. soldier to guard Sam might draw criticism, given the whole Confederate thing, so the site would be patrolled by Clarence ‘Hard Tack’ Clussner, a retired security guard who worked for the Winn-Dixie grocery chain for over 35 years.  Clarence is good people.  He doesn’t look for trouble, but he doesn’t walk away from it, either.  He once snatched a turkey leg from a shoplifter and then beat him to within an inch of his life with it.  Trust me, that was the last time anybody tried to steal poultry from a Winn-Dixie in Jacksonville, Florida.”

We asked J-Kush if relocating Silent Sam to such a high-profile, sacred location would send the wrong message to the American people about how the President views the role of slavery in U.S. history.

“No, I don’t think so.”

Well, OK then.  Stay tuned.  


In Case of Emergency…..

According to The Columbia Daily Spectator, Barnard College will soon install a vending machine outside of its health care center that will dispense emergency contraceptives. 

Nice gesture, Barnard, but you folks are a bit late to the party.  While you’ve been mulling over this decision for God-knows-how-long, here’s what other schools have been doing:

—  On every floor of every dormitory at Syracuse University there is a small cabinet mounted in the hallway that is clearly marked, “Break glass in case of sex.”  The cabinet contains three condoms and a CD by Drake.  According to Dean of Students Lyle Blenz, “we used to have traditional vending machines that stocked condoms, but there’s nothing sadder than seeing a couple of naked sophomores, draped in an afghan knitted by one of their grandmothers, arguing loudly in front of a vending machine at 2:00 a.m. about who forgot to bring quarters.  It’s a whole lot simpler to just give the damn things away.”

— At Colby College in Maine they’ve taken things a step further.  Every Purell Hand Sanitizer Dispenser on campus has been retrofitted so that a swipe of a student’s ID card produces a single, university-strength, steel-belted-radial Trailblazer condom manufactured by Trojan.  Students love the convenience.  As junior Haddon Twenny put it, “You never know who you might connect with in any given class on any given day.  This way, I’m all set for whatever happens.  Having sex after an 8:00 a.m. Stats class rules!”

—  A more holistic approach is taken by the University of Southern California, where its Office of Enhanced Student Life offers a Partner Identification Service (PIDS) to assist students in finding out the names of the individuals they slept with the night before. 

Staffed by retired police detectives, PIDS claims to have an 84% success rate in identifying partners.  According to Senior Investigator Charles “Biff” Cranley, “I’m 72 now, but I was young once.  I understand.  These kids gets all excited and forget to ask for the basics, like the name of the other person.  We help them retrace their steps so they can narrow down the possibilities.  It’s a great feeling when you locate the right individual, and the student smiles at you and says, ‘Yep, that’s the one.  Thanks so much!’  Hell, sometimes the two of them even go out on an old-fashioned date after being reunited.  I worked in Homicide for 35 years, but right now I’m having the time of my life!”

—  Of course, not every school moves at the same speed when it comes to addressing sexuality and young people in the 21st century.  At Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, for example, the administration is proud of its new “Where Do Christian Babies Come From?” curriculum, featuring instructional videos in which key concepts are demonstrated by kittens, otters, and (for Seniors only) African bush elephants.  In the words of Winifred “Winnie” Frohlstrom, Vice President for Student Chastity, “at Bob Jones we’re committed to graduating students who display a mature attitude toward physical intimacy with the opposite sex while also being wildlife-sensitive.”

Now there’s a goal that University Life hopes we can all endorse.



According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the number of History majors in the U.S. is sinking faster than a ball bearing in a toilet bowl — from 34,642 in 2008 to 24,255 in 2017.  At this pace, the last History major will put down the toilet seat and flush shortly before 2040.

Over the past two months, reporters from University Life have interviewed dozens of undergraduates across the country in an attempt to pinpoint the causes of this precipitous decline.  Here’s a sampling of what students told us:

Melanie Z., Providence College:  “Hey, I’m all about the future, not the past.  There’s nothing I can do about what’s already happened.  I mean, what’s the point?  Geez!”

Gregory B., University of Wyoming:  “Studying history is way too much like talking with my girlfriend.  She always wants to focus on what I said to her last week, and how she felt about what I said, and how she reacted to how she felt, and how I didn’t listen to her when she told me how she felt about what I said, and how my not listening to her has hurt our relationship, and what it all means.  

“For the love of God, would you please shut the ____ up!  Can’t we just have some sex this afternoon and move on?  Do we have to relive every freakin’ moment of our lives?

“Excuse me, what was your question again?”

Barry L., College of Charleston:  “Sorry, but there’s no way I’m going to major in something that requires me to read about dead people I never knew, who lived in countries I’ll never visit and can’t even pronounce. ‘Kyrgyzstan’?  ‘Namibia’?  Are you kidding me?”

Hannah J., Emory University:  “My roommate Gina and I took a U.S. History course last semester and learned all about how there was slavery and stuff way back in the 1800s in the South.  Now Gina won’t talk to me because I’m white, and she’s black.  That class totally screwed up our friendship.  She won’t even let me borrow her sweaters any more, and we’re the same size!  I am so done with History!”

Tim G., University of Rochester:  “You ever try to pick up a girl at a party by saying something witty about the Code of Hammurabi or the Franco-Prussian War?  It’s hopeless.  They just stop drinking and stare at you, neither of which is good.  Psychology courses are way better at giving you material to work with.  My favorite Psych concept is cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Females absolutely love it.  Just make sure to maintain eye contact when talking about the feelings component.  Works every time.  Well, almost every time.”

History professors, the clock is ticking.  Act soon, or your discipline will soon become history.


Make Them Stop!

It wasn’t exactly the Battle of the Alamo, but things got a little testy recently at the University of Texas at San Antonio, when a senior lecturer had campus police remove a student from the classroom who had put her feet on the chair in front of her during a previous class session (no joke). 

Although this faculty member’s response to an instance of poor Reebok etiquette may seem a bit extreme, it represents just the tip of the iceberg of what instructors are dealing with in their classrooms these days.  A few examples from across the country:

— At the University of Alabama, Professor Phyllis Grusk was greeted by a raucous tailgate party when she walked into her Chemistry 351 class the day before the annual football game between the Crimson Tide and LSU.  According to Grusk, two students from Phi Gamma Pu, a rogue fraternity, had brought a portable electric grill and a full-sized turkey fryer into the classroom and were “cooking up a storm.”  Unfortunately, they had overfilled the fryer and a violent grease fire erupted, destroying $25,000 worth of laboratory equipment.

Gamma Pu Chapter President Gavin “T-Bone” Skirly was asked to comment on the incident: “Awesome!  Just freakin’ awesome!  Someone told me that when the fryer exploded, a flying turkey leg actually pierced a ceiling tile at warp speed and is still stuck there.  Is that cool or what?  Roll Tide Roll!

—  At Reed College in Oregon, two students taking Deranged Artists of the Renaissance were reprimanded for having sex during class on a yoga mat they had spread out at the back of the room.  The offending students, Tim Skeeve and Marjorie Schneid, claimed that they were simply expressing the physical manifestation of their shared truth, a truth that “should not be constrained by medieval attitudes toward consensual, peaceful, copulatory communication.”

Professor Talmadge Jones, who teaches the course, pointed out that the couple’s “peaceful copulation” was, in fact, quite noisy, and distracted the other students.  As he put it, “Ever try to lecture about Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus when you’ve got a woman in the room screaming ‘My flowers are blooming, Sir Lancelot!’ at the top of her lungs?  It’s no picnic.  We had to throw a tarp over them.”

—  Finally, there is the case of Dr. Elwin Gaffner at Tulane University.  Professor Gaffner called campus police last week and accused students in his Econometrics class of staring at him during his lectures.  When police informed him that such behavior is to be expected in a lecture course, Dr. Gaffner noted that many of the students were smirking as they stared, and that the corneas of their eyes were bright crimson.  “And they’re all making strange little throat noises — a soft sound, something in between clucking and growling.  Listen.  Don’t you hear that?”

Professor Gaffner was referred to Tulane’s Teaching and Learning Center for consultation on classroom management, including training in the performance of exorcisms. 

Happy Thanksgiving from University Life.  And remember: Never turn your back on the students in your class.  Safety first.

There’s No Place Like Home?

Have you been feeling ill at ease lately at your college or university, thinking that perhaps it’s not the best place for someone of your background and temperament?  Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education published “Warning Signs that You and Your Campus Are a Bad Fit,” in order to help professors notice and interpret their square-peg/round-hole experiences.

The article is a valuable guide, but it overlooks several key symptoms of poor personal/institutional alignment.  As a service to University Life readers, we present them here:

—  At a reception for new faculty, the Provost asks about your scholarly interests.  You eagerly respond, “I study the river as a symbol of rebirth in 19th-century British fiction.” The Provost stares at you blankly and says, “You’re joking, right?” 

—  At department meetings you silently scan the conference table around which your colleagues are seated, and contemplate how long it would take to push 11 people, one at a time, off a cliff.

—  Your school’s service-animal policy allows students to bring a flounder to class.

—  The email address assigned to you by the IT department is

— Although you have known the cashier in the faculty dining room for three years, she asks to see your university ID every time you pay for lunch, even when you’re using cash.

—  Whenever you request a clean towel at the school’s rec center,  the attendant picks a damp one from the dirty-laundry bin.

—  The department secretary has never called you by your name.

—  The department secretary has never called you, period.

—  When you show a clip from Saving Private Ryan in your course on the Second World War, four students complain that they developed PTSD as a result of seeing Tom Hanks unhappy.  The Dean upholds their grievance, and your travel funds for professional conferences are frozen for a year.

—  The custodian has never emptied the waste basket in your office, but does use the corner of your office to store filled trash bags on days he doesn’t want to carry them to the dumpster in the parking lot. 

—  Your department chair informs you that the final exam you prepared for your Calculus II course does not contain a sufficient number of questions about “feelings.”

—  In response to your query about what steps were being taken by the university to address diversity and inclusion, the Vice President for Student Affairs notes that the cafeteria recently added sweet potato fries to the dinner menu on alternate Wednesdays.

—  You look forward with pleasure to cancelling class next week in order to have a root canal.

Good luck, and may the Novocaine be with you.