Less is More….

What would Thomas Jefferson think?  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, renovations of the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia could significantly decrease the amount of shelf space available for books, and many faculty are unhappy at the prospect.  To an English professor of a certain age, the musty fragrance of an 1861 edition of Silas Marner discovered in the stacks can be more potent than a bongful of premium-grade Venice Beach recreational marijuana.  

But let’s be fair.  What options do shelf-starved university libraries have in these challenging times?

Perhaps the most creative approach has been taken at the University of Arizona.  When its Main Library ran out of space for new books in 2012, the school entered into a collaboration with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and Classics Illustrated comics to produce shortened versions of every volume in the library.  That’s right…..every volume.  

According to Library Director Lazlo Kefler, “Over the past six years we have reduced the space needed for our holdings by nearly 60%.  For example, a typical paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov is well over 700 pages.  Our version is 86 pages.  How did we do it?  We started by cutting the length of those ridiculously long Russian names.  ‘Fyodorovich’ became ‘Jones’ and ‘Alexandrovna’ became ‘Pam’.  Nothing of substance was lost.  No harm, no foul.  And then we removed lots of unnecessary prepositions, such as ‘in’, ‘for’, and ‘to’.  Once again, no harm done.  Finally, we got rid of two characters, Ivan and Dmitri, and all of the plot lines involving them.  That was a bit trickier to pull off, but we were able to do it without compromising the flow of the narrative.”

Kefler admits that some books are easier to condense than others. “Technical monographs with lots of mathematical formulas are a real pain.  You don’t want to leave out an important step that gets you from A to B in a calculus proof.  Our solution is to present everything in a continuous flow on the page with no spaces between the symbols, no punctuation, no new lines or indentations for next steps, and no +/-/÷/×/= signs.  This saves tons of room.  Of course, it also makes the formulas a bit more difficult to understand, but let’s be honest, these volumes have never been a picnic to read.  Math and science are hard!” 

On a more positive note, Kefler maintains that certain books actually become more comprehensible when you shorten them.  “Consider postmodernist literature.  We distilled the collected works of Michel Foucault into a pamphlet that — in its entirety — consists of the following two sentences:

Everything you think you know is made up by powerful interests that are out to screw you.  And they’re winning.

“Or take James Joyce’s Ulysses, another big fat novel.  We replaced it with a single photograph of a Dublin street from 1904, which is when Leopold Bloom’s story takes place.  The photo gets the job done, and students love the revised version!”

Looks like a win-win to us.  Well done, Mr. Kefler. 



Don’t Be a Victim…..

Unless you reside in Texas, where it’s legal — and indeed, one is even encouraged — to carry a live hand grenade on campus, there’s not much you can do to bring to an abrupt close a tedious, dysfunctional faculty meeting.  However, there are actions you can take to prevent, at an individual level, the brain death associated with such gatherings.  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently took note of a professor who brought her knitting to meetings (no joke), news that prompted us here at University Life to scour the country for other examples of faculty strategies for surviving group deliberations.  It quickly became evident that professors are a creative bunch.  A sampling:

—  At the University of Oregon, Physics professor Marjorie Yesketh-Snaffle uses department meetings as an opportunity to give Freckles, her pet hamster, a bath.  “I put a stainless-steel bowl on the conference table, fill it with warm water, add some Palmolive dishwashing liquid, and voila, it’s time to suds up!  Freckles loves to be washed, so there’s no violent splashing around that my colleagues might find annoying.  In fact, they often take turns drying Freckles off after her tub time.  We’re a closer, more cohesive department now, and we have Freckles to thank for that!”

—  Craig Fleth, a Civil Engineering professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, builds ships in a bottle during Faculty Senate meetings.  “This activity requires intense concentration and attention to detail,” Fleth claims, “so it’s not unusual for a three-hour Senate meeting to fly by without my having the slightest idea of what issues were discussed or what decisions were made, which is fine by me.  For the most part, my fellow Senators are flaming a**holes.  And they’re always stealing my tweezers.”

—  At Brandeis University, Linguistics professor Abe Phlegmstein-O’Leary uses Tenure-and-Promotion deliberations to work on his long-term project of translating the Torah into a document composed entirely of emoticons.  “I want to make this sacred text accessible to a 21st-century audience.  It has been a challenging labor of love, to put it mildly, but it’s a damn sight better use of my time than discussing the scholarly worth of articles by preening, insufferable assistant professors on the erotic symbolism of alligator-infested swampland in Faulkner’s novels.”

So, what life lesson have we learned here? 

If you’re bored at faculty meetings on your campus, you have no one but yourself to blame.  For the love of God, buy a hamster.

Stay the Course…..

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Georgia State University has emerged as the “leader of the pack” in using predictive analytics to help develop strategies for increasing retention and graduation rates among its students.  

Nice job, GSU, but you’ve got a long way to go before coming close to the level of performance achieved by Flazmore College, a small, private institution located in Bamberg, South Carolina.  Over the past decade, Flazmore has raised its four-year retention rate from 27% to a remarkable 98.7%.  In other words, 98.7% of Flazmore’s freshman class are still there when senior year arrives. 

How can such an accomplishment be possible?  To explore this question, University Life interviewed Flazmore’s President, Dr. Penelope Dwange.

Dwange:  “How is it possible?  The answer is simple.  Once students get here, we don’t let them leave.”

UL:           “Huh?”

Dwange:  “All of our students live on Flazmore’s beautiful 750-acre campus.  Everything they could possibly want while they’re in college is right here, so there’s no reason for them to leave — not even for school vacations — before they finish their degree.  We’ve hired Blackwater, a private security services contractor,  to monitor the perimeter of the campus in order to prevent students from wandering off.”

UL:           “What happens if a student can no longer afford Flazmore’s fairly hefty tuition?”

Dwange:  “Not a problem.  We offer a comprehensive work-study program that employs students throughout the College, including on our farm.  Last year, our 20-acre cotton field produced an average of 963 pounds per acre, one of the highest yields in the state.  We couldn’t have done that without our student workers.”  

UL:           “Can financially needy students really earn enough from their campus jobs to pay their entire tuition bill?”

Dwange:  “Usually not.  That’s why we’re okay with a student not graduating in four years if they’re behind in their payments.  Our eight-year retention rate is 81%, and we’re very proud of that.”

UL:           “What happens if a student doesn’t have a high enough GPA to graduate after four years?”

Dwange:  “Once again, not a problem.  At Flazmore we don’t give up on students.  If their GPA at 120 credits is below the 2.5 threshold needed for graduation, we just keep them here, taking courses, until they get to 2.5.  We have a number of students in their mid-50’s who started at Flazmore when they were 18 or 19 years old.  Some of them have accumulated over 1000 credits but still haven’t achieved a 2.5, though a few are really close.  We’re confident that they’ll get there eventually.”

UL:           “You mentioned that Flazmore’s 4-year retention rate is 98.7%.  What about the remaining 1.3%?  Do these students escape from the campus?”

Dwange: “Well, they try to.”

UL:           “Do any of them succeed?”

Dwange: “No.”

UL:           “Are you saying that after they’re caught, they are…….”

Dwange:  “Yes.”

You can judge Flazmore College harshly if you wish, but you can’t deny that this is a school that takes retention very seriously.

Go Ahead, Take One…….

Like piranha streaking toward a fleshy human leg in the Amazon River, colleges and universities in 2018 are engaged in a frenzied search for degree programs that will guarantee students a successful financial future.  To be sure, the schools’ torrid romance with the MBA seems to be cooling.  Unless you obtain that credential from an elite institution, pretty much all you’ll get from your MBA these days is the assurance that you’ll be promoted from your daytime cashier job at Taco Bell to the position of drive-thru manager for the midnight-to-6:00-am shift.  It’s hardly worth it. 

But watch out, here comes Chokecherry College.  A small liberal arts institution located outside of Wheeling, West Virginia, it will launch the nation’s first M. A. Program in Shoplifting in the fall of 2018.  According to Chokecherry President Nisbet L. Fwitz, “this is — literally — a hands-on program that will provide students with real-world skills.  It’s not a program for kids born into entitled networks that connect them with the spoiled spawn of their rich brethren.  This is a program for the rest of us, the ones who are just one forged prescription away from opiod addiction.”

The Shoplifting program is interdisciplinary, and will prepare students to enter the fast-growing, multi-billion-dollar field of customer-initiated retail theft.  The curriculum includes:

PHILOSOPHY 604            Situational Ethics

METALLURGY 617          Tin-Foiling Your Tote Bag

ARCHITECTURE 743       Introduction to Retail Floor Plans and Air-Conditioning-Duct Escape Routes

FASHION 532                     The Getaway Sneaker: Current Topics in Pivot Design

FINANCE 511                     Pawn Shop or eBay?  Selling What You Pilfer

THEATER 310                     Interacting with Security Guards: Alibis and the Oral Tradition (cross-listed with the Communications 428)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE 594  Posting Bail: Cash, Check, Money Order, or Barter?

LEGAL STUDIES 424        Securing an Attorney: Evaluating Ads on the Sides of Buses

PSYCHOLOGY 681             Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  Developing Intimate Relationships in Prison (online only)

INTERNSHIP 701                Convenience Stores

INTERNSHIP 702                Shopping Malls and Big-Box Venues

INTERNSHIP 703                High-End Retail Establishments         

“We’re especially proud of our three-semester internship program,” Fwitz notes. “Students will learn the basics of grab-and-go in convenience stores like 7-Eleven, and then move on to low-risk shopping malls.  Finally, they will participate in our Midtown Manhattan program, which includes such prestigious sites as Tiffany’s, Prada, Bulgari, and Hermès.”

All program faculty have at least 10 years of shoplifting experience, and 40% have served time in prison.  “These folks know the field, inside and out,” Fwitz asserts.  “Let other colleges train the next generation of front-desk reception clerks at the Marriott.  At Chokecherry, we’re providing graduates with rewarding careers right from the start.”

The Revenge of the 99% has begun. 

Exit, Stage Right…..

The University of Florida drew some unwanted attention recently when one of its faculty marshals was observed rushing, even pushing, several graduates off the stage after they had received their diplomas at commencement.  The University’s president later apologized and placed the faculty member on administrative leave.

To be sure, it is a challenge to usher a large number of students across a stage, one-by-one, in a timely fashion.  An informal survey of schools across the country reveals a variety of strategies for addressing this task.  Here’s a sampling of the more effective ones:

—  At the University of Miami, graduates wear a swim suit to the ceremony rather than a cap and gown, and exit the stage via a water slide.  According to Commencement Coordinator Todd Flemm, “the kids love it.  They can’t wait to run across the stage and dive, usually head first, onto the slide.  We’ve reduced the length of graduation by nearly 30% since introducing this procedure in 2012.”

— In contrast, a no-nonsense approach is employed at the University of Georgia, where professional bouncers from local biker bars monitor stage traffic.  If a graduate dawdles after being asked to speed up, the offender is immobilized with a taser and tossed into a mosh pit in front of the stage filled with adjunct faculty members.  “The number of injuries we’ve had is surprisingly few,” reports Provost Gretchen Slurv.  “The biggest problem is that the adjuncts sometimes steal the wallets of the graduates and use their health insurance cards.  We’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with that.”

— After consulting with world-renowned animal-behavior expert Temple Grandin, officials at Colorado State University designed a double rail restrainer conveyor system for moving students across the stage, modeled after the device used in many large beef plants for herding and stunning cattle (see illustration above).  According to CSU’s Police Chief, Garrett ‘Big Chew’ Bundy, “the conveyor system keeps students calm as it quickly transports them.  Occasionally a student may make a mooing sound, but it’s no big deal.  Actually, it’s kind of funny when that happens.”

— Finally, there’s Middlebury College in Vermont, which is attempting to re-frame the way schools think about commencement-stage logistics.  At Middlebury, graduates whose parents have paid full, undiscounted tuition for all four years are invited to remain on the stage after receiving their diploma and lounge in a salon-like space furnished with plush leather armchairs and a wine bar staffed by tuxedoed underclassmen who are on financial aid.  Cigars are available upon request.  “These are the folks who keep us in business,” notes College President Laurie Patton.  “It’s the least we can do.”

Absolutely.  As they say at Pepperidge Farm, “the one who butters your bread deserves the best toast.”


Be Careful What You Wish For

As recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, financially troubled Catholic University of America in Washington, DC is embroiled in controversy over a proposed cost-cutting plan that could lay off tenured professors. 

In the past, steadfast prayer has been the typical response of CU faculty to disagreeable actions taken by the school’s administration.  And, on occasion, they have appealed to the University’s Board of Trustees. 

This time, however, faculty took the bold step of bypassing the Board, and chose to meet with God face-to-face.  Reliable sources indicate that on May 16th a group of three tenured CU professors (from biology, mathematics, and theology) traveled to Martinique to converse with The Almighty at his summer home.  They argued that, as an institution representing Catholicism — the “one true church of Christ” — Catholic University should be directly funded by the Supreme Being from his infinite resources.  (In 2017, Forbes magazine ranked God the Father as the wealthiest of all the major deities.)

Unfortunately, God disagreed with the professors, claiming that it was not his style to interject himself so straightforwardly into humanity’s everyday affairs.  As he put it, “Heck, look at what I let happen in Puerto Rico after the hurricane.  Some of those poor souls still don’t have power, and most of them are Catholic.”

He recommended that Catholic U. consider merging with Brigham Young University, a school associated with yet another religious denomination (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) that claims to be the one true church.  “Let’s face it, BYU is much better managed financially than CU, and the Mormon belief system isn’t that much crazier than the Baltimore Catechism.  It’s worth a shot.”

Stay tuned.  This could get interesting.

On Edge?

From the Department of Unwanted Publicity: Yale University made the news (and Saturday Night Live) last week when a skittish white female graduate student (in this case, “skittish” = “wingnut”) called police after seeing a black female graduate student napping in the common room of the Yale building where they both lived.  No weapons were found at the scene, though the “sleepy seeds” discovered in the corners of the black student’s eyes are being tested for CAD (Cornea-Activated Dynamite).

There must be something in the water at Ivy League schools these days, given that the Yale incident was the fourth recent case of white overreaction among their ranks.  The others:

April 20th:  At Princeton, Mathematics Professor Dascom Frick notified campus police when he saw a black student remove a sharp object from his jacket during an in-class calculus exam on derivatives.  The object turned out to be a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil.

“I could have sworn it was a switchblade,” Frick said when questioned by police.  “There was a shaft of sunlight coming through the window, and the way it reflected off the pencil point…….well, I just didn’t want anybody to die that day.  My bad.”

May 1st:  A black female was jogging across The Green at Dartmouth in the mid-afternoon when she was spotted by 82-year-old Letitia Foucault-Peignoir, who was walking her Pomeranian.  Concerned that the jogger might have stolen her running shorts, sneakers, tank top, sports bra, and headband from the local Foot Locker, Ms. Foucault-Peignoir blew her alarm whistle, summoning police.  The jogger was apprehended, and identified as a Dartmouth sophomore on the track team who was training for an upcoming race.

“I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding,” said Foucoult-Peignoir  “but I’d never seen anyone run that fast who wasn’t trying to leave the scene of a crime.”

May 3rd:  A visiting Nigerian Linguistics professor in a 3-piece suit was sitting on a bench in Harvard Yard, engaged in his daily routine of meditating for 15 minutes with his eyes closed and hands resting, palms down, on his knees.  A sharp-eyed pigeon perched on the nearby statue of John Harvard notified authorities, and within 90 seconds the professor was surrounded by an armed SWAT team accompanied by a National Guard helicopter. 

No shots were fired and the episode ended peacefully.  The pigeon, who had been passing through Cambridge on his way to the Cape, explained that he had never observed an individual sitting that still for that long “who wasn’t some sort of schizo-psycho nutcase with explosives wrapped around his waist.  Better safe than sorry!  Umm….anybody got any bread crumbs?”

Be careful out there.

Losing Streak

Earlier this week the University of Cincinnati became the latest school to rescind the honorary degree it had bestowed upon disgraced icon Bill Cosby.  But is there any institution of higher education in the country unluckier than tiny Eunora Lutheran Teachers College in Bradfordsville, Kentucky?  Here is the roster of its honorary degree recipients over the past decade:

2017   Eric Schneiderman

2016   Garrison Keillor

2015   Al Franken

2014   Kevin Spacey

2013   Matt Lauer

2012   Charlie Rose

2011   Louis C. K.

2010   Anthony Weiner

2009   Joseph Stalin (posthumously awarded)

2008   Vlad the Impaler (posthumously awarded)

2007   Satan

“Clearly, we need to tighten up our vetting process,” Eunora President Clayton Skink acknowledged in a press conference yesterday.  “But, gosh, who would have thought that Garrison Keillor would turn out to be a perv?  And to our credit, we never did give an honorary degree to Mr. Cosby.  It’s true that our reason for not doing so was racism, but still…..”

Eunora’s 2018 honorary doctorate will be awarded posthumously to Mr. Rogers.  Skink says that “we’re keeping our fingers crossed on this one, and our anxious eyes focused on future New Yorker exposés by Ronan Farrow.”




Open It…..

If you aren’t familiar with Carleton College — a small, selective, liberal arts school located in Northfield, Minnesota — you will be soon.  In April, Carleton became the first college in the nation to ban use of the words “awesome” and “super” on its campus. 

According to Carleton President Steven Poskanzer, “the over-utilization of these two words by our students had gotten to the point where talking with them was like having knitting needles jabbed into your brain stem.  It was that painful.  The term ‘awesome’ should be reserved for things like the Grand Canyon and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, rather than being hijacked to describe an order of curly fries at Wendy’s or a cell-phone photo of half-price tickets to a Led Zeppelin cover-band concert at a roller rink in Minneapolis.

“And don’t get me started on ‘super’.  Everything these days is ‘super’ this or ‘super’ that.  ‘I’m super-excited to meet you, President Poskanzer!’  Or, ‘The chili dog I had at that awesome Led Zeppelin cover-band concert last night was super-tasty!’

“Whenever I hear sentences like these, all I can think is:  Kill.  Me.  Now.

A $3 fine will be imposed every time a student utters one of the prohibited words, with the amount automatically charged to the student’s account in the Bursar’s Office, a procedure similar to the way that library fines and parking tickets are handled.  Students with outstanding balances will not be allowed to graduate.

“We just had to do something,” the President asserted.  “This is not a case of stifling free speech.  It’s simply our long-overdue attempt to counteract lazy, mind-numbingly unimaginative speech.”

Is Poskanzer afraid that Carleton will be sued by angry student groups?  “Bring it on,” he exclaimed.  “We’re just getting started.  Next year we’re expanding the No-Say List to include annoying phrases, not just individual words.  Take heed, ‘No Problem’ and ‘Lived Experience’.  Your days are numbered.  We’re coming for you.”


That Sports Management MBA Finally Paid Off

“If it’s good enough for the NBA, it’s good enough for us!”

Those were the words of Robert J. Jones, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, when he announced that, beginning in the fall of 2018, the University will become the first school in the country to affix a corporate logo to the blazers of all faculty, administration, and staff. 

“If the Boston Celtics can put a General Electric patch on its players, we can certainly accept Boeing’s offer to wear its logo,” Jones asserted.  “They’re the world’s largest aerospace company, and their headquarters are in Illinois.  Given the devastating budget cuts that our school has experienced in recent years due to the actions of the dipsticks in our state legislature, we are desperate for funds.  Boeing will not only give us $7.2 million annually for wearing the patch, they’ll pay for the navy blue blazers we’ll be purchasing from Men’s Wearhouse (for the guys) and Talbots (for the ladies).  This is a win-win for higher education.  Our classrooms will have the sharpest-dressed faculty in the nation, which is sure to enhance student learning.”

When asked by a reporter if he thought it was a bit tacky to transform professional employees at a top-tier public university into walking sandwich boards for a private company, Jones responded, “We’re not talking here about NASCAR clothing, where ads cover every square inch of the driver’s upper body.  It’s just one tiny patch, and it’s for Boeing, a world-class outfit, not for Condom World in Peoria.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Condom World is currently negotiating a logo contract with Illinois Central College, a community college in East Peoria.  Agreement has yet to be reached on the size of the image depicted in the logo.