Bystander Effect

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times revealed the identity of the only individual in Hollywood who did NOT know that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and assaulting women on a regular basis over the past several decades.  His name is Ernest Carroll Moore, who served as UCLA’s first Provost from 1919 to 1936.  Dr. Moore died in 1955, when Mr. Weinstein was 3 years old.  However, in June 1954 Dr. Moore was overheard saying to a friend at the Brown Derby restaurant on Hollywood’s North Vine Street, “Something about that kid really bothers me.” 

According to Professor Melanie Flynch-Tutweiler, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, the last time that so many people in Tinseltown failed to speak up when they should have was during the infamous “Can You Hear Me Now?” Scandal, from 1931 to 1961, when no one would tell movie legend Clark Gable that his ears were freakishly large.

Stop, Stop, I Can’t Take It Anymore!

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education headline asked, “Should Colleges Intervene to Stop Heckling of Campus Speakers?”

An important question, to be sure. 

But it’s yesterday’s news. 

Reports from around the country indicate that student activists have moved beyond heckling.  Now they are tickling…..with a vengeance.  At the University of Louisville last week, white-supremacist wingnut Richard B. Spencer was giving the keynote address at a “50 Shades of Pale” conference when three male students in ski masks rushed the stage and wrestled him to the floor behind the lectern.  As two of the students held him down and pulled up his shirt, the third tickled him with a guineafowl feather until he wet his pants.  A humiliated Spencer scooted from the stage on his rear end while holding his lecture notes over his lap. 

Similar events have occurred over the past two months at the University of New Hampshire, Lafayette College, and Idaho State University.  University officials aren’t sure how to respond.  “Cubby” Dixon, Dean of Student Life at Idaho State, laments that his school doesn’t have a specific policy that regulates tickling on campus.  Interestingly, tickling is actually encouraged, and taught, as a foreplay technique in the two-day Safe Sex Workshop (“Passionate Potatoes”) that all first-year ISU students are required to take during Orientation Week.  “It looks like the Workshop may have come back to haunt us,” Dixon observes.  “Our students have become really skilled at tickling.  On the other hand, it’s nice to hear all the squealing and giggling coming out of the dorm windows at night.”

It’s unlikely that student protestors will stop at tickling.  Just two days ago at Grinnell College, Ann Coulter was slathered in creamed corn while participating in a Young Republicans symposium on “Tall Conservative Women Who Aren’t Laura Ingraham,” while Milo Yiannopoulous was forcibly massaged with Texas-style dry-rub seasoning at an alt-right rally at Baylor University on Halloween.  Responsibility for both incidents was claimed by the Revolutionary Intersectionality Brigade (Manifesto: “You can’t just be one thing!”), a rogue student collective with ties to a Whole Foods Market in Madison, Wisconsin that is violently resisting Amazon’s takeover of the Whole Foods chain.  A siege of the market by FDA agents is now in its third week, with latest reports indicating that agents have taken control of the Produce section after heavy fighting.  Casualties include scores of severely bruised fruit, with many melons of all types not expected to survive.  “There’s pulp everywhere,” says one FDA agent who has been inside the store. “We’re having to use DNA swabs to identify some of the cantaloupes.”

College administrators may soon be looking back fondly at the days when all they had to worry about was heckling.

President Cursor

In what appears to be a first in modern U.S. higher education, a university has appointed a President who does not possess a college degree.  At a press conference yesterday the University of Oklahoma announced that its next leader will be Mr. Timothy “Sparky” Cretch, a 22-year-old high school dropout with extensive experience in website design. 

According to Clayton Bennett, Chair of the University’s Board of Regents, “In the fierce, steel-cage death match that characterizes competition for college students today, a school without a killer website is toast.  Mr. Cretch is widely regarded as the premier website designer of his generation.  His Oregon company — Scroll, Baby, Scroll! has grown from a $15,000 start-up in 2011, specializing in the development of sites for marijuana dispensaries and 10-lane bowling alleys, into a $325 million industry giant that works with numerous Fortune 500 companies and governments of foreign countries.  Sparky is the real deal!  Higher education is about more than just having a good Division I football team.  Prospective students want to interact with a website that provides them with a totally immersive scroll-and-click experience.  We don’t want you to simply ‘visit’ the Oklahoma website, we want you to climb inside its welcoming womb and be bathed in the nurturing amniotic fluid of our institution’s culture.  By the time you emerge, you’ll literally be drenched in your desire to become a Sooner.”

Mr. Timlin, who appeared at the press conference attired in cargo shorts, deck shoes, an inside-out Portland Trail Blazers tee shirt, and an Oregon Ducks baseball cap, joked that “I’ll probably have to buy myself some Oklahoma gear in the next few days, but I know that being President here is going to be AWESOME!  We’re going to have the first website in the country that provides a Five Senses Tour of the campus.  You’ll actually be able to smell the lawn on our quad, taste the ice cream in our cafeteria by licking the screen, and feel your body splash in the water of one of our Olympic-size residence hall swimming pools.  We’re going to blow away every other college website in the country.  But what’s up with this ‘Sooner’ nickname?    ‘Sooner’ than what, exactly?  I don’t get it.  It’s gotta go.”

Tar Heel Nation

The NCAA praised the University of North Carolina last week for including non-athletes in its long-standing practice of offering sham courses to students who needed an easy A with no work.  According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, “So often, colleges and universities bend the rules for athletes but don’t provide similar opportunities to rank-and-file students who are just as academically clueless as many Division I basketball and football players.  At North Carolina, every student could benefit from doing virtually nothing in a course while getting a passing grade.  This is a tradition that unites rather than divides athletes and non-athletes on campus.  We applaud UNC for its commitment to community.”

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt gracefully accepted the NCAA’s recognition: “Though UNC has been a pillar of the North Carolina Research Triangle for decades, we have always felt uncomfortable participating in a culture that celebrated academic excellence, a culture that called into question stereotypes of the American South as a cesspool of flaming ignorance.  Well, as a loyal Tar Heel I’m proud to report, “We’re bringing the STINK back, and that pungent smell is not just for athletes!”

It’s the Crab Cakes

In an October 13th article entitled “How the Academic Elite Reproduces Itself” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the authors cite research indicating that “graduates from a few elite institutions account for an outsized proportion of high-profile published work.” 

Hmmm…..sounds like there could be a scandal brewing here.  So, as a service to University Life readers, I put on my investigative reporter hat and conducted phone interviews with the Presidents of several of the institutions mentioned in the article, asking for their explanations of this finding.  Here’s what they said:

Drew Gilpin Faust (Harvard): “Virtually all of our doctoral students come from a eugenics breeding farm that the University maintains in Chesuncook, Maine.  It works out well for us, though occasionally a gene-splicing error produces a physics Ph.D. with an extra ear or a mathematician with zero interpersonal skills and poor personal hygiene habits.  Okay, okay….maybe the second problem occurs more than just occasionally.”

Ronald Daniels (Johns Hopkins): “It’s the crab cakes.  Here in Baltimore we have the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and those babies rock!  Incredibly tasty, and the ultimate brain food.  Make sure to use Old Bay High-Citation Seasoning and buy the lump meat, not the claw.  Psych students who get the less expensive claw meat end up publishing in places like Highlights Magazine rather than Developmental Psychology.  A damn shame.”

Martha Pollack (Cornell): “It must be all the hills on our Ithaca campus.  Climb, descend, climb, descend, climb, descend.  Up, down, up, down, up, down.  It NEVER ends.  Exercises the mind as well as the body, I guess.  But I’m so sick of it.  My lower legs look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s during his prime, and they ache constantly.  If the Board of Trustees let me, I’d bring in a bunch of road graders and level the whole freakin’ landscape!  You’re not recording this, are you?”

Christopher Eisgruber (Princeton): “You’re kidding, right?  We’re PRINCETON!  God ADORES us.  Haven’t you heard of the Divine Right of Kings?  Everything we touch becomes golden, sparkly, and brilliant…..a snow globe filled with all the world’s knowledge, shimmering like the Aurora Borealis.  Why the hell we’re in New Jersey, I’ll never know.”

Carol Crist (Berkeley) and Marc Tessier-Lavigne (Stanford) [conference call]: “You have NO idea how much high-octane pot we smoke out here!  We buy it in 500-lb. bales, divide it up into compressed bricks, and then distribute the bricks to graduate students at orientation.  The impact on the quality of their scholarly work is MASSIVE!  Or maybe it’s just the Doritos.  Who the hell knows?  HA-HA-HA-HA-HA………. [raucous laughter continues for 10 minutes, with background noises suggesting that Tessier-Lavigne has tumbled out of his chair onto the floor].”

There you have it.  Question asked, and answered.  No scandal here, folks.



Postpartum Expression

“Should Universities Ban Single-Gender Discussion Panels?”  This was the title of an October 4th article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported the recent controversial decision of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University to prohibit single-gender panels in order to increase the sharing of diverse perspectives.  Reasonable people can probably disagree over the wisdom of such a policy, but there’s little doubt that rigid adherence to it can lead to the sort of awkward situation that occurred last week at the Stubblefield School of Nursing at Northern South Central Community College in Wichita, Kansas.

In Obstetrics 231 the topic of the day was, “What Does It Feel Like to Give Birth?”  A panel of four NSCCC students — three young mothers and Toby Scalfani, a 20-year-old member of the men’s lacrosse team — participated.  A rich exchange among the three women occupied the first half-hour of the session, at which point Mr. Scalfani was asked to share his lived experience of childbirth.  “Wow, this is a tough one,” he responded, vigorously scratching his head.  “But now that I think of it, I did get hit in the crotch with a lacrosse ball during a game with Wichita State last year, and believe me, that was no fun.  I had to sit out the rest of the game, and I won’t even describe what it looked like down there.  Lacrosse balls are solid, not hollow like tennis balls.  When I got home that night, all I could keep down was some chicken broth that my mom made for me.  So, yeah, I kinda know what it feels like to have a kid.  It hurts big time!

“Did you know that a lacrosse ball can travel over 100 miles per hour when it’s flung by a lacrosse stick?  A couple of weeks ago my friend Spackle demolished the door of a Dodge Ram 1500 when he took a close-up shot at it over at the car dealership that Brad Guernsey’s dad owns.  It was midnight and we were pretty wasted.  Lacrosse rules, man!”

Results of the panel were mixed.  Several students in attendance decided to form a women’s lacrosse team, thereby strengthening NSCCC’s compliance with Title IX regulations.  On the other hand, nearly half of the females who completed a post-panel survey indicated that they were re-thinking their decision to have children, especially if those children might turn out to be boys. 

Point Spread

For years it has been common practice for many college football powers to begin their season by feasting on a less competitive program (e.g., in 2017 see Clemson vs. Kent State, Penn State vs. Akron, and Oklahoma vs. Texas/El Paso).  The game provides a tune-up for the football power’s varsity players and a big paycheck for the weaker school.  Heads turned, however, when the University of Alabama announced this week that it will start its 2018 football campaign by traveling to New England to play the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  Initial reaction around the country was one of shock.  NFL commentator and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw exclaimed, “This is madness!  The average Alabama defensive lineman weighs over 360 pounds, while there is no RISD offensive lineman who tips the scales at more than 175, soaking wet.  Those Rhode Island kids are risking life-threatening injuries!”

Even PETA has entered the conversation, with its President Ingrid Newkirk remarking, “I know we’ve traditionally focused our attention on protecting non-humans, but this game would be an abomination.  Really, it’s no different than stuffing a litter of kittens into a burlap sack and driving over them — repeatedly — in a Cadillac Escalade.”

In response, RISD President Rosanne Somerson promised that the school would triple the number of ambulances on the sidelines during the game, and build what will amount to a MASH unit in the parking lot adjacent to the field.  “We’ll be ready for whatever happens, and all of the RISD players’ next of kin will be admitted free to the game.  We want them to be immediately available in the event of a worst-case scenario.”

When asked by reporters what his game plan will be for the contest, RISD football coach and part-time Ceramics Professor Jason Sedgeway commented, “On offense we’ll do the following: take a knee on 1st down, take a knee on 2nd down, take a knee on 3rd down, and then punt.  On defense we’ll just get out of the way as soon as they hike the ball.  Many of our players have asthma and use an inhaler, while several others suffer from anxiety disorders as a result of being bullied for their artistic interests when they were young.  Their safety is more important to me than the final score.”

For his part, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban views the match-up as “just another game,” a sentiment shared by his players.  Defensive linemen Ray-Bob Tucker and Bobby Ray Simms, affectionately known as ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two’ to Alabama fans, told reporters, “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is.  Our job is to find the person with the ball and stop him from moving forward.  If we do our job right, they won’t ever want to move that ball forward again.  Hell, they won’t ever want to touch that ball again.”

When asked why she would agree to schedule such a dangerous mismatch, President Somerson pointed out that “people don’t have a clue how difficult it is to raise funds for an arts school in today’s economic climate.  Quite frankly, we’re desperate, and we can’t rely on David Byrne to give us royalties from his Talking Heads albums forever.”

Las Vegas odds-makers have declined to issue a point spread for the game.


Awards Season

In a full-page announcement in the September 22nd issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Arbor Day Foundation congratulated over 250 colleges and universities for earning “Tree Campus USA” recognition.  Please put your leaves together and give these institutions some applause.

Not to be outdone, the Anheuser-Busch brewing company has taken the bold and controversial step of awarding its first Golden Keg of Excellence to the state whose college students consumed the most Budweiser beer per capita during the first three weeks of September 2017.  The winner, by a wide margin, was Florida, where the average student drank the equivalent of seven 12-ounce cans of Budweiser and/or Bud Light per day.  João Castro Neves, Anheuser-Busch’s North American CEO, gave a special tip of the mug to Florida State University, whose students led the nation with an average of over 10 cans per day.  Neves commented that “this achievement is all the more impressive — and inspiring — because it cuts across many demographic categories at FSU, including those that typically divide us as a nation: race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status.  For example, even FSU students who don’t have a working esophagus drink nearly 8 cans of Bud a day, a tribute to our company’s Intravenous Consumption Outreach Program that was launched last year.  And seeing cisgender and transgender kids all throwing up together at 3:00 am on a Sunday morning after a fraternity party makes me feel good about where we’re heading as a country.  As we’re fond of saying at Anheuser-Busch, “Black or white, gay or straight or whatever, we hurl as one.”

In recognition of FSU’s accomplishment, Anheuser-Busch is building a spectacular canal filled with extra foamy Budweiser Signature Draft that will wind its way throughout the Tallahassee campus, providing swan-boat shuttles for students, faculty, staff, and visitors.  Students will be able to dip their tankards into the canal and quaff with abandon as they travel to and from class.  Indeed, FSU will become the “Venice of the American South,” Neves promises.

Not surprisingly, Utah finished last in the Keg competition, hamstrung by its plethora of Mormon-dominated schools. “We understand the constraints that Utah is operating under,” Neves commented, but he had harsh words for New Hampshire, which came in next-to-last.  “You would think that a state that contains Dartmouth College, whose official motto is We’re rich, we’re cold, and we’re drunk,’ would perform with greater distinction, but it’s clear that students at the University of New Hampshire are not doing their part.  What’s up with that?”


72 Hours to a New Degree Program

As a Return-on-Investment mindset plows through higher education like Sherman’s 1864 March to the Sea, legislators, parents, and students are increasingly asking, “How will a bachelor’s degree in ________ translate into a a well-paying job after graduation?”  It’s not enough anymore to simply tell Art History majors that they can use their department’s extensive alumni network to obtain part-time employment arranging window displays of hand-painted postcards in a Wiscasset, Maine gift shop.

Colleges and universities are feverishly scrambling to come up with programs and majors that promise a more secure financial future to vocationally obsessed students and their families.  For schools that are struggling with this challenge, I offer the following 6-step plan for building a new degree program in less than 72 hours.  The plan is accompanied by a real-life example that can easily be generalized to other domains.

STEP 1Identify an activity that human beings are currently being paid to perform (e.g., cooking french fries at a fast-food restaurant).

STEP 2:  Think of every conceivable topic associated with this activity and develop one or more 3-credit courses for each topic.  Let’s pursue the french-fry example.

HS 101        The Potato from Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution

ECON 212   Tuber-Based Economies and the Irish Potato Famine

MATH 103  One Potato, Two Potato: Mathematics for French Fry Majors

SOC 489       Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head: Gender Politics in Popular Culture

ME 317         Scooping Dynamics in Fry-Bagging: Wrist Movements

ME 318         Scooping Dynamics in Fry-Bagging: Thumb Positioning

PHIL 233      Hand-Cut vs. Machine-Sliced: Current Debates

PS 304           Studies in Leadership: Ray Kroc

PHIL 610      Extra Salt, High Blood Pressure, and The Nicomachean Ethics of Consumer Choice

HUM 220      Curly, Krinkle-Kut, or Wedge?  New Directions in Fry Aesthetics

BIO 375         Heat Lamps, Hot Fries, and Cancer

PSYC 704       Taterphobia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

MUS 421        Spud Sounds: Dee Dee Sharp and “Mashed Potato Time”

STEP 3Take any 10 of the courses you’ve established and declare a major (treat remaining courses as electives).  Pay attention to sequencing (e.g., ME 317 should be a prerequisite for ME 318).  Be sure to select a catchy name for the major (e.g., BFF: Bachelor’s in French Frying)

STEP 4Put as many of these courses online as you can.  In general, students who pursue a BFF are not people you want to meet in person.

STEP 5:  Require an unpaid internship as part of the program in order to provide students with “real-world” experience (easy to accomplish with the BFF).

STEP 6:  You’re done!  Announce the program and watch the tuition roll in!

IMPORTANT:  Offering a BFF program will only lead to an increase in the wage rates of french-fry employees if it is accompanied by passage of state regulations that require all such workers to be certified, licensed holders of a BFF degree.  Contact your local legislator, as well as your school’s legal counsel, for lobbying advice. 


Branding Your School: A Better Way

If you spend much time with folks who work in offices that attempt to shape the public image of a college or university, you know that “branding” is a very big deal these days on many campuses.  Wait….let me capitalize, color, underline, and italicize that: BRANDING IS A VERY BIG DEAL Part of this task involves coming up with an inspiring, largely substance-free phrase that can catch a website reader’s attention — the sort of embedded, irresistible “hook” that pop songwriters strive for (“She loves you…yeah, yeah, yeah!”).  See if you can match the following 5 hooks with their home institutions:

1.  “An education greater than the sum of its parts”

2.  “Unconventional wisdom”

3.  “Where preparation meets opportunity, there is greatness.  Are you ready?”

4.  “Be the difference”

5.  “Uncover your passion”

A.  Marquette University

B.  University of South Carolina

C.  Bentley University

D.  Rice University

E.  University of Louisville

Not so easy, eh?  (Correct answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-A, 5-E)

The problem with these phrases is that they express sentiments that are pretty interchangeable, in the sense that just about any school would claim that it subscribes to them.  Therefore, as a public service I am offering a few statements that institutions can use to more transparently communicate what they’re all about.  I provide these free of charge.  No need to thank me.

Private, Elite Institutions:  “We don’t need you, and if you’re the sixth generation in your family to have your first name, you probably don’t need us.  But you’ve got to find something to do over the next four years while your trust fund matures, and our cafeteria receives top ratings from both the Michelin Guide and Zagat.  So, please come dine with us!”

Left-Leaning Institutions:  “Every human utterance and action — including this one — can be deconstructed in a way that will make you angry with the hegemonic patriarchy.  You bring the attitude, and we’ll provide the jargon.”

Military Institutions: “BOOM!  RAT-TAT-TAT.  BOOM!  You know what you want, and so do we.”

Fundamentalist Religious Institutions:  “We have the answer.  Really, we do.  We’re not kidding.  Why think, when you can believe?  Why go elsewhere and risk eternal damnation?”

Large State Universities with Division I Athletic Programs:  “Develop an identity that’s all your own by sitting in a cavernous stadium with 100,000 others, rooting for people you need binoculars to see.  Get skull-crushingly drunk — or not — after the game.  It’s your choice.  It’s your future.”

Right-Leaning Institutions:  “You don’t need to change.  Ever.  We guarantee it.”

Tuition-Driven Institutions on the Brink of Collapse:  “Please choose us.  Please, oh please, OH PLEASE choose us!  Bring 5 friends, and we’ll create a degree program for whatever you all want to do.  Just come!  Now!”

If your institution needs assistance in developing a website persona that will attract applicants like metal shavings to an industrial magnet, feel free to contact me.