Back to Basics

We all knew it was going to happen, the only question was when:

A university in the United States has dropped “critical thinking” from its list of core learning objectives for undergraduates. 

Beginning in the fall of 2018, Marquette University will only attempt to help students develop their ability to “feel.” 

In a press conference on Thursday, Marquette President Michael Lovell announced that getting students to think critically had simply become too difficult.  “Our faculty are exhausted and demoralized, and are desperate to grab some low-hanging fruit from the tree of learning.  Moreover, we don’t want to lose market share to competing schools that might take this action before we do.”

When Lovell was asked to distinguish between “critical thinking” and “feeling,” he responded, “If you assert that a pizza topped with BBQ chicken and pineapple is not really a pizza, that’s critical thinking.  But if you say, ‘I’m hungry’, that’s a feeling.”

Reporters wanted to know if this shift in institutional objectives would make it more likely that, in future Presidential elections, Marquette graduates would vote for candidates who couldn’t tell the difference between parsing a syllogism and using Cheetos to comb their hair. 

Lovell’s reply: “I’m hungry.”


The Final Five

Tear-jerking human interest stories and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are a match made in media heaven.  Who could resist Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago team?  Of course, broadcasters sweeten these accounts to the point where watching them is a lot like sucking grape-juice concentrate from a tube attached to a fraternity-party keg.  If you’re diabetic, you’ll die. 

So, we should probably all be grateful that Iowa’s Quenvy College didn’t make it past the tournament’s first round this year.  Quenvy’s starting lineup included the following players:

Toby Standingwater — Abandoned by his parents at a trailer park at the age of 2, Toby was raised by the park’s manager, Zeb Banks — a divorced, blind, one-legged war veteran who suffered from PTSD.  When Toby showed an interest in basketball in grade school, the impoverished but nurturing Zeb fashioned him a crude basketball by inflating a proctologist’s discarded rubber glove. 

“Dribbling that damn thing was challenge,” Toby recalls.  “But it taught me skills that made me the team’s go-to guy whenever we were trying to run out the clock.  I can dribble forever!

DeShawn Tyrone Demetrius Jackson — The only white Irish male with this name in human history, DeShawn was taunted mercilessly by both his white and black classmates when he was in elementary school.  He learned to play basketball when his teachers refused to let him do anything else. 

Delft Clog — At 8 feet, 10 inches, Delft is the tallest player in the NCAA.  Born in the Netherlands, he was accidentally injected with Human Growth Hormone when his parents took him for a measles vaccination at age 15 months.  A high school dropout, he was working part-time as a tree in a forest-themed amusement park outside of Amsterdam when a recruiter discovered him.  “Now I am no longer a tree,” Delft says proudly.  “No more dogs and cruel children peeing on my legs all the time.  Basketball saved me.  I am happy.”

Marvin “Mango” Gibson — At the beginning of 2015, Gibson was in the 40th year of 3 consecutive life terms at the Iowa State Penitentiary, having been convicted of robbing and killing 3 patients at the local hospice in Fort Madison.  (“Hell, I figured they were 90% dead anyway,” he claims.)

Then, in 2015, he attended a weekend screening of Space Jam in the prison library.  The inspirational basketball film featuring Michael Jordan “changed my life,” Gibson states.  “I knew I could turn things around if I could only get a chance to play.”  He petitioned the warden to be released on parole if he could gain acceptance at a nearby college, and the warden agreed.  Quenvy admitted him, and now, at age 61, he’s the team’s starting power forward.  “Sometimes my ankle monitor short-circuits the 30-second clock during a fast break, but otherwise it’s all good,” Gibson observes.

When he’s not in the classroom or the gym, Mango volunteers at the same hospice where he committed that heinous crime so many years ago.

The Spirit of Skip Blavens — The team’s captain, Skip lost his life just before the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, when he fell into a 250-foot-high grain silo on his family’s farm (see photo above).  The team voted not to replace Skip on the court.  As Toby Standingwater put it, “Skip was our spiritual leader, and we know his soul is with us out there, even if his body isn’t.  That’s good enough for us.  We call it our 4+1 offense.” 

During games, the team honors Skip by placing an unopened box of shredded wheat in the chair he would have occupied on the bench. 

The Quenvy Harvesters lost 126-52 to Tennessee in the tournament’s opening round this year, but as TV announcer Jim Nantz put it, “We know who the real winners are.”


Oxygen Matters

The impact of class size on course quality is a topic that continues to spark debate, as evidenced by a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “Are Small Classes Best?  It’s Complicated.”

Well, now the issue has become even more complicated.  On Tuesday, the University of Oklahoma revealed that last fall it began using the aggregate body weight of students enrolled in a course, rather than the total number of students in the class, to indicate class size.  For example, a class in which the average weight of the 30 enrolled students was 140 lbs. would have a class size of 4200 (30 x 140).  This would equal the class size of a course with 21 students who averaged 200 lbs. each (21 x 200). 

According to Oklahoma Provost Kyle Harper, “research has clearly demonstrated that the amount of ‘available oxygen’ in a classroom is a key variable that affects student learning, due to inhaled oxygen’s relationship to cognitive processing.  The bigger you are, the more of this scarce resource you consume as you breathe in class.  Thus, we feel an ethical responsibility to establish upper limits for all of our courses.  This approach gives us great flexibility, since we can achieve a target class size in a variety of ways.  Ten students who average 150 lbs. each represent a class size of 1500, but so do 5 students with a mean weight of 300 lbs.  The data show that our students’ grades have increased over 8% since this policy was put in place in September 2017.  It’s all about the oxygen.”

The Provost acknowledges that the strategy does have drawbacks.  “The incidence of eating disorders on campus has increased 15% since last fall.  If you gain weight during a course, and the class exceeds its overall size limit, you will be dismissed from the course with a grade of TM (Too Much).  Some students who have put on pounds during the semester have even asked classmates to voluntarily diet, so that the former’s weight gain won’t bump the class’s total size beyond its prescribed limit.  As you might imagine, these conversations can get pretty awkward.”

In general, however, the Provost is pleased with how the system is working.  “Our students are now much more aware of the consequences of inhaling in public spaces.  At Oklahoma, our new slogan is: We learn together, we play together, we breathe together’.  I like that.” 

Look Again…..

Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has come to the defense of Niall Ferguson, organizer of a recent Stanford conference on Applied History where all 30 presenters were white men.  In a Monday press conference, Tessier-Lavigne claimed that “those who have criticized the roster of presenters as ‘lacking diversity’ are looking at the world through a very narrow lens.”

Standing beside a poster board displaying photos of all the presenters, the President noted that “these scholars vary on a significant number of crucial dimensions.  For example:

— necktie vs. no necktie

— button-down collar vs. spread collar

— hair parted on the right, on the left, in the middle, or not at all

— facial expression: smiling vs. mildly constipated vs. ‘I’m passing a kidney stone’

— complexion: pinkish white, pasty white, ruddy white, greyish white, whitey white

“Of course,” said the President, “there are myriad ways in which these gentlemen differ that we cannot discern on the basis of photographs.  Some of them might prefer pesto on their baked salmon, while others would opt for a maple glaze.  Some might try to solve all the Across clues in the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle before proceeding to the Down clues, while others might reverse the order.  These differences matter.  And, let’s be honest, for all we know, a number of these guys may have started out life as biologically female.  I’m not saying that this is the case here, but take a really close look at those photos and draw your own conclusions.  I’ve drawn mine.” 

Well said, President Tessier-Lavigne.  Sometimes we fail to recognize the diversity that’s staring right at us. 

March Honesty

March Madness is upon us, serving as a reminder that when it comes to ethics, many athletic directors at Division I schools with high-profile sports programs for men face an unappetizing decision every day when they go to lunch:  Do I chow down at the septic tank or the compost heap?

It’s hard to overstate the level of stink generated when you blend, and vigorously stir, the NCAA, television revenue, willfully ignorant university administrators, academically unprepared/unengaged students, sports agents, and the lure of pro contracts.  What results is the industrial vat of corruption that is big-time college athletics.  “Hypocrisy” is much too tame a word to characterize this fetid stew. 

Finally, however, someone is taking action: the Southeastern Conference (SEC).  Beginning in fall 2018, the National Anthem at every regular-season football and basketball game in the SEC will be replaced by the following statement delivered, in person, by the President or Provost of the host institution:

“Greetings, fans.  We realize that the most talented athletes on this court (field) today have no intention of completing a college degree, and are taking courses that a paramecium could ace.  We told these gentlemen that this was okay with us when we recruited them.  We also know that administrators such as myself, who participate in this charade, will be taking a luge directly to Hell when we die, given that we are undermining the core educational values of the institutions we represent.  Yes, I will burn for eternity, ever-so-slowly, in the rotisserie-chicken oven of the Abyss.  I have sinned mightily and deserve no less.  But please bear in mind that I have embraced evil only because the hugging of goodness will never get us to the Sweet Sixteen in March. 

“Now, let’s make some NOISE!”

Not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.  Thank you, SEC. 


Ambassador of Touch

Harvard Government Professor Jorge Domínguez, accused of sexually harassing at least 18 women over a period of four decades, explained to reporters yesterday why he will retire from the University on June 30th:

“Constantly groping females is exhausting, especially when the gropees  resist, which, in my experience, they always do.  I’ve been harassing women for almost 40 years and, quite frankly, I’m tired.  I just don’t have the same level of energy now that I had in my 30’s and 40’s.  I’m over 70 years old, and I’m pooped.  It’s time to move on.  And I’ll be honest, it’s just not fun anymore.  The names I’m being called these days — “predator,” “Mr. Hands,” “scum bucket” — well, they are downright hurtful.  I don’t see myself in any of those labels.  I consider myself to be an ‘Ambassador of Touch’.” 

When asked by a reporter what he planned to do in retirement, Domínguez expressed surprise.  “You’re kidding, right?  You must have heard of Me, Tarzan, the Internet’s premier power-imbalance harassment website.  The simulations there are awesome, and it’s only open to Ivy League faculty with tenure.  My post-professor days are booked, pal!”

Sorry about that, Stanford and Chicago.


What God Hath Joined Together…..

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Daily Briefing” recently highlighted the merger of Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University as an indicator of the consolidation zeitgeist that is grabbing higher education by the tassels these days.  And the excitement is building.  Look for the following provocative partnerships to make headlines in the months to come:

U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and University of California, Berkeley — “This is a natural for us,” beams West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen.  “We’re starting a semester-abroad program next year, and for most of our cadets, walking the streets of downtown Berkeley will be like visiting the moon.”  The response of USMA students has been enthusiastic.  As one anonymous cadet commented, “do you have any idea how hard it is to get high-quality weed on our campus?”

For her part, Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ is definitely on board for the pending nuptials between the two institutions.  What benefits will her students derive from spending time at the Academy?  “Three things,” she says.  “Better posture, a better haircut, and knowing how to keep your damn mouth shut when someone in authority is telling you what to do.”

Bryn Mawr and Florida State University — “Our students have a tendency to take themselves way too seriously,” claims Bryn Mawr President Kimberly Cassidy.  “At Florida State, many of the students probably don’t even know how to spell ‘seriously’, and certainly they don’t use ‘patriarchal hegemony’ in everyday conversation the way our students do.  We want our young women to start having some FUN in college.  Why not try out for the Seminoles cheerleading squad?  Or throw up over the balcony at an off-campus fraternity party every once in a while!  It’s also the case that Bryn Mawr students tend to be disturbingly pale, regardless of their racial background.  At FSU, ‘Applying Cocoa Butter’ is a required one-credit course for all first-year students, not just for those who major in Tanning.  Go for it!  What’s not to love?”

What will Florida State undergraduates get out of this arrangement?  “Tutors,” according to President John Thrasher.  “We desperately need more tutors for our varsity athletes.  Over 60% of FSU’s budget is spent on tutors and flash cards.  If every Bryn Mawr student volunteered just one evening a week to our tutoring program, we wouldn’t have to offer so many low-challenge online courses in subjects like ‘Sock Sorting’, ‘Taking Selfies with Your Cat’, and ‘Breathing’.”

University of Notre Dame, Brigham Young University, and Yeshiva University — This union promises to be a blockbuster, and will probably not be finalized until late 2019.  According to Notre Dame President John Jenkins, “Our goal is to become higher education’s premier religious multiplex, bringing together in one magnificent institution the elements of faith that make each of our respective belief systems the wacky wonderlands of cognition that Catholics, Mormons, and Jews swear by.  We’ve already contracted with Ridley Scott and Martin Scorcese to co-direct an HBO mini-series — tentatively entitled Armageddon Rapture — that will capture the drama of faculty in our new Tri-Theology Department developing a unified core curriculum.  It will star Sigourney Weaver, Mandy Patinkin, and Mitt Romney.”

Stream, Baby, Stream.




Keep Staring…..

Auburn University made the front page of this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, but not in a good way.  With a title that conveys all the teasing luridness of a 50 Shades of Grey movie trailer — “Unrivaled Power: Inside Auburn’s Secret Effort to Advance an Athlete-Friendly Curriculum” — the lead article investigates the high percentage of male Auburn athletes majoring in Public Administration (PA), as well as the precipitous drop in PA enrollment that occurred once folks started sniffing around what many suspected was an academic dumpster.  (“Damn, this pulled-pork barbecue is rancid, Jesse!”)

However, there is a pungent question not addressed by the article:  If Auburn athletes are no longer majoring in Public Administration in large numbers, then what are they majoring in?  Well, according to Auburn President Steven Leath, the answer is……Orange.

That’s right, they’re majoring in the color orange.  Or, more precisely, burnt orange, which is one of Auburn’s two foundational school hues, the other being navy blue. 

Isn’t it a bit odd for a university to allow a student to major in a color?

Not at all, claims President Leath.  “Auburn has a prestigious Department of Art, and its interdisciplinary program in Orange Studies is world-renowned.  It has my full support.” 

The core courses that Orange majors take include the following:

ART 106 — Introduction to Intersectionality: Red + Yellow = Orange

HISTORY 331 — The Origins of “Orange”: Color or Fruit?

POLITICAL SCIENCE 215 — The U.S. Presidency in the 21st Century: White, Brown, Orange

ENGLISH 468 — Cheetos in 19th-Century British Fiction (online)

CIVIL ENGINEERING 821– Current Topics in Traffic Cone Design

ANTHROPOLOGY 514 — Seminar: The Lived Experience of Bolivian Pumpkin Carvers

PHILOSOPHY 162 — Carrots and Zen

Leath maintains that “these are not gut courses.  I audited Carrots and Zen last fall, and all I can say is: WOW!  Try staring at a carrot for 2 hours a day, every day, for 15 weeks.  If that doesn’t change your view of the world, nothing will.  Right after the course ended I went out and bought a rabbit.  My relationship with Flopsy is very special, but not in a way that would make anyone uncomfortable.”

This is one higher education scandal that appears to have had a happy ending.


Dream On…..

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “Keeping Tenured Professors Engaged,” a number of strategies are discussed, including peer-to-peer guidance and modifying the allocation of faculty’s responsibilities among teaching, scholarship, and service.  It’s unlikely, however, that any institution has been more creative in addressing this issue than Stanford University, which will initiate its Noble Slumbers program in September 2018. 

In a press conference held on Thursday, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne noted that “historically, Stanford has been a leader in research on the functions of sleep, as well as sleep disorders.  And, like other schools, we face the challenge of dealing with tenured faculty members in their late 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who, quite frankly, are sometimes no longer able to consistently ‘get the ball over the plate,’ if you know what I mean.  Increasingly, our students complain about professors who nod off while delivering lectures, resembling  horses that doze, standing in their stalls, before they’ve finished their hay.  This is an incredibly awkward situation when you have 300 students sitting in a large lecture hall.  It’s not unusual to have a student in the back of the auditorium yell, ‘Is he dead?  I’m pretty sure he’s dead.  If he’s dead, can we leave?’  Almost always, the answer to the first question is NO, and the professor is profoundly embarrassed.”

In the Noble Slumbers program, any tenured professor who is 55 or older can fulfill his or her teaching load by serving as a subject in a sleep study conducted by a Stanford researcher.  Four days a week the faculty member will come to campus at 9:00 am and go to bed in one of the University’s sleep labs.  At 3:00 pm he or she will be awakened and allowed to go home.

The offices of these professors will be assigned to adjunct faculty, so that the latter will no longer need to hold office hours in Stanford’s small number of uni-sex bathrooms scattered around the campus.  In the words of President Tessier-Lavigne, “This is a win-win!  No more faculty-student discussions of term paper topics while toilets flush — or even worse, don’t flush — in the background!”

Most of the tenured faculty who are eligible to participate in Noble Slumbers are excited at the prospect.  As Stanley Grosk-Yippen, a 73-year-old chemistry professor who hasn’t discovered a new element for the Periodic Table since 1981, observes, “I admit that my days as an academic wunderkind are in the distant past.  This new program will give me an opportunity to………….”


May the REM cycle be with you, Professor. 


Say What?

“We don’t like to brag, so we’ll let others do it for us.”

Thus begins the full-page advertisement for the University of California at Irvine in the February 9th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  The ad proceeds to reference high rankings for the school in both The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report before mentioning the “record-setting” number of applications it’s received this year.


It’s clear that UC-Irvine has taken the art of bragging to a new, post-modernist level.  It involves two easy steps:

STEP 1:  Claim that you’re not going to brag, and then…..

STEP 2:  Brag.

When asked to comment on this PR sleight-of-hand, the school’s Chancellor, Howard Gillman, was a bit sheepish.  “Ever since we stopped requiring our Communications staff to take an undergraduate course in Aristotelian Logic, and allowed them to substitute an accelerated online course, Reasoning for Marketers, we’ve had this problem.  At this point I’m not sure what to do.  I get caught in a Mobius strip of argument every time I try to engage our Strategic Communications leadership on the matter.  I think I’m making progress, and then find myself right back where I started.  I’ve got to stop smoking so much pot!

“Can we please talk about something else?”