Flush Renaissance

With many state legislatures reducing appropriations for higher education at an alarming rate, universities around the country are searching for creative ways to finance the upgrading of their crumbling physical infrastructures.  Leading the way is Louisiana State University.  In 2017, the World Health Organization declared that 72% of LSU’s bathrooms had achieved CODE RED status, meaning that the unhygienic conditions in these units could easily support the growth of Ebola viruses as large as a horse’s foreleg.  In the words of Tedros Adhanom, WHO’s Director-General, “that’s not good.  If one of those toxic bundles got loose, the entire population of the LSU campus could bleed out in a week, and the rest of the state’s residents would be wearing hazmat suits until 2050.”

Not content to sit on their germ-covered hands and wait for this epidemic to occur, LSU has become the first university in the nation to use the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform to pay for the rehabilitation of its bathrooms.

According to F. King Alexander, the school’s President, “we’re asking folks to invest in the bladders and bowels of the LSU community.  A $20 donation can purchase thirty 1000-sheet rolls of toilet paper, a necessity we haven’t been able to afford since 2015.  With a $50 gift we could buy three toilet seats.  LSU hasn’t had a functioning toilet seat since 2012.  We tried replacing them with extra-large cinnamon bagels from the cafeteria, but that was a disaster.  Trust me, you don’t want to know why.  

“And we definitely need new plumbing.  Flushing the toilet in our bathrooms is like playing Poop Whac-A-Mole.  What goes down in one bowl comes back up in another, just three stalls away.  Hell, we don’t even have three bucks for duct tape to repair cracks in the urinals.”

LSU hopes to raise at least $7 million in the first year of its Kickstarter campaign, which will operate under the slogan, “Join the Stream Team.”  Donors who give $100 (“Golden Club” members) will have a small, rust-resistant nameplate with their initials placed in a urinal on the campus.  Those who contribute $5000 will have a bathroom stall named in their honor, which will feature the donor’s full name and hometown in platinum on the door.  “We’re going first class,” says Alexander.

John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s governor, is enthusiastic about the Stream Team initiative.  “I love this school’s can-do attitude.  Here’s my 50 bucks. Sign me up for a dozen mango-scented urinal cakes!”

We smell progress. 

Sorry, Not This Year……

Elite colleges and universities take pride in their low acceptance rates.  Indeed, achieving rates in the single digits has been known to make admissions directors scream louder — in ecstasy — than a howler monkey during foreplay. 

And now this: William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard, announced at a press conference on Tuesday that his university had accepted no one for the fall of 2018.  That’s right — an acceptance rate of zero.

Fitzsimmons noted that this year’s applicant pool of nearly 43,000 was the most highly qualified in the school’s history.  However, Harvard wanted to send a clear message that it was no longer simply seeking to enroll “the best of the best.”  As he put it, “we’ve decided to accept only the best of the best of the best.  We’re not looking for the inspirational high school valedictorian with perfect SATs who was raised by wolves in a dumpster next to a razed Wendy’s in the inner city.  Hell, kids like that are everywhere these days.  What we want are the kids who were abandoned by those wolves, and who then had to home-school themselves in the street while discovering a cure for pancreatic cancer using nothing but tweezers and a one-legged Norway sewer rat.  We’re all about performance, not just promise.”

When a reporter asked the Dean about the financial implications for Harvard of not accepting an entering class in 2018, he scoffed.  “Are you kidding me?  We’re not some tuition-driven trailer park.  God actually borrowed money from us last year to remodel his deck overlooking the firmament.”

What about all those highly qualified applicants who were turned away?  “Not a problem,” says Fitzsimmons.  “We encouraged them to attend a safety school like Yale, Princeton, or Williams for a couple of years and then reapply to us.  We’ll even accept a few transfer credits from those places, though we need to be careful, because students occasionally try to sneak in courses that were not taught by Nobel Prize winners.  What’s up with that?”

As the press conference came to a close, the Dean was asked if he thought a 0% acceptance rate might be viewed by the public as the sign of an insufferably snobbish, narcissistic institution.

“I certainly hope so.”

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.”