“So the Bartender Says, ‘What’s Your Pleasure?'”

The fallout at Harvard from L’Affaire Gay continues.  On Wednesday, Harvard Divinity School announced the removal of one of the school’s most popular courses from its curriculum. 

“A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Mullah Walk into a Bar” (DIV 421) is an elective that has been offered at Harvard for decades.  DIV 421 focuses on the use of “pulpit humor” during religious services, and over the years it has featured guest speakers such as Billy Crystal, Joan Rivers, Ricky Gervais, and Whoopi Goldberg.  

According to Marla Frederick, Dean of the Divinity School, “this course is the latest casualty in the culture wars that plague our nation.  Last semester the instructor of DIV 421 told two classic liturgical jokes in class that several students found highly objectionable; the first was ‘Huns versus Nuns’ and the second was ‘When Allah Ate Challah’.  Rather than continue to risk a firestorm of controversy ignited by humorless dimwits following every class session, we have decided to eliminate the course entirely.  I must admit, I’m getting tired of dealing with this bulls**t.”

DIV 421 will be replaced by a new elective, DIV 428: “Sparkling or Tap?  Current Controversies in Baptismal-Font Water.”

 

Wordle 2024

If you’re looking for an innovative, engaging way to kick off your spring semester courses, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has a terrific recommendation: the Trigger Word Experiential Exercise (TWEE)

The mechanics of TWEE are simple and straightforward.  On the first day of class, you inform students that each one of them can select up to five traumatizing words and/or phrases that you promise never to use during the semester.  

Not to worry.  With the English language containing hundreds of thousands of words, you’ll have plenty of words left over to deploy in your lectures.  Naturally, students vary in terms of the specific words that can make them hysterically uncomfortable.  Here are the ones you are most likely to encounter, depending on the student subgroup:

FAR-RIGHT STUDENTS

  • “Equality”
  • “Trans”
  • “New York Times”
  • “Race”
  • “Racism”
  • “Enslaved person”
  • “Reparations”
  • “Immigration”
  • “Quinoa”
  • “Harvard”
  • “Reproductive rights”
  • “Mifepristone”
  • “Integrated swimming pools”
  • “Science”

FAR-LEFT STUDENTS

  • “Chick-fil-A”
  • “Meritocracy”
  • “Florida”
  • “Mississippi”
  • “Alabama”
  • “Texas”
  • “Legacy admissions”
  • “Orange”
  • “Hobby Lobby”
  • “Slave”
  • “SAT”
  • “IQ score”
  • “Elise Stefanik”
  • “Republican”

LAZY STUDENTS

  • “Due date”
  • “Assignment”
  • “Reading”
  • “Book”
  • “Article”
  • “Writing”
  • “Cognition”
  • “Analysis”
  • “Idea”
  • “Thought”
  • “Attendance”
  • “Exam”
  • “Essay”
  • “Work”
  • “Knowledge”
  • “Learning”

STEM MAJORS

  • “Feelings”
  • “People”
  • “Relationships”
  • “Emotions”
  • “Human”
  • “Literature”
  • “Touch”
  • “Lived experience”
  • “Eye contact”
  • “Foucault”
  • “Thou”

Finally, a fun way to get students involved in helping you help them inventory the nuggets of dread in their lives.  It’s TWEE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean’s List

With the holiday season just a few days away, “Best of the Year” compilations are accumulating faster than student requests for term-paper-deadline extensions.  It is in that spirit that University Life recognizes its five favorite films about higher education from 2023.

Grrrr…. Blinky, a therapy cocker spaniel at Middlebury College in Vermont, awakens one morning to find blood on its paws.  On the campus quadrangle a sophomore is lying in the snow, viciously mauled.  Blinky can only recall accepting an odd-tasting dog biscuit the night before from a mysterious man in a Patagonia windbreaker who claimed to be an adjunct professor.  A spine-tingling thriller, with a twist at the end involving a tattered copy of The Bridges of Madison County that will leave you speechless. 

Lived Experience — Michelle is a madcap post-modernist scholar at Auburn University who studies poetry as oppression.  At an end-of-semester holiday party she meets Ax, the defensive line coach of Auburn’s football team.  Sparks fly.  The strength of their physical attraction is matched only by their ideological antipathy.  They love each other.  They hate each other.  They love each other.  They hate each other.  A delightful romantic comedy, featuring a sex scene in a steamy locker room that will melt your contact lenses. 

Draw! — A faculty task force charged with revising the Core Curriculum at the University of Wyoming has reached an impasse: there’s not enough room in the Core for required courses in both Sociology and Political Science.  Rusty Dillard, chair of Sociology, and Monica Trusk, chair of Political Science, agree to settle the matter via a gunfight on Laramie’s Main Street.  Monica doesn’t reveal that she is blind in one eye as a result of a childhood accident involving her Ninja Barbie.  A taut, old-fashioned Western worthy of John Wayne.  You can almost smell the prairie dust on their boots.  

Academentia — Pervis Lofflin, the new President at Boise State University, has announced his commitment to using reason and logic to lead BSU to greatness.  The faculty union objects, and proceeds to take a vote of no confidence in the President.  The motion passes, 214-7.  Lofflin’s chronic migraine headaches begin to worsen, affecting his performance in the bedroom.  Felicia, his wife, takes a lover.  Heart-wrenching and profound. 

Trojan Horse — Every night she’s on duty, a deranged nurse in Lehigh University’s Health Services Center steams open 50 individual condom packets, uses a pin to poke a tiny hole in each Trojan, and then reseals the packets.  She deposits the damaged goods in a punch bowl in the Center’s waiting room.  Co-directed by Seth Rogan and Greta Gerwig, this is a thought-provoking examination of the consequences of untreated mental illness and the dangers of youthful lust. 

Happy viewing!

     

“Get Her Out of the Car! Get Her Out of the Car!”

Like passing motorists gawking at the fiery aftermath of a spectacular car crash, higher education pundits can’t seem to look away from the dumpster fire that was ignited last week when the Presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn testified before a Congressional committee.  If you close your eyes, you can still smell the burning tires.

Explanations abound for the Presidents’ failure to “read the room” as they answered the Committee’s questions.  Emerging from all this analysis are three factors that appear to have played a key role in severing the link between the brains and the mouths of these distinguished educators.

GRADE INFLATION:  Everyone knows that grade inflation is a serious problem on college campuses.  How could it not have contributed to this disaster?  A New York Times investigation reveals that all three Presidents believe that their IQs are at least 22 points higher than they actually are.  

STEFANIK DEVIL STARE:  New York Representative Elise Stefanik came out of the closet several years ago as a “Senior Succubus” in the Hudson River Valley Coven of Satan.  She regularly uses direct eye contact with her victims (people, pigeons, dogs, snails) to make them do her bidding.  Videos of the Congressional hearing clearly indicate that the pupils of Ms. Stefanik’s eyes shone bright red as she interacted with the Presidents. 

After commenting “one down, two to go” when the President of Penn resigned, Stefanik whispered to Marjorie Taylor Greene, “I will drink the blood of those other two b****es before the next full moon!”

CONTEXTUALITIS:  This is a chronic brain disorder — a COVID variant — that primarily afflicts the political left.  It renders individuals incapable of holding people accountable for their actions because of the need to consider context.  This is the major reason that liberals are five times more likely to die from spider bites than conservatives.  Victims of Contextualitis only see the elaborate web; they never notice the spider.  

Major takeaways from this embarrassing episode for college presidents:

— You’re not as smart as you think.

— Never look directly at a Republican when answering a question in public.

— Webs don’t build themselves. 

 

Watching Where You Step….

College presidents around the country are soiling their undergarments as they endeavor to issue solemn, noncontroversial pronouncements about the Israel-Hamas conflict.  Imagine walking blindfolded through a minefield while wearing clown shoes.  

University Life is here to help.  Choose any one of the following quotes as your official statement on the current crisis, and you won’t have to worry about being spat upon (or worse) at the upcoming holiday party on your campus.

“Uh-oh.  Things are bad right now.” Brief, pithy, and you can’t be accused of taking sides.  This is the gold standard for presidential utterances during tough times. 

“Noisy, gasoline-powered leaf blowers have no place in a civilized society.” — Can be used with or without an exclamation point.  The fact that this assertion has nothing to do with the hostilities in the Middle East is its primary virtue.  It draws the reader’s attention away from the contentious matter that’s getting everybody riled up these days.  The only constituencies that might object to this sentence are the Buildings and Grounds folks at your institution who hate raking.  Solution:  don’t send the message to them.  

“All we are saying….is give pizza a chance.” — Who doesn’t love John Lennon or a slice from Domino’s?  This exhortation will serve you well as long as you don’t recommend a topping or mention Yoko Ono. 

“Human suffering upsets me.” — Most people share this sentiment, and the few who don’t will respect you for “speaking your truth.”

“Et tu, Brute?” — You can never go wrong with a quote from Shakespeare.  This selection will do just fine.  

“One state, two states, three states, more?  How many states are worth fighting for?” — No one can resist an old-fashioned short poem that actually rhymes.  The advantage of this one is that you aren’t taking a stand.  You’re just asking a question, and in doing so you empower the reader.

Okay, college presidents.  It’s time to take off those clown shoes and stride with confidence across your domain.   

 

Speaking in Tongues….

In a November 15th press release, the Modern Language Association of America reported that enrollment in foreign-language courses in U.S. colleges and universities significantly declined from 2016 to 2021 (Chronicle of Higher Education, November 16th online).  

Experts note that there are a number of reasons for the decline.  Here’s what we know (percentage decreases are in parentheses):

FRENCH (-23.1%):  For decades, students took French because it was the language of seduction (e.g., Voulezvous coucher avec moi?”).  However, several studies have shown that it is the French accent that gets people into bed, not the words themselves.  As a result, interest in French courses has waned.  It is also the case that, increasingly, casual sex on college campuses requires only a minimal amount of preliminary conversation (“You wanna?”  “Um, Sure.”).  Elegant, seductive whispering just isn’t needed as much anymore.

CHINESE/MANDARIN (-14.3%):  With virtually all take-out menus in Chinese restaurants now available in English, student demand for instruction in this venerable language has plummeted.   

GERMAN (-33.6%):  The impact of social media and smartphones on the attention span of American students has made it impossible for them to learn lengthy German words like dralenstorfhausencracken.  You can’t communicate very effectively in Munich if your vocabulary is limited to frau and herr.  

PORTUGUESE (-21.8%):  With Russia having announced its plans to annex both Portugal and Brazil in early 2024 (“Our borders are threatened,” claims Putin), there won’t be much need for this language unless you are travelling to Mozambique or Cape Verde.  

JAPANESE (-4.6%):  For many years, most American students taking Japanese were under the mistaken impression that they were taking Chinese.  Ever since a New York Times investigation revealed that error, enrollment has dropped.

RUSSIAN: (-13.5%):  Speaking Russian is great when you’ve been drinking a lot of vodka and want to demonstrate bluster.  Unfortunately, as college students increasingly substitute hard seltzer for Russia’s national beverage, demand for its national language has taken a hit.  

SPANISH (-18%):  Now that the whole Lin-Manuel Miranda phenomenon has run its course, interest in Spanish has slipped.  The success of Bad Bunny has not been sufficient to offset this decline.

ITALIAN (-20.4%):  Once researchers discovered that nearly 85% of all Italian communication takes place through hand gestures, the need to know the actual words became much less pressing.  

LATIN (-21.5%):  Except for Vladimir Putin, nobody says “Veni, Vidi, Vici” anymore.  

ARABIC (-27.4%):  Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) remain very popular.  The language, not so much.

As Ron DeSantis is fond of asserting, “if you can’t say it in English, it’s probably not worth saying.”

 

 

Double Take….

TRUE FACT:  The Chronicle of Higher Education is not known for the amount of female cleavage it displays in a typical issue.  But that all changed on November 10, 2023, when a full-page photo of Dr. Wendy Osefo, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, accompanied an article that discussed her role in the “The Real Housewives of the Potomac,” a reality-TV show on Bravo.  Yowsa.

This is just the latest case of college professors dipping their toes — or, in the case of Dr. Osefo, something else — into the deep end of the pool of commercial television.  How many of the following shows do you remember?

UNDERCOVER NUN (1961-1963, CBS):  In the fall of 1961, Tamara Froxel, a Professor of Religious Studies at Wesleyan University, entered the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.  She was not a nun, but pretended to be one.  

Wearing a bodycam disguised by her wimple, Dr. Froxel recorded the daily routines of the Abbey’s residents.  Because these cloistered women did not watch TV, they had no idea they were becoming famous.  

UNDERCOVER NUN was cancelled after two seasons.  According to the show’s producer, “eventually, people got tired of watching quiet women bake bread, can preserves, and gaze upward during prayer.  Forty-six episodes, and not one pillow fight at bedtime.  Very frustrating.”

TENURE ISLAND (1974, ABC):  The series began with 12 full professors from colleges around the country being parachuted onto a remote island in the South Pacific.  

By Day 10 they had all perished, having starved to death during a protracted community meeting in which a filibuster by a portly humanities professor from Clemson blocked a vote on a cannibalism proposal.  

“The show was an absolute disaster,” lamented its executive producer.  “We had no idea how clueless tenured professors would be when it came to surviving in the wild.”

The final episode of TENURE ISLAND has never been broadcast.  

DAM! (2002, National Geographic Channel):  In 2001, Nelson Crossfork, a Vanderbilt University anthropologist, spent 8 months as a member of a beaver colony in Caribou, Maine.  During that time he helped his fellow beavers build an elaborate dam on the Aroostook River. 

This limited series documented Crossfork’s arduous journey to becoming accepted by the beavers, culminating in a secret beaver-flap ceremony in which he was inducted into the Aroostook Order of the Overbite. 

In 2004, Crossfork returned to the colony, where he currently lives.  He works as a policy advocate for the Order of the Overbite, lobbying the Maine State government for beaver-friendly legislation. 

His memoir, “Beaver Boy,” will be published in 2025 by Simon & Schuster.   

Coming in March 2024 on Netflix:  WHO TOOK MY TOWEL?  THE REAL ADJUNCTS OF UC-BERKELEY’S STEAM ROOM.

 

Brand Me….

Institutions of higher education have embraced branding with the ferocity of a sweaty, sumo-sized Aunt Ethel giving a full-body hug to her pierced-nostril niece at Thanksgiving dinner at Cracker Barrel.  Consider a few of the ad taglines in the October 27th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Fearlessly Forward” (University of Maryland); “Excellence Is Earned” (Rutgers); “Bold Hearts. Brilliant Minds.” (UC-Riverside); “Where Minds Meet Machines” (Stevens Institute of Technology).      

2024 will welcome a new batch of in-your-face slogans.  Here’s a sampling of what’s in the pipeline for January, according to Ad Age magazine:

“We’re Rich.  We’re STINKIN’ Rich.  And We’re Not Apologizing.”  (Harvard)

“God Wants You.  Here.”  (Oral Roberts University)

“Where Interpersonal Skills Go to Die”  (California Institute of Technology)

“We Do Football.  Full Stop.”  (University of Alabama)

“Even Our Underwear is Tweed”  (Yale)

“Colder Than a Polar Bear’s Ass.  Deal With It.”  (University of Alaska)

“We Give You the Keys to a Freakin’ Fighter Jet, Bro!”  (Air Force Academy)

“Protest Anything.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  We Don’t Care.”  (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

“Enjoy the Deep South.  In New Jersey.”  (Princeton)

“Education.  Plus Potatoes.”  (University of Idaho)

“Major in SPF 50”  (University of Miami)

“We Supply the Firearm.  You Decide How to Use It.”  (Texas A&M)

“Shave Your Legs.  Or Not.”  (Wellesley College)

“The Virgin Mary.  In Residence.  Every Day.”  (Catholic University of America)

“Other Schools Suck.  We Don’t.”  (Bucknell University)

College presidents, it’s time to check your brand.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Lemonade

It is probably true that “nobody likes writing tenure letters,” as the headline asserts in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on the practice of asking external reviewers to evaluate the work of tenure applicants (October 23rd online). 

Of course, writing a favorable letter for a highly qualified candidate is fairly easy.  But what if the individual’s record has been abysmal?  Do you give a negative review, one that could put a final nail in the coffin of the candidate’s application and relegate him or her to a future haunted by PTSD, substance abuse, and the inability to put food on the table for one’s innocent offspring?

If you are a reviewer who is averse to consigning your underwhelming colleagues to such a fate, do not despair.  It is possible to apply a positive spin to the most dismal of raw data.  Consider the following letter, which helped secure tenure at the College of William & Mary several years ago for an assistant professor.  The names of the candidate and the reviewer have been redacted to protect their privacy. 

Dear Tenure and Promotion Committee:

At first glance, the performance of Professor __________ over the past six years appears deficient, perhaps even laughably bad.  However, a closer, more contextually sensitive look at his record reveals a different story. 

Scholarship:  It is true that Professor __________’s only publication during those six years was a Letter to the Editor of the local newspaper, in which he urged city officials in Williamsburg to put up a stop sign at the corner of Jefferson Davis Highway and Route 417.  But take note: following the installation of the requested sign, accidental pedestrian deaths at that intersection decreased by 56%, more than offsetting the 34% increase in intentional gun homicides at that location during the same period.  (The latter outcome reflects the relative ease of shooting someone from a vehicle that is not moving.)  How many other tenured faculty members at your institution can claim to have saved so many lives?  Don’t these numbers reflect the true “impact factor” of Professor __________’s work?

Teaching:  Yes, Professor __________’s student evaluations suggest that he is one of William & Mary’s most inept instructors.  And it is also the case that his syllabi are largely incoherent, filled with incorrect dates (October 34th?  Durando 12th?) and puzzling assignments for courses that are supposedly in English Literature (“Your DNA saliva samples are due on November 4th”).  He often delivers entire lectures in pig Latin, and routinely covers classroom windows with a black tarp in order to prevent “Croatian sterilization rays” from infecting students’ genitalia.  Not a pretty picture. 

But consider this: there is much to be learned from a bad example.  Students who take Professor __________’s courses develop a heightened appreciation for the good teaching that other professors at William & Mary demonstrate.  Result: the overall status and prestige of your school is enhanced.  

Service to the Institution:  Professor __________ has only served on one committee at William & Mary: the Therapy Dog Review Council.  This body evaluates the performance of all therapy canines that are deployed in the campus library during the stress-filled two weeks at the end of every semester.  Records indicate that he only attends meetings that take place during the lunch hour, and only when a meal is provided.  On several occasions he has been censured by the Council for calling a dog a “bitch.”  

Nevertheless, his contributions to the Council’s work have been impressive.  For example, incidents in which therapy dogs bite students have declined by 26% since Professor __________ recommended tranquilizing them (the dogs, not the students) prior to petting sessions.  

Conclusion: In my view, Professor __________’s accomplishments at William & Mary clearly call for the awarding of tenure.  Just do it.   

Sincerely, 

_____________________________, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of British Literature, University of __________

Sometimes, lemons can produce champagne, not just lemonade.  Embrace the challenge.  Start writing.   

 

“Where’s That Smell Coming From….?”

Lincoln Christian University (LCU) in Illinois will cease operations at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, with its seminary moving to Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri (Inside Higher Ed, October 13th). 

There’s only one problem: lingering aura.

According to Nelson Buckridge, LCU’s Director of Buildings and Grounds, “as the years pass, any seminary worth its salt will develop a divinely inspired ambience that suffuses the entire campus.  It doesn’t disappear when the institution shuts down.  This aura can hang around for decades, evolving into a fatal miasma under certain circumstances.”

Buckridge warns that such a miasma will indeed materialize if the site’s new occupants are in league with Satan.  “Just try putting a casino, strip club, Walmart, or Chick-fil-A in that location and see what happens.  People will start dropping dead faster than a barnful of horseflies hit by a mushroom cloud of Raid.  It won’t be pretty.

“Let nature reclaim LCU’s land for a couple of generations before installing a new tenant,” recommends Buckridge.  “And then start with a Ben & Jerry’s.”