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.


Domino Effect?

With statues of controversial figures disappearing from U.S. campuses and public squares faster than flat-screen TVs at a Walmart during a Black Friday sale, commentators are wondering whether this movement threatens to become a mania.  Three recent examples:

At the University of Alabama, a bas-relief of President Dwight D. Eisenhower was removed when it was discovered that he had been a carrier of seriously bad breath.  Recently unearthed correspondence authored by John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, claims that the President’s exhaled air “was vile enough, and strong enough, to melt the antlers of a moose.”  According to a University spokesperson, “We have a School of Dentistry here at Alabama.  What sort of message are we sending students if we continue to honor someone who failed to practice good oral hygiene?”

The Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine has taken down a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt from its rotunda.  This follows a raucous protest at Tufts by PETA members, who maintain that Mrs. Roosevelt hated kittens.  Their accusation is lent credence by the memoirs of Roosevelt’s close friend, journalist Lorena Hickock, who wrote, “I once observed Eleanor cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West when she tossed Mr. Snuffles, her daughter’s three-legged cat, into a swimming pool at the Roosevelt’s estate in Hyde Park.  Franklin had to use a net to save the drenched tabby.”  In a press release, Tufts asserted that “we cannot afford to have our distinguished Veterinary School associated with this type of behavior.  It would be an insult to both cats and amputees.”

Perhaps most surprising, the University of Miami, at the request of its Athletic Department, has closed its grotto and shrine dedicated to Pope John Paul II.  Hurricanes baseball coach Theodore “Spunky” Wizmer explained: “Just last week we found out that the Pope was an early supporter of the Designated Hitter rule in major league baseball.  Well, the DH rule sucks!  It has ruined the American League!  Pitchers should have to bat, just like everybody else. Sorry, JP, you’ve got to go.  We plan to re-name the shrine in honor of Barry Bonds, a man who never took a designated swing in his career.”

Stay tuned.



What Hath Harvard Wrought?

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust lobbed a hand grenade into the foxhole of higher education yesterday when she announced at a press conference that the University would be giving away half of its $35 billion endowment over the next five years.  The reasons for this dramatic action?  One is lack of space.  Faust revealed that “our entire endowment is held in the form of cash, mainly in $10’s and $20’s, that is kept in an underground storage facility in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  We are simply running out of room for all this money, and we don’t want to purchase another facility. 

“The second reason is that we are so filthy, steaming rich that it’s starting to make our Board of Overseers nauseous, and this is a group that has always been comfortable with obscene wealth.  At our February Board meeting in Port-au-Prince, breakfast croissants were served on the same plates used by King Louis XIV at Versailles in 1684, and the filet mignon we had for dinner came from cattle that had graduated from Phillips Andover Academy.  After showering every morning, Board members dried themselves by rolling around naked in 17th-century porcelain bathtubs filled with tranquilized alpacas.  This level of luxury and indulgence is just unseemly, or at least it now feels that way to the Board.  So, we are going to do something about it.  In January 2018 Harvard will present the Governor of Puerto Rico with a check that will save the island from bankruptcy.  In April, we will celebrate National Library Week by paying the accumulated late fees of all patrons at the Boston Public Library.  And in July we will fund the production of the first feature-length action thriller focused on the plight of contingent faculty in the United States.  Entitled Non-Tenure Track,  it will star Nicole Kidman as a full professor at UC-Berkeley and Will Smith as her boyfriend, an adjunct who teaches at various community colleges in the Bay area.  When an 8.3 earthquake devastates the region, Smith’s 1984 Datsun slides into a newly created ravine in Oakland and leaves him at the mercy of a severely compromised public transportation system.  As he attempts to make his way to Kidman, who is trapped in a flooding steam tunnel underneath the Berkeley campus, Smith loses an arm to a leopard that has escaped from the San Francisco Zoo, which has been reduced to rubble.  Lacking health insurance, he must treat the injury with baby wipes.  When Smith finally reaches Kidman, she informs him that her parents would never allow her to be rescued by a man who is untenured, and they both drown in the steam tunnel.  All proceeds from this film will be used to purchase dry-erase markers for adjunct faculty nationwide.”

Reactions to Faust’s announcement from college and university leaders  around the country have been muted.  At Stanford, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said that Harvard’s decision was “a risky one,” but that he planned to see Non-Tenure Track when it was released.  Haywood Stensen, Interim Provost at Furry Lake Community College in Bozeman, Montana, remarked that “Harvard’s action is not really relevant to us; financially, they live in a different world.  I can access Furry Lake’s total endowment using the “Fast Cash” option at my local ATM.  But I’m definitely looking forward to checking out that movie.  Nicole Kidman rocks!


Welcome to University Life!

Universities are funny places. I was a professor for 41 years, and most people say I’m a funny guy, but I’m not nearly as funny as a college or university campus on a typical day. Now that I’m retired, I need to keep busy so I don’t spend an undue amount of time lamenting the fact that I never pursued my original career goal of becoming a vegetarian. Ergo, I’ve decided to fill the space between date of retirement and onset of dementia with University Life, a humor blog devoted to institutions of higher education. From time to time I will post something that I hope you find amusing and perhaps even thought-provoking, though the former will take precedence over the latter. I’m not trying to reproduce here the essay sections of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Elsewhere on this page there should be a place to subscribe (for free) to University Life. Subscribers will be notified whenever there is a new post, enabling them to put aside less important matters at that moment (e.g., going into labor, doing their job) in order to read University Life.

University Life does not have a Comments section. There are just too many people out there for whom this blog might serve as a projective ink blot, reminding them of kindergarten traumas involving juice boxes squished into their heads by playground bullies and deranged classroom aides. However, if you would like to suggest a topic for University Life, feel free to email me at mmorris@newhaven.edu. If I use your topic, you’ll be acknowledged (if you wish) when I write about it.

Well, there you have it. Welcome to University Life! — Mike Morris

The Syllabus, Then and Now

During my undergraduate years in the late 1960s the typical course syllabus was majestic in its authoritarian simplicity. For example, see below:

ENGLISH 261: Perspectives on Dickens
Fall 1968
Professor V. Sternhaven
Office: 217 Bixby Annex
Office hours: Wednesdays 2:00 – 2:30
and by appointment

Required Reading
Dickens, Charles.  Everything He Wrote.

2 analytical papers and 1 in-class essay exam (Exam answers must be written in Latin), each worth 30% of your grade

The remaining 10% of your grade will be determined by my assessment of your attitude. HINT: Don’t whine or otherwise exhibit jerk-like behavior.

Attendance Policy
Attend every class. If you miss a class, your course grade will be reduced by a full grade unless you provide an acceptable reason for your absence. PLEASE NOTE: There are no acceptable reasons for your absence.

Extra Credit Work
There is none.

Make-Up Exam
See policy for Extra Credit Work.

In recent years, however, the syllabus has evolved into an excruciatingly detailed contract between labor (students) and management (the professor, as well as every academic administrator above the professor in the university hierarchy). Instructors weave an elaborate spider web of interconnected course goals, objectives, activities, and outcomes designed to keep accrediting bodies at bay. Although the implicit goal of Perspectives on Dickens at Princeton might be to “facilitate the formation of mutually beneficial friendship networks among privileged students that can be utilized after graduation for employment purposes,” this message would probably need to be massaged a bit before it’s ready for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. On the other hand, professors at non-elite institutions face the challenge of articulating what some might characterize as less-than-ambitious visions for their courses: “By the end of this course, students will have read at least half of one novel by Dickens, OR viewed, in its entirety, a filmed version of one of his works. Students will be able to use the word ‘Dickens’ in a sentence and identify which one of the following characters appeared in Great Expectations: Chance the Rapper, Odell Beckham, Miss Havisham, Adele.”

Of course, what has truly transformed the syllabus into the document I love to hate is the necessity of including within it a host of you-can’t-sue-me-now university policies. A delineation of these policies can easily take up more than half the length of the syllabus. Within a decade most schools will be using a variation of the following template:

ATTENDANCE: It would be nice if you came to class, but I know you’re busy. If you miss more than 50% of our class meetings, it could affect your grade. I’m not saying it will affect your grade, but it could. However, if you never show up, your grade will almost certainly suffer. Perhaps an online section of this course would be better for you.

GRADING: In this course you can choose to be graded on your performance or on your desires. Please let me know the option you prefer by Week 3 of the semester. If you select desires, be sure to indicate the grade you wish to receive, and why. I will do my best to accommodate you. Grades of A+ are only available to students who pick the performance option, except in special circumstances. Please contact the University’s Office for Planned Giving to discuss those circumstances.

INCOMPLETES: A grade of INCOMPLETE will be given if you don’t finish all of your assignments. The INCOMPLETE will be converted to a grade of B once you turn in your work, or once you stop living, whichever comes first.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Please do not plagiarize or otherwise cheat during the course. I realize that sometimes one’s options are limited because you’ve run out of time on an assignment, you walk into an exam unprepared, or you’re just not very smart. It happens. In these situations cheating may indeed be the only viable path if you wish to pass the course. If you find yourself in this fix, please contact me and we’ll work something out that doesn’t involve cash or sexual favors, but could involve washing my car. Also keep in mind that there are worse crimes than cheating. Don’t beat yourself up.

POSITIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: Uttering a racial, ethnic, religious, or sexist slur in class is generally unacceptable, unless the person you’ve targeted has done something that’s really uncool, or is seriously overweight. There’s so much hate in the world these days. Please don’t contribute to it unless you have to. OK?

End of rant. May your Fall 2017 semester be everything you hoped for.