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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the category “academia”

Choosing a College

By the way, a great measure of whether a school (or a department) is worth attending is what happens after graduation. If professors just forget about their students’ existence two minutes after the graduation ceremony, make no effort to place them in jobs, don’t forward information on employment opportunities, don’t speak to local employers about the graduates, etc. – that’s not a good school.

Our graduation ceremony took place in early May, and since then, I’ve been doing a lot of this kind of work. Everybody should try to locate a recent graduate of their department (this is super easy to do through LinkedIn) before choosing a college to attend and ask how often the school has been in touch for anything other than requests for money.

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Who Needs to Get Rid of Older Academics?

Each day brings yet another completely bizarre and profoundly idiotic solution to the non-existent “crisis” in higher education. Instead of straining their brains and realizing that the calls for profound changes in our system of higher education are part of the anti-intellectual trend of peddlers of stupidity as a life goal, my fellow academics show just how servile they can be by inventing ridiculous self-castrating methods of pruning everything that’s of value on American campuses.

See, for example, the following disturbing article published at Inside Higher Ed. This online resource (which is supposed to be written for academics by academics) has turned into one of the biggest academia-bashers in existence. It is now proposing that colleges should get rid of scholars over the age of 65 because they cost too much and can easily be replaced with new PhDs:

First, these individuals are expensive. They are generally tenured, often hold endowed chairs, and are at the top of the faculty compensation scale. While they might be great teachers and/or researchers, they can often be replaced by a young faculty member at less than half the cost.

Most of us leading colleges and universities must consider the expense of those who continue to want to be employed after age 65 because of the national attention on the cost of higher education and faculty compensation is often the largest slice of that cost.

I have go to wonder whether the person who wrote this is simply dishonest or painfully stupid. This national obsession with the supposedly sky-high salaries of college professors is based on a myth that people like the author of this piece promote. Compared to the huge amounts of money wasted on college athletics, remuneration of useless overpaid administrators and the maintenance of silly fraternities and sororities, the salaries of experienced academics are a drop in the bucket. The benefits of having people with decades of experience in teaching and research on campus, however, are enormous. I have two 60+-year-old colleagues whose assistance in navigating the academia in general and my institution in particular has been incredibly helpful. A university simply cannot function without  constant interactions and exchanges of knowledge and experience between academics who are at the very beginning of their journey as scholars and more experienced, seasoned academics.

The reason why this completely fictitious concern over “hugely expensive” older scholars is being manufactured is simply that older tenured scholars fight for the rights of academics and students very effectively. At my university, I have witnessed several highly effective campaigns in defense of the rights of college professors spearheaded by 60+-year-old scholars whose decades of experience in conducting (and winning!) such fights were both helpful and inspiring.

The author of the article (who, as you might have guessed already, is a college administrator) makes the following suggestions aimed at squeezing mature academics out of their universities:

  • Give up tenure at age 65 — a move that ensures younger superstar faculty will have an opportunity to stay at the institution.
  • Relinquish endowed chairs or professorships. In this case, time is not on a younger professor’s side. If they cannot see a path to promotion they will go elsewhere.
  • Take a reduced salary based on a pay scale similar to incoming faculty. Yes, when you play with salary questions, you’re playing with fire, but in most cases living expenses go down as we educate our kids and pay off homes. And Mick Jagger solo makes less than the Stones. Much less.

The fake concern over the younger faculty members is especially offensive to me. Surely, this administrator is aware that what destroys tenure positions is not the existence of older academics but the creeping adjunctification of American campuses. Transform all adjunct positions into tenure-tracks and you don’t have to push out older scholars by humiliating them.

Americo Castro, one of the greatest scholars of Spanish history and literature, wrote his The Structure of Spanish History at the age of 69 and his Out of the State of Conflict at the age of 76. Benedict Anderson, one of my favorite historians, published Debating World Literature at 68. Fernando Lázaro Carreter, a great linguist, published his hugely popular defense of the Spanish language against those who torture it at the age of 74.

As a younger professor in whose name this administrator claims to speak, I can assure everybody that the last thing I need to happen for my career advancement is the massive removal of older academics from the campus. There are some dead-weights in academia, for sure, but I have never seen any connection whatsoever between being a dead-weight and being of a certain age.

Academic Job Search: How to Write a Cover Letter?

I know that this post is not appearing in a very timely manner since people normally go on the job market in the Fall or, at the very latest, in winter. But I think it’s still a good idea to make this information available to those who are preparing to start looking for a job in academia in the near (or not so near) future. The post will be long and since it is hardly of much interest to people who are not on the academic job market, I will put half of it under the fold. (There are funny stories under the fold, though.)

Now that I am “a real professor”, I have started working on search committees that evaluate candidates for academic positions. This has been an eye-opening experience for me. If only I had understood how the academic job search works from the inside (i.e. from the perspective of the employers), my own job search would have been completely different. Of course, I ended up with the job of my dreams, but that was sheer luck. As I’m working on my search committees, I’m realizing how horribly and frequently I screwed up during my time on the market.

In this series of posts, I want to share the insights that I have gleaned into the academic job search process with my readers. To begin with, I will discuss how one should write a cover letter. What you need to remember is that the market is over-saturated and search committees have to sift through hundreds of portfolios (or dozens if the search is extremely specific, say a Chair search.) This is why it is not a good idea to write a 6-page-long description of your intellectual journey. This is what I did and only now have I started to realize what an irredeemable idiot I was. That cover letter would have made an excellent blog post but, in its capacity as a cover letter, it sucked something fierce.

A cover letter should be tailored very specifically to each job announcement you are responding to. I know it’s an incredible drag but that’s the only way. Remember that members of a search committee have a list of requirements for their position, and as they sift through 300 portfolios, they tick off boxes on that list. You win if you make that process as easy as possible for them. This will allow you to make the short list of people who will be interviewed by phone (Skype, at the MLA, etc.)

So how do you tailor your cover letter in practice? Here is a sample job announcement that I have created:

Assistant Professor, tenure-track. A PhD in hand or an ABD near completion. The Department of Modern Languages and Literature at Illinois State University in Alton is looking for a specialist in French Literature with a specialization in the History and Culture of Quebec and a demonstrable capacity to teach courses in Advanced French Grammar and Conversation. An active research agenda is a must. Native or near-native command of French. An experience supervising language instructors is highly desired. Needs to be familiar with ACTFL and NCATE guidelines for proficiency testing.

You need to pick this job announcement apart and make a list of criteria this department is looking for in a candidate. Then, you address each criteria in your cover letter. If you can address them in the order in which they appear in the announcement, that’s even better.

Read more…

The Innovative University by Christensen and Eyring: A Review

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the purported crisis within the system of higher education in North America. Every Tom, Dick and Henrietta think they have a recipe that will immediately cure the academia of all its ills. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Christensen and Eyring is one of such attempts to offer a recipe for a cure. In reality, however, the book is more of a symptom of what is wrong with the system than anything else.

Altogether, the book offers a lot of long-winded sentences that state not just the obvious but the painfully obvious. It is, however, very short on substance. The only practical suggestions it makes for the improvement of the higher education system are extremely trivial and well-known to anybody. Moreover, the absolute majority of universities that I am familiar with have been putting these suggestions in practice for a while.

A significant chunk of the book (about 150 pages)is taken up by a very detailed recounting of the history of Harvard University. Since the history of Harvard can be found in a variety of other sources, I felt that its role in THE INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY was that of padding. Overall, the original content of the book could be summarized in 3 or 4 sentences. The rest is just repetitive, tedious padding.

The things I mentioned, however, are not the worst part of the book. What is really annoying about it is the attempt to analyze the university as if it were a business. Students are referred to as student-customers. Christensen directly compares selling education to selling a box of cereal. And he pushes this “idea” as insistently as he does every other inane observation he makes. With a naivete that makes one feel vicarious embarrassment for him, this author almost exclaims on a variety of occasions, “This strategy works if you want to sell cereal. So it has to work when applied to the system of higher ed, too!”

If anything will end up destroying the American system of higher education – which, in my opinion, is without a doubt the best system of higher education in the world – it is this kind of attitude. Universities are not businesses. Their goal is not to sell the product at all costs. The university’s role in society is completely different. It makes no sense to try to run a business as if it were, say, a charitable organization. Or a household. Or a college. In the same way, it makes no sense to impose on the system of higher education rules and procedures that are alien to it. A much better title for this book would have been How to Destroy a University in Ten Months Or Less because this is precisely what will happen if the ridiculous suggestions of its authors are put into practice.

I’ve been working in the system of North American higher education for a little over ten years now. Every day, I see professors, lecturers, instructors, administrators and students who come together for the purposes of sharing, cultivating and advancing knowledge. And there is nothing more beautiful than a bunch of people brought together by their love of learning and their desire to disseminate their knowledge. However, some colleges have adopted the pernicious practice of bringing in very highly paid business managers to manage campuses. These people are often brilliant business leaders who are, at the same time, absolutely clueless about how to run a university. They begin to apply their knowledge of how to run a business to an environment that is completely different. The results are always disastrous. Even if such administrators manage to raise enrollments by moving most of the courses online and destroying the emphasis on research (which are Christensen’s and Eyring’s main suggestions in this book), the university soon ends up losing all prestige and starts being referred to both at home and abroad as a “diploma mill.”

In the opinion of these authors, it wouldn’t be a problem if most of our universities turned into places that churn out useless online courses and produce no research whatsoever. As long as the “student-customers” are happy with being able to buy a diploma while investing very little intellectual effort into acquiring it, everybody will be happy. As for research, we always have Harvard.

For those of us who believe that our students and our American scholarship deserves better, this is not a valid path.

>Consulting Services for Fellow Hispanists (And Other Colleagues in Humanities)

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When you finally get your PhD and find that first professorial position, you feel elated and nearly ecstatic. Finally, you will be able to become a scholar in your own right and transform your field of knowledge. Then you discover that your graduate program taught you how to be a great grad student but left you with no knowledge whatsoever as to how to be an actual scholar. You know how to write a brilliant final essay for a grad course, but have no idea how to transform it into an article that a good journal will want to publish. There are now no course deadlines which used to help you organize your time, so you spend your free hours floundering in the sea of conflicting ideas as to what your next step should be. Articles you submit for publication are rejected with a few lines that give you no clue as to what is wrong with your article. Should it be reworked and submitted to another journal? If so, then how you should rework it? Or is it utterly hopeless and should be abandoned altogether? How do you go about transforming your brilliant doctoral dissertation into a book ready for publication?
So many young academics manage to find no answer to these questions and eventually give up on their dream of becoming research scholars altogether. A distance between being a fantastic grad student and becoming a real scholar is huge and we almost never receive any training on how to bridge that distance while we are in grad school.
Well, my friend, if you are in the field of Hispanic Studies, you are in luck. I have recently discovered that Jonathan Mayhew, a highly esteemed scholar in the field of Peninsular Literature, is starting a consulting business where he will offer a variety of invaluable services that will help young scholars to find out what they are doing wrong and improve. Here are some of the services that Jonathan offers:

Peer Review ($75). I will act as a peer reviewer for your unpublished article, giving you a full report (Humanities fields only). 
Evaluation of the Scholarly Base ($150). I will help you make an inventory of your scholarly base and identify areas of weakness. 
Prose X-Ray ($50). I will read three pages of your prose and tell you what you are doing wrong (Spanish or English). 
Poetry manuscript($200). I will read your book of poetry and give you suggestions for writing less crappy poems. 
Mentoring (variable price). I will design a mentoring plan for you for an agreed-upon price for a minimum of six months. 
Time management ($100). I will show you how to schedule your time so you can get three times more done. 

For the entire list of services and to read Jonathan’s extremely helpful motivational blog go here.

The only reason why I’m promoting Jonathan’s services on my blog is because I have tried them and now want to spread the joy. I asked Jonathan to look at the most recent article of mine. When he read it, he sent me a) a report on the article that he would have written had he been reviewing it for a scholarly journal and b) extremely useful comments on what was wrong with the article and helpful practical advice as to how the article could be improved.
Often, brilliant scholars make really crappy pedagogues and are completely useless as mentors. They word their criticisms of your writing in a way that makes you want to go jump off a cliff instead of making you want to improve. (To give an example, I was told once by an older scholar that the way I write in English puts me on the same level with people who are functionally illiterate. The 1,174 visits I had to this blog just today seem to contradict that statement.) There is another breed of scholars who only tell you how brilliant you are and how amazing everything you write is. Neither of these approaches is extremely helpful. Sadly, scholars who know how to offer incisive criticism of your research in a way that is both useful and respectful are hard to find. 
Jonathan offered some pretty harsh criticisms of my article. However, he did it in a respectful way that didn’t hurt my feelings in the least. It was obvious from the comments that his only goal was to help me improve the piece. I haven’t received such helpful comments on my writing in many years.
So if you are in need of helpful, productive criticism and valuable scholarly advice, consider using Jonathan’s consulting services. Visit his blog for more details.

>The Real Reason Research Doesn’t Get Done

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Do you want to know the real reason why people end up doing a lot more teaching and service than research? I’ve been sitting here, struggling with two sentences from the first paragraph of my article since 9 am. And I still don’t like them. 
The temptation just to leave the whole thing aside and go grade some papers, plan classes, create the next mini-quiz, answer emails or prepare for a departmental meeting next week is definitely there. It would be so much easier to postpone revising the article and then blame the administrators, the colleagues, the students, the husband, the weather, or the “effectively gendered” research. Unless we recognize that we don’t do as much research as we would like to for the simple reason that it’s very very hard, we will not be able to move ahead and find actual solutions for the issue.
P.S. Sorry for the stupid alliteration in the post’s title. I can only concentrate on making the article more or less stylistically acceptable for the moment. The posts will have to stay the way they are.

P.P.S. Finished the pesky sentences that had been giving me trouble since morning. Went to get a glass of pomegranate juice to celebrate. Drank the juice, came back, reread the sentences, and realized that they are crap. Back to rewriting the sentences.

>A Scientist Defends the Humanities at SUNY Albany

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I know the following letter is quite long, but it is definitely worth reading. Unlike the “spineless faculty” at SUNY Albany, Gregory Petsko, a scientist from Brandeis, has written a fantastic open letter to the so-called President of that so-called university. I wonder why the faculty of SUNY Albany haven’t written a hundred, two hundred, five hundred of such letters and distributed them everywhere. But this has been the hallmark of their behavior from the day the destruction of literature departments at SUNY Albany was announced: silence.

An open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany

Dear President Philip,

Probably the last thing you need at this moment is someone else from outside your university complaining about your decision. If you want to argue that I can’t really understand all aspects of the situation, never having been associated with SUNY Albany, I wouldn’t disagree. But I cannot let something like this go by without weighing in. I hope, when I’m through, you will at least understand why.

Just 30 days ago, on October 1st, you announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. You gave several reasons for your decision, including that ‘there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs.’ Of course, your decision was also, perhaps chiefly, a cost-cutting measure – in fact, you stated that this decision might not have been necessary had the state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed your university to set its own tuition rates. Finally, you asserted that the humanities were a drain on the institution financially, as opposed to the sciences, which bring in money in the form of grants and contracts.
Let’s examine these and your other reasons in detail, because I think if one does, it becomes clear that the facts on which they are based have some important aspects that are not covered in your statement. First, the matter of enrollment. I’m sure that relatively few students take classes in these subjects nowadays, just as you say. There wouldn’t have been many in my day, either, if universities hadn’t required students to take a distribution of courses in many different parts of the academy: humanities, social sciences, the fine arts, the physical and natural sciences, and to attain minimal proficiency in at least one foreign language. You see, the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it’s because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs – something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.
Young people haven’t, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it’s hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. In the parable, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He performs several miracles but is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor visits Him in his cell to tell Him that the Church no longer needs Him. The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining why. The Inquisitor says that Jesus rejected the three temptations of Satan in the desert in favor of freedom, but he believes that Jesus has misjudged human nature. The Inquisitor says that the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom. In giving humans the freedom to choose, Christ has doomed humanity to a life of suffering.
That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I’m sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it – if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don’t.
Then there’s the question of whether the state legislature’s inaction gave you no other choice. I’m sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian – and authoritarian – solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I’m not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing ‘unfortunate’, but pleaded that there was a ‘limited availability of appropriate large venue options.’ I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don’t have much clout at your university.
It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn’t have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn’t want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There’s so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders – if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don’t.
And do you really think even those faculty and administrators who may applaud your tough-minded stance (partly, I’m sure, in relief that they didn’t get the axe themselves) are still going to be on your side in the future? I’m reminded of the fable by Aesop of the Travelers and the Bear: two men were walking together through the woods, when a bear rushed out at them. One of the travelers happened to be in front, and he grabbed the branch of a tree, climbed up, and hid himself in the leaves. The other, being too far behind, threw himself flat down on the ground, with his face in the dust. The bear came up to him, put his muzzle close to the man’s ear, and sniffed and sniffed. But at last with a growl the bear slouched off, for bears will not touch dead meat. Then the fellow in the tree came down to his companion, and, laughing, said ‘What was it that the bear whispered to you?’ ‘He told me,’ said the other man, ‘Never to trust a friend who deserts you in a pinch.’

I first learned that fable, and its valuable lesson for life, in a freshman classics course. Aesop is credited with literally hundreds of fables, most of which are equally enjoyable – and enlightening. Your classics faculty would gladly tell you about them, if only you had a Classics department, which now, of course, you don’t.
As for the argument that the humanities don’t pay their own way, well, I guess that’s true, but it seems to me that there’s a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do ‘old-fashioned’ courses of study. But universities aren’t just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future. I’ll give you two examples of that. The first is the science of virology, which in the 1970s was dying out because people felt that infectious diseases were no longer a serious health problem in the developed world and other subjects, such as molecular biology, were much sexier. Then, in the early 1990s, a little problem called AIDS became the world’s number 1 health concern. The virus that causes AIDS was first isolated and characterized at the National Institutes of Health in the USA and the Institute Pasteur in France, because these were among the few institutions that still had thriving virology programs. My second example you will probably be more familiar with. Middle Eastern Studies, including the study of foreign languages such as Arabic and Persian, was hardly a hot subject on most campuses in the 1990s. Then came September 11, 2001. Suddenly we realized that we needed a lot more people who understood something about that part of the world, especially its Muslim culture. Those universities that had preserved their Middle Eastern Studies departments, even in the face of declining enrollment, suddenly became very important places. Those that hadn’t – well, I’m sure you get the picture.

I know one of your arguments is that not every place should try to do everything. Let other institutions have great programs in classics or theater arts, you say; we will focus on preparing students for jobs in the real world. Well, I hope I’ve just shown you that the real world is pretty fickle about what it wants. The best way for people to be prepared for the inevitable shock of change is to be as broadly educated as possible, because today’s backwater is often tomorrow’s hot field. And interdisciplinary research, which is all the rage these days, is only possible if people aren’t too narrowly trained. If none of that convinces you, then I’m willing to let you turn your institution into a place that focuses on the practical, but only if you stop calling it a university and yourself the President of one. You see, the word ‘university’ derives from the Latin ‘universitas’, meaning ‘the whole’. You can’t be a university without having a thriving humanities program. You will need to call SUNY Albany a trade school, or perhaps a vocational college, but not a university. Not anymore.

I utterly refuse to believe that you had no alternative. It’s your job as President to find ways of solving problems that do not require the amputation of healthy limbs. Voltaire said that no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. Voltaire, whose real name was François-Marie Arouet, had a lot of pithy, witty and brilliant things to say (my favorite is ‘God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh’). Much of what he wrote would be very useful to you. I’m sure the faculty in your French department would be happy to introduce you to his writings, if only you had a French department, which now, of course, you don’t.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you have trouble understanding the importance of maintaining programs in unglamorous or even seemingly ‘dead’ subjects. From your biography, you don’t actually have a PhD or other high degree, and have never really taught or done research at a university. Perhaps my own background will interest you. I started out as a classics major. I’m now Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. Of all the courses I took in college and graduate school, the ones that have benefited me the most in my career as a scientist are the courses in classics, art history, sociology, and English literature. These courses didn’t just give me a much better appreciation for my own culture; they taught me how to think, to analyze, and to write clearly. None of my sciences courses did any of that.
One of the things I do now is write a monthly column on science and society. I’ve done it for over 10 years, and I’m pleased to say some people seem to like it. If I’ve been fortunate enough to come up with a few insightful observations, I can assure you they are entirely due to my background in the humanities and my love of the arts.
One of the things I’ve written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn’t a question for science alone; it’s a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including – especially including – the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You’ve just ensured that yours won’t be one of them.
Some of your defenders have asserted that this is all a brilliant ploy on your part – a master political move designed to shock the legislature and force them to give SUNY Albany enough resources to keep these departments open. That would be Machiavellian (another notable Italian writer, but then, you don’t have any Italian faculty to tell you about him), certainly, but I doubt that you’re that clever. If you were, you would have held that town meeting when the whole university could have been present, at a place where the press would be all over it. That’s how you force the hand of a bunch of politicians. You proclaim your action on the steps of the state capitol. You don’t try to sneak it through in the dead of night, when your institution has its back turned.

No, I think you were simply trying to balance your budget at the expense of what you believe to be weak, outdated and powerless departments. I think you will find, in time, that you made a Faustian bargain. Faust is the title character in a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was written around 1800 but still attracts the largest audiences of any play in Germany whenever it’s performed. Faust is the story of a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. The devil promises him anything he wants as long as he lives. In return, the devil will get – well, I’m sure you can guess how these sorts of deals usually go. If only you had a Theater department, which now, of course, you don’t, you could ask them to perform the play so you could see what happens. It’s awfully relevant to your situation. You see, Goethe believed that it profits a man nothing to give up his soul for the whole world. That’s the whole world, President Philip, not just a balanced budget. Although, I guess, to be fair, you haven’t given up your soul. Just the soul of your institution.

Disrespectfully yours,
Gregory A Petsko

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