Friday, February 19, 2010

Life Sentences #9

Still Life of Males in Liberal Arts Academia

Ah, the hallowed halls of higher learning. It’s no secret that some of the most incompetent dipsticks ever to wander this planet have secured themselves fulltime, tenured positions at various prestigious universities across this fair land and, nay, across this fair planet. There’s a few brilliant people in the higher-learning mix, true enough, but ‘a few’ isn’t the same thing as ‘a lot.’

I really want to joke about this, about the mass-scale foolishness at universities and colleges, about the people who were once the subject of ridicule on the playground who now have positions of power, who are on committees that decide other people’s futures, often not based on the person’s merit as an intellectual but on the person’s personality, which is a sort of sick way the people in power have of getting back at the ‘cool’ people in high school who didn’t let them into their ‘cool clique’ or whatever, but then again, sometimes this problem isn’t funny at all. Last week – you can’t have missed this in the news – a professor who was being denied tenure at a university in Alabama shot and killed and wounded a number of people who were instrumental in denying her tenure. Deplorable act, for sure. Murder is never a way to solve a problem. But I’m honestly surprised this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. The professorate in higher education is constantly trying to fuck each other over, to get a leg up on somebody, to bring somebody down, to exert power and to prove superiority in an environment where, at least in the quantitative sense, there’s no real way to prove superiority or to prove inferiority. There is not one academic department in this country wherein several groups of people don’t hate each other’s guts to the point where they avoid each other in the hallways or in the local grocery stores or they literally choke on their lamb chop when their academic enemy’s name is mentioned during a dinner party. Professors, you see, become their own administrators, and what does a professor of English Literature or Mathematics or Biology know about administration? They certainly haven’t received formal training in administration, yet there they are, in charge. In any case, at no point in academic life does this professor-against-professor situation come to a boil more than during the promotion process. It’s factional. It’s personal. It’s hateful. The merit of the person up for promotion is not nearly as important as the manner in which the person up for promotion has fit into the political system of the department. People’s lives routinely get thrown over the side in the process – people with children and mortgages and responsibilities as human beings that extend far beyond the institution where they happen to have a position, an institution that most people in the country probably have never heard of. Last Friday, the nature of the process changed. A professor took out a gun and started shooting. It’s a shame. But the system that produced the tragedy is a shame, too.

Holy soapbox, Magnuson. What brought that on?

Excuse me. I’ll try to stick with cycling issues in the future.

Anyway, the sentence of the day demonstrates not only the kind of petty bullshit that goes in higher education but also an excellent sentence-structure element known as the object complement. As you might guess, an object complement is similar to a subject complement in that it expresses an equivalence – essentially, this thing is like that thing.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

The sentence of the day:

In an English Department meeting, a Distinguished Female Professor called a Distinguished Male Professor a Neanderthal.


In an English Department meeting (prepositional phrase functioning as adverbial), a Distinguished Female Professor (the subject of the sentence, also a noun phrase, also, given her behavior, probably not an accurate title for her position at the university) called (transitive verb) a Distinguished Male Professor (the object of the sentence, also a noun phrase, and also, to keep this bullshit equal, probably not an accurate title for his position at the university) a Neanderthal (the object complement, meaning it expresses a this-is-that equivalence with the direct object, which is something even a goddam Caveman can understand).


  1. Excellent post - eloquent as it is sadly true. I'm sure Mike will remember the late Donald S. George from UWEC as well as Ronald Keezer the resident 'percussion instructor' from the same institution...

    ...I remember hearing feedback from other former students around the time that Dr. George passed away, to the issue of how much pain that man caused in many, many souls who were judged, as Mike points out, on their perceived personality as opposed to their merits or abilities (sorry about the run-on sentence - I'm not a good writer).

    Sad that within these incubated environments that these individuals can engage in such misuse of human energy, emotion, and thought. I think it is due to the fact that they have no worry about the ramifications of their actions because of the 'tenure' issue. It is unnatural for human beings to be sequestered (word?) in an environment where their actions have little consequences. It does nobody any good because life is fundamentally a phenomenon where actions, thoughts, and deeds are SUPPOSED to be reflected back on one - for further work to be done.

    Anyways - excellent post Mike. True, eloquent, and straight to the Heart of the matter! Bravo!

  2. Hmmm. Except, have you noticed that the last few college and university shootings have featured grad students? The Alabama one is something on an anomaly. I mention this only because:

    1. I was a grad student once and can totally see how shooting people would have a) solved some of my problems and b) been a reasonable and not entirely unexpected outcome for grad school-inspired despair.

    2. I work at a college with no graduate schools, which always makes me feel a mite safer.


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