If we didn’t have our noble institutions of higher learning,
we would most assuredly need more asylums to house
the deluded souls of learned men.
Apocryphal quotation often attributed to Dr. Johnson

Although our universities are filled with eminent scholars, experts in their fields, we are not exempt from random tomfoolery and wanton stupidity. This is because academics may specialize in arcane disciplines like quantum mechanics, computer science, rhetoric and architecture, but they may have little or no grasp of basic planning, finance and organization. A specialist on Kafka may delve into the ironies of modernity, but when it comes to sending a fax, he is as helpless as a baby without the departmental secretary. Thus, when it comes to building, promoting and maintaining academic programs faculty could be irretrievably stupid, and a herd of these academics is called a committee, which is best described by the following motto: “None of us are as dumb as all of us.”

A sure sign of trouble is when faculty-based committees vote in favor of adding new classes, expanding requirements and prerequisites when there is little or no student demand. This process runs contrary to both common sense and economic logic where supply and demand drive cost; in this case, supply and no demand drive all costs higher. This is the equivalent of politicians voting for a pay raise, increasing spending, and maintaining agricultural subsidies without additional revenues, and the only difference is that universities are prevented from deficit spending. So, even though we don’t create fiscal deficits, we do have ways of adding to student debts by making classes for their majors less available.

This type of issue came up last week when the Registrar’s Office informed faculty that three courses in Latin were to be deleted from the university’s catalog. If a course is not taught during four consecutive years, it is deleted from the catalog so that students know which courses they can expect to take. While there is still an official Latin minor on the books, there is only one class actually left, so one doesn’t have to be a mathematician to know that it is impossible for a student to complete these requirements.

Last week’s decision shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. None of the courses had been taught for the last four years; the university no longer employed specialist capable of teaching Virgil and Ovid; and students weren’t beating down the doors to take a dead language. The department charged with teaching the subject even deleted all mention of the minor from its website.

Nonetheless, those who had been asleep at the wheel for the past four years came out of the woodwork when they heard the announcement last week. They donned their bow ties and protested. “How could this be?” exclaimed the self-appointed spokesman of an ad hoc group of professors. “The teaching of Latin per se speaks to the essential mission of higher education; a loss of Latin would constitute an irreparable blow to the core of the institution. How could this be a real university without Latin?”

Could it be true? Would we erase our own existence by deleting a few classes? Would the campus disappear from the map if the Registrar hit the backspace button on his keyboard? Lest we all cease to exist, Your Faithful Blogger had to ask, where had these morons been for the last several years? If our existence was held in the balance, why did they wait until now to inform us of impending doom? Did they simply not notice? Had this group secretly plotting the resurrection of this dead language? Or, are they simply inveterate whiners, incapable of carrying out the most rudimentary strategic planning, curricular design and programing management?

However one answers the above questions, the fact of the matter remains that this group was so deep in denial that they needed a dictionary to comprehend the word “delete.” Despite the explicit statement that came from the Registrar’s Office, one member of the faculty seemed incapable of accepting the fact of deletion. All of his missives referred to the deletion of the courses in terms of something that “could happen,” when the program has been in the ICU for the past eight years.

Another way of looking at this problem, not that of Latin, but rather of narrow-minded academics is in terms of geocentrism: the theory that the sun, moon and the stars revolve around the Earth. By this, Yours Truly means that these individuals have their heads stuck so far up their ivory towers that they confuse their particular field with the mission of the university. Although this passion for their subject is a necessity to furthering their research on irregular verbs, arcane syntactical structures and medieval theology, it doesn’t always make for a substantive contribution to a generalized undergraduate education.

A former Assistant Dean, several glasses of wine over par, once confessed that she had to deal with kind of geocentrism on a daily basis. “I had three biologists in my office wanting to create an interdisciplinary minor that focused on the reproductive practices of crayfish, muskrats and snapping turtles.” She came from the Humanities herself and would probably never come to see “muskrat sex” as central to the university’s mission, but she had to treat faculty in the hard sciences with the same level of support that she would grant faculty in her own field.

To be continued…

Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=931


About the Author

Jimmy Gabacho

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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