Ingham County, MI

1. For the love of God, stop revising the curriculum to “make it relevant to today’s world.” When you make a thing relevant you also make it trivial. If you must revise the curriculum, restore the one that was in place no later than 1950—if, that is, a 13th-century curriculum isn’t readily available to you. Send death threats to people who want to “revisit” a curriculum that is already a dog’s lunch of “skills and dispositions” needed in “our diverse and changing world.” Revisitors invariably make things worse, even a dog’s lunch. Trust no one who wants to “revisit” anything.

2. If in the age of administrations as top-heavy as Dolly Parton you’ve got a shred of faculty governance left, and I doubt you do, eliminate all committees not directly concerned with faculty governance. Spare nothing, not even the committee that oversees The Committee Oversight Committee.

Allow a curricular committee, since curriculum is the faculty’s business. Allow a committee on hiring, tenure, and promotion, since these are matters that the faculty should have sole charge of.

But brace yourself: Your Professional Committee-Meeting Goers will worry that eliminating such extraneous committees as the Parking Committee will mean utter chaos. So explain to them that utter chaos is what you’ve got already—and bear in mind that these are the same egg-head suck-ups who clapped the erasers every day in second grade. Once you eliminate 99% of your committees, everything will run much more smoothly, and junior faculty members will have more time for their (anti)social-media addictions. Better they do their harm there than in meetings of the Sustainability Advisory Committee or other symbolic gatherings that your administration created under the pretense of concern and the purpose of ignoring.

3. Pay the college president a salary 25% more than that of the highest paid professor in the humanities but not a penny more. That should cover the extra three months on his or her contract. It would be fair to charge presidents for all the damage they do, which would result in one of their favorite things—a new “revenue stream”—but remember that they do have to endure trustee meetings, whereas you don’t.

4. Make sure there is faculty representation on the board of trustees, but proceed cautiously. Keep the following in mind: (A) Trustees generally live in contempt of professors, who, if they had any real talent, would be as wealthy as trustees and would therefore be trustees rather than mere professors. (Definition of a trustee: not someone to whom something valuable has been entrusted but, rather, a cash cow brought in for milking purposes.) (B) Someone must speak truth to wealth and power, which in the academy is like pissing up a burning rope, but resolve to do it and then (C) steel yourself for a real battle, which is choosing your representatives.

The members of the faculty will, of course, want to vote for their representatives, but this must not under any circumstances be allowed, because only The Pious will get elected. (The Pious are the humorless among you: Jacobins, sociologists, speech-com specialists, and other social-justice blatherers.) So (D) insist that representation come only from faculty members who agree with this document in every particular. I don’t know how you’re going to do that, but you must.

Once total agreement has been established, the search for representation should (E) move to those four or five among you who had good undergraduate educations at serious liberal-arts colleges. (F) To make the screening even easier, eliminate all materialists, commies, neocons, ex-soccer players, people with Facejob and Twatter accounts, and candidates not competent in at least one ancient and two modern languages.

5. Find out how many administrators there were two generations ago. Reduce your administration to that number. Go lower if you can. Especially eliminate any deans or provosts implementing bad programs designed to look good on resumes—the sort of resumes easily sucked into any vacuum created by a retiring president, because—don’t forget—you’re going to be stuck with these suck-ass programs while your itinerant deans jet off to presidential salaries that far exceed their talents.

6. Eliminate student evaluations. They send one message and one message only: college is a shopping outlet that is 90% Customer Service. If members of the committee on hiring, tenure, and promotion want to know whether you’re any good in the classroom, they can visit your classes and judge for themselves. This is why they get course releases. If you catch grief for refusing to hand out student evaluations, defend yourself by saying that you’re acting in the interest of diversity. Remind your provost that the institution needs all kinds of faculty members and welcomes many viewpoints, including yours. If this doesn’t work, tell your provost that although it appears you don’t hand out student evaluations, you identify as someone who does. Demand the respect you deserve as a student-evaluation-fluid person.

7. Require a philosophy course of every student every semester—a real philosophy course, not a course in disputatiousness. This will probably mean overhauling your philosophy department—if you have one.

8. Acknowledge the mistress science, which provides the final synthesis to the liberal arts, of which there are seven; find people who know the mistress science and can teach it. Invoke that bastard Edmund and tell the students to study deserving.

9. Banish fraternities, sororities, and soccer.

10. Scale back the faculty only because you intend to scale back the student body. Assume that the number of students in college right now is about twice what it should be. When you arrive at what appears to be a reasonable number of students, halve it again just to be safe.

11. Hire only faculty members who (A) have something to say and (B) know how to say it. Anyone lacking either of these should not be teaching. Anyone lacking both should not be talking.

12. Eliminate pre-professional programs and any other programs trafficking in the kind of training that can be learned on the job, in apprenticeships, or at Vo-Tech schools. Added benefit: this will halve the student body and eliminate most of the students who either refuse to read or can’t, chiefly business, econ, accounting, and business-administration majors.

13. Remove from campus all self-congratulatory banners and any other evidence of institutional insecurity. Defend yourself by quoting Oakeshott: “The marks of a good school are that in it learning may be recognized as, itself, a golden satisfaction which needs no adventitious gilding to recommend it.” When in response to your sabotage the president and the executive army of in-house marketers express outrage in one loud unanimous “Oakeshott who?” consider yourself vindicated.

There will be savings once the Go Us! people are put out of business. Use the money to re-hire the staff members who were reclassified during the recent “downsizing” and “restructuring” carried out in your institution’s penny-wise-and-pound-foolish economy. Who knows? Buckled floors might get fixed.

14. Be sure that biodiversity has priority over cultural diversity, because one of the aims of education is to put first things first. If for lack of biodiversity you’re not eating, you won’t have the luxury of cultural diversity. (You won’t have the luxury of irony.) That includes celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, and MLK day. I say nothing about the luxury of sorting out your preferred posture for going wee-wee or “finding yourself” at a retreat sponsored by Campus Ministries and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Remember: first things first.

15. Remind the next person who proposes to add yet another Center to campus that it is a violation of basic geometry for a space to have more than one center. In the interest of being a good sport, however, propose adding a Center for Peripheral Studies. Just don’t expect anyone to get the joke, least of all administrators, Jacobins, sociologists, speech-communications-professors-turned-associate-deans, and other social-justice blatherers.

16. Search out the administrators and faculty members who take the Chronicle of Higher Education seriously. Poison their food. This is not murder. Necrosis of body follows naturally upon necrosis of mind. You are only assisting nature and saving higher ed.

17. Get real about the sticker price and approve nothing that drives it up. This will mean saying “bugger off!” to the oily high-tech companies that think they can improve “student learning” by convincing you to part with a lot of money for gee-whizzery that actually impedes learning. Books and classrooms will suffice. Classrooms with big-screen TVs and stereo surround sound should be wired to detonators that are wired to dynamite. The first professor to hit “play” will, I predict, serve as a sufficient warning to everyone else from whose shoulders videos and PowerPoint have lifted the heavy burden of having anything complex, nuanced, and worthwhile to say.

(Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.)

18. Pronounce an eternal moratorium on the following words and terms—and cut out the tongues of anyone caught using them for any purposes other than satire and derision: revisit, robust, student learning, student-centered learning, socially-constructed, patriarchy, cultural diversity, inclusion, self, identity, logo-centric, Euro-centric, phallo-centric, social justice, trigger warning, safe space, [any-discipline-ending-in] studies, privilege, best practices, outcomes, key indicators, market indicators, incentivize, success-driven, the singular “they,” self-actualization, gender fluid, cishet, binary, other, Other, The Other, Vagina Monologues (unless you’re prepared to host The Cockalogues), global, globalization, internationalization, green, and Sylvia Plath.

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Jason Peters
Jason Peters professes English at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where he teaches courses in Milton, the Catholic novel, Environmental literature, British Romanticism, and American literature prior to 1900.  While in Illinois he pines for the mysterious and musical tea-colored trout streams of his native Michigan, whither he is trying to repatriate full-time in order to raise cattle and chickens, make beer, and scourge the follies of higher ed.  (Read an attempt here.) His work has appeared in such places as the ­Sewanee Review, the South Atlantic Quarterly, English Language Notes, Explicator, American Notes and Queries, Christianity and Literature, Orion, First Principles, University Bookman, and the Journal of Religion and Society. He is also the editor of Wendell Berry: Life and Work (University Press of Kentucky 2007), Land! The Case for an Agrarian Economy, by John Crowe Ransom (University Press of Notre Dame, 2017), and co-editor of Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto (FPR Books, 2018). Currently he is building a fly rod and juggling just enough writing projects to prevent his completing any of them: an account of his repatriation efforts (tentatively titled Dispatches from Dumb-Ass Acres, by a Dumb Ass), another book on Wendell Berry, another on food (tentatively titled The Culinary Plagiarist: (Mis)Adventures of a Thieving Gourmand), and yet another on that neglected genius, Owen Barfield. He has tried to break life-long debilitating addictions to basketball and golf but has been woefully unsuccessful. Peters visits Rock Island on school days but otherwise lives in Williamston, Michigan, with his longsuffering wife, their three children, and his two arthritic knees.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Why, for Professor Peters, is “global” verboten, when he uses “localism” in the title of the volume he co-edited?

    And why all the juvenile cheap shots when a little reading and introspection might reveal far more commonalities than differences with this piece, published the very next day from a very different political perspective: https://lpeblog.org/2018/10/17/neoliberalismandhighereducation/?

    And why is there a “c” in Oakeshott? Is there a little-known Mikael Oakeschott, or are we talking about Michael Oakeshott? Not that it will make a difference in pronunciation, but surely if it comes down to emailing the outraged and unanimous “[university] president and the executive army of in-house marketers,” we want them to be able to Google him accurately? Or is that part of the test we expect them to fail?

    • Thanks for the correction to “Oakeshott,” at least. But no willingness to mention that correction? Whether it was authorial or editorial error, surely there should be some rueful acknowledgment, and perhaps a concession of the own-goal: either the author or editor lacks enough familiarity with Oakeshott and his work to spell his name correctly, which is funny but not in the way the author intended.

      But then, perhaps the sense of humor required to do that might not be compatible with the sense of humor on display in the piece? If so, what a shame.

      • I think you need to read the piece again. You may find a misplaced comma or a split infinitive upon which you can further pontificate.

        • I might. But then, the author isn’t concerned about dismissing academics for grammar or style; he’s concerned about dismissing academics for not knowing the work of a Very Important Author whose name he himself can’t spell. (I agree that Oakeshott’s Very Important, by the way. He should be required reading for those on both left and right. But if we’re going to start dismissing people for not knowing who he is, let’s get his name spelled right, mmmm?)

          Also telling that both you and Mr. Lutttrulll, below, can’t see past the critique of the spelling to the comment’s broader point: waving hyperbole and irony around’s fine, until the wielders cut themselves, and then don’t (and perhaps can’t) acknowledge the irony of *that*. Sometimes you have to wake up the next morning hungover to acknowledge it, but there’s always that time. (And by the way, Mr. Lutttrulll: when you misspell someone’s name twice, it’s more than a typo. See how that works?)

          • I’d say that “the comment’s broader point” is a bit of a stretch. That was my comment’s broader point.

    • Jason Peters: Time to write another delightful essay adopting the persona of that guy at the bar who has had one too many. [Types… Sends to FPR.] Ah, done!

      Darth Snark: [Reads…] Typos! Hyperbole!! AGGRESSION!!! I, Darth Stark, am outraged!

  2. Number 17 is the most important, and the actually following the mandate to “approve nothing that drives it up” will mean refusing to take government money, even/especially for student loans/grants to pay for tuition.
    Read Eisenhower’s farewell address, taking this to heart most of all: “the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.”

  3. I think the guy at the bar knows more about so-called higher ed than all the administrators and nearly all the professors. Thank you, Jason Peters! I think it might be called higher ed because only those who can stand on their tip-toes and raise their noses to the ceiling can escape the bullshit in damned near all the humanities classrooms and all the administrative offices.

  4. I always suspected the grammar and spelling corrections in public critique emerged from the way of the Sith. Pretense, not fear, is the path to the dark side. I see that now. Who is buying the next round at this AA meeting anyway?

    • Rob G: did you read the piece at the LPE blog, by any chance? If you didn’t, you know you’re not really speaking to the comment’s broader point, and you especially aren’t doing so in pointing only to the comment’s third paragraph. (There’s a reason it was the third paragraph. I suspect there’s a reason all of the critical comments in reply have fixated on that paragraph.)

      And Cullen: if pretense, not fear, is the path to the Dark Side, then I fear I’m far behind many FPR writers and commenters on the road. But I suspect you might’ve meant another word altogether. And isn’t it ironic that following a piece that ends with an ostensibly satirical comment on style and substance, words and terms, there’s such to-do about a comment that both begins and ends with ostensibly satirical comments on style and substance, words and terms?

  5. No reference to eliminating corporate money from the mix? At least for public universities, the near-constant reduction of legislative funding has resulted in more and more influence over curricula and research from corporate interests.

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