At Play in Academe's Shady Groves


April 27, 1991|By DANIEL BERGER

Attention has focused on problems in American academic life.To summarize trends, I concentrate on one institution, which I call Composite U.:

The plumbing does not work. The state legislature cut the frills from the budget and the administration said, ''OK, but the plumbing won't work.''

The governor sent an emergency hydrographic grant, but the toilets still don't flush. Gay and Lesbian Action (GALA) claimed responsibility. ''If we are not comfortable on this classist, ablist, heterosexist campus,'' said an anonymous leaflet, ''no one will be.''

Meanwhile, over at Thigh Sigh house, the president was arrested for running a porno ring selling videos of formerly secret initiation rites. The newest brother stands exposed as a bit player from ''21 Jump Street.''

The administration said that while it cannot condone violations of federal or state law, it has no authority over fraternity houses on private property, which are immune from civil meddling being within the university.

The law dean was prepared to defend the flick as a First Amendment matter. The chair of women's studies said that expression must be free providing women are not the victims. The director of the university museum denied that the planned exhibition of paddle art in any way violates the pledge taken to qualify for the NEA grant which in no way admitted of censorship.

Meanwhile, Coach Jock is fighting NCAA sanctions for unlawful recruiting for the Ultimate Frisbee team. ''We are entitled to twelve full scholarships not to exceed double tuition,'' he said. ''My fee for team use of Korean designer frisbees is not at issue. We are proud of what we do for our scholar-athletes off the field. Ultimate Frisbee is life.''

The Humanities Division has voted to remove gender-specific references and henceforth will be known as Huities. This term's hot courses include ''Revolutionary Thought From Mary Magdalene to Madonna,'' and '' 'Beowulf' from Grendel's Mother's Perspective.''

An assistant professor criticized making the course on ''MarxisReinterpretation of White Rap'' mandatory -- on the ground that Marxism is in terminal disrepute in all Marxist countries -- and was denied tenure for inadequate historicism.

Meanwhile, a small group of interested alumni has subsidized a campus chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, which has proved quite lively. ''Someone has to keep the old values of Composite we all cherished,'' said Freddy Flintstone the 55th, Class of 'Ought Naught.

Over at Marcus Garvey House, a manifesto condemn requirements for any courses outside of Black Studies: ''White imperialist oppression has no part in our education.'' Fraternization with the colonialist class was condemned, and a committee was appointed to explore the feasibility of declaring independence from the university under the name Bophuthatswana.

Across the moat at Simon Bar Kochba House, students petitioned that Hebrew be made non-mandatory in the Judaic Studies major. ''We are non-observant, assimilated Americans who have come here to confront our heritage by keeping a little kosher and reading Philip Roth and sticking to ourselves,'' said the Progressive Hebrew Collective. ''This has nothing to do with shul. Friday nights at the disco are sacred.''

The engineering department has turned all classroom instruction over to teaching assistants from Third World countries who have passed English proficiency tests or, in extremis, Chinese ones, to free the energies of permanent faculty to spinning off for-profit corporations to explore commercial applications of research done anywhere by anyone on anything.

The scientific research committee ruled that authorship of papers submitted to scholarly journals be attributed to heads of departments and labs, with acknowledgments to those scholars who actually devised the experiments and wrote the papers, if tenured. Graduate assistants will be held strictly liable for any erroneous data, fraud or politically incorrect conclusions.

All of this is a bore to President Magnifico, who is incensed that some demagogue in Congress objects to billing the Strategic Defense Initiative for improvements to the university's summer presidential retreat in Chile. ''If a ski-lift is not overhead,'' he said, ''I don't know what is.''

Mr. Magnifico has long since found academic politics of piddling interest compared to the raw intellectual excitement in the private sector and the need for Composite U.'s president to be maintained at a style equal that of a junk-bond king, which while not to his own simple taste is surely necessary for the university's dignity. Mr. Magnifico has let it slip that he doesn't need this aggro and is on the short list for culture minister of Bulgaria.

With the budget slashed and tuition raised to $85,000 per annum, no applications were received for the Class of '95. On advice of a consultant, the admissions director and her staff were replaced by the sales team from a defunct Yugo dealership in which the consultant had had an interest.

LTC All hopes rest on the loyalty of an alumna who flunked freshman comp in '48 and made it big in Gothic Romance. In return for an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters, she would donate $30 million for construction of an authentic Victorian folly in Memorial Quad, to be named for her late Siamese cat, a champion in its breed. This wonderful generosity was accepted by grateful trustees on condition that the design exclude any cultural judgmentalism.

* * * One last word: Do not be dismayed by any events at Composite It is only one institution, a highly unrepresentative and spuriously fictional one at that. None of this has anything to do with any real concern at any real institution.

Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Sun.

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