A college isn’t a good place to find ideas. It’s a good place to find facts - What year was the Franco-Prussian War? What is the current gross national product? What importance did Horace Greeley have in the development of American journalism?
A college is a good place to find parties and experience the social milieu - “No, two kegs probably won’t be enough; let’s order three.” A college is even a good place to learn of intrigue--“I can’t believe—I just can’t be-LIEVE-that Larry is screwing that slut in Geography, just because she’s chair of the tenure committee.” Yes, a college is a good place to find a lot of things, but it’s definitely not a place to find ideas.
When I decided to enter academics, this time as a professor, I thought I’d walk into the Ivy halls and pick ideas out of the air, as a fruit picker picks oranges and lemons. The ideas would be waiting for me to reach up and grab, to inspect, to roll around in my fingers, to analyze. Little did I know I’d be getting the lowest hanging fruit.
In graduate school, during the early ’70s, ideas, though not as prevalent as facts, were still available, deliberately put in my path by advisors who were forever testing me, and for whom I was constantly testing. Why is it different now? Is it the place? Or is it the time?
It seems as though everyone, student and professor, comes to class, does the work with varying degrees of interest and competence, and then goes home or to committee meetings where they can play academic games which are what now stimulates their minds.
For the moment, I am in the game. This one is called the Faculty Senate. It’s the college’s version of a duly elected, properly-sworn-in house of representatives. Twice a month for nine months I have attended these meetings. My sentence is over in one more year.
“Next on our agenda is the key policy.” The senate chair is a scholar of the first order from the Department of Biological Science. He also shouldn’t chair anything more complex than a four-chair poker game.
“I believe that after reading all the arguments in favor of this policy, and since it was requested by the vice-president for administration, that we should implement it immediately.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think I understand it. I’m not sure. Does it say that we have to give up our keys if we go on leave or on a sabbatical?”
Except for a couple of identifications, all facts in this memoir are, unfortunately, accurate. Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., spent 30 years in academia as professor of mass communications and program director for journalism. Before, during, and after his academic career, he was and is a journalist and columnist. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a look at the US counterculture from 1964 to 1991.
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