4.0527 On the Nature of Universities (1/66)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 25 Sep 90 22:47:54 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0527. Tuesday, 25 Sep 1990.

Date: Fri, 21 Sep 90 12:12 EST
From: Norman Miller <NMILLER@TRINCC>
Subject: life in the ivory league (part I)

As I tried to say in my last note, matters of turf and jealousy about
whose building is the tallest and newest don't interest me much. Not
because we sociologists have got it all, for that's plain wrong:
Kessler is either misinformed, has spent too much of his career in one
place, whatever. But right or wrong, if I thought that this was a
squabble about who gets to beat the erasers or fill the inkwells I
wouldn't be writing. Obsession with honor and pelf fills our days, a
sad truth, and most of us have wasted time fighting for offices, paper
clips, anything as long as that other bunch don't get more.

But the animus against sociologists and psychologists has nothing,
zero, to do with perqs and Kessler is old enough to know it. Funded
research in the social sciences came to the mid-1950's, and lasted
through the 60's. These funds created healthy appetites for electric
typewriters, later computers (I first got to use one, a laughable
device, in 1959) and all sorts of other bad things. But the simple
truth of the matter is that humanists were sneering at sociology long
before we could get a college administration to buy us a slide rule.
Did I say slide rule? That was expensive. A paper punch.

Sociology came early to state schools and those in the Midwest and
South, but it was otherwise with the Eastern biggies. Columbia's Seth
Low had to pay Giddings from his own pocket. Princeton didn't have a
separate department until the 50's. Cornell waited even longer. But
(and this I think is highly significant) the last holdouts were those
New England tsatskes Amherst, Trinity, Wesleyan, Williams in the late
60's. And how received? No new building, Kessler. What I got from the
dean (I started things up in 1969) was this: "I'm sure there are lots of
empty offices around. Why don't you see what you can find?" What I
found was a building that had been condemned. And when it was finally
torn down, a disgrace, I had to scramble again. So much for bricks.

And how did the faculty welcome the new department? Some friendly, to
be sure; more were amazed at how cleverly I'd hidden my horns and that I
spoke English. This in the radical 60's when every humanist under 35
spoke an instant-mashed-potatoes Marxoid jargon made up of dimly
understood words and phrases cannibalized from Old Carbuncle, Weber and
Marcuse. (The jargoneering among humanists continues of course
unabated, only the vocabulary has changed so that they now understand
even less of what they say.) My fellow-chairmen at the Precious Few,
all old friends, had similar stories to tell.

Do old histories bore my younger readers? Try a mental experiment
instead. You're in English. A rich button-manufacturer has decided to
create five endowed chairs in, say, Classics. Envy? Sure. But how
many bitter barbs about Classics as a discipline?

In short, the notion that hostile judgements have their roots solely in
the characteristics of those being judged is plain silly. Some Poles,
it's said, are looking for Jews on whom they can blame their present
troubles and, the country being essentially Judenrein, have had to
settle for..Mazowiecki. Same idiocy. No, we bring much to the judging.
A good place to look for an answer is in Emma, from whose author we
still have much to learn.

I've gone on too long already and haven't even begun the important
part of my sermon. Perhaps I'd better wait until the dust settles on
this installment. I've exaggerated of course, being even older than
Kessler and therefore more privileged. If anyone wonders why I
subscribe to Humanist, the reasons are these: there is no other list
around for people who enjoy good writing; and literature is prophecy,
thus far too important to be left in the hands of priests.

Gut yomtov to you all. Shana tova um'tuka. A good and sweet year.

Norman Miller