Dean Galbraith, up in his office in the tall tower of the Henry Hicks building, was giddy at the start of another academic season. But this year some hideous fear began to creep in and fester, threatening the pleasure he took seeing young students come into their own, maturing as thinkers and people. Schmoozing and balancing the departments’ budgets was always to him a sordid business way beneath the academic and interpersonal development he lived to foster in students. Nowhere did the Greeks or Romans extol the virtues of glad handing. Yes, the Romans were administrative pioneers, but it was their dullest achievement. Muses don’t sing about efficient, thorough public records.
A professor could affect too few students and Galbraith had no hunger to research, but he considered it a shame to spend time away from getting to know the students—challenging them, busting their balls, showing them that academia was rigorous and difficult but rewarding, civilizing and exciting but never stuffy or pretentious.
Of course he accepted that his job contained some unavoidable bullshit, but lately administration wasn’t just a banal chore. He saw himself as overseeing the death blow to the classical notion of university: business, management, and the ever-expanding rackets of marketing and sociology were choking real academics to death, enrollment and expansion in these departments slated to be higher than ever with no end in sight. The humanities, literature, history, classics, philosophy shrunk every year. Galbraith felt complicit, guilty. But the guilt fell most to another man.
The ultimate academic desecration was a fraud skilled in all ways of pretending: Berringer. As he did daily, Galbraith decided to recharge his animus by opening up Dr. Stephen Berringer’s latest work, reading from whatever page he happened to open (such a random disordered entry into the book jived with such an incoherent disordered text):
A scholarly Reflection:
Dr. Stephen Berringer
By applying a neo-Foucouldian lens to a systems discourse it’s easy to trace the setbacks caused by neo-cons and other critical analysts of their ilk. It can be seen, therefore, that more investigation is wanting, but, on the other hand, its corollary is true too, namely that the talk and feedback loop has increased the vivacity of grassroots initiatives, and plans are coming steadily along to bring about the fundamental change up from the ground. Fruit is bound for harvest as indispensable momentum has been gained in this and in other related and interrelated fields. Incidentally, a retrospective glance at historically bypassed alternatives to the accepted narratives and viewpoints isn’t just a vital reconstruction that adds definitively to the wider scope, as mitigating and transcending the accepted biases is required or we are hopelessly lacking completion, but often is a mirror of the real thing itself. The truth is the narrative as told for decades, flipped upside down and inverted. It is necessary, therefore, to bring up the rear, as it were, and ensure that this crucial aspect doesn’t dwindle. The strength of current bonds, agreements, and cross lateral academic joint suppositions depends upon the intrinsic strength of this arrived at result of reflexive academia. We ignore these findings at our collective peril: we cannot possibly move forward until we accept these findings and resolve to pledge solidarity.
Galbraith burst out laughing at this last preposterous bit, but checked himself, thinking mirth an inappropriate reaction to something already debauching a generation. Galbraith laughed hard and often, and that the suppression of joy was the proper response to Berringer’s writing proved that the prose was deplorable. He had to restrain two rumblings in his belly, laughter and the first stages of puke. Either to make spiritual amends for laughing or to physically expunge what was mentally ingested, he reached the toilet before getting sick then gargled mouthwash, specifically stored in his office to freshen his breath after Berringer readings.
Berringer was the spiritual guide, the chief fiend of the political radicals on tenure that infested Dalhousie, the “academic deadwood” pileup from which no university is immune. They weren’t new to Dal but could no longer be safely laughed away. They were gaining ground. But who could read this shit? You’d have to be a madman to find any meaning in it! The undecipherable, destructive and manifestly absurd claims cloaked in the populist underdog language wooed the innocent lesser lights of campus, students only guilty of signing up for education, not abuse. Of course this was a scandalous disgrace even if annual tradition, but resigning in protest would only replace him with a different overseer, one who would no doubt applaud and encourage the atrocity.
These blank-slate sociologists, tabula rasa Marxists, wilfully blind or shamefully ignorant of congenital inheritance’s impact on human nature, were here under his watch, safe and handsomely paid instead of interred and forgotten about in the local asylum. About these professors, cheerfully termed “social construction workers,” Galbraith consulted his lawyer about filing a human rights grievance, suing for obscenity or for loss of enjoyment of life. His lawyer counselled against it. “Besides,” the lawyer said, “you don’t want to create a toxic workplace environment.” “They’re a toxic work environment! Fuck them and fuck you! You’re fired!” So he fired this lawyer, an eminent distinguished professional with a sterling record that shone beyond Halifax to the furthest corners of Nova Scotia. But the next lawyer also advised against Galbraith’s wishes.
“Sorry Jerry, but Berringer’s students don’t meet the accepted legal criteria of ‘child soldiers.’”Anyway, he reasoned, they craved a cause, and even if they should win in court it would only give them another thing to cry about, demonstrate against, boycott, sit-in, lock-out, and spend pleasant afternoons plastering propaganda to telephone poles in solidarity against. These things, of course, not just their favourite pastime but their existential reason for being.
Berringer ingratiated himself to the student base by making radical claims about cultural capital he knew they loved. They loved him for transforming their views, making them see things in a new light, no matter how dim the light. He proudly attached his name to intellectual brands: every kind of Marxism, feminism, reconstructionism, socialism, even if in practice they were mutually conflicting. Say, promoting a UN petition demanding increased First World funding for the Third World while simultaneously supporting an anti-imperialist mandate urging an end to First World financial meddling in the developing world under the phony pretext of promoting economic sustainability. Berringer was a veritable bullshit hydra.
But there were more threats than Berringer. The cynical marketing and advertising professors, sophistry devils reappropriating university’s prestige earned from the bygone days when professors knew Latin and Greek, who taught subjects proudly developed over centuries, not simply invented last Tuesday. Marketing and advertising degrees were proudly framed proof students had not just the willingness but the expertise to swindle society, turning people with hearts and minds into lobotomized consumers. After leaving Dalhousie these uncultured bats from hell could now enter the world and amass a fortune by making everyone around them retarded. Galbraith believed that modern university, his included, was just about society’s largest threat. Not exactly a terrorist training camp, but close.
Galbraith once put out feelers to see if he could abolish the marketing and advertising program on humanitarian grounds, but was unsuccessful. A flabbergasted Kofi Annan wrote him back in a polite yet insistent tone claiming to be busy in Sudan. “I don’t want to take him from his important work,” said Galbraith, “because thanks to the UN Darfur is once again a tourist magnet. That putrid organization. As warlords butcher on industrial scales and blame it on Israel, Annan is busy making sure that, under absolutely no circumstance, does he dislodge his thumb from his ass.” Unsuccessful as it was, the effort caused considerable rumbling against him from professors in these departments. “Do you know that Galbraith voiced objection to our department in the UN? No, literally, the United Nations!”
Galbraith was the de facto leader of his faction, and was very far from the only traditional old-school academic. Higher education no longer favoured learning for its own sake. That anyone would study to simply elevate their soul was beyond naive. Decadent. Privileged. Suggesting university should exist so students could learn something earned you funny looks. It was just social emancipation for historically marginalized people, or an economic investment for the highly unmarginalized. The ancients lasted for centuries, but were disappearing because the economy demanded students learn contemporary garbage. His loathing for everything modern increased in degree and breadth.“Stare into the abyss and laugh,” was the Greeks phrase that best captured the outlook Galbraith cherished, that blend of stoicism and dark humour.
He laughed in the face of what personally and professionally threatened him. He just couldn’t help but giggle. Sometimes guffawed with everything he had. He despised how some profs concealed their radical views, unleashing them only once they were safely tenured, but enjoyed that tenure was an anagram for retune. He liked that the Marxists’ shanty offices crammed with messy book shelves, coffee-encrusted mugs and yellowing plants neighboured the newly constructed Marketing department, a lavish and gleaming steel-and-glass monstrosity.“Two appropriate habitats for two opprobrious rabid rats.” These private unshared quips popped into his mind constantly, making him smile through that thick red-tinged beard, a grin that appeared seemingly for no reason, leading others to think him a madman.
Though Galbraith saw the commoditization of higher learning developing a mile away, for years he pretended it couldn’t grow and swallow everything he stood for. Caring, intelligent, duty-bound professors, of who, again, there were many, constituted an impregnable fortress guarding centuries of noble tradition. But this year he felt something change, the momentum switched. He needed to fight more than ever.
In the official Dalhousie pamphlets welcoming students and parents to the city he inserted quotations from Tolstoy and Orwell. Inspired by a cherished comedy, during frosh week he instituted an academic decathlon featuring subjects like “Rabelais,” “Gogol,” “dog shit and the human response,” “Thucydides,” to take place before the cheers and jeers of packed drunks enjoying life inside the Student Union Building.
He should have known last year that change was coming when inviting students to his home for dinner was made illegal. He and his wife Sally served wonderful food and French wine to select students. These were put to an abrupt halt: Dr. Phyllis Stein’s popular “exploitation of females in society” lectures had a devastating effect upon the campus climate, and the way students regarded him and males in general. Stein, a rousing success, implanted in the students a higher awareness of “everyday sublimations of oppressive patriarchal gender hierarchies,” which eroded the students’ basic sense of trust in half the human population.
Stein’s treatment of Lolita convinced the helpless students that any old, seemingly-nice gentleman was just a cunning pederast, biding his time. The sweeter the appearance, the more elaborate and diabolical the impending debauchery. The calculus was grim: if a man who seemed like a gentleman was a brute and a man who seemed like a brute was a brute, who was left? Nobody was innocent. Galbraith’s formerly celebrated dinners didn’t just end, but that they ever occurred caused a dark fear and suspicion in many hearts. “I’m not some lecherous pervert, I’m the dean of this university!”
“Ya, because history’s never seen a powerful old white man lewdly abuse power.”
All he wanted was to feed kids delicious food! Offer good wine he knew students couldn’t afford! This was civilization to him. Most of all, to demonstrate that education and sharing their deepest thoughts could lead to wonderful laughs and an overflow of warm satisfaction, not just accursed grades or revenue.
And artistically misconstruing Nabokov, this, this was unforgivable. Satanic bitch! Yes Stein was attached to the university as a tenured prof, Galbraith reasoned, but could still be choked to death. No, she didn’t warrant that. Berringer was sociology’s ring leader. And Carrie in advertising—that Hollywood-vacuous, money-chasing philistine—was no slouch either.
The more Galbraith considered this sordid cast, the more assured he became in his belief that the highest form of intellectual honesty, the purest and most effective way to stand up for the enlightened values of Voltaire and his company, was to remain in his post to sabotage the guilty programs and people of Dalhousie.