Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 17: From Princeton, the University, Elitism

"Birdsell, Birdsell . . . from Princeton . . . Princeton College?"

Holden talks a lot about schools, from Pencey Prep to Princeton.  On the whole, he finds students and teachers from these institutions to be pretty shallow.  Holden prizes truth and genuineness.  His harshest criticisms are directed at people who put on airs, who worry about social class and status.  Phonies, basically.

I have worked in higher education for almost twenty years.  In that time, I've seen my share of phonies.  Generally, they fall into two categories.  First, there are the wannabes.  The wannabes haven't achieved anything.  They are probably graduate students who pretend to have read books they haven't even heard of.  In casual conversations, they say things like, "I much prefer the postmodernity of Coover to the minimalism of Carver."  They're constantly trying to impress.

The second category consists of Lancelots.  These are people who have gone on a hero's quest to find the Holy Grail of academia:  a tenured job at a university.  They are wannabes who've made it to the top, and the Lancelots are very territorial.  In casual conversations, they say things like, "It is our job, nay, duty to uphold the integrity of this institution."  (Translation:  "We have to keep out, stomp on, exterminate anyone who isn't like us.")  It's elitism, but people with advanced terminal degrees make it sound really classy.

I'm surrounded by wannabes and Lancelots at the university.  They are both equally vapid, but the Lancelots through a healthy dose of elitism into the mix, as well.  Nowadays, pretty much everyone in higher educations knows the tenure system is going the way of the mastodon.  Soon, everyone will be able to see tenured English professors only in glass display cases, right next to the petrified T-rex manure.

Don't get me wrong.  I would love to work as a tenured, university professor.  It would be a dream job.  Six-figure salary.  Benefits.  Sabbaticals.  Conferences.  I would be in English department paradise--elitism, dinosaur spore, and all.  Mark my words, thought:  tenure is a dying

And that's piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Meet Professor Lancelot and his colleague, Professor Mammoth

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