THE GLASSBORO PLUMBERS
An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
Shoddiness in plumbing is easily detected--in philosophy, not so easily. Shoddiness in professing, however, can often be found in the neighborhood of bad English. It is all too common to meet professors whose degrees have been earned by clerical labors rather than sustained, written scholarship, and who seem to be given doctorates as routinely as illiterate teen-agers are given diplomas.
These cut-rate professors are more informed than learned; they put faith in every trend without having explored the merit of any tradition; they know "findings," not lore; they have "perceptions," not understanding; they are "innovative," not original; they are enthusiastic about the "relevant," ignorant of the permanent. Their knowledge of the great history of thought is so scanty that when they have any ideas at all they imagine they have discovered fire, and visit upon us whole plagues of novelties and gimmicks.
An outer and visible sign of intellectual shoddiness is the inability to express and examine ideas clearly and logically. But let's give what credit is due: the plumbing at Glassboro seems just fine.
KETTLES & POTS
Even our local Faculty Association is worried about bogus degrees, or, at least, those bogus degrees held by other people. Here's what the Association has resolved:
WHEREAS the official bargaining agent and the President of Glassboro State College have negotiated a memorandum of agreement requiring that an individual who is pursuing a terminal degree specify reporting to the President... the name of the institution where he intends to study,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the GSCFA seek to have further negotiations between the President and the bargaining agent conducted to the end that the President ... will be required to certify the acceptability of that institution's accreditation, or candidate status thereto, and notify the individual concerned whether or not a degree obtained from the institution concerned will, or will not, be recognized for reappointment or promotional purposes.
This is not the language of educated people--it isn't even legal language--it is pretentious gibberish. To address in such language a matter of educational standards requires either sublime ignorance or plenty of brass. The document is signed by Carolyn Addison, but was probably concocted by a number of people and then approved--think about that for a minute--by an even larger number and then shamelessly flaunted before us.
It's bad enough that we have to read this stuff, but now we will have to watch the Union and the Association quarreling as to who loves Excellence the better, eating their crocodiles and drinking up their eisel, the poor lass the while cold dead in the grave. But be of good cheer; your Underground Grammarian knows how to handle funny degrees either from universities or matchbook covers.
Our Department of Accreditation has prepared the following letter. All we have to do is fill in the blanks, send copies to all sorts of interested parties, and the original to Temple or to Ann Arbor or to a motel in Sarasota or wherever:
Dear Dean ------ :
A certain ------ ------, currently a member of this faculty, claims to have earned an advanced degree from your excellent graduate school. It is hardly possible, however, that you would have so distinguished anyone whose English sounds like this:
You will be, of course, glad of this chance to defend your good name by confirming our belief that such writing could never have met your high standards, and that the writer is an imposter.
As soon as we hear from you, our President will act swiftly and forcefully, perhaps even going so far as to contemplate the possible formation of a committee which might consider some guidelines.
In the meantime we reluctantly remind you that your accreditation by The Underground Grammarian depends entirely on the written English of your graduates. If, therefore, ------ ------ has in fact been mistakenly given one of your degrees, all you need do is revoke it, lest he bring you into further disgrace.
There is no profit in separating the dross from the chaff. Spinach is spinach, wherever it grows, and we say the hell with it.
What Can We Do?
Here is some prose by Phillip A. Tumminia, a Vice-President for Campus Planning. It is taken from a memo of November 29, 1976:
I am responding to you apropos the recent petition concerning the Triad because I know that you were instrumental in bringing the problem to my attention. I would appreciate if you would inform those individuals who have signed the petition of the College's action.
I have spoke with Mr. Peter McEvoy, the owner of the building, and he has assured me that he will instruct his staff to correct the problems which are identified in the petition. Based on past performances, I have every reason to expect that this action will occur.
I have asked Ed Cunard of my staff to follow up on the concerns for correction of Physical Plant problems within the Triad. It is my understanding that he will work with the Triad Building Maintenance so that when problems are corrected, we will have a record of such action.
Without belaboring anything, we see jargon, lots of padding, misplaced and dangling modifiers, comma faults (both of omission and commission), elementary errors of syntax, and even some unusual notions about capitalization. (And let's hope that "I have spoke" is only a typing error.) This is the public work of a Vice-President of Glassboro State College. He is paid $28,359 a year.
But wait before you judge. Even at a college there is work to be done which doesn't require scholarly abilities. (Our campus gardener is a genius, and he can write any damn way he pleases.) Maybe Tumminia has special expertise in Campus Planning. To be sure, the memo suggests good old-fashioned "maintenance" rather than Campus Planning, but who knows? Maybe it's too technical for us.
Here are a couple of things you can do about this:
Last month's Wind-up Toy Award was mistakenly presented to an Alan J. Donovan. We meant, of course:
ALAN B. DONOVAN
Our humblest apologies to Alan J. Donovan, whoever he may be.
THE IN BASKET
When wise men disapprove, that's bad;
A Spanish proverb
The Underground Grammarian is grateful for many expressions of approval overheard here and there. This is heartening, for it shows that there is concern about English at Glassboro. We give thanks as well to all those who send us examples of bad English to be exposed and ridiculed. Keep it up. Let the barbarians know that the English underground is watching and the next memo may have a fuse. Send it to us and we'll set it off. If you don't know where to find us, ask around. Failing to fetch us at first, keep encouraged.