THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN is not carrying on a vendetta against vice-presidents, even though this issue examines the work of another of that numerous brotherhood--as thick at Glassboro as those leaves at Vallombrosa. It's just that garbled English seems the more odious the higher the rank of the garbler. We imagine that a vice-president of a college ought to be first a scholar, or at least learned. We imagine a man or woman who has been an excellent professor, not only an expert in an academic discipline, but broadly educated, as able to draw wisdom from Epictetus and Cervantes as from Wittgenstein and McLuhan. We imagine a vice-president who serves with some reluctance, knowing that he is needed but hoping, like Cincinnatus, of whom he has heard, to return some day to the furrow. If you imagine something similar, call now the long roll of our vice-presidents and weigh them in that balance.
When Cicero's friends planned a statue in his honor, he dissuaded them, saying that he would rather that the people asked, "Why is there no statue of Cicero?" than "Why is there a statue of Cicero?" Now call again the roll. Of which was it ever asked, "Why is he not a vice-president?" Of which do we not ask, "Why is he a vice-president?"
Where profit is the end of enterprise ambition may be virtue, but in a professor it is corruption and an insult to his calling. It is an irony of the academic world, therefore, that those most eager to wield power are least likely to give good service. Thus it is that presidents and vice-presidents and deans, and even chairmen and faculty senators, are usually the wrong people, thirsty more for office than obligation.
The college would be better served were all such offices filled from the ranks of the faculty by lottery. That way we have some chance of finding a suitable administrator once in while, and the worst risk we would take is that nothing would change.
The 16.2 per cent Solution
GLASSBORO STATE COLLEGE has vice-presidents the way the Romans had Huns and Visigoths. Where do they all come from? How many are there? How much will we have to pay them to leave us alone? Will they ever develop a written form of language?
This month we have learned that Kenneth R. Clay is a vice-president.* We don't know what he's vice-president for--it didn't seem worth asking, but we can tell you what he's vice-president against. Education is what he's against. His prose is merely awkward, pompous, and obscure, with only rare failures of agreement (that dreary kind of writing in which data invariably indicates); but his ideas, if truly revealed by his words, are demonic. First the prose, from a memo to Mark Chamberlain et al., 2/24/77:
I would suggest that a good institutional standard of efficiency should be 20 per cent of seats provided but unused in any semester. While the overall college totals do not exceed this total by very much, our real problem is a mismatch between where load time is available and where it is needed as reflected by the wide variation in these figures between various departments. Seats provided vs. seats unused is only one factor of efficiency or potential productivity and is based on class size limits determined by departments... Any manipulation of class size limits would show a different picture.
"Mismatch between where..." is perhaps a literal translation from Visigothic, but "seats provided vs. seats available is one factor" is traditional American bureaucratese. So too is the fatuous "real" problem, a lofty sign of the writer's suspicion that his dim-witted readers would think the problem imaginary if it were simply called "the problem."
Such writing is expected from an assistant sales-manager in the wind-up toy factory. Listen to this woeful refrain:--institutional standard of efficiency--wide variation of figures--factor of efficiency or potential productivity--show a different picture. It is the jargon of merchandizing. And it is the mentality of merchandizing which permits, in the same memo:
1. Some departments have the potential of much greater productivity, or
2. They could produce the same level of productivity with considerably reduced load time, or
3. Are at maximum level of productivity...
These judgments flow from a profound and pernicious ignorance of the art of teaching and the aims of education, an ignorance nourished by bad writing, for those who cannot find alternatives to the jargon of trade cannot find alternatives to the values of trade either. You can take the assistant sales-manager out of the wind-up toy factory, but you can't take the windup toy factory out of the assistant sales-manager.
Well, so be it; but if we can't overturn the tables of the money-changers we can at least turn their tables on them, for behold, it is written--"Those that take the factor of efficiency or potential productivity, let them perish by the factor of efficiency or potential productivity." Here's a revision which, in the context of the entire memo, omits nothing important:
The college is almost 80 per cent efficient; some departments do better, some worse. Different expectations would change the figures.
Where Clay has used 105 words ("with approval of the dean" was omitted above), we have used 20. Clay's factor of efficiency is therefore 19.0%. Alternatively his factor of inefficiency is 81.0%. His memo finds the college as a whole only 26.7% inefficient, which means that Clay is 3.034 times as inefficient as all the rest of us put together.
But wait. Clay's third and fourth sentences say partly what has been said earlier, partly what the readers must already know, and partly that different numbers are different. Our second sentence is therefore not needed, and the revision takes only 14 words, raising Clay's factor of inefficiency (do try to keep all this straight) to 86.67% and lowering his factor of efficiency to 13.33%. Making allowances for something or other, we average 19.0 with 13.33 and subtract from 100 to a gross (you better believe it) adjusted factor of inefficiency or potential unproductivity of 83.8%. The data indicate, therefore, an efficiency factor of 16.2%. (See Table.)
SELECTED FACTORS OF EFFICIENCY BY THE CLAY METHOD
These numbers reveal a problem and also a real problem. The mere problem is easily solved: Clay's annual salary is $33,493, and 16.2% of that is $5,425.87. But that real problem--that's something else.
The man who thinks such things--what can he possibly know of the meaning of education? Perhaps he doesn't think such things but only says them because they are fashionable in our pseudo-managerial administration. Is that better? Bad enough, merchants in the temple--and shall they now presume to teach us doctrine?
The immortal words of John Ottiano
From a memo to art faculty, February 26, 1977.
I indicated that our image has been shifted to other institutions of higher education and strongly felt that an upgrading of our public relations should be reevaluated and that Glassboro should once again take the Initiative to be the strong force in art education and the visual arts.
News and Notes
THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN now begins its summer vacation. We'll be back in September with more of the same. There's plenty of it.
Our thanks to all who have sent letters and specimens. Be patient. In time we'll give every outrage attention. Please remember, though, that we ridicule only Glassboro English. Every other college has its own barbarians; may each find its own Grammarian.
In spite of the evidence we have shown you this year, we suspect that there may be intelligent life at Glassboro. The way they look at you sometimes--why it's almost as though they understood. Accordingly, we intend to publish next year a series of pamphlets devoted to essays by Glassboro people--students, faculty, plumbers, even vice-presidents.
There are no restrictions on topics, but remember that an essay weighs ideas; it doesn't "report findings." You may use your own name or no name or a pseudonym. (We suggest Alan J. Donovan--he never did turn up.) In payment you'll be given, if we know who you are, fifty copies. The other 1150 will be distributed on the campus.
We hope to provide at Glassboro a public forum for the exercise of the mind and freedom of inquiry, which includes the freedom to be stupid, the freedom to be wrong. We will print well-written essays even if they are stupid and wrong. It'll serve you bloody right.
Please send manuscripts--1500 words or less--to:
THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN
Post Office Box #203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028
* What a blunder! Kenneth R. Clay is not a vice-president; he only seems to be a vice-president. He is a dean. In this article and in the editorial above, what is said of vice-presidents must go for deans as well. It does. A lady asked Dr. Johnson how he could have made a certain mistake in his dictionary, and he, not the least abashed, replied, "Ignorance, Madam, ignorance." back