So my phone rings, and it’s my old mentor Lars Abraham, Professor Semi-Emeritus at Seattle State University.
“How’s it shaking, Lars?” say I.
“Not so good,” says Lars.
“I had a premonition you would say that.”
“Tim, morale at Seattle State is at a new low in the 53 years I have taught here.”
“And knowing you, that’s pretty low, Lars.”
“Tim, we have a new Chancellor. And his first order of business has been to order every faculty member to attend both Commencement ceremonies every year, fall and spring.”
“Wow, that’s a big imposition, Lars. You might have to get out of bed and show up for work like millions of regular people.”
“Spare me your sarcasm, Tim. Faculty have genuine grievances here. Many of them will have to spend this year’s miserable raise on buying caps and gowns.”
“Shouldn’t bother you, Lars, you own a gown, right?”
“I own a Harvard Crimson gown,” says Lars.
“I’ve seen that gown. Harvard Rust would be more like it.”
“But that is not the only imposition, Tim. There are also many faculty who have small children and need extra weekend childcare at additional expense.”
“Surely your great-granddaughters are already cared for, though.”
“Watch your mouth. There is also the problem, Tim, that this edict came down from the Chancellor without consultation with the faculty. And it is expressed as an order. We must arrive at the basketball stadium at a certain time, in full regalia, specified down to the tassel. A tassel, Tim. I lost my tassel in 1979. Our names will be on a clip board. We must show state-issued photo identification before our names will be checked off this list. And if we do not get a check mark, then awful things have been threatened. Our Chancellor said that he will punish the instructors who do not attend. He will do such things – what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.”
“That’s a bit florid for an interoffice memo, Lars.”
“That is Shakespeare, you nitwit.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that policy?” I ask. “You have to show photo ID everywhere nowadays. Vote, fly, go to a Taylor Swift concert. It’s for security reasons, Lars.”
“It is not for security reasons. It is so I do not pay some undergraduate fifty dollars to wear my robe and go to Commencement instead of me. Seriously, Tim, in the middle of the basketball stadium who is to know that it is Lars Abraham in the crimson robe or Clem Kadiddlehopper? But the Chancellor is taking names, so Lars Abraham it will be.”
“Lars, if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re whining more than usual this morning. What’s wrong with showing up in regalia and letting the students know you care? What’s wrong with showing that you’ve got that Seattle State Selkie Spirit?”
“There is nothing wrong with that, Tim. I have gone to more Commencements here than I can remember. I have shaken hands and read names and handed out diplomas. But the new Chancellor does not know that. He assumes that if I am asked to volunteer, I will weasel out. He assumes I must be ticked off a roll like a buck private before I will consent to do anything.”
“Like most faculty.”
“Tim, the central principle of life is that people will gladly volunteer to do things that they will resist doing if forced.”
“I guess you’re right, Lars. Commencement doesn’t work that way at UTA. I mean, we all go every semester, but that’s because we’ve all arrived freely at the independent decision that we should. We’re Mavericks, Lars. We push our limits where there are none. We’re at the corner of Fast and Rising.”
“But Lars, doesn’t it amount to the same thing? It’s nice to go to Commencement, you usually go, and now you’ll be going. What exactly is your problem?”
“Well, with all of us going, the ceremonies are getting larger and longer. They are between two and three hours now, Tim. There is my bladder to consider. And it is one more day I do not get to work on my book …”
“… that you’ve been writing since the turn of the century. It’s always the same with you, Lars, you procrastinate till somebody wants you to actually do some work, and then it’s ‘Oh no, my precious writing time’.”
“Nevertheless, Tim, that time is real. Two extra days of work for five hundred extra faculty every year. A thousand days of research that could go toward achieving Tier One status. Instead it will be spent suffocating in a hot robe in an earsplitting stadium listening to somebody read to us from Oh The Places You’ll Go.”
“So you’re saying that Seattle State values the compulsion of empty attendance at meaningless meetings over actual work on its professional mission?”
“At last you show a glimmer of comprehension, Tim.”
“Well, Lars, at least they’re running your school like a corporation.”