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Speaking Out

A Nefarious Scheme?

Too naïve, too trusting, too eager to please, too hungry for approval, I accepted a position on the advisory board of Almanac, only to be told by more sophisticated colleagues that this was an obvious attempt to coöpt me, or, as a distinguished colleague in one of the softer disciplines put it, to muzzle my pen. However, now that my eyes are open, and now that the advisory board is considering criteria for the selection of items for the "Pennpeople" department, I find in the results of my ingenuousness an opportunity to right a vicious wrong and expose a heinous plot.

The "Pennpeople" department has long puzzled me. Does anyone, I wondered, other than Dr. So-and-so, really care that Dr. So-and-so has been named Second Vice-President of the Northeastern Gland Society? Obviously not. After all, awards will come to a faculty like ours as naturally as thickening waists and a portentous style. This department, it seemed to follow, must have some other function. What this hidden function was remained a mystery to me until I was leafing through the Journal of Human Stress one recent night (is there anything more relaxing than reading in bed about human stress?), and came across an article by Ingrid Waldron et al. of our own university (March, 1980, pp. 16-27) on the Type-A behavior pattern. This pattern (characterized elsewhere as "extremes of competitiveness, aggressiveness, impatience, restlessness, tenseness of facial musculature, explosive speech, and a chronic sense of time urgency") is said by Dr. Waldron et al. to be rewarded by increased academic and vocational success, which may, in turn, foster the increased development of this pattern.

In a moment of galvanic gestalt it became obvious to me that these listings of awards and accomplishments are designed to whip us all up into orgies of Type-A behavior, but not only, as a charitable person might think, in order to enhance Penn's reputation. No, it is far worse than that. Type-A behavior is notorious for leading to serious, often fatal, heart attacks. Thus, we clearly have here a diabolical plot to decimate the tenured ranks, saving thereby millions of dollars and reducing the demand for dental insurance.

Now that you have stopped reeling and gasping, and are beginning to wonder, in your inchoate ways, what to do about this outrage, let me come to the point. Since the ultimate perpetrators of this plot are probably undiscoverable via the inevitable committee route, I suggest that we substitute for the "Pennpeople" department a new department to be called "Mellowing Out," designed to celebrate the warm, human, life-affirming doings of colleagues who have, however briefly, turned their backs on stressful success and vulgar clawings up the academic ladder. In this department we shall find items such as the following:

"Florentine Flasque, Associate Professor of Chemistry, stopped yesterday on her way to the lab to smell the roses. Although her olfactory system has been well nigh ruined by years of sniffing noxious fumes, she has pronounced this respite from retorts and reports 'a potentially significant experience.' "

"Les A. Fare, prominent econometrist, left his crystal ball and entrails (provided by Penn's Small Animal Hospital, a perfect example of One  University at work) early last Friday in order to spend the whole vacation with his family. After his identity had been verified by his wife, his children welcomed him with open arms, and they all went out to McDonalds.' "

"Professor D. A. Gétique of the Department of Romance Languages, who has not exchanged more than a few sentences with his wife in twelve years, took her to a honeymoon hotel in the Poconos last weekend. While watching the closed-circuit television, he conquered the impulse to write an article on the semiotics of pornography. Instead, he drank three Shirley Temples, and enrolled in a disco class. Mrs. Gétique, when contacted by Almanac, said that he was 'totally inept, but rather cute.' "

For colleagues who have been asking themselves just how the values of universities today are unlike those of corporations, a department like this will be, if not a beacon, at least a comforting flick of the Bic. Should this idea appeal to you, or should you have suggestions for other ways to deal with the "Pennpeople" problem, please write to Almanac. Do not write me. I have all sorts of deadlines that I simply must meet.

Clifton Cherpack,
Chairman and Professor of Romance Languages

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Originally published in Almanac February 2, 1981




Cherpack Letters Index: