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Speaking Out

To the Provost: Shame!

Although I am loath to disagree with you, personally, and although I am by my nature, virtually incapable of gainsaying anyone in authority, I cannot suppress some expression of the dismay and indignation engendered by your plea that we indulge your unfortunate weakness for humor in the conduct of the University's offices (Almanac, March 27).

One does not need to be steeped in tradition to know that solemnity is the mastic that holds the threads of academic life together.  Indeed, these threads are so delicate that a few good laughs would rend the fabric of academic life seriously, perhaps irreparably.

As for your confessed inability to take yourself seriously, I need only repeat the wise words of Epictetus: "If you don't take yourself seriously, ain't nobody gonna do it for you, man!" Moreover, your transparent appeal to our sympathy by maintaining that humor is essential to your sanity is both mawkish and vacuous.  To quote again, this time from Boy George, "You can't lose what you ain't got," and everyone knows (including Irving Kravis) that no sane person would have taken your job.

To those who would join you in urging more civility and good humor, I say: Shame!

Clifton Cherpack, Professor of Romance Languages


From the Provost: Fie!

Although I am quick to disagree with you personally, and although I am by my nature, irrepressibly tempted to gainsay everyone, I cannot suppress some expression of gratitude for your thoughtful note.

You are quite right: my Almanac piece was an exercise in wistful self-indulgence. Penn politics is serious stuff and I must try to stop pretending otherwise.  Fortunately, the sober sanity of your note has brought me up—short and solemn.

Having made such an abject admission of woolly-headedness, you will be particularly relieved that—in final draft of the Almanac piece—I deleted a quotation from one of your mirthless memos to me on the matter of academic politics.  I had originally cited it right after the sentence, "Scores of exceptions, of course, populate our premises, but I wish they were more the rule and less the exception."  Have no fear, the knowledge that you are one of the exceptions is safe with me.

— Thomas Ehrlich



Originally published in Almanac April 24, 1984




Cherpack Letters Index: