In 1973, at the tag end of the riots and disruptions of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, he ventured into print with a small volume entitled This Beats Working for a Living: The Dark Secrets of a College Professor. He did this under the pseudonym “Professor X” not to hide his identity (this he readily admitted on national and regional television, radio interviews, and numerous stories in newspapers). Rather, the pseudonym was meant to lend an air of humor to ramblings, musings, and observations about antics in the high groves of academe. The volume was meant as satire—humor with the bite of truth.
The reaction was swift, for apparently he had touched an exposed nerve. Today there still are academicians who explode in outraged anger when this book is mentioned, particularly those who received anonymous copies with selected passages underlined, the gift of students—or colleagues.
The following year this same author demonstrated his complete lack of wisdom by repeating his folly with a second Professor X volume, this one entitled Never at a Loss for an Opinion. He dedicated it “To my friends, the two I have left.”
What followed the publication of these two books was curious. The author received telephone calls from a dozen and more professors at various campuses to ask, “When did you teach at the University of Minnesota?” or Washington? or Texas? As Professor X had written, the malaise of that era touched every campus equally, and the frauds and pretensions and hypocrisy of bad professors, which he had estimated at 75 percent of the total, were not confined to the Midwestern A&M college where he taught, but rather were universal. His message was that professors were human and thus as subject to frailty and foible as everyone else but that they refused to admit this; instead, they huffed and puffed about with much hypocrisy. In short, he said the emperor had no clothes.
Years later, he was told by the president of that A&M school that when these books appeared, his vice president for academic affairs had said of Professor X, “Let’s get rid of him. He’s a troublemaker.” In 1977, after a change of presidents. Professor X was asked to resign from that institution, which he did despite the tenure he had been awarded. He had maintained in the Professor X books that tenure was a sadly abused system and that he believed anyone paying his salary had a right to ask for his resignation. When it was asked, he resigned, saying, “To have done anything else would have made a lie of everything I have stood for.”
And when his resignation was requested by the administration, there was no murmur of protest from his colleagues or from the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors. There was only a collective sigh of gratitude that he no longer would disgrace their campus with his conservative thought and his laughter at their pretensions.
Now comes a footnote to the episode of Professor X. The story I here relate was told to me by a retired member of the department in which Professor X taught at that Midwestern A&M college. I have no documents to footnote the story, only an eyewitness account, but there is an unmistakable ring of truth to it.
Recently this A&M school advertised nationally for a director of minority studies and at the conclusion of the search hired a black woman with a freshly minted Ph.D. in history, earned at a prestigious institution in the northern Midwest. However, when she arrived on campus to assume her duties, she stunned the administration by announcing that she had no interest in directing minority studies. Rather, she demanded to profess in the department of history.
The administrators at this A&M college already were smarting under chastisement by bureaucrats from Washington because this rural aggie school had too few hyphenated Americans on its faculty; therefore the institution faced the threat of curtailed Federal dollars unless the situation changed rapidly. Thus they felt obliged to give in to the demands of their new colleague to prevent her from leaving.
The decision made by the administrators of this A&M school was conveyed to the chairman of the department of history by the dean of arts and sciences: “I’m sending over an assistant professor for your faculty.”
After the situation was completely explained to the history department chairman, he asked the one question that seemed to matter to him at a time of budgetary austerity, “Where will her salary come from?”
“Don’t worry,” the dean assured him, “my office will pick up her salary this year.”
The dean’s meaning was clear. The history department, which had a professor retiring the following year, would have to use those dollars to pay the salary of their new colleague. In effect, this meant the department would have no say in hiring a replacement for the retiree.
A few days later, the members of this history department were invited to a reception to meet their new fellow history professor. Not one of them asked about departmental integrity in hiring—or even about the demands of affirmative action that any position be widely advertised, that applications be taken by a departmental committee, that three candidates be selected and invited to the campus to read a paper demonstrating academic worthiness, and then that the department vote on which of the three to hire.
There likewise was not a murmur about their new colleague’s particular field of competence, Russian history. Already this department had two Russian historians. Now it had three to teach the one or two classes offered each semester in this area—while other needed areas were neglected.
Nor yet was there complaint about the salary being paid their new colleague—which was higher than most associate professors in the department were receiving.
This episode proved a painful paradox for the members of this history department. Like most historians, they wanted to consider themselves part of the mainstream of liberalism, and thus they favored preferential treatment for blacks and females. Yet as cardcarrying members of the academic profession, they believed in departmental autonomy in hiring rather than having new colleagues forced on them by administrators. Moreover, most of them reacted in knee-jerk disagreement with administrators on every issue, seeing their relationship as adversarial. Had their new colleague been a white male, the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors would have rung the tocsin and shouted for the faithful to throw up barricades in front of the Administration Building.
In this one situation can be seen the painful dilemma of this brave new academic age facing the faithful. And in it can be seen the moral bankruptcy of today’s university campuses, particularly in the liberal arts.
If someone gathered in book form every abuse and fraud perpetrated in the name of expediency in the face of Federal demands, it would make a large, sad volume—and no doubt cause the compiler to be read out of the ranks of his profession. His resignation would be demanded by an outraged administration and faculty. There would be no call for due process or for justice. Lynch law would prevail.
Apparently every professor now shares the inheritance of Professor X, which is that academia truth does not set anyone free; rather, it results in cries of death for the messenger.