2, Number 1, Oct 2001
Strange Land of Academe
The Academic Bestiary. William Morrow & Company,
New York, 1974, pp. 1-3.
Samuel Butlers Erewhon, which is Nowhere spelled
backward, there is nothing backward about Academe. Indeed
many of Conservative Bent think Academe too forward, as
well as out of touch with Reality. If there were another
name for Academe it might be Erehwemos, which has a scholarly
Thus, though Academe may seem fanciful and fantastic,
it really exists and is neither so perfect nor so inaccessible
as Erewhon or Shangri-La or Platos Republic or the
land of the Houyhnhnms. Sometimes it is about as far out
of town as Walden or Brook Farm, but often it is adjacent
to or even in the center or a metropolis. Nonetheless,
though it is easily reached it is not easily breached.
It is one thing to be a Casual Visitor, but quite another
to become an accepted member of the community, a full-fledged
or even half-fledged Academian.
One of the many strange things about Academe is that physically
it can be so close to the Real World and yet spiritually
and psychologically so completely out of it, often failing
to understand it and sometimes bitterly antagonistic toward
it. Most Academians come from the Real World or the Outside
World, and some eventually return to it. Before they enter
Academe they have human characteristics, but these they
soon lose, in the process of adaptation, and become the
grotesque creatures which will be described in the pages
Wherever Academe is, the route to it is much the same.
For the Student it is through the Elementary School, Junior
High School, and High School. Of course the Student may
take the less traveled and more expensive byway, or buyway,
that leads through the Private School, confusingly known
in the Old Country as the Public School. Such an institution,
especially the Prestigious Private School, may give a
foretaste of Academe, but still a foretaste is not quite
the same as the entire meal.
During all of this Schooling and Student assumes a few
if any of the characteristics of the denizens of Academe.
It may therefore enter Academe quite innocently, with
a virgin mind if nothing else, lured into it by Status-Seeking,
pressure from its Peer Group, or Family Pride. In time
of war it may be seeking refuge from that fearsome ogre,
the Draft. Sometimes it knows even before it enters Academe
that it does not belong there. Sometimes it discovers
this only after it is inside, but, even after seeing through
it, it stubbornly or docilely sees it through. Sometimes
is leaves abruptly when faced by one or more of those
three frightful Fates: Failure, Suspension, and Expulsion.
For the Professor or the Administrator the route is the
same but longer, including the ultimate transmogrification
of Graduate School. The Academian of this species will
have surmounted such awesome barriers as the Dissertation
and the Oral. It is such an Academian, unlike the Student,
that becomes wholly identified with Academe and gives
its heart and soul to it. Some, to be sure, do not believe
in the soul, while others are thought by Students to be
Life in Academe is different from life in the Real World
in many ways, some of them incredible to the inexperienced.
For instance there are only nine months in the Academic
Year, and the Calendar besides being full of dates is
full of Events. Commencement is when the Adacemic Year
finishes instead of when it commences. Everyone carries
a Load, either a Teaching Load or a Course Load, but the
Load is invisible except for that anguished look on the
face of an Academian that thinks itself overloaded. Though
many Liberal Academians believe in a Classless Society,
there is no place where there are more classes, the lowest
being the Eight oClock Class. And so it goes, though
one wonders how.
Academe is not a Never-Never Land, it is an Ever-Ever
Land. There is no doubt that, unbelievable as it is, it
exists and has existed for hundreds of years. Some trace
it as far back as Socrates (469-388 B.C.), who was accused
of corrupting the young by exposing them to Knowledge.
If Socrates seemed not reluctant to drink the hemlock,
it may be because he realized what he had created: the
* Spelled backwards, as you probably noticed, it is Somewhere.
It is also more accurate than Butler's spelling of Erewhon,
which should have been Erehwon.
** A dull professor may even be considered lifeless, or
at any rate far from lively.
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