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Volume 2, Number 1, Oct 2001

The Strange Land of Academe

By Richard Armour

in The Academic Bestiary. William Morrow & Company, New York, 1974, pp. 1-3.
Strange Land
Unlike Samuel Butler’s 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 Greek sound.*

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 Plato’s 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 that follow.

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 heartless.**

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 o’Clock 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 genus Academicum.

* 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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