Dear oh dear

20 10 2018

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

 

 

Finally a novel that puts the “pissed” back into “epistolary.”

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend Dear Committee Members to you in the strongest possible terms.

 

“Hilarious”, “witty”, “I love this novel” are just some of the quotes on the cover of the book. I’m afraid I wouldn’t deploy any of them in describing it. I really, really, really wanted to love this but I’m afraid it was just a bit dull. There were momentary sparks of humour but I just could not get excited about Fitger and his correspondence which seemed to cover most of the bases of academic life but just in a rather predictable manner.

Maybe the sequel will be a bit more fun.

(And no, I know I couldn’t do better.)

 

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A hilarious new academic satire?

13 08 2018

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher

 

 

I’ve bemoaned the wait for a decent new campus novel for some time now as previously observed here. Indeed, it’s been quite a while since I’ve talked positively about anything like this. I’d go so far as to suggest that the distinctive Cow Country is probably the only decent effort in this regard for some years. However, there is a new challenger. Following the success of her previous epistolary outing, Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher has launched a fully-fledged satire on higher education which sounds like it takes on all the expected targets:

 

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in this hilarious and eagerly awaited sequel to the cult classic of anhedonic academe, the Thurber Prize-winning Dear Committee Members. Once more into the breach…
Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.
Lord, what fools these mortals be! Julie Schumacher proves the point and makes the most of it in this delicious romp of satire.
Is it a delicious romp of satire? We’ll have to wait for the paperback (unless someone wants to send me a review copy) and then see what all the fuss is about. Is it as good as Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica? Who knows, but “fearsome department secretary” doesn’t sound like a major character innovation and arguments about office space are tough to get a giggle out of. However, everyone who has read the book so far seems to like it – you can read all of the exceptionally positive reviews on Amazon.com here. I remain open-minded though and look forward to reading more about the slings and arrows in due course.




Author! Author! Answers

22 01 2017

Fret no more

The answers to the quiz which literally quite a few people have been talking about.

Over on WonkHE I recently set a quiz about academic authors/author academics.

The exciting test was to spot five individuals from a list who are not or were not both academics and writers of fiction. At time of writing this no-one had identified more than three of the five so I thought I had better provide the answers to prevent undue distress.

Here they are then:

Quite a few people got the first three

 

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But these two were a bit harder:

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Quiz: What’s in a University name?

2 12 2016

An exciting university quiz

Musing, as you do, about the names of universities, I was struck by how many North American universities are named after people, often major benefactors such as:

  • McGill University
  • Harvard
  • McMaster University
  • Oral Roberts University
  • Wright State University (always makes me laugh that one)
  • Dartmouth
  • Babson College
  • Hofstra
  • Vassar
  • Brigham Young University
  • Cornell University
  • Stanford
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Brown University
  • Johns Hopkins
Orville & Wilbur Wright - so clever they had a university named after them

Orville & Wilbur Wright – so clever they had a university named after them

 

But what about the UK universities?

I can think of three which include the names of benefactors and 13 which are named wholly or in part after someone (plus a 14th in this group which no longer exists).

Can you name them?

Answers below

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I could originally only think of three UK universities which include the name of a principal benefactor in their title but actually now I’ve come up with six:
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Heriot Watt University
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • Harper Adams University
  • Courtauld Institute, University of London
Any advances on these six?
I originally had 13 more with individuals’ names in their titles. List on further consideration is now 20:
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • King’s College London
  • Robert Gordon University
  • University of St Andrews
  • York St John University
  • Brunel University
  • De Montfort University
  • Napier University
  • Newman University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Regent’s (debatable as named after Regent’s Park which was originally named after the Prince Regent, later King George IV)
  • Canterbury Christ Church University
  • University of St Mark and St John (2 for the price of 1)
  • St Mary’s University
  • University of Wales Trinity St David
(Plus there was the Victoria University of Manchester until 2004.)
Any others? Note have excluded constituent colleges of collegiate universities.

 





Would you buy a hoody from these people?

21 03 2016

An interesting sales pitch…

No. not that kind of iconic university clothing

No, not that kind of clothing

 

Text of a letter received (with a “clothe” sample) in Vice-Chancellor’s Office. I have changed the name of the company to protect the innocent. They really do need to get someone to work on that translation into English.

 

Dear Vice-Chancellor

I’m the responsible of the relationship between my company and the Universities.

ABC, an Italian fashion company, would like realise a merchandising line for your university.

I have sent you one of our iconic clothe to explain you the high quality of our production.

The University world is always in our D.N.A. and I’d like to speak with the person who cares the merchandising of the University of Nottingham.

I hope to have an help from you and to create a link between two big excellences like ABC and University of Nottingham.

Thanks for your attention.

Thank you indeed.





Gig nostalgia

7 02 2015

Everything But The Girl – January 1985

This academic year Edinburgh University Library has been publishing, each week, the edition of Student from 30 years ago. 1984-85 was my second year as a student at Edinburgh and every one of these brings back some great (mainly) memories. One of my favourites from the 31 January 1985 paper though is this review of the first Everything But The Girl gig I attended:

 

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It’s a rubbish headline obviously and not quite how I remember the gig which to my mind was uniformly wonderful.

That’s nostalgia for you though.





Universities and their Unions: Podcast

4 03 2007

At last…podcast is posted

Universities and Student Unions – even more to be said beyond the original Greatrix, Horton and Bell report.

Report cover

In a crude attempt to cover all possible media platforms, there is now available an immensely stimulating podcast of a discussion involving self and Claire Horton facilitated splendidly by Tom Abbott.

First 17 minutes are about international student matters (and although interesting, you might want to come back to that bit later). You can find it at:

Warwick’s podcast site under ‘University relations with student organisations’.

See the Oxcheps site for the original report (it’s listed as Paper 28).








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