Chicago. Freezing days, below-freezing nights. On Friday morning a blast of horizontal fargohat2.jpgsnow slashed like razorblades across the river. There I was limping down Upper Columbus in my lined trench coat, scarf, gloves, and Fargo hat only to creep down the iron stairway to Lower Columbus, at which point only the open bridge could stop me. It nearly did. Despite the earmuffs, scarf, and collar, the right side of my face was badly clawed. And I nearly fell. How long would I have lain there on the icy sidewalk–this is supposing of course that I would not have fallen over the rail and into the Chicago River–before I was spotted and rescued, or before one of the teeth-chattering homeless folk stripped me to the bone? Yet I could not turn backmlachicago1.gif, not now, having come so far for a cause both noble and good, namely the annual glimpse into academic hell known as the MLA Convention.

It is a long story that begins long long ago in the bosom of the Provost’s family. Do we all remember his dedication to diversity? Let me refresh our memories. In one of my first encounters with our Top Academic Officer, the Dean Himself at his side, he asked rhetorically: “You know, I’m always being asked how a white man from the whitest state in the Union came to be just so determined to bring real diversity to the college campus.” This is an interesting statement that University Diaries could shred to bits far better than I. First, the obvious: why are folks always asking the man this very question? When he picks up his dry cleaning, for instance, or when he’s washing his hands at the sink in the men’s room, or sitting around the backyard pool, who exactly runs up and demands an answer to this question? Next I must point out that the word Union in this context bespeaks the arrogance of the Yankee in the South. Finally, I leave real diversity to its own futility.

The answer is: (1) his parents instilled in all their children, etc.; (2) his older brother once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [Hear the awed collective gasp from the academic bobble-heads.]

Now, had my older brother robbed a bank, say, despite all the wonderful core values instilled in him by our folks, would I be entitled to any of the money? Or conversely, should I go to jail? On a more positive note, if my older brother performed an act of heroism on the battlefield, could I claim some of his medals? On the other hand, if my older brother is a rank coward and deserts his command, do I get shot?

What kind of–ahem–man seeks to justify a sincere commitment to a moral or ethical imperative through a kind of Six Degrees of Martin Luther King? Too many questions, I know, but at the moment I am a bitter, bitter man. And I’m distracted by Down by the River by Neil Young.

I will write more on the “real diversity” process instituted that day, but at the moment I must connect my rant to the MLA Convention. The Department sent me and a team of experts to interview candidates for a post left open last year. We were told to think outside the box (yes!), to examine our thoughts like Jesuits in search of hidden racism, sexism, and other isms, and to come back from the hunt with a pedigreed minority in tow. After three days of interviews, only one minority diverse enough for the Provost met with us. One. Naturally, there were many women–in fact, the majority. Only they weren’t the right kind of women. That is to say, we will hire one of the them if at all possible, but unless we win the bidding war for the one “real diverse” minority, we will have failed in our trek through the winter wastes of Chicago.


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