First thing in the morning, a knife to the heart

I read webcomics for light entertainment, not for painfully piercing and accurate descriptions of the modern university.

Jesus. It wouldn’t hurt so much if it weren’t so true.

OK, Zach does describe an alternative.

Yeah, sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes. Not so much the last few years when the whole idea of public gatherings is anathema to your health, and when there’s always some Nazi or conspiracy theorists who is going to rant at you.

Also, wow, that’s a talky strip.


  1. says

    I still have nightmares about my College Years. Some people like it, but I hated it. I stuck with it. But I will never go back.

  2. Howard Brazee says

    It seems that the top goal of the university president is to get money from alumni. That’s why they are such big supporters of big-time sports.

  3. robro says

    I had good experiences in both the colleges I attended getting my certificates. I majored in Philosophy at the first, and then in Literature at another college. Not too many job opportunities coming from that. The first was staid…no drinking or dancing at a Southern Baptist college…but we had some rich conversations deep into the night. The second was mostly driven by one literature professors, a poet who liked old dank places and deep discussions. I’m currently working with a young fellow who has a PhD in philosophy. He’s an ontologist. Thanks to appropriation by modern technology, the usage of that word has changed since the days of Aristotle, Parmenides, and Lorhardus. He gets it when he says something about “meaning” and I joke about the very idea. Alas there’s business to take care of, nuts and bolts to sort out, machines to teach. We have good jobs but no old dank places where we can argue.

  4. Dr. Pablito says

    Where’s the “Like” button?
    Trouble is, it’s pretty hard to monetize a bunch of people sitting around talking. It’s been easier lately to monetize people ranting at one another or chiming in to support their mutual delusions. And usually the people in the pub figure out that they’re actually in a credential mill before the end of their years there…
    The idea of one’s “academic family” tree is dorky and problematic, but it really is possible to connect all the way back to people before the Italian Renaissance — an unbroken chain of transmission of knowledge and spirit of inquiry. And that’s worth defending in manifold ways.

  5. rx808 says

    I tried higher education – expecting strip #2 – after I got out of the service.

    It was embarrassingly, transparently strip #1.

    I couldn’t do it.

    More power to those of you who did – and who now keep those fires lit in that dank pub, waiting to welcome those that can find it.

  6. unclefrogy says

    I have to admit I have felt like the character with the orange hair my whole life. I like that strip

  7. drsteve says

    My personal story of why the second comic resonates so strongly with me. I came to make friends, I ended up making enemies, but I was always and only there in earnest:

    Although I once aspired to be a professor, my academic career flamed out during my postdoc working for Ed Boyden, who was central to the development of optogenetics, and is one of the most brilliant scientists of my generation and in some ways the most intelligent of the many intelligent people I’ve had the privilege to work with. I can also report that it is equally true that he is a pathologically dishonest man-child whose incompetence at project management ended up wasting three years of my life on busy work that an undergrad could have done and got nowehre close to producing any publications. He then spent six months actively avoiding having an honest conversation with me about my grievances, and as far as I can tell another six to eight months lying to the faces of MIT administration about the basic facts of my time working with him.

    That last item was eventuated by a long letter/manifesto I eventually was forced to send to six or twelve or so department heads, Deans, etc: anybody that could be considered to be Ed’s supervisor, up to the Institute President, including Media Lab director Joi Ito, prior to his own disgrace and resignation. In this letter I laid out in very careful detail my case for exactly why Ed’s behavior towards me was utterly unacceptable and undermining of MIT’s mission, and that they were obligated to take steps to ensure it wasn’t repeated for his future students and postdocs. Sadly and predictably, they apparently allowed him to manipulate them into doing the barest minimum of followups with me, by which time I made the choice to give up actively hoping to find a way to reconcile with him and instead to focus on my path to my current position in a different dream job I found outside of academia.

    Although I have no reason to believe Ed had any involvement with Jeffrey Epstein, that whole mess has only validated my conclusion that the entire administration and environment of the Media Lab and MIT overall is morally corrupt in a way that is causing them to fail at proper oversight of their faculty. Although I was ground under those forces, I remain confident the way I responded in the end was correct, because my manifesto had one of two effects: either the negative reinforcement had its effect and Ed was inhibited from future bad behavior, or, in the event that he wasn’t, the letter will serve as an important early link in the paper trail that will be needed for future scandals that will inevitably follow for him. Either way, I’ve made a valuable and indelible contribution to MIT and to the development of cutting-edge science and training of future scientists, just not in the conventional way I would have liked.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Thank Mithras and Loki I grew up in Sweden and not in Britain or `Merica.
    I wish there was something I could do for you beyond saying “This, too, will pass”.
    When the demographic turnover has torn away the Republicans from power (if they do not abolish democracy) it will be up to you to “primary” away the corporate Democrats that think universities should be run like businesses.
    Remember, every politician who puts campaign donations over the welfare of the voters is a part of the problem, even if they used to fight some of the excesses of the system.
    I doubt you will get a real paradigm shift without some very major economic upheaval that discredits the current system, like the great depression discedited 1920s capitalism.

  9. says

    #11: I’ve known a few academics like that, and some even worse. Fortunately for me, I threaded the needle and managed to avoid them all while training for my degree.

  10. says

    I had a GREAT college experience getting my PhD.. But then again, that was, . . . counting on fingers . . . adding toes . . ., oh shit, 50 years ago.

  11. drsteve says

    #13: I would characterize my experience more along the lines of surviving a close encounter with Jupiter by finding the exact right slingshot trajectory on the fly to send me straight to the cozy Pallas orbit I hadn’t previously considered. Regardless of choice of metaphor, I suspect our emotional sense of a narrow escape from disaster is similar.

    #12: One of the many reasons I look back on my experience as a blessing in disguise is that it directly led to my politics drifting continually more leftward in the intervening six and a half or so years since I lodged my complaints with MIT. I would diagnose Ed Boyden as a variation of Mark Zuckerberg or Donald J. Trump in a much narrower and smaller scale academic context, but one where he and his deep character flaws have a lot of power to cause substantial societal damage nonetheless. One of the things my complaint letter did was lay the groundwork for a deeper discussion about how the corrupting influence of economic incentives played out in an academic context to enable the problem of Ed, in the event that MIT had been at all receptive to such a conversation.

  12. Oggie: Mathom says

    If it helps, Pharyngula and the whole Grope of Pharyngulites are a really nice old dank pub with great conversation and great people.

    I lucked out in college. I was one of three history majors in my year. Some of my classes had five students. Classes were learning, arguing, questioning, for, often, long after the class time was over. Yes, the 100 and 200 level courses were crowded with business and pre-law majors getting a ticket punched, but for a few of us, we lucked out.