Friday, 21 March 2008

The Secret Origins of Academic Bureaucracies: A Platonic Dialogue Socrates and Plato walk the grounds of the Academy. Plato wears a look of confused concern. Socrates looks like Socrates always looks: like a man who sees mate in three but decides to toy with his opponent for another fifteen. Plato: I need to pay my student fees so I can finish my dissertation this quarter. Socrates: Then you will need to talk to the Cashier. Plato: The Cashier? Socrates: (places tiny green hat on his head) How can I help you? Plato: I need to pay my student fees. Socrates: You know you have an outstanding fine from last quarter? Plato: For what? Socrates: Seems you never paid your dissertation fee. Plato: But I did. Is there a payment for $131 in your records? Socrates: Paid on December 14th. Plato: Then how have I not paid my fees? Socrates: You'll need to talk to Graduate Studies. Plato: Graduate Studies? Socrates: (removes tiny green hat and replaces it with tiny red one) What can I do you for? Plato: You just—the Cashier just told me I didn't pay the fees I paid on December 14th. Socrates: So he has a record of you paying yet says you never paid? Interesting. Let me check our records. (stares into space) I see the problem. The Cashier never stamped our records, so Graduate Studies didn't know you had paid. Plato: But you—you're—you're the— Socrates: Because the Cashier didn't stamp this before Graduate Studies received it, you never paid the dissertation fee. Plato: The one I paid the Cashier. Socrates: Sans stamp. You'll need to have the Cashier stamp this and then talk the Registrar about waving the late fee. Plato: Could you put on your other hat? (Socrates removes the red hat from his head and replaces it with a purple one) Wait, who's purple? Socrates: I am the Registrar. How can I be of service? Plato: Didn't you just tell me I needed to talk to the Cashier first? Socrates: Did I? Plato: You did. Socrates: If you say so. (removes the purple hat and replaces it with the green) So nice to see you again. How can I help you now? Plato: I need you to stamp Grad Studies record, then I need you to switch ha— Socrates: One thing at a time. (stamps Grad Studies record with "PAID" of slapstick proportions) There you are. Bring this to Grad Studies and you'll be set. Plato: ... ? Socrates: Oh yes. (swaps the green for the red) Looks like everything is in order. Now let me assess your fees— Plato: For? Socrates: For the upcoming quarter. You must pay $3,500 for full-time status. Plato: But I'm only enrolled part-time. Socrates: I understand. But to be enrolled part-time you must first be enrolled full-time. I cannot press this button if you aren't enrolled full-time. Plato: But full-time fees are more than double part-time. Socrates: I will reimburse you the difference. Plato: After you press the button? Socrates: More or less. Plato: More or...
You People Suck Remember a few (months longer than I remembered them being) back when I asked whether I'd knocked your socks off? Remember how I played up the interdisciplinary awesomeness of all things blogs? Then how I did it again a few months later with some folks up at Davis? I take it all back. The punchline to the Wharton introduction was supposed to be that the famous metaphysical philosopher's true talent lay in the biological sciences. He'd discovered the importance of amphioxus notochords long before anyone else thought to look at them ... but because my head's jammed full of junk, I missed the significance of Wharton's reference. The amphioxus was not just some fish—it was an important fish-type-thing. Possibly the most important fish-type-thing of the late 19th Century. Why? Because the amphioxus had long been considered one of those all-important missing links. To quote the I-can't-emphasize-his-importance-enough-type-person Ernst Haeckel—referenced by Wharton in the very paragraph I cite—the amphioxus is important "because it fills the deep gulf between the Invertebrates and the Vertebrates" (76).* The amphioxus is—quite literally—a liminal figure in the history of science. Given that my argument in this chapter concerns Wharton's reluctance to wed any particular evolutionary theory because of the excess of liminal figures and ambiguous conclusions, I find your silence on the issue quite alarming. You're supposed to be helping me. (In case the subtext of the earlier posts/presentations/roundtables was unclear.) Yet here I am stuck doing all this work myself. I can't say I'm not disappointed. Because I am. That's where I've been the past week: in the archives, reading about these almost-fishes and the many debates they engendered. This didn't have to happen. I could've been reading the 3,000 odd posts in my RSS reader. But you people had to let me down. Don't think I'll forget this. Because I won't. (Unless something more important comes up. There's only so much trivia a mind can contain ... and petty grudges concerning non-issues are typically the first overboard.) *Eddie Izzard is a bad influence.

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