SCRAPS FROM THE EDITOR'S WASTEBASKET

These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector an informal, unofficial, and unheralded publication I edited during my years teaching at Lock Haven University. In response to overwhelming demand (a couple of people at least) these are being archived here for those strange people who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia. Some of the references to then-current events may be puzzling, but feel free to skip them, or relate them to more recent events of similar nature (which can always be found). References to internal politics at Lock Haven University may be easily transferred to situations at other academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in square brackets.

    —Donald E. Simanek

Vol. 7 No. 1, Jan 1983

THE LATE VECTOR

Yes, this issue is late, even in comparison to our usual erratic schedule. Your editor has no valid excuse. His invalid excuse is that has been wasting time completing his thesis research at Penn State U. Some readers mailed us subtle hints, such is, "The last VECTOR I received was April 1982. Have I missed anything?" Other readers wrote nice letters; some even sent us jokes and puzzles, perhaps assuming we'd run out of material. Most of these have received no reply. To all such readers, we thank you for remembering us, and we do appreciate year feedback. Some of the material readers sent us provided mental stimulation and amusement which helped raise our spirits during the long hours in the physics lab. We might even get around to a personal reply sometime. Until then, perhaps this issue of THE VECTOR will forestall a general uprising of reader indignation.

OUR SECRETS OF SUCCESS

Recently a journal editor and VECTOR fan asked us to write a short article "on setting up and running a local publication: how you happened to start THE VECTOR, how it developed, ...whether it has had noticeable effect, plans for the future, do's md don'ts for those who may want to emulate you."

Needless to say we could not honor his request. Our experience would be unlikely to transfer intact to another environment. Anyone foolish enough to try to emulate us would do well to consider a few words of advice and warning.

THE VECTOR was begun out of boredom, and a feeling that every campus should have a vehicle for faculty and student writing—"light" pieces, not stuffy or scholarly. not artistically pretentious. Such a publication should have enough variety to interest a wide audience, and should not take itself too seriously.

So unserious were we that we fully expected the enterprise to last only one or two years at most. Unfortunately readers began to take us seriously. Thus our mailing list has grown, as readers pass on THE VECTOR to corrupt innocent colleagues. [The print runs reached 500, with over 200 off-campus recipients.] There's no fun in duplicating what can he found elsewhere. So we try to include material just a bit different from that in other publications. We review the books others ignore. We take positions in opposition to popular views. We even make fun of serious matters and give serious consideration to nonsense and satire.

Has THE VECTOR had an effect? Well, we are encouraged by the number of people who tell us we are doing a public service, whatever that can mean. We are especially encouraged by the enemies we make, particularly those in administration, and in the Phys. Ed. and Teacher Ed. areas. We will do our best to broaden this base of opposition.

We strive never to he overly serious about anything, even when attacking deserving targets. One purpose of THE VECTOR is therapeutic. The world has many serious problems which are not being solved by endless discussion. It helps a bit if we can laugh about them occasionally. In fact, it helps if we can take time out to laugh at anything, even an outrageous pun.

OUR PRINCIPLES

Don't do anything from a sense of duty. Do what brings you amusement, satisfaction, or valuable experience.

Don't do something for only one reason. Require two or more reasons—or no reason at all.

Listen politely to other people's opinions and advice, even when you intend to ignore them.

Certain institutions and persons are deserving of contempt and ridicule, so give it to them. Silence implies acceptance.

Try occasionally to educate. Even if you reach only 1 in 100, that's better than most educational institutions achieve.

If even one reader either likes or hates on article, it may be worth doing more in the same vein. But total indifference ought to be taken seriously.

Violate any of the above when circumstances warrant.

AN UNAPPEALING PEALING

That strange, strangled sound you hear every hour is the old campus bell in its new bell tower. This structure is stark in its simplicity, and in its ugliness. It looks like something designed by a budding engineer who never bloomed, perhaps one who flunked Dr. Simanek's course in statics. As a truss system it wouldn't even make a good exam question, and its Maxwell-Cremona diagram would be degenerate. It is fabricated of steel which is guaranteed to look rusty, as if it just came from a scrap yard.

When plans were first hatched to have a campus bell tower we suggested that such a tower could be a symbol of our administration, especially if it had a belfry which bats could inhabit. Well, it has no shelter for bats, but when its voice is heard, it sounds cracked, and if you look closely you can see that its supporting girders have a right handed twist. The structure is a bit screwy. So maybe our suggestion was partially realized.

The alumni and other friends of LHSC contributed $15,000 for this object of art. By contrast, the Friends of LHSC was able to provide $8000 in scholarships to be divided among 29 students during fall term. One wonders about priorities.

I notice that Penn State has built two nice gazebos on its campus, as part of its ongoing campus beautification project. Frankly, I prefer the gazebos, for they provide a shady place to sit and contemplate the universe. Our bell tower provides no shade. Besides, gazebos are quieter. When will Lock Haven State close the gazebo gap?

A VICTORY

We remarked in an earlier issue that the Learning and Research building was inappropriately named. Apparently our criticism was noted in higher administrative circles, for the building has been renamed The Robinson Building. Who says that THE VECTOR's voice is not beard?

This building has a history of being ill-named. When proposed, a memo mistakenly called it the "Learning Recourses Center", but "Learning Resources Center" was meant. Then somehow it became the "Learning and Research Center", but at least its initials, LRC, remained constant.

Now, perhaps its name will endure, whatever goes on within its walls. Have you ever wondered why campus buildings are traditionally named after people? At private colleges. they are often named after the rich alumni who donate money for them. That makes sense. Public institutions seldom produce alumni that rich, or that willing to part with their wealth, so buildings are named for professors or administrators. In either case, future generations of students can look at the names on the buildings and ask, "Who was that?"

AND A DEFEAT

We continue to wonder why sports and physical education are allowed any place in academic institutions. No one has ever given an academically defensible justification for them. But still they refuse to go away, and continue to drain resources from academic programs. Now we don't blame the individuals on the physical education faculty for taking advantage of the situation to get all they can. We blame the administration and the board of trustees for letting them get away with it. And we blame the community and Alumni for pressuring the administration to support athletics, while showing no comparable regard for the academic programs, which some of as naively thought were the sole mission of higher education.

Score one mare defeat for academics. President Willis has just approved, for at least another year, the videotaping of sports events at the college for broadcast over the local cable system. Never mind that it takes equipment and technicians away from instructional TV services on campus. Never mind that the equipment and technicians were already overburdened with the instructional services for which they were intended. We must all bow down to the sports aristocracy. When they call, we must serve.

Score: Spurts 10, academics 0. Score: For our new president, on his First important test: FLUNK!

Thing of the year: Our administration.

THE COVER PICTURE

This month's cover was inspired by Dean Zaharis, who reminded us the other day that "the administration" is an "it", not a "they". He's right. So our cover illustration shows that "it", or "thing", that multi-headed beast called "Our Administration". The head on the southwest side of the animal is that of Dean Zaharis.

[Dean Zaharis is the focus of many jokes in these documents. We should explain that he was actually one of the "good guys" in administration, a decent fellow who got in with a bad crowd. When he wised up and resigned from administration to rejoin the biology faculty, he, for several years, served as one of the proofreaders for THE VECTOR.]

Some readers have asked why we make jokes about the administration. Because, like Mount Everest, it is there.

Some folks in my department suggest that I shouldn't pick on the administration for fear it will retaliate by reducing support for our academic programs. Some even suggest criticism of college sports might have the same result.

These cautionary critics are actually condemning the administration in a more fundamental way than we ever have. They are suggesting that some administrators might be so petty and have such sensitive egos that they'd let personal annoyance at one faculty member influence their academic decisions affecting a whole department!

We don't hold such an opinion of our administration. We may disagree with some administrative actions and policies but we still assume that administrators are decent individuals trying to do what they think best for the school. If we thought they had overblown egos and were lacking a sense of humor, than we might worry about the possible consequences of our occasional needling.

ENCOURAGING WORDS

It is now December as I write this. I am up to my ears in the calculation of students' final grades, and planning to spend the holiday break doing the monumental number-crunching data analysis on my research project. As I turn to the last page of my Hewlett- Packard 1982 calendar (turned half a month late, as usual) I see this quote from mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646- 1716):

It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labor of calculation.
Thanks, Gottfried. I needed that.

Return to Uncle Don's Notebook Archives
Return to Donald Simanek's front page.