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

Number 18, Late 1988

A MANDATE

Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would get out another issue of The Vector they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand, and herewith tender this issue.

BIGGER AND BETTER

You may think we mistakenly sent you the "large print" edition of The Vector. Actually all copies are this size, and will be henceforth.

This issue inaugurates a new and larger format. We did not make this change without due deliberation. The advantage to us is that it saves production steps and simplifies the "mechanical" work of getting out each issue. The advantage to readers is that the larger size is easier to read. The only reason we could think of for sticking with the smaller format was tradition. As soon as we realized that, the decision to change was immediate.

It does have a small disadvantage. Students will no longer be able to hide The Vector behind their math or physics books during class.

So, librarians, now is the time to have the previous issues of The Vector leather bound for posterity. From now on you'll need a larger size binding.

There's been a general staff shakeup here at Vector Headquarters. In an effort to provide more diversity and variety in The Vector, your editor has issued a policy directive to the entire staff, stating that henceforth, and from now on, anyone conforming to policy directives will be subject to immediate dismissal.

POMPOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

A newspaper item caught my eye last year, about one of my Alma Maters, the University of Iowa. Iowa's president publicly apologized to those parents, friends and relatives who were unable to get into the auditorium for the spring graduation ceremonies. Some had come very far to attend, even from other countries, and because the auditorium was filled, some had to stay outside. That's too bad. I'll bet some of the graduating students would have been happy to give up their seats, if they had been given the option. I would have, but back when I got my B.A. at Iowa we weren't allowed the choice—attendance was mandatory. Later I learned that with a little creative effort there were ways to get out of attending the ceremony, and still receive the diploma. So, wiser in the ways of evasion, I was able to skip my M.S. graduation ceremony at Iowa and my Ph.D. ceremony at Penn State entirely.

Why have ceremonies survived, even in academic settings? Ceremonies are a relic of a more primitive stage of civilization. Why anyone would want to attend these ceremonies is beyond my comprehension.

Ceremonies represent a triumph of illusion over reality, emotion over reason, myth over truth. I've heard it argued that ceremonies satisfy a human emotional need to mark important milestones in life and to give the individual a feeling of belonging to a community. But if we were truly rational beings, we'd feel no such need for ceremonies or ritual, for we'd see through them as meaningless shams. It is, I think, a measure of education's failure that many college graduates still think that academic ceremonies are important. Even worse, some faculty and administrators agree.

If the quality of a school were to be judged by the impressiveness of its ceremonies, maybe we should hire David Wolper to stage some really extravagant shows. Fireworks might be a nice touch at commencement, if it were held outdoors at night. Perhaps the swim team could put on a water show while the band plays Handel's Water Music. You say this suggestion is inappropriate and absurd? I agree. But is it any less absurd to think that ceremonial events have anything to do with the academic quality of a school? Is it any less absurd to think that the success of the football team is a measure of the worth of a school?

Some people say that these symbolic affairs are designed merely to impress parents and alumni. They say, for example, that alumni would not give financial support to a school if the school didn't put on a good show on the football field and at commencement ceremonies. They even suggest that we need such entertainments to assure continued alumni support.

This argument is lost on me. If a school grants degrees to people who have such a shallow commitment to academics, then that school doesn't deserve support.

At a faculty meeting a while back I heard one of our administrators (whom I will not name, to protect the guilty) suggest (if I heard correctly) that we ought to institute some sort of "mental and physical test, as a rite of passage" for students early in their academic program! I could hardly believe my ears. Someone next to me quipped, "Maybe we should tie them down and tatoo the school emblem on them." Are presumably educated people really willing to return to primitive rituals, even to pale imitations of them? Well, apparently some are.

We still have the problem of fraternity initiations, an abhorrent type of ceremony which I think ought to be banned in any shape or form. But, then, fraternities and sororities no longer have much to do with the pursuit of higher education. They have become little more than convenient settings for drinking parties.

Education should develop rational thinking, the ability to see through sham and pretense, and the ability to discern the difference between illusion and reality, between appearances and substance. If education were really doing its job, educated persons would shun ceremonies, having no need for such empty rituals.

Of course I am expecting too much of education. "Education," as it is dispensed in corrupted form at educational institutions, does not cure people of primitive modes of thought, does not purge childish beliefs in illusions, myths and fantasies, and does not really develop good judgment and rational thought.

Education also does not seem to cure people of the primitive urge to vent their aggressions physically, by bashing someone, or to watch it being done on the football field.

COMPLAINT FORM

Please write your
complaint in the box below.

WRITE LEGIBLY



COMPLAINTS WELCOME

In the office of one of our Deans we found posted a complaint form very much like the one shown here.

THE VECTOR, YESTERDAY

A librarian asked for a complete list of Vectors published, to make sure the library had a complete set. Our original intent was to get out two issues per academic year, constituting a "volume". But some years got skipped. Volumes 1 through 8 have two issues each, except for volume 3 which has 3 issues. [Update: The SCRAPS columns from the starred entries are now available at this website.]

  • 1,1 December 1976; 1,2 April 1977
  • 2,1 January 1978; 2,2 April 1978 *
  • 3,1 Dec 1978; 3,2 March 1979, 3,3 April 1979
  • 4,1 Nov 1979; 4,2 April 1980
  • 5,1 Dec 1980; 5,2 April 1981
  • 6,1 Dec 1981; 6,2 April 1982
  • 7,1 Jan 1983; 7,2 May 1983 *
  • 8,1 June 1986 *; 8,2 Fall 1987 *
  • No 18, Late 1988 (mislabeled No. 17) *
  • No 19, Dec. 1989 *
  • No 20, Fall, 1991 (the last issue actually published) *
  • No 21, Scraps of unpublished material we had on hand)

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