Prolegomenon to a Concise Model of the University
Bryan Pfaffenberger, Ph.D.
A Research University is susceptible to a formal description: it is
composed of two fundamental Groups: Academe and Athletics. (It has been
repeatedly found that Athletics defies rational analysis, so the following
will focus on Academe.)
At Academe's core is a College of Arts & Crafts, well characterized as a
Museum, that is devoted to the Abstract, the Foreign, and the Dead. As if
they were Planets revolving around their Sun, the College is surrounded by
Schools, which study Money, Money in Law, Money in Medicine, etc.
The College and its surrounding Schools have the same internal structure;
they are composed of Units. A Unit, in turn, is composed of full-time
equivalents (FTE), also known as Fractional Persons, ranging in value from
< .001 to a considerably larger number, which is, however, a carefully
guarded secret. A Unit may also contain plants and animals; yet, as is
well known, the animals are not likely to survive.
It is the very essence of the University that the various Units are
ranked. An overarching Structural Model describes the Esteem in which
each Unit is held. As will be seen, the Structural Model holds sway over
all of Academe, the College no less than the Schools; yet the Esteem of
Units within the College is understood only as an inversion of the
superordinate Structural Model; for example, the Schools teach the art of
high income, while the College teaches the art of low income. As will be
seen, it is the duty of the Schools to be Monied, but it is the duty of
the College to be Penniless. Various processes (including the Witch Hunt
and the Purge) occur when the Structural Model (or its inversion) are
violated; these processes (described in the Processual Model) are brought
into play so that the overarching Structural Model may remain intact.
THE STRUCTURAL MODEL
Before proceeding, the reader should fully understand that, within the
University, esteem is defined in a special way. If something in held in
high esteem, that thing has been judged likely to improve the University's
rank in the greatly feared annual college survey published by US News &
World Report. This rank is, of course, of great personal concern to the
University's Administrators; if the University's rank rises, so too do
their Careers; yet if the rank should fall, they are Toast.
Evaluation of a Unit's Esteem
A Research University holds some Units in high esteem, and some Units in
(i) Units of highest esteem (eu) study money ($s) AND get money ($g);
hence eu = $s & $g;
(ii) Units of high esteem either study money OR get money; hence eu = $s |
(iii) Units of low esteem neither study money nor get money; hence, eu =
!$s & !$g;
(iv) Units of the lowest esteem not only fail to study money, but they
also are seen to expend atrocious amounts of money on high-salaried
faculty when, it is judged, their functions could easily be replaced -- at
substantial savings -- by people drawn randomly from the streets
surrounding the University; hence, eu = (!$s & !$g)/0.
Units of the lowest esteem are therefore termed DISPENSABLE UNITS (DU).
When the next Purge occurs, the DU may suddenly disappear.
ú Highest esteem: business school, law school (eu = $s & $g)
ú High esteem: economics (studies money, but does not get money (eu =
$s & !$g)
ú High esteem: computer science (gets money but does not study money
(eu = $s & !$g)
Low esteem: French, Spanish, Italian, etc. (eu = !$s & !$g)
Lowest esteem [eu = (!$s & !$g)/0]: Any unit with a name containing
the following words, whether alone or in combination: "sports studies"
(aka "leisure studies"), "communication," "writing," "education," etc.,
notwithstanding the fact that faculty in these Units may in fact produce
some of the best scholarship and research in the University. Sadly, there
is very little they can do to win praise for their accomplishments.
Within the structure described by this Model, a Unit is no passive actor.
On the contrary, each Unit examines its situation and generates a
Principle of Preservation. Units are more or less adept, and variously
constrained, in their formulation of such a Principle; where they succeed,
they can raise their rank by one notch; where they fail, they can lower it
by one notch or more. For example, the Department of Postmodern Studies
may be seen to occupy a position of such prominence that it seems to
refute the Structural Model. It should be noted, however, that the
Department of Postmodern Studies is positioned within the College, where
the overarching structural principles are reversed: the highest prestige
accrues to those Units whose Fractional Personae, and yet again their
graduates, are most likely to be Penniless. The Penniless and other
Principles of Preservation are discussed below.
THE PROCESSUAL MODEL
The Structural Model describes a synchronic system; however, the
University cannot be grasped in the absence of the Processual Model, which
describes sundry Processes. Each of these comes into play when the
university's Structure is under attack. Two are especially noteworthy,
the Purge and the Witch Hunt.
A University is exposed to the vicissitudes of the Business Cycle. At
times, funding declines markedly. However, the University does not
perceive this as adversity; on the contrary, it is seen as an opportunity.
(It should be noted that Fractional Personae are not likely to share this
view.) A Financial Exigency, as it is formally known, provides the
University with an opportunity to trim off various accretions and
anachronisms that have formed on its Body-in short, to mount a
A Purge cannot be grasped without understanding the period of fat and
plenty that typically precedes it. During the time of fat and plenty, the
University is not as zealous as it should be to ensure that, with certain
exceptions (see "The Penniless Principle," below), non-revenue-producing
Units (!RPU) are strictly disciplined and kept within bounds, and that
revenue-producing Units (RPU) are favored.
It is for this reason that the Purge presents an Opportunity. The
University cannot distribute cuts randomly, though such an approach might
be deemed Fair, because doing so would punish the RPU as well as the !RPU.
It is far more rational to trim the !RPU. Therefore, prior to a Purge,
the University will attempt to determine which of the !RPUs it might
safely attack, within the constraints of the Principles of Preservation,
discussed below. For example, the University may not attack a !RPU that
has become the Pet of a Patron (see "The Patron Principle," below); nor an
!RPU that adheres to the Party Principle (see "The Party Principle,"
below), nor yet again an !RPU that nurtures a Cow (see "The Practicality
Principle," below). As will be seen, to attack the first threatens the
Endowment; the second, the Alumni Fund; and the third, the Football
The Witch Hunt
Like all tribal societies, the University is susceptible to Witch Hunts.
As anthropologists have learned, Witch Hunts are likely to occur when an
individual is seen to violate the most cherished underlying principles of
In a Witch Hunt, an individual is seen to have violated the Sacred Order
established by the Structural Principle (or its inversion). But this is
not, of course, the charge that is made against the Witch; after all,
there are many within the College who would like a few Pennies, as there
are those within the Schools who would like a little break from proposal
writing. Therefore, the University must paint the Witch out to be a
horrifyingly evil person, the type of person that a right-minded
individual would shun. A sordid investigation follows in which Trump
Charges are invented through a remarkable process of logical inversion:
Whatever Good the Witch had previously done is now seen to be Evil (e.g.,
"You think those high student evaluations mean anything? He bribed the
students with pizza!"). If the Witch lacks tenure, no rehire occurs; if
the Witch is tenured, the Witch may continue to teach, but will be reduced
to sulking in a darkened office or drinking at home.
Following the principle of logical inversion which redounds throughout the
University's structure, School Witch Hunts are top-down; administrators
single out those who are lax in their production of revenue. A College
Witch Hunt, in contrast, begins with penniless Fractional Personae within
the Units. It targets those who have been lax in their production of
Pennilessness, mainly through the too-conspicuous consumption of Filthy
Lucre (e.g., textbook royalties).
THE PRINCIPLES OF PRESERVATION
A principle of preservation is best understood as a unit's Constitution.
It represents the Stance by which the Unit hopes to survive the next
The Penniless Principle
A unit of low esteem may be treated, in some ways, as if it were a unit of
high esteem. This remarkable elevation can occur only if (a) a majority
of Ivy League Institutions deem its presence, however paralyzed by
abysmally low funding or irrelevance to the world around the University,
to be an essential element of a World Class University (WCU). These units
are called Penniless Units.
Typically, but not exclusively, Penniless Units are grouped together in a
larger Unit called the College or School of Arts & Crafts. Such a College
or School strikingly conforms to Carpenter and McLuhan's definition of a
museum: "A place where we display a way of life that we have made
impossible." It is, however, extremely impolite to point this out, and
could at the extreme bring on a Witch Hunt (see Processual Model, below).
So far from contradicting the Structural Model, the Penniless Principle in
fact represents its precise structural inversion. In the Structural
Model, pennies bring prestige. In the Principle of Penniless Prestige,
pennies not only fail to bring prestige, but in fact are felt to undermine
or otherwise pervert a Unit's quality. Only by remaining Penniless can
the unfortunate faculty of such units ensure that their Esteem remains
high. (The administrators of such units are, it should be noted, not
subjected to the Penniless requirement.)
A Penniless Unit must ensure, at the pain of losing its Esteem, that its
faculty and students refrain from getting or studying money. This is most
effectively accomplished by focusing the Unit on a Topic that has Maximum
There are three variant forms of Maximum Irrelevance: the Dead, the
Foreign, and the Abstract.
In terms of relative ranking within these MI variants, the Abstract is by
far the best because it cannot possibly have anything to do with Money.
An example is Postmodern Studies. (Economics, although it is indeed
Abstract and may even be found in the College of Arts and Crafts, is not
Penniless, so it is irrelevant to this generalization.) This penniless
outcome of abstraction helps to explain the relatively high Esteem in
which Philosophy and Linguistics departments are held, a phenomenon which
is otherwise inexplicable and has long puzzled observers.
The Dead and the Foreign rank somewhat lower owing to the fact that, on
occasion, someone pulls off the unbelievable feat of getting Money to
study the Dead or the Foreign, or manages to persuade other Units that
studying the Dead or the Foreign discloses the essence of Money (e.g.,
economic history and economic anthropology). Such feats may seem, on
first appearance, to be astonishing and praiseworthy - the perpetrators
tend to see them this way - but they contradict the Penniless Principle.
In such cases, of course, the University is only to glad to benefit from
whatever money is obtained by the Penniless, but if the Penniless prove
too successful in winning Pennies, they may find themselves the target of
a Witch Hunt generated from within their own Unit. After all, Penniless
faculty have been trained to believe that their Prestige inheres in their
Sometimes, impoverished Penniless faculty attempt to perform what amounts
to an "end run" by seeking riches on their nights and weekends. But this
activity must remain concealed; mysteries must be published under
pseudonyms; faculty-founded rapacious Corporations must be incorporated as
Limited Liability Corporations so that the names of their principals and
investors are not accessible to the public. (In such cases a hapless
Graduate Student can be drawn from the ranks of the Penniless to serve as
the Corporation's apparent Director; only too late will the Director
discover that he possesses very little of a thing called Equity, that for
some reason was never mentioned in the curriculum.)
When great wealth is under secret development, the perpetrator must appear
to remain most abjectly Penniless, eschewing the Large House, Yacht, and
BMW that normally accrues to the wealthy, unless such Luxuries can be
positioned so far away that they are unlikely to be discovered. Well do
they know the risk. If a Penniless person is found to have secretly
worshipped Mammon, it is likely that a Witch Hunt will occur. These Witch
Hunts are unusual for their intensity and the degree of violence that is
inflicted on the Witch.
It remains to note that this phenomenon explains why, on occasion, elderly
faculty long thought to be Penniless are found, despite having lived what
to all appearances was an exceptionally humble lifestyle, to have
accumulated tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. It is sad to
note that only rarely are such funds bequeathed to the University. This
is a fact that this Analysis is helpless to explain.
The Principle of Posterior Pain
A unit of high esteem may become a unit of low esteem, or a unit of low
esteem may become a Pain, when the following conditions are present: its
faculty despise one another, are reputed to have "sharp elbows," display
their dirty linen (so to speak) in public, and threaten to file numerous
lawsuits, including lawsuits against one another (the most popular
choice), lawsuits against the Chair or Dean, or, at the extreme, lawsuits
against the President of the United States, the Unfair World, or the
Ungrateful Universe. The present author, desirous of remaining present,
prefers to omit an example and begs the reader's forgiveness.
When a Unit becomes a Pain, a remarkable transformation occurs, which has
been termed "psychedelic" by some observers and "shamanic" by others. To
understand this transformation fully, it should be conceded that the
Esteem in which most Units are normally held is grounded, to a reasonable
extent, in Reality.
It is important to understand, however, that within a University Reality
means something markedly different from the way this term is generally
understood, viz., "the empirical world as disclosed by the evidence of the
senses." In a University, Reality refers to world in which Units derive
their status by means of observable indexes of Esteem. Such an index is a
sign, or symbol, that is taken to indicate the Unit's Esteem. As the
Structural Model dictates, the two most prominent Esteem Indexes are (a)
the amount of money retrieved, and (b) the percentage of faculty who
actually study money.
To be specific, then, when a Unit is declared to be a Pain, those in other
Units begin to discount the evidence provided by empirically observed
Esteem Indexes: it is though such indexes no longer matter, or were
falsely presented in the first place: e.g., "They didn't bring in THAT
much money," or "I don't know what they're doing, but it isn't economics."
As this mystical transformation occurs, those in other Units are aware
that these altered assessments are flatly contradicted by the previous
praise of the Dean, flattering profiles in the Faculty News, and faculty
Awards and Prizes; however, having the temerity to point this out is one
of many unwise actions that may result in a Witch Hunt. The Unit's
research focus, once described as Essential, suddenly becomes Trivial or,
at the extreme, a downright threat to the University's survival. Of
course, faculty within the Unit continue to point to their Reality, the
Esteem Indexes that they perceive to be right, just, and holy, and plead
with onlookers in an increasingly pathetic way. They are shunned,
regarded with disgust, and treated like lepers. In the end, they stop
coming in, and remain at home, sulking and drinking.
It should be noted that a Pain's destiny may not be so tragic, but merely
constricting, if it is Penniless (see "Penniless Principle," below).
So far from contradicting the Structural Model, then, the transformation
described here can be best described as a logical transformation of the
Structural Model: When a Unit becomes a Pain, the University has, in
effect, (a) detached the Unit from the Ladder of Esteem, (b) caused it to
enter a magical but painful world in which Reality no longer counts, and
(c) moved it -- lock, stock, and barrel -- one rung down. If the Pain's
new status is that of the Dispensable Unit (DU), it may be wiped out in
the next Purge (see "Processual Model," below).
It remains to note that, although Universities are quite good at this
trick, their accomplishments are overshadowed by the U.S. Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI), which is known to have practiced and refined this
process to a level that can only be described as perfection.
A stern warning should be issued for those who imagine that, by walking
from a Pain to a normal Unit, they can experience some of the effects of a
psychedelic drug. Within the Pain, Reality is irrelevant; however, when
one moves a few doors down the hall to a normal Unit, Reality reappears.
Would be trippers have seriously damaged their sanity by toying with this
phenomenon. It is now broadly acknowledged that even one exposure to this
transformation places one at an elevated risk of moderate to severe
depression or more serious and potentially psychotic disorders.
A Brief Note on Penniless Pains
It should not prove surprising that a particular unit's status within the
College of Arts & Crafts is perilously unstable. A commonly cited reason
is that these units are prone to statistical extremes, such as the lowest
salaries, the highest incidence of depressive disorders, and the loudest
whining. Such a unit can quite easily become a Pain.
When a Penniless Unit becomes a Pain, the University is placed in an
extremely awkward position, because the Unit -- Pain though it may be --
is essential to the University's bid for acceptance as a World Class
University (WCU). It may also have a Patron (see "The Patron Principle,"
below). In such cases, the Pain may be tolerated. It will be said, "What
do you expect when you pack so many brilliant people into such a tiny
building?" The faculty of a Penniless Pain should not, however, expect to
receive a larger building.
The Practicality Principle, Or, the Parable of the Cow
Some practically oriented Dispensable Units seem immune to the Purge.
Once again, this puzzling phenomenon is readily explicable in the light of
the Structural Model.
Typically, these units are anachronisms; they hearken back to an age long
gone, but have somehow managed to escape notice. Still, they teach
something that the greater World deems of value, even though it is no
longer regarded as such within the University.
In the following example, it must be understood that the Cow to be
mentioned below is not necessary an animal; it is, rather, an abstraction
or a symbol that can stand for a wide range of things that have the
qualities attributed to a Cow within the University.
Consider, then, a Unit which well understands how to take care of a Cow so
that it is shielded, as far as possible, from sickness and death. In
fact, the faculty in such Units truly love their Cows and care for them;
as a result, the Cows thrive, and they are beautiful. On occasion, a Cow
can be seen wandering about the grounds of the University. Indeed, when
the Public visits the University, they want to see the Cows.
To understand how Cows and Cow-like Units could survive in a University,
it is essential to introduce an additional processual model, The Great
In a Great Transformation, a State School that is generally held in low
repute rapidly becomes a World Class University (WCU); thus does the State
Normal School, the College of Agriculture, and the School of Mines
suddenly become the Universities of Such-and-Such. Yet the Great
Transformation may have been so rapid that the University's poorer cousins
-- they of the Normal School, the Ag School, and the School of Mines --
may have hopped on the wagon, keeping a very low profile. Embarrasingly,
they have brought their Cows along.
One would think that such Units would be quickly erased by a Purge -- and
indeed, sometimes they are. But the University will think twice before
undertaking such action. That is because Cows happen to be of particular
importance to the State that directly surrounds the University, and the
Public might not take kindly to any actions that are seen to be an attack
on the Cow, or the Cow's place within what the people of the State believe
to be the proper scheme of things. This is a particularly dangerous
situation when the University's Football team has been on a prolonged
losing streak. And so the Unit is left alone, and Cows continue to graze,
to the infinite embarrassment of Esteemed Units.
Yet that which the University declines to do in the short run by Purge,
will be done in the long run by Death, as the University wields the Sword
of Attrition. The Sword of Attrition is based on University
administrators' careful study numerous military texts, including the
memoirs of Atilla the Hun and SunTzu's Art of War. All of these texts
affirm that a Great Victory can be achieved by the simple expedient of
surrounding the enemy's city and preventing the entry of food and water.
By analogy, then, the University sees to it that when a Cow dies, or a
member of the Cow faculty leaves the institution, or indeed this earthly
plane, no replacement is made. The process is sufficiently slow that the
Public does not perceive it; the frog, after all, does not realize that it
is being boiled. In time, no more Cows will appear, no one will speak of
them, and no one will pound on the door of the University demanding that
Cow Studies return. In the end, the Cow's invisibility becomes total
because, in the State surrounding the University, there is no longer a Cow
Industry, because Cows are produced far more cheaply by foreign
The Principle of Peradventure
Owing to dramatic changes in the University's external environment that
function to make a certain discipline's topic Highly Relevant, a unit of
low esteem may be suddenly raised to a level of high esteem. For example,
the faculty of Middle Eastern Languages units throughout the United States
have suddenly found themselves, after years of concerted attempts to
subject them to starvation, to have become -- quite deservedly -- the
object of great affection. (In truth, most Penniless units are just as
deserving; yet the Penniless have learned to take what they can.) In the
brief window of opportunity that emerges, a crafty Penniless unit may be
able to expand its Unit, with the understanding -- of course -- that any
such accretion or expansion must also remain Penniless.
It is but a small wonder that the faculty in such Units are heard to
exclaim, like Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,
some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness
thrust upon 'em (Twelfth Night, II, 5).
The Party Principle
There are certain apparently Dispensable Units (DU) that, despite the low
esteem in which they are held, survive all periodic purges because they
are beloved by legions of fanatically devoted alumni.
Although the reasons for such devotion vary, it is widely suspected that
low academic standards play a significant role in the great esteem which
which Alumni hold these Units. This is a complex and frequently
misunderstood subject that will necessitate some explication and careful
The unenlighted onlooker may conclude the Units adhering to the Party
Principle contradict or, at the extreme, negate the very idea of a
University. In this they are quite mistaken. It is an error likely to
have been made by those who lack long experience at a University. Those
with such experience know perfectly well that it is not the best, but on
the contrary the worst, students who are most likely to become obscenely
wealth after they graduate.
A sardonic aphorism, known to all faculty, sums up the situation: "The A
students teach; the B students work for the C students."
The conclusion is quite simple: the Party Principle is a proven survival
strategy. If the University wishes to get money in the future, it must
allow some Units adhering to this Principle to survive periodic Purges.
To render the above aphorism in the terms provided by this analysis, A
students are learning to become Penniless, B students are learning to
become Dispensable, while C students - who are obviously considerably
smarter - have correctly perceived the University's basic message: Get
The Patron Principle, Or, The Miracle
There remains to note another permutation of the Structural Model, one
that recognizes sometimes highly irrational actions undertaken by wealthy
Patrons who have informed the University that they intend to leave a large
Bequest. Such Patrons may drop by the President's offices at will, and -
supposing that the president were named Robert - call out, "Bobby! Are
you hiding under your desk again?" Feeling the strength of their
approaching Bequest, even though it ensures their Doom, the Patron
nevertheless delights in attaching various sorts of strings to his Gift.
It is the President's weary job to convince the Patron to bequeath his
Fortune to Unrestricted Funds, which the university greatly desires, but
the Patron is unable to see how a placard bearing his name could be
attached to Unrestricted Funds. The Patron therefore wishes to donate his
Fortune to something tangible, preferably a building, the larger the
The usual outcome is a negotiated settlement, with the University
receiving some Unrestricted Funds while the Patron receives his Building.
If the University presses the Patron too harshly to donate Unrestricted
Funds, the Patron may become annoyed; indeed, he may begin to hint darkly
that the bequest will not occur if for any reason, including highly
rational ones, his pet Unit will come under attack.
Should this transpire, a desperate Unit, somewhere in the University, will
suddenly experience a marked decrease in the pressure being brought to
bear against them. They will not know, of course, what has actually
transpired. And so they turn their faces to Heaven, and thank whatever
Divinities there might be for their Divine Intervention.
The reflective reader may conclude -- correctly -- that the Concise Model
describes a system that is inherently unstable. The instability stems
from the unfortunate realities of faculty experience. An exception must
be made for those who manage to get money and study money. Theirs is a
delicious life; they strut about the University like lords, which in fact
It is in the lower ranks that instability sets in.
Faculty who get money (but do not also study it) soon learn that, apart
from their higher salaries, they are unable to keep any of the money for
themselves; the money they get enriches the University, not them. (In
contrast, in the Business and Law Schools, various arrangements are made
to make sure that this is not so.)
Faculty who study money, but do not get money, may eventually realize
that they are on the outside looking in, and may have missed their chance
for a little of the action.
Penniless faculty may begin writing mysteries or business plans. At the
extreme, they may mount a suicidal campaign that is intended to reverse
their Pennilessness within the University, a goal that cannot be reached.
Such perturbations cannot be tolerated. And that is precisely why the
Witch Hunt is as important as the Purge in reproducing the structure
described in the Structural Model. This point also explains why the
University, supposedly an enlightened institution, is prepared to tolerate
Witch Hunts, barbarous though they may be.
The present author regrets that, on the advice of his attorney,
appropriate references cannot be included here. As prepublication drafts
circulated and various individuals learned to be cited, they threatened
legal action if their names and works were to be included here. It is
indeed sad that these individuals lack the present author's courage, but
it must be admitted that nearly all of them lack tenure.
Posted by Bryan at February 22, 2003 12:01 PM
The home of this updated version is here
A rare and valuable first edition is archived here.