Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wood

Ever since Jim Chen started on the dead wood idea I cannot get it out of my mind. (You may interpret that sentence however you like.) As I understood the term when I started teaching it referred to people who did not write whether or not they had ever written. That definition is pretty narrow. All wood that is not growing is dead wood or at least I think that is the case. Dead wood, in fact, holds up houses and builds new ones. But even assuming the term makes some sense at least dead wood is far from the worst wood form.

Take faculty who talk big, are hugely self promotional and write and say nothing of consequence. I think composite "wood" might be the term here. So you might say in reference to your faculty, "We've got some composite over there." What is that? Something that is not what it appears to be and inside it's a bit crumbly. To me the composites are worse than dead wood. On second thought maybe the composites are actually balsa.

And then there is dry rot. That must be worse than dead wood. I think the term applies not to non writers -- after all they can be good citizens and tireless teachers. No, the dry rot label goes to those who do very little in any category but still affect what an institution does. Maybe they just volunteer to arrange foreign programs in adult Disney World -- Western Europe. They are worse than dead wood because they can undermine the structure and suck other things under with them. Thankfully, I think dry rot is relatively rare.

And then my favorite faculty members to whom Jim alluded recently. Yes the Making Nice, Knowing Better, Doing Nothing crowd. These are the ultimate free riders and followers of the Not-Really-New-York-Times rule. They know better and could shape an institution for the better but they are found, figuratively speaking, quaking under their desks for fear of saying anything controversial. When a Dean or a University President enters a room that portion of the brain that forms the words "I disagree" suddenly nods off. To call these folks spineless is an insult to invertebrates everywhere. Would root rot fit here? Poison Ivy? Snake wood? Maybe it is necessary to move to another phylum. I am thinking Echinodermata which includes the mighty sea cucumber, but I would like to stick to the wood metaphor. So why not pulp, as in wood pulp, and anyone who has lived near or passed by a wood pulp plant will understand why.

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