Monday, November 06, 2006

Academia's loneliest hour is High Noon

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

High NoonJeff Harrison's instant classic, Making Nice, Knowing Better, Doing Nothing, reminds us that the enemies of academic integrity are many. And when someone -- a dean, a respected senior colleague, a young scholar with more energy and ambition than social grace -- decides to stare down one of those enemies, the resulting fight may be lonely indeed.

This forum's very name pays homage to the notion that an academic entrepreneur, in the guise of a "Dean Beane," can effect genuine, lasting change for the better. After pondering Making Nice, Knowing Better, Doing Nothing, I hasten to add that anyone aspiring to be Dean Beane might consider whether she or he is prepared first to become Marshal Will Kane.

Watching (or rewatching) High Noon represents a good preparatory step. High Noon, in my judgment, is the finest Western ever made. (I'll hear arguments for Shane and Unforgiven some other time.) Marshal Will Kane, newly married and about to start anew outside law enforcement, hears that Frank Miller and three other thugs are coming on the noon train to kill Will (who had put the Miller gang in prison five years ago) and to resume their reign of terror in the town of Hadleyville. Bound by a sense of duty to the town and to the law, Will decides to stay and fight. Ah, if only someone, anyone, in Hadleyville will help Will take his stand at high noon . . . .

I won't spoil the plot; you may read this detailed analysis of the film if you've already seen High Noon or would rather cut to the chase. I will share a line -- not uttered by Will Kane as depicted by Gary Cooper -- that bears remembering in our version of Hadleyville. If we leave the Will Kanes among us to stand alone in their hour of need, academia will resemble even more starkly the town that Judge Percy Mettrick describes in High Noon:
This is just a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere. Nothing that happens here is really important.


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