“John Keats was an opium addict, claims a new biography of the poet/ The author of Ode to a Nightingale wrote his greatest poems with the aid of opium, believes Prof Nicholas Roe” – Headline, The Guardian (UK), September 21, 2012
As every new Ph.D. learns, two giant metaphorical dragons stand ready to incinerate the questing scholarly squire. The first toasting, of course, occurs during the search for a job, any job. It’s difficult even to collapse into pre-feudal academic peonage as an “adjunct” (calling adjuncts “pre-feudal,” as Prof. Grendel Hrothgar has explained, is appropriate because peasants, bound permanently to the land in manorial times, had at least some semblance of job security). The more fortunate newly-minted PhDs wind up flipping burgers while adjuncts discover that their future pay and benefits will consist mostly of food stamps.
For the minuscule number of graduates who actually obtain a potentially permanent job the second monster lurking in their way is hydra-headed fire-breather designed to prevent the questing wretch from obtaining lifetime job security via tenure. Impediments include Byzantine academic politics, viciously competitive peers, and, above all, the “publish or perish” imperative in the face of rapidly vanishing publishing outlets.
A rescue for a lucky few has been inaugurated by certain members of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange which normally trades options and such commodities as soybeans, cheese, and softwood pulp. “The Tenure Exchange,” a new investing arena on the Merc, is the brainchild of academic refugees who now earn high six and low seven figure incomes trading pork bellies and the like. The new exchange will feature long term puts and calls that bet on the tenure prospects of selected academics.
What’s in it for the professoriate is the bestowal of a sure-fire tenure-winning monograph topic along with guaranteed publication of the resulting tome followed in all probability by a killer reputation as a cutting-edge scholar. An option on the Tenure Exchange will begin ticking when a chosen professor selects and starts writing about one of these jackpot-nailing ideas. The presumption for betting purposes is that an Exchange Scholar will be an odds-on favorite to snatch the academic brass ring, but the option will expire worthless if the prof gets zapped by his or her department or has simply failed to become tenurized at the end of four years.
The Exchange has, “for peanuts,” according to a spokesperson, purchased several distinguished university presses and scholarly journals which will be kept afloat for purposes of the betting. Selected professors will receive secretarial support from adjuncts (who are paid $6.00 per hour, double their going university pay). The profs will also benefit from rubber-stamped peer reviews (facilitated by other Exchange applicants), rapid publication by one of the captive presses, and highly positive reviewer support in Exchange-owned academic journals.
As a result, said a Tenure Exchange spokesperson, any of our favored texts should sell more than 250 copies, the average throughout academe, “and maybe a few humans, other than the libraries forced to purchase academic works, will buy the damn books. All our help will juice up the odds in the tenure chase. Even so, academe is a crapshoot, and the bettors will be told that, based on preliminary guesstimates, 30 percent of our gussied-up chumps won’t make it.”
An expected flood of academic applicants will be vetted by Chicago area adjuncts who will be told precisely how to grade the candidates. The process is supposed to be secret, but leaks have already suggested how the Tenure Exchange expects to determine its chosen profs. For instance, successful applicants, like the most sophisticated of academic careerists at any university, must have arrived at the cusp of tenure by publishing some journal or conference papers featuring starkly outré, if not totally bizarre claims. Other qualities that historically favor the writing samples of any tenure candidate include a predilection for polysyllables, obscurity, and jargon-drenched prose plus a talent for producing violently tortured syntax and the ability to mystify even the most determined reader.
For the selected professors, next to guaranteed publication, the major benefit of the process is access to a secret list of tenure winning topics with accompanying summary arguments. The Exchange has developed an astonishingly powerful fast-track tenure algorithm wherein a database is fed all the current thinking on a given academic subject. At that point the algorithm explodes this material in pursuit of radically non- mainstream interpretive paths with binary opposition to prevailing wisdom being the programmed ideal.
Again, some of this information has leaked. Here are a few of the algorithm-based tenure-winning topics:
- Marilyn Monroe, Quantum Theorist
- Franklin Roosevelt, Phony Paralytic
- T. S. Eliot’s Daily Urine Baths
- Your Evolutionary Partner, the Cockroach
- Charlie Manson’s Arcadian Dream
- Christ, John the Baptist, and Messianic One-Upsmanship
- The Ur-Feminism of Attila the Hun
- Jeffrey Dahmer, Dostoevskian Saint
- Clinton and JFK: The Hidden Shame of Chronic Impotence
- Cardinal Newman’s Fart Jokes Obsession
- Thomas Jefferson, Mulatto
- Hemingway Had a Vagina
Soon volumes based on these topics and similar by-products of the Tenure Exchange will light up the world of scholarship with their incandescence.