Inside the Ivory Tower, Where the Wild Things Are

Fess up. Just like me, you’ve been spending lazy summer afternoons pondering the question of the moment: why can’t higher education get no respect? Put another way, why have U.S. college and university campuses become the collective laughingstock of thinking people everywhere?

Look no further that today’s home page of Inside Higher Education, an on-line newsletter dedicated to current events in academe. As I skimmed its headlines, I had an epiphany of sorts, and realized the answer to the burning question has been staring me in the face all along. Higher education has earned its reputation. See what its most earnest reporter chronicles as newsworthy.

Today’s IHE home page includes three stories about the trials and tribulations of transgendered people, including the tale of a professor fired apparently because he had the temerity to suggest an artist who specialized in, shall we say, peculiar cartoons of hermaphroditic children may have suffered himself from child abuse.


Theories about Henry Darger’s art abound. Too bad the ex-professor picked the wrong one to discuss in class. Off with his head!


In another story, feminist philosophers are still acting like women scorned in their quest for retribution against an author who “hadn’t sufficiently engaged critical race theory or the literature on transgenderism” in a peer-reviewed journal article comparing Rachel Dolezel to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and “promoted damaging ‘stereotypes’ about trans people and disparaged blacks.” If that’s not newsworthy enough, “some scholars” even “pointed out that [the hapless author] “is neither transgender nor black”! Yes, friends, this is what constitutes the news from the ivory tower.


She’s not black or trangendered! Off with her head!

Rounding out the breaking news from Translandiana comes an “academic minute” in which “Charles P. Hoy-Ellis, assistant professor in the department of social work at the University of Utah, explores whether military service negatively affects transgender adults.”

Let’s move on. Another clutch of important stories serves up a series of sex scandals one usually looks to the New York Post to provide. At Southern University in Baton Rouge, a vice-chancellor was fired for murky reasons that seem to have something to do, according to Baton Rouge’s The Advocate newspaper, with “at least two sexually explicit videos spread throughout Southern University alumni circles…. The videos were each less than 10 seconds and appeared to be taken on the smart phone app Snapchat. They originally appeared on the porn site Xtube but have since been taken down.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Southern California, IHE reports, a medical college dean, Carmen Pulafito, is about to be given the heave-ho for “alleged heavy drug use.” Another tragic tale of prescription drug abuse? Well, no. Let the LA Times tell the story from here:

During his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

Puliafito, 66, and these much younger acquaintances captured their exploits in photos and videos. The Times reviewed dozens of the images.

Shot in 2015 and 2016, they show Puliafito and the others partying in hotel rooms, cars, apartments and the dean’s office at USC.

In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill.

In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.


Former Dean Puliafito without a meth pipe.


Good times!

It’s not just the faculty-administrators who roil the campus with sex ‘n drug-fueled escapades. IHE also continues to give follow-up column inches to the apologists for the appalling Mattress Girl, the aptly named Emma Sulkowicz. Even after Sulkowicz’s victim was held blameless by Columbia University, the location of MG’s unfounded accusations and publicity-seeking (and credit-earning) stunt with a Sealy Posturpaedic, and even after the victim reached an undisclosed settlement with the university, which admitted the victim’s “remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience,” IHE’s take away from this disgraceful tale of a modern-day Salem witch trial is that Sulky “remains for many a dominant symbol of how students can fight campus sexual violence.” I don’t know how much the victim collected from Columbia for its complicity with Sulkowicz, but I hope it was a bundle.

Rounding out the top stories are 1) an entry beating up on a tiny college in Tennessee that espouses literal belief in the Bible. (Not my cup of tea, but given the school’s enrollment doesn’t even break 800, I am not too worried that vengeful fundamentalists with degrees from Bryan College will be lugging gigantic Bibles around on their shoulders in order to shame me.) And 2) a story about a college president who gets his rocks off making fun of high school graduates:

Today to be a contributing member [of] society you need almost an associate’s degree,” John Richman[,president of North Dakota State College of Science,] said on a radio program last week. “That is what it requires to be a contributing member of society. So we’re celebrating high school graduation, and we are celebrating [that] you now have enough education to be a ward of the state.

Seriously, the next time someone tries to defend higher education as an enchanted domain where students explore new ideas, acquire new information, and maybe even create new art and knowledge under the wise guidance of dedicated faculty and enlightened administrators, tell them the news from campus.

6 thoughts on “Inside the Ivory Tower, Where the Wild Things Are

  1. We recommend students quit while they’re ahead. Once you have that Associate’s Degree in hand, you’re all set.

    • But having the letters AA attached to your name can lead to, ah, a potentially negative stereotyping environment.

  2. I’m rolling over in my grave enough to cause severe earth tremors. I didn’t transform Harvard in my record-breaking 40-year tenure as president of that august institution to have higher education in general come to this.

    • We do admit that having a nicely framed Harvard degree hanging in your office is both ornamental and attractive. However, its genuine value has plummeted in recent years, thanks to Harvard Extension, which serves as Harvard’s community college.

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