Guest Post: Quiet Plebs, a Provost Is Talking

Inside Higher Ed has a recurring column called Provost Prose. Today’s is about a tropical cruise a provost took his daughter on for her sixteenth birthday (obviously), and the many important direct parallels between that cruise and the modern university customer experience.

Some of my friends did not like this post, and made this known to me. As a result, I put out a call through my high-class back channels until I located a provost of my own, who was also highly offended by this column. He found it “tonedeaf,” he says, to the “real issues provosts face–which, as we know, is the number-one issue of higher education today.” So I asked him if he’d mind writing a short guest post for me–unpaid, of course, because the prestige of appearing on this august blog should be enough. He readily agreed. So here, without further ado, is:


by T. Lance Harrington IV, a Provost

Greetings, minions. I’d like to talk today about a very important issue: Children’s birthday parties. Namely–in what way should we all spend our multiple thousands of dollars of disposable income to ensure that our children grow up with an all-encompassing sense of wealth entitlement and a solid understanding of the place of the hired help? My colleague at Hofstra insists that the best choices for this terrible conundrum should be one of two: Either spend the entirety of an adjunct’s yearly salary (already too generous as far as I’m concerned–teaching should be done out of love and love alone) on what I can only assume is a bare-bones “Sweet Sixteen” party (only one infinity pool; middle-shelf alcohol for the kids, since they don’t know the difference anyway; domestic caviar), or spend it on a modest eight-day Caribbean boat journey, scrutinizing the every move of a staff mercifully free of any labor laws and thus liberated to labor 18 hours a day in decrepit, cramped conditions, doing very important work, such as bringing me brownies with enough deference and lack of eye contact.

Now, I fully agree that my colleague’s scrutiny of the “customer experience” of his cruise and my continuing scrutiny of the “customer experience” at my university are one hundred percent correlated. I mean, think about it:

1. Almost-unpaid labor, enticed by a romantic ideal (“life of the mind,” “life of the sea,” same diff!)? Check.
2. Location of extremely copious vomiting? Check.

So, therefore, ergo, post hoc proptor hoc ipso facto bottom line, the university and cruises are exactly alike, and the only important aspect of both is “customer service,” the end.

However, I must say that I am otherwise dismayed–at my colleague’s lack of disruptive innovation, that is. There are so many more creative ways to spend the money that some bad-choice-making, 1990-Toyota-driving, food-stamps-needing loser adjunct would otherwise use for Easy Mac.

Every even remotely qualified provost knows that extravagant children’s birthday parties should start way earlier. Sweet sixteen? Amateur hour. How about a sweet sixteen weeks in the womb? My wife is currently thirteen weeks pregnant (well, our surrogate is), and three weeks from now that fetus will have in its honor a 1000-guest soiree featuring carnival rides (not for the surrogate), sushi (not for the surrogate), Dom (not for the surrogate), triple-creme French cheese (not for the surrogate), gluten-free Chia-based funnel cake (finally, something for the surrogate!), and Will Arnett from Arrested Development, in character as GOB, doing a 100% accurate re-enactment of the “Poof Goof of the Year.”

That’s innovation. That’s the result of universities paying top dollar to attract top talent. Suck it, Hofstra–I’ll out-Provost you any day.

21 thoughts on “Guest Post: Quiet Plebs, a Provost Is Talking

  1. I had thought, at first, you used your many connections to track down a serious provost rebuttal. Then snort-laughed my drink all over my keyboard. (Don’t worry. I won’t send you a bill. It’s a work keyboard. I’m sure the taxpayers will cover it.)

    Then I went and read the original cruise column. That one might be funnier. But sad-funny. The of laughter kind that is punctuated by weeping, but resumes for some unexplained reason.


  2. The Provost Prose column does convey what’s wrong in higher education! Just not the way he meant it to.

    >Leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive
    flow. –Dogbert


    • But it’s so much more delicious when it is a real provost who makes you laugh. Plus, the barely suppressed rage response makes it all the funnier. I mean, “tone deaf” hardly covers it.


  3. This is so delicious I’m dying here. “Gluten-free Chia-based funnel cake (finally, something for the surrogate!)” is brilliant. I read the original piece on Inside Higher Ed and my first thought was, “This guy has got to be trolling us.”


    • Herman Berliner has accomplished a great feat with that post, though–he’s united literally every non-MBA teaching academic in the known universe against a common enemy. I hope his Prose gets more exProsure and continues to do so.


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