Academic baseball

IF you don't think that professors are simply big kids at heart, then try reading The Chronicle of Higher Education for a few weeks. A recent issue had a story about the beefing up of the English department of Duke University by attracting ``scholarly hotshots'' to the faculty. The story is punctuated with baseball quotations and references, as if academe were analogous to the American and National Leagues. Thus, the department chairman is described as a man ``with the gusto of a George Steinbrenner.'' Another faculty member said, ``I don't think any other English department in the country can boast of the lineup of home-run hitters we've got here.'' A prospective addition to the faculty said, ``It's like being asked to join the Yankees when Reggie Jackson was at the peak of his powers.'' The story goes on to talk about star faculty as ``free agents'' consigned to several different ``teams.'' Can you imagine grown men and women talking about their jobs as if they were kids trading baseball cards? Well, maybe it's not too far fetched. The professor comes to bat several times a week when he delivers a lecture; when he is at top performance, his fans, the students, may give him a round of applause. A strikeout is a lecture that goes over like a lead balloon. So is a scholarly manuscript that is rejected by a board of editors. And the longest walk in the world - like the walk of a pitcher who's being relieved - is from the classroom to the office after a lousy performance in class.

An error occurs when the brightest student in the class points out that the professor's facts are wrong; the same with a reviewer of the professor's book. And, of course, no professor wants to be put on waivers. He'd like to be the one deciding if and when he'll switch to another team at some other institution. Some professors rise up to coaches or deans; others are the Johnnies-come-lately at the team or faculty meeetings, making it difficult to plan strategy for the season.

You could even describe these little pieces I do for the Monitor in baseball terms. They might be called bunts.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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