Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 16

Professor Hawthorne

Oddly, there was no full professor left in the philosophy department after Wilson Adams' retirement. The most senior of the associate professors, Stanford Hawthorne, was in his fifties, and was visually more or less indistinguishable from the full professors in the English department. Of middle height with thinning hair, a rather sour face, and the mannerisms of a gentleman, he might well have wondered why he hadn't been promoted. He'd only published one paper in some thirty years, but the English department had a full professor who hadn't published at all! In any case, the University of Cincinnati wasn't Harvard, or even Ohio State.

In this setting, one didn't use, or often hear, the word, 'distinction', the favorite term of the academically ambitious. Only a very few people on the faculty really were distinguished, and one couldn't apply the term even to them without its being noticed how many people weren't. The word instead was 'collegial'. Aside from suggesting a degree of civility, it implied a certain dignity and refinement of speech, a little carefully directed irony, and a tolerance of a lack of productivity on the part of one's colleagues. The students, of course, should be held in check. They shouldn't be graded too easily, or allowed to become too familiar, but they shouldn't be treated harshly enough to generate complaints. While eminent Cincinnatians didn't ordinarily think of sending their young people to the local university, one would occasionally turn up in one's class. When such a student was spotted, usually by a name on a class list, a special effort had to be made.

Professor Hawthorne, "Stan" to a limited circle, felt that he had upheld these ideals and principles for many years. It was his bad luck to have had a chairman who was professionally benevolent, often in ways that weren't very dignified, but whose benevolence had a way of missing those closest to hand. When the subject of his promotion had came up, he, Hawthorne, could imagine Wilson Adams having said to Dean Loomis something like,

"I guess Stan's all right. He's never embarrassed us, but he certainly is a gloomy Gus."

That would have done it. An applicant for promotion who had a modest publication list needed the enthusiastic backing of his chairman. The English department, on the other hand, wanted every gloomy Gus they could get. New graduate students often arrived with a naive enthusiasm for the works of various literary figures, and were ill-prepared to engage in serious criticism. It took some doing to make them realize that the greatest writing is full of defects.

Stan felt the same way about philosophy, and had always tried to tone down, if not extinguish, the sparks generated by such unabashedly crowd-pleasing philosophers as William James, not to mention the cheap and flash Bertrand Russell. Wilson Adams, instead, had always wanted to promote sparks where there were none.

It surprised Hawthorne a little when he was appointed acting head of the department just before the term began in January. But, then, time was short, and the appointment was only for the rest of the year. If things went really well, it might be made permanent, carrying that elusive promotion with it.

Hawthorne had a secret, one that that would seem pretty inoccuous to most people, but which he had maintained for many years. It was this secret which kept him from getting in to the university until eleven o'clock on the first day of his headship. Contrary to his pose that writing for journals was a rather pushy form of social climbing, he was himself still trying to publish. He had sent out one or two papers a year for many years, all of which had been rejected. This was mainly because so many of the editors were poisoned by, or at least affected by, logical positivism. It amazed Hawthorne that a reductionist philosophy which rejected, not only religion, but any aesthetic value beyond mere popularity, could have such influence. He, Hawthorne, was a victim.

The immediate problem, seemingly minor but upsetting his morning schedule, rested on the fact that editors invariably sent rejected papers back in large envelopes with the names of the journals prominently displayed. Even if he sent his own return envelope with postage, the officious secretaries of the editors would rubber stamp the envelope at the upper left corner with the name and address of the journal. Miss Sarah Swift was far too sharp to miss anything of the sort when she collected the mail. She would then inform everyone she knew that the learned Professor Hawthorne had had another paper rejected. She and Mr., now unfortunately Dr., Jones would undoubtedly have a giggle over his misfortune.

The alternative, which Hawthorne had chosen, was to send the journal a return envelope with his home address on it. In that case, the problem was his wife, Lavinia. If she saw such an envelope, she would ask brightly as she handed him the envelope,

"Are they publishing an article of yours?"

It was impossible to tell with Lavinia, even after many years, whether such questions reflected naivite or malice. Her frizzy blonde hair bounced around her cheerful face with its sensuous ambiguous mouth in exactly the same way whether she had decided to be girlish on that day, or, alternatively, was setting out to destroy someone's character with a few well-chosen words in a well-chosen ear. Either way, she would tell her best friend, the wife of a full professor in the English department. That department had more sympathy for him than his own, but he hoped to minimize the amount of contempt included in the sympathy.

Hawthorne now had a paper out, supposedly being considered by a prominent journal. There was thus nothing for it but to stay home until the postman came, and then grab the mail before Lavinia could get to it. The postman had been abominately late these days, sometimes coming after ten, as he had this day. There were only bills, and Hawthorne had raced off without even kissing Lavinia.

There was mail for him at the department, sitting on the desk that had been Adams' in the office that had been Adams'. Luxuriating in the chair, which was a sort of throne in a minor way, Hawthorne determined to ask Miss Swift to oil it in order to eliminate the unseemly squeak. Indeed, the picture of her kneeling, oil can in hand, rather pleased him. Wondering if he should be sitting in the chair while she performed this operation, he opened a letter from Dean Loomis.

Expecting a ceremonial letter congratulating him on his new position and soliciting his opinions on matters of import to the college, he instead found a terse note explaining that Dr. Jones would be editing a new journal, and would thus teach only two courses instead of three. Hawthorne was moderately used to rejection slips, always unpleasant but spoiling no more than two or three days. This little note hit him even harder, and from an unexpected direction. Stan was still gasping when Miss Swift came to his opened door and said quietly,

"Your wife is on the phone, Professor Hawthorne, should I put her through to you?"

The tone was conspiratorial, suggesting a willingness to tell his wife that he was out of his office. It was a monstrous piece of impertinence, and, at the same time, made Hawthorne wonder how much Sarah Swift might know about his home life. But, even in his rage, Hawthorne realized that he couldn't take issue with a mere tone of voice. When Lavinia came on, she said,

"Dear, when you rushed off without even kissing sweet little me, you missed something in the bottom of the mailbox. It's a big brown envelope addressed to you from THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. The really funny thing is that your name and address are in your own writing."

This time, Hawthorne knew. It was malice. He would soon get some pitying looks when he went to lunch with members of the English department. Lavinia would let it be thought, not that a single paper had been rejected, but that Stanford's papers, rejected by journals on three continents, were the objects of universal derision on the part of the editors. After all, he had tenure, and she had money of her own. She had nothing to lose.

Stan Hawthorne prided himself on his reactions in crises. Just recently, when toast caught fire in the toaster, he had immediately dumped a pot of water on it. There were some electrical problems, but no need to call the fire department. In the present case, he managed, despite his inner turmoil, to reply casually,

"They probably want some revisions on it."

That could conceivably be true. In any case, it would put the problem off til later, and give him room. In fact, a significant proportion of the faculty "had things coming out." A middle-aged man might even have purely technical printing or publishing problems delay the appearance of his book in print until he retired or died.

Hardly had he hung up with a still suspicious Lavinia than Jones appeared in the doorway. Still in the mood in which he had partially vanquished Lavinia, he called out brightly,

"Come in, Jones. I've just had a note from the dean about your teaching load."

Jones took a seat without being invited to sit, but not really in an aggressive way. He didn't exactly smile, but he seemed relaxed and disposed to be pleasant. Still, Hawthorne was pretty sure that he was a ruffian at heart. It would be well to open in a conciliatory way.

"You're supposed to get a reduction of one course in your teaching load."

It was good that Jones just nodded. Hawthorne didn't want to hear about the journal, or acknowledge its existence. He then went on,

"I originally had you down for two sections of beginning logic, and an advanced course in logic. That last hasn't been given in a long time because we haven't had anyone who knew enough logic to give it."

"I've pretty much had to teach myself logic. It'd be nice if we could give the graduate students a little help in that area."

"Yes. Your appointment really does fill a gap. We could then just drop one of the sections of beginning logic from your load."

"Sure. Have you got someone else to do it?"

"The dean promised another assistantship for that. We really don't have any graduate students we can trust who aren't already assistants. We were thinking of giving Miss Swift an assistantship even though she's still an undergraduate. She's at least intelligent and articulate."

Jones smiled, but said nothing. Hawthorne suggested,

"But perhaps not in logic?"

"No, I think better not."

"We can have her assist Ennis in place of Morison, and put Morison in logic. Of course, the assistants teaching the logic sections will probably all be in your advanced course."

"I'll see if I can keep track of what they're teaching and guide them a bit."

It suddenly occurred to Hawthorne that Jones didn't want to take over the department, or even throw his considerable weight around. He simply wanted things to go smoothly and painlessly. On the spur of the moment, Hawthorne said,

"There's something else that we'll have to soon be concerned with. At present, all undergraduates have to take either a mathematics course or our beginning logic course. All the ones who fear math take logic. That provides most of our enrollment. Since funding inevitably follows enrollment in the long run, our money, and even our positions, depend on beginning logic."

"Too bad. I guess it can't be helped."

"I thought perhaps, as a logician, you might be comfortable with that."

"I suppose it would be all right if real logic were taught in that course, but it's just a mishmash of stray maxims, many of them false."

"Yes, I did have that impression. The trouble now is that the Speech Department wants to make the requirement a three-way option with one of their courses included. Their course might be quite popular and draw from ours."

"So we have to defend the indefensible?"

"I suppose so, yes. But it would help if you could write up a few paragraphs in favor of logic in general that I could put out in support of our cause."

"I could fairly easily do that for the material in the advanced course, and we could let it be thought that the beginning course includes such things."

"Can we actually make the beginning course intellectually respectable?"

"I've tried a bit, here and there. It doesn't go down well. These are people who don't like symbols and formulas. But the kids will sit through a few weeks of things only one in ten understands if they think they'll still pass the course."

"Yes. Well, we do that in most of our courses. In the meantime, are there things in the beginning course that a person with hostile intentions could parody or make appear ludicrous?"

"There are lots of things like that. Anyone passing down the hall could pause outside an open classroom door and get some ammunition."

"I see. I do fear that some members of the Speech Department might do exactly that."

"We could instruct all assistants to close the doors while they teach. Students may tell people what goes on in some of those classes, but their accounts will be garbled. Even faculty in competing departments will know better than to believe them."

"I don't want to actually order the assistants to conceal what they're teaching. If that got out, it'd make us appear very defensive indeed."

"Sarah can spread the rumor among the assistants that I may spy on them to see how they're doing. That'll get the doors closed."

"This is beginning to sound like guerilla warfare, which I suppose it really is. There must be some way of improving that course so that we can more or less hold our heads up."

"I'll work on it."

"Thank you, Jones."

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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