Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 45


The University of Cincinnati ran a summer school that started with great vigor at eight every morning, but which slowed gradually to a stop in mid-afternoon. In order to meet the financial demands of his wife, Stan Hawthorne was forced to teach the mostly deficient students who had failed in the regular year. It was a concentrated schedule which had him teaching for four hours straight. He felt his age even at the end of the first hour.

It was a relief to have the occasional older student who had drifted in from somewhere, but, mostly, it was a matter of saying the same thing to blank and bland young faces over and over, and over. At the end of this exercise, he would stagger off to lunch at the Faculty Club, preferably alone, and finish with a stiff drink.

Back in his office about two, he was about to give passing grades to some execrable papers so as not to have to argue with the sorts of students who wrote such papers. Then, pen poised, his thoughts turned suddenly to another matter, one that had lain dormant all morning, but which now flooded him with euphoria. There was no one else in the department who was a plausible choice for chairman, and the university wasn't going to spend the money to bring someone in from the outside. Only the day before, Dean Loomis had said to him,

"I'm sorry, Stan, but the philosophy department isn't doing very well. Departments that don't do well have their budgets frozen."

Stan hadn't really made the connection at the time. The department wouldn't do better without some sort of Herculean effort that he didn't intend to make. There would be no one brought in, and he'd be continued as acting chairman. Eventually, they'd have to make him the permanent head. At that time, they would almost have to make him a full professor.

With these happy thoughts in his head, Stan forgot that he had to urinate. When that matter became urgent, he headed quickly down the hall to the men's room. Having squared away at the urinal with the knees slightly bent in what he was assured was the continental fashion, he was surprised to be greeted by Jones behind him. He hadn't even known that Jones was in town. Spinning his head as far as it would go, Stan returned the greeting. But, then, alarmed that he might be mis-directing his stream, he spun his head quickly back.

It had been irritating Stan for weeks that his glasses were too loose. Since he always had more interesting thoughts in his mind, he had neglected getting them fixed, merely shoving them back into place every few minutes. But, now, dislodged further by the double spinning of the head, they shot off into the porcelain urinal, one lens shattering in the process. It was, of course, utterly humiliating. Jones came over, looked down, and said,

"It's a good thing both lenses didn't break. You'll be able to get around with one. Probably even drive."

There was nothing for it but to reach down, fish up the remains of his glasses, and put them in the sink. Jones helpfully sloshed some liquid soap from the dispenser into the basin. Not only that, Jones washed the glasses and picked the pieces of broken glass out of the frame, remarking,

"People may think you're wearing a new kind of monocle."

Jones' humor was always rather rough, but it at least enabled Stan to chuckle once or twice at his situation.

By this time, there were only a few students left in the corridor, one an unusually scholarly-looking girl in wire- rimmed glasses who was trying to extricate something from one of the battered green lockers. It turned out to be a six pack of beer which she hurriedly attempted to conceal. Stan, seeing with only one eye, was hardly inclined to enforce the alcohol provisions of the campus code, and Jones, at his side, said only,

"Let's go down to the Pink Room for a coke, Stan."

It was an oddly affecting little invitation, accompanied by a pat on the shoulder. Jones felt sorry because his, Stan's, glasses had fallen in the urinal, and he wanted to cheer him up. Stan had never entered the Pink Room in his life, but he was prepared to make his debut.

The Pink Room was empty when they entered, but several opened windows afforded a gentle cooling cross-breeze. A broken shade which hung down diagonally across one window flapped a bit. Stan pointed to it and remarked,

"Don't they ever fix these things?"

"I don't imagine so. But the tables have been cleared and cleaned. Usually, there's a lot a dirty food with flies buzzing around at this time of day."

"Some of us are condemned, more or less for life, to the Pink Rooms of this world. But I think you're intended for better things, Jones. Have you had any offers?"

"I was just going to tell you, Stan. A man named Jensen, until now a dean of faculties at a major university, is president of a new college in northern Virginia. Quite a curious place. There aren't to be any undergraduates at all, just graduate students. It's going to be funded mostly by defense department research. Heike and I know Jensen slightly, and he's offering us quite lucrative positions."

"That is a new one. What's he like?"

"Very ambitious and accomplished. Also, to my knowledge, capable of intrigue, manipulation, and a degree of dishonesty."

"Christ! That's a dilemma. If I were you, I'd keep my lines open here."

"Yes, I had that in mind."

"It sounds as if an institution like that might go out of business when a new administration appoints a new Secretary of Defense."

"Yes. They can only go as long as they get contracts, and Jensen as much as told me that he's going to steal as many contracts as possible from his old university."

Stan found himself laughing, and replied,

"I think I've just had a glimpse of the future. You know, for all our faults, we do try to educate our students, often one by one. But that's much less glamorous than getting a multi- million dollar contract to study X, Y, and Z, no matter what X, Y, and Z may be."

"And, of course, computers are the center-piece. Jensen thinks he can persuade Remington Rand to actually give us a big computer."

"Why would they do that?"

"If we do enough ground-breaking work on one, the rest of the defense department will have to buy the same kind of computers to take advantage of it. He wants to advertize Heike and I, particularly Heike, as people who can promote a monopoly."

"Can you really do that?"

"Probably not. Heike's a pure mathematician, and she wants to get on with her own work. I'm enjoying philosophy, and I want to give it priority."

"Will they let you teach and write philosophy?"

"Oh yes. We've explained all this to Jenson. He thinks it'll only take ten per cent of our time to do what he wants, and that that's much less than we'd otherwise spend teaching undergraduates."

"This Jensen sounds like the ultimate academic con man."

"I suppose he is. But he also has quite a presence. You feel as if you're talking to the Secretary of State when you're with him."

"It may also be that, if his main plan doesn't work, he'll be able to improvise something else."

"I'm sure he'd enjoy the challenge."

"What about you?"

"It was clever of him to realize how much Heike can do in so little time. I've also found that most of these defense people aren't as good at arguing and debating as, say, the average member of the American Philosophical Association. It wouldn't take me very long to poke holes in the simulations they're likely to produce, or to find counter-instances to their generalizations."

"You and Heike will have an exciting time of it. Since we're about to go on the quarter system, you could keep your appointment here and teach one or two quarters a year as circumstances permit. I'm sure the dean will approve, and I bet he can find an appointment for Heike."

Jones and Stan called on Dean Loomis together, and it was actually Stan who suggested the arrangements for Jones and Heike. The dean assured them that it could be done, and said to Jones,

"Of course, I expected you to get lucrative offers, probably of a more conventional kind. As it is, you may be one of the first professors to hold regular appointments at more than one university. That's another glimpse of the future for you, Stan."

Jones replied,

"This suits me very well, and I'm sure Heike will be delighted. Tensy Blakey has become pretty much her best friend, and most of my connections are here."

"In turn, you can keep us up with what's going on in the modern world. I predict that you'll spend about three months a year here, and I'd recommend the fall quarter."

"Yes. The weather's the best, and the students have the most energy."

"Which they progressively lose as the year goes on. I also have a special assignment for you, Jones."

It sounded as if a joke was coming, but one never knew. Loomis went on,

"You're to tell me what this man Jensen would do if he were in my position."

"Your ethics might preclude some of his maneuvers, dean."

"Don't mind about that! I'll decide how much to compromise my ethics."


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