I did not fit in too well at grad school. I was brash, a guitar-playing Folkie. Despite excellent recommendations from my undergraduate department, I stood out from my other colleagues in the first year of grad work at an Ivy League school. I stood out by having less money and social polish than my peers. In addition, I had established research goals in specific areas that I was determined to study. In other words, I was not the sort of tabla rasa my professors were expecting. It was written on me in bold letters – I am who I am.

With help from a sympathetic professor or two, I made it through the first year of classes and then my qualifying exams. I was now a Ph.D. candidate. Sometime in the fall of that year, a favored professor took me aside to inform me why I had rough sledding in the department –  

  1. My fellowship was a minority fellowship; people in the department considered anthropology a gentleman’s profession. I was not.
  2. My developing interests did not seem to be appropriate. Moreover, interest in doing fieldwork in the United States would not be encouraged by the department.

Walking away from that conversation was very tough. I couldn’t alter who I was, what my background was, or my sincere interests—somehow, I just soldiered on until a significant event happened.

Universities love sponsoring visiting professorships. It allows students, faculty, and visitors a chance to learn new things and interact for a lengthy span, a semester or longer. That year the visitor was a British Social Anthropologist. It was fortuitous that he liked to party, and soon we drank together frequently. One night when we were both intensely over our limit in frozen Stoly drunk neat, he decided to clue me in on the secrets of academia. 

Looking at me in that bleary-eyed manner, only the genuinely drunk has he began his dissertation, “Look. Lou, you’re not popular in your department. What do you think our chances of them letting you get away with the Ph.D.? are…, no, don’t speak. I’ll tell you shy to none. If you were a mere nuisance, they’d let you go and piss on your recommendations. But you are not a member of the gang.” He then proceeded through a lengthy discussion of M.G. Smith’s work on social groups and his comments on the origin of the term “Collegia” – the basis for our college. He went on in professor mode for about half an hour. Then he summed it all up, ” You see, Collegia could be anything from a college of augurs, a college of priests, or a political action committee. Julius Ceasar severely restricted their actions because they were so instrumental in causing political riots. In short – the damned collegia could be nothing less than fancy street corner gangs. So next time you see a bunch of your profs in the corridor hanging out, think thugs on the corner. Just highly educated thugs with tenure at a university.”

Eventually, my drinking buddy went back to his home university. But his final comments stayed with me. I could not help it. Every time I saw a grouping of professors, my mind would dress them in black leather jackets, their fingers snapping and shoes tapping :

When you’re a Jet

You’re a Jet all the way

From your first cigarette

To your last dyin’ day

When you’re a Jet

If the spit hits the fan

You got brothers around

You’re a family man!

You’re never alone

You’re never disconnected!

You’re home with your own:

When company’s expected

You’re well protected!

Then you are set

With a capital J

Which you’ll never forget

Till they cart you away

When you’re a Jet

You stay a Jet!

Sorry I couldn’t help it.

3 Replies to “Collegial”

    1. Hell no. I am ABD ( all but dissertation) to this day. I went back for the memorial services for the professors who helped me out – they were wonderful, caring individuals. But my opinion of academia as collections of over-educated street hoodlums holds.

      1. My sister, too, was ABD but it made no difference as her pay scale was for number of extra hours earned, not the actual degree. Wonder of wonders I did mine but it was harrowing….all done in a few weeks with friends running the pages across town to my typist page by page! I’d done the writing but not the editing and typing. Glad those days are over. Now my only deadlines are my blog. And I can type it myself.

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