What’s the University For?   /   Fall 2000   /    Articles

A Word to the New Humanities Professor

Mark Edmundson

Satirical cartoon showing Oxford students being quizzed, 1789; British Cartoon Prints Collection, Library of Congress; Wikimedia Commons.

Remember, enjoyment-production is only half of your job.

If success is what you crave, if prosperity and esteem, tenure, preferment, and promotion are what you desire—and who does not?—then you might begin by studying your admissions office brochure, the pictorial ad for your school. Whatever its overt designs, this book is also a manual for pedagogical success, a discreet academic version of The Book of the Courtier; if you read it with your eyes open, you need know no more.

In these brochures, these ads, two photographic genres predominate. One genre is a version of Romance; its subject is easy pleasure, the world as the readers wish it to be. Students are arrayed in a conversational garland, lounging on well-tended grass. The sun smiles down. They are talking freely, savoring one another’s company. If there are books on hand, they’ve been tossed carelessly aside. This is not about dialogue or dialectic, not about effort. These students are in the Bower of Bliss, intoxicated by each other’s presences, relaxed, happy, stressfree.

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