Friday, March 13, 2009

Definitely Thrust Upon Them

Earlier this week at the University of Minnesota, a very special episode of their "Great Conversations" series:
Larry Jacobs, the University of Minnesota's Mondale Chair for Political Studies and Director of the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute, and Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States, discuss America's constitutional crisis
The most overexposed pundit in Minnesota and the only man in history to lose an election in all 50 states, pontificating on politics for an hour? Sounds riveting. And a new definition of "great", I must say. Sorry I missed it. If the next "Great Conversation" is Denny Green and Brad Childress discussing the keys to winning in the NFL playoffs, count me in.

Also of note are Professor Jacobs' titles: "Mondale Chair" and "Humphrey Institute Director" at the University of Minnesota. I suppose these are the most prominent local politicians we've got. If we must name our institutions and offices after the famous (or infamous), I guess that's what we're stuck with. (Warning to academics in future generations, before occupying the distinguished Al Franken Chair, you might want to check it for a whoopee cushion.)

Yet I'm still concerned about the message this sends to the young, impressionable scholars we send to our premiere public university. Beyond even the psychological affliction of studying under the banner of two of the most famous losers in American political history.

More importantly, there's the problem inherent in creating this crushing institutional endorsement of a political party. I submit to you that branding yourself as Democrat Party Incorporated will affect the scholarship produced by, and intellectual development of, the minds of mush we send there to be formed. It strains credulity to believe that pimply faced college students at the U will be equally likely to pursue conservative lines of thought and argument, knowing their work is being judged by the likes of the Mondale Chair at the Humphrey Institute. It's a subtle form of indoctrination and group think enforcement and it cannot stand.

Top of mind suggestions of non-partisan names for the rebranding: The Jesse Ventura Chair for Political Egotism and Ignorance and the Center for the Study of Political Irrelevance at the Dean Barkley Institute.

BONUS MATERIAL: Anti-intellectual jokes at the expense of my academic betters. Reviewing the list of other endowed chairs at the U, these caught my eye.

From the College of Education and Human Development:
Dorothy McNeill and Elbridge Ashcraft Tucker Chair for Women in Exercise Science and Sport
The patriarchal tyranny evident in promoting women's exercise with a chair is appalling

At the Institute of Technology:
Harold Sweatt Chair in Technological Leadership
You might want to wipe that one down before taking a seat!

Finally, from the Medical School:
University of Minnesota's Academic Chair in Sexual Health
According to what I've heard, this position requires one of the largest endowments on campus.

Unfortunately, their entire press release reads as similarly low comedy:
A group of sexual health advocates celebrated Coleman's appointment to the endowed position at an invitation-only reception.
That sounds like the opening of an article about a raid by the vice squad.
"With support from this endowed chair, I hope to further the Program in Human Sexuality's mission to create a sexually healthier world."
All I can say is a chair like that must have a Magic Fingers option.

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