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Getting Ahead on the Harvard Faculty--DeLoon's Handy Guide


The following excerpts from "De Loon's Practical Guide to the Passing on of Knowledge," by the late Hadley Warner De Loon (1883-1968), Jane Thunderbold Professor of Arts and Crafts, are here reprinted as a public service. We have long suspected the existence of such a document, but only recently came into possession--after a fruitful journey through the De Loon family crypt.

Choosing a Room. Make a reasoned, conservative estimate of the number of students likely to enroll in your course, then secure a room capable of holding two-thirds that quantity. Don't attempt to substitute guesswork for arithmetic here, as a larger room will make students feel too important, and a smaller one may drive them away. At the first meeting, inform your overflow crowd that it will be possible to admit only a small fraction thereof; then ask each applicant to submit a brief autobiography plus a 25-word statement on the subject "Why I'm anxious to take this course."

On Wednesday, you make the move from whatever coal cellar the Registrar's Office has assigned you, to Emerson 105 (or the Geological Lecture Hall), thus enabling you to admit every student who came on Monday and thensome. It is common form, at this second meeting, to express contempt for the building's impersonal architecture and the room's awesome size. No explanation is required for the decision to accept all your applicants, save to say you found choosing among them impossible.

The Course Assistant. It was Bunny Largess, Visiting Professor of Half Truths, who formulated the now-famous rule on "choosing a course assistant." In Bunny's own words, "Make sure he is cruder, more reactionary, and basically less pleasant than even you are. Then give him a free hand." It is also important that the assistant be totally inept as a lecturer (ideally he should drool as well as lisp), and that he cast a favorable light on your physical appearance. [In the event that your academic credentials are likewise open to question, be careful to pick an assistant with ones yet more questionable, say a quickie doctorate from the University of Guatemala.]

Reading Lists. One of the commonest mistakes of the novice is to assemble to single all-inclusive reading list for distribution at the course's first meeting. Rather the reading should be divided among at least a dozen cheaply rexographed handouts, each covering a narrow topical subdivision of the course's main theme, each to be deposited inconspicuously on a chair or radiator or, better yet, floor, at such time as you have effectively done with the subject matter contained therein.

Another trademark of the non-initiate, to be avoided at all costs, is the simple breakdown of reading into the categories "Required" and "Supplementary." Better by far is a straight alphabetical listing with no further classification. The list should of course be lengthy, but it is always necessary to save certain critical works for passing reference during lecture. [See "Passing Reference"].

Mention should also be made of the Pompadour method, named after the late Izzy Pompadour. Taylor Cheesewitt Professor of Applied History, whose reading lists remain on file at the Faculty Club. The typical Pompadour list was split into five areas (with such titles as "Chaos and Collapse" and "A Wing and a Prayer"), each in turn split among books "Recommended," "Critical," "Assumed," "Incidental," and "Basic" Professor Pompadour introduced many variations upon this theme, but the most successful was his habit of withdrawing all books from Wedener at the start of each term, and relocating them to his home in greater Belmont.

Exams. The Spaulding Slaughter has now given way to the Crumgold Finess, originated by the late Miles Crumgold, Harry and Bill Green Professor of World History. It was Dr. Crumgold's custom to warn his students will in advance of the hour exam that they were in for a "toughie." As the day approached, he would start hinting at some of the incredibly intricate questions students should prepare for, and with one lecture to go he would--in a burst of charity--pass out a list of relevant items. The actual exam then consisted of a single question, typically "'The Eighteenth Century began in 1669.' Discuss."

For the final, Professor Crumgold dropped no hints whatsoever, allowing his pupils to expect a repeat of the hourly. The boom was lowered, however, when Crumgold's assistant and grader, Father O'Malley, distributed the six-page exam with its three dozen identifications all drawn from the lectures. Dr Crumgold allowed the good priest full leeway as to the grading, with the result that every student passed; not one walked away from that course indifferent to the dangers of overconfidence.

Papers. This was old P. Bender Bartlett's specialty, and the Bartlett Boom remains standard. Although many variations are permitted, it was the master's own strategy to assign one two-page and one thirty-page paper each term. He criticized the two-pager in great detail, and marked it stiffly; thus student were driven to invest a good deal of time into the thirty-pager--only to get it back ungraded, with the comment. "I don't think one can measure an effort of this sort by a number or letter. Do you?"

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