A Fan’s Notes

By nature, educators can’t help giving away information; administrators, by nature, have a talent for withholding it. (What qualifies as information, and how it is valued, is beyond the scope of this aphorism.)

It turns out that the namesake of Plato’s Academy, the minor Greek hero Akademos, was celebrated for telling Castor and Pollux where the abducted Helen was being held; Plato located his HEI on what remained of the old informer’s kipos, and a word was born.

So what did it mean back in the day when an educator was promoted to an administrative position, or when an administrator “went back to teaching”? Has either process ever been truly commutative? Was some essential matter created or destroyed in the process, or (at least) energy released? Does a process actually occur, or were these instances of vocational passing and crossing? Why the founder of UVA never tried his hand at teaching is one of history’s mysteries. But I still can’t picture Charles Eliot as a chemist, and apparently, neither could his colleagues. Or Dwight Eisenhower as president of Columbia. Or Vladimir Putin once saying (as quoted by Masha Gessen): “I was thinking I might go back to the university, write a dissertation, and take odd jobs.” Pierre Bourdieu once observed that it was always the most mediocre scholars who got promoted to faculty chair.

I can, however, picture the rare instance of someone drawn to administration by conscious deliberation. Or as my friend Bill explained it, “[knowing] that my real home was the university in the largest sense.”

Then again, the same could be said of people drawn to sociology or politics – or business. A feel, good or bad, for the Big Picture. Which is to say, sometimes lacking a humanist touch but with a keen sense of l’homme moyen and its variants. At the very least, how else to be an effective fundraiser? Or as an otherwise mediocre Realtor once put it, “Selling is not telling.”

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