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Tallahassee, Florida. This generous, learned gentleman, a classics professor at Florida State University, had opened his hearth and home to my bandmates and I. We were discussing the politics of professorship as we stood ordering breakfast at the counter of a local deli.
“Ultimately, academia is kind of a sham,” my host replied. “It is, as they say, publish or perish. I find that—-”
“What would you like this morning?” queried a food server from behind the counter. She had interrupted my host just as he had arrived at the meat of his argument.
“Oh,” my host muttered. He scrutinized the menu and considered his gustatory options. “I’ll have a bagel. Anyway, as I was saying, I find that there is a proliferation of scholarly publications right now. This is not because fresh scholarly insights are in oversupply. Instead, books are being published simply because books must be published by associate professors on the tenure track who seek to show their worth—-“
“And would you like that bagel toasted?” queried the server. She had interrupted my host a second time.
“Oh,” my host muttered. “Well, yes. I’ll have a toasted bagel. Anyway, consider my own situation. I’ve just secured a new job at a very reputable university. Now, I have some fascinating articles in the pipeline. However, it makes more sense for me to publish these articles after I start my new job. This way, they will count in my favor when I am considered for tenure. Though they contain new ideas, to publish them at this point would really be a waste—-“
“And what would you like on that toasted bagel?” queried the server. She had interrupted my host a third time.
“Oh,” my host muttered. “Well, I don’t know. I suppose I’ll have cream cheese. Anyway, my point is that the academic world isn’t really fueled by original ideas in and of themselves, but by the perception that one is coming up with original ideas that is constructed upon an edifice of publications—-some of with, truth be told, may be redundant, irrelevant or even nonsensical—-”
“One bagel, toasted, with cream cheese,” the server declared. She had interrupted my host a fourth time. “One dollar, seventy-five cents.”
“Oh,” my host muttered. He rummaged through a pocket, retrieved the correct denominations of American currency, and paid the server.
“Thank you,” the server replied. She turned to me. “Can I help you?” she inquired. I ordered my own bagel. My host and I sat down at a nearby table and contemplated our breakfasts.
“This really is a lot of cream cheese,” my host commented. He poked at the large tub of viscous paste that sat beside his bagel.
“The cream cheese overflows your plate like the excess knowledge bursting from the pens of graduate students around the globe,” I remarked. I looked at my own plate and regarded the dry bagel there. I had neglected to order cream cheese.