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Academic shenanigans

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(1) Here’s an example of . . . well I don’t know what exactly, but nothing good. A few weeks ago, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado got an email from the central administration informing us that we had to submit proof we were fully vaccinated and boosted at least once against COVID in order to be eligible for merit raises.

This was the beginning of a sad story about a baby boomer (moi) and bureaucracy and technology.

My situation at the time was that I had gotten the two-shot Pfizer vaccine in the spring of last year, and then got a booster in October. I had a vaccine card as proof of this (for what that’s worth in terms of actual verification, which is of course close to nothing) but, um, I couldn’t seem to find it. So luckily there’s a state of Colorado website that records all of a person’s vaccinations, or is supposed to. I go to the site and find the record of my first two shots, but oddly there’s no record of the third shot in October. Thus begins a back and forth with the pharmacy at which I got the shot to try to determine what happened. After a few phone calls over a few days, I give up and go get a fourth vaccine shot, which is something I had been meaning to do anyway, but had been procrastinating about (The System Works!).

Then I spend literally an hour, with the help of my technologically savvy assistant, trying to “upload” a photo of my new vaccine card onto CU’s vaccination verification site. This proves impossible for obscure reasons. We decide to try to find a workaround via sending emails to the verifiers. These get no response. A couple of hours later I try the same site again and magically it somehow works this time.

Great success! Except a few hours later I get an email from the verifiers, noting that my vaccine card only has the information regarding the nature, date, and site of my latest booster: it doesn’t have my name or date of birth. When i look at the photo of the card (the card at this point is in my office and I’m not there any more) this turns out to be true. I had assumed the pharmacy had filled it out, you know, for security purposes and all, but of course not. So I’m going to have to try again later today when I’m in the office.

But here’s the punch line: All of this is nonsensical, because nobody is actually required to get vaccinated. You can fill out a form, online too of course, that says you object to get vaccinated for medical or “ethical” reasons, and the requirement is automatically waived! So CU has a system that spends probably tens of thousands of person hours between the vaccinated and the verifiers of vaccination, verifying, sort of, vaccination status, without actually having a vaccine requirement, which makes the whole thing a fantastic waste of time and money. Not to mention that mask use on campus is now practically non-existent, etc. etc. etc. But some people have to play their little games.

(2) Speaking of which, Ben Sasse, soon to be ex-senator from Nebraska, is apparently going to be the next president of the University of Florida. There were some comments in the Denver-Indianapolis “NFL” game post below puzzling over this development. I think it makes all sorts of sense for him personally, and for the people who run the school. As for Sasse himself, a non-MAGA Republican is not something to be in 2022 (Note that Sasse supports Trump about 90% of the time but that’s not good enough in cultland anymore of course). His political career as the next Mavericky Republican ™ is at least for now pretty much at a dead end. Sasse is, sad to say, actually well qualified for the job by the standards that are being used these days to pick presidents of flagship state universities in states where the powers that be feel it’s very important to placate conservatives/right wingers/people who hate higher ed. I mean compare his credentials to those of either the previous or the current president of a state flagship university that will remain unnamed, but is located about 25 miles northwest of Denver. (BTW it took me literally 45 years, until last week, to realize that Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” is a Chuck Berry rave-up/pastiche — and a very clever one, now that I hear it in that light. Further cultural learnings per Wikipedia: he had never been in Denver when he wrote it).

Plus the great thing about this kind of “public service” is that Sasse will probably get a five-year five-million dollar contract, along with all the sweet sweet bennies that go with a million dollar per year salary in higher ed, i.e., a mansion, a car or two, free travel and food, a retinue that would make Louis XIV blush, etc. etc. etc. Expect to hear the name “Woodrow Wilson” a lot a few years down the line, if Sasse decides to use this as some sort of interlude to become a “centrist” presidential candidate, which I can definitely see happening around 2030 or so.

(3) As for that Denver game last night, here’s a little passage from my new book:

For me, the difference between deep and shallow engagement is captured perfectly by the contrast between my experience of football games involving, on the one hand, Michigan, and, on the other, the NFL’s Denver Broncos. I am, in the ordinary sense of the word, a fan of the Broncos: I watch all their games, I unambivalently want them to win those games, and I even listen, in my car, to a good amount of sports radio commentary regarding the team. Sports radio in the Denver area devotes approximately 97% of its time to the Broncos. When I first came to Colorado in 1990, I soon realized that a typical newspaper headline was “Elway Feels Tightness in Hamstring.” I’m also a Broncos fan because my wife is: for many decades her family has gathered on Sunday afternoons to watch the team’s games, and share a communal meal, and we’ve continued to participate in this ritual.

But ultimately, what being a Broncos fan — I feel a strong urge to put scare quotes around the word “fan” in this context — has taught me is what it is to be what is referred to as a “normie.” Compared to the existential terror of watching a Michigan football game, a Broncos game is vastly more enjoyable. I want the Broncos to win, but I don’t need them to win. Ten minutes after Denver lost the Super Bowl to Seattle in 2014, I was no longer thinking about the game. The next day I probably couldn’t have told you the final score; meanwhile, forty-seven years later, I’m still thinking about the 1974 Ohio State game, and can describe not just the final score, but how each of those twenty-two points came about.

The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, and Denver’s game the next day with Kansas City, provide an almost satanically perfect illustration of the contrast between catharsis and consumption: both were critical games to the teams’ respective seasons, both games went into overtime, and both were lost by “my” team by the identical score. The former loss was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life; the latter produced a brief mildly unpleasant sensation, like being forced to listen to one of Billy Joel’s more aggravating songs. My wife, who sincerely considers herself a real Broncos fan, and who unlike me was once a highly successful competitive athlete, was literally asleep on the couch at the end of the Denver game. She finds my antics during Michigan games to be the height of childishness, which they no doubt are. “You’re such a sore loser because you never learned to lose in real games,” she tells me, which sounds annoyingly plausible.

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