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This Is A Website About Ken Burns

So today I come home to a big juicy envelope from Hampshire College. Oh goody, I think. My transcript? Maybe a copy of the alumni magazine, which for some reason I don’t seem to get?

No such luck. It’s the president’s report. It’s got an ugly gold cover, and it’s called “Assessment and Innovation: The Foundation of Excellence.” By Assessment, I presume the beloved pater Greg Prince means all the studies he ran us through and consultants he hired and that final bizarre spectacle, FutureSearch, a “visioning” conference held my junior year in which lots of us were asked to take what we wanted for Hampshire and write it on walls and act it out with flurries of fake cash and predictions about Internet courses for students in Botswana. By Innovation, I presume the man means his beloved Lemelson entrepreneurial development project, which fits the students’ interests about as well as your doll’s bloomers and booties fit the neighbor’s tomcat. By Excellence, I would hope he means something fun like Hampshire’s World Wrestling Collective or how many alumns and students are participating in the anti-globalization movement, and not something irrelevant like how many of us actually go on to gainful employment.

OK, I am rhetorically stealing fire from the bitterest laugh of the whole brochure: On page eleven, listed with a number of other titles of Div III (thesis) projects about plasmid constructs and urban planning and the Ramacharitamanas, is the simple Rick And Saurus Save The World.

Rick And Saurus Save The World. A comic by Jacob Chabot, who hated Hampshire as perhaps no person who stuck out more than a year there ever has. And well he might. Advisor after advisor abandoned him. His thesis committee made him take introductory painting classes his senior year and refused to acknowledge comic art as its own worthwhile genre. During his senior year, Jacob was almost drummed out of Hampshire by humorless students who took offense at a poster he made parodying the use of sex in advertisements. I don’t think Jacob got anything of use out of Hampshire. It certainly didn’t make its mark on him the way it usually likes to.

I called Jacob and told him, hoping to get one last scream out of him, but he was just amused. He never finished his thesis, he reminded me, and nobody but his committee or a few friends ever saw it. In that way Jacob compares favorably with Hampshire’s most doted-on poster boy, documentarian Ken Burns, who according to legend never completed Hampshire. Ultimately, Jacob was a model Hampshire student: he taught himself most of what he knows in spite of school, refused to knuckle under to popular opinion, wore his hair long and grew up on a farm with llamas.

(no, really. I love my college, and I am gainfully employed. I don’t cotton to other people messing with its reputation, either, so step off, Lorne Michaels.)

One Comment

  1. sonia wrote:

    Do you have an email address or a business number for Ken Burns?

    Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

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