Sunday, April 24, 2011

"A Celebration Of Excellence And Achievement"

Surfing the web while Joshua has been preparing for his final exams (his “final finals”, as Josh calls them), I somehow came across this extravagant bit of foolishness that has had both of us howling and hooting for the last 24 hours.

I emailed it to my father, who roared with laughter, and I emailed it to several friends, who suggested that such conspicuous, screaming cant deserves wider dissemination—if for no other reason than that all persons mentioned in or associated with this ridiculous press release may be mortified, publicly, into perpetuity.

If one were to create a satirical press release, intending to point out how our institutions of higher learning are in grave crisis at present, the press release below would serve as role model. Not a single word would need to be changed.

I reprint the press release in full.

University of Iowa News Release, March 30, 2011

Annual tribute to women at the UI to be held April 5

A Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women, the University of Iowa's annual tribute to the accomplishments of women at the university, will be held Tuesday, April 5, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. A reception will begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by the awards program at 4 p.m.

[The first paragraph prepares the reader for what will follow: everyone instinctively understands that awards reserved for a particular classification of recipient inherently have nothing whatsoever to do with “excellence” or “achievement”.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the second use of the word "university" in the paragraph should have been capitalized.]

This annual event recognizes outstanding scholarship, research, service, leadership and activism among UI undergraduate, graduate, staff and faculty women.

[The word “activism” is always a sure tip-off that the awards in question are, prima facie, dubious, and are intended above all to reward ideology.]

Georgina Dodge, chief diversity officer and associate provost, will present the keynote address. Master of ceremonies will be Teresa Mangum, director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and associate professor of English.

[The word “diversity” is always a sure tip-off that the word “merit” will have no place in the award scheme.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that official titles such as "Chief Diversity Officer", "Associate Provost", "Master Of Ceremonies", "Director" and "Associate Professor" must be capitalized.]

The UI Distinguished Achievement Award will be given to Marcella David, associate dean for International and Comparative Programs and professor in the College of Law and Jane Paulsen, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. The Jean Y. Jew Women's Rights Award will be given to Pauline Brine, Elizabeth Pelton and Nancy Thompson.

[The Christian names Marcella, Jane, Lucille and Jean—as well as Pauline, Elizabeth and Nancy—are the same as female characters in the 1925 musical, “No, No, Nanette”.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a comma was required after "College of Law"; otherwise, it becomes the nonsensical "College of Law and Jane Paulsen".

And, once again, someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded that official titles must be capitalized.]

The Distinguished Achievement Award is presented to staff or faculty members who have significant years of service within the university community, who are pioneers in their work or service; and are role models for women and/or girls.

[The word “pioneer” is always a sure tip-off that the awards are for profoundly mundane and unimaginative deeds. No sane person uses the word “pioneer” in the context set forth in the press release.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised of the inappropriate use of the semi-colon. Have rules of punctuation been outlawed in Iowa? And proof-reading prohibited pursuant to some misguided provision in the University Code Of Conduct?]

David returned to the law school faculty in January 2010 after serving more than five years in central administration, most recently as special assistant to the president for equal opportunity and diversity and associate provost for diversity from 2006-2009.

[The phrase “equal opportunity” is seldom encountered anymore. It has, more or less, disappeared from the lexicon. Everyone now understands the phrase “equal opportunity” to mean “preferential treatment”, just as everyone now understands “diversity” to mean “lower standards”. They are corrupt terms, and are in the process of being abandoned.

Of course, “preferential treatment” and “lower standards” typify both the University Of Iowa Administration and the University Of Iowa Law School, two profoundly troubled enclaves that do not even arise to the level of mediocrity.

The recipient of the award, clearly, has been carefully chosen.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised, once again, that official offices and official titles must be capitalized.]

She joined the law faculty in 1995. From 1991-92, she studied Human Rights and Comparative Law as a Ford Foundation Fellow in Public International Law at the Harvard Law School. Her research interests include the use of economic and other sanctions, international criminal law, and questions related to international organizations. Her research has included impact of economic sanctions in Iraq and South Africa.

[The press release is accompanied by a photograph of this woman, which I am thoughtful enough not to reproduce.

Can anyone be surprised that mention of economic sanctions against Libya, Iran and North Korea, among other rogue nations, is conspicuously absent?

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that there is no "the" preceding references to "Harvard Law School". There is, however, a requirement that the word "the" be inserted before "impact" in the paragraph's last sentence.

Are professional writers, grammarians and proof-readers on strike in Iowa?]

Among her accomplishments at the UI is the development of the Philip G. Hubbard Law School Preparation Program. This summer pre-law program seeks to support diversity in the legal profession by inspiring students from groups historically under-represented in the law to become lawyers and by providing them with the skills and assistance that will strengthen their preparation for law school. More than 200 students from under-represented groups have taken part in the program over nine years.

[The phrase “pre-law program” is always a sure tip-off that what one really is talking about is “remedial training”. Excellent law schools do not admit persons in need of remedial training.

This unfortunate “pre-law program” suggests that the University Of Iowa Law School is admitting unqualified persons, and is producing not lawyers but glorified paralegals.]

Paulsen, professor of psychiatry in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, researches the neuropsychological aspects of Huntington's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and schizophrenia. She has attracted funding from the National Institutes of Health and the High Q Foundation to support the largest clinical research program ever undertaken in Huntington's Disease, and her findings represent the greatest growth in knowledge about the disease since study of it began. The Huntington's Disease Society of America has given the program its Center of Excellence Award every year since 2000. Paulsen directs the division of psychology within the Department of Psychiatry, and she also directs the department's neuropsychiatry service.

[The press release’s accompanying photograph of this woman, which I am considerate enough not to reproduce, reveals a woman whose countenance I find frightening.

If one glosses over the text, merely skimming the announcement, one might be justified in thinking that the discussion involves a recipient rather than a provider of psychiatric care.]

She receives the highest evaluations for her teaching and presentations and is known as a caring and effective mentor. She has mentored more than 30 graduate students, and supervision and training to 27 undergraduates, 14 interns and 13 postdoctoral fellows. The vast majority of these trainees have been women, and Paulsen has been an excellent role model for them on how to succeed in an academic career.

[“The vast majority of these trainees have been women”—well, that bone-jarring admission certainly raises one’s antennae (as well as raises serious legal issues). “Role model on how to succeed in an academic career”—well, once again, that unpleasant turn-of-phrase definitely causes one’s eyebrows to arch.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the word "provided" should have been inserted immediately before "supervision and training", or else "supervision and training" replaced with "supervised and trained".

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that correct usage demands that "the vast majority . . . has been women" replace the incorrect "the vast majority . . . have been women".]

The Jean Y. Jew Women's Rights Award is named for a professor of anatomy who fought an uphill battle for more than a decade to defend herself against slander and sexual harassment from faculty in her department, a struggle that she ultimately won. Given annually by the Council on the Status of Women and the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC), the award honors a faculty, staff or student member of the university community who has demonstrated outstanding effort or achievement in improving the status of women on campus.

[The name of the award mentioned in this paragraph, as well as the acronyms, were stolen—surely—from back issues of Mad Magazine circa 1973.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded, again, that official titles must be capitalized.]

This year's recipients, Elizabeth Pelton, Pauline Brine, and Nancy Thompson, (pictured left to right, with attorney Kelly McClelland, third from left) were tenured associate professors in the dental hygiene program at the UI College of Dentistry; Brine was the chair of the department. In 1991, UI officials decided to eliminate the dental hygiene program, but Brine, Pelton and Thompson filed suit against the university claiming that the scheduled closing discriminated against the all-female program. They embarked on a five-year struggle to retain the program, pursuing the case through both administrative and legal channels.

[The photograph accompanying this paragraph is too gruesome to contemplate. Accordingly, as a matter of good taste, I shall not reproduce it here.

In fact, I am not entirely certain that the photograph is not some vast put-on.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a comma is required between the words "university" and "claiming". Otherwise, it is the university itself that becomes the party alleging discrimination. ]

They lost the legal battle after several appeals and the UI ultimately closed the department in 1995, but in nomination materials Sharon M. Lake wrote, "Their loss does not diminish the significance of their fight – nor render their efforts meaningless. They empowered all women by example. Their bold legal strategy made a significant contribution to the history of resistance to sex discrimination, and their struggle remains a vital cultural resource for future women's rights campaigns on this campus in this state and in the U.S."

[The word “empowered” is always a sure tip-off that the persons “empowered” have officially been ruled losers.

Praxiteles is a vital cultural resource. Saint Augustine is a vital cultural resource. Rubens is a vital cultural resource. Beethoven is a vital cultural resource. Dostoyevsky is a vital cultural resource. Carlyle is a vital cultural resource. A “struggle” over a dental hygiene program in Iowa City, Iowa, some twenty years ago, is not “a vital cultural resource”—not even when measured by the floor-level standards used by the University Of Iowa.

And who is Sharon M. Lake (whose grammatical errors the author of the press release presumably felt obliged to preserve)?

Mysteries abound.]

Pelton is associate professor emeritus in the Department of Health and Sport Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Thompson is associate professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health.

[The designations “Department Of Health And Sport Studies” and “Department Of Community And Behavioral Health” reveal all one needs to know—and constitute a timely warning that a university with such-named departments is not, indeed, a Princeton, a Yale or a Harvard. It is, instead, nothing more than an oversized if not bloated community college.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded yet again about the rules of capitalization. Why, for instance, does the press release capitalize departments, and not capitalize titles within departments?]

Student scholarships will include the Margaret P. Benson Memorial Scholarship, which will be presented to two recipients: Conner Spinks, undergraduate majoring in gender, women's and sexuality studies, and political science, and Lamia Zia, graduate student in journalism and mass communication.

[Thirty years ago, “gender, women’s and sexuality studies” were known by different terminology: “no major selected”.

Conner Spinks is, I think, the ideal name for a prospective P.E. teacher. In fact, did not Muriel Spark write Conner Spinks into one of her novels?

Lamia Zia's name bears a striking resemblance to the name of an office/retail building my older brother formerly owned in Trikala, Greece.

Is the initial “a” in Lamia pronounced hard or soft? It makes a significant difference in Lamia's journey through life.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a semi-colon is required after "political science".]

This award was created by a designated bequest to the UI Foundation to recognize qualified female applicants who demonstrate financial need and are committed to women's issues, diversity and social activism. WRAC administers the scholarship and selects its recipients.

[“Women’s Issues”, “Diversity”, “Social Activism”: the trifecta of misguided American educational institutions gone ominously awry—and code words, all, for “mediocrity”.]

The Adele Kimm Scholarship will be given to Sumaya Rabee, undergraduate student majoring in anthropology. In 1992, a bequest from Adele Kimm in memory of her brother, S. Conrad Kimm and his wife, Hilda, made it possible for the Women's Studies Program to award the this scholarship to a deserving women's studies student.

[Apparently the main criterion for this award is that the recipient must have the least Iowa-like name imaginable. Such a requirement seems somehow fitting for the field of anthropology.

And what is "the this scholarship"? It sounds vaguely and uncomfortably post-modern.]

The Wynonna G. Hubbard Scholarship will be presented to Samycia Lewis, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism and mass communication. Established by the late UI Vice President Emeritus Philip G. Hubbard in memory of his wife, the award is given each year to an African-American woman with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher who demonstrates an unusual interest in the well being of others.

[“An unusual interest in the well being of others”? That’s the standard? Can this be serious?

And a 3.0 grade average is the astonishingly-high bar to be met?

"A Celebration Of Excellence And Achievement", indeed.

This is some sort of giant put-on, right?

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the term is “well-being”, not “well being”.]

The Ada Johnson/Otilia Maria Fernandez Women's Studies Fellowship will be given to Kenisha Looney, an undergraduate student majoring in interdepartmental studies. The fellowship is named in honor of two Iowa graduates who are among the first African-American and Latina women to be found in University records. Begun in 1993, the award is given alternate years to an undergraduate or a graduate woman.

[At last! A recipient whose name describes precisely the true nature of the award in question!

And yet, once again, I suspect a giant put-on.

I sincerely wonder whether someone inserted this paragraph into the press release as a joke, solely to ascertain whether anyone was paying attention.]

The Jane A. Weiss Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to Cristina Ortiz, a graduate student in anthropology. The scholarship is named in honor of Jane Weiss, an assistant professor of women's studies and sociology at the time of her death in 1981. The award is made to doctoral students whose dissertations promise to expand understanding of important women's issues.

[The noted Brazilian pianist has dropped her concert career in order to study “important women’s issues” at the University Of Iowa? Goodness gracious!

Why did no one try to talk sense into Miss Ortiz? And try to avert such a tragic outcome to what otherwise had been a brilliant career as a gifted virtuoso musician?]

For more information on the Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women see

[By this point, readers surely have seen enough, haven’t they?]

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

[Reuters trembles at such level of competition.]

MEDIA CONTACTS: Judie Hermsen, 319-335-3553 or Laura McLeran, 319-335-5011, Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women committee; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,

[Ladies, I shall be giving you a call—and soon!

And George, too!

And should not the word "committee" have been capitalized?]

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
240 Schaeffer Hall
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242-1409

[This last involves a simple typographical error in the email address. The correct email address is:]


A reading of the above press release creates unmitigated mirth, but it also causes one to grieve for this nation.

Nonetheless, it explains fully, in and of itself, the root cause of the bizarre circumstance that tiny Grinnell College, two hours to the West of Iowa City, has a larger endowment than the endowment of The University Of Iowa Foundation: Grinnell College produces successful and generous alumni, while the University Of Iowa, despite a plethora of professional graduate schools, does not.


And, in closing, a personal message to The Iowa Board Of Regents:



  1. This is hysterical.

    I almost thought you were making all of this up, so I searched for it online and found it. You didn’t change a word.

    What a bunch of boobs.

    These people need to be fired.

  2. This release appeared on March 30? Surely, this was a calculated April Fool joke, right?

    In that paragraph about Conner Spinks, I don't think a semi-colon was necessarily required, Andrew. After all, if one can actually major in "gender" at UI, why cannot one also major in a PERSON of gender, like Lamia Zia?

    Thank you. Tears have been gushing from my eyes all evening.

  3. Yes, Paul, they do need to be fired.

    Your boy, Dane, is heading to East Lansing. Does his move involve a pay raise?

    Not that it matters: his wife makes plenty at Eli Lilly.

  4. If it was an April Fool joke, Tony, I certainly fell for the bait.

    However, if an April Fool joke, I think the press release would not still appear on the University website, would it?

    You very well may be right on that semi-colon issue: Connor Spinks is majoring in the subjects listed as well as majoring in Lamia Zia.

    I never thought of it that way until now.

    Do you think I should I issue a correction?

  5. In Iowa City, the University of Iowa is known as the University of Zero Nobel Prizes.

  6. Salary's about the same, I'd think.

    But it's a step up in status.

  7. I wouldn't bother making another correction, Andrew. There's enough egg on the face.

    Curiously, however, if the missing semicolon wasn't a mistake,that paragraph about Conner Spinks suggests that this young woman was in some kind of honors program, since she was majoring in a graduate student and not a common, squiggly-worm-of-an underclasswoman. I say "curious" because one would think that the release, given its purpose, would recognize Ms. Spinks's advanced placement among her peers.