My only regret after Friday’s “State of the College” event was that I had not asked for the attendees to fill out a survey on what they thought of the proceedings.
I was delighted, then, to see that the Lounge helpfully posted a short survey asking for participants’ feedback, asking “I think the State of the College Address was:” I immediately emailed all of my family and friends, pleading with them to rate the event “The Best Ever.” As of Sunday afternoon, it looks like three of them have responded, assuming they don’t have a perverse sense of humor and voted for one of the other categories. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two votes for “A Travesty” came from a few of my friends.
As you may notice upon close examination, PhiloDave did not provide a true Likert scale of a spectrum of choices for the voters. The scale starts with “The Best Ever,” as good as it can get. Next is “Definitely a Success,” a reasonable drop from the implausible heights of “Best Ever.” Next comes that dreaded adjective, “Fine,” loaded with an indifferent approval for happenings for which one cannot muster emotional reactions. “Truly Fine” may have elevated the category above the above mentioned “Success,” and “Fine” is spectrally above the next choice, “Forgettable,” but I do not feel “Fine” is as in line with the Likert-type neutrality its middle position suggests. “Forgettable” is a strong choice for the Likert fourth position.
That leaves “A Travesty.” My heart sank when I saw the choice. At first, it struck me as a reasonable, if dreaded (for the organizer), opposite alternative to the apposite “Best Ever.” Not content to accept PhiloDave’s scale at face value, however, I did some sleuthing of my own.
I pulled out volume two of my trusted Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Sixth Edition, and found, nestled between “travitessiment” <travestying a person or thing; the wearing of a dress of the opposite sex> and “travis” <1. A railed enclosure into which restive horses are put to be shot. 2. A wooden partition separating two stalls in a stable. 3. A horse’s stall in a stable.>, “travesty.” To my surprise, the word did not mean what I thought it meant.
travesty /’travesti/ adjective & noun. M17 (mid-17th century origin)
[ORIGIN French travesti pa. pple of travestir from Italian travistere, from tra- TRANS – + vestire clothe.]
A adjective. Dressed so as to be made ridiculous; burlesqued, parodied. M17 – L18.
B noun. 1. (A) derisive or ludicrous imitation of a serious literary work. Now chiefly transf., a grotesque misrepresentation or imitation (of a thing). L17. 2. Orig., an alteration of dress; a disguise. Now spec. (chiefly THEATRICAL), (dressing in) the clothes or style of clothing of members of the opposite sex (see also EN TRAVESTI). M18.
For those who were not able to attend the meeting, we tried a new format this go-round. After a set of introductions by our new faculty members expressing enthusiasm for HWC and DreamWorks (one delusional English instructor thought he was receiving an Oscar) and brief introductory remarks by me on our priorities for the coming months (including our Graduation Initiative, budget efforts, space, customer service excellence, and College to Careers), we were entertained and informed by a number of our colleagues. Several faculty committees updated us on events and roles, our union leaders told us about scholarships and current events, Professor Schoenberger gave a pitch for the Legal Clinic, and a parade of administrators updated us on budgets, instruction, space, and processes. Everyone was so efficient in sticking to his or her time contract, we had time left over to take questions and comments from the assembled. The meeting ended on time, and several people took advantage of the subject-matter tables we had set up in the adjoining room for more in-depth discussion for any of the afore-mentioned topics that piqued particular interest.
In my view, the event was a smashing success. I won’t say it was the best ever, as different ‘state of the college’ addresses have different intents. My intent for this one was to allow diverse members of our community to briefly update colleagues on goings-on, with enough time to whet appetites in the event people wanted a more comprehensive discussion afterward. We met the goal. I didn’t even see anyone sleeping, unlike during my Fall speech.
“A travesty,” though. Assuming PhiloDave intended the adjectival use of the word, in line with the other more Likert-like alternatives, I wonder if ‘travesty’ isn’t an astute choice after all. Each participant was given a 3 – 5 minute window in which to make their pitch. By constraining the time and form, I may have inadvertently created many little parodies of a full-fledged State of the College address. In my position at the front of the room, I saw enough smiles, nods and gentle chuckles to now make me wonder if the audience didn’t see this as a delightful burlesque, a parade of abbreviated valedictories, cut short in the prime of their eloquence in order to serve Chronos.
Or maybe PhiloDave did intend to implement a Likert scale and use the more colloquial understanding of travesty as a disaster. I’d like to know. So, while I don’t expect the overwhelming numbers of respondents (as of this writing, 10) the Lounge can produce, I am interested in feedback. Let me know in the poll below, assuming you got this far.