Dear Aunt Sophie,
Until a few days ago, I thought I had the greatest life a man, that is, a person, could ever wish for. What could be more wonderful than being president of an Ivy League university? The perks alone are better than most people’s salaries and you live in such beautiful surroundings where everyone defers to you and you attend the most remarkably interesting parties. I thought I was in heaven, if such can truly be said to exist. But something always comes along to spoil perfection, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, much as I hate to admit it, I may have done it to myself. If I’d been maintaining my customary awareness I would undoubtedly have foreseen what would transpire. I happened to remark that it may be that there are fewer superlatively accomplished women than men in mathematics and the sciences and that the reason might be – notice I said might be, I didn’t say it had to be – that they’re, that is, that they might be, well, wired differently.
As you can imagine, that set off what any cliché-spewing, lazy student journalist from a lesser institution would refer to as a firestorm of controversy. I suppose, with 20/20 hindsight, I should have realized that a few women might object to what I’d said, even though I said I thought they might be, note – might be - different from men. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with stating something I thought could, for all one knows, possibly, maybe be true. But now some women, who are most certainly intellectually equal, if not superior, to men, have been raising holy, I mean just plain, hell. (You realize that’s just a figure of speech, of course. I don’t really believe in any of that.)
Of course, I apologized immediately. In fact I have apologized three times, but they don’t let it go. They are asking how, after this gross faux pas, any woman could feel comfortable and safe in our institution. We do happen to have the most accomplished, brilliant women in the world studying at my university, even in mathematics and the sciences, and I wouldn’t want a single one of them to feel that I didn’t respect her incredible gifts. In fact I am in awe of our women students and I would like them to know that, but I have to be a little, as the undergraduates say, cool about expressing my admiration because I think it might be unseemly for the president of the institution to come right out and say he worships the ground they walk on. After all, I am supposed to be in charge here.
And that raises another matter. What if someone were to think that since I said perhaps men and women might conceivably be different, that I also might think that blacks might conceivably be different from whites? That would not do our institution any good even though we respect whatever differences there might possibly be by letting the students in each new class decide for themselves the degree to which they are different. Now that I think about it, maybe that was where I went wrong – I didn’t let the women decide for themselves how different from men they might want to be. I’ll have to ask their representatives if that would make them feel better. If only I could get them to talk to me. This is very distressing. How can I undo the damage?
Larry from Cambridge
What a shame that a big, big, big time prexy like you has tripped in front of the feminist steamroller. Surely you realized when you took the job that you would have to stow whatever common sense you were endowed with in a lock box for the duration. You must have known that college presidents can’t run around saying things like “Mozart is a better composer than Elton John,” or “America is a great country” or “Women are not men.”
But I guess nobody told you that the American university is not an appropriate place to disclose certain shocking conceits and now you’re finding out the hard way.
To help assure you of a trouble-free future in academe, allow me to remind you of some other fantasies you’d be better off not mentioning: That global warming may or may not be occurring and if it is, it may or may not be caused by SUV’s, barbeques and the Fourth of July; that a pig is not a rat is not a dog is not a boy; that there is no moral equivalence whatsoever between people who send their children to blow themselves up in public places and the men, women and children thus blown up; that violence against women does not spike immediately after the Super Bowl; that, contrary to the belief of many black studies professors, the United States, unlike Mauritania, actually stopped practicing slavery when it outlawed the institution 140 years ago; that most little girls like to play with dolls while their twin brothers prefer trucks.
If you want to obliterate the aura of sanity your ill-conceived comments bestowed on you, you’ll have to work at it. Three apologies just won’t cut it. If you can squeeze out a few hundred more your present students will probably let you off the hook, but to qualify for the Atonement Olympics you’ll have to start begging forgiveness for things that happened before you were born, the way a certain late 20th century ex-president apologized for slavery.
Never forget that no matter where you go there will always be some hotshot J-school grad lying in ambush. If you can avoid the proscribed topics until you’re on Medicare you may manage to retire with a full pension, a house in Beacon Hill, a cottage in Hyannis and your own table at The Federalist.
But don’t worry - if you backslide, there’s always Denny’s.
Good luck and God bless.