Note: This essay was written in response to a letter to the editor of URI's student paper, The Good 5¢ Cigar (2/13/98, 34(19):5), written by English Professor Jules Seigel, a professor who opens the first sessions of his classes by reading from the local obituary and once told me that my gentile relatives had aided in a "de-purification of the [Jewish] race." Due to byte and space constraints, I will only summarize the Professor's essay (as objectively as possible, of course). It was, quite plainly (though masked by moderation), Prof. Seigel's contention that fraternities should be removed from campus (he actually suggested physical transplantation without abolition). Since his target included many responsible and erudite members of the student body, such as myself, I believed a highfalutin rebuttle that mirrored his statement in tone and profusion of literary allusions to be in order. My essay sparked an editorial debate (though not, notably, joined by the man who had blown the first flame) that a surprising number of my classmates followed. Though I was apprehensive at first, Prof. Seigel and I have since had cause to speak, and did so as amiably as we ever had.
"To Professor Seigel II" was first published, in a slightly varied form (mostly by virtue of typographical errors on the periodical's part), as a two part editorial in the February 19 & 20, 1998, Issues (Vol. 34, Nos. 21 & 22) of The Good 5¢ Cigar, Pgs. 7 & 4, respectively. "To Professor Seigel I" is an unpubished letter that I sent directly to the Professor some months earlier concerning different matters.
Marxists ring the bell! Supremacist propagandists invert your dogma and hand it over, darker side out, to Professor Jules Seigel! Why now, Herr Professor, letís be honest regarding the changes you propose. Such a gardener as yourself must be aware that transplanting weeds to the desert will effectuate their death as much as throwing them in the fire. Placing fraternities among the stones of the line removes them from the well-spring from which they draw their sustenance: incoming students. What a loophole youíve found in your First Amendment by suggesting that rather than simply ripping out their tongues, we should only gag dissenters, effectuating a social epilepsy to stifle their outbursts. The only difference between ending the Greek system and moving it off campus is that in the latter you are condescending to allow the last vestiges to die out one by one. Either way, youíre merely chopping off the head of a snake that has the power of regeneration beware a new, thrice fanged, head does not grow to fill the space.
To be only as clichť as your argument deserves, your communism is a red herring. Take away the ancient acronyms and youíve still got adolescent pillagers (only the more wild for their lack of branding). Your "histories of fraternities" seem more appropriately entitled "histories of youth." While I, myself, did not discover the joys of extinguishing imaginary fires until my Grecian foray (and even then, only in private), I, personally, broke more glass before my induction. The problems you cited as fraternal are abundant generally throughout the college-age-bracket, in and out of the Greek system (even in and out of college). Now, it may be argued that fraternities attract a disproportionate amount of this element, but, if this is the case, how much better it is to have them concentrated and out in the open rather than scattered amongst the voluminous student body. While I can guess what quip you would offer when it is suggested that we should have all the "Brothers" in one room, I would have thought that considering (or, perhaps, in spite of) your political views, you would see what a fantastic opportunity is presented to your brand of culturalism when all of your anomalies are collected together! How much easier to dispense alms to the poor when they are charitably tenementalized. To put it simply, it is easier to help a great number of people with what you, sir, may term as the same problem if you do not have to ferret them out. Mustnít it be counter-productive to fragment those groups into individuals who would then be encouraged to regroup under a different set of letters? But even this is allowing your ism-istic homogenizing to go much too far. Let us not forget that we are still discussing college- kids here, people whom a university is supposed to help ease into the real world in addition to educating. If you dislike their behavior, blame yourself. As a professor, a teacher, it is your JOB to help raise these children, and any problems they have are partially a fault of yours, as of every person who draws a salary from this school. Really, what will all of you professors and administrators do when you havenít the Greek system to blame, when that evil specter is no longer there to stand as an insurmountable bad influence and these problems you list are still evident? Do not forget that we dreaded frat boys are only students, and will remain so with or without our lettered hats and sweat-shirts. Parents pay a tremendous fee to have their sons and daughters watched after and coddled, and if you do not want to draw your salary from that pool, step from your ensigned platform onto a privately commissioned soap-box. You have been contracted for the specific purpose of dealing with these students, and it is your right, as it is any workerís, if you do not like the terms and responsibilities of your position, to resign.
It is also my contention that any money the taxpayers fork out to clean up after misdirected vandals will only increase once the large fraternal corporations are no longer in place to soften the financial blow and there is one less fail-safe in place between an inherent experimental misconduct and the repercussions of a very harsh reality (and by making college a near necessity before allowing the young to become productive adults, we are also admitting, by insinuation, that they are not yet fully capable of being held accountable for their lack of experience). Even more cutting, though, would be the therapy bills when all of ye parents are forced to consider the problem as that of your own children and all of ye socialites (or socialists, as the case may be) begin to see that the fault lies within the roots of our society rather than some (as you say) "vile and evil" facelessly generic party fiend. Then do these degenerates of the tragedy become the very same children whom you once watched prance around in high socks on the little league soccer field. And while Thoreau and Emerson (who put forth the question "Are they MY poor?") might agree with you that the good people of Rhode Island should not be asked to finance the growing pains of the children of out-of-staters, be comforted that in these foreign lands are the children of Providence, Newport, and Narragansett wreaking their own havoc.
It seems to me, Mr. Seigel, that you are more interested in discussing how much closer to the truths of the world you are through your iconoclasm than actually trying to solve any real problems. However, if you are sincere in wanting to make this campus a better place, you are being terribly short-sighted in viewing the Greek system as an enemy as opposed to a useful tool. So, it would appear, Fedallah, that the whale you seek to destroy is a superficial metaphor, and one to which you are unfortunately bound. Brothers, remain young for as long as you possibly can, because you can be assured that we are merely incurring the very same debt which our parents owe to theirs (and that we will one day be asked to carry for our progeny). I say let the bitter old men eat potatoes. But deep in the forest. Withdraw Serlo, Withdraw.
Tau Epsilon Phi
Note: The first response to my essay, "To Professor Seigel II", in URI's The Good 5¢ Cigar appeared in the very next issue (2/24/98, 34(23):4). While I must confess to having left myself open for many of Heather Hewitt's attacks, she was a bit more caustic than I thought was substantiated. For the former reason, I really did want to explain myself (I was a young writer then and could not leave my readers misunderstanding). For the latter reason, I myself was a bit more caustic than, perhaps, was merited. Ms. Hewitt's complaint was predominantly against my statement that the parents of college students paid for the "coddling" of their children. Though I had understood and accepted the possibility of this particular ambiguity, I was offended at Ms. Hewitt's suggestion that I might be better suited in a preschool.
"To Heather Hewitt" was first published, in a slightly varied form (mostly by virtue of typographical errors on the periodical's part), in the February 27, 1998, Issue (Vol. 34, No. 26) of The Good 5¢ Cigar, Pg. 4.
Ah, Ms. Hewitt, do not discount my eloquence quite so rapidly; rather, allow me to offer you a modest guide to mend your faulty reading: a tool which I would not so readily provide were your misconceptions not such a detriment to the general understanding of my argument. Firstly, let me assure you that I am well aware that not all parents send their children off to college with a lollipop and a credit-card. I, myself, am not free from the necessities of labor and loan-taking. What I was playing off was Professor Seigelís cynicism which made it seem as if every parent of a fraternity brother was releasing his or her son as a financial burden upon the indigenous people of Rhode Island. Due to space limitations I did not refute this ridiculous argument, imagining (apparently incorrectly) that readers would discriminate on their own and realize that I was speaking from beyond this point. In response to Prof. S. offering financial incentive for following his advice, I was suggesting that the parents of these Boys (as he calls us) from other states are not free from the financial responsibility of cleaning up after their children.
But note that I said "a tremendous fee" instead of "an outlandish tuition." Even you, Heather, cannot dispute that no-matter who pays for a young adultís schooling, they are pre-paying for advents such as vandalism. They are paying "activity" fees ensuring that they never lack extra-educational stimuli; fees for room and board (either dormitorian or Grecian); fees to cover career, academic, and psychological counseling. And so on, ad nausium: Iím always surprised to not find an "in case we forgot anything" fee itemized on my bill.
But the most disturbing aspect of your reading is your complete misinterpretation of context. We are discussing the Greek system here, the SOCIAL arena, not the ACADEMIC. At no point did I suggest that these fees entitle students to cushy grading, and I believe that Prof. S. would agree with me that students would only be cheating themselves out of their costly education (in fact, Iíve heard him state as much in the classroom). In their advertising, accessibility of teachers is a major selling point discussed by all universities: point being that teachers are meant to take an interest in the lives of their students independent of the grading system. This, of course, is at their discretion, but if the Professor wishes to lower himself into our plebeian social stratosphere, he should do so productively, not gripingly. His employment entitles him to a relatively captive audience to which he may spew any rhetoric he wishes, but if he wants to lambaste a good portion of that audience, he should do so outside of his position. That, of course, was the premier meaning behind my use of "ensigned platform." However, after further research, I discovered that an Ensign is the lowest rank in the Navy turning our beloved teachers into the deck-swabbing seamen fighting the battle against ignorance, and I gave in to the impulse to condemn our mutinous Ensign Seigel to kitchen duty by referring to soap (alluding, also, to his sentiment that fraternities be swept from the campus).
I must confess that you have stumbled upon one of two words which I had to consider extensively before finalizing my submission: "coddled." I realized that I was leaving myself open to criticism if people put too much stock in that one word and took my statement, incorrectly, to mean that mommies and daddies are paying teachers for pampering, but I could not resist this word for its other definition. In the world of cooking, to "coddle" is to cook in water just below the boiling point. If you missed this pun (granting its obscurity), you missed the connections to several aspects of the editorial... if youíre at all interested in postulating a substantiated argument against me, reread with this second meaning in mind.
Iíve already gone on over-long (some might say "over-board"), so until next time... forgive my hubris and please do not allow your analytical puerility (and proclivity to quick objections) to become an intellectual sterility preventing you from proffering proper delineations for that family you may or may not be planning.
Note: If my response to Heather Hewitt in The Good 5¢ Cigar was too harsh, my response to her quick-to-appear defender, Don Rodrigues, was not harsh enough. I replied to Mr. Rodrigues too rapidly, and did not perceive that what I originally took to be a kindred indulgence in over-intellectual parley was far too mean-spirited to be playful. Indeed, at first I took umbrage only to his suggestion that I might resort to violence (with the aid of my fraternity brothers) due to his (in his mind) argumentative checkmate (3/3/98, 34(27):7). I did draft a retraction of the pubished letter, but a melancholy state of mind prevented me from submitting it.
Mr. Rodrigues' "checkmate" was essentially that, since I denied that I had meant "coddled" to be taken as "pampered", I could only have meant that students should be "cooked just below the boiling point". The only way out of this trap, he wrote, would be to find some third definition of the word, which, according to his dictionary, did not exist.
The reference, at the end of my essay, to an editorial published in the Cigar by Elizabeth Kunce (2/26/98, 34(25):4) was an attempt to draw another person into the fray. Her essay concerned the fact that some (actually the minority) of the fraternities are at the top of Kingston Hill, while the "ghetto" (a group of dorms largely inhabited by minorities) lies at the bottom, near the athletic complex, with the administration and security buildings in between. Ms. Kunce did not respond.
"To Don Rodrigues" was first published, in a slightly varied form (mostly by virtue of typographical errors on the periodical's part), in the March 4, 1998, Issue (Vol. 34, No. 28) of The Good 5¢ Cigar, Pg. 7.
I am truly sorry to hear, Mr. Rodrigues, that we will be losing your company to the country of Byron and Beatles. How pointless it is to express outlandish sentiments with no one to refute them intelligently. (and a grand hooray to Seigel for opening up such a deliciously mellifluous debate!) I had been expecting my next entry to be a requisite criticism of the use of that most deceptively simple of tools, the thesaurus; but here I am offered a well-spoken argument by one so well versed in semantics rather than the verbose experiment in inflated language I had anticipated. I must confess that I was driven repeatedly, and excitedly, to my own dictionary, and for this I must thank you--how does one improve if not by being pitted against another who is, at the very least, his or her equal? And you, Don, may verily prove to far surpass that minimal stipulation.
Never-the-less, I firmly believe that in the rivalry at hand, I have the upper. Admittedly, I have no white rabbit definition for "coddle" to pull from my belletristic cap, but I think the two we have will suffice for now. The reason this controversial word caused me so much anxiety in my original draft was the understanding that in order for it to serve its purpose, both definitions would have to apply; and the "pamper" one was much too strong for my true ideology. For better or worse, I resigned myself to this wee bit of hyperbole in the literal argument to allow for the application of the second meaning to the metaphorical subtext. In retrospect, perhaps said subtext was underdeveloped, but alas, the beast has been printed and is beyond repair (but in all fairness, you must allow for the inherent lack of space... 700 piddling words to get the entirety unified in one issue). So now you see that my use of the pun was correct, with each definition applying to a different level of imagery instead of both meanings coexisting in the literal world.
In other news, I would like to let Ms. Kunce know that her failed attempt at creating a metaphor relating this campus to a plantation is nearly as ridiculous as Scott Sanborn calling himself a satirist. The first requirement of an allegory is that it works! A "city on the hill" (at least as it was coined by John Winthrop) is a pseudo-society which will be watched by the world as exemplary. You have also neglected (perhaps consciously) to consider that the fraternities have a less than amiable relationship with the authorities residing betwixt your two cultural parties and that a great number of them are on the same geographical elevation as the "ghetto."
But even more disturbing is the fact that you have postulated the existence of an evil society maliciously designing the very living arrangements of the URI students. Iím not sure how the current division of residence came to be, but Iím positive it had more to do with the original layout of the campus (when many of the plots now inhabited by Greek system members were privately owned "off campus" homes) and the development of racial inequities in athletics.
Moreover, I would like to remind everybody that you are all given an option concerning your residency; and that the Greek system does not discriminate by superficialities. Any problem you have with your living arrangements are your own doing.
P.S. Don, I rarely rely on my "Brethren" for anything more than camaraderie, and am offended that you would expect me to resort to violence when all Iím really doing is enjoying a lively debate. You underestimate me, my friend.
Note: After my over-friendly response to Don Rodrigues, Ms. Hewitt chimed in again with the intelligence that the two had been working together in an attempt to "teach" me that "big words do not an intelligent person make" (The Good 5¢ Cigar, 3/18/99, 34(32):4). Despite a grand "Let the games begin!" after the news that Mr. Rodrigues was not leaving the country, neither ever published a final rebuttal. Ms. Hewitt did, however, contact me via e-mail to make sure that I understood that the whole thing had been in fun. Professor Jules Seigel had nothing to do with H&R's "lesson."
"To the Duovirate" was first published, in a slightly varied form (mostly by virtue of typographical errors on the periodical's part), in the March 20, 1998, Issue (Vol. 34, No. 34) of The Good 5¢ Cigar, Pg. 4.
Aha! So the plot thickens! And I had thought to dilute our language! But how now do I proceed when supplied the intelligence that both of my nemeses are in reality a malicious conglomerate? Is Seigel perhaps playing Blofeld to your SPECTRE? And I so humble an agent when reduced to pupil? But here Iíll resist all temptations to point out that you have deemed it necessary to match your two brains to my one.
Verily, I must admit that your ulterior motives escaped me. There I was, duped into believing that I was facing separately a pawn and a knight, only to discover that the pawn was a ruse to hide the advances of a bishop. And now Iím in check without so much as a breath from the opposing queen! Must my king stand alone? No, I am firmly castled (but not crowned, that would be another game altogether).
Ms. Hewittís first attack drew me (kicking and screaming, I assure you), by the virtue of its obvious parody, into the vocabularian fray. I digressed to parody the parody, I concede. My next misstep was responding too quickly to Donís defensive posturing. Perhaps in his coauthorship, conjunction and rehearsal had facilitated your use of 10 cent words (seemingly appropriate considering that it is double the value of this paperís title) and I was impressed by the natural fluency of that entry. I recall a remote feeling that day, so perhaps I was too prone to imagine a kindred spirit (even an antipodal one). Yes, I was surely too quick to compliment him. After a second reading, however, I wrote a terribly caustic response in plain-speak which may yet grace this periodical, but for now bides its calling in the timelessly anonymitive swamp of my desk. But your collective regression to colloquialism diminished your entire effort. By reverting to name calling, you forced a reconsideration of whom it is that belongs in a pre-school playground. For better or worse, both my premier argument and this one were written in my natural tone and vocabulary (perhaps somewhat augmented by my being entrenched in an entire semester of Herman Melville studies), uninflated, as it were.
I began my letter writing career in an attempt to offer a defense of the Greek system in a well-written and well-read language on a par with the more important of that groupís denigrators; and Iím sorry, but that means using words that are not often heard on Talk Soup. I used, as I always do, words that meant exactly what I wanted to say. Yes, I could have said "the large student body," but does that really mean the same thing as "voluminous"? No, nor does it sound at all like "voluptuous" (a word which at least gave me a little chuckle in that context). In response to my argument, your duovirate attacks my vocabulary? I have a hard time believing that this entire charade was planned from the beginning, but either way, I really donít care. A critique of my writing style is not only off the topic, but presumptuous and pretentious as well. I will not allow myself to be dragged further into this digression. You donít understand what I was trying to do? Dismiss it. I donít care, it wasnít written for you. You feel slighted that I labeled only Don as surpassing my "minimal stipulation?" Allow me to retract. You both are equally subordinate. Worse, you arenít even subversively so.
Iíve had my say. I topple the table, close the board, and wash my hands. I have been sullied by the pieces. Pick them up if you will, theyíre yours after all. Save the queen, leave that player to its own devises.