When I graduated from college, one of my old high school friends said that a B.S. degree stood for “B.S.” When I got my M.S. degree, he said it stood for “More S…”. When I got my PhD, he said that stood for “Piled Higher and Deeper.” At the time, I just thought he was just jealous. But recent events in higher education have caused me to rethink my position.
For example, I learned this week that Olga Gershenson, a professor of Judaic and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Barbara Penner, a professor of architecture at University College London, have issued a “call for papers” about public restrooms. The invitation reads as follows:
We invite contributions for the edited collection Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets.
Public toilets are amenities with a functional, even a civic, purpose. Yet they also act as the unconscious of public spaces. They can be a haven: a place to regain composure, to ‘check one’s face,’ or to have a private chat. But they are also sexually-charged and transgressive spaces that shelter illicit sexual practices and act as a cultural repository for taboos and fantasies.
…(P)ublic toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division. Indeed, public toilets are among the very few openly segregated spaces in contemporary Western culture, and the physical differences between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘ladies’ remains central to (and is further naturalized by) their design.
…(T)hey provide a fertile ground for critical work interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology can be formed in public space and inscribed through design.
…Any subject is appropriate: toilet design and signage, toilet humour and euphemisms, personal narratives and legal cases, as well as art sited in public toilets. We invite submissions in the format of traditional academic papers of no more than 7000 words (including footnotes).
Naturally, I thought this “call for papers” was a joke at first. Then, I went to Olga Gershenson’s website at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her last three paper presentations were simply too strange to be fabricated. The paper titles were “Private parts/public stages: The rhetoric of gender, sexuality, and space,” “Potty Politics on Campus: Debates over Unisex Bathrooms,” and “Public Bathrooms? The Rhetoric of Space, Gender, and Power.”
Naturally, I kept browsing her website for more evidence of her intellectual prowess. I noticed that, in addition to recommending the “Museum of Sex” in Manhattan, Gershenson recommends the “Museum of Toilets” in India. If you don’t believe me, go to www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org.
Because Gershenson has a PhD, which makes her really smart, she was able to conclude that “the actual museum might not be easy to visit.” That probably means that “India is really far away”. Nonetheless, she insists that “if you, like me are doing research on gender and space, the site is definitely worth checking out.”
In Gershenson and Penner’s call for papers, the phrase “Any subject is appropriate” really sums it up. “Glory holes” used to facilitate anonymous sex in university restrooms and profane poems on the walls of bathrooms are no longer a source of embarrassment for professors and administrators. There is no longer a need to cover them up with putty and spray paint. Now, they are just another form of diversity to be celebrated. Break out the rainbow flags!
To say that “toilet humor” is now a form of art is to insult the architects of the diversity movement. To them, “toilet humor” is more than art. It is the subject of scholarly inquiry and serious academic discourse.
And now, untenured professors will be able to write about such subjects in publications they can use to get tenure at a public university near you. And once they do, there will be no way to flush them out of the academy (sorry).
The call for “Toilet Papers” reminds me of the time a student at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, (336-316-2301) wrote a blasphemous paper concerning her sexual fantasies about Jesus Christ. It was hard to believe that even an immature college student could write something so profane and offensive-especially at a supposedly Christian college.
But, then, the Dean gave the student the award for the 2004 Outstanding Work of Fiction. It was considered the “best” any student had to offer at Guilford.
To tolerate filth is one thing, to celebrate it is another. That is where we stand today in higher education. We are knee deep and getting deeper.