Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God bless you each and every one

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I'm back with another book from the dustbins of the mid-century. This time it's a book whose title caught my eye while I was searching for a different volume: God Bless Our Queer Old Dean by W. Lee Storrs. The book is a non-technical easy read on the job of the dean of student affairs, at least as that job stood in 1959.

Usually, the 1950s don't feel that long ago to me, but this book is practically a museum piece. The are of "deaning" as described by this book sounds nearly as quaint as does its description of colonial student affairs. Mentally, it is not much more of a stretch to imagine the days when students were ordered by social standing and presidents directly meted out corporal punishment than it is to imagine separate Deans of Men and Women overseeing a student affairs apparatus so small that students have personal relationships with the appropriately gendered dean.

But back to the fun stuff: Let's start with the title. Now poor Dean Storrs can't be blamed for failing to anticipate the newer meaning of "queer," and in fact the preface reassures one that he doesn't mean that sort of queer by listing "whether the suspected homosexual should be immediately separated from the student body or given therapy" as one of the many dilemmas deans face. Nevertheless, the vigorous manhood of mid-century just doesn't inflect the same way now. Much of the sentiment belong more to the era of Kipling and Baden-Powell than to Sputnik, and the author's irrationally exuberant slang would be right at home in the mouth of one of Sinclair Lewis' Rotarians.

The illustrations add to the reading experience - notice my personal favorite above. In addition to these charming sketches, there are also prosy sketches designed to illustrate the challenges of deaning. One tells the story of a student who reported seeing pancakes in his dresser drawer. After referring him to first a counselor and then a psychiatrist to no avail, the dean looks in said dresser and finds - pancakes. A friend of mine remarked that this raises more questions than it answers, not the least of which is why someone had stored delicious breakfast foods in a bureau.

But the author (and I) have saved the best for last. Below, I present the final two paragraphs, which I swear I have not tampered with in any way. *SPOILER ALERT* After discussing the increased permissiveness on college campuses, which today we recollect as the last gasps of in loco parentis, Storrs concludes:

"The undergraduate of the next decade undoubtedly faces a harder grind, tougher competition, severer stricture, and as the avalanche of collegians such as has never been known in any country in any age descends upon the campus, most of the flummery about the permissive attitude and the progressive approach will be lost in the shuffle. Readjustment will take a long time, but it is clear that a new era or rigor and regulation is coming in, and the dean will be called on once again to swing the strap.

"Bend over, son."

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