Jack London on the modern university

jacklondonJack London took a lot of potshots at universities and university professors; in Martin Eden, for example, or in “South of the Slot,” where a professor vanishes into the life of a labor organizer. The portrayals are usually highly unflattering.

But in The Iron Heel, a professor loses his job because of his radical associations, but not before the president of the university tries to get him to leave quietly:

“He [the president] said that the university needed ever so much more money this year than the state was willing to furnish; and that it must come from wealthy personages who could not be offended by the swerving of the university from its high ideal of the passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence.  When I tried to pin him down to what my home life had to do with swerving the university from its high ideal, he offered me a two years’ vacation, on full pay, in Europe, for recreation and research.  Of course I couldn’t accept it under the circumstances. . . . It was a bribe.”

The Iron Heel was published in 1908, and professors don’t get offered vacation on full pay any more, if they ever did, but London had some insight into how the university works.

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