The chancellor’s new clothes

on 14 Comments

Once upon a time there was a professor who aspired to be chancellor. Chancellor was a more powerful and prestigious position than professor and it was on the other side of the kingdom, so the professor flew out to be vetted by the executive search committee. That night the head of search took him out for dinner and clapped him on the back. He was almost there.

The next day was the regents committee. The regents sat in a conference room, all facing the professor, who wore narrow glasses. His white hair stood out like Einstein.

“Are there any skeletons in the closet?” the head regent said.

“Not that I can think of.”

“Criminal record? Affairs with students? Nazi memorabilia? Anger issues? Substance abuse?”

As the regent went down the list the professor said No over and over again.

“Eccentricities we should know about? Gun collection. Internet chatrooms. Weird Facebook photographs?”

“Sorry. No.”

“We don’t want any surprises. An institutionalization. A harassment complaint. An unsavory cause?” 

The professor glanced out at a redwood tree in the courtyard. “Unsavory cause?”

“Oh– anything that might stand out. A death row case. Police brutality. Anything left of global warming.”

The professor sighed. “Well I did sign a petition once. For divestment from military contractors to Israel. Just for military contractors, mind you. Not all things Israel.”

Two regents glanced at one another meaningfully as the head regent pressed the professor for details. It was long ago. Ten years back. The professor’s wife had signed the petition too.

The atmosphere in the room had changed. Instead of the meeting being a headlong flight across a grassy sunlit field to a waiting lover, it suddenly felt as if they were all in gumboots and up to their ankles in a swamp.

The professor felt sweat trickling down his ribs. “It was nothing, nothing,” he said in a slight panic. “They stick the clipboard at you like a gun. There was all this peer pressure and correctness. Highly polarized. They made you out to be a collaborationist if you didn’t sign.”

The head regent grimaced and sat back, and the professor gave a soft cry and buried his head in his hands.

“Please give us ten minutes,” the head regent said.

The professor paced the hallway like a prisoner. The weightless Italian suit he’d purchased for the sessions now wore dark sweat stains, and his hair hung limply over his forehead.

Then the door opened, and the big regent stuck his head out. ”I think we’ve got it.”

He was smiling, and the professor threw himself into the regent’s arms.

The investiture of the chancellor took place on a beautiful June day. This was a dignified and solemn affair; and only the most important people in the kingdom were invited. Two hundred of them crammed the chancellor’s hall, a Greek revival structure with a broad central staircase. There were famous politicians, regents, hedge fund managers, provosts, portfolio advisers, chaired professors, and big alumni donors– and all their wives and husbands. On the balcony a chamber orchestra played Bach, and waiters in black tie circulated with glasses of champagne.

From outside could be heard the muffled shouts of demonstrators. But there were always demonstrations in the kingdom, and no one paid them any mind.

At the stroke of 5, the oak doors at the top of the stairs opened and the chancellor and his wife stepped out toward the waiting dignitaries. At first the group of VIPs were taken aback by what the two were wearing, and indeed a brief gasp went through the room.

For the chancellor and his wife were both naked except for Israeli flags. The chancellor’s was knotted around his hips. Hers was tied pareo-style just below her armpits.

But the gasp was brief. These were people who knew how to stand on ceremony! And soon the dignitaries recovered and laughed and chattered meaninglessly.

“Oh it’s Hermes,” said one donor’s wife.

“No it’s Prada. I saw Miuccia in Milan. She was talking about this line.”

“See how the blue of his suit sets off his eyes,” said the head regent.

“I have a dozen like that, I should have worn it,” a hedgefund manager said to his wife.

“Where can I buy one of those?” called out a senator.

The chancellor and his wife beamed, and the flags swirled about their hips as they stepped barefoot down to the entryway and lifted champagne glasses from a tray.

And only then did a little girl at the back of room tug at her father’s sleeve– her father had a chair in anthropology– and say, “Daddy, that’s the flag of Israel!”

The father swung his child behind him with a wrench of the little girl’s arm, and clapped a hand over her mouth, before whisking her out the front door, and the event went on without a hitch, and the chancellor and his wife greeted all their wonderful new company, and all was well in the kingdom. 

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14 Responses

  1. Alex Kane
    December 21, 2012, 10:27 am

    Haha. This is great.

  2. pabelmont
    December 21, 2012, 10:42 am

    Beautiful! Fantasy? Sets off the blue of the eyes? Sounds realistic to me. Can we engineer a New Yorker cartoon out of this?

  3. seafoid
    December 21, 2012, 10:51 am

    The father swung his child behind him with a wrench of the little girl’s arm, and a sign went to a computer operator with a joystick in Virginia and within 4 seconds she was dead as a zephyr passed through the sky over the party.

    • libra
      December 21, 2012, 2:03 pm

      Sean, great stuff indeed from Phil though frankly in Professor Dirks he’s making fun of a minor player who’s just a small symptom of the problem. On the other hand, our own Professor Ellis has just made two superb posts which go to the very heart of the matter.

      Not that Professor Ellis’s writing is imaginative though he does couple creative insight with factual analysis. In a sense he goes beyond the imaginative into what could be actually be called (at long last) the prophetic in that he shows a path forward for those who want to challenge Jewish power and its relationship with Zionism. Definitely worth checking out if you’ve not already done so.

      • libra
        December 21, 2012, 2:29 pm

        Whoops! This comment was meant to be a reply to Sean McBride’s comment below not seafoid’s.

  4. seanmcbride
    December 21, 2012, 10:55 am

    Great stuff. Which also reminds me that the writing that really matters is imaginative writing (thinking of the brilliant Philip Roth and Saul Bellow at the moment) — all the rest is slog.

  5. Susan Johnson
    December 21, 2012, 11:54 am

    Mr Weiss, your post brings a ray of sunshine and laughter. Thanks for the splendid humor. It’s much appreciated on a gloomy morning caused by the weather and the NRA press conference.

  6. CitizenC
    December 21, 2012, 1:00 pm

    Meanwhile, back on the other side of the kingdom, Sir Chuck is jousting with courtiers in the blue and white colors of Mordred, who want to unseat him as prospective chief knight of the round table. Will Mordred be slain, and at what cost to the king? His Majesty remains silent as the match is in the balance.

  7. irmep
    December 21, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Could someone please provide some watercolors and make this into a bedtime storybook? Bril.

  8. DICKERSON3870
    December 21, 2012, 4:43 pm

    RE: “For the chancellor and his wife were both naked except for Israeli flags.” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: The very latest in haute couture!

    L’Amour Fou (Yves Saint Laurent: L’Amour Fou) 2010 NR 103 min
    Yves Saint-Laurent — synonymous with Le Smoking suit, the safari jacket and Studio 54 — met Pierre Bergé in 1958. This intimate documentary pays tribute to their love affair, business partnership and extraordinary 50-year friendship.
    Language: French (with English subtitles)
    Netflix formats: DVD and streaming
    • Netflix listing –
    • Internet Movie Database –
    • Yves Saint Laurent: L’amour fou – Official Trailer [VIDEO, 02:14] –

  9. David Doppler
    December 21, 2012, 5:08 pm

    Great piece, Phil. Up through the interview, I imagined you had an inside account of how it actually occurred. Was all that fiction? If so, outstanding! And, if not, great reporting!

    But I would suggest an alternative ending, in which those oohing and awing at the height-of-fashion attire are surrounded by a larger, younger group laughing at the spectacle and the corruption-put-on-a-pedestal it represents. In the original fairytale, the crowd laughed at the innocent’s declaration of the obvious but tabu topic. She wasn’t whisked away and silenced. It was the beginning of the end for phony tailors, which is where we are today.

  10. atime forpeace
    December 21, 2012, 8:10 pm

    That was great Phil.

  11. Annie Robbins
    December 22, 2012, 10:34 pm

    Instead of the meeting being a headlong flight across a grassy sunlit field to a waiting lover, it suddenly felt as if they were all in gumboots and up to their ankles in a swamp.

    omg rotfl can’t stop,this is hysterical! how did i miss this yesterday? phil, you slay slay slay. your preciousness is magical.

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