Montage Sequence: An English Department
The Johns Hopkins University converted many of its students to the belief that true academic life was what they had known in Baltimore . . . , sending out virtual missionaries, to the establishment of a particular standard. --A historian of education1
When I got here, the students told me that the idea was to become famous.
--A recent graduate student
I begin with a word on the ground rules for publicly characterizing one's close associates. Academic departments, as units of institutions and educational systems, perform social functions and are therefore proper subjects for critical investigation. A special responsibility adheres to a historical inquirer who is also a department member, since such units run on the tacit assumption of confidentiality--that is, of shared information (never total) among the members and discretion in disseminating it within and beyond the campus. The only generally conceded exception is faculty spouses, who are by a polite fiction considered insiders and are expected to maintain confidentiality--an assumption at the root of many a family squabble.
A situation both comparable and different exists in government agencies and business organizations, where confidentiality is also assumed and sometimes stipulated. Corporate whistle-blowers and ex-government agents are geared to expose striking departures from legal regulations and normal practice, while my