and the Academic Style:
John Kenneth Galbraith
In 1976, following my retirement from active teaching, The Harvard Lampoon, a magazine of good cheer, called forth in Boston a major convocation of its editors, former editors, readers, intended readers and friends and presented me with a purple and gold Cadillac Eldorado convertible, a check for $10,000 and the offer of a free vacation in Las Vegas, which my wife and I did not accept. The car, which unhappily would not fit in our driveway, let alone our garage, we did accept and put into storage. Then, with the permission of the donors, we allowed it to be sold for the benefit of WGBH (public television station) at its auction a year later. All this largesse from The Lampoon was not a reward for the economic knowledge I had conveyed over the years; it was, I was told, because I had done something to lighten the tedium of college life. I was required, in turn, to describe to the audience of nostalgic Lampoon alumni the academic style at Harvard, as I do in this essay derived from my speech.
In these last years I have been led to reflect on the extreme solemnity that has become the modern academic style--and not least at Harvard. I do not suppose that universities were ever joyously amusing places; certainly professors were always expected to take themselves rather seriously. Still, as I move about the university's purlieus and attend its meetings, social exercises and other rituals, I cannot but think that we have become exceptionally grave these days, given even to an ostentatious gloom. That is now the academic style. Perhaps the reasons should be examined.
Partly, of course, solemnity derives from what we are compelled to teach. This, on occasion, is so funny that to relax even for a moment would be fatal. In economics we dutifully explain that a country can have inflation or it can have recession, but it can never have both at the same time. And all this while it does. As we proceed into more advanced and theoretically more refined instruction, we cease to discuss corporations of any puissance, trade unions of any power or the existence of intercourse, in the platonic sense, between these and the government. There is no independent exercise of power; all and everyone are subordinate to market forces. Were we even to smile as we thus lectured, brighter students, if any, might catch on.