"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Saga of the Letter -- Or, a Lesson in Rhetoric

Early this morning, Recent's boss emails: "Recent Ph.D., please review the attached Important Letter for typos. Make corrections and then make a million copies. Deliver copies to Address X for Importnat Meeting tomorrow."

Recent dutifully follows instructions, expensing $80 in copies and cabs, and arrives in the office, when the phone rings. It's Recent's boss calling from out of town:

"Recent, don't make those copies yet. Important People won't sign it. We have to revise."

OK. Recent is not too dismayed, since expenses will still be covered, the mistake wasn't hir fault, and someone else will be doing the revising. Important Letter circulates via email, cc'd to Recent:

Conservative #1: "Get rid of all instances of the word 'fair' and its derivatives. Makes the policy we're advocating sound too liberal."

Conservative #2: "Get rid of all instances of the word 'equal' and its derivatives. Makes the policy we're advocating seem too much like we actually want to level the playing field."

Conservative #3: "Get rid of this whole paragraph. Makes it sound too much like we agree with what the liberals in Congress are doing."

At 6:00 p.m., everybody finally agrees to sign off. Recent's boss says, "Well, we didn't actually change what we're asking for, but we changed how we asked for it. Tomorrow morning, make a million copies and deliver them to Address X in time for Important Meeting."

Sigh. Does anyone even care about the policy itself? Or, is the only thing that matters what we call it?

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