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Mar 11, 2004 8:12 am

Did We Speak Too Soon?

David Lester's advice to fellow academics in the Chronicle of Higher Education didn't sit well with the crowds who gather at Crooked Timber, Invisible Adjunct, and the Little Professor. Lester told other academics to do as he does: publish productively, charm and amuse your students with tales of your former wives, get plenty of rest, ignore the telephone and your e-mail, avoid faculty and department meetings, and convince the administration that you're no good for committee work. If you get too stressed out, he said, try some days working in a coal mine, so you'll know what real stress is. Readers' reactions to Lester's article ranged from conviction that it was a parody to certainty that the man was a jerk. Said Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber,"He ends up sounding a bit like Dr Johnson in Blackadder III:
Dr. Johnson: Where is my dictionary?
Edmund: And what dictionary would this be?
Dr. Johnson: The one that has taken eighteen hours of every day for the last ten years. My mother died; I hardly noticed. My father cut off his head and fried it in garlic in the hope of attracting my attention; I scarcely looked up from my work. My wife brought armies of lovers to the house, who worked in droves so that she might bring up a huge family of bastards. I cannot—"
Not so fast, says Margaret Soltan at University Diaries. Lester's her hero. He's an expert on suicide prevention, who is giving good advice to depressed and neurotic academics."Not now, mother. I've got two books in process and exams to grade. There's a backlog of e-mail and telephone calls to answer, three committee meetings tomorrow, and jury duty next week. The President at USM is about to lose his job and I'm trying to find a place for him among the prison guards at the Fulton County jail. I can't take it; I can't take it any longer. It's all too much!"
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