In this week's issue of The Record, the student newspaper of the posh Riverdale prep school where all our bosses' bosses send their offspring, there's a very inspiring paean to free speech. It concerns Dr. Andrew Trees, whose "forced departure," according to letter-writer and fellow faculty member Dr. Peter Sheehy, "raises serious questions for us as an academic institution." It sure does! Questions like, "Why'd they fire him now, and not when his Horace Mann-slamming roman a clef came out last year?"
Was the book that Michiko Kakutani savaged for being unrealistic perhaps still a bit too realistic for some students or, as the headmaster in the novel calls them, "customers"? Here's how Michiko characterized the book's depiction of the place.
The school's cafeteria is a food court that includes sushi and a pizza oven; the school's deans cheerfully accept a host of excuses for plagiarism and cheating. "Leniency," John observes, "was in keeping with the philosophy of the school — let no revenue stream be interrupted." In the early pages of this novel Mr. Trees demonstrates inklings of a Kingsley Amis-like ability to extract humor from the travails of his hapless hero, but any hopes that the book might become a "Lucky Jim"-ish romp are soon squashed by his preposterous plot and John's tedious class rage at Caitlyn's parents and their ilk.
Class rage is so tedious. But perhaps less so when it's being enacted in real life.
In his letter, Dr. Sheehy deplored "the termination of someone who has been described by his peers and the administration as a great teacher" and warned of the "chilling effect" that Dr. Trees' firing would have on "the open and free exchange of ideas that is crucial to a secure and healthy institution." Yes. Also, if Dr. Trees isn't reinstated, where will he glean material for a sequel?