Renfroe, in his debut novel, offers a wild, farcical deconstruction of higher education that chronicles the internal travails of a financially and academically bankrupt college.
It might seem hard to parody the more extreme eccentricities of academic life, but this effort by a former university administrator manages to effectively lampoon virtually every aspect of college existence—from the libertinism of coed dormitory life to the fiscal prodigality of college presidents. The Holytithe Institute of Technology is an unheralded college of 1,100 students nestled in upstate New York. The campus is a monstrosity, featuring a building that’s a dead-on duplicate of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, right across from an architectural facsimile of the Taj Mahal. The campus is thrown into crisis when 183 freshmen go missing. That would be enough of an emergency under most circumstances, but the college’s enrollment shortfall also translates into a financial deficit. Kevin Cavanaugh, the college president, has squandered the bulk of the university’s endowment on campus beautification to bring Holytithe national acclaim, and as a result, fiscal calamity threatens the institution’s continued operation. Cavanaugh seems more interested in absolving himself of accountability than redressing his malfeasance; his primary aim is to “[l]ower his Responsibility Quotient to zero”—something he learned from the “Involved Detachment School of Post-Modern Management.” This core story has several parallel subplots, as a freshman lothario becomes obsessed with procuring a campus parking spot, and a murderous gangster who wants to become the university “godfather” (and a trustee) tries to save the college from ruin. Although the attempts at humor sometimes come too promiscuously for readers to fully welcome them, the prose, at its best, can be sharply comic: “[Cavanaugh] especially enjoyed lying in the Nepal Room preparing for his all-important meeting with Dr. R., his entire body plastered with a generous portion of black mud especially imported from a lake bed high in the Himalayas.”
A reliably amusing, sometimes inventive takedown of academia with shrewd social commentary.