When a fictional university falls out of the Top 25 in a national magazine ranking, hysteria erupts on campus.
In this debut novel, Jones constructs Ty McTavish as a measured voice of reason in a sea of egomaniacs, sycophants and blowhards. McTavish, an African-American biophysics professor recently hired as the dean of arts and sciences at SNAF-U (“Small but National, Aspiring to be Famous University”), is welcomed by several colleagues who awkwardly assure him that race was not a factor in his selection. Just as he begins to adjust to his new surroundings, SNAF-U’s banishment from the elite grouping occurs, a calamity that spurs Robert Sligh, the unctuous university president, to rally the troops in hopes of overcoming this latest challenge: “We have endured the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the loss of Division I football.” Language is often stretched to its limits in academia, and here, the author is at his best, as the parodic text bursts with linguistic wordplay, from names (Olan Azkizur) and acronyms (NONSENSE) to departments (Statistical Theology) and ranking criteria (Tuitional Aggrandizement Originality). One character becomes so caught up in academic jargon that she makes no sense, sanctimoniously invoking “this epoch of interdisciplanaritiness and multiculturalment.” Despite this gleeful element, however, readers may notice rough patches in the narrative structure and pacing. For instance, Jones introduces the voracious, irresistible Jamais Dimanche quite late in the book, though she plays an integral role in the plan to return SNAF-U to its place in the Top 25 via distortion and subterfuge. The book also relies a bit too heavily on the epilogue to tie up loose narrative threads. While Jones focuses on questionable ethics within the administration, he also addresses many other issues plaguing postsecondary education, including institutionalized racism, grade inflation, and fraternization between faculty members and students. For inspiration, perhaps the author drew upon firsthand observations from his long career in university education, research and administration.
A biting satire peppered with harsh truths about university politics and academic shenanigans.