At first, Sisney’s book seems like an ethics handbook—a contemporary alternative to Aristotle or Kant. Rejecting “do unto others” as a moral guide, she instead proposes the “bronze rule”: “If they are not bothering you, don’t bother them.” During the first chapter, however, readers quickly realize that the book isn’t a new morality but a new memoir—and a fresh, energetic one at that. Sisney is a retired English professor who spent more than three decades plying her trade at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and her book is, first and foremost, an entertaining look back at her academic career. The slim volume is also a piercing, comic analysis of the African-American experience within the ivory tower. As such, it’s a worthy contribution to the academic-memoir genre, which even now features few minority voices. Sisney, now a retired professor emeritus, doesn’t pull the punches she always wanted to throw in faculty meetings; as a result, her exploration is thoroughly—and sometimes brutally—honest, featuring refreshing, candid discussions of race and racism in American universities. Equally welcome is her willingness to pepper the narrative with high- and pop-culture references, matching an allusion to Flannery O’Connor with a nod to The Apprentice’s Omarosa Manigault. The memoir’s shining strengths are dulled, however, by a few minor weaknesses. Although Sisney’s fellow professors will find lots of juicy shop talk here, nonacademics may tire of her in-depth discussions of the politics of tenure, the format of master's exams or the nuances of grading undergraduate essays. Also, Sisney barely discusses the titular “bronze rule”; she drops the term for the bulk of the book, only returning to it briefly near the end. Despite these minor issues, however, there’s still plenty of gold in these pages.
A frank, funny, cheeky and charming memoir of academia.