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ALMA MATER by P.F. Kluge

ALMA MATER

A College Homecoming

By P.F. Kluge

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-201-56793-8
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

 Kluge (The Edge of Paradise, 1991) brings his personable manner, pellucid style, and sharp eye to recounting a year spent living at his alma mater of Kenyon College, juxtaposing the illusions about academic life with the reality. Here, reality- -however untidy--wins. Kenyon--small (under 1400); expensive ($20,000+ per year); elitist and WASP by reputation; until recently all-male; and situated in Gambier, Ohio--becomes for Kluge a microcosm of contemporary academic life. It boasts a president who alternates between ceremonial greetings and fund-raising (and, occasionally, teaching); alumni who withhold money while demanding that nothing change; parents of prospective students who, Kluge says, choose a college with less care than they would a kennel; and an admissions office trying to select 400+ students who can pay the bill while luring others to diversify the student body. At a college with a reputation of being ``not that hard,'' where grade inflation has made ``every kid a winner,'' the students, Kluge shows, are manipulative, silly, vulgar, and lazy, and protest too often while drinking too much. Meanwhile, the faculty--selected through a mysterious but brutally competitive process--are restive, bored, talented, and high-minded, required to teach but not to publish, and are challenged by a radical lesbian biologist who teaches Women's Studies by recounting her own sexual ``herstory.'' Kluge enjoys living in the freshman dorm; hates grading papers for the one course he teaches; entertains a visiting poet; meditates on the ideal syllabus; and argues for more writing skills--without them, he says, using his powerful talent for metaphor, students are being forced to eat a gourmet dinner without utensils, stuffing their faces with their hands. Rueful, tender, eloquent: an evenhanded view of the allure and penalties of academic life that should be required reading for everyone connected with a liberal-arts college.