Over the summer, I told some old school friends of mine that I had become Director. These friends, who are not easy to impress, were impressed. After all, they thought I was just a professor. And while they don't have anything against professors - once they were students them-selves at places like Princeton and they retain fond memories of nights at Ivy - they are important people in the world of business: CEOs of multinational corporations, Presidents of flourishing businesses, Senior Partners at Dewey, Cheetham & Howe. But now, apparently, I am a big shot as well, though I'm not yet as successful as my old buddy whose sojourn in the hedge-fund stratosphere has earned him a subpoena, true, but also allowed him to retire at the age of 34.
It's time for me to be wholly serious. It is in fact the case that non-academic types to whom I say that I am Director tend to be very impressed. Tenure, shmenure - but "Director"! Now that's something! There's a title people in the real world understand. The sad truth, however, is that there is little if any glamour involved in being Director of an academic program or Chairman of an academic department. I spend a large part of each day being a petty bureaucrat: making sure that we have toner in the printer, thinking about our FTE and AI budgets (consider yourself lucky if you do not know what these are) and writing dozens of frankly unexciting e-mail messages. Perhaps if I'd been really clever, I'd have spent the past ten years at Princeton losing files and spilling coffee over letters of recommendation, for then no one would ever have put me in charge of anything. Which would mean I'd be just a professor. But that's all I've ever wanted to be: a good teacher and a good scholar - not a CEO.
That's enough about me. Let me turn to you. One of my goals as Director is to make LIN courses as popular as they are at our peer institutions. Don't you want to learn about the properties of "shm-reduplication," the phonologically and semantically fascinating phenomenon by which "tenure" becomes "shmenure"? Of course you do. Take my word for it. But not just mine. Talk to Erica Wojcik ‘09. She's another CEO: the dynamic President of the Undergraduate Linguistics Club.
Princeton has such wonderful undergraduates. This is a cliche, but it bears repetition. Some students here are, in one way or another, already better linguists than I am, which is sobering. (Real CEOs never admit such things.) Consider, for example, the International Linguistics Olympiad, a very serious week-long event that brings together outstanding high-school linguists from all over the globe, who compete for both individual and national glory. At the 5th ILO, held in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2007, Adam Hesterberg '11 (of US Team #1) took first place in individual competition (there were 61 entrants, all hugely talented), while entering freshman Anna Tchetchetkine '12 was a member of US Team #2, which tied the group from Moscow for best overall results. And at the 6th ILO, held last month in Slanchev Bryag (a.k.a. Sunny Beach), Bulgaria, another entering freshman, Jae-Kyu Lee '12, was part of the winning US team (this time there was a tie for the gold medal with "Bulgaria east") and received a special award for the best solution to one of the problems, in which contestants had to translate phrases from a language none of them knew, Copainala Zoque. Intimidated? Please don't be. Most excellent linguists - like most excellent people in every subject - are not prodigies, and most of the best students I've taught at Princeton had no experience with or even vague knowledge of linguistics before going to college.
You, too, can learn how to translate from Copainala Zoque, so if you like languages and puzzles, do attend the Linguistics Open House tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, September 9th, from 3 to 4 p.m. in East Pyne 029). And if you learn to lose files as well, you won't ever have to worry about becoming a CEO.
Joshua Katz is a professor in the Department of Classics, the CEO of Linguistics and a Forbes faculty adviser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2008/09/08/21300/