Down and Dirty in the Ivory Tower

Joachim Feise (
Sat, 17 Oct 1998 16:36:46 -0700

... for those who think university politics revolve around an elaborate sense of
gamesmanship all their own, there is now Survival of the Witless, a combination
board game and academic sendup based on the premise that "Knowledge Is Nothing.
Tenure Is Everything."

Produced by a former history teacher who now works for Avalanche Press, a small
Virginia-based company best known for making war games, Survival of the Witless
has a simple goal -- gaining tenure. It is described as "the key to fame,
wealth, happiness and most importantly to never having to put in a single day's
work again."
The aim of the game, as in academia itself, is currying favor with enough
professors to gain tenure. In this case, players need to finish a book and get
the vote of three of five members of the faculty-review committee, whose
tolerance for or aversion to various behaviors vary with their politics, gender,
race and sexual orientation. They include such characters as R. Jackson
Wentworth, who has not taught a course since Herbert Hoover was President; Lana
Wong, who is facing multiple sexual harassment suits, and Ricardo Bergamo, known
as One Book Willy, who has spent a career recycling his one semi-famous book.

Players draw cards toward publishing a book and pleasing committee members, who
reflect the game's scabrous view of academic life. Most of the jockeying
reflects a zero-sum game, where one person's good fortune is usually at the
expense of his rivals.

Good teaching is the equivalent of landing on someone else's hotel on Boardwalk
in Monopoly. The "Student Support" card, gained when students clamor for a
player to teach more courses, means the player loses a status point with all
faculty members.

On the other hand, a "Student Boycott" card, reflecting teaching so dreadful
that students refuse to register for classes, means the lucky scholar has more
time to divert from worthless teaching to valuable writing. Players who draw the
"Student Boycott" card get to take writing cards from two other players, who
presumably are stuck in the classroom instead of at the word processor.

Valuable cards include being published in the New York Review of Each Other's
Books, getting a cherished research grant or having your course load reduced.
The most frequently used desirable card is represented by a kiss planted on the
rear end of a donkey, apparently the surest road to success in the game.

A "Graduate Assistant" card, denoting someone to do your work, is good. A "Would
You Like Fries With That?" card, indicating that the graduate student has left
to enter a work force that has no use for his academic skills, is bad.

A "Bold New Theory" card is good. A "Theory Debunked" card, which can be played
by another player proving your theory is not bold, new or correct, is bad.

Other recurring issues include a gossip card, (powerful, but perilous) a
seduction card (see gossip), and other variations on inappropriate
gender-related behavior like the "Eye Rape" card in which you lose a point with
all faculty members for looking at an attractive student.