Chapter 8

Robinson Hall

Rarely do I ask readers to think about what I write. Stories are typically read for the pleasure they provide, not to learn the difference between the right and wrong way of doing things in life (although a well crafted story may do that). But this week I hope you’ll read this lengthy posting and then think about it as you read Chapter 8.

If last week’s chapter marked the informal end of Part I, Chapter 8 represents the beginning of Part II. It’ll be narrated by Holden and may allow us to get to know a bit more about him; after all, life doesn’t come to a screeching halt just because we’ve met someone who’s captured our fancy.

It’s also a longer chapter, but one I hope you’ll enjoy. To set the stage, it’s the morning after Sean’s decision to spend a second night at Holden’s room in Wigglesworth Hall. It was an uneventful night. The boys slept in separate bedrooms and Sean was up early the next morning to go to work. We’ll catch up with him in Chapter 9.

By the way, I should probably mention I’ve buried a little joke within the chapter, two actually (although I’ve connected them); jokes you’re only likely to recognize if you’re familiar with Harvard (as I’ve now become). I kept thinking I needed to remove them, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

As the saying goes, it is what it is; and don’t worry if you don’t recognize them. There’s no reason you should and they’re not critical to the story in any way.

Much of tonight’s chapter takes place inside Robinson Hall, which is currently home to Harvard’s history department. Not surprisingly, that’s a picture of Robinson Hall up above. Like most buildings in Harvard Yard, it’s an interesting one. Sadly, that small image hardly does justice to it. But if you click on the image you’ll be able to access a much larger version.

If you do that, check out the plaque dedicating the building to the memory of Nelson Robinson, Jr., above the front door. Apparently the building was a gift to Harvard from his parents. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to find out very much about young Nelson except that he was shy and a member of the Class of 1900 who had been interested in architectural design and landscape architecture.

Sadly, as you can see from the plaque, he apparently did not live to graduate with his class.

Death at a young age is always hard; being forgotten harder still. But Nelson does have a building named after him even if it’s one of the more obscure buildings in Harvard Yard. Tucked into the northeast corner, it was the home of the Graduate School of Design until 1972. Hence the word ARCHITECTURE at the top of that enlarged image I pointed you to above.

As mentioned, the building is now occupied by the History Department. The Department says it’s home to about 100 to 130 graduate students and another 150 to 200 undergraduate concentrators (that’s Harvard speak for majors); apparently not all that welcoming a home if you’re an undergraduate, however, as we’ll learn soon enough.

By the way, notice the two griffons that flank the door of Robinson Hall, one of which you can view much better by clicking this link. What’s a griffon (or griffin or gryphon depending on preference) you may ask?

Good question; apparently it’s a legendary mythical animal with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, and the head, wings, and talons of an eagle. Some, but not all, authorities claim that griffons are also part dragon. Not being an expert in such things, I don’t feel competent to settle the issue and will leave that to others more knowledgeable than me. But for sure griffons are part lion and eagle.

Because the lion is traditionally considered the king of beasts and the eagle the king of birds, the griffon is thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffons are also known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions, which apparently include the library/lounge in Robinson Hall.

Access to that library/lounge is apparently priceless indeed. I know that because it was suddenly closed to undergraduate students in 2014. At that time, a sign reading “this lounge is reserved for graduate students only” was placed at the library entrance, at least if an article in the Harvard Crimson is to be believed.

How gauche is that?

The explanation given by one Cristina V. Groeger, a representative of the Henry Adams Society, which is apparently the History Department’s graduate student organization, was somewhat less than compelling in my humble opinion.

“My sense is that undergraduates didn’t really use the space much,” Ms. Groeger is quoted as saying by the Crimson.

Really, Ms. Groeger, your sense? That’s what you and others relied on in deciding to close a portion of the facility you share to undergraduates? You made no inquiries about the matter among the undergraduate history concentrators? You just relied on your sense; is that it?

Or perhaps your lack of sense; I mean, good God, your arrogance is suffocating, Ms. Groeger, at least in my humble opinion.

Having learned about this unfortunate incident, I was not surprised in the least to also learn that a History Department that enrolls students like Ms. Groeger would only rank fourth best in the United States after Princeton, The University of California at Berkeley, and, GASP, Yale! That’s according to U.S. News & World Report.

Indeed, Harvard is not even the undisputed fourth best history department in the nation. It has to share that lowly ranking with Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Of course, would be defenders of the Department might point to a USA Today survey that ranks it number two (still below, GASP, Yale, it should be noted). But other surveys rate the department much lower still; not even in the top ten for that matter.

But that isn’t surprising, of course, when you have a priss like Ms. Groeger sensing things rather than doing enough actual research to determine that undergraduates weren’t using the library/lounge and did not want to use it. Indeed, it confirms my worse suspicions about Henry James, who appears to have been something of a racist and anti-immigrant xenophobe and a closeted homosexual to boot all his life.

Some question just how closeted he was; but, as Donald Trump would say, look at that face! Would any of you have slept with Henry James except under the most extraordinary duress if you were on the receiving end of one of his little mash notes?

If James was indeed celibate all his life, as I suspect, his celibacy seems to have turned him into something of a male priss. Is it any surprise Ms. Groeger should emulate her hero in being that way? By the way, in a moment of generosity, Ms. Groeger did allow that “undergrads can still use the non-circulating books in the Lounge, but the understanding is that the space is for grad students primarily.”

How very generous of you, Ms. Groeger; how very territorial and welcoming. By the way, who died and made you the arbiter of these things? More to the point, where the hell is the adult supervision in the History Department to allow such an outrage?

Ah, but there’s the rub I suspect. I may have been too harsh on Ms. Groeger. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this unfortunate incident. It’s just that I found the whole thing terribly upsetting in light of tonight’s chapter where I draw a much more sympathetic portrait of at least one fictional member of the History Department. Be assured I was totally unaware of Ms. Groeger and the actual members of the Department before I wrote the chapter.

More importantly, and the reason why I have gone on about this at some length, is that I want to encourage you as readers to contrast the figure portrayed in this chapter with Ms. Groeger, a graduate student and would be teacher presumably.

Who would you prefer as an adviser or teacher in college? Truth be told, Ms. Groeger is merely a symbol of just about everything wrong with American higher education these days.

She and too many of her fellow graduate students only seem interested in looking up to their so-called mentors, not down to their younger charges. Apparently, they totally lack any interest in, or curiosity about, the undergraduates they may be teaching some day; to have no interest at all in mingling with them.

What can you expect from graduate students like this? Not very much good, I fear.

In any event, Chapter 8 is up. Have fun reading and be sure to let me know how you feel about the chapter or even Ms. Groeger for that matter.

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