by Diana Senechal
One rainy day in January, Carol Clystenbury, adjunct professor of composition at Peale University, sat down with fifty-four essays and an Earl Grey tea and commenced the dreaded task of correcting. It wasn’t long before she noticed a striking pattern.
The first essay title was “The Toothpaste Revolution: How Eco-Friendly Brands Are Changing Public Consciousness.” She set it aside, knowing it would take some time. The next essay’s title was “The Gorilla Revolution: How Animal Research Subverts Stereotypes of Humanity.” And then: “The Video Revolution: How YouTube is Changing the Face of Education.” Fifty papers had “revolution” in their titles, it turned out. She decided to bring this up the next day in class.
Students stayed collectively mum in response to her query. But after class, Sabina Pryor, a soft-spoken sophomore with doe-like eyes, told her that they had visited the Student Success Center and had been advised to use “revolution” in their titles. “I have no idea why,” said Pryor. “They said it would get us a good grade. That’s all I know.”
Clystenbury called the Student Success Center and was transferred to Tiffany Reussie, the manager. Reussie explained that the Center didn’t offer help in actual writing. “That’s the academic side of things,” she said. “We leave that to you. What we do do is give students some strategies for success.” One of those strategies, she said, was to pick a title that would grab the professor’s attention—or anyone’s, for that matter. “Something like ‘revolution’ makes a big bang. We didn’t tell them they had to use ‘revolution.’ But we showed them bar graphs from a study we conducted. Ninety percent of students who used ‘revolution’ in their titles got A’s, whereas only 10 percent of the control group. This blew them away.”
“But don’t all those revolutions get a bit commonplace after a while?” asked Clystenbury.
“Of course,” said Reussie. “But commonplace is good. You can’t sell an unrecognizable product. The word ‘revolution’ stirs people up in a familiar sort of way. And that’s what you want: a mix of stir and home. Success is like cookie batter, you know.”
Clystenbury was still puzzled. “So, suppose this works,” she ventured. “What do the students do, once they have succeeded? I mean, what’s the point in succeeding if you don’t have anything good to show for it?”
“As I said, that’s your department, not ours,” replied the manager. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have to take another call in order to make my success quota.”
Clystenbury wasn’t about to give up. Her next step was to visit Peale president Vivian Dumont. “I was on the brink of quitting my job,” Clystenbury confessed to reporters, “but I was sure that Dr. Dumont would hear me out.”
Dumont reminded Clystenbury that the Success Center and the professors were supposed to work in partnership. “The job description says you must be willing to collaborate with other university entities,” she said crisply. “If that isn’t to your liking, then we’ve got candidates ready to jump in and do it. It’s the recession, after all.”
There was an awkward silence in which anything could happen.
Clystenbury gulped. “Revolution,” she said. “Or, rather, The Adjunct Revolution: Quasi-Faculty and the Unmasking of Academia.”
Dumont jumped up and shook her hand. “You get a full professorship and an office,” she cried heartily. “And a graduate assistant who will do all your grading for you. And free breakfast every day in the Honors House. Welcome to the club of the successful!”