In this age of merciless budget cuts, admin has asked the DoD to justify its existence. After our first answer – having our department chair beatifically smile and simply hold up a flower – was rejected, we had to settle down and find some less accurate answers admin might like.
Some in the department were tempted to trot out all the usual old saws about how deviance is one of the Grundwissenschaften, a foundational source for most all other forms of human inquiry. That pleased us, both because it sounded so heavy it must mean we’re important and because hey, German. But ultimately, upon closer examination, it also sounded rather silly in its self-importance. We might as well just tell admin we need to exist because we are All That. Or, more accurately, the Primeval Source of All Your That.
We then turned to our measurable excellences, such as our ability to produce students who perform exceedingly well at standardized tests we find intellectually dubious and rather loathsome. This at least was the sort of quantifiable “learning outcome” admin prizes. Still, it struck us as rather spare and stingy in its instrumentalism, as if studying deviance was akin to eating some especially potent vegetables or indeed a form of Popeye spinach for the LSAT-taking crowd.
Our next candidate for explaining ourselves was to emphasize the sometimes radically critical aspects of deviance. Deviance, we could say, is the brazen art of questioning everything. It is untethered by unexamined commitments and thereby performs a crucially important social function. It brashly exposes weaknesses in human understanding, pulls down idols of the mind, slays sacred cows, and generally produces mayhem wherever people find themselves in thrall to bad or ill-considered ideas. As heroic as all this makes us sound, we decided it was more than a little overwrought and, really, bizarrely pugilistic. After all, we just want to know more things and we’re not trying to be mean about it. Plus, we’re rather fond of cows.
Next we considered whether we should emphasize the ways deviance takes to the nth degree inquiry all people pursue, an Olympics-caliber form of the wonder, curiosity, and clarity-seeking all human beings sometimes exercise. This seemed initially attractive in its emphasis on our common cause with people more generally, but then we realized that the same may be said about many activities – lots of things that human beings generally do can be done with extra punch and vigor. After all, do not avid scrap-bookers simply pursue with uncommon intensity the human effort to remember? Finding nothing to block this intriguing thought, we immediately became enchanted by the prospect of forming an alliance with hardcore scrap-bookers. Just think of the interdisciplinarity! We could be the scrap-bookers of human curiosity everywhere and, not incidentally, buy X-acto knives on the university dime and create our own Pinterest page too. But then we recalled the purpose of our discussion and realized that pleasing ourselves with delightful imaginings is, regrettably, not the same as satisfying admin.
At long last, we resolved that we were closest to correct in our first effort. Consequently, we sent our chair back to admin with his flower. Since the above deliberations did take considerable time, the flower was now quite wilted and perhaps also suffering from the stranglehold in which our chair, no longer beatifically smiling, held it. Still, we concluded that all of this was for the best. After all, a grimacing chair choking a dead flower was itself an exquisite remark upon the transitory nature of all things. We now await admin’s response.