Another Great Higher Education Quote

30 July 2007 at 1:48 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

From Jacques Pépin’s delightful memoir The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2003):

By the time I had completed all but one of the required courses for my Ph.D. [in literature at Columbia, around 1972], I was thinking about quitting the kitchen and becoming a university professor. . . . [I] proposed a doctoral thesis dealing with the history of French food presented in the context of French literature. There were plenty of literary references for me to explore, from Ronsard’s “Apology to a Field Salad,” to the wedding feast in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, to Proust’s well-known madeleine.

But when I proposed the idea, my adviser, a Frenchman, shook his head. “The reason not much has been written on the topic, Mr. Pépin,” he intoned, “is that cuisine is not a serious art form. It’s far too trivial for academic study. Not intellectual enough to form the basis of a Ph.D. thesis.” My proposal was turned down.

Perhaps I could have argued my point, but my adviser’s curt dismissal of a field so important to me, to which I had dedicated my life, helped crystallize some doubts I was having about a career in academia. Though I enjoyed research, the last time I had participated in anything resembling a stimulating intellectual discussion with fellow students was back at [Columbia’s] School of General Studies, when we met after class for drinks and conversation — people of many nationalities and all ages, a mini-United Nation. Now my associates were suddenly twenty-one- or twenty-two-year-olds whose only interest seemed to be grades. Far from being noble and high-minded, many of my professors were petty, focused on trivial departmental squabbles. When two or more of them gathere socially, the conversation was limited to university politics and junior-high-school-level gossip about other professors.

As much as anything, getting an education cured me of my complex about not having an education.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Teaching.

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