- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Knowing Lawrence S. Wittner’s background and current position — he’s executive secretary of the Albany County (NY) Central Federation of Labor AFL-CIO — it’s no surprise that the blue collar workers at fictional UAardvark in Indiana in Wittner’s “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press, 243 pages, available from Amazon.com, $14.95) are among the heroes in the novel.
Along with English professor Jake Holland, the university president’s secretary, Marsha Skelton, and a few others, the maintenance workers at the school try to take over the place from the miasma of academia gone crazy.
I reviewed Larry Wittner’s previous book, a memoir of his decades in academia, “Working for Peace and Justice” about a year ago. (Link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/31693). He’s had an unusual career that’s taken him from his boyhood in Brooklyn to his earning his bachelor’s at Ivy League Columbia College to teaching at the Hampton Institute, an historically black college in Virginia to an attempt to gain a tenure position at ritzy Vassar College, to teaching overseas. With all this experience, plus his knowledge of academia, it’s obvious that Wittner is well qualified to address the rejection of academic subjects by corporations at the nation’s universities.
Aardvark University was a typical state institution until major corporations bought much more than signing rights for just about everything at the school. Those familiar with universities realize that major donors at a school like, say Marshall Universities, get their names on stadiums, medical schools and performance centers.
At UArdvark, the process has gone way beyond naming rights. Wittner provides a lively, irreverent tale of how an increasingly corporatized, modern American university becomes the site of a rambunctious rebellion that turns the nation’s campus life upside down.
Along the way, there are often hilarious encounters with a playboy university president with a fascination for miniature racing cars; bizarre U.S. military commanders; poetry-writing Hells Angels friends of the Jewish prof, Holland; foul-mouthed, decadent students, an unusually avaricious corporate titan, gun-toting “Christian Patriots,” a schizophrenic FBI director named J. Edgar Beria; hypocritical politicians (are there any other kinds?); and a witch-like union leader.
Wittner’s “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” sets readers off on a comic romp through what has become a serious issue in contemporary America: the corporate takeover of higher education. Having graduated from college in 1961, well before this movement, I found myself wondering if Wittner had exaggerated the corporate takeover.
The academic who introduced me to Larry Wittner (whom I still haven’t met in person), fellow Midwesterner Tom Hastings of Portland State University, has this to say about the novel:
“Lawrence Wittner has channeled the spirits of Kurt Vonnegut, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, the Serb kids who overthrew Milosevic, and at least two of the Three Stooges into this delightfully dystopic, comic novel. If you enjoy the bursting of pretensions and political pratfalls, you’ll love this story. But if you expect our “betters” to be respected for the Superior Beings they believe they are, this funny little book is not for you.”
We at HNN love the op-eds that Hastings sends us; I was especially drawn to Wittner’s because he’s in my pre-baby boomer age cohort. If you haven’t been on a college campus recently, you’ll see the truth in Wittner’s satire.
For a list of Wittner’s recent op-eds on Huntingtonnews.net, click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/508
About the author
Lawrence S. Wittner is an American historian who has written primarily on peace movements and foreign policy. He attended Columbia College (B.A., 1962), the University of Wisconsin (M.A., 1963), and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1967). Subsequently, he taught at Hampton Institute, at Vassar College, and — under the Fulbright program — at Japanese universities. In 1974, he began teaching at the State University of New York/Albany, where he rose to the rank of Professor of History before his retirement in 2010. He is the author of eight scholarly books, the editor or co-editor of another four, the writer of a novel, and the author of over 250 published articles and book reviews. Currently, he serves as the executive secretary of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) and as a national board member of Peace Action. For more information, visit: www.lawrenceswittner.com.