Review: Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher

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My Interest

In real life I work for the adult education side of a small liberal arts college in the Midwest [That’s “red state,” “fly-over country,” “Trump land” or “The Heartland” to anyone in L.A. or NYC]. I’ve loved reading the screeds against the bloat of Administration since the COVID-crisis sent even Yalies home to Zoom lessons. Happily, I’m insignificant, too distant from the mothership yada, yada,  yada to be stuck in faculty committees. Nevertheless, I knew I’d love this book. You see, in addition to addressing all of my 40- hour week, it is told in a series of letters. I love epistolary novels!

Though written six years ago, before the onslaught of preferred pronouns, emotional support Iguanas and memos advising students on the hurtfulness of Halloween costumes, how much more “today” can you get than that “…he is currently writing a one-act play about a serial killer/scientist who saves humankind from a world-ending virus by discovering a method of harvesting corpses to create a vaccine” (I’m joking, of course).

The Story

“…the writing life which despite its horrors, is possibly one of the few sorts of lives worth living at all.”

English Professor Jason Fitger has stood by and watch Payne University hack away at the liberal arts while building a temple of all-but-gold for the Economics Department. He goes through his days not doing the research he should do, but due to budget cuts for research and travel to all but those job-aligned departments, writing Letters of Recommendation {LORs] for students, faculty, and administrators. As he writes he inserts his own story, his own opinions, and very pithy observations about the College, it’s bloated administration, the ridiculously unprepared students, and the rest of it.  Once a “Sage on the Stage,” he is now the “Sage on the Page” all the more so because he despises email and those resume-reading application websites that call for quantitative analysis instead of a proper letter of recommendation.

My favorite of the letters includes this passage in a LOR for a former student applying to a Lutheran Seminary:

“…Episcopalian as a child, largely because my mother believed Episcopal women dressed better than Catholics….my [ex-]wife….entertained …visions of the two of us joining a congregation of  Unitarians. Unfortunately to my spiritually untutored mind,  the contemplation of the infinite and the cultivation of virtue required the dignity of robes and incense….”

If you’ve just endured quarantine with a college student-child or are enduring virtual college tours with your new high school junior-child, this book will make you see why the state college is not going to kill your child or their dreams. It shows even more brilliantly, why ALL Universities are in trouble today.

My Verdict

A Perfect 4.0–send it straight to graduate school!

Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher is currently the Seattle Time’s “Moira’s Book Club” pick of the month.

Here is NPR’s take on the book when it was first published.

I listened to the audio version.

 

 

 

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