Jesus Christ, I’m at Yale

In 1978, Vivian Gornick wrote an article in The Nation, “A Woman Among the Ivy Fellows,” on her semester-long experience as visiting professor at Yale. It’s a forgotten little classic of campus manners and mores, which is sadly inaccessible on the internet (though you can dig it out of the Nation digital archive if you’re a subscriber).

After detailing a litany of sexist and boorish behavior from the male faculty (including one appalling incident of physical and verbal harassment)—and a general atmosphere of anti-intellectualism and antediluvian anxiety—Gornick concludes with a wonderful vignette about a conversation with a non-tenured historian whose husband is a tenured professor in sociology.

Ruth Richards drove me to the station. As we sat in her car waiting for my train to come in she leaned back in her seat, lit a cigarette, then turned to me and said: “You know what keeps this whole thing going? What allows them to take themselves so seriously, and still go on behaving like this? It’s guys like my husband. My husband is a good man, a kind and gentle man, comes from a poor home, fought his way to the top. And he’s smart. Very, very smart. But you know? In spite of all that, and in spite of everything he knows, every morning of his life he wakes up, goes to the bathroom, starts to shave, and as he’s looking at himself in the mirror, somewhere inside of him a voice is saying: ‘Jesus Christ. I’m at Yale.’”

Same as it ever was.

Update (8/24, 9 am)

Karl Steel managed to find a copy of the Gornick piece and put it in Dropbox. You can read it here.


  1. Stephen Zielinski August 24, 2013 at 1:25 am | #

    Before becoming a graduate student a professor of mine told me that, more so than undergraduate school, graduate school was a painful puberty ritual which one had to endure to get the benefit of an education. Scars, of course, would remain. I prepared myself accordingly, but was shocked nonetheless by some of my graduate school experiences. Universities, I learned, are hardly places which one will not find the “ordinary vices” Shklar wrote about. Students are supplicants, not intellectuals. Professors are certified intellectuals, holders of the key that could turn a supplicant into a certified intellectual. But administrators and their practices govern everyone and at all times.

    Caveat emptor.

  2. Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) August 24, 2013 at 7:30 am | #

    This was my dad, but not that high up. Son of immigrants with a PhD & tenure. My housewife mom was an order of magnitude smarter. This rings SO true!

  3. normanbirnbaum August 24, 2013 at 10:09 am | #

    It is now 2013, so Vivian’s contemporaries at Yale thirty five years ago have been replaced in some large part by a new generation. Is it possible that matters have changed for the better? No one who thinks of Bard, for instance, would suppose that it is the place described by Mary McCarthy in Groves of Academe. Even traditional places older than Yale can change, somewhat for the better. I can think of two —Oxford and the institutions making up what was the Sorbonne….Yale has not had a woman as President, but did have a woman colleague as Provost until she left to become Vice Chancellor of Cambridge… for Jesus and Yale, the Christian and other theologians on its Divinity School faculty seem remarkably critical, and Margaret Farley, the dissident woman Catholic theologiahn, was there….Norman Birnbaum

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