Here is my customary annual Halloween HORROR story. It’s a story about the soon to arrive doomsday for universities as we know them, and about a plague that will soon be unleashed on university professors.
In the Bible, The Book of Revelation speaks of the end days and of the day of judgement. It predicts that a Lamb will open a book with seven seals. Opening the seventh and last seal will unleash seven plagues.
“And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.[Rev. 8:1]
A young Physicist knight was slowly making his way back home from the Crusades.
The Crusades had been very disappointing to him. He had gone there with the intention of having fun pillaging, raping and beheading all science infidels who dared to question the wisdom of building a new particle accelerator, the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem would be a successor to the LHC, aka the Old Jerusalem, which was by now looking pretty frumpy, after failing to find supersymmetry. The New Jerusalem would be built in Japan. Aligning a machine several kilometers long in Japan, earthquake capital of the world? Priceless. However, the public didn’t agree with the young knight, and wanted to spend their tax money on frivolous things like roads and bridges, and biomedical research. Very disappointing.
What awaited the young Physicist knight at home was even worse than the Crusades…His home town was at that time being racked and decimated by an inexorable, ruthless MOOC-Pox Plague.
At the beginning of the story, a college administrator with a pasty white complexion, dressed in a black hooded robe, tells our knight errant that he is next on the list of profs that will be dismissed to make their university more MOOCish. In a desperate bid to prolong his life, our knight initiates a game of chess with the college administrator, for he realizes that the administrator will not want to fire him until after the chess game is concluded. Deep down, our knight knows full well that he will eventually lose the game to the college administrator, for the administrator is a much better chess player. The college administrator has proven before how adept and ruthless a chess player he is, by granting himself multi-million dollar yearly salaries while paying adjunct professor serfs $300 per course.
The college administrator and our knight continue to play this chess game intermittently as our knight gradually makes his way back to his home town.
At some point, the knight errant witnesses a procession of flagellants (i. e., graduate students and postdocs).
Throughout the story, our young knight keeps wondering why is it that God is so absent and silent in our lives. Oops, then he remembers that he doesn’t believe in God. So that question is pretty silly for him to be asking in this movie.
Near the end, our knight knocks down the pieces of the chess game, pretending to do so unintentionally. He then tells the college administrator that he doesn’t remember where the pieces were. The college administrator replies that he has been recording his every move and the game has been filmed by hidden cameras. He quickly restores the pieces to their former positions and wins on the next move. His last move surprises the audience. It consists of moving a rook labeled Feynman Lectures. We then realize that that rook represents a MOOC, put out by Caltech, based on Feynman’s 3 red books and his video-taped lectures. This MOOC will be a killer app, literally. It will make obsolete most university professors that teach the first four semesters of physics.
At the end of the story, we see a “danse macabre”, a human chain of university professors being led by the college administrator over a hill. Presumably, at the other side of the hill, the cruel fate of a non-academic job awaits them.