Excellence WITH Money: Or, Dreaming While Academic

If you are bored senseless by the details of other peoples’ dreams, move along. If, on the other hand, you are a caring, sensitive person who realizes that literary critics have dreams that are finely wrought allegories chockfull of wit, wisdom, and the kind of symbolism that comes from taking Lacan way too seriously, then stick around.

True Story: I’ve been busy lately, embroiled in a high-stakes, high-stress initiative having to do with securing the future of the happy little academic program I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career trying to build. I’ve been staying up late, working on proposals and worrying about budgets and pondering the difference between the perfect and the good. The other night, I was up extra late, but by the time I went to bed I had begun to feel that I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. (Tunnel? Oh, boy. Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud. You’re wanted in the Dream Lab!) My sleep was restful but full of vivid dreams, one of which clearly, hilariously demonstrates the psychic costs of academic administration in an age of austerity. In the dream, I was talking to a dean, and not just any dean of course but the dean who oversees my happy little program. We were reminiscing about my tenure as director, which is, by my choice, currently winding down. (Eleven years, people. Eleven years!) We were both feeling nostalgic and mutually admiring, and so I asked her at one point how she had managed to give my program such generous support over the years. She laughed conspiratorially, leaned closer to me, and explained in a hushed voice that in the dean’s office they had discovered a special key on one of their computers that was connected to a fund nobody knew about. They didn’t know how much money was in it and fully expected that it might disappear at any time, but they figured that for as long as they could they would just keep pressing the button to make funds available! So, presto, at the click of a magic button, the wise and generous dean doles out the resources needed to produce Excellence WITH Money!!!


Oh, sandman, you candy-colored, revenue-enhancing clown, I heart you so. Why must you abandon me in the sober light of morning? Why must I awaken into a world of MOOCs and kooks and the grim realities of Excellence WithOUT Money? (Many of those realities are documented and kvetched about here. There’s even a movie, featuring an entirely fictional program director and a 100% imaginary dean having a completely hypothetical argument about resources. That’s here.)

You have to admit it’s a funny dream. How do you read it, o skilled interpreters of texts and souls? Straight-up wish fulfillment? One hopeful colleague, a medievalist by training, insisted it was prophetic. Another, perhaps more cynical, comrade pointed out the resemblance to the cheesy Staples “Easy Button” campaign.

Me, I just like a dream in which the characters laugh and behave well rather than cry or shout and behave badly. It’s nice to suppose that some of the psychic stuff churning around in the unconscious shows some faith — yes, I’ll call it that — in the decency of one’s self and others. Some nights, perhaps, one glimpses an answer to the question, “What do I stand for? What do I stand for?” and falls gently back to sleep, with the faint trace of a smile on one’s lips. “Oh,” one says to oneself. “That was a good dream. I’ll have to try to remember it.”

And remembering it, one passes it on, with a simple, stubborn wish: Sweet dreams. Some nights, you do know.


  1. It’s mildly heartbreaking to read the progression of this story, from rolling in dream-money to awakening to the cold, cynical light of reality. I’d be crushed, actually. Maybe it’s for the best that all my dreams lately are really mundane things where I go to class and find that someone spilled honey on the podium and my desk copy is stuck to it while I try to teach. I have crazier Freudian dreams, too, but that’s usually only when I’m prepping for conferences.


  2. Well, there are many possible levels, but I’ll take straight up wish fulfillment. (See the California State Parks budget for how this DOES happen, but why it’s not very helpful…)


  3. I think deep in our hearts we all believe in the secret key.


  4. You’re right, TR. We love the secret key. We need the secret key. The secret key is the key to EVERYTHING. Mostly, it’s the key to not losing our minds in higher ed these days, n’est-ce pas?

    Dr. Koshary, I’m sorry for the heartbreaking progression of the post. It’s possible I took a wrong turn in that paragraph about the Sandman. Roy Orbison will do that to a girl. The truth is I am still clinging to the optimism of this dream. And hoping that all the deans involved in my current initiative have a finger on THE SECRET KEY!


  5. contingentcassandra says:

    Well, to take a more cynical view, it often does seem like deans and other administrator-types have some way of creating money that they absolutely insisted wasn’t there 5 minutes before when they have a project that’s close to their hearts (e.g. hiring yet more sub-administrators, or building more buildings, or building online programs that will supposedly bring in and/or save money, but seem very expensive to set up). So perhaps your subconscious is registering a truth about even the more supportive dean-types?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: