Today we went to see a play on University of Colorado (Boulder) campus and it just so happened that during the intermission I stumbled upon Robert Hanna’s office door. If you do not know who Robert Hanna is, look him up or stop reading. His door was just like any other door, except while other doors had two or three names on them, his only had one. His. More interestingly, it had some old weird sheets of paper with some poetry or what have you plastered all over it. It also had two signs – one saying (in large letters) “Stop That” and another “Do Something” – on it. While staring at this door for about 10 or so seconds, I came to realization that here I see an office of a man who is undoubtedly brilliant and interesting but who is also very likely a gigantic weirdo.
Bear with me for a second as I wonder away from the door in question. There are plenty of strange people out there (or in here). They have strange habits and act weirdly or oddly. They work at your friendly gas station or at your court house. They are your uncles and friends’ friends. But it appears that in academic settings, especially in humanities (but likely in other sciences as well, I wouldn’t know), these peculiar folks are given free range (once they secure tenure, of course). The idiosyncratic behavior of philosophy professor is the stuff of legends.
Here is my theory then. We are all odd and weird in some way, but most of us learn very early on that we best keep those to ourselves. Only in academic settings where one is either a student for a very long time or becomes an instructor in his/her early 30s and then never leaves do we allow people to truly nurture and develop their personality ticks. The role of the university is to allow for some form of self-expression and nurturing of students’ potential skills. However, while un-nurtured and full of unrealized potential students come and go, the people who really do get fully developed are their teachers. They are allowed to go completely bizarre (as long as it is legal, of course) in philosophy departments across this great nation, because oddness means genius and geniuses are precious little gems that every university must cherish.
I have never met Robert Hanna. I’ve read his books and they are good. Perhaps he isn’t peculiar after all. Perhaps he is just lazy and all this crap on his door is from his younger, more inspired, days. And yet his office (judging by his door) looks like a sanctuary for the ‘otherwise gifted’ where he can probably spend his days staring at the wall doing absolutely nothing or writing the best book you will ever read. No other profession allows for this sort of freedom. No wonder so many people want to do this, even “failed academics” (thanks to Anthony Paul Smith for this apt characterization of yours truly) like myself…