Ivy Bombshell: All Columbia University Classes to Be Taught by Mimes
Columbia University’s President Lee C. Bollinger announced today that with the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, all instruction at the Ivy League institution will be delivered in the form of mime, not spoken communications.
The announcement surprised some in the academic community. Mime, a performance art that uses physical gestures to convey ideas, allows for no speaking or sound. Sometimes a hat or a rubber ball can be used to convey complex concepts. But even so, its efficacy for classroom instruction has not yet been established.
Why the change to all-mime instruction? “We recently received a $12 million endowment grant from the Institut Marcel Marceau in Paris,” Bollinger explains. “And given our current financial constraints, not dissimilar to those faced by other institutions, we have no choice other than to accept the monies gratefully.” The Institut Marcel Marceau, named for the esteemed French mime artist, Marcel Marceau, often makes grants to various institutions to advance the cause of mime. However, the gift to Columbia is the first made to an academic entity, and the first grant of its size.
With only five months before the start of the academic year, Columbia now faces the daunting task of converting all its classes to mime format. To hit that target, Columbia is allowing all professors the option of going to Paris to master mime. Any faculty members who are unwilling or unable to master the skill in time for September classes will be replaced by trained mime instructors from France.
“I am not insensitive to the obstacles,” Bollinger says, “but we are hoping for 100% buy-in from all faculty members.”
The transition will clearly be more difficult in some subject areas than in others. Mathematics Professor Paula Koblarz, for example, questions whether she will be able to master the art of mime in time to convey her subject matter. We caught up with her in her office, where she was miming the part of a snowman melting on a sunny day. “I am clearly willing to give it a shot,” she explained as her head lolled onto her shoulder, “but it could be tough to convey the concepts of multivariable calculus using nothing but my hands, feet, and facial expressions.”
Philosophy Professor Ernst Marshall is more optimistic. While pretending to row across his office in an invisible gondola, he said, “I have always thought that the philosophy of Schopenhauer, to name but one philosopher, would lend itself beautifully to mime. So from my point of view, it’s a go.”
At present there are no plans to require Columbia students to learn mime. But nonetheless, news of the change has clearly caused consternation among some Columbia students, several dozen of whom staged a small protest today in front of Columbia’s famous Greek revival library on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“I just wonder if I am going to learn anything,” said Michael Lennox, a Columbia sophomore who is studying semiotics. “And if I really wanted to learn nothing, heck, there are probably other places I could have gone.”
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