Sine Qua Nonsense

An Illegal Look Into 2014 Grad Applicant Files

It’s January, the time of the year when Graduate Committee members are reviewing applications from aspiring MS, MA, and PhD students. I have obtained some of the applicants’ files through means I cannot disclose in public. In blatant violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, I will share some information about our potential colleagues.

“Nothing would make me happier than your decision to accept Alec,” writes Prof. Henry Staffordshire of Nimblesmith College in Ordre-on-Lyne, England, in a letter of recommendation on behalf of Alec Braintree. “He knows a lot about many things, or at least thinks he does, and likes to share his views. He will challenge his professors and peers repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly. Let’s just say that my productivity would increase tenfold if Alec moved to the United States.”

Louise Bush is trying to get into the production track. “I would really like to study gaming,” she writes. “I’m a big fan of hunting. Plus, once I receive my degree, I can change my last name to Bushmaster.”

William E. Brentwood, Jr. is a law school graduate wishing to obtain a doctoral degree. He is interested in the relationship between the threat of legal action and free speech. His writing sample is a lawsuit he filed against the last program that rejected him.

“So, like, my mom told me I need to get a job or go to grad school,” says Emerald Dawson in her statement of purpose. “So, like, I figured, wouldn’t it be rad if I could, like, go to a place where I can just watch, like, Dr. Phil and Maury Povich and, like, be paid for it? I mean, how hard can an MA be?” One committee member underlined “Dr. Phil” with red pen. “This is so wrong,” he or she wrote on the margins. “Getting into a graduate program to watch Dr. Phil?!? Dr. Drew or Dr. Oz, yes, but Dr. Phil?!? Dislike!”

John Stuart, a master’s student applying for the PhD program, has an original approach. He starts his essay by saying what he isn’t interested in. He first apologizes profusely to Julia Fox and me for not being interested in satire despite his name. He then says he isn’t interested in 19th century British political philosophy, either, which is weird, since that’s not the kind of research we do here, anyway. He then runs out of space and never reveals what he actually wants to do here. The answer might be found in his writing sample, a 40-page introduction to a rejected journal manuscript about the effects of Twitter on the ability to be succinct.

One of my friends is also applying. I wrote all three of his letters of recommendation, one as myself, one as Prof. Elihu Katz, and one as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. Of course, I made sure the writing styles were different so the committee members wouldn’t catch on. To make it most believable, Katz and Kahneman’s letters are less articulate than my own.


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