Let’s talk about campus murder mysteries

Let’s talk about campus murder mysteries.

I love reading them and writing them. What is it about academia that sparks thoughts of murder? Of course there’s the old saying that “campus politics are so nasty because the stakes are so small.” But that’s more of an observation than an explanation. I have some ideas:

Clashing agendas. Professors want to enlighten the world with their teaching and their research, and deplore the duplicity of administrators.  Administrators, on the other hand, need to keep the dollars flowing in, and the legislators and trustees off their backs, and they don’t want some self-righteous faculty Speaking Truth to Power and messing everything up. Late-twentieth-century postmodernists have nothing on administrators when it comes to having a complicated relationship with Truth:

“Our position is, yes, Mister Yamada, your wonderful idea for a Golf Course Management major is going through, and before you know it, we’ll be putting out graduates who are ready and willing to work at your resort. And also, no, Senator Kamoku, of course we’re not considering offering a major in golf as a taxpayer-subsidized sop to our most powerful trustee. The very idea.”

From The Invasive Species


Same words, different meanings. Naturally, everyone on campus agrees on striving for “excellence.” It’s in the University Strategic Plan, after all. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same definition of “excellence.”

“Dr. Rodge,” as he tells his students to call him, doesn’t give midterms or final exams, assigns no homework, and gives A’s to everyone who signs up for his Human Potential class. I can’t force Rodge to “maintain academic standards worthy of our university” (Hanson’s words) or “teach a real college class and knock off that feel-good bull****” (Hanson’s contemporary, Dr. Larry Schneider). As long as Rodge shows up when he’s supposed to and stays out of trouble with the students, there’s not much else I can do. Especially not when the Student Retention Office keeps nominating him for the campus-wide teaching award every year.

From The Cursed Canoe

The student as customer. But not the kind of customer you actually listen to.  To cater to students (and their tuition dollars), administrators are forever coming up with new programs and bringing the latest edu-fads to campus.

The student is the customer, and you know what they say about the customer.
The student is the customer, and you know what they say about the customer.

Oddly enough, when students ask for more course sections, lower tuition, affordable childcare, and job placement, what administrators hear is “Can you impose some punishing new regime on the faculty that will make their lives harder without actually improving my education? Also hire more administrators pls.”

A few weeks after the Student Retention Office remodel was finished, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement attended an ed-tech conference. Upon his return, we were directed to record our class sessions and post them online, so that students could watch them at their leisure. The problem was that we were “guides on the side” now, and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement didn’t want to post hour-long videos of students sitting in circles talking. So we all had to go back to being “sages on the stage,” lecturing to the video camera, but this time we were cautioned to act as “facilitators of experience” rather than “providers of knowledge.” We’re still stuck with the immovable round tables.

From The Musubi Murder

And not only does academia provide plentiful motives for murder; it’s populated by nosy obsessives with library access who will drop everything to chase the faintest of clues. (This is also known as “research.”) So we have Christa Nardi’s Sheridan Hendley,  Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar, Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler, Joanne Dobson’s Karen Pelletier, R.T. Campbell’s John Stubbs,  Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen, and of course Mahina State University’s Molly Barda.

In my view, the only mystery is why there aren’t even more academic detectives.

An earlier version was published on Christa Reads and Writes