2 | 3 |
4 | 5 |
6 | 7 |
8 | 9 | 10
yourself on a journey, lighting upon a rocky place at sunset with
no recourse but to sleep, and nothing to rest your head on but stones.
In a dream you behold a ladder set upon the earth, its top reaching
to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it! Above it
stands the Lord, declaring that your seed shall broadly fertilize
the earth, blessing mankind. Quaking, you realize that this place
is holy, the very gate of heaven.
you lost your marbles? Perhaps, so far as most of the world is concerned.
But not if you are Jacob at Beth-el in the Old Testament. Nor if
you are at UCLA, where faculty marbles resemble Jacob's.
our young faculty just starting to make their marks on the academic
plain, Beth-el's rocky place is a pre-tenure step beyond graduate
study, a step now haunted by an arid job market littered with stones
to trip over. For all faculty, young and old, the holy place is
a campus like UCLA, a place both of this world with its rocks of
bureaucracy, schedules, committees, tests, and deadlines, and out
of this world as it most highly prizes the life of the mind, culture,
research, abstract thought, and the expanding of consciousness and
deity of higher education lies in ideal goals that stimulate all
of these prized pursuits, transcendent goals much like the Lord
in Jacob's dream. And as faculty strive toward ideal goals, their
goals bless the fruits that they, like Jacob, spread across the
earth. Thus universities, like Beth-el, are a type of heaven's gate.
campuses are caught up in all of this, but especially distinguishing
them is their version of Jacob's ladder. Both literally and figuratively
UCLA has a "ladder" promotion system in which most professors are
called "ladder faculty." Typically, faculty must trudge up more
than a dozen "steps" (or rungs) through the assistant professorship,
associate professorship, and full professorship to Paradise. Each
step involves a review, and major inquisitions about scholarship,
teaching, and university service occur before advancement to a new
Jacob's ladder linked earth and heaven, this system links worldly
realism and otherworldliness. Former Governor Jerry Brown once suggested
that faculty did not need high salaries because their profession
was monklike. Weirdly, it often seems so. In the 1950s, a department
chair informed an assistant professor that his tan ill-suited a
scholar. In the 1960s, a young scholar, naive to the ways of the
real world, ruefully discovered he needed a down payment to buy
a house. In the 1970s, when another admitted he earned $13,000,
a businessman asked, "A month?"
all its Byzantine complexity and stresses, the Jacob's ladder of
academic advancement at UCLA protects such innocence and rewards
research that distinguishes the individual and the campus.
may hear echoes of the old African-American spiritual again and
again during their laborious ascent: "We are climbing Jacob's ladder
. . . Ev'ry rung goes higher, higher . . . We are climbing higher,
higher . . . " But at least they are going upward, often with a
greater regularity than at most universities.
few angels traverse this ladder, fewer schools have fairer systems.
Berst is an emeritus professor of English.