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Spring 2003
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Spring 2003
Going After the Best
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By Thomas Wortham

MY PARENTS WERE REMARKABLY WISE, and one of the things they tried to teach their foolish son was never to brag. In the first place, our few noteworthy accomplishments in life are rarely achieved without the contribution and active support of many others. Second, bragging is unbecoming to others. But most important, it annoys the gods who, from what I could understand as a child, seemed to spend most of their time devising ways to keep mortals merely mortal. Even here in this earthly paradise called UCLA.

As chair of the country’s largest academic program in literatures in English, I have come to dread every fall when my colleagues begin identifying worthy and desirable candidates for those faculty positions we must fill in order to keep our program one of the very best in the nation.

This anxiety arises not from any doubts I have that these search committees have not identified several of the brightest, most stimulating and innovative literary scholars and teachers in their canvass of the profession. In this, they never fail, and the faculty in the department greets these prospective colleagues with anticipations of intellectual comradery and challenge, the virtues that keep us all alive in the university. No, my anxiety arises from the increasing difficulty we face in working out the practical problems in introducing people to the economic logistics of Los Angeles.

We have the good weather, the great libraries, the cultural attractions that justify in larger, social terms the work we do as humanists. We have emerged, often in ways those of us who have spent 30, 40 years here don’t always appreciate, a world-class city, a fascinating, creative, frustrating, challenging environment that must somehow be mastered in order to understand what human life in the 21st century is going to mean.

Several years ago I heard from a colleague at a prestigious university on the East Coast that it seemed almost everyone he knew in the profession wanted to come to UCLA, particularly in January and February.

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