Julie Schumacher is the first woman to win the Thurber Prize for American Humor for Dear Committee Members. Jason Fitger is back in the sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement. The hapless Professor Fitger is now chairman of the English Department at Payne University. Sounds like a promotion, right? Think again. He has no budget and won’t until he can get his team to unanimously agree to a Statement of Vision for the department. Professor Dennis Cassavan insists that a semester of Shakespeare be a requirement for every English major, while Professor Zander Hesseldine declares that suggesting that Shakespeare study was in jeopardy was like declaring the cockroach an “endangered species.” If Shakespeare is required then why not Postcolonial Literature, Feminist Studies and on and on. It’s one thing to get the department to agree, but once that is accomplished he must get approval from the dean, who just happens to be sleeping with his ex-wife, Janet.
The course of true love never did run smooth, and so it goes for Fitger, who still happens to be in love with Janet, whose feelings for him slide on the scale between disdain and indifference. But there’s a new girl in town. Mary Eland is the new chair of the Department of Consolidated Languages, and she appears in Fitger’s office toting a bottle of wine and some advice. You must play the game, it’s a “blood sport . . . you will see,” she says, “When we go upstairs to the party: on the table with the food, they will give us spoons and forks, but no knives. This is so we do not slit each other’s throats.”
Janet, though deflecting his desire to get back together, has advice for Fitger as well. He must seek the support of a wealthy donor, he must invite a well-known author to speak at the University, he must she seems to agree, play the game. The game is something that Professor Gladwell, chair of the Economics Department knows well. His department has taken over almost all of Willard Hall, pushing the English Department down, down, down into the basement, with the hopes that eventually he will push them all the way out, ultimately eliminating the liberal arts program entirely.
Though sometimes playing the fool, Fitger is a good man. He takes in a convalescing colleague after his surgery, making him toast and soft-boiled eggs and helping him to the toilet. He dog sits his rather obnoxious and slightly unhelpful administrative assistant’s foster dog, Rogaine. He helps a timid but promising student find a job in Janet’s department and serves as a pseudo father figure when the student gets pregnant.
While Fitger struggles to put together his Statement of Vision, Gladwell announces that two very wealthy donors will make a large donation to the Economics Department. Fitger tries to step up his game by inviting an author friend of his convalescing professor to give a presentation at the University. But alas, Fitger doesn’t do his research. It turns out the author is very popular . . . with the preschool crowd.
Not to worry, the Bard always said that a fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. In the end, Fitger proves himself the wiser man.
Julie Schumacher will be teaching at the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival November 7-10. Watch the Grand Marais Art Colony website for registration to open in June.