Montclair State University vs. Brian Matthew Kessler'
by Brian Matthew Kessler
XXXX Carol Road
Union, New Jersey 07083
17 March 1999
In a surprise gambit, the Prosecutor had not just rested his case. He moved for summary judgment against the Defendant. His argument was simple. He had risen to his full five foot five in height, stretch out the boney fingers of his right hand to point firmly and demandingly at the catalogue opened to page 98 upon the rostrum and his sonorous voice had filled the courtroom.
Prosecutor: The English major consists of 33 semester hours of English courses including a required course. The Pursuits of English...The question is simple. Has the requirement been meet? Nowhere can the Defendant point to any rule, regulation, clause, phrase or term admitting of any exception to the Rule. We are not offered the opportunity of multiple choice. The question has only one answer. Nothing the Defendant can say will change that answer. To allow the Defendant to take up the time of your Honor by parading his so called evidence before you not only will be a waste of your precious time, but also will serve as a mockery to all those valiant and dedicated who sweated and slaved without recourse to fulfill that requirement. Your course is manifest. You must deny his application.
The Judge liked the Prosecutor, not so much for his charm or good looks, nor even for the fact that he was the champion of regularity. Regularity is good. You know where you stand. You don't have to think. You don't have to worry about right or wrong. You just do. Mostly he liked the Prosecutor for getting right to the meat of the thing. Why waste time? The Judge was just about to pronounce his awful decision, but he had waited too long. He noticed the Defense Counsel raise uncertainly to his feet, and heard the unmistakable grumble of a throat being cleared. The Judge then made perhaps the most fateful error of his adult life since buying a pair of Siberian Hamsters on a whim. He looked into the soulful eyes of Defense Counsel, eyes not unlike those of the sixty-odd Siberian Hamsters who now occupied his basement, multiplying geometrically and making merry on their little exercise wheels. The Judge was almost completely successful in his effort suppress a smile, but his effort was mistaken a sign of recognition and the Defense counsel began to speak.
Defense: "'The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed: it blesseth him that give and him that takes...'
With these immortal words, Shakespeare recalled to us the blessing and glory of our humaneness. But with that humaneness comes a burden. We are not automatons to be simply patched and screwed together at a factory and sent out with a stamp attesting that we are fit for some routine function. We are men and our institutions are not only built with steel and brick, with pen and paper, but also with minds and hearts. These are human institutions and to fulfill their role they must be able to provide for human weakness, error and oversight if they are also to take pride in the diversity and consequential creativity of those whom we graduate. And I would also add that The Bard would be denied a degree as an English Major because he never completed "Pursuits of English."
Defense Counsel would also have said something about "the world is watching" but fortunately he had accidently sat down signifying that he was finished.
Now if there was one thing the Judge liked less than having his time wasted, it was having someone question from which branch of the anthropoid tree he hung. Accordingly, he quickly ruled "Motion for summary judgment denied. Mr. Defense Counsel present your witness," resolving to devote as little attention as possible to what consequently was to follow.
The defendant took the stand and was dutifully sworn in.
Defense : Brian, please inform the court how many semester hours you have spent taking English courses?
Brian: That depends on how the credits are reckoned. As you can see on this table of English and Writing courses . . .
Defense: May it please the Court, we shall call this chart Defense Exhibit A.
Judge: Evidence accepted as Exhibit A.
Brian: Forty-eight credits were specifically taken as English courses. Another eleven . . .
Prosecutor: Objection! Not relevant. We are discussing waiving an English course. Why should we care about any courses that are not offered by the English department?
Defense: Your Honor, I request giving Brian some leeway. We are discussing the quality and quantity of this student's education, not interdepartmental politics. We should therefore pay heed of the course's contents, not just which department the professor belonged to. A policy of willful ignoring course contents on the basis of course classification, would not only be unrealistic and unfair to the student, but would have the unseemly effect of implying that this is really a question of how best to fill the English department's coffers.
Judge: Objection overruled. The defendant may continue.
Brian: As I was saying, another eleven credits were specifically Writing courses. Previous to taking THTR-391 Playingwriting I had already received assurances from my advisor, Tim Watson, that those credits would be applicable to my English major. Including those credits, I easily have fifty-nine credits towards my English major. However, it is possible to reckon as many as 107 credits if one is also willing to accept the relevance of these 13 classes I have listed on this second table of other classes where literature and / or writing were critical to the class.
Defense: May it please the Court, we shall call this chart, Defense Exhibit B.
Prosecutor: Objection! What this student proposes we should accept as relevant is clearly absurd. What relevance courses on performing and computer programming possibly have towards an English major?
Defense: Would the Prosecutor explain to the court how he might enact a qualitative performance of a text he does not comprehend? Or how a man can communicate to a computer without being able to communicate to a man?
Prosecutor: A computer works in machine language . . . binary numbers . . . zeros and ones. Obviously this is a very different skill than if I were to explain to you how you should go about making a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.
Defense [to Student]:Would you kindly describe to the Court the computer languages you studied in CSCI-120 Computer Science I and INFO-2101-002 Programming, Problem Solving I.
Brian: In Computer Science I we studied a language known as PASCAL and in Programming, Problem Solving I, we studied a closely related language known as ADA. Both of these languages are high level languages.
Defense: Please explain to the court what you mean by high level language?
Student: A high level language is a language which is removed from the machine's natural language of operation. This means the language must be compiled by a machine language interpreter before the computer can understand the program. The key words to these languages, the grammar, and the punctuation are all rooted in English: this is in order to make the language easy for a native English speaker to learn and use. A well written program includes highly descriptive variable names and lines of documentation such that any person capable of reading English can get the gist of the program without much more headache, and often less, than if that same person were to sit in front of a poem of the same length, even if the poem is undeniably written in English.
Prosecution: Objection! The defendant alleges that poems are difficult to understand. Clearly this shows deficiency in his education. And what evidence do we have that Mr. Kessler knows anything about poetry?
Defense: The requirements of an English Major do not specifically include a that the student either likes or comprehends poetry. As close as the requirements come is B3, "Genre Study: Significant attention to at least three genres." Exhibit A clearly shows the student has taken courses in all four genres (poetry, fiction, drama, and film), thereby meeting that requirement. And, for the record, Brian has had this poem entitled "Bored" published in The National Library of Poetry's Mists of Enchantment. Please accept this as Defense Exhibit D.
Judge: I'll tentatively accept these pieces of evidence as Exhibits B and D, subject to further review.
Defense: I would now like to show the court that the student's qualification are not merely a matter of quantitative learning, but also a matter of content. We can see looking over Exhibit A that the student has explored a great variety of materials, of poetry, fiction, drama, and film. These materials come from several nations, from minorities, from women, and dealing with issues of gender and class.
Prosecutor: Objection! The only course I see here showing that the student has met requirement 4b, "Minority Writers" is ENGL-1004 Introduction to Women's Writing which was taken at De Montfort University. Women make up about fifty percent of the worlds population. According to some census data, they may make up even slightly more of the population than this. If women are more than half the population, they can not be a minority.
Defense: Your Honor, it seems clear that the requirement is not meant to imply a quantitative minority, but rather a politically qualitative minority. There are few who would sensibly debate that Western Civilization is undeniably paternalistic and male dominated, even unto these modern times. In the sense that this is true, we cannot therefore deny that women represent a minority and a course that deals with woman writers, particularly whence those woman were writing as an underclass tormented by patricentric domination and morality, can not be refuted as meeting this requirement.
Judge: Mr. Prosecutor, the Defense has a point. I shall allow it. Continue with your defense.
Defense: We can also see by looking over these charts that the student has worked within various pedagogues: as some classes were conducted as lectures, some as discussion groups, and yet others as peer analysis.
Prosecutor: Objection! How should we know that this column of data is factual? There is nothing in the course catalogs to verify this information.
Judge: Mr, Kessler, recalling that you are under oath do you testify to the sincerity and truthfulness of all information presented on these charts.
Brian: I do.
Prosecutor: Objection! The defendant is biased.
Defense: Your Honor, the student has taken a total of 47 courses. On the basis of probability alone, would anyone venture forth the hypothesis that the student has never been to a lecture? That the student has never been involved in a class discussion? That the student has never worked with his peers to analyze a text? Further, the students assertions are not beyond verification. Many of this student's professors can be contacted without even leaving Montclair State University's campus. While we may quibble over the exact meaning and applicability of any term used to describe pedagogues, I think we must admit, pending evidence to the contrary, that what this student claims on the matter is most likely to be true. And, I might also add, Brian has a 3.708 cumulative Grade Point Average at Montclair, which clearly suggests that some of his instructors were satisfied with his participation in their courses.
Judge: Objection is overruled, pending further investigation. Continue.
Defense: I now wish to explore the real crux of the matter, the student's exposure to critical practices. Common sense alone should indicate that a great variety of materials worked upon under a variety of pedagogues and under the auspices of a great number of instructors, further complicated by the varied policies of several academic institutions should make it par for course that many practices have indeed been explored and established. However, admitting that sense and facts often have little enough to do with each other, we shall not leave the first unaided to establish the second. [Pauses.]
Defense: [Continues -- To the student] Have you ever taken a class which engaged in historical analysis of the material?
Brian: Yes. In fact many of my classes have engaged in contextualizing the material with regard to the time when the matter was developed. Within English courses alone, ENFL-208-02 Introduction to Film; ENG-229 Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fiction; ENG-232 Drama in Transition: the Late 19th Century; ENGL-1004 Introduction to Women's Writing; ENGL-275-01 Vietnam War and American Culture; ENGL-344-81 Independant Study: Chaucer; ENLT-378-01 Science Fiction Literature; ENWR-250-01 Special Topic: Media Ethics; and ENWR-250-02 Special Topic: Internet for English Majors - all of these, each explored their disciplines from within the times when their subjects or issues arouse and how these subjects relate to us in the present.
Prosecutor: Objection! How can this student speak of Internet and historical analysis in the same breath?
Judge: Mr. Kessler, can you make some sense of your statement?
Brian: The Internet does not exist outside of time. It's history may be short and very recent, but understanding how to use the Internet for research involves understanding both the traditional means of research and how the Internet continues to evolve. The tools it offered yesterday may mean less today and nothing tomorrow, while the tools it offers today may be just a tease for what is yet to come. As such, a course on the Internet which is to have a usefulness that would outlive the duration of the course, would necessarily require some analysis of the Internet's place in the time / space continuum.
Judge: Point taken into consideration, but has the defendant engaged in any historical analysis of specific literary works?
Brian: Within the context of that particular Internet course, I analyzed Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in relation to the two World Wars. Within the context of all three Literature courses I took at De Montfort University (Introduction to Woman's Writing, Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fiction, and Drama in Transition: the Late 19th Century), we explored various social, class, gender, and moral issues contemporary to the 19th Century, when the works were written, and how those issues were manifest and often rebelled against within these works. In Vietnam War and American Culture we scrutinized various texts in order to discover what was really happening during that time. So not only have I used history to learn about texts, but also texts have been used to learn about history, often in a non-linear fashion.
Defense: And have you looked at texts from the perspective of feminists and female sexuality?
Brian: At De Montfort, the English department openly boasted of their feminist slant. One could not take an English course there and hope to avoid feminist interpretations. This was especially true while taking Introduction to Woman's Writing and later when I took Gothic Fiction with one of the same professors. Now, here at Montclair, I find Marleen Barr is also very open about her feminism and has no compunction about introducing feminist viewpoints into our Science Fiction Literature class.
Defense: Have you looked at texts from the perspective of socialists or communists?
Brian: Although De Montfort was not as openly socialistic as feministic, matters of economic inequality where often addressed, even if for no other reason than to illustrate the disparity between the wealth of men and the wealth of women, the latter of which has only recently (relatively speaking) gained the rights to own property. Beyond that, within Gothic Fiction, we specifically discussed the possibility of Dracula representing an evil wealthy capitalist foreigner while the good Crew of Light represented domesticate socialists sharing their wealth for "the good cause." And at Montclair, the communist perspective was a vital factor in understanding Vietnam War and American Culture.
Defense: Have you looked at symbolism within literary texts?
Brian: Every time I take a literature course, symbolism is explored without fail. Also, while studying REL-33400, symbolism played a big part since there is common agreement between mystics that human language in general and English in particular is inadequate and ill suited for describing the methods, the results, or the truths of mystical achievement. Symbolism was again invoked while taking PAR-210 Marcel Duchamp and Related Topics due to Duchamp's involvement with surrealism and mysticism as well as his voracious use of puns.
Defense: And have you analyzed issues of voice and structure within literature?
Brian: Indeed, yes. Within Gothic Fiction we explored the effects of presenting the tales as a series of letters or journal entries. In Writing for Performance we explored the use of first and second person and how context affects the reading of a given text, as well as a great many strategies for developing them. In classes pertaining to both drama or film, we looked at those issues because they become critical for production.
Defense: The defense rests.
The Prosecutor presented his closing argument with both his customary eloquence and brevity. By his eloquence he hoped to conceal the weakness that his argument "Rules are Rules" is best presented before the age when his audience firsts asks the question "Why?" Whether in itself his articulation would have succeeded remains a question because the succinctness of his argument worked to his disadvantage: what he said escaped the Judges attention because just as the Prosecutor began to speak the Judge began to examine Exhibit D.
by Brian Matthew Kessler
North - South
East - West
Up - Down
The Rural Lands
Places of the Masses
It's in the air
It's too much to bare
If you care
As a result, it was only the commotion caused by the Prosecutor sitting down and the Defense Counsel rising which brought the Judges focus back to the proceedings in time for him to say "Thank you, Mr. Prosecutor."
Defense Counsel began in time honored fashion.
Defense: Your Honor, may it please the Court.
The question we have before us is whether Montclair should waive as to Brian Kessler its requirement that every English Major take Pursuits of English. And this question -if we are to have at least a functional command over our language- translates into the practical question "Whether Brian Kessler has, in his pursuit of the knowledge of English, fulfilled at least the minimal expectations this institution would have required of him had he undertaken that course."
In answering this question, I would call to your attention that not only has Brian completed more than the required number of those courses which ordinarily would be undertaken after obtaining the foundation which Pursuits of English was intended to provide, he has done so with academic distinction. In his study of English he has successfully completed courses, both within English Departments and in other Departments whose material for examination is derived from English, in a most diverse accumulation of venues. But Brian investigation of English has taken him into activities beyond both those traditional to the discipline of English -the analysis of literature-- and even those required by so far sighted an institution as Montclair in its recognition that English is a living language which may also be pursued through the creation of new works. His investigation has taken him to England, that other country from whom we are separated by a common language, where as a stranger he could experience the use of our language in a manner slightly different than our own. His search has placed him in media courses where the English language is often used to obfuscate rather than elucidate. His quest has taken him to the realm of Multi-media, where English is used in combination with both visual and tonal symbols to communicate ideas. In this regard, I would point out that there are two web sites designed by Brian out there carrying the message he was asked to send, at http://www.nowhereatall.net and http://bmkanc.ipfox.com/index.html . The works posted at these sites are just a small sample of his works: philosophical, poetic, fictional, dramatic, autobiographical, journalistic, comic, grim, and surreal.
And last, I would remind you that both in our country and in England, Brian has been more than a student of English Theater, he has been a participant. As an actor, he has given form to what once were only words on paper. His roles included Stephen in The Shadow Box, Oswald in King Lear, and Eddie in Rocky Horror. And as an Assistant to the Director he has aided one more experienced than he in bringing life to Day Dreams: The Doris Day Story. He has even written two complete plays that are ripe for publication.
After the Defense Counsel thanked the Court for its patience, the Judge stated "I will take this matter under advisement" and departed.
Exhibit A: Table of English and Writing Courses
|1||ENFL-208-02||Introduction to the Film||Autumn 1998||MSU||3.0||3fl,4a,4c,4e||L|
|2||ENFL-310-01||Screenwriting I||Autumn 1998||MSU||3.0||2,3fl,T||L,D,P|
|3||ENG-229||Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fiction||Spring 1995||DMU||4.0||1b,1c,3fc,4c,4d,4e||L,D|
|4||ENG-232||Drama in Transition: the Late 19th Century||Spring 1995||DMU||4.0||1b,1c,3d,4a,4d,4e||L,D,P|
|5||ENGL-1004||Introduction to Women's Writing||Autumn 1994||DMU||4.0||1c,3fc,4b,4c,4d,4e||L,D|
|6||ENGL-12000||Expository Writing||Spring 1993||HC||3.0||2||L,P|
|7||ENGL-275-01||Vietnam War and American Culture||Autumn 1998||MSU||3.0||4e||L,D,P|
|8||ENGL-344-81||Independent Study: Chaucer||Spring 1999||MSU||3.0||1a,1b,1c,T|
|9||ENLT-378-01||Science Fiction Literature||Spring 1999||MSU||3.0||1c,3fc,4c,4d,4e,T||L,D,P|
|10||ENWR-200-02||Creative Wrting: Fiction, Poetry, Drama||Spring 1999||MSU||3.0||2,3p,3fc,3d||D,P|
|11||ENWR-205||Creative Writing: Non-Fiction||Spring 1998||MSU||3.0||2||D,P|
|12||ENWR-250-01||Special Topic: Media Ethics||Spring 1998||MSU||3.0||2,J||D,P|
|13||ENWR-250-02||Special Topic: Internet for English Majors||Autumn 1998||MSU||3.0||2||D,P|
|14||ENWR-310-01||Writing: Drama||Spring 1999||MSU||3.0||2,3d,T||L|
|16||GEN-2121-002||Argument & Persuasion||Autumn 1991||SSC||4.0||2||L|
|17||THEA-1007||An Introduction to Writing for Performance||Spring 1995||DMU||4.0||2,3d||L,D,P|
|DMU||= De Montfort University||4||1a||= Literature, Pre-1800||1|
|HC||= Hunter College||1||1b||= Literature, Pre-1900||2|
|MSU||= Montclair State University||12||1c||= Literature||5|
|SSC||= Stockton State College||1||2||= Writing||11|
|3p||= Genre, Poetry||1|
|Ab.||Quality||Qty||3fc||= Genre, Fiction||4|
|J||= Journalism||2||3d||= Genre, Drama||4|
|T||= Transfer Requirement||6||3fl||= Genre, Film||2|
|L||= Lecture||11||4b||= Minority Writers||1|
|D||= Discussion Groups||13||4c||= Women Writers||4|
|P||= Peer Analysis||12||4d||= Gender Studies||4|
|4e||= Class Issues||5|
Exhibit B: Table of Other Courses Wherein Literature or Writing Were Critical
Cultures of the Middle East
Computer Science I
Philosophy / Human Nature
General Humanities II
Programming, Problem Solving I
Intro to Media Studies
Marcel Duchamp and Related Topics
Knowledge, Belief, Truth
Summer Theatre WorkShop
Script, Text, Performance
= De Montfort University
= Hunter College
= Kean College
= Transfer Requirment
= Montclair State University
= Seton Hall
= Discussion Groups
= Stockton State College
= Peer Analysis
Exhibit C: All Other Courses
|1||ANTH-100||Cultural Anthropology||Autumn 1997||MSU||3.0||L|
|2||ARHS-324||Northern Renaissance Painting||Autumn 1997||MSU||0.0||L|
|3||BIOL-100||General Biology- Organism||09/89-06/90||SH||4.0||L|
|5||CHEM-1103-UH||General Chemistry I||Fall 1990||SH||4.0||L|
|6||GNHU-281||Greek Civilization||Autumn 1997||MSU||3.0||L|
|7||INFO-1206-002||Statistics I||Spring 1992||SSC||4.0||L|
|8||MATH-2215-001||Calculus I||Fall 1991||SSC||5.0||L|
|9||MATH-2216-002||Calculus II||Spring 1992||SSC||0.0||L|
|10||MATH-2225-002||Discrete Mathematics I||Fall 1991||SSC||5.0||L|
|11||MATH-2226-001||Discrete Mathematics II||Spring 1992||SSC||4.0||L|
|13||PHIL-1203-002||Introduction to Logic||Spring 1992||SSC||4.0||L|
|14||THE-1100||Acting I||Summer 1992||KC||3.0||L,P|
|15||THE-1200||Introduction to Theatre||Summer 1992||KC||3.0||L|
|DMU||= De Montfort University||1||L||= Lecture||16|
|KC||= Kean College||2||P||= Peer Analysis||3|
|MSU||= Montclair State University||4|
|SH||= Seton Hall||3|
|SSC||= Stockton State College||6|