Academic rituals

CornellPresidentElizabeth Garrett, 13th President of Cornell, in full academic regalia, on her way to 
Friday's inauguration ceremony.


That blurry image was a detail, magnified over 10 times, of what was intended to be a panoramic photo of the contrast between the redness of Cornell’s homecoming weekend and the green grass and brilliant blue sky of a splendid late summer day.  I only realized a few minutes later that the figure at the right of the clipping was the focus of the festive solemnities.  This realization led to more fruitless rumination on the material underpinnings of higher education, specifically on the role of academic rituals in maintaining some measure of public support for the mission of higher education, and by extension for research in pure mathematics, which was the actual purpose of my visit.

6_prix_del_duca_s_harris_laumon

I have taken part in academic rituals only on a very few occasions.  Here is one of them, already mentioned at the bottom of this page.  The man on the left is Gérard Laumon, even more elegant than usual in his excruciatingly uncomfortable habit d’académicien.

The ceremony was preceded by a fanfare of the Garde Républicaine, brandishing their ceremonial swords, less elaborate than the one you can watch here (but much louder than the video suggests).

French academics, university presidents included, do not dress up in robes or ceremonial outfits of any kind beyond the walls of the Institut de France.  The dignity of the profession is reaffirmed in other rituals, for example the induction into the Légion d’Honneur.  Here are a few photos taken at the sumptuous Elysée Palace in 2012, when Fields Medalists Ngô Bau Chau and Cédric Villani (both of whom figure prominently in MWA) were named Chevaliers de la Légion d’Honneur by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Legion d'honneur1

Legion d'honneur4

The honor is not contagious; but when Sarkozy suddenly stepped down from the podium and waded into the crowd, the assembled guests parted like the Red Sea before Moses as a precaution against being forced either to shake the Presidential Hand or to face the courroux présidentiel in case of explicit refusal.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Academic rituals

  1. Pavel Krapivsky

    “The honor is not contagious; but when Sarkozy suddenly stepped down from the podium and waded into the crowd, the assembled guests parted like the Red Sea before Moses as a precaution against being forced either to shake the Presidential Hand or…” Wow. Then why Ngô Bau Chau and Cédric Villani accepted this Honneur? Villani is seemingly even smiling (on the top photo). And why the assembled guests showed up? I suppose, most of them have very high IQ, so it should not be hard for them to realize beforehand that the possibility of shaking “the Presidential Hand” is not negligible.

    I dislike Sarkozy for various reasons, I remember signing a petition supporting CNRS (one of the very few petitions I ever signed). And of course you can write whichever you want on your blog… Still, your metaphors read so pathetic. When such metaphors come from journalists, or trolls, s’est la vie. But you are supposedly a very bright guy speaking many languages, a `master’ of economy as I see from your other posts, and of course someone working on very abstract parts of math (the Langlands program, etc.). Do you feel very smart coming up with those predictable (if I am to use a very mild characterization) metaphors? Or it is the kind of call of the jungle “We are of one blood, thou and I” which is addressed to your peers?

    Like

    Reply
    1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      Yes, those are some of the questions the post hopes to inspire — the ones in the first part of the comment, not so much the others. But I don’t know what metaphors you mean, apart from the one about the Red Sea. As for “high IQ,” I don’t know whether this is supposed to be conducive or not to participating in a traditional ritual either in a straight medieval form or in a “Republican” reinterpretation.

      Like

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s