The New Hire
Copyright Richard Schwartz 2000

(Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Consider the case of Doctor Robert E. Schultz. The ink on his Stanford Ph.D. still drying on the diploma, he cuts a fine figure as he approaches the end of the hallway on the first floor of the University of Virginia Department of Mathematics. He already affects the costume of an academic: tweed jacket, delicate spectacles, carefully maintained goatee. He wears on his face an expression which is a subtle mixture of humility and confidence. It is a mask, designed to whisper that a ferocious thinker lurks behind the facade of an amiable young scholar. Doctor Robert E. Schultz has never been to the University of Virginia before. He has come to accept a rather unusual and spectacular offer of Tenured Associate Professor. Arriving at the end of the hallway, he knocks on the office door of Professor Earl Sears, Chairman of the Department. Knocking on the door Schultz pictures himself signing the contract and then shaking hands with Professor Sears, a man he has never met.

Let us leave him knocking, and go backwards in time several months. The time is September 25, 2017, three days after the start of the 2017 academic year. Stacks of paper and folders clutter the vast mahogany desk of Professor Earl Sears. A tall man in his early fifties, affable and energetic, Sears sits behind his desk and intently flips through the manila folder in his hands. He faces the four members of the Hiring Committee, who sit huddled around his desk. ``Now this fellow Schultz seems quite promising,'' he says, ``You're in his field, what do you think Phil?''

Professor Philip Leeson, Chairman of the Hiring Committee, thoughtfully strokes a beard he does not have, slightly bows his bald head. Leeson perceives this to be a critical moment in the game. Shultz is his man. On the other hand, he doesn't want to overcommit. People have long memories concerning the cases in which a new hire doesn't quite work out as expected.

Leeson chooses his words carefully: ``Well, technically, Earl, I'm not really in his field. The young man seems to work mainly in Quantum Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry, in Characteristic Zero. I'm actually a `Characteristic p' man myself, and there isn't too much overlap these days. On the other hand his advisor Ben Wilson tells me he's written a spectacular thesis-best one Stanford's seen in thirty years. Wilson says its really quite a breakthrough.''

Sears presses his lips together, rocks back and forth. ``So what'dya think, Phil. Tenure track. Lots of perks. Send 'em up for an early tenure review.''

``That seems appropriate in this case. We ought to have no trouble getting this one by the Dean, given his letters. As you can see, they're really quite-''

``Not so fast. Not so fast,'' cautions Professor Clarence Olesky, ``Just who are these letter writers? Look, I'm out here doing Semi-Linear Symplectic Morse Theory for twenty years and how the hell do I know what these letter writers mean when they say `Shultz is the next Gauss'. I mean, maybe these guys are just a bunch of provincial bumpkins taken in by the first decent graduate student they've seen in a few years. `The next Gauss'. Ha! Every fifth letter I've seen this year says that.''

``Clarence has a point here,'' Sears replies. Sears despises Clarence Olesky, but what can he do except take him seriously? Olesky has a genuinely brilliant mind-fifteen years of raving reviews from Outside Review Committees prove this irrefutably-and it wouldn't do to put him off. ``Of course mathematics is a vast and specialized field and we can't know the relative merits of everyone in the world. Let's see, the main Letter Writers for Robert E. Schultz are Professor Ben Wilson, of course, and Professors Zeke Clobberhead and Carol McWeathers. Let's see...''

Sears flips to page 50 of Doctor Robert E. Schultz' file and continues ``Here. I'm reading an excerpt from a supporting Letter of Recommendation for Zeke Clobberhead: `Clobberhead is one of the best young Quantum Arithmetic Algebraic Geometers around. His theorem on ... blah blah blah ...' I'll skip the technical stuff, Ahem `is really quite a masterpiece of early twenty first century mathematics'. Later the letter says `I've known Clobberhead for five years now. I can assure you that Clobberhead is an impeccable judge of mathematical talent, as well as a first rate mathematician. I would certainly take his Letters of Recommendation with the utmost seriousness...' It goes on and on. There, does that satisfy you Clarence? The letters for Wilson and McWeathers all say pretty much the same thing.'' Sears leans back in his chair. He is visibly annoyed. He can see that this meeting will take longer than expected.

``Wait just a second there Earl, that letter says that Clobberhead is such a fine judge of character, but how do we know his letter writers-''

Phil Leeson is quick to respond: ``Clarence, in this case I think we can pretty much put a lid on this can of worms. The three guys writing supporting Letters for Zeke Clobberhead are all quite eminent professors. Earl was just reading from the letter written by Professor Ziplock Hanks. Look here, on Professor Hanks' C.V., included on page 54 of Shultz' file, it appears that Hanks recieved Gold Star reviews on fifteen of his last eighteen Outside Peer Reviews. That kind of merit shows he's a world class mathematician. Or consider Lilith O'Greegy. Her C.V., on page 67, indicates that-''

Let us move forward roughly a month in time, to October 22. The subtle deliberations of the Hiring Committee have recently come to their conclusion. From amongst thousands of files, the file of Doctor Robert E. Schultz is the only one which finds its way into the hands of the Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences.

Dean Rauss Harmond drums his fingers on the giant and empty oak roundtable which dominates his office. A slight, handsome man in his late fifties, Harmond practically oozes charm. Harmond has political aspirations. He can certainly understand the profit to be made in raising the stature of the Mathematics Department, under his stewardship. Dean Harmond, Professor Earl Sears, and Associate Dean Alabaster Clayton form a perfect equilateral triangle which surrounds the table.

``Ziplock Hanks, Ziplock Hanks,'' Dean Harmond muses, ``The case all seems to come down to Ziplock Hanks.'' Harmond furtively looks at his watch. He meets with seven other Department Chairs today and the case at hand seems to be sufficiently clear cut to settle quickly. ``OK, let's go through the logic of this thing one more time. This guy Shultz' has glowing reviews. One guy-Clobberhead you say-claims that he's the next Gauss. Now that's a pretty strong statement. Pretty much a clincher, as far as I can see. On the other hand, can we take this seriously? This is where Hanks comes in.

``I've been on those Outside Peer Review Committees and I can assure you that it isn't easy to get the Gold Star. Pretty damn rare in fact. Couple people a year, in each field. If this guy Hanks has gotten fifteen Gold Star Reviews in his last eighteen reviews, he's obviously a real superstar. So, now, if Ziplock Hanks says Zeke Clobberhead's got good judgement, then Zeke Clobberhead's got good judgement. I think we can pretty well rest assured that Shultz is a damn fine young mathematician, as Clobberhead and the others indicate. I think we can pretty much wrap this thing up.

``I can see that you want to offer him an Assistant Professorship, with a promise of an early Tenure Review. Hmmm... Can we really get a guy this good? Does he have other offers?''

Earl Sears shuffles through a sheaf of papers. ``Yeah, it seems that our man has been doing quite well for himself. Let's see, some interest from Harvard... Duke is deciding this week on an offer... Santa Cruz... University of Norway...''

Assistant Dean Alabaster Clayton is a careful thinker. Something about the argument doesn't wash with him, but he is leery of contradicting his boss. He clears his throat and timidly offers ``Um... Rauss. I'm not sure the Gold Star is what it once was. Back in the old days it used to mean a lot more, when there was just one central Outside Peer Review Committee. But the vast growth of the sciences in the early part of this century caused a proliferation of these committees. There are so many committees that uniform standards haven't really been established. Now, it says here that Ziplock Hanks has been getting these Gold Stars from the `Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry Oversight Committee'. How do we know-''

``Alabaster, Alabaster, Alabaster,'' Rauss Harmond says soothingly, forcing a smile, ``There are more standards in these things than you might think. Look, there are a handful of general Consortia which keep the Oversight Committees in line. Let's see... all of this must be in Schultz' file... Yep. Here it is. On Page 127 of the file you can see that the Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry Oversight Committee is kept honest by the Pure Mathematics Consortium. These PMC guys are real big shots. You practically have to win a Fields Medal to get on the PMC. Now, the PMC indicates that the AAGOC has been doing a fine job of evaluating. I think if the AAGOC says `Gold Star' its a Gold Star, pure and simple.

``Getting back to the case at hand, I personally think we ought to offer this fellow Shultz tenure right off the bat. There's no way we're going to beat out a place like Harvard, and why chance it with the other places?''

We return now to Doctor Robert E. Schultz, who stands knocking on the door of Professor Earl Sears, Chairman of the University of Virginia Department of Mathematics. Sears opens the door and thrusts pen and contract into the hands of the young man. ``Welcome to the University of Virginia, Shultz,'' he says heartily, ``Let's get the business end done right away. Just sign here.''

Shultz signs on the dotted line and hands the contract back to Professor Sears. The two men shake, as is usual in circumstances such as this. ``Welcome aboard, son,'' Sears beams.

However, an unusual thing happens. It seems that Doctor Robert E. Schultz' skin actually pulls off his body, taking with it the young man's clothes. The cloak of skin and clothes drapes across the arms of an astonished Professor Sears. It is as if Sears has pulled the skin off an onion, by drawing it out it from the tip. What stands before the Chairman is essentially a walking, talking, patchwork alligator, a reptilian version of the Frankenstein creation.

``Glad to be joining the faculty,'' replies Professor Robert E. Schultz.