The New Hire
Copyright Richard Schwartz 2000
(Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is
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
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
``Clarence has a point here,''
Sears replies. Sears despises Clarence
Olesky, but what can he do except take him
seriously? Olesky has a genuinely
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.
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
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
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
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
What stands before the Chairman is
essentially a walking, talking, patchwork alligator,
a reptilian version of the
``Glad to be joining the faculty,'' replies Professor
Robert E. Schultz.