Deborah Yaffe

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Jane Austen, college recruiter

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 13 2016 01:00PM

Over the past few years, as I’ve sent one child off to college and begun preparing another to follow, I’ve gotten to know a little bit about academic recruiting.


Sometimes it seems that no day passes without the arrival of a glossy brochure or a pleading postcard or an emailed appeal. Look at our ivy-covered buildings and our tweed-covered professors! Visit our slick website to fill out a questionnaire that will reveal your ideal major! Discover how fun/brilliant/wacky our students are!


This stuff gives me a headache, but now comes surprising news: Jane Austen has apparently joined the admissions staff at St. John’s College. I guess it’s more fun than I thought to write fervent begging letters stroking the egos of teenagers.


St. John’s, a tiny liberal arts school with branches in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, bases its academic program on intensive study of classic texts. You learn geometry from Euclid and philosophy from Plato, while reading Shakespeare direct from a First Folio – the ultimate Great Books experience. Unsurprisingly, this unusual approach is not for everyone, and a recent article in a Maryland paper makes clear that enrollment has been falling.


To reverse the trend, the school has given its recruitment drive an infusion of quirk: Among other efforts, St. John’s is now sending out email messages in the style of famous thinkers, including Nietzsche, Einstein, Freud and Copernicus.


“One email, supposedly from Jane Austen, had the subject line ‘Can love defy my social class?’ ” the article says.


Alas, my daughter, now a high school junior, searched her memory and her archive of college email in vain: Apparently, no Austen message has come to our home. So I can’t assess the quality of the St. John’s efforts to write “in the style of” this particular classic author (though the reference to “social class” in the subject line strikes me as off-key: Austen would have said “rank,” I think).


But it’s nice to know that Jane Austen, after that flirtation with pre-natal yoga that I wrote about last year, has settled into another fulfilling career.


2 comments
Oct 14 2016 05:30PM by Jim Reische

Deborah, I'm the chief communications officer at St. John's. I'm so pleased that our campaign caught your attention. It has been quite successful for us: who doesn't want to open an email from Jane Austen or Albert Einstein! Our numbers are back up this year, and we think Austen deserves a share of the credit. I'd be happy to send you a copy of her email that you can evaluate for style--we'd welcome an outside opinion!--or to add your daughter to future mailings if she wants. Just contact me offline. And thanks again! --Jim Reische

Oct 14 2016 08:50PM by dyaffe

Thanks for reading, Jim, and good luck with your recruitment campaign! I always like to give Jane Austen credit -- for pretty much anything. :-)

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