April Lourde

He picked up a sheaf of papers that were stapled together.Presumably this was the document containing the course descriptions each professor had been asked to submit.He bent forward and read the small print and pretended to make a discovery.The woman next to him smiled and shook her head.They were putting up with him by now.With a big grin, he threw his hand at me as a signal I should continue.I began by telling them that when future historians consider the magnitude of our discoveries in contemporary mathematical cosmology, and when they compare these to Copernicus’s discovery, they will conclude Copernicus was nothing more than a minor blip in the history of thought.The woman seated next to Dean Davis raised her hand.She took her glasses off to address me.Professor Swimme, Connie Sandler.But I need some help.Where will your course be housed?I did not understand.It would be one of the three university trustee courses, wouldn’t it?I looked over to Dean Davis and gave him a quizzical squint, seeking help.I assume the Department of Mathematics? he said, looking at me.So this course will satisfy a math requirement? Connie asked.You don’t mention that in your statement.She looked to the dean again.He saw that I was at sea.What Connie is asking is whether the Math Department has signed off on it.Wouldn’t this be one of the ‘university courses’? I asked.But each is housed in a particular department.I was stymied.I considered saying that certainly the Department of Mathematics would be happy with it, but that was not actually clear at all.I stood and said nothing.His enormous bald head sported a ring of white hair above his ears.He seemed restless, straining at the leash.I’m not surprised the Math Department doesn’t support your course, he said.It’s not a math course.Help me out here.Less than five minutes had passed.I had a feathery feeling in my stomach.They seemed to have already made up their minds.They wanted to wrap things up.The black hands of the wall clock showed it was just after five.But I had started late.I assumed I would still be given a full half hour.Some of the trustees were shuffling papers.I hesitated a moment then made my bold decision.If I could quickly show you the equations, I said.I moved to the whiteboard off to the right where the schedule of the day had been written out.I picked up the cloth from the tray and erased the left half of the board.That would be enough room.In the uneasy silence, I wrote out Einstein’s field equations.As soon as I saw the equations on the board I had a better idea.I erased them and wrote down the metric for the de Sitter space.I needed more room, so I erased the rest of the board.Dean Davis lifted his hand to get my attention, but I positioned my body to keep him out of my peripheral vision.We start off with a space of all possible universes, okay?Now, if we put in the dynamics from Einstein’s equation, we find a topology that is a stunner, a complete surprise to scientists.Dean Davis stood up to put an end to it.With a wisp of a smile, perhaps out of compassion for the awkwardness of the moment, he took the blame.He explained that with the very full schedule, they had gone over time.They needed to get back to Tacoma.He thanked me for my presentation.Though on some level I understood it was over, I couldn’t move.I had a mouthful of ideas that I knew would convince them if I could just release them.A few of the trustees were gathering up their belongings.The man with the huge bald head was shuffling quietly behind the backs of the other trustees.Worst of all, Norton Clapp, sitting in the center and wearing a blue knitted cap, was asleep.Or pretending to be asleep.Chairman of the board, arms folded on his chest, eyes shut.Dean Davis came over.Davis was the archetypal hire of President Phibbs.With that one move, Phibbs had placed the University of Puget Sound’s Mathematics Department in the direct lineage of Stephen Hawking, and further back, Isaac Newton himself.Too bad. He shook his head.Is there anything I can do? I asked.The trustees said their goodbyes to each other in small groups.Clapp, now with eyes wide open, interrupted his conversation and lifted an index finger to me.It was a gesture that asked me to wait a minute.It was not completely clear what he meant so I stood there pondering what to do.Which would be worse, to continue standing there stupidly, or to leave and risk suggesting to the chairman of the board that I thought I was too important to wait?I fretted over this until my indecision decided for me.With the last of the trustees departed, Clapp sorted through his papers to put them in order.He wore a blue suit that looked twenty years old.Knowing how much power he wielded and how much money he controlled tightened my chest.Wearing his blue knit hat even though the room was now quite warm, and with facial features blurry from the retreat’s demands, Clapp locked his papers in a black leather briefcase then looked at me.He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his coat pocket, tapped it against the padding of his left hand.President Phibbs gave me three names.Yours was one of them. He put the paper back in his coat pocket.President Phibbs’s dream is to make the University of Puget Sound the Harvard of the West.What’s your sense of this?He steamed ahead before I could answer.You’re happy here, or so I’m led to believe.

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