Welcome to Purdue

... by the way, the English department thinks you're an idiot

by Chris Taylor---January 1993

Last spring I received a letter of acceptance from Purdue, it also said that I had an English deficiency that I would need to clear up. The letter said that I would be automatically registered for an English class for all the idiots like me. I was given this honor because I tested out of the only English composition class required of me for my undergraduate degree.

After I registered and received my course schedule, I noticed that I had not been ``automagically'' registered for the idiot class. I called the English department hoping to avoid missing any of the excitement. They informed me that I should be registered for the class and did not know how I could have slipped through their ``system''.

They told me when and where to go for the orientation. Maybe I should explain what the class entails. Although it took them over an hour to explain the procedure to me, this is basically what it boils down to: Write a quasi-grammatically correct 600 word essay in three hours using one of three topics selected at random. The secretary I talked with said that I would be given all the information I needed to know about the class and a chance to sign up for a time to write the essay.

At the appropriate time I went to the appropriate building to attend the appropriate orientation meeting. After trying three sides of the building, I finally found an unlocked door. I arrived a few minutes early in a nearly empty room with around 150 desks. I found a seat and enjoyed a spell of amusement as I watched a man pick up a stack of papers from the table in the front of the room and then place them one by one on each of the desks in the room. When he had covered all of the desks he would return to the table, grab another stack of paper and place a sheet from that stack on each desk. He had obviously been doing this for some time because there were five sheets on my desk when I arrived. As he finished distributing the remaining three stacks of paper on the front table, I read the handouts. My mind wandered. I couldn't help but imagine areas of inefficiency in other parts of his life. When he sets the table does he grab a plate from the cupboard place it on the table, walk back to the cupboard, grab a cup, place it on the table, walk back to the cupboard, grab a knife, place it on the table, walk back to the cupboard \ldots\ Does he relace his shoes every time he ties them? Does he brush his teeth one at a time? Does he wash his face before he showers? I'll never know the answers to these questions, and somehow they don't seem near as interesting any more. Anyway, after he completed that task he said that we would wait a few more minutes before starting in case some people came in late. (We were already five minutes late when he said that, but he disappeared to get something else so we all waited.)

Five minutes later he returned, ready for action. He began with a couple of jokes. It was evident to me that humor was something he had struggled with for a significant portion of his life. It reminded me of when I was younger and had nightmares. I would dream that I was in a large group and I would say a really stupid joke. The room would quiet and everyone would stare at me. He then proceeded to tell us that if you weren't a native English speaker you were in the wrong place. Six people left and there were around 30 of us idiots left. He then continued by reading all of the handouts to us. This only seemed appropriate since we were idiots, and as far as the English department knew, we couldn't read. Since I learned to read in grade school and had already read this material while I waited for him to start, I was in a potentially inferior situation. Fortunately I had the foresight to bring some lab reports with me to grade. I graded my reports and listened to make sure he didn't add any information that wasn't on the handouts. Given our slow start I took particular note when he stated that a student would not be allowed to write if they were more than fifteen minutes late. An hour passed and we were free to go. I asked if we could sign up to write and was told to just show up at one of the writing times given on one of the handouts.

Thursday at 6:30 pm was a good time for me so I arrived at the appropriate room at 6:30. Upon entering the room I found one student and a proctor. The proctor asked me if he could help me, and I told him that I was there to write an essay. He told me that I was late and would have to come back at a different time. I checked the schedule again and explained that it was my impression that the session began at 6:30. He agreed but said I should have arrived a few minutes before the session began in order to get instructions. It did mention this on the schedule; however, given my previous experience with this department I chose not to waste my time by arriving early. I asked him what was meant by a few minutes. He said 10 minutes. Caught somewhere between silent shock and audible laughter upon the realization that he did not intend on letting me write my essay that evening I made reference to the comment made in my orientation about not being allowed to write if you were more than 15 minutes late. I realized that this did not explicitly state that I could write if I was ten minutes late, but it certainly did imply it. He claimed to know nothing of that policy and asked me to come back at a different time. Scarred for life by this mistreatment I left to accomplish more productive things that evening.

The following Tuesday I returned to the essay room 15 minutes before the scheduled time. The door was locked so I waited. Seven minutes later the proctor arrived. He apologized for being ignorant of one of their policies. (In a sense this ruins my story, but I have to be honest.) Another student showed up three minutes later. We then waited another five minutes in case someone else showed up. In case you're not doing the math, we waited until it was time to start according to the schedule, not ten minutes before that. (He wasn't even there ten minutes early.) He then repeated the highlights from the orientation meeting and let us begin. One and a half hours later I finished my essay. I decided to proofread and count it to make sure I had a minimum of errors and at least 600 words. Half an hour later I had removed all of the easily removable errors like spelling and punctuation but still had a few awkward sentences. Although I had another hour to fix them, I decided I had had enough. After all, I just needed to pass. I wouldn't get anything extra for writing an excellent paper. I toyed with the idea of marking my remaining errors for them, but ultimately chose not to. I turned it in and left. Two weeks later I learned that my essay met their standards, and that I was no longer considered an idiot by the English department.

This essay is copyrighted 1993 and I retain this copyright. You may freely copy it as long as this copyright notice remains intact.