Ends and Means

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The ball came bouncing down the sidewalk, and a yell came after it.

“Hey, Mr. Brattle! How ’bout a game?”

“Yeah, Mr. Brattle! Before you bulldoze the place!”

It was Jason Chang, the president of the History Club, and his buddy, Phil Hawkins, who wasn’t president of anything but was a pretty good basketball player. Phil and Jason had been by far the nicest students in the Sophomore Seminar.

Calvin Brattle caught the ball and yelled back to them.

“Sure, guys. If you don’t mind playing with the enemy.”

“You’re on, Mr. Brattle,” Jason said. Then he took off his sunglasses and set them on the improvised bench near the improvised basketball court in the vacant lot that was soon to become the site of the new library of Vermillion College. He set the glasses neatly on the edge of the bench, so that no passerby would be denied a right to sit there. That was the way Jason was.

Calvin took off his coat and loosened his tie and prepared to shoot some baskets. When the end came, he was tired and happy. Nostalgic as well. “I’m getting old,” he thought, watching Jason’s swift, bashful motion as he scooped up his shades and nestled them back on his nose. Yet the sharp October air, the air that carried predictable memories of Calvin’s first days in college, was also the air of progress.

“Sure you’re not mad at me because of the library?” he asked.

“Nah,” Jason said, and his buddy repeated, “Nah.” “I like to read books, too,” Jason added, wrinkling his brow like a thoughtful 60-year-old. “Anyway, I guess the college has a right to build a library on its own land.” “I agree,” Phil said, like another aging statesman.

“Thanks, guys,” Calvin said, tossing the ball back. “If Vermillion doesn’t have that right, nobody does. It’s a crucial part of American history — private property.”

The two boys grinned and nodded. Vermillion had always been a private college, and it had always been proud of the fact.

Calvin said goodbye and walked across the street behind the vacant lot, headed for the side door of what was already being called the Old Library. That door led to the archives sec- tion, where he had some work to do.

Calvin Brattle was Dean of Students. His title meant a number of things. Primarily it meant that he was not a professor, which he would have been if he had managed to parlay his Ph.D. into a real, tenure-track, academic job. But times were rough the year he graduated — that year, and the next year, and the year after that. Finally he decided to take what he called a “para-academic post.”

He liked it, actually. Despite all the bureaucratic stuff, it let him teach a course or two in history, as long as he taught it on his own time. Last spring, he’d taught the Sophomore Seminar, which nobody else wanted to teach, because it meant that you had to grade 30 naive, badly written papers, each of them 50 pages long. His subject was The History of Liberty, because he was a libertarian.

He had to admit that it was a pretty good life for a 32-year- old — a perfect life, maybe, if he had only managed to maintain some kind of sexual relationship . . . But that wasn’t a good thought for a beautiful Wednesday morning. The important thing, that morning, was to make some progress on the Groundbreaking Project.

On November 15 (Founders Day), construction would officially begin on the New Library. With that event in view, Calvin had been commissioned — by President Winslow, himself, in-person — to provide a historical account of “the early days of Vermillion College . . . You know, pioneers, and so forth. And the library of course. Early hardships. . . . Make it, say, 30 pages. A 30-page brochure . . . Pictures. Plenty of pictures . . .”

Grantholm Blandish Winslow, known by his employees as the Great White Hope — or simply The Great White, or even more simply, GW, the Founder of Our Country — gazed persistently at the ceiling, as if Calvin’s brochure had already been tacked to the pale-blue plaster. After two or three minutes the gaze remained fixed, yet the volume dropped off, and Calvin realized that he had been dismissed.

But he was a historian, after all. It wasn’t everyone who got to enter the little door in the Old Library that was stenciled “Researchers Only.” It wasn’t everyone who was allowed to sit at the scarred oak table, waiting for a cranky librarian to deliver long gray document boxes for his inspection, rank on rank, like soldiers in uniform. “Vermillion College, History of, Libraries . . .” “Vermillion College, History of, Properties . . .” “Vermillion College, History of, Student life . . . “

“Student life” was the easiest. It was mainly pictures, most of them showing young men and (later) women, studying or pretending to study in various buildings that had long ago ceased to exist. Any of these shots would be good enough for the brochure. The more relevant “History of, Libraries” consisted mainly of two dogeared copies of “Rules for Patrons” (1874); some documents about computerization (1985); and floor plans for the New Library, now the Old Library (1913) — a dollhouse version of the libraries at Michigan and Berkeley, themselves reenactments of the library of the Sorbonne. He could get two pages out of that stuff, tops. There were also some small items, largely obituary, about the string of non- entities who had served as College Librarian. You’d think that the library, of all places, would squirrel away some important material about its history. No such luck.

“History of, Properties” was the long shot, but it had the only fat files in the bunch. Property records began with the so-called Bison Tract (donated by Edward T. Fenwick “for Support of the New College,” 1833), and concluded with Vermillion’s last land acquisition (the Donaldson Lot, 31 years ago), all apparently in good order. It was wonderful, he thought, this exacting concern with the rights of property. Year after year, generation after generation, ownership was contracted and recorded, with as much respect for an acre of Midwestern bottomland as Europeans once entertained for the Salic law. More, indeed. It was a wonderful thing, and a deeply satisfying thing to Calvin. He knew that there could be no personal rights without property rights; and here, in unbroken succession, was the evidence of a culture’s devotion to ownership. So long as property was sacred, Vermillion’s future was secure.

And then he saw it. It was an ordinary piece of paper, eight by eleven, more or less, but browned by age, as if some secret fire had been gnawing slowly, slowly inside it. Yet it was still sharply legible – still clear and conclusive evidence of a right to property.

Calvin held it in front of him. He turned it toward the light. He studied it, comparing it with the other papers. He transcribed it. Then he furrowed his brow and studied it again. Five minutes later, he had made his decision. He called for an appointment to speak with President Winslow.

_____________________________________________________________

Alexandra Nathan, Executive Vice President of Vermillion College, was the subject of many witticisms.

“Winslow is God, and Nathan is His Prophet.”

“On the one hand, she doesn’t like men. On the other hand, she doesn’t like women, either.”

“It’s never safe to stand between a nickel and Alex Nathan.”

“Question: What’s the difference between hell and a visit to Dr. Nathan? Answer: Nothing.”

If anyone was responsible for building the modern Vermillion College, Alexandra Nathan was that person.

It hadn’t been easy. She was 61 years old, and she had seen a lot. When Calvin entered her office, she didn’t bother to shake hands. Her time was valuable.

“So,” she said, “you want to destroy the New Library?” “Pardon me?” he said.

They sat for 30 seconds, facing each other. Thirty seconds can be a very long time.

“As I understand it,” she continued, “you’ve found what you call a deed of property, and you intend to announce your discovery. This ‘deed,’ as you construe it, mandates the transfer of the land that we intend for the New Library at Vermillion College to someone other than Vermillion College. In fact, it mandates the transfer of this land to someone who couldn’t care less about Vermillion College — or libraries, or knowledge, or anything else that you or I would remotely connect with education. It provides for the transfer of this land to someone who wants to destroy those things.”

Calvin wasn’t used to hearing statements like that. They were harsh, dogmatic statements. Angry statements. But fact spoke for itself; personalities had nothing to do with it. He kept calm.

“Here’s what happened, Dr. Nathan. In the document I discovered, Amos P. Fenwick, grandson of the founder, grants 1.4 acres of land to Vermillion College to use as it pleases, provided that on some portion of the land a chapel be built and maintained, ‘dedicated to the glory of God and to the eternal truth of the Protestant religion, according to the established creed of the Church of God of the Holy Inspiration.’ The document directs that if such a chapel is not built, the land will revert to the donor, or to his heirs. Of course, the chapel was never built, so therefore . . .”

He paused. Dr. Nathan had not changed her expression. She was looking back at him, gravely but skeptically, like one of those allegorical goddesses gazing down from the ceiling of the Old Library. Goddesses, it occurred to him, usually demanded obedience.

“I’m sorry about this,” he said. “I’m . . . I’m sorry about the trouble it might cause for . . . all of us. All of . . . you, I mean.” It was an ungainly remark, but Dr. Nathan didn’t react. She was sitting behind her desk, imperturbable. “In spite of that,” he said, “I consider it my duty . . .”

“Your duty,” she said, leaning forward. “You consider it your duty to announce this great archival discovery — is that right? Thereby returning the property to its rightful heirs?”

“Yes, Dr. Nathan. You see . . .”

“I do see. I even agree, in a sense. You believe in the right to property. I do too. So did the founders of Vermillion College.”

She smiled. Calvin smiled in return.

“But that doesn’t mean,” she said, “that I’m prepared to surrender that land to Heather Fenwick Crosby.”

Suddenly, there was another being in the room — spectral, yet vivid nonetheless. Calvin had never seen the famous HFC in the flesh. No one at Vermillion had. Her ancestors had founded the college, but for that very reason she had never visited the place and never, as she was proud to say, intended to — “except, perhaps, to tear it down.” She had said that to Larry King. She had said that to Time magazine, when she appeared on its cover as “The Feisty Lady of Philanthropy.” She had said that to Chris Matthews, immediately after confiding that her purpose in life was “the fulfillment of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ — the creation of a world in which all beings can live in peace. Imagination, you know, is very different from this hand-me-down stuff that some call education.” She hadn’t said that to Oprah, not exactly, but she had discussed with her “the ways — and I can tell you, they are countless — in which so-called private property, private enterprise, and private education are ruining our country. My goodness,” she said coquettishly, “what would have happened to my own life if I’d insisted on my privacy?”

“Maybe,” Oprah replied, with a sly little smile, “you wouldn’t have met Bill Clinton.”

Then the audience was on its feet, applauding, while Heather Fenwick Crosby buried her laughing face in her little hands, like an innocent girl who has said something “wicked.” It was well known that she had slept with President Clinton.

“But seriously,” she said, when the tumult died. “Education doesn’t come from books. Education comes from the heart, from a heart that overflows with the spirit of giving.” Then the applause broke out again, and as the commercials began, Oprah and HFC stood on center stage, locked in a philanthropic hug.

Calvin shuddered at the memory. In the bad days after grad school, the days of unemployment, he had watched a lot of daytime television. HFC was the kind of spectre that appeared to you when you were unemployed.

“The sole heir of the Fenwick estate,” Dr. Nathan reminded him, “is Heather Fenwick Crosby.”

“Yes,” he said, wincing. “But that’s not . . . I mean, that has no relevance to the moral issue . . .”

“Ah,” she said. “I thought that would be your position. No relevance. No possible relevance to any issue of right or wrong. As far as you’re concerned, it’s just words on a piece of paper — correct? Isn’t that correct, Mr. Brattle?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think I understand.”

“No? You don’t understand? But you understand so many other things. Well, never mind. Let’s take a moment and discuss your own perspective on your discovery.”

If you had looked at a picture of this scene, and studied the face of Vice President Nathan, you would have thought she was having a good time. She was relaxed. She was smiling — faintly yet pleasantly. But that’s not what Calvin Brattle thought. What he thought was, “She’s moving in for the kill.” Then he thought, “That’s ridiculous. Why should she want to kill me?

“Thank you,” he said, pulling himself together. “The importance of the document is, at least in my view, that it gives us the opportunity to educate the public about the

had discussed with her “the ways — and I can tell you, they are countless — in which so-called private property, private enterprise, and private education are ruining our country. My goodness,” she said coquettishly, “what would have happened to my own life if I’d insisted on my privacy?”

“Maybe,” Oprah replied, with a sly little smile, “you wouldn’t have met Bill Clinton.”

Then the audience was on its feet, applauding, while Heather Fenwick Crosby buried her laughing face in her little hands, like an innocent girl who has said something “wicked.” It was well known that she had slept with President Clinton.

“But seriously,” she said, when the tumult died. “Education doesn’t come from books. Education comes from the heart, from a heart that overflows with the spirit of giving.” Then the applause broke out again, and as the commercials began, Oprah and HFC stood on center stage, locked in a philanthropic hug.

Calvin shuddered at the memory. In the bad days after grad school, the days of unemployment, he had watched a lot of daytime television. HFC was the kind of spectre that appeared to you when you were unemployed.

“The sole heir of the Fenwick estate,” Dr. Nathan reminded him, “is Heather Fenwick Crosby.”

“Yes,” he said, wincing. “But that’s not . . . I mean, that has no relevance to the moral issue . . .”

“Ah,” she said. “I thought that would be your position. No relevance. No possible relevance to any issue of right or wrong. As far as you’re concerned, it’s just words on a piece of paper — correct? Isn’t that correct, Mr. Brattle?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think I understand.”

“No? You don’t understand? But you understand so many other things. Well, never mind. Let’s take a moment and discuss your own perspective on your discovery.”

If you had looked at a picture of this scene, and studied the face of Vice President Nathan, you would have thought she was having a good time. She was relaxed. She was smiling — faintly yet pleasantly. But that’s not what Calvin Brattle thought. What he thought was, “She’s moving in for the kill.” Then he thought, “That’s ridiculous. Why should she want to kill me?

“Thank you,” he said, pulling himself together. “The importance of the document is, at least in my view, that it gives us the opportunity to educate the public about the or near Elizabeth . . .” Even as he said that, he knew that he was missing the point.

“I repeat. Unless we build that chapel, for the use of an insane Christian sect — an action that would deprive Vermillion College of its intellectual integrity — the land will revert to the heirs of the estate. And it may be too late to build such a thing, even if we decided to forfeit all principle and do it. Which we will not. Furthermore,” she continued, her voice rising, “as I’ve noted, the sole heir is Heather Fenwick Crosby.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say . . .”

“I would think you’d have a good deal to say, given your actions so far. And you can go to the press and say it. You can tell them about the inviolate nature of property rights. You can tell them about the document you’ve found, a document that awards the last undeveloped land on or near our campus to a crazy person.”

“Crazy?” he said. “There are so many definitions of insanity. . .”

His voice petered out.

“Now look here, Mr. Brattle,” she said. “Have you ever read Hume’s ‘Of the Original Contract’?”

Most people would have been startled by this apparent change of subject. But to a libertarian like Calvin Brattle, it seemed perfectly natural.

“Yes, of course,” he answered, with some relief.

“You’ll recall Hume’s argument,” she said. “To put it plainly, he argues that time justifies crime. He observes that every piece of real property in the world was stolen at some time, but we can’t overturn society in order to fix it. Liberty can’t exist without a social structure that people can depend on. Invest in. Have their rights protected by. Abstract morality doesn’t count.” Her brow knitted. “Would we have more liberty if we turned the country back to the Indians?”

“It was stolen,” he said.
“At this point,” she said, “who cares?”
“Surely,” he said, “you aren’t arguing against the harmony

of ends and means. You can’t believe that we can defend people’s rights if we’re violating them at the same time?”

“No,” she said. “Not if you put it that way. But I wouldn’t put it that way. There are too many undefined terms. And there’s no reason to talk about harmony if what you really mean is identity.”

She wasn’t sure he understood. No, it was obvious he didn’t.

“Tell me,” she continued, “what would you do if you had the chance to kill the 9/11 terrorists, a week before they did what they did?”

“That’s a hypothetical question.”
“I know it is.”
“You want me to kill them?”
“Maybe. But suppose you just stole their money, so they couldn’t get to those planes. Wouldn’t that be worth it?” “You can’t calculate a thing like that. Ethics isn’t a matter of calculation.

Rights are indivisible.”
The vice president looked at Calvin Brattle. He was an attractive young man. An idealistic young man. A pompous young man.

“So,” she said, “you wouldn’t care to calculate the difference between the investment that Vermillion College has

nature of rights, including, and fundamentally including, the right to property. What I mean is . . .”

“Opportunity?” she interrupted. “Yes, we have many opportunities to educate people. We are a college, after all. But first, about the document itself — I mean the transcription you showed to President Winslow. I wanted to ask you, is there any possibility that this copy may not be a fully accurate reproduction of the original? You don’t think there’s any chance that . . . Well, mistakes are sometimes made, and mistakes of this kind can easily be forgiven. What’s that sports expression — no harm, no foul?”

Calvin had never heard that the vice president possessed a sense of humor, but now, for some reason, she was smiling broadly, as if they were sharing a joke, a good joke, a joke meant for them alone. The problem was that he didn’t understand this joke.

And then he understood it. She was trying to persuade him to destroy the deed. Destroy it, or refile and forget it. The same thing. That’s what she was trying to do!

“Yes,” he said. “I mean no! I mean, there’s no possible, there isn’t any possible way that I . . .” He stopped, astonished by what was happening. She wanted him to destroy a historical document — just for the sake of Vermillion College!

She nodded, as if Calvin were making progress on solving some obscure mathematical problem. “At present,” she said, “there are only three people who know about the existence of that document: you, me, and the president. I’m sure that the president only had time to glance at it – at the transcription you made. That’s why he asked me to speak with you. He wanted me to explore the significance of this issue with you.”

“I . . . uh . . .” Their eyes locked. Calvin had never “explored the significance” of any issue, except in his speeches at the Libertarian Supper Club. It had all seemed so simple on those occasions.

“In my own view,” she said, “the matter is fairly clear. See whether you agree. Unless we build a chapel on that land, a chapel dedicated to the doctrines of an insane Christian sect, which is probably extinct . . .”

“Not entirely,” Calvin said. “I researched it. There’s actually a congregation in . . . I think it’s Elizabeth, New Jersey. In

or near Elizabeth . . .” Even as he said that, he knew that he was missing the point.

“I repeat. Unless we build that chapel, for the use of an insane Christian sect — an action that would deprive Vermillion College of its intellectual integrity — the land will revert to the heirs of the estate. And it may be too late to build such a thing, even if we decided to forfeit all principle and do it. Which we will not. Furthermore,” she continued, her voice rising, “as I’ve noted, the sole heir is Heather Fenwick Crosby.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say . . .”

“I would think you’d have a good deal to say, given your actions so far. And you can go to the press and say it. You can tell them about the inviolate nature of property rights. You can tell them about the document you’ve found, a document that awards the last undeveloped land on or near our campus to a crazy person.”

“Crazy?” he said. “There are so many definitions of insanity. . .”

His voice petered out.

“Now look here, Mr. Brattle,” she said. “Have you ever read Hume’s ‘Of the Original Contract’?”

Most people would have been startled by this apparent change of subject. But to a libertarian like Calvin Brattle, it seemed perfectly natural.

“Yes, of course,” he answered, with some relief.

“You’ll recall Hume’s argument,” she said. “To put it plainly, he argues that time justifies crime. He observes that every piece of real property in the world was stolen at some time, but we can’t overturn society in order to fix it. Liberty can’t exist without a social structure that people can depend on. Invest in. Have their rights protected by. Abstract morality doesn’t count.” Her brow knitted. “Would we have more liberty if we turned the country back to the Indians?”

“It was stolen,” he said.
“At this point,” she said, “who cares?”
“Surely,” he said, “you aren’t arguing against the harmony

of ends and means. You can’t believe that we can defend people’s rights if we’re violating them at the same time?”

“No,” she said. “Not if you put it that way. But I wouldn’t put it that way. There are too many undefined terms. And there’s no reason to talk about harmony if what you really mean is identity.”

She wasn’t sure he understood. No, it was obvious he didn’t.

“Tell me,” she continued, “what would you do if you had the chance to kill the 9/11 terrorists, a week before they did what they did?”

“That’s a hypothetical question.”
“I know it is.”
“You want me to kill them?”
“Maybe. But suppose you just stole their money, so they

couldn’t get to those planes. Wouldn’t that be worth it?” “You can’t calculate a thing like that. Ethics isn’t a matter

of calculation. Rights are indivisible.”
The vice president looked at Calvin Brattle. He was an

attractive young man. An idealistic young man. A pompous young man.

“So,” she said, “you wouldn’t care to calculate the difference between the investment that Vermillion College has already made on what it assumed, for good reason, was its own property, and the amount of time, money, and effort that Heather Fenwick Crosby has invested on that property? Perhaps the difference is, in strict terms, incalculable. It’s the difference between something and nothing.”

It’s very unfortunate, she thought, this pleasure I take in torturing him. It’s like the pleasure Jesus must have gotten from his conversation with the Rich Young Ruler. I know it’s hopeless, but I can’t resist. It’s idealists like Calvin Brattle who cause most of the trouble in this world.

“I remember,” she said, “that when you were interviewed here, you made a point of mentioning that you were a follower of Ayn Rand.”

“Follower? No. But I’ve certainly been influenced. Strongly influenced. I didn’t want to interview under false pretenses.”

“I thought so. Perhaps this excess of conscientiousness is why you are not, at present, occupying a position in some department of history?”

That, Calvin thought, was a mean thing to say. Mean. Nasty. Unfair. Everybody knew how much bias there was in the academic world. If you were honest about your principles, you couldn’t get a decent job. But was that any reason not to be honest?

“Is that any reason not to be honest?” he said out loud.

“Is that any reason,” she said, “not to appreciate how far out on a limb I went to give you the job you’ve got?”

Calvin looked at the old woman in her business suit, and he pitied her. It was one thing to be old, that was bad enough; but to be old and to have no principles, no intellectual legacy to bequeath to others — that was horrible, disgusting, almost inconceivable. Already she was talking like a craven bureaucrat, reminding him of the favors she had done for him. It was true, of course, that he wouldn’t have a job if it hadn’t been for her, but the idea that he should surrender, that he should pay her back by relinquishing every vestige of morality, of self-esteem . . .

“It’s true,” he said, looking down at his hands. “I know I wouldn’t have a job if it hadn’t . . . if you hadn’t signed off on me. And it’s a good job.Ilikeitalot.It’sjustthatIcan’t…I can’t give up my principles.”

He didn’t see that she looked at him with pity, too.

“Perhaps,” she continued, “that’s why you hired Joe White. Your principles.”

Another cheap shot, Calvin thought.

“José Blanco,” he said. “And I don’t like him any better than you do.”

“Then why did you hire him? Here was a man who had spent his life agitating for radical causes . . . “

“Radical by some definitions. Antiwar. Anti-imperialism. Immigrant rights. The rights of Native Americans . . . . “

“Indians, you mean. I’m exactly as native as they are. And so are you. We were both born right here in this country. But I suppose you’re referring to those protests he started.”

Calvin winced again. “You mean the ones about ‘the absence on our campus’?”

“That’s right. Every Thursday on the plaza. The ‘absence’ being ‘the absence of Native Americans.’ And, I suppose, of as many brains as Joe White can ‘inspire’ with his ‘message of hope.’ ”

“People have a right to demonstrate.”

“On private property?”

He had to admit that she had him there. “No,” he said. “It’s true, however, that Native Americans have, historically, been victims of the, of the . . . “

“ ‘The government,’ I think you’re about to say. Rather than ‘Vermillion College.’ But let’s not rehash the history of North America. Let’s talk about the history of your erstwhile assistant, Joseph White, as he called himself until he decided to revive his career as political agitator. You know as well as I do that he isn’t an American Indian. He isn’t a Mexican, either. His parents were as American as . . .”

“His grandmother was from Guatemala. At least I think so. When he changed his name, he told me . . .”

But a strange thing had happened to Dr. Nathan’s face. It was turning red, with little flecks of white. “For Christ’s sake!” she shouted. “What God damned difference does it make! Can’t you see what’s right in front of you? He’s a troublemaker and a demagogue – it’s obvious, and it always has been! And you hired him. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he’s leading these inane demonstrations. That’s why he’s giving us a black eye in the press.”

“I know, I know!” Calvin yelled. Although he wasn’t used to shouting, it turned out to be infectious. “But I’m sure he’s sincere in his convictions!”

“Sincere? Is that why he changed his name? Is that why he organized a bunch of students to picket the president’s office over ‘the racist refusal of Vermillion College to hire people of color’? Disregarding himself, of course, the supposed person of color. Disregarding Danny Wong and Mirasol Sanchez and Ruby Jones. Admittedly, Ruby got married and is now Ruby Steinberg, so I guess that explains his adverse reaction to Ruby. And of course he hates Mirasol, because she is ‘wearing a white mask.’ And you, of course. His former boss. You can bet he hates you too.”

That was a shock. “What do you mean?” Calvin said. “I’m not a person of color.”

“No, you’re not. I guess he’s just decided that gays are entitled to affirmative action in the hatred department.”

“Gays!”

“You’re gay, aren’t you?”

“Well . . . I mean . . . Yes, I guess I am. I mean, I am. But I don’t see why . . .”

“I suppose,” she said, “you’re going to sue me now. What I said is contrary to the state labor code.”

“What? I’d never do a thing like that. That would be

wrong.”
It was just an accident, just that word “gay” that cued it in, but suddenly Calvin remembered what Mike had said, the night they broke up. “Why does everything,” he said, or rather, screamed, “have to be either right or wrong with you! Huh? It can’t be just because you’re a libertarian!” That was an unfortunate memory. You had to feel sorry for a guy like Mike, a guy with no moral consciousness.

“And anyway,” Calvin said, “my sexuality is irrelevant to the issue.”

“It isn’t irrelevant to Joseph White. He was in my office yesterday, complaining about you. Seems you don’t agree to the establishment of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered dormitory.”

“No, of course I don’t. That’s just another form of discrimination and ghettoization.”

“Of course it is. Nevertheless, he took offense. He believes you should be fired. Something about how ‘we don’t need no Uncle Toms round here.’ You know how he sounds when he gets excited.”

“I . . . I can’t believe it!” Calvin said. “I hired that guy!”

The old face had calmed itself. It was no longer red. It was smiling again.

“Let me review,” she said. “You hired this guy as your assistant. You said that he had the proper background. You said that he was ‘articulate, intelligent, and very well versed in university policy and management.’ You noted that ‘his experience in the field’ had ‘already been extensive.’ You see, while you’ve been reading records, so have I. Then you said that because he had the requisite institutional qualifications, we had no legitimate reason not to hire him. It was obvious that you didn’t like him, but you took a principled stand. Didn’t you?”

“Yes, I . . . yes I did.”

“And I went along with you,” she said, looking down at her hands. “And that was a mistake. A considerable mistake. I went along with your hiring a person who wrote his master’s thesis on ‘The Role of University Administrators in Blocking Social Change.’”

“Fuck!” Calvin thought. But what he said was, “That was his right. He had a right to choose that topic. That doesn’t necessarily interfere with his ability to do his job.”

“Somehow,” the vice president said, “I knew you were going to say that. But what gave you — what gave us — the right to hire him to work here? What gave us the right to hire a guy who got into the news for three months running, telling people that Vermillion College — that’s us — was desecrating Indian ceremonial grounds? A guy who made us appease the press and the donors and the man in the moon by creating two or three Programs for the Study of This and That, to atone for our so-called crimes. Despite the fact that somebody in the Anthro department finally discovered that the land where we put the Biology Building had been underwater for 14,000 years, until Vermillion filled in the swamp. There couldn’t have been any Indian ceremonies. But by then it was too late. And because of your colleague’s magnificent effort at speaking truth to power, and the notoriety that ensued, we couldn’t fire him. We had to transfer him out of your office and make a new job for him. That, as you know, is how he became Director of Multicultural Affairs, with a salary three times your own. There’s national competition for these people, you know. We have to pay them a lot if we want to keep them.”

“All right,” Calvin said. “All right! But we had no legitimate reason to discriminate against him, just because he was interested in . . . ideas that you and I might not hold. After all, that’s the way libertarians are discriminated against, all the time. Conservatives too,” he added, hedging his bet.

“I am not a conservative,” she announced, rearing up like F.A. Hayek. “I’m a classical liberal.”

“Pardon me? I’m not sure I . . . “

“Never mind,” she said. “Just listen.” She leaned across her desk, looking as if she’d found an ugly spot on the carpet, exactly where he was sitting. “What I want to know is this: why do you insist on spending your time doing nothing but damaging the cause of liberty? Today there’s this alleged deed that gravely damages one of the few truly private colleges in the country. Before that, there was Joe White, who’s made us spend three million dollars on nothing, absolutely nothing, including himself, just because of the phony publicity he’s generated. And you’re the one who hired him, because you took a principled position that politics should be irrelevant in hiring.”

“And so it should be. As I said, I don’t believe we should practice the same kind of discrimination that’s been practiced against us.”

“But I do,” she said. “If it’s ‘discrimination’ not to hire people who want to destroy you, then I say, start discriminating.”

“That’s a slippery slope,” he said. “You can’t tell what will happen if you do that.”

“Yes you can,” she said.

“So you’re basing your sense of right and wrong on ‘what will happen’?”

“What else?”
“It’s incalculable.”
“You can calculate it. You know what will happen if HFC

gets hold of that land. Or rather, you know what won’t happen. Do you think she’ll build a library? Do you think she’ll build a gym? Do you think she’ll do anything of value for our students? I don’t think so. Neither do you. And you’ll be responsible for whatever she does — the same way that you’re responsible for whatever Joe White is doing right this moment, because you enabled him to do it.”

“What’s that? The myth of collective responsibility?”

“No. It’s the truth of individual responsibility. Yours. It’s you who hired that maniac. It’s you who are determined to surrender our land to another maniac.”

Even a nerd gets angry, sometimes. “Look,” Calvin said. “I’ve had enough. I’m not responsible for Joe — I mean José. I’m not responsible for his politics. And I’m not responsible for this deed I found. If we don’t own that land, we have a duty to return it to its rightful owner. Private property is the bedrock of liberty, and if we betray our trust, what can we tell our students? What can we . . . ?” He couldn’t think of a way to end the sequence.

“Ah,” she said, beneficently. “You actually don’t mind using that word ‘we.’ Which in this context means the college and those who support it. The community that employs you. The community that gives its money to Vermillion because it provides a traditional education — a libertarian education, if you will, because liberty is the tradition of our country.”

“Yes,” Calvin said. “But it’s not just a matter of some collective tradition.”

“No, it’s not. So let’s talk about the individual. Namely you. What are you doing for that tradition? What are you doing for the money you’re paid?”

“Plenty,” he said, thinking of Phil and Jason and the seminar and the basketball game and a lot of other things. But she was driving on, like a locomotive.

“In the name of liberty, you hire people who want to destroy liberty. In the name of liberty, you decide to give the resources of this college to a woman who wants to destroy both liberty and the college.”

“I didn’t decide that. All I’ve decided is to tell the truth about who owns the property.”

“Yes, and if you tell the truth, Heather Fenwick Crosby will seize that land.”

“Her land.”

“She will seize that land, and use if for her own purposes. Which are far from being ours.”

“I am not responsible for anyone else’s conduct. We are all individuals.”

“Yes we are, and it’s your individual decision, either to give her that land, by publicizing the document you unearthed, or to keep her from getting it, by saying nothing.”

It was true, he thought; he’d be giving her the land. But that was a strange way to put it, because the land was still hers to begin with.

“It’s her land,” he repeated.

“All right,” said the vice president, very kindly. “If you insist on the release of that information I will make sure that you leave this college. Your contract runs till June, and we won’t violate it. But we won’t renew it, either. Our loyalty will expire eight months after yours did.”

“I’m loyal to my principles.”
“Go home and think about it.”
“I’ve already thought about it.”
He rose quickly to his feet, like a man defying slavery.

Then he realized that it was a lie: he had never really thought about being fired; that had been nothing more than a hypothesis. He liked his job. He loved it! Still, there was a principle at stake. “I have to release the information,” he said.

“You don’t need to bother,” she said. “If that’s your decision, we’ll do it ourselves. I wouldn’t want you to claim the credit. Such as it’s worth.”

On the way back to his office, Calvin crossed the plaza. As usual at that hour, there was a group of students standing on the Old Library steps. They were dressed in black, wearing Día de los Muertos masks, and they were holding signs that said, “We Are the Absent Americans.” As he passed, a student in black offered him a copy of José Blanco’s latest manifesto.

_____________________________________________________________

It’s a funny thing, Calvin thought, about boxes. You throw them away, and as soon as you do, you discover that you need to have them back again.

It was only yesterday, it seemed, that he’d moved into his office at Vermillion College. Now here he was, looking at stack after stack of cardboard boxes, each of them labeled “Storage.” It would have been better, of course, if the labels had read “Harvard,” or “Cornell,” or even “Southeastern State Teachers College,” but jobs for fired academic bureaucrats were few and far between. Nevertheless, he would survive. Mike and his new friend had certainly been generous, offering him a place to stay.

As soon as he turned the key on the office and walked down the steps, he noticed it was a beautiful day, after all, as beautiful as June should be. And here came Phil and Jason, striding along the sidewalk, passing a basketball back and forth between them.

“Hey guys,” he said. “Looking for a game?”

“Hi, Mr. Brattle,” Jason answered. “Guess not. The gym is full, and obviously we can’t use this place anymore.” Calvin had never seen Jason make an angry gesture, but now there was no mistaking the tilt of his chin as he looked at the chain-link fence surrounding the construction site formerly designated for the New Library.

“Hey Mr. Brattle!” Phil interrupted. “I guess you know that Jason got Best Junior Scholar Award!” He put his arm on Jason’s shoulder and rested it there, and Jason began to look happier. So, Calvin thought, that’s the way it is with them now. I used to wonder.

“Congratulations!” he said. “Way to go, Jason! But listen. What I want to say is . . . I’m sorry I’m not going to be around next year. I’d always hoped I could teach the Senior Seminar.”

“We’re sorry too,” Jason said, looking angry again. “About what happened.” His eyes wandered back to the fence and the mounds of dirt and the concrete slabs, and the big sign hang- ing just under the razor wire: “Future Home of The Heather Fenwick Crosby School of Peace Studies. Dr. José Luis Blanco, Director and President. Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

“Believe me,” Calvin said. “I’m sorrier than you are.”

“I guess it wasn’t your fault,” Phil ventured. “I know you must have been, like, trying to do something, only they wouldn’t let you do it.”

I did do something, Calvin thought. I made sure that rights were maintained. You can’t do more than that.

“You know,” Jason said, in that newly embittered voice. “I really wouldn’t mind if it was a library. But this . . .” He shrugged his free shoulder in the direction of the School of Peace. “This isn’t anything we can use. And it’s wrong, completely wrong.”

“That’s right,” Phil said. “Besides, it’s totally ugly. It’s gonna be, like, seven stories high. And it’s not like it was some . . . cathedral or something.”

“No it’s not,” Jason said, looking at Phil in a way that Calvin found easy to interpret. “Phil and me, we were trying to figure out what they’re gonna do in there. The only thing we came up with was, this Professor Blanco . . . “

“He isn’t a professor,” Calvin said.

“The newspaper said he was,” Jason insisted. “That’s right,” Phil confirmed.

“But anyway,” Jason went on. “Blanco said he wanted to get this law passed, so that every college in the state would have to start one of these Peace Studies places, or else they couldn’t be colleges or something. And he went up and saw the governor, and the governor must have agreed with him, because now they’re talking like it’s really gonna happen, because otherwise there will still be racism and so on. Which seems completely bogus to . . . us. So do you know anything about that, Mr. Brattle? Did you have anything to do with that?”

“Yeah, Mr. Brattle,” Phil said. “Do you know anything about that?”

“Uh, yes,” Calvin answered. “I think I did see something on the news . . . . But listen, about the library. I want to explain. I don’t know exactly what you’ve heard, but what happened was this . . . “

So he talked, going through the whole story and discuss- ing it, weighing both sides fairly but emphasizing, throughout, the importance of individual rights and responsibilities and the harmony of ends and means. “As a result,” he concluded, “I found that I could no longer stay at Vermillion College.”

Having finished, he expected a lively Q and A about property rights and other issues. Surprisingly, however, Jason got a skeptical look in his eyes, then stared down at his shoes and never glanced up, and Phil’s gaze developed into something that Calvin was forced to recognize as pity — despite the fact that Calvin hadn’t emphasized, in fact hadn’t even said, in so many words, that he had been punished for his convictions.

“Well, thanks, Mr. Brattle,” Phil said.
“Yeah, thanks,” Jason said. “Thanks and . . . good luck.” “To you too, Jason.” That was what Calvin replied. But

what he thought was, “You, Jason, will go far in academic life. You’ve already mastered the polite dismissal — all surface, no sentiment.” It was terrible to find that even his two best students couldn’t see that individual rights went beyond anyone’s self-interest, that you had to stand up for principle, whether anything “good” eventually resulted from it or not. But if they wanted to blame the victim, that was their responsibility. They could go on and enjoy their lives, untroubled by a moral thought.

So he told them goodbye. Afterwards, he turned to look at them. They were walking down the pathway, chatting and jostling each other and dribbling the ball between them, as happily as if they were the ones who had fought a great moral battle and had won their way to freedom. How sad! he thought. What a waste! Soon, though, their path disappeared behind the concrete and dirt of the Peace Studies building, and he never needed to think of them again.

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