Thornton rallied. “One of the first things the new university president did was to establish the All Campus Organizing Council. All-COC—which it is not—has many mandates. For my part, I chaired The Interdisciplinary Team, to succor an interdisciplinary seminar here, a cross-disciplinary conference there.
“Well, anyway, it was my turn on behalf of TIT to attend an event we funded. Peter, you remember the oldest unit on campus? Well, the seminar series I’m talking about took place in the College of Agriculture, Resources and the Environment. CARE, which it did not, has produced, among other distinctions, the stay-soft (all-mush) peach, the BetterLife (Bet-her-life!) household insect sprays, and the workerless irrigation technologies (WITless to critics).
“If we are to believe the College, a dollar of their research leads to more than two dollars return on investment in terms of increased agricultural productivity blah, blah, blah. What the research actually does is immiserate farmworkers, obliterate family farms, and concentrate wealth into corporate behemoths. The media eventually sniffed some of this out and went into its brownian motion, the legislature hemmed, a court case hawed, and CARE found itself having to.
“What were one day CARE’s long-standing departments of insecticides, farm technology, industrial forestry, and crop production become the Department of Life Sciences. Programs were ‘rebranded’ environmental. Sotto voce cries of ‘we want evolution, not revolution!’ were heard from faculty. Meetings found their social scientists hectoring insecticide faculty, ‘Well, at least our research doesn’t kill people!’ The economists, ever their own, shouted back, ‘When was the last time you lot published in Mathematica?!’
“Time passes, the College publicized its ever-so socially and environmentally responsible initiatives, including–no joke here–its Smallholder Land Access Program (SLAP). With these diddles as the front-door, the College repositioned itself for back-door research in genetic engineering, agricultural biotechnology, pharming–all that win-win for College banditti.”
Thornton was about to be interrupted. “My dear boys, believe me, you can’t make this up! So,” he plowed on, “TIT was asked to come through the front-door and sponsor the Dean’s Seminar Series: ‘What are natural resources?’ As you might expect, the idea had to be a simple one.
“Well, I found myself at their seminar, ‘What are natural resources? The perspective of a humane biotechnologist.’ Acedia thickens. Four people in the room. I ask the perfectly obvious question, absolutely no malice intended, so I put forward, with the obligatory preamble of not being a scientist, correct me if I’m wrong, etcetera: ‘. . .but let me ask you this, just what is natural about agricultural biotechnology?’ I mean, boys, it is the title of the seminar. She was gobsmacked—had I cursed? ‘But,’ she asks, “what’s more natural than a gene?’
“I was unnerved. Enough said. I knew then and there these people needed surveilling.
“So, when out of nowhere, the university president taps me to chair a very hush-hush committee on the scandal involving CARE’s new dean, I accepted posthaste. The president needed, how to say, a man of singular disposition to make sense of the unholy mess into which the new dean had gotten himself and the College.
“You may have met the Dean Pitt Maxwell when you were there, Peter? From one of those prairies that still calls itself a state. Remember, before becoming dean he held the Florida Grapefruit Chair of Anti-Communist Economics?”
Peter snapped his fingers: “Not the Max?” “The very one,” Thornton sighed. “His first proposal as dean–right, Thornton?–was to privatize the College’s entire agricultural extension faculty into ‘the second generation e-business solution’ at—omigod—weCARE2.edu?”
Thornton sighed longer. “Actually, one of his award-winning articles argues that the solution to the lack of government transparency is to auction off government’s right to tax. Tax Farming for the 21st Century! he said. That way, there’d be little left for government to be transparent about. To this man, it’s transparency this, transparency that—our hard-drinking Maxwell said it so often it was the surest sign that here was one, very bored man. . . . I mean, I do have my own faults, but his transparency, this bubble of thin consommé and straight gin? Never!”