A Christmas Carrel

Excerpts from “A Christmas Carrel”

* * *

Dean Malkiel peered into the darkness beyond her bed, and lo! a pale white figure emerged from the bedroom wall!  “I am the Ghost of Princeton Past!” said the Apparition.  The green collar of its polo shirt stood erect, and Aviators hid its eyes.

“How now!” said Malkiel, caustic and cold as ever.  “What do you want with me?”

“It is required of every soul that she walk among her fellow men and judge them fairly, lest she be not fairly judged herself.”


“I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping your fate, a hope you may shun the treacherous path you tread.  Rise and walk with me!”

Malkiel took the Spirit’s hand, and they walked, passing through the wall, and stood outside Campus Club.

“Behold Princeton Past!” said the Spirit.

“Long past?” inquired Malkiel, observing the students dining inside.

“No.  Your past.  Before grade deflation.”

The sun shone brightly, and students laughed and spoke easily as they walked down Prospect Avenue with light backpacks and light hearts.  Birds sang in the trees, and squirrels frolicked in the flower beds.  Malkiel beheld through a window of Campus Club a table of students talking animatedly with a professor in their midst.

“I say!  Is that–” began Malkiel.

“See for yourself,” said the Spirit, and they found themselves inside the club.

“Professor Malkiel,” said one of the girls, “do you really think I have a shot at the Rhodes?”  The woman being addressed was in her forties, but she carried her years gracefully.  She had not the wrinkles of care, but when she smiled– which was often!– the grin lit up her entire face, lines spreading from the corners of her twinkling eyes.

“Better than a shot, my dear!  You only ever got two marks below an A, and those were as a freshman.  I daresay! I’ll write your recommendation myself!”

“Oh thank you Professor Malkiel!  Thank you ever so much!”

“You’re going to make a spectacular dean of the college!” cheered a student across the table.

Princeton Past: a brighter, happier place.

“Of course,” the young Malkiel continued, “all of you have excelled in my class– so many of you have earned A’s it’s hard to express how extraordinary each of you is!”

The students laughed heartily, for Malkiel was one of their favorite professors, and they felt at ease around her.  But even as the students chuckled, the laughter died in Malkiel’s eyes, and a cloud passed before the sun.  A chill wind swept down from Nassau Hall, and for a moment a shadow of dread fell upon students’ hearts.  Malkiel whispered to herself, lost in thought.  “All of you have A’s.  You have always earned A’s.  How could it be otherwise?”

Malkiel and the Ghost found themselves back in the dean’s bedchambers.

“You see,” said the Spirit, “you were not always as you are now.  Once you loved the students, and they loved you.  You wanted the best for them, but in that afternoon were sown the misbegotten seeds of misguided reason.  Once you had a noble heart- maybe you have one yet!- but it has long been usurped by crooked schemes.

“‘Crooked schemes!?'” Malkiel bristled.  “Humbug!  Grade deflation is for the students!  It has done them naught but good.  What does it matter if students get B’s?  There’s probably some I-bank or consulting firm that’ll put a Princetonian to work.”

The Ghost stood silent, cocking an eyebrow above his Aviators.  “See that you remember why you began down this road.  You love your policies for their own sake; it was not always so.  If you would avoid your fate, you must be compassionate!  Remember who you were!  Remember the students of Princeton Past!  You must be compassionate!”

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