Campus spirits reborn in springtime

The crisis deepens with each passing day. It makes work ethics wane. It disintegrates discipline. Its photosynthetic rays paralyze students and instructors alike, threatening the University’s land-grant mission to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
It happens every year, and every year resistance is futile. It seems to be a quixotic quest, an Icarian charge into the sun. But this does not mean the struggle to maintain academic vigor against it should be abandoned. It’s inevitable. It’s seductive. But it can be conquered.
It’s spring.
Daylight-saving time was the final straw. The late-staying light stifles academic expression until the witching hours. Snow is gone for good, and rain is showering upon us, bringing new life and new temptation. The vernal beast is here to stay, and its challenges are great. Witness, for example, spring’s deleterious effects on the University studentry. Each spring, thousands of students are entranced by the sun’s rays as they traipse toward classes. Instantly immobilized, they collapse into prone positions, often along Northrop Mall.
Some use their books as last-ditch blocks against the solar stun rays, shielding their faces from the heliocentric plague. But it is of no use. The Mall becomes littered with bodies sleeping on the ground, vulnerable to bicyclists, wayward frisbees and roving pickpockets (also known as ministers). Spring has struck again.
Even those who make it to classes relatively unscathed see spring sap their strength. Instructors are deflated by their depleted number of pupils, and must resist the pull of the outdoors themselves. Teaching assistants, many of whom have now been teaching the same subjects for three quarters and finally know their material, find their words of wisdom whisked away by spring’s whispering winds. Lessons are cut short, and windows become more interesting than any classroom visual aid. When a breeze wafts through the room, spring’s conquest is complete. There will be no learning here, only longing for the languor of a placid, puff-cloud day.
Spring is not only hazardous to study habits — it’s hazardous to our health. Safety risks abound during this season. For the bicyclist, spring poses challenges that dwarf winter’s rigors. Ice and snow may be difficult to navigate, but the winter battle is between the cyclist and the elements, and bike paths are mostly clear of human interference. Under these conditions, intrepid travelers are bound to win. But in spring, bike paths are cluttered with joggers, dogs, pedestrians and Gideons.
No roadway is safe. Fraternity row, for example, is a gantlet of lawn gatherings that spill into the street, and games of catch that sometimes go awry. Passing cyclists dread the thought that stray fastballs could drill their skulls at any moment, leading to painful awakenings as they lie on the street, circled by slack-jawed, shirtless fraternal brothers in baseball caps asking if they’d like a cup of Bud Light. Spring has sprung on many an unwitting victim — and witless, often, are spring’s assailants.
Of course, one may take precautions to maximize safety and maintain academic efficiency. Although the challenge is great, through herculean effort it is possible to lay low in the Northrop grass, resist the rays and actually read, safe from seasonal dangers. This approach has been successful many times, but it is not immune to spring’s final danger — seduction.
After months of seeing everyone scurrying from building to building, clad in gender-obfuscating parkas, the springtime revelation of the human form makes concentration impossible. Warm weather encourages conversations that last minutes, even hours, in the splendor of the great outdoors without winter’s risk of frigid death. Increased communication causes missed classes, new social commitments, and sometimes, romance — all of which lead to the neglect of “branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts.” Of all of spring’s dangers, infatuation may be the greatest. The siren is sweetly singing. Even the strong may find it impossible to resist.
But resist we must. The integrity of our University depends upon it! The measures I propose are drastic, but they are necessary for our land-grant mission to be followed:
ù At all costs, stay inside. Use the tunnels. Make shivering motions, with arms held close to your body. Pay no attention to any chirping bird sounds you may hear from the outdoors — they are simply relaxation tapes implemented by our president as part of the “Beautiful U” program. Follow the Berkelean skeptic’s path to sanity — if you do not believe that spring is here, then it is not here.
ù Don’t look out any windows. Windows encourage longing for things you should not have. Bore into that textbook, and don’t let that textbook bore you. There is work to be done, and nothing must stand in your way.
ù Above all, don’t talk to anyone. Wear heavy, concealing clothing for that I’m-going-to-rob-a-liquor-store look; no one will want to talk to you. Conversation is dangerous, and you have exams coming up. If you begin talking to someone — especially any “special someone” — cut the conversation short. Otherwise, your flirtation, which may have begun in afternoon sun, may continue into evening, when the stars in the sky could be matched by the stars in your eyes.
Resist at all costs. The battle against spring is lonely, but it can be won. Stay strong.
Unfortunately, I can’t stay inside. I have errands to run, and I will have to use my bicycle. I look out my window and see rich expanses of green before me. What if I am tempted to study on the mall? What if I am confronted by spring sports? What if I see someone on my path? What if I stop to talk? What if, once again, I succumb to spring’s enchantments?
Somehow, I think I’ll be fine.

Alan Bjerga’s column appears Wednesdays in the Daily. He can be contacted at [email protected]