Actual Wisdom: J.C. Salyer

Written by


Where’s this colony of feral cats he speaks of?

With finals bearing down so heavily upon our backs, we could all use a little humor and a little wisdom. J.C. Salyer, term assistant professor in the anthropology department at Barnard, offers both. Also, cats.

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I reject the cynical econometrics of your neoliberal biopolitics and its implication that life is subject to appraisal and hierarchical valuation. Also, I feed a colony of feral cats.

Claim to fame: When I was one of the ACLU lawyers challenging the federal internet censorship law, the Child Online Protection Act, the New York Times did a story about the case along with our picture under the headline “Online smut law heads to court.” Also, I get a Christmas card from Barack Obama every year but I am not sure why.

What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience? As an undergrad, I worked for in the Anthropology Department at the University of Georgia. One day, a physical anthropology professor sent me to the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta to pick up the remains of a gorilla that had recently passed away. The invoice said, “Gorilla ‘Oko’, Female, 27 yrs. (w/ head).” When I got to Yerkes the gorilla body I was given was headless so I pointed to the invoice and was told that the head was kept in a different lab. When I was finally handed a bucket with the rest of poor Oko in it, I said, “And here my father told me I would never get a head in anthropology.” (It didn’t get a laugh then either).

Back in my day… I am going to commit cranky-old-professor heresy here, but in my day things were not really that different in any way that really matters. The important and difficult questions about being alive are the same: What kind of person do I want to be? How am I going to relate to other people? What about this world am I going to value? Just like students now, we tried to answer those questions by talking to each other, by studying and critiquing received wisdom, and by trying to figure out what the hell R.E.M.’s lyrics meant (okay, that last one may be different).

What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard? I had a student tell me she couldn’t get her term paper done on time because she was too upset about her drug dealer being arrested. The struggle is real.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? While it is obvious that whatever entity controls the universe is capable of allowing great cruelty, I cannot imagine it would ever allow such a soul crushing diabolical dilemma.

What are three things you learned at Columbia?

  1. The kids are alright. So many of the students impress me with their commitment to see important social justice and environmental justice issues addressed. For instance, they have convinced me that Columbia should divest from fossil fuels immediately.
  2. Some people need to learn not to text at the urinal. That’s just wrong. You know who you are.
  3. Everyone at Columbia is really very smart. Some people are even as smart as they think they are.

What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general? When engaging with a person, their ideas, or their work, try to find what is interesting and valuable. It is, of course, important to question what we are told and engage in constructive criticism but we can do it in a way that asks what we can learn from others without simply jumping to critique first.

Photo courtesy of J.C. Salyer

Tags: , , , ,


  1. Anonymous


  2. anon  

    well you sound amazing

  3. Anonamoose

    >Some people are even as smart as they think they are.

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.