Our Pastoral University With Its No-Bull Faculty
Town meets gown in Bloomington, Ind., along East Kirkwood Avenue. Six blocks of shops, eateries, banks, churches, and theaters cater to students and full-time residents. Running from the courthouse square past the county library and up again to Indiana University's carved limestone gateway, Kirkwood is where Bloomington's two populations are most likely to meet and mix.
But not the only place, of course. Most universities partake of the local landscape, venturing from their campuses to learn. Our small dairy farm, lying within a cheer's range of the IU football stadium, often hosts visiting academics. Each year, a member of the chemistry faculty comes out to collect a sample of raw milk. He deliberately keeps it at room temperature and then showcases it in his introductory lecture on bacterial culture. Similarly, year after year, a graduate student in behavioral sciences has brought his ladder, mirrors, and notepad to the barn to observe and document the interplay between rafter-nesting swallows and parasitic cowbirds.
Whole classes appear out here. Whiter sneakers never graced the milking-parlor floor than when a dozen sleepy scholars filed in for a special early-morning session of their "Biology of Food" course. Walking on tiptoe and standing well away from any lifted tails, the students quizzed us about lactation as the cows, munching their grain, obliged with an illustrative flow of milk.
When agriculture is in the news, journalism students find us a handy local source of opinion and color. Filming took place in the front pasture as we explained to two young reporters one day why we did not and would not inject our cows with bovine growth hormone to boost milk production. Behind us, thoughtfully chewing their cuds, the approving herd rounded out the segment.
Another time, a student in folklore followed Charlie as he guided the horses through age-old tasks that draft animals no longer perform except on the rare farm where their place is valued and preserved - as it now is in at least one master's thesis.
WHEN the weather is fair, photographers and painters leave campus with cameras, easels, sketchpads, and an eye for what we sometimes take for granted.
The presence of these artists among the animals gives us fresh eyes as well. The Belgians really are stunning, huge and honey-colored against the dark green of the storm-bent cedars. The Jerseys, Guernseys, Holsteins, and Swiss Browns of our small mixed herd accent the mobile sky and rolling landscape to perfection.
Watching the cows laze and stretch for visiting artists, I have often wondered whether they deliberately posture and pose. There is an almost studied composition to the quiet scenes they set among the farm's hills and hummocks. This is just a theory, which so far no one from campus has arrived to test, but I could swear that our animals sense when they're being discussed, studied, and admired. They rise to these occasions like popular faculty to the lectern.
Clearly, the cows are the major endowments on this quirky branch campus. Perhaps that accounts for why we cannot bring ourselves to cull senior members of the herd. Neither Jennifer nor Charlotte give much milk anymore, but they've graced journal pages and museum walls, moo-ved and moo-ed across poems, songs, and local TV screens, informed lectures, even fertilized faculty gardens. Having inspired, tutored, and so fulsomely nurtured the local educational establishment, they've earned a permanent place and achieved a certain status here in the hills of academe. You might say they're emeritus.