Handout #1: Russo's Straight Man
Cliff You, Tim Monnig, Velma Jones
1. Discuss the implications of “straight man” in this novel. Consider the idea of “straight man” in comedy. To whom or what does this concept apply?
2. Comment upon Devereaux’s role as the interim department head? Is it a success or a failure? Why there are 15 grievances pending against him?
3. Comment upon Devereaux’s continued references to “William of Occam”.
4. Discuss Devereaux’s goose-killing threat and his role as problem evader. What role does the media play in this event and overall in university affairs?
5. Talk about the overall atmosphere in the English department? Is this typical at universities… at Purdue?
6. Comment upon Finny’s droopy classroom. Is teaching still considered vitally important in today’s universities?
7. What do you notice about the role of the tenured faculty member in the novel? Are these depictions true?
8. Discuss the functions of the search team in higher education. How is the search team for the department chair going in the English Department at the University?
9. What are Dickie Pope’s strategies towards the impending budget cuts? Comment further about his role as a university politician.
10. Comment upon the role of William Henry Devereaux Sr. How does he affect the Hank’s personal and career development?
11. Discuss your thoughts about the construction of the multi-million dollar Technical Careers Complex? Do you think it a wise idea when the English Department lacks several thousand dollars to hire adjunct faculty to teach the composition course?
12. “All you can do is to find high ground and take your friends with you…” (p. 162).
“Because if we don’t do it, somebody else will, somebody who may be less discerning than we are” (p.163). Talk about Dickie Pope’s persuasion here. Does it make sense?
13. “You’d simply suggest a set of criteria. On the basis of those criteria, I‘d be advised who is indispensable to your department”. (p.163) Discuss the “criteria” in the higher education setting.
14. Comment upon what you would do in the situation that Hank finds himself, in the choice of making a list. Would those considered “friends” make the list?
15. What is the role of the union representative in the novel? What is the strategy to copy with the impending “tide”? Talk about the union’s roles in American higher education?
16. How do you think of the old dean’s role as “savior” of the university? Do you find the denouement convincing? What do you think of his “list”?
17. Why does Devereaux refuse the offer of the dean’s post? What issues influence his decision? Is it part of his role as “straight man”?