Posted by: smstrouse | December 2, 2010

All I Want for St. Nicholas Day is a . . .

All I want for St. Nicholas Day is a Ph.D.  No, not for me.  I’m happy with my D.Min. But I do want a Ph.D. for John.  John (not his real name) is a resident of a nursing facility 40 miles away because of severe injuries suffered in a fall about 10 years ago.  He is immobile from the waist down. His mind, however, is sharper than mine will ever be.  He has several masters degrees and enjoys discussing politics, philosophy, religion (especially interfaith and progressive Christianity) – you see why I enjoy John’s company!

He’s also a chess master and, despite being legally blind, an avid reader. Keeping him supplied with books on CD and articles he can hear through his computer could be a full-time job. And it breaks my heart that the place where he lives is not equipped to give him that kind of attention. Nor are many of the other residents able to provide the kind of companionship and conversation John craves.

So I visit once a month. And others do what they can. Virtually everyone who meets John adores him, which is why so many of us have tried to find a way for John to get his Ph.D. His thesis is about pawnbroking in Victorian England, and since St. Nicholas is  the patron saint of pawnbrokers, I’m putting in my request.

The ongoing saga is this:

Back in the 80s, John completed his dissertation and was told by his academic advisor that it was good work and that he should have no problem in his oral exam. However, the advisor, well-known in his field, was leaving for a new post on a different continent.  His replacement made it clear that he was no fan of his predecessor (it seems there was an inter-departmental feud over research methodology) and John’s petition was denied.  I have heard from other sources that this as very likely the case. John let the matter drop. But when his wife died and then he became disabled, the Ph.D. became the grail that has given his life meaning.

So I have been in email communication with Cambridge University, trying to explain the situation and find the appropriate person to deal with. It seems to me that someone would be willing to help.  At last!  I received an email from the secretary of the Department of Sociology:

Dear Mrs Strouse (hummpf),

It is not possible to do an online or otherwise distance learning PhD at PPSIS.(double humppf) – italics and annoyance mine.

So I’ve had the email sitting in my inbox for 3 weeks now and have delayed visiting John. I know he’ll ask if I’ve heard from them.  I know that he will be crushed. And I am out of ideas. John is now in his 80s, so we don’t have the luxury of time.

So I am appealing to St. Nicholas, patron saint of pawnbrokers (and their social historians) to help us find a way through this dilemma and bring John a Ph.D.  Or at least an idea of how to proceed.

St. Nicholas Day is December 6th.  I’m going to put my shoes outside my door the night before and hope for a miracle. In this Advent season of hope, it’s the best I can do.


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