Council of Autonomous Scholarly Support

Credentializing Alternative Scholarship

Roy Lisker

Ferment IX,1996

In December of 1995, the following letter was mailed to a selected list of learned friends, esteemed associates, honorable colleagues,and distinguished co-workers and other eminent friends:

December 15,1995
Roy Lisker
141 Congdon Street
Middletown, CT 06457

" Dear........................................

As you know, I do not possess an official doctor's degree. An 'official degree' is given by some established university or college. These in turn derive their legitimacy from state and federal laws. Although educational contents and standards are taken into considered, it appears that an institution's right to accreditation as a university or college has a great deal to do with the size of its endowment. Given the amount of work I have done over, say, the last 15 years, (much of which you have seen in the pages of Ferment and other publications), I suspect that you would agree with me that the quality and quantity of this work - together with the efforts I have made to enter it into the mainstream of the contemporary intellectual dialogue - do indeed qualify me for the Ph.D. I should, in other words, have the right to call myself Dr. Roy Lisker.

I have seen a possible way around this dilemma. It is my belief that the doctoral status ought be to awarded by scholars themselves to one of their own kind, on the basis of their judgment of the knowledge, ability and work of the candidate. The institutions, specifically the universities, should not be the ones who decide this matter.

One cannot avoid having to deal with the common understanding present in the society, which identifies all degrees with institutions. I've therefore invented an institution, the Council of Autonomous Scholarly Support ( C.A.S.S.), dedicated to the sole purpose of giving Roy Lisker a Ph.D.! I hope that it will eventually become flexible enough to help others in situations similar to my own. As the C.A.S.S. is structured, it will give me a doctor's degree if I receive a certain number of endorsements from scholars, scientists, artists, writers, etc. , of acknowledged eminence, ( in which category I place you, and in which several of you have been placed, and rightly so, by the official institutions).

Accompanying this letter I am enclosing a simple form that you can sign and send back to me. It does not make you a member of the C.A.S.S. , or even indicate any endorsement of it policies. It only endorses my right to be called Doctor Roy Lisker. At the bottom of this form I have placed a line on which you may state if you want to be made a member of the C.A.S.S. I don't know right now what this entitles you to, save that you will continue to receive Ferment, other publications of mine, and all odd ideas that occur to me.

The C.A.S.S. may turn out to be the seed of an alternative community of scholars that could become so influential that the society at large will accept its authority as equal to or greater than that of the academic establishment. If you feel that I don't deserve to call myself " Doctor Roy Lisker, Ph.D." please write me a letter to that effect. This will go into the C.A.S.S. archives. I could then explain to others that some aroma of controversy hovers over my academic attribution.

Sincerely Yours
Roy Lisker

With this quaint plea for official endorsement by the social order I included the following form:
" It is my opinion that the Council of Autonomous Scholarly Support, (C.A.S.S.) should bestow the degree of Doctor of Philosophy , (Ph.D.) on Mr. Roy Lisker. His work over the past decade, with which I am well acquainted, qualifies him for this degree. I also have some idea of the strengths and weaknesses in his knowledge, and understand that he will never use the title of Doctor in such a fashion as to deceive others with claims of erudition that he does not possess.

Date.................................. Name.................................

Titles................................ Affiliation.........................

I wish........./do not be a member of C.A.S.S.

I know that this organization has, at present, no dues, administration, entitlements or obligations, although it may in due course develop all of these."

The results were very satisfactory: a listing of all those who have responded, with their commentary, is given below. I am taking this very seriously and will be using my title when I apply for jobs for which a PhD is pre-requisitory, in order to enhance the sales of my Ferment Press books, or in submitting articles to journals that only publish PhD's. I believe that any sensible person, in or out of the academic world, who knows something about the persons included on this list , will agree that my doctorate is legitimate.

"By virtue of the endorsement of the individuals listed below, the C.A.S.S. is proud to bestow the title of"Doctor" , on the hitherto un-thusly anointed Roy Lisker:"

I. The Honchos

  1. Howard Zinn , Professor Emeritus, Boston University. Howard writes: " But I don't depend on that affiliation to strengthen my opinion"

  2. John Harbison: Institute Professor, M.I.T.

  3. Louis Hirsch Kauffman: Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Chicago .

    Lou wrote: " I do KNOT not wish to be a member of C.A.S.S. Due to Dr. Lisker's wide range of interests there should be no specific specialty in his title. Thus I suggest : Roy Lisker Ph.D. (Void)"

  4. Karl Zimmer: Prof. of Linguistics Emeritus, Univ. of California, Berkeley

II. The Eminent Colleagues

  • Paul Monsky: Professor of Mathematics, Brandeis University

  • T.F. McNair Scott: MD, Cambridge University (U.K.)(deceased age 100,2001)

  • Henry Bass: Prof of Economics, Adam Smith Career Institute.

    Henry wrote: " The Adam Smith Career Institute] was founded by Donald Grunewald as a diploma mill. So far it is accredited only in Louisianians. For $500 he would give you an MA valid in Louisiana."

  • Jim Geiser: PhD, co-founder of "Cognisense Development ,Inc.

  • Rickie Solinger: PhD. Visiting Scholar, University of Colorado ,Boulder.

  • Wayne P. Rogers: Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, U. Colorado Wayne writes: "Dr. Roy Lisker is highly deserving of a PhD. Indeed, his creative mind and scholarly work qualify him for academic honors more so than any of the official PhD's I know."

  • Donald Morison Silberger: Associate Professor of Mathematics, SUNY at New Paltz. Donald supplemented his endorsement with a letter, here reproduced in part:

    " Roy Lisker has been asking for affidavits, from establishment scholars and teachers, in support of his claim that he earned a legitimate Ph.D. on the basis of his learning, his thoughts, and his creative and scholarly endeavors. Roy's entire life has been a creative and often quite scholarly endeavor.

    I have no problem calling him "Doctor" Lisker at times when he may wish that designation, and in any company whatsoever. I do not believe this scholarly degree will enhance his chances for the sort of employment to which his talents entitle him, as a writer and a teacher and a publicly accepted source of ideas, or that he will become thus better off economically than I remember his ever being, scrimping for meals and lodging and transportation as he has dragged his vagabond but highly creative mind from town to town and country to country over the dozen years I have known him......

    To my knowledge Roy Lisker has published in the establishment journals no refereed articles. But I have light-heartedly refereed the articles he has published, sometimes on a monthly basis in his Ferment , put out by the author himself, and sent to me for a pittance. While some of them are weak, others are worthy. All of them indicate that the author has gone somewhere with his eyes and with his mind open.

    This is my reason for supporting the unnecessary petition of Doctor Roy Lisker to be called Doctor Roy Lisker, or Roy Lisker PhD, or Roy Lisker Astrologer General, or whatever title he may choose to apply to himself. He deserves any he claims. As far as I am concerned, Roy Lisker is, legitimately, Roy Lisker,PhD."

    III. The Artists

  • Kenn Thomas: Editor/Publisher. Steamshovel Press

  • Matvei Yankelivitch: grandson of Andrei Sakharov, founder, Ugly Duckling Press.
    On February 6, 1996 this urgent E-Mail message came from Louis Kauffman:

    Dear Roy,

    I am writing this note in response to your recent Ferment in which you quoted my "knot" desiring to join CASS, and my endorsement of yourPh.D.(Void). It occurred to me that these statements of mine, taken out of context, might be misunderstood. So please allow me to expand upon these matters. To "knot" join an organization is one of the most emphatic ways of supporting it. A knot is an operation of joining in three dimensional space. It is through an intricate weaving that the knot joins CASS to the rest of the academic community without the possibility of rift (though weft) or argument (though woof). All this would have been made clear in Ferment had the original affirmation of joining been indicated not with the word "knot" but with the simple diagram of an overhand knot as drawn in the original letter. Yea this knot can not be undone and once joined shall not be set asunder.

    Nothing need be said of Void. I declare that to be a Doctor of the Void is an office that no ordinary academic institution can bestow. Hence the power of CASS. Best regards, Lou Kauffman

    The following is excerpted from a letter from my father, Professor Emeritus of Linguisiics at the University of Pennsylvania

  • February 11,1996
    Leigh Lisker
    Philadelphia, Pa:

    Dear Roy,

    ......... I'm a bit bemused, and amused, by all the folderol over the call-me-"doctor" business. Is it at all possible that you don't have your tongue well in cheek? Certainly you know that having a PhD doesn't guarantee an ability to teach at a university, and not having one doesn't guarantee an inability to do so. And of course the same goes for carrying on "respectable " research. All the degree professes to do is bear witness to the fact that the recipient did a proper job of making a contribution to some particular ( academically recognized) discipline ( i.e. body of knowledge). Depending on the membership of the department and the kind of oversight practiced by the graduate dean, the degree signals to the academic world at large that the degree-holder controls a certain body of knowledge and a demonstrated ability to do research that will stand up to adversarial review. Of the many authors of the tributes you include in the latest Ferment I wonder how many would be happy to propose that their university and department award you a degree? The PhD is not granted "on the basis of his learning, his thoughts, and his creative and scholarly endeavors." As far as I know, there is no PhD program anywhere in "Renaissance personhood".

    I've watched quite a few people in recent years going through the successive travails of composing a research proposal, meeting the criticisms of sometimes very cantankerous department members, gathering and analysing the data relevant to explicitely formulated hypotheses, writing an account that shows a thorough understanding of the relevant literature and that at every stage is subject to the criticism of a dissertation committee that can be infuriatingly nit-picking andunamiable, and finally responding in a convincing fashion to objections to anyone within and sometimes outside the department.

    The dissertation that emerges may or may not be close to the one that the candidate had in mind at the beginning of the process, but it has been, in theory at least, under pitiless scrutiny at each stage in its development. The degree is supposed to have some predictive value for performance in later career. Of course the successful candidate doesn't always go on to pursue research, while on the other hand the unsuccessful candidate cannot be prevented from doing the same, although he can't expect a university to support him.

    In your case, given that you haven't submitted to the degree process, but have ("nevertheless"?) presumably made respectable contributions over a spectrum of interests, the function of a PhD earned in the usual way would be nil. Rather should one say that from the work already accomplished it might be predicted that you would have no difficulty satisfying all the requirements for a doctorate. Ergo, the PhD is almost entirely redundant.

    The "almost" I include because I think the one thing your life-to-date does not predict is that you would have the patience to do research that is subjected to the grueling criticism by a panel of overseers who may or may not deserve to have your respect........"

    Commentary: I guess that's why I never got the traditional PhD: I couldn't hack all that 'grueling' stuff. That may also explain why I don't live in my hometown.
    Excerpts from a letter from Michael Barr, McGill University:

    Dr. Roy Lisker

    Dear Roy:

    ..... I agree completely about the implications of degree requirements. In fact, universities are, or used to be, just a bit more flexible than other organizations. Besicovitch did not have a Ph.D. One of the best mathematicians in Canada, André Joyal, lacks a Ph.D. I have heard the story of why ( either he didn't show up or walked out on his prelims), although I have forgotten it. He does have a job, but for years he got paid less because he is at a unionized school. Most universities in Canada are unionized; McGill is an exception. Finally, the union agreed to allow him to be granted an equivalent-to-Ph.D. status and get the same pay as his colleagues. But it was a fight. I never use "Dr." before my name or "Ph.D." after it, since I don't like the whole procedure. I learned a lot of mathematics in grad school and I recommend it as a way of learning mathematics. But I don't like the fact of the Ph.D. being the "union card" for for university employment. This wasn't always the case, but sometime in this century, the percentage of Ph.D.'s on your staff became a recruiting point and pretty soon everyone had to have one. Especially given thje over-supply.

    The main reason that many jobs require a HS diploma is not that being an HS graduate has any connection with the job, but that having the diploma demonstrates sufficient docility for the job. This is not the explanation for the Ph.D. requirements of universities, of course.

    I regard your quest for a Ph.D. with ambivalence. Oh, I have no problem with signing you off; I just feel you are giving in to all this. I also don't see what you have to gain. Well, doubtless you have your reasons.....

    ...I have received your next mailing. I see that you have appropriated the "Dr." label. Not that I care. Certainly, I don't think the honorific is degraded by your using it. I guess that, speaking for myself, I would rather be judged for myself than for my labels. Thus I avoid using it, although I make no attempt to stop others from applying it to me. Once upon a time I sat on the local school board as a non-voting "parents' representative". The second parent rep, who happened to be a professor of physics at Concordia, insisted on being addressed as "doctor". I didn't, and wasn't, and we once discussed it and he said he had worked damn hard to get that PhD and was going to use it. I didn't answer, but the truth is that I didn't work very hard for it.

    Currently (April, 2003) the board of directors of the C.A.S.S is constituted of all those persons who returned my PhD endorsements and indicated that they wanted to be its members : John Harbison, Howard Zinn, Lou Kauffman, Henry Bass, Kenn Thomas , Matvei Yankelevitch. I know enough about all of these people to be certain that they would find one another enormously interesting if they ever got together at some event like a dinner or party or symposium . I therefore propose that we consider the possibility of holding an inaugural meeting at some place or time to legitimate all legitimizable things, including my degree, the C.A.S.S., the newly discovered planets, the latest balanced budget plan, and like matters. Anyone can join the board of directors through sending in the completed "R. Lisker- PhD endorsement form" on which they indicate that they want to become a member. Finally, if, when and where the board of directors eventually organize the dinner party, everybody 's invited.

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