Dave Ferrucci loved the university. He loved its ivy-covered clocktowers, its ancient and sturdy brick, and its sun-splashed verdant greens and eager youth. He also loved the fact that the university is free of the stark unforgiving trials of the business world -- only this isn't a fact: academia has its own tests, and some are as merciless as any in the marketplace. A prime example is the dissertation defense: to earn the PhD, to become a doctor, one must pass an oral examination on one's dissertation. This was a test Professor Selmer Bringsjord enjoyed giving.
Dave wanted desperately to be a doctor. But he needed the signatures of three people on the first page of his dissertation, the priceless inscriptions which, together, would certify that he had passed his defense. One of the signatures had to come from Professor Bringsjord, and Bringsjord had often said -- to others and to himself -- that he was honored to help Dave secure his well-earned dream.
Well before the defense, Dave gave Bringsjord a penultimate copy of his thesis. Bringsjord read it and told Dave that it was absolutely first-rate, and that he would gladly sign it at the defense. They even shook hands in Bringsjord's book-lined office. Dave noticed that Bringsjord's eyes were bright and trustful, and his bearing paternal.
At the defense, Dave thought that he eloquently summarized Chapter 3 of his dissertation. There were two questions, one from Professor Rogers and one from Dr. Meteer; Dave answered both, apparently to everyone's satisfaction. There were no further objections.
Professor Rogers signed. He slid the tome to Meteer; she too signed, and then slid it in front of Bringsjord. Bringsjord didn't move.
``Selmer?" Rogers said.
Bringsjord still sat motionless. Dave felt slightly dizzy.
``Selmer, are you going to sign?"
Later, Bringsjord sat alone in his office, in his big leather chair, saddened by Dave's failure. He tried to think of ways he could help Dave achieve his dream.