#19 – A Bad Experience with Academia

Written by Russell Burrows:

I had my first experience along these lines at Eastern Illinois University, located in Charleston, Illinois. I contacted the university and inquired if they had an anthropologist on their staff. They did, and I was put in contact with him. A meeting was arranged and I made the trip up to the university to meet with this young fellow, whom I will refer to as Mr. “Brown.” (Not his real name.) I don’t wish to defame anyone and this probably could have happened at a number of universities across the country.

On that morning I presented myself at the university, and there met a very pleasant young Mr. Brown who seemed quite interested in the artifacts I had brought along. Of course, the first thing he asked was, “Where is the cave?”

I told him that I didn’t want to reveal the location of it at that time because of the fact that I had not yet worked out an agreement with the landowner and, as a matter of fact, I had not met him nor did I know who he was.

Mr. Brown was a little put out with the fact that I was not going to spill the whole pot of beans to him, but he said that he doubted that the artifacts were all that old. He told me that he would attempt to find out what they were and that he would get back to me as soon as he could.

I left the university and made the trip back to Olney. While doing so I was doing a lot of thinking. Why didn’t he think those artifacts were old? I tried to figure out what was going on. After all, I had never really had contact with anyone in Mr. Brown’s field.

The trip home took about an hour, and after reaching home I made myself a pot of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table to ponder the situation. Just as I was getting into my second cup the telephone rang; it was Mr. Brown.

“Great news,” he said. “I found out what your artifacts are.”

I told him that was indeed good news and I was very anxious to know what he had to say.

“Well,” said Mr. Brown, “I called the State Archaeologist at Champaign and after I described the artifacts to her she said “Oh, I know what those things are. They were made by a cult in southern Illinois about a hundred years ago and they must have hid them in caves or buried them.”

“You mean she was able to make that determination from your description by telephone?” I asked, when I found my tongue.

“Oh, sure,” came back Brown, “She is a very sharp person and has studied the history of southern Illinois at length; she really knows what she’s talking about.”

Now just what do you do when you are backed into a corner like that? My first thought was to walk away and forget it. They must have had a very low opinion of my judgment, but now I had the same opinion of theirs.

Mr. Brown’s story just didn’t make sense. In the first place how could anyone make such a final decision like that without even seeing the artifacts? I knew then as I know now that for somebody to be able to say that black is black and white is white they must first see the colors.

Well, at any rate I was standing there with the telephone to my ear, listening to this fellow, Brown, tell me that an absolute determination had been made by a State Archaeologist, no less, and I’m wondering what I’m gong to do next, when he said something that, for me, brought the whole thing into focus.

He said, “Now that we know these things are not valuable, why don’t you tell me where the cave is, or better yet take me and another instructor from the university there, and we will write up the cult angle for study by the students here at the university.”

Well now, I thought, if these things are as phoney as he says they are, why would he want to waste his time and the university’s money on a field trip to study them? No way! I knew right then and there that he was using some devious method to get everything under his jurisdiction. He must think they are of more value then he is telling me, but wants to get them under false pretenses. He is trying to convince me that I owe it to the future and the advancement of American education to reveal the location of the cave.

I am not a rude person. I will go a long way to keep from insulting people or hurting someone’s feelings, so I told Mr. Brown that I would have to give it some thought and contact the landowner first, before I could do anything further. We left it at that.

Ten days or two weeks later, I again heard from Mr. Brown. He was wondering if I had time to think it over and whether or not I had decided to grant his request. He caught me off guard and I just had to tell him – I had no choice.

“I just can’t agree with your interpretation nor do I believe your story,” I told him. “No scholar with any professional integrity would have attempted to identify artifacts strictly from a description given by telephone.” Mr. Brown seemed more then a little surprised by my response, and he said that he had wondered about this himself.

I told him that I had no intention of granting his request and I was going to think the matter over long and hard before I went any further with it with anybody. I am glad to say that I have had no more contact with Mr. Brown. In defence of his university, I later learned that he was some kind of teaching assistant and had had very little experience in the field.