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Cigars & Academia

The hallowed halls of higher learning often contain a whiff of cigar.
Gene Crume
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

The new president of Huxley College prepares to take the podium to deliver his inaugural address to the trustees, faculty and students of that fine institution. He doesn't hesitate to take his freshly lit cigar with him. However, the past president of the college disrupts his successor's presence by stating, "It would please the faculty if you would throw your cigar away." President Quincy Adams Wagstaff promptly replies to this pompous suggestion in his usual style. "The faculty members might as well keep their seats," he says with a smirk as he glances out of the corner of his eye. "There will be no diving for this cigar!"

Of course, this wry bit of humor can only be delivered by the incomparable Groucho Marx, and the fictitious Huxley College is merely the setting for the Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers. While those who work in the hallowed halls of higher education today may not be actually "diving" for cigars, the popularity of cigars continues to be as accepted as robes and research.

So, what is it about cigars that make them so enticing to those who labor on campuses across the country, these same bastions of intellectualism where buildings are adorned with Smoke-Free Facility signs? The answer, quite simply, is culture.

To a cigar smoker, culture means the environment in which one savors a good smoke. To those on college campuses, culture means intellectual discovery, inspirational research and enriching philosphy. In other words, the ability to reflect, ponder and gain insight. What better environment to smoke a cigar. And what better person to start examining these compatible cultures than a professor of philosophy.

"Aristotle said that without leisure you can't have philosophy," says Reginald Lilly. "Cigars are an experience of a qualitative difference in life."

Lilly should know. He is a professor of philosophy at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. His specialty is nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophy, and with degrees from the University of Vermont and Duquesne University, he has all the makings of a traditional academician and intellectual. What inspiration does a man this worldly find in cigars? His quotation from Aristotle hints at the answer--leisure and culture.

"You think about the cigar when you smoke it," Lilly says. "And it goes along with reflecting on other things. I find academic culture to be pretty hospitable to cigars. In some very real senses, I'm probably intellectually closer to my cigar smoking academic friends than those who are specialists in my field." Or, summing it up nicely for us laymen, he says, "It's sort of: Light up and let's see what you're made of."

Let's ride this intellectual wave by consulting with a cultural anthropologist on the subject.

Professor Don Pollock of the State University of New York at Buffalo has always enjoyed the flavor of tobacco. His mother was a cigarette smoker and he can recall the "delicious aroma" whenever she would light up. It was natural for him to be curious about, and experiment with, tobacco. His taste runs to cigars, not cigarettes, and being a part of the college scene only enhances his pleasure.

Even though there's only one other regular cigar smoker among the 22 professors in the anthropology department, Pollock realizes that cigar smoking requires the more leisured study that academics can give to anything. The image of smoking a cigar conjures up associations of mahogany-paneled smoking parlors or attending the faculty club at an Ivy League school.

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