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Charm School returns to IAP slate

The manners banners are coming back.

After a one-year sabbatical, Charm School returns to IAP on Wednesday, Jan. 27, complete with Lobby 7 decorations that include reminders to say "please," "thank you" and "you're welcome." It was resurrected by the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs, with enthusiastic support from the student body.

Charm School 1999's curriculum will include a number of old favorites, including table manners, how to dress, schmoozing, body language and, of course, the cosmic question of how to ask for a date. One addition under consideration is a seminar designed to stamp out colloquial speech, during which buttons that say "Stamp Out 'Like' in Your Lifetime" may be distributed.

The Fashion Police will patrol the Infinite Corridor of Charm School once again. In previous years, officers wrote neon orange citations for violations that included being a "walking jewelry store" and "using both straps on a back pack." This year they also will present distinguished fashion awards for being a "class act."

"There's a great deal of jollity in this," said Travis R. Merritt, who is a professor of literature when he isn't the dean of Charm School.

Professor Merritt, who will become director of the Experimental Studies Group shortly, conceived the idea as a lighthearted, semi-serious response to lamentations on campus about the decline in social grace among students. His model was the charm classes his mother took in high school. Charm School opened its doors during IAP in 1993 and was an immediate success.

From 1993-97, the event grew under the direction of Alberta G. Lipson, associate dean for academic services, who was recruited by Professor Merritt. About 500 students matriculated at the last Charm School in 1997.

"We have received calls and letters from schools all over the country asking for information about Charm School so they could replicate it," said Dean Lipson, who is on the 1999 steering committee. "I have no idea how many other charm schools we may have spawned."

The 1999 Charm School catalog is still evolving, and it's not too late to suggest a new course. Instructors are encouraged to recruit prospective students and teaching aides and are asked to commit a two-hour block for new subjects. Contact Assistant Dean Katherine G. O'Dair of Student Life Programs in the Student Center, Rm W20-549.

Other subjects already on the schedule include small talk and attentive listening, interviewing, formalities, telephone/e-mail/network etiquette, faculty/student communication, dealing with difficult persons or situations, joke-telling, overcoming shyness, ballroom dancing and, of course, bathroom etiquette, bodily functions and other items better left unlisted.

Sessions are scheduled for noon-4pm in Lobbies 7 and 10 and the Bush Room. Students may take as many courses as they wish. No pre-registration is required. Sign-up sheets are available for volunteer teachers. Interested parties should contact Dean O'Dair.

Charm School "degrees" will be awarded. A CB (bachelor of charm) is awarded for completing six subjects, a CM for eight and a PhD for 12. No thesis or dissertation is required.

Charm School 1999 will conclude with the traditional commencement ceremonies in Lobby 10 from 4:30-5pm. In his capacity as the dean, Professor Merritt will preside. An appropriate commencement speaker will be chosen. Previous speakers have included Miss Manners in 1995 and MIT President Charles M. Vest in 1997, wearing an MIT baseball cap and gown.

The Charm School alma mater, sung to the tune of "Arise, All Ye of MIT" with lyrics by Professor Merritt, will be sung by the Chorallaries at the ceremony. The three verses follow:

Come close, ye devotees of charm,
Bathed in civility!
Salute our alma mater warm
From sea to shining sea!
And as we leave her tasteful halls
To join the real world,
We'll stride with flair, as duty calls,
With manners flag unfurled!

We make eye contact as we pass,
We greet you with a smile.
Our handshake's firm, our small talk class,
Our middle name is style!
Our schmoozing, you can sure depend,
Won't leave you fast asleep,
And asking for a date we send
A message soft and deep.

At introductions we're adept,
Apologies? No prob!
How graciously we accept
The offer of a job!
The bottom line is this, dear friends:
We're nothing if not cool,
And thus our grateful love extends
To MIT's Charm School.

Besides Professor Merritt and Assistant Dean O'Dair, members of the Charm School steering committee are Monica Huggins and Heather Trickett, Public Service Center; Ted E. Johnson, Campus Activities Complex; Dean Lipson and Roseanne Swire, Academic Services; and Zareena Hussain, Rita Lin and Trent Lu, Class of 2000.

Additional information is available by e-mailing

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.

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