Living in a Captain's Height world

Originally published in the Stanford Weekly as part of a column series known as Academe’s Vanguard that explored issues related to the Stanford University community.

Stanford University is a bastion of achievers. From athletes smashing world records, scientists winning Nobel Prizes and politicians converging on the centers of power, our students will define some part of humanity’s journey. Even our dropouts do just fine-and sometimes better.

Bringing this legacy to a new generation, Stanford’s undergraduate admission Web site screams, “Freedom: It’s in the mission, the people, the place.” We can achieve anything we set our minds to with the help of the network of people that make up this fantastic place. There is no obstacle we cannot pass, no height we cannot reach!

That is, until now. The higher-ups have chimed in, and there is now a height past which no Stanford student may pass. Instead, it is about four feet and 11-34 inches off the floor (I eyeballed it). The new peak of our lives is Captain’s Height, and it is about to redefine the meaning of our lives and the legacies we leave behind in this world.

Stanford Housing will no longer allow lofting in many of the dorm rooms on campus, instead limiting students to the previously-mentioned height limit. We are thus limited to three heights: Captain’s Height, the highest option at the top of the bed posts; Ensign’s Height, which is located above the floor in the first set of holes; and Stowaway’s Height, which is removing the bed from its posts and resting it on the floor.

To fully grasp this change, I researched more about being a captain. There are 11 ranks in the United States Navy, and Captain is straight in the middle at rank No. 6; if my (hypothetical) son or daughter finished sixth out of eleven in a competition, I would not drive them home. Even worse, being captain is just high enough to command a Star Destroyer in the Imperial Starfleet, yet too high to avoid the wrath of Vader-remember Captain Needa?

So what meaning does this change have for our lives? Many of us have lofty goals. Unfortunately, “lofty” can no longer be used to describe our own mattresses. From here on out, the adjective “middling” will have to be used. I never thought I would see the day when Stanford’s viewbook splashed the phrase “reach your middling goals” across its cover. Yet here we are.

Perhaps it was apathy that led us to this point. As they say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We fought against the RIAA and the Olsen Twins, but we have grown so soft from our vinyl-wrapped mattresses that we no longer go down on our now non-existent ladders and protest. As Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise (a captain in his own right) once said, “With the first link the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”

The new restriction is not just a burden of space, but also a burden on the environment. As we learned from physics class, heat rises. Therefore, to maintain the same room temperature at the lower height, a greater amount of heat will need to be pumped into dorm rooms to move the temperature gradient to the new location. If you are on the Green Living Council, please bring this up at the next meeting. (And please cancel the two-to-a-shower idea that was floating around a couple of months ago as well.)

If the administration is willing to go so far as to control our heights, will they go so far as to control our widths? This has many possibilities. Windows will have new child safety locks that restrict their opening (coming back to that temperature gradient problem). Or maybe there will be new controls on depth. Our desks will only be a couple of inches from stomach to wall, preventing the loss of shoes amongst the coils of cords that reside there.

To be sure, living in a Captain’s Height world will take some adjusting. Things will have to be moved, ambitions will need to be squashed and egos will have to be checked.

But beneath this oppression lies a glimmer of hope: Home Depot. A few plywood beams and some duct tape should undo the new shackles on our lives. Benjamin Franklin was once asked (so I hear), “Well Doctor, what have we got, Admiral’s Height or Captain’s Height?” He responded (equally freely), “Admiral’s Height, if you can keep it.”