I faced my near future ready to finish up the courses I was teaching and fulfill my contract before politely declining the invitation to return the next year. At least it had been my intent to politely decline. During the course of my year there, the VPAA who hired me had quit, and the interim in that role had dumped the dean of our college down to lowly faculty status after a decade long reign. There was all out interdepartmental warfare in my immediate vicinity and my pal the Shepherd had secured a far better job for himself. He’d leapt and flown, was simply sticking around for two weeks to help prepare the poor lost soul who was about to try to fill his shoes.
My first little deviance from sticking it out and making the best of things before inevitable polite declination came at the next faculty meeting. The factions in the war were firmly entrenched, facing off across a table so laden with tension it sagged with it.
My entire worldview had been twisted by visions of winds of change and the ghost of Bob Marley. When one suddenly finds herself acting as soother to the sayer in Sedona and she the only one who points at the world of the emperor’s nakedness in horror, it’s unsettling, way more so than talking trees. The ludicrousness of the whole show was getting to be more than I could tolerate.
When one has flown with eagles, it’s tough to endure the spray of a douche nozzle.
“We can’t tell these students that they’re not going to get into medical school unless they can do well on the MCATs” was his opening remark.
“They’re not going to get into medical school unless they do well on the MCATs, have good grades from a decent school, have letters of reference, and can survive an interview”. I replied.
“But we can’t tell them that”.
“Of course we can. It’s our duty. It’s called academic advising”.
The sidekick was sitting with his arms wrapped firmly braced across his chest, his frown so deep it looked like something Dali came up with while listening to Blind Willie Johnson.
“I want to know why he only has to teach two classes.” The voice of menopause spoke up, albeit meekly.
“My schedule is none of your business”. The frown had flapped.
“He’s got me to teach all his labs, that why. At least he had me, I’m out of here.” The Shepherd abandoning the herd, somewhat smugly.
Nobody’s cleaned out the aquariums in months; the thoughts from the watery mess a few meters away. Several of us turned and looked at it, as if on cue.
“The dean and I have developed a new set of rules.” Douche.
“The dean just lost all say so in anything and I have about as much interest in your rules as I have in this meeting.” I turned. “As to your schedule there’s a thing called a faculty handbook and it states that you’ll teach some minimum number of classes, so it’s very much all our business, particularly if it means that the rest of us have to pick up the slack.” Something odd had come over me. It was as if a veil covering a pile of bullshit mid table had been rudely lifted, and it offended me.
“Yes!” Menopause was cheering. Susan had been thanklessly working like a slave forever while the boys of the faculty took the minimalist approach; over the years it had gotten way out of hand and they dumped more and more onto the lab assistants.
“Frankly I’m done with your rules and this meeting. Bring in the new VPAA, bring in her new dean, bring in the handbook, the real rules. Bring in the lawyers for all I care, this is bullshit. Don’t try to tell me how to teach my classes or how to advise students, I have no interest in the model of education you present. If it’s the model the university wants followed, then the university is marketing bullshit, and I’m not interested.” The meeting was adjourned.
The next few days were tense.
The day I received the summons to the dean’s office was the one I’d set aside to make the decision about when to give notice. I popped in on him on my way back from an early class, curious as to what was on tap in the drama of life in the black hole post meeting. It was kind of difficult even visiting the man in his last throes of command, so publicly had he been shamed when stripped of his title and a substantial portion of his paycheck.
“You embarrassed a student”. He jumped right on in. The man rather loathed me; as mentor to the douche nozzle, his position in the interdepartmental war was clear. The uppity woman from the heartland was a trouble maker in his world, perhaps even the source of all his current woes.
“You’ll have to be more specific. I suspect I’ve embarrassed lots of students over the past year.” It was true. I’m one of those people who has a way of saying just the wrong thing sometimes, and nobody is immune. I’m particularly susceptible to it myself.
“You really don’t know, do you?” He was amazed.
“Well, I suppose it could be Rick. I told Rick that he did the assignment on the wrong topic. It could be Jerilynn, there was that day I told her I could smell weed on her. Maybe it was that kid I threw out of the Biology exam for cheating…..is he the one?” I really had no clue.
“No! It was Katelyn. During the discussion period of her presentation you asked her where she’d gotten her information and questioned the legitimacy of her sources! You can’t do that!”
I just stared at him.
“You need to go see Debra about this”. Debra was the interim VPAA, who likely was about as interested in Katelyn’s embarrassment as I was. I’d already gotten to know her and she was about two steps behind me out the door.
“Fine, I’m going for a massage at ten. I can see her any time after noon.” I smiled at him as I sailed out the door. The idea of a massage clearly infuriated him. Go figure.
The massage was good. I walked into Debra’s office at two still smelling of the Eucalyptus oil Andrea had used on me during my 90 minutes of Nirvana.
There’s something incredibly liberating about not giving any kind of fuck about one’s future career potential, about what the boss thinks, about what one will say, what the expected or appropriate behavior might be for the situation at hand. It occurred to me in exactly that moment that such was just how free my decision had set me.
Now you’ve got it. There was a jade plant growing on the windowsill of Debra’s office; it understood my perspective clearly. Debra was beginning to as well.
“A massage? Really?” she turned, looking rather haggard.
“Oh yeah, Andrea is the best. She’s a real physical therapist, and strong as an ox. She can feel exactly what ails you and work it right out.” I took a swig from my water bottle. Hydration is important.
“I’ve got this neck thing.” She rubbed the region below her left earring, a knot of muscle tension that had a steel cable character to it, a nasty headache waiting to happen. She sighed. “So what’s the story with the complaint?”
“Phil and Joe are thrashing about trying to fight back against the avalanche of karma that’s coming down on them. Barry is facing the ugly truth that he’s going to have to start working full time. The kid is a ploy, one of Joe’s little girlfriends, a kid whose daddy buys her everything, including grades. She cited a source for her presentation on sustainability and population that came from some nut job, neo-Nazi, right to life propaganda web page. I simply pointed out that the reference didn’t meet the criteria that I outlined for the assignment and deducted a couple of points from her grade.”
“What a fucking mess.” She rubbed her neck again.
I dug out one of Andrea’s card’s and handed it to her.
“I won’t be coming back next fall. I’ll write you a letter later this week.”
“Write a good one, maybe I’ll cut and paste from it.” She sighed again. “I thought things would be better here. I thought maybe if I was VPAA I could really make a difference, try to fix all that was wrong with higher education back in Texas. They do this whole ridiculous song and dance during the interview process and then it’s all the same crap, the ugly truth comes out. What’s happened?”
“I don’t know for sure Debra, but I do know this. The answer’s not here. This world’s gone crazy. I’ve got to see what else is out there.”
As it turned out, there were all sorts of wonders out there.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.