August 1, 2014
Hell Is Other Teachers
Frankly, I'd find these colleagues easier to work with
In the course of what passes for “research” for Other People’s Daughters, my upcoming memoir of my years on the faculty of N. University (aka “Nangaku”),
I uncovered a reference to a forgotten meeting of the English Education
Subgroup in the summer of 2005.
A secretary took me away from the colloquy at its tensest moment because I was urgently needed by a sophomore, who turned out to be beloved “intern” Kuni, bearing gifts. That night, we had this email exchange:
Thank you, ohhhhhhh thank you, for pulling me out of the incredibly boring meeting.
Well, “boring” is not really the right word. It was rather heated. When you pulled me out, a fight was about to start between two of my colleagues. When I came back, one of them was dead on the table, and his body had been cut open and his heart was cut out. His enemy had blood all over his face and shirt.
I was glad that I missed watching such a scene.
Anyway, we continued talking about the problem, but we couldn't find a consensus. The dead guy's open eyes were very distracting.
I don't know how long I can continue to teach in Nangaku from now on. As you know, I'm a lover, not a fighter...
After I came home, I ate your cream puff. It tasted full of love, and I forgot the day's terrible events. Thank you.
I haven't known you've had a such rough meeting in Nangaku...
It's so pity thing.
But it's strange because there isn't the department of medical science in Nangaku...
Why did the professor operate the enemy......?
It's so hot yesterday, so that scenery
(one of them was dead on the table, and his body had been cut open and his heart was cut out. His enemy had blood all over his face and shirt. )
must had made you cool...
Anyway,I think that professors should be calm in any situation.
I'm a lover, too, so I'm very sad and I'm anxious about you. I earnestly hope that you won't have any such troubles any more.
And of course, also I hope that you continue to teach us in NANGAKU...；＿；
Though the Subgroup encompassed only eight members, the dustup cited might
have involved any number of combinations. Japanese-on-Japanese violence
was most common, but we did have one uncommonly obstreperous “native” (as
native speakers of English are abbreviated) among us, who was expert at
the art of pushing others’ buttons.
Naturally, the altercation did not involve me, nor my American colleague Vernon, who was sort of my role model re blending into the background when things heated up.
Vernon, a tenured linguistics scholar, once shared with me his belief that there
should be no tenure, that all professors should be given five-year contracts,
at the end of which they would have to hurl themselves back into the job
His rationale was that faculty colleagues’ natural antipathy for one another usually doesn’t rise to homicidal levels until three years or so into their acquaintance, so the five-year limit would curtail the type of brutality described above.
I’m now in my eighth year of full-time service at RU, and tenured, and
yet I look back on those days at NU—-occasional bloodbaths included—-with
aching nostalgia. In those days, I was but an uncomfortable witness to
all the hating; in recent years, I, along with the sole other "native"
of our department, have become a target of it.
I will not bore the reader with the reasons for my colleagues’ hostility,
other than to say that it is not what you suspect. I no longer exchange
nightly declarations of love with sophomore “interns.” My history with
RU females is at worst a bit on the gamey side but largely devoid of line-crossing.
Though less thrilling and inspiring than my NU friends, RU students do
amuse me, and I would like to keep teaching them for six more years, which
is to say until turning sixty-five. In the meantime, I face constantly
ratcheting-up pressures. My colleagues seek to assign me courses that they
know I cannot teach and duties that, owing to linguistic or cultural limitations,
they know I cannot perform. Their purpose (I can surmise, having witnessed
similar scenarios enacted upon others at NU) is surely to drive me toward
a breakdown that will force my early retirement. Upon my lone native colleague, they achieved that threshold this year. He snapped in ways that were not pretty. I wonder how much longer I can hold out myself.**
It should not come as a surprise that intra-faculty fire-bombing has finally engulfed me, given how endemic it is to universities worldwide. In my younger years, when I had giddy, infantile notions of publishing my books through legitimate publishers, I purchased a listing of literary agents that included what types of writing each agent preferred to represent along with which genres that agent rejected out of hand.
On two occasions, I came across this odd proviso
Other: No accounts of conflicts with faculty colleagues, please.
Yes, memoirs of intra-faculty hating actually constitute a genre. Somewhere,
a bookshelf groans under thick, leather-bound accounts of how Dr. So-and-so’s
nefarious schemes drove me out of academia.
The question is, why? Consider that office-working drudges in both the
west and Japan interact with the same coworkers day after day after day,
from early morning to evening, with no barriers other than cubicle walls—if
that. One assumes that a fair degree of hating goes on in such a context,
but apart from the Scott Adams oeuvre, there is no genre there.
In universities, by contrast, faculty face a single day per week dedicated to meetings with our brethren and sistren. Apart from that, our interactions are limited to chance encounters in corridors, lounges, restrooms, and truck stops of ill repute. Some present themselves on campus as few as three days per week. It’s a miracle we can remember each other’s names, let alone develop the depth of mutual appreciation that is a prerequisite for hatred.
I suppose it has something to do with the autocratic status that professors (other than me) enjoy in the bulk of their human interactions. Professors (again, excluding the utterly powerless me) spend the bulk of their time in classrooms wielding something not far from absolute power. Be quiet. Listen. Put away that phone. Go buy the textbook. Perhaps no one achieves perfect obedience, but the professor/dictator does have various means of punishing miscreants ranging from public embarrassment to delayed graduation. On Meeting Day, however, these powers suddenly melt away.
Here is my best attempt to get non-academics to grasp the dynamics of any
sorto of faculty meeting. Suppose you could assemble ten or so of the most
ruthless dictators of recent memory at the peak of their authoritarian
power. You have Gaddafi, you have Saddam, you have the Kim of your choice,
and of course THAT LAWLESS TYRANT BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA! (Oops, sorry—some
leakage from a neighboring blog.)
Suppose, now, that you strip these despots of their entourages and concealed weapons, and seal them in a small, poorly ventilated room from which they cannot emerge until they have assigned to one another various duties, ranging from the silly to the impossible.
“I think Mugabe should do the parent-teacher conferences this summer.”
“What? Fuck you, Kim, I did it last year. Let Assad do something, for once.”
“I’m already doing the departmental newsletter, dickwad. Anyway, I have to get back home in August. My people need gassing.”
And so it goes.
I am sorry to burden the reader with all of this. Faculty strife, I find, is the hardest aspect of university life to render funny—which is probably why savvy agents go out of their way to head it off.
I think you’ll agree that I have been pretty good about avoiding this topic
till now. In my published memoirs, faculty colleagues are hardly more salient
than the teachers in a Peanuts special, reduced to trumpetty off-stage
sound effects. I make every effort to keep the focus on the Japanese students,
who make far more compelling subjects. (And, of course, on myself.)
That said, I do include a whole chapter on faculty turmoil in the upcoming
OPD, since leaving that stuff out altogether would create mysterious holes
in the narrative. Or, as I put it in the text, “It would be like setting
a rom-com in the zombie apocalypse without ever showing any zombies.”
Well, I’m off to Malaysia next week, using Malaysian Airlines for one leg of the trip. So perhaps my trials will soon enough be over.
|* I was horrified; after decades cobbling together a livable income from adjunct work, I had finally squeezed myself into a full-time contract position, and was just starting to get tenure in my sites—and now Vernon wanted to blast that clay pigeon to bits before I could get a shot off.
Of course, being a foreigner, Vernon’s proposals had no chance of being considered. I was horrified simply because I am easily horrified—my cold-blooded reaction to the heartless corpse on the meeting table notwithstanding.
|** This, by the way, is my excuse for the long absence from this blog. By the
way, want to help ease me into early retirement? How about buying some