Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chapter 17

Ann Sweezy was walking back to her office with a load of blue books to grade from the final exam she had just administered when she unexpectedly came upon Elita White, who was carrying a similar burden.

Ann had been trying hard not to display her emotions in public, but her eyes now suddenly filled with tears. "Oh, Elita!" she said. "I heard that Michaelson turned you down for tenure. He turned me down too!"

"Yeah, I heard," said Elita. "He's a bastard! But that provost is a real bitch! I'm glad she's leaving!"

"It's been so humiliating!" complained Ann. "The worst thing of all is how everyone in my department treats me like a pariah now. When I go into the main office or even the hallway, other faculty stop talking and move away from me. A few told me they were sad about the news, but I think most of them have already written me off and are already arguing about what to do with my position!" She could not stop herself from sobbing, even out here in the open.

"Well," Elita responded angrily, "that's the way I've been made to feel since the very first day I started teaching here. Nobody in my department has ever asked my opinion or sought my input on anything serious. I know what they all think: that I was brought in to satisfy some affirmative action quota, and that I never would have been hired if I wasn't black. I can tell that not one of them thinks my appeal will succeed, and that they'll finally be rid of me this time next year."

Ann was taken aback by this. All she could think to say was, "But at least you have the support of the NDU African-American community."

"I'm afraid you have an idealized notion of the unity of the African-American community here," said Elita scornfully. "I haven't received much support from that quarter. In fact, I've even heard rumors that it was Charles Gibson who did me in."

They both remembered the little episode with him. There was no need to discuss it. "But you know what humiliates me more than anything?" Ann asked, and then answered herself: "Michaelson gave tenure to Robert Barnes, but he's decided to leave anyway! He can stay but he doesn't want to, while I want to stay but probably can't! What am I going to do?" She then sobbed some more. She didn't care who saw.

"I'll tell you what you're going to do," said Elita. "I'll tell you what both of us are going to do. We're both going to appeal next year. And we're both going to win--without publishing or doing anything more than we already have."

Ann stopped crying. "What makes you say that?" Surely this was wishful thinking, Ann thought.

"It's simple!" Elita responded. "Just think about it: during the entire tenure process this past year, who wrote the most negative memo about you?"

"The provost," answered Ann. "That was a real surprise."

"Same for me," said Elita. "But she won't be here next year."

"Yes, but..."

"Now tell me this: did the chair of your department write you a positive memo this past year?" asked Elita.

"Yes, she did, but..."

"So did mine," Elita continued. "If our chairs wrote us positive memos this past year, there's no way that they can write anything less positive next time around--not without risking a lawsuit in which they would have to explain why they wrote positive memos for us the first time."

"Yes, but what about the voting by the departmental faculty and the college P&T committee?"

"Forget them!" Elita insisted. "The chair of my department wrote me a positive memo even after the tenured faculty in my department gave me a split vote, and the dean wrote me a positive memo even after I received more negative votes than positive ones on the P&T committee. Did the dean write you a positive memo too?"


"Just like our chairs," Elita explained, "Dean DiSola can't write memos any less positive about us than he wrote this past year without running the risk of being sued. But here's the clincher: instead of going to Provost Bobier, next year's memos from Dean DiSola will then go to Acting Provost DiSola. He can hardly advise turning us down in his capacity as acting provost after having advised approving our appeals in his capacity as dean--as he must since he advised approving us for tenure this year."

Ann hadn't thought of this. "But what about President Michaelson?" she asked. "Why would he change his mind about us?"

"Did Michaelson's letter rejecting your application for tenure state any reason for doing so?"

"No," responded Ann. "It just said something like, `I am sorry to inform you that, in accordance with the recommendation of the provost, I have decided not to approve your application for promotion and tenure.' He then went on to tell me that I was eligible for a one-year appointment during which I could appeal this decision, but which would be terminal if my appeal was unsuccessful."

"I got the same letter," said Elita. "The key phrase in it was `in accordance with the recommendation of the provost.' If he receives positive recommendations for us from the acting provost next year, then he is likely to award us tenure `in accordance with the recommendation of the provost.' If everyone below him recommends granting our appeals, he's not going to stick his neck out by denying them. He knows we'd sue him personally. Getting rid of us wouldn't be worth the hassle!"

By now Ann was convinced. "Oh, Elita! I think it just might work!"

"It will," Elita responded, "unless we let the system get us down. You and I have got to help each other. Nobody else is going to help us--at least not voluntarily!"

As they parted company, Ann felt a return of the sense of hope which had abandoned her after first receiving Provost Bobier's memo recommending she be denied tenure. She also realized that she had for the first time felt a sense of connection with Elita.

* * *

Later that day, after finally being able to get off the phone, Ruth Silverstein got up from her chair and opened the door to her office. "Come on in, Trond. I'm sorry I kept you waiting. I'm afraid things are pretty hectic around here."

"No problem," said Trond unconvincingly.

As they both sat in their accustomed places, Ruth asked, "Now what was it you wanted to see me about?"

"It's about Rob Barnes," replied Trond. "I'm afraid he's not going to change his mind about leaving. Can you do anything to help persuade him to stay?"

Ruth shrugged her shoulders. "He's a big boy. He can make his own decisions. And to tell you the truth, it would be quite useful if he did leave. I'd like to convert his slot into a public policy position. I even think the Public Policy Institute would be able to pick up half the tab, so it would reduce the cost to the department dramatically. In fact, if we get going on this now, we could advertize it and get it filled by the start of the fall semester."

Trond was taken aback. "The international relations people in the department are going to cry foul if you do that. They think of Rob's position as theirs."

Ruth shrugged her shoulders again. "So maybe we make it some kind of international public policy position. The point is that my being acting director of the Public Policy Institute has created a real opportunity for the department. Everyone was afraid that the institute was going to take resources away from the department. But now we have the opportunity to add the institute's resources to ours."

"Yes, but this link might only last for the year that you're acting director. What happens if a permanent director is chosen from outside who wants to swallow up part of our department? We'd have given him half a position already."

Why, Ruth wondered, did academics always just see obstacles and never opportunities? Trying hard to hide her exasperation, she said, "Trond, if we play our cards right, we have the opportunity to swallow the Public Policy Institute--and its resources--into our department. I've already floated the idea with Dominic, and he very much supports it. If I become permanent director of the institute, it just might work!" Yes, this was definitely a time of opportunity.

Trond frowned. "I'm not sure the faculty here wants you to be splitting your time between the department and the institute for more than a year. I'm not sure they want anything to do with the institute, or that they even want it to exist."

Opportunity might be banging on the door, but Trond and his kind would be too fearful to answer it. "Trond, the institute is a fact," said Ruth. "Michaelson has invested too much in it. He's not going to cancel the project just because people in this department aren't sure whether they want it. We either seize the opportunity that fate has provided us with to shape it to our own liking, or we have nothing to do with it--and remain powerless to stop it from competing with us for faculty slots, funding, and everything else that we fear it will do. I think it's pretty obvious which course of action is preferable."

"I see your point, Ruth," said Trond, "but I don't think the department is prepared for this. I'm sure that the IR people are not going to buy converting Rob's slot into an international public policy one--at least not yet. I really think that you're going to have to proceed very, very slowly in the fall if you're going to bring everybody on board."

"There just isn't time for that!" said Ruth, now with no effort to hide her exasperation. "If we're going to convince Michaelson to let us run the institute, we've got to show him that we're prepared to act decisively. We have to present him with a fait accompli. That's why I want to convert Rob's position to a joint appointment with the institute, and get it filled by the end of the summer!"

"I...I just don't know, Ruth..."

"Look, I'm afraid I've got a meeting to go to," she interrupted. They both got up and went their separate ways.

* * *

Later still that day, Rob Barnes was in his office grading final exams from his international political economy class when he heard a knock at his door.

"Come in!" he called.

The door opened to reveal Cindy McMann. She came in and shut the door behind her.

"Oh, hi Cindy!" said Barnes cheerily. "Did you think I have the grades for the IPE class already?"

"Do you?" she asked as she sat down.

Barnes laughed. "I'm only about half way through them, but I do have yours. Once again, you got an A."

"Thank you!" said Cindy.

"Don't thank me," responded Rob. "You earned it!"

"Actually," said Cindy, "there's something else I want to ask you about. A few weeks ago, I signed up for your Latin American politics seminar next fall. But when I checked my registration today on the computer, it said that the class was canceled. Is it?"

This, Rob knew, was Ruth Silverstein's work. When she found out he was leaving, she immediately moved to cancel his classes next fall. That, of course, was only practical, Rob realized. He thought it was interesting, though, that she had made no effort to dissuade him from leaving--unlike President Michaelson.

"I'm afraid it is, Cindy. I won't be coming back in the fall."

Michaelson had not only gone ahead and awarded him promotion and tenure, but had sent his dossier along for ratification by the Board of Trustees--which had now gone through.

"Will you be offering it in the spring, then?" asked Cindy.

Rob had told Michaelson that he already had another job lined up which he would be starting almost as soon as the semester was over. Saying that he still wouldn't yet act on his letter of resignation, Michaelson had asked Rob to write him a letter requesting two years' leave without pay--the maximum period that universities would normally allow a professor to be away.

"I'm afraid I won't be back at all, Cindy."

Trond Knutsen had also been pressing Rob to do this. He had been one of Rob's supporters all along. Trond had also made it clear that a battle was brewing over what to do with Rob's position after he left, which was somehow mixed up with Ruth becoming acting director of the new Public Policy Institute. If Rob would agree to go on leave instead of resign outright, Trond argued, Ruth could only replace him with a one-year-at-a-time restricted appointment during that period.

Rob was certain he wouldn't be coming back. The job with Johnny at Mack & Monk paid more than twice what he'd be earning at NDU even with tenure (Rob was shocked to learn that being promoted from assistant to associate professor would only mean a measly $2,000 raise). Still, he thought he might ask for a leave of absence anyway just to help Trond thwart Ruth in whatever it was they were fighting over.

"Why?" asked Cindy.

That was a good question. He had, after all, gotten tenure in the end--despite Provost Bobier.

"A much higher paying opportunity came along, and I decided to take it," he responded. That opportunity, of course, had first been presented to him last September. He had turned it down then. Why was he accepting it now? What was different?

"You weren't turned down for tenure or anything, were you?"

"No! No!" he responded. "In fact, they've just awarded it to me." Still, it didn't feel like much of a victory somehow. He had assumed that there would be absolutely no question about his being granted tenure. The fact that anyone had questioned it at all--especially the provost in her memo recommending that he be turned down this time--had stung him bitterly. So had the nonsensical sexual assault charge--and even more, how it had been manipulated after the young woman who had made it apparently sought to withdraw it.

"Will you be teaching somewhere else?"

"No, I'm leaving academia altogether."

Rob had sent in his resignation soon after receiving the provost's memo when he thought that he would be turned down for tenure by the president and that he'd better act fast to secure his future. It was clearly better to go work at Mack & Monk than to stay on at NDU after the disgrace of being denied tenure, even though he could apply for it again.

But even after learning that Michaelson had decided to promote him anyway, Rob found the prospect of life with tenure to be just as disturbing as life without it. It's not that Rob objected to tenure per se--far from it. But it would be tenure at NDU. Switching to another university with tenure seemed much more difficult now that he faced the challenge of doing so than it had last September when he told Johnny so self-confidently that that was what he would do after getting tenure here. Far fewer tenured positions were advertized in the APSA Personnel Service Newsletter than tenure-track ones. And each time one was, he could well imagine that there would be intense competition for it as dozens and dozens of tenured professors, dissatisfied with universities similar to NDU, applied for it. And if it wasn't going to be easy to move, that meant he might spend years and years--perhaps even his whole career--in this shabby little office earning a miserable salary and receiving no research support except from money he himself raised outside the university.

No, it was better to move to Mack & Monk while he could. There was no tenure in the financial world, but the salaries were great. There might not be time for writing books or even articles, but he could still be interviewed by the media. Maybe he could move into a high level position at State or Treasury, and then to a think-tank like Brookings or the Carnegie Endowment. Yes, his career would be far better served by moving to Mack & Monk now than by staying at a dump like NDU.

"So how come you didn't tell us in class that you were leaving?"

This question caught Rob up short. He had planned on telling each of his classes on his last day of teaching that he wouldn't be coming back, but found himself choking up before he could begin to say so. The same thing happened at the beginning of each of his final exams. And so he had ended up saying nothing.

"Well, I guess it just slipped my mind," Rob replied.

Cindy looked at him quizzically. "You know, I was really looking forward to taking your Latin American politics seminar next fall. I had also recommended your classes to some of my friends."

Rob felt himself choking up again. He was surprised how sad he was at the prospect of not teaching his classes any more. There was something about teaching, he knew, that earning even a lot more money doing something else wouldn't make up for.

"I'll miss you too!" said Rob, standing up quickly to signal that the visit was over. He was afraid to even look at her. Why was this so difficult?

Cindy stood up too. She reached over and put her hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yes," he said weakly. "Look, I think you'd better go now."

She put her other hand on his other shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said, "I'm really, really sorry."

But when he looked up, she was gone.