“Academic Community” and the Food Chain Reconsidered

I really prefer spy novels–something like Helen McInnes, who mixed Nazis with art dealers and always managed to kill off a good number of the good guys. Or Graham Greene. Oh, yes, Graham Greene. The genuine real-life British spy. Travels with my Aunt, hilarious. Our Man in Havana, about a fake missle report by a Cuban vaccuum cleaner salesman who need some extra cash, published six months before the Cuban missle crisis. The copyright page made me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, the first Graham Greene novel I ever picked up was The Human Factor, which I still don’t like, so it was another twenty years before I picked up another one of his books. Oh, and there was the creepy The Silent American about the early days of Vietnam. Creepy for its glimpse of the Vietnamese mind as well as the British mind. Having lived in a former British protectorate, the British/American relationship is always interesting to explore. But of course it’s only fiction.

Somtimes though, I venture out of my favorite rut and pick up some other genre. Like the time my folks were staying in a house owned by a couple where the wife was a romance novel addict. Two basement rooms were devoted to the bookshelves full of Harlequins. My brother and I read a new romance every day, just like eating popcorn, mostly because there wasn’t anything else to read. The plots were all the same. Girl meets Bad Boy in a mansion. Falls in love but realizes it’s impossible because of his character. They fight and he admires her spunk. Discovers his character is okay after all becasue he loves his mother or somesuch. Lives happily ever after.

This week I picked up a whodunit, Margaret Maron’s One Coffee With. A Sigrid Harald Mystery. This one got me on the first papragraph:

Few institutions of higher learning are content that their faculties do nothing but teach. In the name of “academic community,” Administration arranges committees, faculty-student teas, receptions to meet the newest trustee, and interdisciiplinary seminars. Departments that submit to this nonsense unquestioningly are rewarded with buildings of their own or, at the very least, whole floors of contiguous classrooms and well-furnished offices.

In every college, though, there is always one department that doesn’t give a damn for academic community, that adopts a laissez-faire attitude toward Administration’s extracurricular entanglements and subsequantly finds itself jammed higgledy-piggledy into the college’s leftover spaces.

Of course you know this department will have the murder that will occupy the rest of the novel’s pages. My department is more like the first one, and will probably never have a murder mystery, or for that matter any other kind of mystery.

As I listened to the president’s remarks this morning over a bagel and designer coffee for the second time in a week, I pondered the dean’s remarks from yesterday. If you’re here for the money instead of becasue you love the students, then you don’t belong here, he said. Tonight I checked online for the direct deposit amount from the last week of fall semeter and concluded that was very true. Then I pondered my lack of health insurance and prescription benefits, the 25 hour weekly limit on teachers’ hours, and the emphasis on socializing with other faculty. Yes, indeed I do love my students. That is what keeps me going. Some day when I have a completely different life, I will look back on this semeter of staff development, trays of firsthand free food, and hours in the classroom with nostalgia, and perhaps wish I could live these days again.

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