Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Reading and Shameless Plug for a Darkly Funny Book: Dear Committee Members

Julie Schumacher

pages 3-5

September 4, 2009
Theodore Boti, Chair
Department of English

Dear Ted,

Your memo of August 30 requests that we on the English faculty recommend some luckless colleague for the position of director of graduate studies.  (You may have been surprised to find this position vacant upon your assumption of the chairship last month -- if so, trust me, you will encounter many such surprises here.)

A quick aside, Ted:  god knows what enticements were employed during the heat of summer to persuade you -- a sociologist! -- to accept the position of chair in a department not your own, an academic unit whose reputation for eccentricity and discord has inspired the upper echelon to punish us by withholding favors as if from a six-year-old at a birthday party:  No raises or research funds for you, you ungovernable rascals!  And no fudge before dinner!  Perhaps, as the subject of a sociological study, you will find the problem of our dwindling status intriguing.

To the matter at hand:  though English has traditionally been a largish department, you will find there are very few viable candidates capable of assuming the mantle of DGS.  In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd wager that only 10 percent of the English instruction list will answer your call for nominations.  Why?  First, because more than a third of our faculty now consists of temporary (adjunct) instructors who creep into the building under cover of darkness to teach their graveyard shifts of freshman comp; they are not eligible to vote or to serve.  Second, because the remaining two-thirds of the faculty, bearing the scars of disenfranchisement and long-term abuse, are busy tending to personal grudges like scraps of carrion on which they gnaw in the gloom of their offices.  Long story short:  your options aren't pretty.

After subtracting the names of those who are on leave or close to retirement, and those already serving in the killing fields of administration, you will probably be forced to choose between Franklin Kentrell (NO:  spend five consecutive minutes with him and you will understand why); Jennifer Brown-Wilson (a whipping girl for the theory faction -- already terrorized, she will decline); Albert Tyne (under no circumstances should you enter his office without several days' warning -- more on this later); Donna Lovejoy (poor overworked creature -- I hearby nominate her [anonymously please] with this letter); and me.  You'll soon find that I make myself unpleasant enough to be safe from nomination.

Enfin:  Lovejoy will sag under the additional burden, but she will perform.

Ted, in your memo you referred briefly, also, to the need for faculty forbearance during what we were initially told would be the "remodeling" of the second floor for the benefit of our colleagues in the Economics Department.  I'm not sure that you noticed, but the Econ faculty were, in early August, evacuated from the building -- as if they'd been notificed, sotto voce, of an oncoming plague.  Not so much the faculty in English.  With the exception of a few individuals both fleet of foot and quick-witted enough to claim status as asthmatics, we have been Left Behind, almost biblically, expected to begin our classes and meet with students while bulldozers snarl at the door.  Yesterday afternoon during my Multicultural American Literature class, I watched a wrecking ball swing ing like a hypnotist's watch just past the window.  While I am relieved to know that the economists -- delicate creatures! -- have been safely installed in a wing of the new geology building where their physical comfort and aesthetic needs can be addressed, those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation:  as of next week we have been instructed to keep our windows tightly closed due to "particulate matter" -- but my office window (here's the amusing part, Ted) no longer shuts.  One theory here:  the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us.  Let the academic year begin!

Cordially and with a hearty welcome to the madhouse,

pages 8-9:

September 14, 2009
Ted Boti, Resident Sociologist and Chair
Department of English

Dear Ted:

You've asked me to write a letter seconding the nomination of Franklin Kentrell for Payne's coveted Davidson Chair.  I assume Kentrell is behind this request; no sane person would nominate a man whose only recent publications consist of personal genealogical material and who wears visible sock garters in class -- all he lacks is a white tin basin to resemble a nineteenth-century barber.

But if you want me to endorse his nomination in order to keep him quiet and away from your office (you will find him as persistent and maddening as a fly), you may excerpt the following sentences and affix my name to them:  "Professor Franklin Kentrell has a singular mind and a unique approach to the discipline.  He is sui generis.  The Davidson Chair has never seen his like before."

A word on the call for official, written letters of recommendation, Ted:  I hope for the sake of all concerned you will cut back on these as much as possible.  The LOR has become a rampant absurdity, usurping the place of the quick consultation and two-minute phone call -- not to mention the teaching and research that faculty were supposedly hired to perform.  I haven't published a novel in six years; instead, I fill my departmental hours casting words of praise into the bureaucratic abyss.  On multiple occasions, serving on awards committees, I was actually required to write LORs to myself.

Keeping my temper under wraps for the present,

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