by JIM KNIPFEL
February 24, 2019
School for Corpses, Part V: Why Do I even Bother?
When I turned in all the necessary paperwork at the Humanities department office at the art school, I was told by one of the (admittedly very nice) admin assistants working in the office that my conspiracy theory course would then be given an official course number and promptly listed in the catalog for the spring semester. After that it was only a matter of waiting for at least ten students to sign up. The class having been scheduled for Mondays at nine a.m., this was far from a given. If less than ten signed up, the course would be cancelled and it would be back to the gutter for me. If ten or more signed up, it was a go.
Okay then, I still had my doubts that conniving chair would ever let it happen (considering she’d done everything in her power to derail it), but at least things were moving. The paperwork was finished and clear and where it needed to be, and my friend Richard had promised to spread the word, not only among his own students, but to the advisors who would be counseling the students as well. Maybe they could quietly organize a covert end run around that chair, too busy cackling and rubbing her hands with glee to notice kids were actually signing up for the class.
A week passed and I heard nothing more. This was not necessarily cause for alarm. The new semester was just a few weeks old, and I’m sure there was a lot of scrambling afoot. Still, I sent an innocent note off to that same admin assistant who’d told me the course number and listing would be coming forthwith. I asked first if we had a course number yet, then asked if, as had been the case when I taught there in 2009, I might have access to the page on the school’s website where I could track the number of students signing up. “It was a major help last time,” I wrote, “when it came to determining beforehand how many handouts I’d need to print out, etc.” What I didn’t tell her was that I wasn’t willing to just sit back and trust that fucking chair to tell me honestly how many students had signed up. With access to that page, I’d be able to watch my own back.
Later that afternoon I received a reply.
“As soon as the president approves your appointment to the faculty,” she wrote, “you will be given a course number and access to the school’s website.”
Wait, what? That wasn’t what I’d been told before. Nobody had said a word about presidential approval. It was all just, “give us these papers and we’ll get right on it.” So in short the fucking class wasn’t even listed in the catalog yet. During the interview the chair had made a big deal about there being a fast-approaching deadline to get a new course into the Spring catalog. Even at the time there was some question of whether or not the deadline had passed already. Here we were a month later, I’d done everything they asked of me and more, and not a fucking thing had happened? I was still waiting on some mythical approval from some school president who would never in his right mind give his approval to some drunken schlub who didn’t have a fancy degree? I couldn’t get approval to tie my fucking shoes from the goddamn president of the Kiwanis Club.
Well so much for covert operations. I let Richard know he might as well put things on hold until there was an actual course listed to point people toward.
Then it hit me. Of course! If it had merely been a matter of not enough students signing up, I could always argue that we try posting the course again in the fall semester, preferably at a better time. But if the goddamn school president says no the appointment itself, then that was that and I was out of the running.
It wouldn’t have been that big a deal, really, I would have been happy to accept the presidential approval business. If only the stories I was being told weren’t changing at every step of the way in a clear effort to hamstring me. First good goddamn thing in a long goddamn time comes along, and I run into nothing but bureaucratic fuckers trying to fuck me on the deal any way they can.
People tell me I’m being paranoid, that this is simply the way things work for everyone, especially in academics, but I dunno. Put all the pieces together from the beginning, and there’s something sneaky up around in Sneakyville.
* * *
Well, so shut my mouth. Toward the end of September, two weeks after being told everything depended on presidential approval, I received a note from the department secretary informing me that, miracle of miracles, my appointment had been approved. The course was given an official number and, presumably anyway, listed in the catalog. I was also instructed to stop by the Registrar’s Office to pick up my official ID. It was all merely another hurdle of course, there was nothing definite about any of it—merely another hop forward through another hoop. Now it was a matter of waiting to see if ten students would be fool enough to sign up for a class at nine Monday morning.
Around this same time I made the mistake of asking Richard and another friend who’d recently fled academia about what contemporary students were like. I hadn’t taught in ten years, I figured there might have been a few cultural changes, but lawdy lawdy loo.
It went far beyond simple “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and other such mortifying horseshit.
Jason, the other friend, had taught film to film majors at a North Carolina state school until he couldn’t take it anymore. These young prospective directors complained that Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was “boring and stupid,” and attacked him for not showing any African-American themed films. Then when he took the hint and did show an African-American themed film they attacked him again, declaring that, being a white male, he had no right to screen an African-American film.
There was also, Richard told me, a long list of things you simply weren’t allowed to bring up in class. Sex was one, for some reason. Suicide was another. Stupid as it all was, it quickly got stupider.
“You’re not allowed to bring up 9/11,” Richard told me.
“Yeah, it makes people cry.”
“Cry? You’re fucking joking—these little snots weren’t even fucking born yet! It’s like saying, ‘Oh, you better not mention the assassination of Garfield, because it makes people cry.’”
“Yeah I know, but we aren’t allowed to mention it in class.”
“But it’s a fucking conspiracy theory class! It’s gonna fucking come up. And now I’m gonna make sure it comes up a lot, starting day one.” I don’t really react very well to being told what I can and can’t say. Tell me I can’t say something, and I’ll make a distinct point of saying it over and over. I must admit that as far as reactions go, this one hasn’t served me particularly well, career wise, but whatever. “Well, maybe I’ll tell them to make sure and bring a box of Kleenex with them every week if they’re gonna be all sniveling about it. Fucking little panty wastes.”
A day after I got that bit of news, I received the following mass email from the department chair:
The Humanities and Sciences department will be changing. We will be developing globally-focused courses and reinvigorating long-standing courses by including more diverse material.
As we prepare the 2019-2020 curriculum, we will be:
Expanding the content and/or approach of some current courses that do not include diversity;
Developing more lab-based science courses and diversifying math courses.
If you wish to propose a replacement course for 2019-2020, we are interested in courses that:
1. Focus on – or include in a meaningful way – a wider representation of geographic regions;
2. Include diversity - content, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and politics;
3. Engage students so that they are actively involved in their learning both within and outside your classroom and not solely listening to lectures and viewing films;
4 Address what is happening today.
Wait, how exactly do you make math more diverse? Is there Congolese math? Honduran algebra? Transgender trigonometry? Christ.
I started to feel a bit nauseous about the whole prospect. Yeah, even if it came together and I got the go-ahead, I was getting the distinct impression I wouldn’t last two weeks before the little weasels complained en masse to the dean, and I was dragged from the classroom by security.
Well, again if it happened, at least it would be funny up to that point.
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