SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 3, 2019

School for Corpses, Part VI: The Final Joke

 

Having received, much to my shock and dismay, the school president’s approval to begin teaching my conspiracy theory course at a New York City art college starting this January, I got on the train, went into Manhattan, and found my way to the registrar’s office. I picked up my official school ID, and the woman I dealt with there emailed me my official faculty ID number and everything else I needed to get set up on the school’s websites and email system. Things were, for the first time, looking okay. It felt, after all the bullshit I’d slogged through since early August, like this goofy course of mine might actually happen.

            Then I sat down at the computer and, with Morgan’s help, tried to get set up and running on these assorted websites. Two of them wouldn’t let me sign on, informing me my account had been deleted, and I couldn’t access the third for the life of me. After a long afternoon dealing with the school’s IT department, I at last resolved the first two issues. Once I signed on, however, I quickly discovered both sites were completely incompatible with my screen reader. Even switching servers, as the IT people suggested, did no good. According to VoiceOver, my screen reader, the sites I was looking at were nothing more than blank pages. And I still couldn’t access that third site—the one where I’d be able to keep a running count of the droves of students signing up for the class. Okay then.

            I mentioned this to my friend Richard, who commiserated, telling me most everyone at the school ignored those pages as much as possible, as they were a complete mess. “Second highest rated design school in the country,” he said, “and this is the shit they come up with?” He also told me that, contrary to the school’s very strict directive, most faculty members used their own private email addresses to communicate with students rather than attempting to navigate around the school’s own aggravating and Byzantine email system, which was kind of a relief to hear, as that’s what I secretly intended to do anyway.

            The only problem was one of those unnavigable sites was necessary to keep an electronic record of weekly class attendance, which was monitored by the Registrar’s Office. It was also where I was to keep a running record of grades, any notes, and general what-have-yous, and also the means by which to send mass emails to students should class be canceled for any reason. The other site, the one I couldn’t access at all, was necessary to submit final grades.

            (The delightful instructions for grade submission informed me that when the time came at the end of the semester, I would have ten minutes to fill out the grade form for the entire class. When those ten minutes were up, the form would be submitted automatically. If I hadn’t completed the form within the time allotted, I had to start over. Christ, I knew straight off it would likely take me ten minutes to find the goddamn student names, so I wasn’t looking forward to that.)

            I decided to let all that sit awhile. I had a couple of months yet to figure it out, should I get the requisite ten students to sign up. Instead I concentrated on tweaking the syllabus and picking up eBook editions of all the required texts so I could study them myself beforehand. Oh, it was going to be such a damned good class, even if I did end up churning out a couple of QAnon acolytes by the end.

            Yes, technology aside things were going well. I’d even set my own regular work aside to concentrate on prepping for the teaching job that lay before me. Lalalalala.

            Two days after enrollment for the spring semester was opened, I decided to take a look and make sure the course had been properly listed, the way I’d been promised it would be time and again. Even if I couldn’t get to the page to see how many students had already signed up, I could at least check out the spring catalog and the course listing on the Humanities Department page.

            It took a very long time, as there were over two hundred Humanities courses being offered, and there was no clear rhyme or reason in the way they were arranged. As I scanned through them all, my heart began to sink a bit. Going in, I was certain that amid all the dusty old straight offerings about, I dunno, the Poetry of Robert Browning and the history of Guam’s Agriculture Industry, my conspiracy theory course would stand out like a glowing ember of coolness. It would be the Fonz amid all that dreary square crap. I was mistaken.

            It seemed a bunch of these tired old fogeys with their pipes and tweed jackets were trying to out cool each other. There were classes about activism, science fiction, revolution, cultural malcontents, literary portrayals of madness, existentialism, Nietzsche, and on and on. Hell, it struck me, I could teach half those classes myself, while the one I’d proposed would be lost in the swirl, particularly with that early Monday time slot. Crap, crap, crap.

            It turned out to be a moot gripe on my part. Given the conspiracy course hadn’t even been listed. Not that I could find, anyway.

            Okay, so it was entirely possible that I simply missed it. Even those pages I could access were mighty hard to navigate. So before I jumped to any wild, conspiratorial conclusions of my own (well, any more), I called Richard, who was much more familiar with the way these things were laid out, and asked if he could find it.

            Five minutes later, he called me back. “Nope, there’s nothing there,” he told me. “No class listing, and you’re not in the faculty listing. There’s nothing at all.”

            Later that night Morgan got online to take a look herself, and found the same nothingness waiting.

            Well, it’s mighty hard for ten students to sign up for a class that’s not listed in the catalog, I’d say. Did they think I wouldn’t notice?

            For some reason, this didn’t enrage me the way it should have. Call it the apotheosis of pessimism. From the very start I knew this was going to happen. There was no way that department chair would seriously let me teach a course of my own design. No way in hell. She’d play out the string, let me think I was out-maneuvering her, that for once something might actually work out. Then at the last minute she’d flip over the ace and collect the pot. All she had to do from the beginning was wait, let me jump through the bureaucratic hoops, and in the end simply not list the fucking course. Game over, sucker. That was her big joke.

            Thinking back, it did strike me as odd that things had been awfully quiet from the school’s end. You’d think that with a new faculty member coming on, there’d be a lot of information to pass along—where the mailbox was, what kind of amenities were available, where I could find the library or AV department, I don’t know. Something. When Morgan got me set up on that awful email system, she saw I had close to a thousand emails waiting, dating back ten years, to when I’d taught there last. Since then, however, there’d been not a one. Maybe I should have taken the fucking hint.

            Not only had I dropped paying work to develop this fucking thing, I’d spent money for course materials. It was a goddamn waste of my time and Jesus Christ, given all this, why the fuck was I wasting my time reading fucking Walter Ong’s fucking Orality and Literacy, which was supposed to be the reading for the second week? Fuck that—I’m going back to something fun.

            The next morning I sent off a very courteous letter to the department secretary who’d always been very nice, even as the stories she kept feeding me changed. I didn’t curse or nothing. Just politely asked why in the goddamn fucking hell my class wasn’t listed, and why my name was not included on the faculty roster. It seemed a bit late to try and salvage anything at this point, but we’ll see.

*       *       *

Okay, so shut my mouth again. Even though I couldn’t find any listing after repeated attempts, ditto with Morgan and ditto with Richard, Richard’s wife, who also teaches there, apparently found it with no trouble. I trust her, but still have my doubts.

            The same time that I found out about the existence of the listing, I also learned my nemesis in all this, the department chair, was ill, perhaps deathly so, and just had surgery, though no one knows why. I swear I had nothing to do with it. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.

 

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