SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 10, 2019

School for Corpses, Part VII: The Twists Just Keep on Twisting

 

I spent much of Tuesday dealing with the art school’s IT person, attempting to overcome the myriad road blocks I’d been encountering with the three basic web pages I’d need to use while teaching. The fundamental problem seemed to be that the sites were a bit less than what you’d call compatible with my screen reader. Another basic issue was that I didn’t seem able to access one of the sites at all. This was a real corker, as that was the site that allowed me to keep track of the number of students signing up for the class. Not trusting anything anyone there told me by this point, I wanted to at least see those numbers myself independently. I wasn’t content to just sit back and let that department chair tell me no one had signed up, then call it a day.

            Well, when it came to the compatibility issue, the IT guy had no suggestions at all, and in fact seemed to ignore the question. When it came to accessing that one site, however, he did toss me one little tidbit of news.

            “I spoke with someone at the Office of Learning Technology,” he wrote. “He told me you aren’t allowed access to that site because you’re a continuing education instructor. That site is for graduate and undergraduate instructors only.”

            Wait, what? That was a new one on me. I’d always been under the impression, given everything the chair had said during the interview, all her folderol about Millennials, that it was an undergrad course. Had I made a horrific mistake? Had I been applying for a teaching gig at The Learning Annex all along? Christ, that was bad news if it was true—they paid, like, six bucks a class. And what retiree in his or her right mind was going to sign up for a class that takes place at nine Monday morning? In January, no less?

            Confused and a little dismayed by the unexpected revelation, I called Richard and told him what the IT guy had sprung on me.

            “Oh, that’s bullshit,” he said. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You were interviewed and hired by the Humanities chair, not the woman who runs Continuing Ed. Two very different things. Plus your status would be completely different and the pay wouldn’t be near what they offered you.”

            Mildly comforted by this, I nevertheless sent off a query to the department secretary. If for some reason I had been registered on the school’s system as a continuing ed instructor, best to get it cleared up now, right? So I sent the note off and waited.

            Two days later I heard back. The secretary told me she had spoken with someone in the IT department, and I would be granted access to the page in question a month before classes began.

            Okay, hmm. She hadn’t said anything at all about my status, and being given access a month before class began meant being given access only after the registration period had closed, meaning I wouldn’t be able to check the numbers myself, and would have to trust the woman who never wanted to hire me in the first place.

            I began to wonder if I’d still be seeing conspiracies at the heart of every exchange I had with these people if I was teaching a course about Eighteenth century English poetry instead of one about conspiracy theories. I honestly didn’t know.

            The last week in October, Richard, who had been backing me from the start, was called in to meet with the interim chair himself. A student, it seems, had complained to the school’s Title IX counselor about him. That could potentially be very bad news, especially considering the school’s recent history. The Title IX people handled complaints about sexual abuse and harassment, and even a rumor of such a thing could destroy a career in a blink. I’d known Richard a long time, and knew well enough he would never even think of doing anything untoward with or to a student, and I was right.

            The complaint wasn’t about his behavior or anything he said, but a film he’d shown in one of his classes. It was a classic bit of Japanese cinema from the early Sixties—a film I have on my own shelves, and one that was regularly screened in feminist courses. But this particular student had taken offense at some of the film’s imagery, and blamed Richard. Hoo-boy, the more stories I heard about contemporary students, the more I began to wonder how long I’d last if this fucking class ever took place.

            “She’s insane,” Richard said about the interim chair after his meeting. “She’s not just an idiot—she’s insane.” It sounded like it had been a re-run of my own meeting with her three months earlier. A lot of non-sequiturs, a lot of buzzwords, and a clear misunderstanding of who he was, what he taught, how long he’d been there and how beloved he was by his students.

            “And you came up, too,” he told me.

            “Uh-oh.”

            “She clearly doesn’t want your class to run. She kept saying she was going to try to do what she could, but she wasn’t sure. She kept saying that you’d been completely blind since birth and got all of your information from podcasts.”

            “What the fuck is that? I never mentioned podcasts to her. She’s the one who kept talking about podcasts. I don’t think she really knows what a podcast is. Christ, I can’t even work Facebook, let alone play podcasts.”

            “So now I don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be bad,” Richard said. “They might take the class away from me”

            All this, of course, was the next level. She’d done what she could to hamstring me, so now was going after the guy who’d been promoting me. Get rid of him and she’d have no reason at all to hire me.

            In the following days it came out Richard wasn’t the only one she was after. One by one, she’d been dragging every member of the Humanities faculty into her office to not only berate them for their teaching style or some other nonsense, she’d been rewriting everyone’s syllabus herself. Professors were suddenly discovering that classes they’d been teaching for ten years or more were now, well, completely different classes. On top of that, her beratings hadn’t been doing much for morale.

            The problem with dealing with the clearly demented is that, despite all my talk about chess, there’s absolutely no way to predict what their next move might be. I was almost curious.

 

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