I have not been writing this week on customer service, I have been out on a campus customer service mini-audit which took most of the week so far. It was an interesting audit since this is the first time I have given a college a 100% score on welcoming attitude. Everyone I passed said hello and when I stopped to look as if I were lost, someone always stopped to offer help. This was wonderful and Southeast Arkansas College deserves kudos for that.
I have been also working on some other writing again this week. A novel about a college in which the chair of the board of trustees is killed. The mystery becomes who did it and why is college so crazy? I hope you don’t mind me sharing the first chapter as my offering this week. If you want more, just let me know. Be glad for comments and any editing ideas too. Here is chapter one of Board to Death.
Board to Death
By Neal Raisman
On Friday morning, the janitor found the body of the Chair of the Board of Trustees. He had been killed sometime the night before. Everyone knew who to blame. The college president. Not based on evidence. Just habit. And simple metaphoric concepts of reality.
“This college is a living organism just like the one he slaughtered. It lives. It breathes. It takes nourishment” the bearded biology professor said to the newspaper reporter. “Its food is scholarship. It is a child that we, the faculty, nurture so it will grow into a handsome man, or a woman who need not fit some artificial concept of beauty to be a full person" His head nodded slowly and stroked his beard thoughtfully, wisely, close to sagaciously. Just like he imagined Darwin looked when he devised the unified theory of evolution.
“May I quote you on that?” the young reporter asked.
"Hush, no, I wish to keep my remarks anonymous…. so as not to sully them with attribution" he mumbled through his beard while starting to move away from the newspaper reporter.
The reporter turned to face where the tugging at his sleeve and another voice was coming from. He looked down at a short, stocky woman who was staring at him through a pair of thick circular eyeglasses that made her eyes look like two small black marbles. "What you need to realize is that butchering a trustee is a small thing. Almost insignificant in the scale of things. Trustees come and go but the college… " The tenured senior professor of educational development sighed deeply before she continued. "This is a president who cut the heart out of a child. A child we raised and nurtured for over twenty-five years. His budget knife made a mortal gash into this wonderful college. Anyone who could do that could also cut the throat of a universally recognized imbecile who threatened him and his career.” Her voice rose in an excited arc of triumph that then fell into a slow steady pronouncement as if she were reading a proposal to the faculty Senate. “We, the faculty are not at all surprised. In fact we expected him to do more harm. To the college that is.” She paused to let her thoughts have the fullest effect then asked.” You won't use my name will you?" She stated as if she were talking to a foolish student who had asked for an unobtainable extension on a paper.
A younger faculty member slid up and filled the space vacated by the senior professor who was now quietly moving away from the reporter before he could answer her question. She told the reporter that she definitely agreed with her senior colleague who was the chair of the committee reviewing her request for tenure. "The full faculty would most assuredly concur with my colleague. Those who care at all about the college certainly believe….No! We know with certitude that this president is unquestionably capable of such horrific action. Merely look at what he did when he claimed we had a two million-dollar deficit. He said we had to cut costs. However, following the Special Combined Faculty Senate and Union Ad Hoc Task Force on the So-Called Fiscal Crisis, we arrived at no such validation of his position. Instead, we determined he simply had his priorities wrong” she nodded to reaffirm her statement. “Just cut administrative spending, fire a couple vice-presidents and we were fine. In fact, a faculty committee recommended we add eight more departments. Yet, even against the recommendation of the faculty, he cut three. He claimed they had not graduated a student in five years. So, he just cut them out. There was no need to do that. Merely an ego-trip for him. Marking his territory like a dog if you will. One cannot equate graduation with learning and value can one? As my senior colleague put it so well, assuredly, we can believe he did in the trustee.”
“Could he kill? Why even ask the question?” the associate professor of dramatic arts and secretary of the faculty union asked the reporter. “Murder, mayhem, delight at the carnage one can produce is at the heart of anyone who would be an administrator. You would never find me accepting such a Torquemada-like role. I must maintain my integrity. My principles come first. I would not grovel at the feet of those one hates with a passion. I have too much respect for the purity of scholarship. Humble myself to corporate prostitutes as he did just to solicit money as would an administrative whore? Never!....By the way, you won’t use my name will you? I am not afraid to stand behind my statements, but I have to think of others”. Once assured this would be attributed to an unnamed source, he restated his monologue with gusto.
As he concluded, the reporter swung around to a young woman who looked confused and concerned. "And you, what are your thoughts? Could the president have killed the trustee?"
She looked at him with a blank stare. "The president? Of what? I don't know what you're talking about. Look, I’m just a part-time faculty member. One of the gypsies that travel from school to school trying to make a living. All I know is if I can't get into that building to teach my course, the department chair will not sign my pay voucher. I won’t get paid” The small, thin, hungry looking woman started to push passed him when she stopped as if an alarm went off. She turned with a large expectant smile on her face ands asked “Someone got killed? Please tell me it was a tenured psychology professor. Please. I need job” When told it was a trustee, she looked crushed and said. "Crap. Only a trustee. We part-time adjuncts never get a break" and walked off to try and find a way to get into the building to teach her class before she gave her name.
One faculty member was quite willing to provide her name. Aurora Corning stated she would not engage in speculation on so serious a topic. “Besides, the man had done a good job in tough times. No one person can please everyone, particularly when there is quite such a mess to be cleaned up. Even more particularly at a college. He took on a job knowing he had to make changes which would make others unhappy but they needed to be.....” She did not get to finish her statement. The reporter whirled away from her and spotted Prof. Pomeroy, a consistently outspoken critic of the president.
“The man is an academic assassin” was the announcement of Prof. Pomeroy. ”He destroyed the History department by freezing tenure track positions dead in their tracks. His simply absurd assertion that we had no choice in the face of a $2 million budget deficit was disproved by the Faculty Senate’s own budget review. I myself headed that task force. When I presented my results from my own calculations, the man actually questioned my computation and my figures. He said they were not accurate and did not reflect the reality of the revenue and expenditures of the current and recent years. He attacked me in front of faculty members I called together to hear our results. He was not even invited. Not invited, yet he had the audacity to disagree with a faculty committee.”
The president lost many character witnesses on that one. Everyone loved Pomeroy even though she had not published a book or article in twenty-seven years. Nor had she done much teaching since no one signed up for her courses. She had not spent much time helping anyone but herself. She was however, a founding faculty member and therefore a legend. One does not cut short a legend in a culture which worships meaningless traditions that make certain change does not happen quickly. But, the president did just after she called him a “curricular butcher and a mental cretin”.
When the police spoke with the chair of the Faculty Senate, Associate Professor Wescott Bailey who was also chair of the faculty union, he immediately announced that he knew the president must have done it. Though he had no definite basis for his knowledge he was as emphatic as he would be in front of a class and asked a question he really had no answer for. When knowledge was not handy, Assoc. Prof. Bailey had the strength of conviction in his intelligence and authority to rely fully on his own good judgment or an opinion he thought should be right and not questioned. In this situation, he relied firmly on his own distaste for administrators in general and the president in particular. He had his own experience and an abundance of faculty lounge hearsay for a clear and accurate determiNedion of the college president’s deficiencies as an administrator, an academic and a decent person. For example, his department’s budget had been cut by 2% just when Bailey was due for three additional hours of release time. He needed the release time to be able to get out of teaching a class of freshman writing so he could work on his study of end punctuation in the poetry of William Blake. What with faculty Senate and union business and teaching a course in Cinema of the 90’s, he had little time to complete his research. For him, it was a small metaphoric jump from slashing out his valuable and required release time to cutting a useless board chair’s throat.
An administrator who adamantly refused to let her name out simply stated that Pinkus was not a good leader. “A man given to quick decisions which may not even have any clear payoff. He was absolutely wrong on a lot of things like cozying up to faculty. He was much too concerned with pleasing them. I tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen. I’ve been in academic administration for three years so I know what I’m talking about. He was always too concerned with pleasing the faculty and students to run this place properly and the Board chair knew it. Budget cuts? Hah! He barely scratched the surface. He let our chance go by to really change this place. To take back control. But no, he let the inmates run the asylum." She tossed her hair with disdain.
Then after looking about to see if there was anyone else around she continued. "He also refused to cut deals. No sense of the real world so I’m not at all surprised he did this.” She paused as she realized her voice was getting a bit strident. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath that seemed to restore her calm. Then she continued, her voice thick with concern. "This part you can quote. Sure, I’m sick to death about it all. Of course, any true caring person would be. But I am an administrator. I cannot let the college falter. So I stand ready to lead the college forward at this time of distress. This is not a position I seek, the presidency that is, but we must have stability so I’m willing to make the personal sacrifice and become acting president. You can quote me on that but don't mention my name. I have to go now. I see someone I need to talk with." She pointed over to a group of faculty gathered in a small cluster. "Oh Joan. Joan Pomeroy. I need your guidance on some important matters. You know I would never make a decision without consulting you."
Other administrators simply refused to comment except to say that they were also ready to step in and help the college. It seemed Potomac Fever had hit the college.
Many other faculty told the reporter they could not care less who really did the deed. This was particularly true of the scientists and theologians who needed certitude. They were willing to let others blame the president. There was no grant to be gotten so why waste time on the problem. For those who could live easily with the unknown - the phys ed coaches, the business and engineering faculty, since there was to be no task force to be appointed, no release time to get out of teaching to be had, they were willing to let the president be blamed.
Why not? It was a college tradition