Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer at Enema U

It is summer at Enema U.  I can tell, because the buildings are almost empty of intelligent life forms.  NASA could send a probe and probably find nothing higher on the intelligence scale than a few tenured professors--and that hardly counts.  

Except, of course, for the secretaries.  This is the time of year when I really feel sorry for the secretaries.  Everyone who works at a university loves the students (most of them, anyway).  Students are why we are here, and when you take them away, there is nothing left in the buildings but faculty and administratorsjust about the definition of Hell.

Lately, I have been thinking about one particular secretary.  She has a permanent smile and the patience of a pyramid.  She is always good-natured and pleasant even while dealing with the most obstreperous professor, but, if you look into her eyes, you can see the glow of angry intelligence, like coals banked for the night in a fireplace.  Any minute now, shes gonna' reach a combustion point, and turn into a raging inferno.  Shell fetch up the nearest professor and crack a shriveled neck like a twig.  (I have a shovel in the truck and will gladly volunteer to help hide the carcass.  Why did God make so much desert if it wasnt to hide the corpses of the guilty?)  

The problem with some faculty--our little hot-house flowers--is that they demand to be treated like orchids, while in reality the blooming idiots behave like noxious weeds.  They exhibit the rude-mannered self-absorption that is only attainable with an advanced academic degree. 

The sociologist, Max Weber observed in the early 20th century, that while bureaucracy is in some instances an optimal organizational mode for a rationalized, industrial society, it has drawbacks. One is that public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves. 

The above, of course, applies perfectly to universities.  While we all start with the best interests of the student uppermost in our minds...somewhere along the way we just lose focus.  Somehow, our goals shift to building the new athletic building, the new office building, or the next travel grant.  

If student enrollment were to grow as fast as administration….well, it just can’t.  At the rate we are sacrificing classrooms to make more room for the administration, within a few years we will have to hire people from other states to work online.  There simply won’t be enough room for any of those pesky students.

I know some Adjunct professors who work like Dickensian orphans while being paid so little they survive on a steady diet of Bottom Ramen.  At the same time, there are tenure track professors whose salaries are three times that of adjuncts, but instead of teaching, they show so many movies that their classrooms have a permanent aroma of popcorn.  

Take, for example, one of our professors:  Professor Maleficent used to be the Dean of Women at the local state women's prison, but is now the Bin Laden Chair of Maenadian Studies.  While it might be inaccurate to say she completely ignores the students, she currently timeshares a virtual classroom.  This pretty much eliminates the need to actually confront students, since she has found it conveniently easy to ignore virtual students.  

A few professors still occasionally move through the building (usually on their way to the swimming pool), going as slow as a milk cow with a full bag.  The work ethic of a university in summertime would appall even the French.  You have to remember, we are government employees.  The only way to make a government employee work slower is to shoot them in the heart.  However, this will not work on administrators since, by definition, they are as heartless as Republicans with a budget deficit.  

The only nice thing you can say about some lazy ass professors is that in the case of a zombie attack, we can outrun them.  (Then again, if zombies actually eat brains, some professors might be viewed as undesirable low-calorie diet food--despite an abundance of advanced academic degrees!).  

Summer is also the time when we say goodbye to some faculty, as this is the time of year when some faculty retire.  The state retirement system is somewhat complicated--I've been here 18 years and just recently received my 10-year pin.  I would explain that...if I could.  

For retirees, the university has some lovely parting gifts.  Everyone gets the take home version of the game.  At 25 years, you are given two 10 year pins and time alone with a shotgun.  At 40 years, you get a Nambe bathtub.  I think I'm going to shoot for 50 years so I can get a Nambe Suburban.  

But this is the summer.  By fall, the passion for teaching will rekindle in almost all of us.  Along with the students, usually there is a return of hope, enthusiasm, and a renewed impatience to return to the classroom.  Most of the above is the product of pessimism produced by vacant classrooms, deserted halls, and empty parking lots. 


  1. I love this essay. I got a five year pin for 23 years of service - what is the ratio they use? you may have to consult both IT and math department, maybe physics??

  2. I lived a year in Portales, NM and taught at a small church school. I do understand bureaucracies. They have them in small church schools too. On occasion I found my self standing on the edge of town looking out over the wasteland, watching a red sandstorm rolling across the prairie toward me and thinking, I could bury them out there right now, the storm would cover my tracks and the graves and I could go to work on Monday with some peace of mind. I also spent 2 years at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas as an indentured grad student. I withdrew prior to earning my degree for religious reasons (the department chair wanted me to give up my religion and accept atheism as my personal savior). I discovered that tenured professors could demand that grad students dress up in pink tutus and spangly tights and dance the Macarena on the rooftop in a thunderstorm if they wanted to and the Supreme Court apparently protects their right to do so. Tell that secretary that if she wants another shovel hand, I'll hitchhike down there to give her a hand.....