Inescapable Institutional Violence
“For the beauty of strong courageous women is ugly by misogynist standards of “beauty.” Mary Daly
Sometimes you get caught up in a cause or a battle and you cannot step away from it. This must have happened to me. As I read my words, I am so happy that my life is different now. I also grieve about what is happening in higher education. Education can be a key to a great future, but I am not sure my students received any of those keys.
I don’t want to drone on, but people need to know the “awfulness” of higher education today! I am sure that most people have encountered abuse or violence in their careers. But, integrated into the organizational fiber of colleges and universities is a self-aggrandizing cancer that harms and even kills its members.
The environment that should provide a passage to creativity and growth can become a cesspool of political struggles. The environment that should provide a peaceful respite from the stresses of life turns out to be filled with booby-traps and snares. The powerful and those who lust after power use many and varied, active and passive strategies to enhance their own egos and status. In my forty or more years of experience in higher education, violence and verbal abuse were my constant companions. Most of the bullying was used to control, constrain, punish, or to manipulate. And it was often effective!
Preying Upon Students
Over the years many students came to me with stories of assaults by professors. The only problem was that they never had any proof. One story comes to mind. She was an international student who had been attacked by a professor in her department. She did not understand rape. She was so naive. I asked her about going to the hospital and she did not know that she should have gone. There was nothing I could do for her because there was no proof that the incident happened.
There was a lot of gossip about male professors attacking students. None of the professors lost their jobs. Sometimes they were given a semester off (with pay), or reassigned to another department, but they were seldom punished for their crimes.
One office professional was sexually attacked repeatedly by a professor who constantly, in a public way, demeaned her and her work. (I do not know why she did not report him. Later, someone else did.) Eventually she quit her job, but before she left she told me that she sprayed his office with urine. What a revenge for a rape!
Feeding on International Students and Others
International students are a coveted group on campus because their out of country tuition is so high. Out-of-state tuition (alone) can be two to three times higher. Bureaucrats used them to add money to the general fund. But the bureaucrats abandoned most of them once they arrived in town.
When International students arrived on campus, no one helped them to adjust to the town or the university. Apparently, the International Office did not have a requirement regarding funds that students should have when they arrived. So many students without support from home lived in total poverty while attending classes. They had little money for warm clothing, food, books and supplies, and transportation.
I can’t remember how many times I brought food and household items for my international students. They were so kind that they even invited me to dine with them on the top floor of an old building. It was not clear as to how many international students lived on this one floor where my students lived. They had put up sheets to create independent living arrangements. (Where was the restroom and shower?) I don’t know how they survived!
When I arrived for dinner the food had been placed on a mat on the floor. I was supposed to eat the food with my hands. I asked for a fork. The student went from cubicle to cubicle on this floor looking for a fork and finally found one. We sat on the floor and ate rice. It was the kindest thing that anyone had ever done for me.
Sometimes I paid the tuition for my students. Tom and I had recently toured Turkey and spent an afternoon with one of my student’s parents and her sister near Izmir, Turkey. It was a rare experience for us. They were Muslims and prepared enough food for an army just for us. A couple of days after we returned, an earthquake devastated Turkey. My student’s parents lost their home and their business was ruined.
My student told me that she had no money and her parents could not send her any money because assets had been frozen and they were living out on the street. Their apartment had huge cracks in the walls and the aftershocks kept coming. I asked the student if I could buy one of her mother’s paintings. (Fortunately, they were able to send it later from Turkey.) The price I paid for the painting was exactly the amount of money my student needed to pay off her tuition and survive until she graduated. The painting arrived and is still hanging in our hearth room today. It was the most expensive painting that I ever purchased and the best return on an investment.
International Bureaucrats Were Clueless about Travel Issues
One of the greatest issues I had with international students had to do with vaccinations. They came from a variety of countries and many of them were not immunized. Their very presence presented a threat to other students and the U.S.A. students presented a threat to them. I complained to the International Office about this issue. And reminded them that faculty who take students abroad must require students to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to protect them. But they ignored my advice!
One professor took students to Africa and every one of the students and the instructor herself came back with Malaria and who knows what other diseases. This was an outrageous thing to do to students who should have been taught how to protect themselves. Neither the faculty member nor the bureaucrats were concerned with the diseases the students had acquired. And why were they unconcerned? In my experience, most bureaucrats and faculty have never traveled internationally. And those who had traveled did not choose an underdeveloped country to visit. So, they knew nothing about the CDC and the threats that the diseases posed.
Bureaucrats also used the same strategies on minority students. I met a professor who told me that her state school “used” minority students to fund their other programs. Bureaucrats would admit academically poor students who they knew could not compete. They brought hundreds and hundreds of minorities into her technology classes. Most were there for less than a semester because they could not do the work. Bureaucrats could claim their tuition funded by the Federal government as their own. She quit her job because she felt it was unethical to do this to people. This is exactly what for-profit colleges had been doing and many of them have been shut down. Public-funded colleges and universities that use these strategies should be closed also.
Male Hegemony. Dominating the Females
Rape manifests itself in many forms. It can be physical to be sure, but males can violate you in many, many ways. So many men crave power over females because they believe that they have a divine right. Their faith tells them that God gave males the ultimate dominance over females. And females have no right to teach Religious Studies or Theology. (As I was told.) Those fields are for “males only!” In my long career, most males rarely appreciated my creativity or abilities in the classroom, on campus, or in print. They were jealous, rendered impotent by my very presence, and devised ways of attempting to harm my reputation or block my plans for developing a department or a career.
Promotion and Tenure
I will never forget the time I went to the dean to ask for help in preparing my dossier for promotion. (Tenure means, barring some catastrophic happening, you had a job for life.) My dean pointed me toward a man in the college who had a three-page dossier. He was a full-professor. I don’t know if the dossier was real or not. I was distressed because his dossier was a joke. He could not help me at all because he had accomplished little to gain promotion. He was one of the good old boys. I had published articles and books and given more papers in my first three years of teaching than he had in his thirty years.
I finally found a female professor in another college who gave me insights on how to write a successful dossier. Her dean invited me to a workshop on tenure and promotion that my college did not offer. All of this advice worked! But it took me six long months to assemble that dossier with examples of my work, letters of recommendation, and more. (This very kind Dean was demoted. He ended up dying of cancer.)
I knew that the dossier had to be the “best in the college” in order to win a promotion because I had so many detractors. (Every single item was clearly documented so there could be no questions about whether I did or did not do something. There were no skeletons in the closet.) When you are fighting for your existence you have to excel.
Every person who has experienced discrimination understands what I am saying here.
You are not among the “in” group, nor are you “privileged.” You were not given a job, you earned the job. This is not arrogance. It is a fact. I did not have access to the old-boys club to help me! It is difficult for the old boys to harm you when a committee ranks your dossier as number one in the college.
Breaking Privacy Laws. Common Practice
When I moved to a new job at a university, I spent some time with a real estate agent. Before I actually bought a home, the man showed me a copy of my Vita (extended resume) and one of the books I had written. It was really weird to discover that someone at the university was sharing my information with his/her friends. He thought that I was a Christian fundamentalist because Jerry Falwell had written a forward to one of my books on that very topic, fundamentalism. He was so wrong!
Using Threats and Bullying. Misogyny and Me
I should have consulted a crystal ball on my first day on campus at one university. A faculty member asked me if I was a Christian. I said that my faith has nothing to do with academics and would not answer him. He said, “I am going to the president. If you are not a Christian, you should not be teaching on this campus.”
Within a few minutes another faculty member came up to meet me. “Are you the new Religious Studies professor?” I answered in the affirmative. “Well, I don’t think that Religious Studies should be taught on campus. It is against the law. I am going to complain to the president.” That day predicted the coming onslaught of abuse that I would experience for decades. I should have got in my car and left!
The academic study of religion is not outlawed by the constitution as long as the religions are taught from an inclusive and objective point of view. It is an exploration of the history, geography, culture, beliefs, rituals, music, politics, laws, and more of religions around the globe. Separation of church and state is the rule but is only violated when a specific religion, the religion of the professor, is the only religion that is taught in class. I never subscribed to a single religion in class or on campus during my career in Religious Studies. (But I knew of professors who prayed in class and taught their beliefs to students, without hesitation!)
For years, faculty, bureaucrats, and students at this university accosted me. Hate-centered emails came flying at me and had to be stopped by the university attorney. Students secretly taped by lectures and took them to the board of governors and the president. People put books, flyers, and more with outlandish titles and threats in my mailbox. It was a constant battle! I think the main issues that bothered these people were that I was a female, and that I brought non-Christian groups to campus. They did not want to hear about other faiths around the globe, which is the central goal of Religious Studies.
Not-so-Kind Christian Ministers
At a meeting of all the male Christian ministers in the community where I taught, I discussed plans for growing a Religious Studies department and wondered if they would like to participate. They asked me to answer many theological questions. (Theological questions are questions about a personal faith and have nothing to do with the academic study of Religion at a state college.) Their response was that they would have to audit my classes before they would want to work with me. None of those pastors ever gave me the time of day, nor did any of them visit any of my classes. It was like I was taboo, untouchable! For them, the only true faith was their faith and studying other religions was considered to be “of the devil.” They did not understand the differences between practicing a single faith (theology) and Religious Studies.
The Whore of Babylon had come to Town!
During my first year at the above academic institution, one day on my way to work and listening to the radio, I heard the announcer say that the university had recently hired the Whore of Babylon. He went on to say that she was the Head of Religious Studies. I could hardly believe my ears. He was calling me the “Whore of Babylon.” How do you stop that kind of violation? To whom do you complain? And, who would listen? Where does a radio announcer obtain information about faculty? Were my colleagues already threatened by the teaching of Religions on campus?
Years later a Jewish president of the university was given the same kind of treatment. He left and died shortly thereafter from cancer. I always wondered if the stress he experienced from the harassment had hastened his death. He was not the only one on campus who died shortly after being “mugged” by the bureaucrats.
Assaulting the Successful
I had left teaching as a professor for a couple of years to work as a public relations officer for a school system but decided that I missed teaching and came back to the classroom. My pay was only half of my previous job, but I felt lucky. At this private college, classes were small and I poured my heart into them.
At the end of the semester, most of the students received good grades and my student evaluations were excellent. The chair of this department ordered me to his office and lectured me concerning my evaluations. He told me that I made the rest of the department look really bad. They had average scores on evaluations and that if I wanted to stay employed, my evaluations had to come in line with the rest of the professors. So, this belligerent over-bearing slimy large man wanted me to do what? How do you persuade students to give you a bad evaluation? I think that was the very moment that I decided to leave that school.
Failing to Pay for Work
Uppermost in my goals for Religious Studies was to improve enrollment in my classes and arrange the times classes were offered so that students who wanted to take our classes could enroll. Large departments scheduled their required courses during popular times on campus. I experimented with two concurrent four-week classes in the summer. Each class met almost four hours a day. That meant that I was teaching eight hours a day. This schedule was so difficult for me that I had to go to my car and take a fifteen-minute nap every day.
The classes were very successful. After two summers of teaching the classes, I was told that I would have to teach 60 students in each class. What? No one teaches 60 students in classes during the summer. Apparently, there was a summer school committee, headed by two of the people who occupied the department that marginalized me. They created guidelines for the summer.
No one on campus, except me, had to attract 60 students in a class in order to get paid. Many classes in the business school set the limit of 10 students. I appealed this decision handed down to me to the dean. No response. I appealed to the provost and he stood by the faculty who came up with the guidelines. They discriminated against me specifically. I wondered if the university was discriminating against all women? I studied all the classes offered by men and women. Only one woman was teaching two classes in the summer. All the men were teaching and getting paid for two classes. So, the discrimination against all females was intentional.
I appealed to the faculty senate and they told me that the provost could do anything he wanted. I argued that this was discrimination but they did not want to address the issue. So the associate provost got involved. She told me that she did not care if they were discriminating against me. I was only going to teach one class and it had to have, now, at least 40 students. I looked at her and said, “I am not teaching anything this summer.” Her jaw dropped and I left the room.
I believe they thought that I was going to bring legal action against them for discrimination. Two attorneys from a town nearby contacted me. They had been informed about how I was treated on campus. But I decided not to bring any action against the university. I knew they would punish me even more than they already had. And who wants to spend many stressful years only to be awarded a few thousand dollars?
Not one word was ever said to me about the altercation about summer school. The next year I requested two classes to teach with maximum 25 students and no one challenged me. They had dropped all the rigid guidelines that they had forced upon me for summer school. Word of their discrimination reached around the world, literally.
During this tense time I received a letter from W. Henry Walthall who was in charge of the Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust. He began, “Most Respected Dr. Selvidge, and Dear Friend and Fellow Revolutionary Marla Ma. You have had these problems before. Remember it’s like Popeye downing a can of spinach. Natawhop…ZhaZam! These will give you strength and help you to defeat Provost Moron.” He was so kind! For a long time after that I went by the name he gave me, “Marla Ma.” As an aside, they failed to pay me and my adjuncts time and time again. We had to watch our bank accounts and remind them!
Scheduling Nightmare Classes and Rooms
At one of the institutions where I taught the chair arranged the times when classes would be offered. He gave me a class at 7:30 a.m. and one at 6:00-9:00 P.M. a couple of days a week. I lived 90 miles away from the college so by the time I finished my 6:00 P.M. evening class and talked to all the students; it was usually 10:00 at night. If I had driven home, I would have arrived home after midnight and then would have to turn around at 5:30 a.m. to leave for the next class in the morning. It was too dangerous to drive all of those miles when I was so tired and when there was snow on the mountain. So, I bought a sofa bed and stayed in my office overnight. I only stayed at this college for one year, if I had stayed longer; I think I would have died in a crash on the mountain.
I have no idea why the chair gave me such a horrible schedule. There were two other Religious Studies professors who lived in town but they taught during the middle of the day. I wonder if there was some negative political push back with hiring a woman to teach Religious Studies. I will never know.
At another institution one of my classes was scheduled in a room that a faculty member wanted to use. In those days I had to, in writing, request every piece of equipment, audio or video that I needed for every class day in an entire semester before classes began. This task took several hours to do. So, moving from one room to another was very problematic because the audio-visual department would physically move items that needed to be used. The story is long with the faculty member physically pushing me out of a room and walking back and forth outside my classes. This man harassed me until I retired. He became a top bureaucrat at the university and used his power to harm me and Religious Studies whenever he could.
Killing Professors Who Don’t Fit
I am not the only one on campus who was hounded by greedy bureaucrats and self-serving professors. Recently I talked with a friend in the library who told me that she knew of at least one person in each academic department that was consistently abused.
Darlene (not her real name) was from India. She had made her way to Australia where she worked to obtain her Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems. When she died, she was supporting her husband who was ill, and her son in medical school. She was a valiant and strong lady who did not deserve to die at 56. Let me tell you her story!
Darlene was gorgeous. She had dark perfect skin, the biggest eyes, curly hair, nice and thin, and wore Fifth Avenue suits to class. She was dedicated, engaging, innovative, and competent in everything she did on campus. From the time she landed a job at the university, she was harassed. In the beginning it was only words from her chair or colleagues like, “How can a colored girl make as much money as I do.” Or, “how come a foreigner can come here and take away jobs from us?” The boys did not like her because she was beautiful and competent. They could not have her, nor did they like it that her light was brighter than theirs. And she was the wrong color. The female professors in her department saw her as competition and would not advise her or help her in any way. She was on her own!
The bureaucrats got together and decided they did not want her on campus. Her chair changed the numbers on her student evaluations so it would look like she was not doing a good job. She was assigned overloads to keep her busy and given mindless tasks. Her chair allowed students to bring up charges against her that went to human resources. She was grading international students fairly but they wanted their grades changed. The bureaucrats forced her to change the grades. They did not want to lose the very high tuition the international students paid. It was a daily battle for her. How does one keep integrity in classes while trying to please the bureaucrats and lazy vindictive students?
Around her fourth year at the institution, it was time for her to apply for tenure. Her college passed her but her application stopped at the provost’s office. He accused her of misappropriation of a huge grant she had received. The charges were bogus. She had to argue her case for weeks. Finally, she appealed to the sensible president and received tenure. The provost lost but he his revenge would be satisfied eventually.
In about her seventh year at the institution, she came up for promotion to full professor. This is when I came to know Darlene. We worked together on a program where we brought speakers to campus. We became friends. In the process, she began pleading with me to help her with her dossier. I made suggestions and edited her documents. She had accomplished more than most of the professors in my college.
Darlene was working day and night trying to please the bureaucrats. They denied her promotion. She appealed the decision all the way to the president again. This type of argumentation is very strenuous and stressful on a person. They had promoted one of their male friends who had poor student evaluations and had not published. (They all went duck-hunting together! Wink! Wink!) It was a blow that knocked her down. This is the very moment that she developed cancer.
For approximately two years she battled cancer. She never gave up, even when she could barely stand or talk, she went to class. She had to have a microphone installed at her desk so she could teach. She was in hospice care and still teaching online. She was remarkable in many ways.
I visited her at home and she showed me all the self-help books she was reading. She had created very positive signs that she plastered on the mirror in her bathroom like: “I am going to live! I am going to beat this!” She adjusted her diet, exercised more, and worked very hard to stay alive.
Throughout this entire ordeal, not one other person from the university visited her (This is what she told me but one faculty member disputes this.). At the beginning of a semester, as she walked to a class, one of her colleagues said to her, “Oh, I didn’t think you were coming back.” When she called her colleagues and asked if any of them would help her in her classes when she had to go to the hospital, not one of them would substitute for her. The week before she died her department sent flowers, finally.
Darlene could not leave. She had too many responsibilities and she was not old enough to retire. There are many more twists and turns to this story, but you get the picture I am drawing. In the end, the boys and girls won, they did not want to tenure or promote her — they killed her instead. It took some time, but they won. The war is over for her.
About a week before she passed away they promoted her to Full Professor. It was kind of sick gesture. They knew she would never collect the money. She told me that her dream came true and now she could die. Only a couple of people came to her wake and no one on campus officially mentioned her passing! I miss her!
Assigning the Unwanted to Solitary Confinement. The Dark Pit of Existence for Women and Minorities
Sometimes a female, gay, or minority member would be awarded tenure and promotion. But then they were relegated to an empty space where no one goes. They are never placed on committees, or voted to become part of the Faculty Senate, or receive any awards or extra pay for anything. They have no power and are treated like outcasts. They are alone and alienated.
Bureaucrats relish the power they have over faculty. I often wondered if they were sadistic because harm came to everyone they touched. I knew a Muslim professor who tried year after year to obtain a promotion, but the administration would not approve it. They wanted to keep him right where he was–poor! I wrote letters for him and helped him with his dossier. No amount of extra work would change their minds. Eventually the Muslim left his job. I am sure that this was their goal!
Then there was a female professor who was locked out of her office. (How can anyone do this?) Her dean would not allow her to teach and told her to leave campus. No charges were ever filed, and to my knowledge the woman was very creative and dedicated. We had worked together on a couple of international projects.
Apparently, the dean did not like her. Upper management would not challenge this dean. (Why? What did the dean have on the bureaucrats?) So, the dean kept paying this professor for not teaching. This went on for years. Finally, upper management found a desk for the professor and she was given statistical work in the administration building. The bureaucrats urged her to take the dean to court, but she did not want to do this, she wanted her job back. (The bureaucrats wanted her to do what they were afraid to do.) As I recall, she had taught for over thirty years at this institution. In the end, the professor resigned because she did not want a court battle.
While I was awarded promotion and tenure, I was never asked to serve on a search committee to find other faculty for departments in my college, or asked to serve on the tenure and promotion committee at any institution during my entire career. I did hire my own adjuncts because no one else on campus understood the academic study of religions. I had been pushed into that black pit where so many other females, gays, and minorities languished.
(This chapter is very long so I have cut it in half and will publish the other section soon!)
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As always this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge