A Bag of Nails and a Hammer
Retirement gives you time to think. As I look back upon the bureaucrats and professors who were essentially my enemies, I wonder if they were threatened by Religious Studies? So many on campus had only experienced one religion, their religion. And if you are taught that your religion is the only valid one on earth and the rest are of the devil, then I can understand some of their antics. They were protecting themselves from evil.
I wonder also if the success of Religious Studies was a threat. We had hundreds and hundreds of students and they kept on enrolling in more classes. At one small college, a professor told me that I was taking away students from other classes. Maybe people felt like their jobs were being undermined.
I was a pile of energy in those days and marketed classes constantly. One wise president who hired me told me to make the campus my classroom. Every year I brought in speakers, created panels, offered music from other faiths, and so much more. It was an unwanted invasion to those who had never traveled to other countries or met people with their own precious faiths. And their responses were often “crazy!”
Playing Checkers with Offices
Sayre (Woman Professor)
The feeling of desperation dogged me every day I worked because I wanted to find an office away from the very mean and bullying men and women with whom I was housed. For over 20 years faculty in the department that housed my office, never forgot that their candidate was not hired. The chair of this department had stonewalled interviewing candidates in order to give his candidate a better opportunity of landing my job. This chair had to be replaced and another professor was brought in to manage the search committee. This committee offered me the job. I never knew of this political problem until months after I had moved to begin the job.
In almost everything I did on campus, this chair and his department tried to block me. They complained about me incessantly. They sidelined grants for which I applied. They offered classes similar to the ones housed in Religious Studies. They blocked funds for projectors, office furniture, and classes in technology. They blocked my request for market pay. In their classes they defamed me to Religious Studies students. They blocked curricula I brought to the curriculum committee. Fortunately, after many years, some of the old guys died or retired and I won some peace for a while.
Religious Studies was growing by huge numbers and this necessitated more room. I managed to hire adjunct faculty who taught in the evenings to help me. There was no where for them to work. Finally, I convinced the dean to allow me to move to a big room that was no longer in use two floors above my current hole in the wall. Of course, no one was going to help me clean and organize the old room. I brought cleaning equipment, moved in a table (by myself) and set up the room. In the process some of the old bookcases fell on me. Bruises covered my back and arms!
During the next week, I packed up everything in the office ready for the move. The dean would not allocate any funds to move me, but I knew my students would help me. I brought a few students to my office after class only to find that a letter had been shoved under my door. Apparently, the dean had changed his mind.
A larger department wanted the room. I was mortified. I asked the students to leave and sat at my desk and cried for hours. People knocked at my door to determine if I was okay but I could not answer it. It was very late that night before I could find the energy to move!
The next day, the dean ordered me to ask departments if there were any other buildings on campus that would house Religious Studies. He could have made one phone call and found something for me in a couple of minutes, but he would not do it. The chemistry department told me that they had an open lab and there was plenty of room for me. They welcomed me. But the dean would not allow me to move. Tormenting me was his hobby!
I appealed the dean’s letter informing me that I could not move to the upstairs office to the space allocation committee. They awarded to me an empty office, but they never sent a letter to inform me of their decision. There was a professor across the hall who would be moving into that space two floors above that I had cleaned and organized. Months later I accidently discovered from a professor, not from my dean or any other bureaucrat, that I had been given her office. That office was hard-won!
It was great to have an office away from the predators but it was also a “sentence” to work in hell. During the spring and summer, the temperature was in the 90’s and in the fall and winter it dropped to 50 degrees or less. I bought heaters to warm it up but there was nothing I could do about the heat, just wilt.
A New Big Office
After finally securing private office space, the dean would not allocate funds to purchase a desk and chair. Of course, my wonderful students came down and carried all the boxes to my new office. They carried my small refrigerator and microwave too. The only furniture that went with me was a 1950’s style file where I kept student grades. I was not prepared to purchase everything new for my office so I brought things from home, bookcases, long folding tables, and chairs. I moved most of things in my van one-by-one.
One day when I was moving a huge six-foot long metal folding table from my car into the office, the automatic doors closed on me and the fifty-pound table fell on me. I struggled to get it upright again on my dolly and make it down the hall. In that hallway stood several male professors who saw me moving furniture by myself. Not a single professor offered to help me. They just snickered. Sometimes I thought I was working in a horror movie where nightmares kept coming at you. Screaming would have helped. I was treated like a sub-class human being, like a voiceless nothing.
The ironic part about the dean not providing support in any manner is that we offered evening classes through another office at that time. There was a revenue share about which I knew nothing. Our college received funds based on enrollment in evening classes, and Religious Studies classes were full. The dean never shared any of that money with us. (And that lack of support was a way of harassing me.)
Over the years I purchased almost everything in my office. (And faculty kept asking about how I managed to obtain such nice things in my office. It was a no-win situation.) I finally bought a desk which I assembled myself that was broken by workers when asbestos renovations were done in the building in which I worked. I fixed it, but it was never the same. I will tell this story later.
Evicting Professors. The Mailbox Crisis. Were they crazy?
One day I arrived at my new office to find that the office professional had decided that I could not pick up my mail. “Where is my mailbox?” I asked her. “It is in the basement housed in the radio station.” “Why,”I asked her. The office professional had a couple of stories about why the mailbox was moved. One of them was that there was a faculty vote to take away my box. “You don’t belong here. You don’t even teach in this building. Why don’t you move to the building where you teach!” Of course, it was not her idea to move my mailbox? The abusive deed originated from the desk of the bullying chair. They wanted to evict me, so, however stupid it might sound; they played havoc with my mailbox.
When I left the confines of the hole-in-the-wall office, I did not take my mailbox with me because there was nowhere that the mail could be delivered near my office, so I kept it in the hallway in this department where it had been for five years. I was furious and wrote the following letter to the Dean.
“Over the years, whenever I tried to inform you of the abusive language, attitude, and activities of several members of this department, you extolled their virtues. Taking away my mailbox is not virtuous. The office professional has consistently abused my students, visitors, and me for five long years….
This moving of the mailbox is problematic. I do not work in the other department and my mail would still come to the box I have had for all of these years. Students need a place to send items they want me to read. Some of my audio visual equipment and videos were scheduled to be delivered to this mailbox. Where will they go now? Sometimes I come into pick up mail on the weekend and I cannot access the other department’s mail area. I am not an animal. I deserve to be treated with some consideration.”
In the end, my box was moved to a room within proximity of the dean’s office. After nefarious hateful items kept showing up in my mailbox, the dean placed my mailbox in his office proper. That solved the problem. How crazy and silly all of this was! And the campus had to learn my new number that was not publicized for a year, but some never changed the number of my box so mail circulated and circulated until it found me or it did not.
Destroying Personal Property. The Broken Desk
Earlier I spoke about a broken desk. The building in which Religious Studies was housed was to be renovated during the summer. Not one person told me about the renovation. This was another useful tormenting strategy. I found out about it about two days before the renovations were to begin when I saw people carrying items out of their offices.
The dean had simply forgotten? Huh? This was passive-aggressive at the very least. Or he was drinking too much vodka! I was teaching that summer and needed an office. This time a crew moved my things into an office in another building, for free! My own office was empty. During the renovation, tradespeople used my office as a dump. In it they stored all of their equipment, tools, and garbage. I wonder who gave them permission to use it?
After teaching for the summer and then going home for a month, I came back to a filthy office–from top to bottom. The carpet was soiled and the paint was ruined. I tried to find my desk and other materials and they were nowhere to be found. One of the cleaning people found remnants of my things thrown into a closet in another building. No one knew who threw my things into a closet. The desk was broken and many items were missing.
I managed to get the broken desk back to my office, found a chair, and put my bookcases back together so I could teach in the fall. I bought paint and painted my office, of course there was no money in the budget for that sort of thing. After a week or so, I noticed that every other office (except mine) in my building had new carpet and paint.
I went to the dean and told him to come down and look at the black, torn, and worn carpet in my office. Again, there was no money to purchase carpet or renovate. There was no upgrade for me. Miraculously, about a week later someone told me that there was money left in a grant that was used to renovate the building. I asked the dean if this was true. He said, “Go over and pick out your carpet.” He never offered an apology.
I never knew if this type of abuse was intentional or if the players were incompetent. Scams like this happened to me over and over and over. I really think it was intentional. It was harassment at its worst! And the men enjoyed it! They always made me beg for everything like a little dog.
Controlling Your Personal Life. No Pregnancies Allowed!
While you would never see the above words in a faculty guide, male professors early in my career did not like the idea of having to cover (substitute teach) for a pregnant female professor. A pregnancy could put your tenure in danger and you might never achieve a promotion (which meant a raise in pay). And I did have colleagues who knew that choosing to have children might mean the end of their careers. Bureaucrats would not speak these words but the expectations were there.
During the first fifteen years of my career at several institutions, only one female faculty member became pregnant. She was given a leave of absence and she never returned to teaching. Giving your life to a child, to your students, and to publishing is an almost insurmountable task for women.
When I arrived at one job, the dean arranged for a party to introduce me to his friends. Some of the wives of the professors sat by me during a meal and began to drill me. Where is your husband? Where are your children right now? Where are you living? You mean you are living alone?
In my previous decades of employment not one person had ever asked me if I had children. It never seemed important. But, now, these women were putting their hands over their mouths because they were alarmed that I did not have children. I told them that I really was not interested in having and raising children. It was not my thing! They went wild and never spoke to me again. Of course, if you follow the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, being “fruitful” is a command. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). I guess I was not following the divine dictate!
Minimizing Computer Support. Technology and Technocrats
I was familiar with computers and had learned how to use an IBM computer in 1982. My first computer was an Epson. I kept learning about software and finally migrated to a MAC in the mid-1980’s. At some of the institutions where I taught, I offered classes to faculty to introduce them to computing. At one institution, I bought a subscription to an online index database and ran searches for my students. In those days we connected by phone. (I will discuss this later.) Other institutions also lagged behind in computing and support. I think they thought that computers were not important!
When I negotiated a new contract at an institution a personal computer was part of the deal. In those days very few professors had computers or knew how to use them. They agreed to provide a computer but when I arrived, they would not purchase a printer for me. What good is a computer without a printer? There was no Internet at this time. After creating syllabi and handouts for class, I could not print them. So, I had to purchase a printer with my own money. This happened often. During my first ten years on one job, I donated more than $2000 a year for supplies, teaching materials, and office equipment to keep Religious Studies functioning, not to mention paying for campus speakers.
This school was so far behind all of the other institutions where I had taught that we had to use a mimeograph machine to create tests. That meant that a stencil had to be cut (no typing mistakes). Then the stencil was run across paper that made blue type. It was very messy and you could not save the tests because the ink faded.
The only computer staff at this time was two guys who physically worked on computers. Over the years, faculty progressed and began using IBM’s or PC’s. There was always a battle for resources for computers. One president decided that Apple’s/MACS were to be thrown off campus. Of course, this unilateral and erroneous decision could not and would not happen. Many creative software packages were developed only for MACs. Essentially the president was taking away the tools that faculty needed to do their jobs. And this decision, while in the beginning harmed many faculty, was eventually reversed.
Eventually software was developed to enhance instruction on the Internet. There were many types of software that could be used online but the school where I taught chose Blackboard. It was not popular in the beginning because it was complicated to use.
Eventually there was a push to place classes online because those courses could reach students who otherwise could not enroll. (I believe the push came because bureaucrats wanted to attract more students to pay tuition. The fact that it would enable stay-at-home moms, handicapped people, the military, students without cars, etc. never entered into their minds. It was all about cash.)
Certain faculty were chosen to learn how to use the software. I was not one of them even though I had substantial experience in computing. I had to beg the technology office to tutor me, and, thankfully they did tutor me a couple of years later.
One of the greatest problems I had while developing and teaching courses on Blackboard was the incompetence of the support staff. Over and over students could not view videos, or could not upload their research, or tests would fail. They did not know how to fix the software when it failed. They did not have enough experience to keep the software fully functional.
Some of the tech people suggested that I buy a drop-in cartridge to use in my classes. Many professors do not know how to develop online classes and so they buy ready-made courses that they just upload to Blackboard (drop-in cartridges) and then they babysit the students. This is a travesty. Faculty should not be allowed to teach online if they don’t know how to develop a class.
When faculty use drop-in cartridges, they do not know how to solve problems when they surface. Why would anyone want to teach a class where all of the notes, tests, outlines, videos, and other teaching tools are already provided for the professor? It seems antithetical to excellence in teaching. Where is the creativity? To me this is also an ethical question!
Colleges choose to buy these drop-in cartridges (classes) because they do not want to hire full-time faculty. They want to hire someone who is less qualified (less pay) so that they make more money from the tuition for the class. And many of these people who offer these classes are not paid very well and know very little about the subject matter. Colleges cheat students when they use these drop-in cartridges.
All of my classes were developed online from scratch by me. I had to obtain permission for films and readings that were uploaded to Blackboard. I bought a subscription to a clipart database and also used thousands of my own photos. At least fifteen presentations were developed for one course alone. Many included voice. This was the norm for my classes. But there were always problems.
One semester my presentations for a class would function within Blackboard and the next semester they would not work. I had not had any programming at this time so I did not know how to solve the problem myself. The techs could not solve the problem or would not solve the problem. So that meant I had to create totally new presentations for the classes I taught. These presentations represented years of work. Eventually, as the Internet matured and sites developed, I used other materials. Students could go directly to these sites online but, even then, this broke down also!
This insanity went on for a decade. I would receive scores of phone calls late at night or early in the morning from students complaining that Blackboard was not working. This wreaked havoc in their life and in mine. Finally, I requested permission to work on a Certificate in Web Programming and Design. When I finished this program, I knew that the support people in the tech department had never had these classes because they would have been able to solve the problems.
Since I did not have access to the Blackboard platform, even with my knowledge, I could not solve the problems. In the end, when I retired, one of the main reasons I left was because of how difficult the lack of tech support made my teaching, my life every day. It was chaos. Below is a section of a letter I wrote to the tech people just before I left.
For most of my career, I had obtained copyright permission to use videos or other written materials in my classes that were uploaded to Blackboard. I knew the rules well. During my last semester, I had requested permission to use videos that had no real copyright holders. The university attorney ruled that they were in “fair use” after consulting with specialists in the field. The tech people did not like his ruling. They pulled rank on the attorney and went over his head to argue their case. He changed his mind! In the end, he left the university. When the technology area began making legal rulings is when the university did not need an attorney. Besides being unfair to me, the bigger travesty was that the bureaucrats allowed the tech department to define course content!
The real problem here was the culture of the tech department. They thought that because they had computer knowledge that they had the power to control everyone who used Blackboard. They ruled us! Our issues did not matter to them. While they may have understood (better? than faculty and bureaucrats) how the software was created, they did not teach using the software and were always unaware of all of the problems they caused by their decisions. They did not want to support faculty and students. They were bullies!
Misusing funds Generated by Small Departments
I had worked for about 20 years at a college before I learned about the thousands of dollars that we were generating for the entire college. (As noted earlier.) This continued until I retired, although one dean shared a percentage of those funds during my last few years. Religious Studies was a department of one full-time person that was generating thousands of dollars for a college of over one hundred professors with huge departments. (As already briefly mentioned. I had hired at least six adjunct professors to teach specialty subjects in Religious Studies and enrollment in our classes kept growing.)
I became a slave to the rest of the faculty in my college who fed on the funds Religious Studies generated. The dean shared the funds we generated through online courses with other departments and faculty. He created grants and awards to be given away. Of course, Religious Studies was never offered those grants or funds. At one point, this one full-time person (me) department netted $450,000 for the general fund. No one ever complimented me or offered any additional personal compensation for the work.
Those shared-funds supported online faculty and face-to-face faculty in Religious Studies, allowing them to purchase items for classroom use and attend national conferences. And this money also supported my attendance at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). These national organizations were sources of academic, personal, and social support for me. Year after year they accepted my papers and presentations. I served as president of a regional SBL and developed sessions for many years for AAR as a chair of different groups. Publishers also treated me with respect and were eager to publish my work. For years they were my family. I would meet old friends from graduate school and made friends with editors and publishers. I was so fortunate that academics across the country appreciated my work.
Alienating and Marginalizing of Faculty. The Ultimate Wound
Probably one of the most stinging things that happened to me in my entire career was the day a cowardly dean (and I worked with scores of deans) met me in the hallway as I was on my way to the chair’s meeting. Of course, all of the chairs were male, except me. Once in a while a female would be elevated to the chair’s position in a department but she did not stay long. They refused to give me the title of “chair” and so my title was “director.” I was always shocked when I attended chair meetings. All of the men looked alike. They wore blue sports coats with open collars and had light hair with receding foreheads and light skin. For several years I could not really remember their names because they all looked the same. There was not a tall one in the bunch. Most of them were shorter with an occasional chair that almost reached six feet tall. They all looked like brothers, and they almost always hired themselves or look-alikes!
I met with the chairs but I was not one of them. We sat at huge conference tables that were pushed together. I was assigned a space at a corner on a table, which meant that I had no room to place a notebook or put my feet under the table. It was a very uncomfortable symbol of their feelings about my presence.
This weekly meeting was the doorway to information on campus. If there were funds for computers, or special activities on campus, this is where we were informed. Each chair would explain what was happening in his area. It was a learning experience. Since I was the only full-time professor in Religious Studies, it also provided social time with fellow colleagues.
As I was saying earlier, I was on my way to this meeting that I had attended for probably fifteen years, and even during summers when I was not teaching on campus. (I lived 60-70 miles away and it was a long trip just for a single meeting.) The dean met me in the hallway and stopped me. He said, “Your presence is no longer required at the chair’s meeting.” I said, “What? What is the issue?” He would not answer me. He turned back toward his office and walked away. (I think he went into the men’s restroom to hide.)
I had no idea regarding the politics of the situation. Soon, I learned through a third party (Thank goodness for friends.), that Religious Studies had been placed under a department with a brand new chair who was junior to me. No one had even bothered to talk to me about the move.
I was not the only female to be stung by the power-hungry who wanted to put women in their place. Every time we were blessed with a new president, he would begin to re-organize. If there were women in charge of areas or programs like academic advising or international affairs, he would place a young male over them or, sometimes, a young inexperienced female would become their boss. Humiliation was a great tool to force women to leave their jobs.
In that same year when I was told not to attend chair meetings, I was approved for a sabbatical. No discussion on the political decision of placing Religious Studies in another department was allowed. The dean ordered me to his office to sign my sabbatical papers for my leave. And here is cruelty in action. The dean had the contract typed with the name of the department chair who was approving my sabbatical. (My sabbatical was one semester off with pay.) I told him that this was unacceptable. I was not a member of the department. He said that if I did not sign my name and accept this junior professor as my chair, that my sabbatical would be cancelled. He told me I had to sign the paper at that moment. He would not give me any time to think about it. I signed the paper, and I have regretted it ever since I did.
Over the years there were many political attacks from rotating provosts to bring down Religious Studies. One day the dean came to me with the news that the Center for Religious Studies was going away, again! Why would they pick on one Center and not the others? None of the other Centers were targeted. So quickly, my student assistant and I began to research Centers and Institutes on campus. We found twenty-two centers and most of them were “stand-alone,” which meant that they were not housed in a bigger department. So, I sent off the research and a letter with lots of questions. Why does the provost’s college house the most Centers on campus? How long have these Centers been in existence? Who funds them? Shouldn’t all of these Centers be cut, if Religious Studies is cut? That research stopped one provost from harassing Religious Studies for a little while.
Bullying is an Accepted Norm. A Bag of Nails and a Hammer
At one point in my career I was member of the university curriculum committee. The job of a person on a curriculum committee is to determine if the classes that are proposed are academically well-constructed and funded. A new international curriculum was proposed and I asked many questions about the content. After all, at this stage in my career I had visited scores of countries and I wanted to know what was “international” about the classes. They interpreted my questions as intimidation because they could not answer them. (They were not really international in scope. It was a snow job.) On the second day of considering a proposal one of the men was very upset. At the end of the session, he brought over a brown paper bag with a hammer and nails in it. He said that he was going to use them on me. What?
I reported this threat to the dean, who promptly discounted it. In a very demeaning way, he told me that I might be on the curriculum committee but I was not one of them (of course). One of the professors (with the hammer and nails) had complained to him about me. So, the dean told me to apologize to him. What? That professor brutalized me and I told the dean that I would not apologize and reward him for his bullying. I really feared him. The dean remarked that I had a deficient personality. How cruel he was! Deans often attacked you personally if you did not follow their outrageous orders.
Deans had to toe the line because if they did not agree with the higher-up bureaucrats, they could be attacked and their careers could be on the line. So, it was safer and easier for a dean to abuse the one who was abused–than to take on his friends, the bureaucrats. I never realized how broken and cowardly bureaucrats could be until I was in my 50’s. How naive I was!
If you would like to read the entire book, Final Exam Jihad. An Opportunity for Loneliness, click on this link. Link
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge. The book itself is copyrighted!