Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18

It’s Friday afternoon—the last day of finals week. I’m glad it’s all over with. Well, almost all over with. Saying how he knew how busy we must be right now, Saltz over at Harvard gave the grad students until Monday to turn in our papers. This is really a boon since, in addition to studying for finals, I was swamped with finishing papers for my classes here at Charles this past week. I am happy to report, though, that I got them all in except the one for Saltz. I'll finish that over the weekend.

Spring semester here at Charles doesn’t begin until the end of January. After the two week Christmas break, there is a three week intersession which the undergrads are required to take a class in, but not the grad students.

Shivvy explained to me that these January intersession classes are mainly just for fun: they have courses on detective novels, science fiction, and that sort of thing. There are also study tours—usually to places where there is either skiing or warm sunny weather—for students whose parents can afford it. Being in this category herself, Shivvy and two of her girlfriends have signed up to study the tourist industry in Barbados.

I wish I could afford to go with her, but I can’t. I’ll just go out to California for the Christmas break and then come back here before Shivvy shoves off for points south. While sunning herself in Barbados, I’ll prepare myself for becoming a TA next semester.

On this last point, I have some good news to report: I will be TA’ing for Briggs after all! The reason for this is that Doug has done something truly unbelievable. I knew that, like me, Doug had been admitted to Gates University (home of the neo-liberal, Arch Faircloth) with a fellowship. Well, Doug came in the office this morning and told me that he was leaving Charles altogether and would be starting up at Gates next semester!

He told me that he was so incensed by what Briggs had done to him that he called Faircloth on Monday, told him that he couldn’t stand to work with Briggs any more (but not why this was so), and begged to be let in. Faircloth was apparently delighted to have a defector from the neo-radical camp. He said he’d see what he could do, and then called Doug yesterday to say that both his admission to and fellowship from Gates had been reinstated for spring. He could even get credit for all the courses he took at Charles—all, that is, except Briggs’s. Faircloth said he wanted Doug to take his own course on IR theory.

“I told him that was fine with me,” Doug related, “since Briggs’s class was all bullshit anyway.”

I was shocked! I couldn’t believe what Doug was saying, much less what he was doing! And I told him so too.

“It wasn’t very pleasant, I’m sure, to come home and find Briggs in bed with Angie,” I told him. “But to renounce neo-radicalism and become a neo-liberal over it? You’re overreacting, Doug!”

Doug chose not to take my comments in the helpful, constructive spirit in which I had offered them.

“Are you out of your mind?” he asked me. “The bastard was fucking my wife behind my back! In fact, he’s still fucking her; it’s just that everybody knows about it now. I can’t stay here!”

“But how can you go work with Faircloth?” I asked. “What about the great critique of neo-liberalism you’ve been expounding all semester? How can you trash neo-liberalism and praise neo-radicalism for Briggs all semester here, and then go to Gates and do the opposite for Faircloth next semester? That’s just incredibly unethical!”

“You apparently assume,” replied Doug, “that Faircloth is like Briggs and just wants his students to parrot his own views. But he’s not like that. I had a long talk with him and told him all about my attraction to neo-radicalism and even about my critique of neo-liberalism. And you know what? He said that that was fine with him. He wants his students to develop their own views, not just repeat his. He said he likes it when grad students challenge him; he said it helps him keep his own ideas fresh and sharp!

“What a healthy attitude!” Doug continued. “And so very different from the sick one prevailing around here with senior professors like Briggs and Asquith who just want students to be their clones. No, Jonathan: what I’m doing is not unethical. It’s what Briggs has been doing with my wife that is!”

“I’m afraid you’re wrong there, Dougie,” interjected Michael. I’m not sure when he came in the room or how much of our conversation he had overheard. “If your wife was a student here, then a professor having an affair with her would be considered unethical. But your wife wasn’t a student here, was she? So she was fair game!”

Doug looked at him in disbelief. “She was my wife!” (Yes, he definitely said it in the past tense.) “I never expected that my major professor—someone whom I thought the world of—would do anything like this.”

Michael described how there were “progressive ethics” upheld by universities against discrimination and sexual misconduct and there were “reactionary ethics” which forbade all sex outside of marriage. What Doug was expounding, he explained patiently, was an example of reactionary ethics—which universities were not obliged to uphold. “They couldn’t even if they wanted to,” he told us. Nor could a neo-radical like Briggs be expected to abide by any such reactionary code of conduct.

Doug, I’m sorry to say, responded to this by calling Michael all sorts of foul names. Michael just laughed. But I was mad.

“You know, Doug,” I said, “You really can’t blame Briggs for your problems. Angie would never have let herself be seduced by him if you hadn’t been so nasty to her.”

Doug turned toward me. “So you’re on their side too? Well, I’m not surprised. You’d never dare challenge anything Briggs said or did, would you? Why, if he took a shit on your dinner plate, you’d eat it up and ask for more, you ass kisser!”

I started to object strenuously to this, but Doug interrupted by asking, “Why am I even arguing with you losers? As far as I’m concerned, you’re history!” He then proceeded to pack up his desk and leave.

So now with Doug as well as Danielle gone, there are just four of us left in the office.

I had a much more pleasant conversation later on with Professor Briggs when he came in and asked if I would be his TA. I was thrilled by the offer, of course, but told him that I had been assigned to Trizenko.

“I think an assistant professor—especially one who’s likely to be turned down for tenure—can do his own grading,” he responded. He then told me that the choice was mine, and that he would even talk to Trizenko for me if I felt awkward doing so. I accepted immediately! And who can blame me: being Briggs’s TA will look far better on my cv than being Trizenko’s. And besides: it was what I really wanted to do anyway.

I did see Trizenko in the hall later and told him myself that I would be TA’ing for Briggs. I started to explain how I was far more knowledgeable about Briggs’s field than his anyway when he interrupted me by saying, “You don’t have to explain anything, Jonathan. I understand perfectly.”

That didn’t sound too friendly. I hope he doesn’t take it out on me when it comes to assigning grades for the course I’m taking with him this semester. Maybe he’s turned his grades in for that class already; I think he’s the type that would. I should be okay then.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13

I am writing on the Sunday following the last week of classes. Final exam week starts tomorrow, but I feel great—although I’m a little ashamed to admit it. I was feeling a little jealous of Doug for much of the semester since Briggs seemed to favor him over me. It became clear this past week, though, that Briggs is far less interested in Doug than in Doug’s wife.

It turns out that Briggs and Angie have been having an affair. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on, but Doug found out about it last week when he went back home earlier than he normally does. Doug told me later that when he went inside, he found two sets of clothes—male and female—on the couch. Realizing that he was there, Angie quickly threw on her robe and even gave Doug’s to “Barry!”

Doug was furious, he told me, not just at discovering that both of them had betrayed him, but at how nonchalant they both appeared at being caught. “Now, Doug,” he told me how Briggs had said, “I know this is a bit of an awkward situation, but I think it’s important that we all keep calm.”

Doug said that he was anything but calm, and that he called Angie a “worthless slut.”

“Well, none of this would have happened, Dougie,” she told him, “if you had treated me decently instead of like shit.”

Doug then told Angie that he wanted her out of his apartment (and him being the student, it was indeed his) as soon as possible. Briggs then said she could move in with him, at least for the time being. Instead of being ashamed of herself, Doug told me angrily, Angie appeared to be delighted by this turn of events.

After retrieving his clothes and retreating to the bedroom to change back into them, Briggs came back out and announced that he’d come by with his car at the end of the working day to transport Angie and her stuff out to his place. Angie, Doug said, remained in her short, skimpy terry cloth robe which she had not bothered to tie very carefully. She seemed to really enjoy showing herself off before the two of them, said Doug, scandalized. I have to admit: I wish I’d been there to see her dressed like that!

“Now Doug,” Briggs said just before leaving, “I’m sure you’re a little upset by all this, but I want you to know that I have great respect for your work, which I really do think is quite promising. From what I’ve seen of your work so far, I’m sure you’ll be earning an “A” in my seminar. And I really am looking forward to your being my TA next semester. If that would be uncomfortable for you, though, I’m sure I can arrange for you to TA for Trizenko and for Jonathan to take your place with me.”

Doug was indignant as he told me this. I have to admit, though, that I was thrilled at the prospect of our trading professors to TA for. The issue, however, was not resolved since Doug then ordered Briggs to get out.

Briggs continued in what Doug described as his patronizing tone of voice, telling Angie he’d pick her up around five o’clock and advising Doug that he had a great career ahead of him and that Briggs would hate to see him jeopardize it by doing or saying anything “rash” now. “This sort of thing happens all the time,” Briggs was saying as he stepped out into the hall and Doug slammed the door on him.

After calling each other a few choice names, Doug related, he and Angie quickly got down to dividing their few possessions which, fortuitously, did not include either a car or any furniture (the grad student apartments we lived in came furnished). That settled, Doug told her she could pack up by herself. He then went to their bank and drew out the few hundred dollars they had in their checking account. After that, he came over to the office where he found me and told me all about it.

I sympathized with Doug, but I didn’t want him to take up my entire afternoon talking about his personal problems. I was just about to get up and leave when Michael came into the room. Doug immediately stopped talking, and so I was able to get back to my writing. Michael didn’t say anything, but the supercilious way in which he asked Doug how Angie was doing these days indicated that he knew what was happening—indeed, that he had known for some time. Doug tried to act busy, not looking at him and only answering his questions with one or two syllables. Michael said he was glad everything was going so well, laughed derisively, and then made a show of getting to work himself.

Lisa came in the room a little while later. She apparently sensed that something was wrong because she asked why we were all so quiet. “I guess we’re just busy!” I tried to say cheerily.

Michael left the room a short while later, telling Doug to be sure and give Angie his best regards as he went out. Almost as soon as he was gone, Doug cried out in a hoarse whisper, “He knew! That bastard knew! He even intimated something was going on between them at Thanksgiving!” So that’s what they were really arguing about! Lisa, of course, was all curious and concerned, and so he told her the whole story. Lisa was indignant that Briggs had seduced Angie. She said that the university should not tolerate such unethical conduct.

At four o’clock, I reminded Doug that Briggs would be coming by in his car for Angie and suggested that we go over and help her get her stuff down to the lobby.

He thanked me for offering to help, and so we set off. Once we got to our apartment building, though, Doug said he didn’t want to even see her. He asked if he could wait in my apartment until she was gone. Since he wouldn’t even phone her from my place, I did. She said she’d appreciate my help. With him standing there in front of me and her on the line, I arranged to bring her half of their bank balance upstairs in exchange for her key to Doug’s apartment. She was quite business-like on the phone, while it was clear to me that Doug was becoming increasingly emotional.

I popped him a beer, gave him the remaining half of a potato chip bag that Shivvy and I had opened on the weekend, and then went over to what would soon be just Doug’s apartment.

I was amazed at the sight of her when she opened the door of the apartment to me. Although it was a cold December evening outside, she had on a short, revealing black dress and black stockings. The blackness of the dress vividly contrasted with her pale skin and blonde hair. But despite the self-confidence that being dressed so sexily implied and her business-like tone on the phone just a few minutes ago, she was crying quietly now.

“He treated me like shit, Jonathan! You and your girlfriend saw how he acted that night you came for dinner. I was so embarrassed! He was always belittling me like that!”

I tried to say something reassuring, but she wasn’t listening to me.

“Ever since we got here,” she continued, “he’s just steadily lost interest in me. Every time I tried to talk to him about what he was studying, he’d just say that it was too hard to explain to someone not already in the class. I even tried talking to him about the news, but he’d just blow me off by saying that whatever situation I wanted to talk about was `trivial’ as far as theory was concerned.”

I’m sure Doug was right about this, but I didn’t think that it was a good time to say so.

“For the past month or so,” she went on, “he’s just ignored me altogether. Why, he wouldn’t even take the time away from his studies to stop and fuck me!”

This was embarrassing. I didn’t know what to say. Luckily, the phone rang. It was the front desk calling to say that Briggs had arrived, and asking us to please hurry up and come down since cars were only supposed to be parked in front of the main door for just a few minutes.

I remembered to give Angie her cash, and she gave me her key. All of her stuff fit into just one suitcase and four cardboard boxes which she had gotten from the custodial staff. They had also let her borrow a dolly, which was great, since that meant we could take all her stuff down to the lobby in just one trip.

I reminded her to put on her coat and hat since it was pretty cold outside. She reminded me to lock the door since I now had the key.

As we got off the elevator, Briggs was there waiting for us impatiently. I went out to the car with them and helped him load her stuff into it. “Thanks for helping out, Jonathan,” he said. “I won’t forget this.” Turning to Angie, he said, “Okay, sweetheart; if you’re all set, let’s get going.”

Before getting in his car, though, Angie came over to me and kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks for being a friend, Jonathan,” she said, looking directly at me. “I won’t forget this either.”

I said I hoped we’d keep in touch. She got in the car and as they started to drive off, I saw her take off her hat and release her long blonde hair to flow down her shoulders.

I took the dolly back inside and left it by the elevator for the custodians to find. When I got back to my apartment, Shivvy was there with Doug. After I gave him Angie’s key, he thanked me for helping him out and left.

“He looks like he’s in bad shape,” I said.

“Yeah, he’s a mess,” responded Shivvy, shaking her head. “But you know what? I think he’s a lot less bothered by the fact that Angie was cheating on him than by the realization that he really wasn’t Briggs’s prize little pupil after all.”

She laughed at her own observation and continued, “I’m afraid it’s the old story, Dougie! Briggsy didn’t love you for your brain, but for your body! Your wife’s body, that is!”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 6

This has been a traumatic week. The professors all met just after Thanksgiving break to assess our progress and decide on funding for next semester. All of us first year students passed muster, and we got our TA assignments for next semester. Just as she had hoped, Lisa Dudwick will TA for Theda DeKlerk—the feminist professor. And just as, I’m sure, Craig Hatfield wanted, he will TA for Elton Asquith. But much to my chagrin, Briggs picked Doug to TA for him, and not me. I kind of expected this, given how well Doug gets on with Briggs, but it still hurt. Much worse for me, though, is that I was picked to TA for Trizenko.

This is a disaster! It’s bad enough that he and I are not on the same intellectual wavelength. Worse, it won’t do my career any good to be associated with someone who is probably going to be denied tenure this year. Even if he successfully appeals the decision next year, the stigma of being turned down this year is going to stick with him—and me!

I can just see it now: when I’m on the job market sending out my vita, people are going to look at it and say, “He TA’ed for Trizenko? Isn’t that the guy that got turned down for tenure at Charles?”

Worse still, whatever is left of Trizenko’s reputation is going to be completely shot as a result of this whole incident with Danielle. People are going to say, “Wasn’t Trizenko the guy who led a demonstration in defense of a racist TA?” People may think that the TA in question is me! What the hell did I do to deserve all this? Being Trizenko’s TA is going to make the next semester sheer hell for me.

Michael, of course, is getting fellowship support for next semester. And just as he predicted, Danielle is not. She has already announced her intention to withdraw from the Ph.D. program and leave Charles University altogether at the end of this semester.

Michael thinks that this is the only appropriate course of action for her after being accused of racism. Lisa and Craig, though, are saying she has not received due process: it would be one thing to take away her funding if it had been proved she had been guilty of racism, but it was quite another to do so after only being accused of it. Doug and I aren’t as down on her as Michael, but we’re not with Craig and Lisa either. Taking away her funding as a result of an accusation of racism is harsh, but we can understand how the faculty doesn’t want to be seen protecting a racist. I personally think she should go on leave until the matter is settled one way or another. But maybe it’s best for her to just go away altogether: with Trizenko likely to leave next year at the latest, there’s probably nobody else here she would want to work with—or who would want to work with her—on a dissertation about Russian politics.

In any event, she’s not being forced out. She could come up with the tuition herself through student loans or getting a job. It was Danielle herself who decided to leave before the charges against her were cleared up. So, in the end, I really can’t feel too sorry for her.

It’s very clear, though, that she’s feeling rather sorry for herself. She sent me the following e-mail message, which I reproduce in full:


Being shoved by [once again, I omit his name—JV] was bad. Being then accused by him of racism for calling him an asshole—which he was—for shoving me was also bad. But neither was as bad as being betrayed by my so-called colleagues and see them trumpet their raw, naked hostility toward me at the top of their lungs. I wouldn’t have stayed here even if they had renewed my funding after that.

It didn’t surprise me to see lickspittles like Michael and Doug join Briggs and Asquith in that vicious demonstration against me, but I expected you to give me the benefit of the doubt the way Craig and Lisa did.

I used to think of you as a friend, but not any more. Still, I hope that you never experience what has happened to me—no matter how much you deserve to!


Strong stuff! I sent her back what I thought was a diplomatic message saying that I participated in the demonstration not out of any feelings of personal hostility toward her, but from my desire to join Prof. Briggs in expressing my principled opposition to racism in general.

She wrote back:


Briggs and Asquith acting as cheerleaders in that demonstration had nothing to do with any “principled opposition to racism.” And do you always write so ponderously? Through branding me a racist, they hoped to discredit Ilya and derail his application for tenure. And by coming to my defense the way he did, he fell right into their trap.

Can’t you see through all their leftist mumbo-jumbo???


I didn’t even bother to respond; the poor woman is clearly hysterical. She’s lucky I didn’t forward her libelous message on to Professors Briggs and Asquith—like someone else might have done who wanted to curry favor with them.

This past Friday afternoon (yes, I’m back to writing this diary on a Sunday), all of us incoming TA’s were called to a meeting with the professors we have been assigned to as well as the outgoing TA’s. Not only did Danielle not show up, but Trizenko didn’t either—yet one more black mark against him. The rest of us, I think, were just as happy that they didn’t. I’ll have to meet with him at some point, though, since I’ll be working with him.

Anyway, after the chair, Prof. Stavros, said a few words, both Asquith and Briggs gave talks about the extreme importance of TA’s being sensitive in dealing with—and especially grading—minority students. Prof. DeKlerk then appealed to the new male TA’s in particular to be sensitive to students from “the other gender.” Asquith then got back up and urged us not to overlook the “special needs” of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. We then had a general discussion in which everyone expressed their fealty to these important principles.

[I would never admit it publicly, but I am not quite certain what “transgendered” means. I would, of course, never knowingly discriminate against such students. I only hope, though, that they will let me know if they are in this category so that I can treat them with the sensitivity they undoubtedly deserve.]

Afterward, Michael, Doug, and I all went out for a beer (we invited Craig and Lisa, but they wouldn’t come with us). As we began drinking, Michael announced that he would now give us the “inside scoop” about racially sensitive grading—what nobody on the faculty would say out loud, but which we needed to know.

“The whole point about being racially sensitive,” he informed us, “is to advance the progressive agenda and not the reactionary one.” What this meant, he explained, was that we should “encourage and reward” members of minority groups who did this and “correct” those who did not.

Both African-Americans and Latinos were the most disadvantaged minority groups, he explained, and so they needed to be especially encouraged and rewarded. There were, however, “reactionary exceptions” within these two groups who needed correcting.

“African-American males who have served in the military are all right-wingers, to a man!” said Michael. “Nor are they ashamed about it either.” It was necessary to be patient but firm in trying to re-educate them, he advised.

“And while Latinos in general are progressive, one group—Cuban-Americans—are ultra-reactionary.” Michael suggested that students from this group were so stubbornly reactionary that attempting to speak with them politely was useless. “Just give them the “C minuses” they deserve,” he advised. They were in no position to complain, Michael observed, because other Latinos would not come to their defense. “They’re that unpopular,” he concluded.

I, of course, had known that Cuban emigres were all right-wingers. I had never thought of them as Hispanics, but as Spanish-speaking whites instead. I was, though, a little uncomfortable with the idea that a whole segment of the African-American population—those who had served in the military—were reactionary. Michael’s depiction, though, made me wonder whether Prof. Saltz had been in the armed forces; this might explain a lot.