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.

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