Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 26

I am writing this on Friday evening. This week just after spring break has been pure hell. It seemed like it would never end. But with the departure of Brendan Cohen back to Barstow, it finally has.

It started well enough when I met him at the airport last Saturday. We had a nice talk coming in on the T and during dinner at a cheap restaurant we went to which we found near his budget hotel (as always, he was low on funds). I had to admire his energy: not only was he giving the talk at Charles on Tuesday afternoon that I had arranged, but he had succeeded in having himself invited to give two talks at Harvard (one at the Center for International Affairs, the other at the Center for Science and International Affairs) as well as one each at the M.I.T. Center of International Studies, Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and somewhere or other at Boston University, Boston College, and even Northeastern University (which is truly the low man on the academic totem pole around here). He had also arranged some appointments with whomever he could in all these various places to talk about the possibility of his spending his sabbatical as a guest scholar. He hoped to make more such appointments over the course of the week.
He told me all about the financial arrangements he had made: a few were covering his hotel bill for a night while others (including Harvard) were not paying anything. “I don’t mind with Harvard,” he said, “since I consider myself lucky to wangle two invitations to speak there at all.” Cal State Barstow was not providing anything either since he’d spent his annual $500 travel allowance coming out to the IRA conference last September. He had flown in on the Saturday to get a lower fare, and would fly out the following Friday (today) since he really couldn’t afford to stay here for two weekends.

It soon became clear that he had assumed that I would spend the next day, Sunday, showing him around and that I would be going with him to his other talks. Our conversation started to grow a little testy when I informed him that I could do neither since I had so much work to do. Luckily, though, he seemed to realize that he was imposing on me and backed down. Feeling a little awkward, I invited him to come by my place Sunday evening for a little grad student fare, which he accepted.

I spent all Sunday catching up on my own work and was taken a bit by surprise when Brendan came by earlier than I had invited him for. I hadn’t had time to go to the store, so we dined on what I had: frozen fish sticks and ketchup. At least he brought a six-pack of some light beer with him; not my favorite, but I had none left myself.

The conversation was desultory. He told me how cool the weather was here compared to Barstow. I told him that it seemed warm compared to what it had been like only a few weeks ago. He told me about where all he had gone site-seeing today (as if I cared). I told him how I had fallen behind on my own work helping out with Briggs’s manuscript last week. He got really excited at this and pleaded with me to tell him all about it. I said that I’d really like to, but couldn’t due to professional ethics. He seemed shocked at my saying this, but all I could tell him was that the book should be out by the IRA conference this coming September, and that he could see it then along with everyone else.

He left soon afterward, obviously miffed. He even took the two bottles of beer we hadn’t drunk with him. He called me late the next evening, though, all full of enthusiasm over how well his talk had gone at Harvard CSIA in the morning and at M.I.T. in the afternoon. He had even had lunch with somebody-or-other from the former and dinner with somebody-else from the latter (neither of whose name rang a bell with me). He said he had a shot at being a guest scholar at both next year, but still had to talk to a few more people at each. I wished him luck and said that I was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow at Charles.

The next day, Briggs dutifully announced in class that “Jonathan’s old professor” would be giving a talk today during my discussion section. He urged everyone to show up, saying “something just might be on the final about it.” I knew he was joking, but the undergrads must have taken him seriously since they turned out in force that afternoon. I was a little surprised since I had never had so many show up in the discussion section just for me. In addition to the undergrads (among whom, of course, was Shivvy), there were several others, including Prof. Asquith, Michael, Lisa, and even Angie. Angie sat next to me in one of the student desks. I felt odd sitting in one instead of standing up front, but Briggs said he’d introduce Brendan and would moderate the session—which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

I don’t know what got into him, but Brendan’s talk was basically a critique of Briggs’s old book. Nobody else in the room knew it, but his presentation was essentially a summarization of the senior thesis that I had written for him! I couldn’t believe he would do something so stupid and unprofessional! And how could he be so rude as to critique Briggs after Briggs had, at my request, arranged for him to speak here?

I was too upset to make any comment when Brendan finally shut up and the Q&A session began. Michael, though, tore into him like a rotwiler, pointing out where his critique had “failed to grasp the complexity of Briggs’s argument” in his old book as well as where it was “outmoded” since Briggs had already dealt with similar critiques in his new book. Michael, it was clear, was very familiar with the new book.

A few others joined Michael’s bandwagon and made scathing remarks, but Michael, who had worked himself up into a righteous fury, was the star of the show. Brendan was completely taken aback and did not know how to respond. He tried to lighten the mood with the sort of witticisms that went over well with students back at Barstow, but they fell completely flat here. He kept looking over at me in what appeared to be an appeal for help, but I looked away each time.

Briggs himself just sat back and smiled throughout the entire session, especially during the Q&A part. He didn’t say one word in defense of his ideas; he didn’t have to, since Michael was doing it for him. Briggs finally spoke up to say that the session had to end now. He said that Brendan had raised some very interesting points (“No, he really did,” said Briggs in response to derisive laughter from Michael and others), but that he had already dealt with them all in his new book.

“You might want to have a look at it first in case you’re thinking of trying to publish what you said here,” Briggs said condescendingly to Brendan. This was followed by more derisive laughter. “And let me just end,” he added, “by thanking Jonathan here for arranging for you to come and talk.” Much to my embarrassment, the derisive laughter was then aimed at me. Michael sneered at me openly. Even Shivvy looked at me with open disgust.

Afterward, I really wanted to give Brendan a piece of my mind for having lifted what I had written in my senior thesis for his talk here, but didn’t want to do so in front of Briggs, Michael, and everybody else since that would have been an admission that all his arguments—which had just been punctured here—were really mine. Brendan himself was clearly embarrassed. “I guess that didn’t go over too well, did it, Jonathan?” he asked sheepishly.

Before I could answer, he said, “I’m afraid I can’t stay and talk. I’ve got to rush over to M.I.T. and meet somebody. I’ll get in touch with you later.” He was gone before I could tell him not to bother.

The room then emptied out quickly. Briggs, Asquith, Michael and a few others all went out together, laughing. Nobody said anything to me except Angie. “This was no reflection on you, Jonathan. I know Barry thinks highly of your work. Don’t give it another thought.” I thanked her and then practically ran out of the room myself. I was afraid I might break down and cry on her shoulder otherwise. I certainly wanted to.

Luckily, nobody came to see me during my office hours afterward—except Shivvy. She was in high spirits, rubbing it in about Brendan. “Wasn’t that the great Professor Cohen—the best of Barstow—whom you told me so much about? What a total loser! And I used to believe it when you told me how terrific he was!”

After getting tired of this line of attack, her voice turned cold as she said, “I know who it is you’re fucking now. It’s that little Southern simp, Angie, isn’t it?”

I told her that she was being outrageous. “I saw how you two were talking just now!” she shot back. “And a lot of people have told me that you and she seem to have spent the entire spring break together in the library and Briggs’s office. Jesus, Jonathan! Were you two so hot for each other that you couldn’t even go over to your apartment? You had to do it right there in his office? What if you’d been caught?”

I told her that we had been working together on Briggs’s manuscript at Briggs’s request, but she was incredulous. “Just be careful, Jonathan,” she said as she finally left. “Briggs will castrate you if he thinks you’re poaching on his private preserve.” God, what a bitch!

I got a phone call from Brendan last night. He started cheerily telling me, as if nothing at all had happened, how well his talks had gone elsewhere and that he thought he really had a shot at becoming a guest scholar at the Fletcher School. They might even pay him for teaching a class as an adjunct, but had asked for him to have, among others, a former student write a letter of recommendation for him. He said that, of course, he thought of me for this.

That’s when I let him have it. I chewed him out royally for having embarrassed the hell out of me by giving such a lousy presentation at Charles. I also said that I’d never thought he would have stooped to plagiarizing material from my senior thesis—and then to present this stolen material in a presentation that I myself attended. Did he think I wouldn’t notice?

He was stunned by this. At first, he started apologizing for embarrassing me. But then he started to go on about how much of what I wrote in my senior thesis were really ideas I had gotten from him both in class and our private discussions.

This made me so furious that I cut him off, saying, “Look, you asshole, I can’t carry you any more! I tried to help you as much as I could, and you embarrassed the hell out of me! You did enough damage this past week! I’m certainly not going to write any letter of recommendation for you so you can come back and do even more next year!”

I then slammed down the phone and turned off the ringer in case he tried to call back. In fact, the next morning I discovered that there was a voice mail message from him expressing shock at what I’d said after everything he’d done for me. I deleted it before the end.

To paraphrase a saying that I think was made up about somebody else from somewhere else: “You can take the boy out of Barstow, but you can’t take Barstow out of the boy.” That about sums up Brendan. It’s his own damn fault that I had to get rid of him like that. However useful he may have once been to me, I’ve clearly moved way beyond his league. Someone in my position just can’t afford to be dragged down by a loser like that. I had to do what I had to do.

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 20

I am writing this on a Saturday afternoon, for a change. Spring break is almost over, though it has not been much of a break for me, but a lot of work instead. And not so much of it my own work either. Still, I’m not complaining. Let me explain.

A week ago today, I got an early morning phone call from Briggs. He said he was flying off in the evening to London for a conference, but that there was still a lot of work to be done on his copy-edited manuscript which was due back to the publisher on Friday. “Angie’s been doing a great job with it, but there’s a little too much left for her to finish by herself. She told me that you two had spoken and that you had offered to help with it. I was wondering if I could take you up on that.”

I was incredibly flattered, as anyone would be, that Briggs had finally asked me to help him out with this book. I accepted immediately, but he seemed to think I still needed convincing. “Angie’s not as knowledgeable about the field as you are. It would really help me to have you look it over.”

I accepted again. He asked me to come out to his place for lunch. He would go over what had to be done with Angie and me. We could then go in his car to the airport later in the afternoon and Angie could drop me back at Charles.

When I finally got to Briggs’s house (which took quite awhile on public transport since it was a Saturday), Angie opened the door. She was unabashedly relieved to see me. “Thanks so much for helping out, Jonathan! I’d never be able to get all this work done by myself!” she told me.

Briggs was upstairs finishing his packing. He came down and we all ate the black bean soup and BLT sandwiches that Angie had prepared for us. Angie was in high spirits, chiding “Barry” good-naturedly for not taking her to London with him but leaving her here to work on his book. He responded in kind, saying that he’d be sure to take her to his next conference—unless he had another manuscript which he needed her to take care of for him.

After lunch, we got down to business. Briggs and Angie had already reviewed the changes made by the copy-editor. Briggs, though, had apparently thought of a lot more changes he wanted to make. There had been some to-ing and fro-ing between him and his editor over this, with the latter calling for him not to make too many changes or to exceed his “word budget” any further. Angie had also marked up all these changes—as well as “changes to the changes,” as she put it, that Briggs had made. It was doing this, plus answering most of the copy editor’s questions, that had taken up all their spare time last week.

What remained to be done was to verify the accuracy of all quoted material and bibliographic references, as well as to find the necessary information for any of the latter which were not yet complete—of which there were a surprising number, I thought (I would never say so to Briggs, though). “You know how it is, Jonathan,” he said. “I’m sure I read something somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it since.” This, of course, was a problem I had encountered many times myself. It was gratifying to see that someone such as Briggs was not immune to it either. “You may have to be a little creative in hunting down some of these.”

We agreed that the best place for Angie and I to have our base of operations was Briggs’s office on campus. A lot of the books and journals he cited were right there, as were photocopies of things he had accumulated while writing the book. Most anything that we couldn’t find in his office, he told us, could probably be found downstairs in the political science library (like Harvard and M.I.T., Charles University maintained a large number of small, specialized libraries). But there might be a few things, he warned, that we wouldn’t be able to find either in his office or in the political science library. For these, he advised, we either search the internet or try to find them over at Harvard. Since I had taken the class with Saltz last semester over there, I had become reasonably familiar with the Harvard library system. Angie, of course, didn’t even know her way around the political science library at Charles, much less anything at Harvard.

The time came for Briggs to get going over to Logan airport. Angie drove, Briggs sat beside her up front, and I was in the back. On the way, I learned that Michael would be presenting a paper at the conference in London that Briggs was also presenting at. “I would have asked him to help you two with this,” Briggs said apologetically, “but he’s going to be with me over there.”

I was just as glad that he wouldn’t be with us, but was too polite to say so. Angie, though, was not: “He’s a creep!” she declared. This led to a minor dispute between them in which they each appealed to me for support. I knew Angie was right, but I said I agreed with Briggs. Briggs said that Michael would take the T to Logan, and that they would meet up there. When Angie said she felt sorry for Barry having to sit next to him all those hours on the flight over and probably on the way back, Briggs responded that her concern was misplaced: Michael had an economy class ticket while Briggs had traded some frequent flier miles for an upgrade to business class. Nor would they be staying in the same hotel since Briggs was being put up somewhere nice while Michael would be at a hostel. In fact, he said, they probably wouldn’t see much of each other outside the conference. “Lucky you!” exclaimed Angie. Briggs chided her for saying so, but I suddenly realized that he wasn’t particularly fond of Michael either. He respected Michael’s intellect, I knew that, but I could see that Michael wasn’t Briggs’s idea of good company.

We finally got to the airport after an annoying delay in traffic (not unusual for Boston). When we stopped in front of Briggs’s departure terminal, I got out to help him with his luggage, and then got in the front seat for the trip back. Angie thanked me once again for being willing to help out. “I hope that nice girlfriend of yours won’t be too angry about me taking you away from her this week.”

I explained to her how we couldn’t see each other this semester to avoid any conflict of interest since I was her TA. She expressed complete disbelief that we would actually comply with such “silly rules.” When I told her that I was the one who had called for the separation and that Briggs had insisted upon it, she just laughed. “Barry would never have followed any such rule himself,” she insisted, “even if he said he would.” This I couldn’t believe, and told her so. “But just look at how him and me got started!” she responded. “I was married to Doug when we took up with each other!” I told her that that was different because she was not his student while Shivvy was mine. “That’s just splittin’ hairs!” she exclaimed. “Surely it’s worse to take up with a married woman than to take up with a single girl who happens to be your student.”

She was obviously wrong, but I didn’t want to argue with her. So I told her instead that the separation was just temporary, and that Shivvy and I would probably be getting back together when the semester ended in just a couple of months. “Well, all I can say,” she responded, “is that if you want her to come back to you then, you’d better be prepared to buy her lots of flowers, lots of dinners, and lots of jewelry. I’d try my hand at writing her some sentimental poetry too, if I were you.”

Interesting advice. I’ll keep it in mind.

Over the course of spring break, I got to know more about Angie than I had before. First and foremost, she is an incredibly hard worker. She and I quickly organized all the tasks that had to be accomplished, and we completed them all by the end of the week. (“It was probably easier,” she noted, “without Barry here interfering and changing everything around.) She was actually quicker at finding and checking references than me. She just lacked self-confidence.

I also learned that she is from a small town in southwest Virginia. Her parents were divorced long ago, and she hasn’t seen much of her father since. Her mother works as a hairdresser, and had long made it clear that she didn’t want Angie moving back in with her after graduating from college. “So when Doug and I split up,” she said, “I knew I wasn’t welcome back there.” Fortunately for her, Barry had been willing to take her in and make a “mostly honest woman” out of her, as she put it. She could not have stayed in the grad student apartment even if Doug had been willing to let her take up the lease since he had to give it back to the university once he withdrew and left for Gates. She couldn’t have afforded to rent a decent place (assuming she could have found one) on what she earned as a waitress, and she didn’t know anybody she was willing to room with.

Briggs let her stay for free at his house, she told me, in exchange for her doing the cooking as well as serving as his research assistant. She still did some waitressing, though, to earn a little pocket money.

“We haven’t really talked about it,” she said, “but I’m sure Barry and I will be getting married after my divorce comes through.” Nor did she expect any problems on that front: Doug was cooperating with her on this. He had found another girl out at Gates, Angie suspected, who was undoubtedly encouraging him to get the divorce. “We never should have gotten married in the first place,” she said. “I think we both know that now.”

One thing she told me really surprised me: Briggs, she says, is extremely nervous about how this new book is going to be received. Considering how he exudes self-confidence, I would never have guessed this. But she insists that it is true.

The new book, by the way, seems to be an extended discussion with the critics of his previous book. Interestingly enough, Briggs actually dealt with a lot of the critiques that I had made about his earlier book in my senior thesis and the paper I wrote for Saltz. I’m glad I didn’t show them to him after all since the points I made wouldn’t have seemed all that new to him. As everyone reading this will recall, Briggs’s great book written all those years ago was entitled, International Relations: A Neo-Radical Perspective. This new one is entitled, Neo-Radical Relations: An International Perspective. I like that.

Angie and I finished everything up yesterday afternoon. We didn’t send the manuscript back to the publisher since Briggs would want to look it over first. He should be able to do so on Monday or Tuesday. I think he’ll be pleased with what we did.

Oh, here’s one other example of how well Angie organizes things: although I had completely forgotten about it, Angie remembered that Brendan Cohen would be speaking here at Charles next week. After Briggs had told her about it, she had worked with the department office to schedule his talk for Tuesday at two o’clock in my discussion section (which is fine with me), make travel arrangements, and even put up fliers in Case Hall (which we did together yesterday).

It turns out that Brendan’s plane from California will come in at about the same time today as Briggs’s from Britain. Since Angie is going to drive to Logan to pick Briggs up, she called to say she would swing by and take me to Logan to meet Brendan so I can take him on the T to his hotel in Central Square. She thinks of everything!

I’m really glad she called. It was fun working with her and I felt sad when we were all done. It’ll be nice to have one more conversation with her on the way to the airport.

Next Entry: March 26

March 12

It’s one week later--the Friday afternoon of the seventh week of classes. Next week is spring break. I am so glad, because this past week has been no fun at all.

I met with Briggs on Tuesday morning before class. He said that he’d looked over my grading, and that it seemed fine. Given what Angie had told me, I doubted that he had spent much time on this at all, but I certainly wasn’t going to say anything. Besides, I felt proud that he trusted my grading ability so much that he didn’t feel the need to scrutinize or question it.

We then went to class. Only about 25 students were there at first. More, though, trickled in while Briggs gave his lecture, as usual. Toward the end of the session, he said that the TA would now pass back the exams. If the students had any questions about it, he said, they were to see me first; he wouldn’t discuss it with anyone who had not done so. He then walked out, leaving me with the unenviable task of calling out the names of all the students who had taken the exam.

By the time I did this, there were about 40 students in the room and so a lot of time was wasted calling out the names of students who weren’t there. Many of those who were there, though, expressed their indignation over the grade they received as soon as they got their exams back. Things got noisy enough that I had to call for quiet three times so that students could hear me continue to call out names.

Once I had finished this task and made sure that everyone there had gotten an exam back, I ended the session. Several students came up to me immediately afterward, angrily claiming that I had given them “the wrong grade” and demanding an immediate upward revision. I told them that they had hardly had time to read—and none at all to digest—the comments I had written explaining each of their grades. I told them all to go and do so and then come and talk to me this afternoon during my office hours if they still had any questions.

The students who came to the lecture session in the morning apparently spread the word that the midterms had been graded (and graded hard at that) because when I went to my discussion section that afternoon, there were over thirty students waiting—both for me and the exams. A similar scene ensued there. Those who were satisfied with their grade left the room immediately after receiving their midterms back. Those who weren’t stayed behind to argue. I repeated to them what I had said in the morning. What this meant now, though, was that they simply followed me back to my office—where there was a line of students already waiting to see me.

I first called for all those who had not yet picked up their exams to come in and get them. There were several of these—many of whom wanted to start arguing with me right then and there. I told them to at least go back outside and read carefully through my comments. I then told those outside to organize themselves in a line and to come in to talk to me one at a time.

Then things really became unpleasant. I’m not sure how many conversations I had over the next few hours; it seemed like 40 or so. All the conversations, though, had certain common features. Each student was certain that I had erred somehow in grading them. Each asked me if this was the first time I had served as a TA and had actually graded anything (my affirmative answer, of course, only served to confirm the conviction that I had somehow screwed up). Each asked me if Prof. Briggs had checked the grades (I assured them that he had—even though I was not all that sure about this). And each expressed the firm belief that they deserved a higher grade.

I remember when I was an undergraduate how we all viewed TA’s as uniformly biased, unfair, incompetent, and generally stupid. Of course, most of the ones at Cal State Barstow really were. I mean, who but a loser who couldn’t get in anywhere else would go there for grad school? (There’s nothing wrong with being an undergrad at Barstow, though, as my coming from there to a prestigious school like Charles demonstrates).

But now that I am a TA myself, I see things differently. Each undergrad wrote one exam, but I was the one who read them all and so could see them in comparative perspective. Most of them displayed serious misunderstandings about the subject matter. Few students, though, were willing to recognize them as such, arguing instead that what I pointed to were minor mistakes which were irrelevant to their argument. Many of them also showed that they didn’t know how to write a decent essay. But instead of being embarrassed at having this pointed out to them, most responded hotly that since this wasn’t an English class, they didn’t have to write the way composition professors demanded. Good God!

These conversations, of course, were not absolutely all alike. There were some variations in them, which soon became predictable. Most men, for example, tended to get angry about their grade. This didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it was a good excuse for getting angry back at them. It felt good! Most women, by contrast, got all tearful and pathetic, claiming that the grade I gave showed I didn’t like them. This I found a lot harder to deal with. I usually told them that I felt the midterm wasn’t reflective of their true potential, that I was confident they would do better if they worked harder, and that it might be a really, really good idea to actually attend class regularly as well as do the assigned readings. Some reacted as if this was the first time they had ever heard such advice, thanking me profusely for it and promising to follow it faithfully.

Shivvy, I’m sure, would have said they were all putting on an act. All I can say is: if that’s what they were doing, they were quite good at it. Not all women, though, acted like this. Some got angry like the men—including Shivvy herself. “Who the fuck do you think you are, giving me a `B+?’” she shouted during her turn in the office. As with everyone else, I explained how I carefully concealed the students’ identities from myself when I read their exams, but this made no impression on her.

As with Shivvy, the most difficult students to deal with were those who had earned a “B+.” I didn’t think a “B+” was such a bad grade. There are a lot worse ones, after all. But all those who got a “B+” were adamant that they deserved “at least” an “A-.” If I didn’t raise their grade, they told me, they would never get into Phi Beta Kappa, a decent law school, or whatever. I told them all that this was just the first assignment, and that if they did better on the book review and the final, they could still get an “A-,” or maybe even an “A,” for the course. None, though, seemed terribly reassured.

There were a few other interesting variations to these conversations. Some students on scholarship tended to view this fact both as proof of their brilliance as well as sufficient justification for an “A.” On the other hand, many of those whose parents were paying full tuition also seemed to think that this entitled them to an “A” since, after all, they had paid for it.

Several students argued vociferously that I had graded them down because I was prejudiced against them because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever. This, of course, was ridiculous: as everyone reading this knows, I’m incredibly sensitive to these matters. My response to them all was that I did not know the identities of the students when I read their exams, and that I graded everyone on exactly the same basis. Many of the students who accused me of bias against them did so, I am convinced, not because they believed this but merely in the hope of intimidating me into raising their grade. They did not succeed. There were some, though, who really seemed to believe that I was prejudiced against one or more groups they belonged to.

One of these, unfortunately, was the African-American male who had had the contretemps with Danielle last fall. As I mentioned before, I had originally given him a “D” but raised this to a “C” in compensation for past inequities experienced by African-Americans.

It turns out that he (once again, I maintain my principled policy of not identifying him by name) thought that I had crossed out a “B” instead of a “D.” (Because of the way I crossed out the “D,” I could see how he might have thought it was a “B.”) Thus, instead of seeing his grade raised from a “D” as a result of my racial sensitivity, he mistakenly thought it was being lowered from a “B” as a result of racial prejudice. He was incredulous at first when I told him what the true situation was. He realized that I was not prejudiced, though, when I reminded him that I had marched in the demonstration on his behalf last December (I was a little miffed that he did not remember me), informed him of my progressive views regarding racial sensitivity, pointed out the (many) weaknesses in his exam, and offered to provide him with individual tutoring.

I felt proud of myself for salvaging what could have deteriorated into an ugly situation, like with Danielle. I wonder why she didn’t think to do what I did. She would undoubtedly still be here if she had.

There were two other similarities in these conversations worth mentioning. One was that virtually every student—including Shivvy—told me that they were going to take the matter of their grade up with Professor Briggs—as if I had done something wrong and, since I wouldn’t mend my ways, they must reluctantly tattle on me. To all of them, I responded that they were free to do so, but that I doubted he would change their grade. And I was right: when I met with him today to go over the exams which students had submitted to him for review (he would not meet with them individually since he was so busy), he agreed with me in every case that the grade should not be raised. “If anything,” he said, “you’ve been too lenient with them.” Naturally, I was pleased that Briggs was backing me up. I noted, though, that not everyone (including Shivvy) who had said they would appeal had actually done so. “Some of them won’t get around to it until right before the final,” said Briggs, shaking his head.

Another similarity in my conversations with the students was that not one of them thanked me for having helped them by pointing out the weaknesses in their exams, thereby affording them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and do better in future. Not one.

Yes, it was a grueling week—especially since these conversations were not limited to my office hours on Tuesday. Students felt free to come by the office on the other days of the week also and even to call me at my apartment! This made it very difficult to maintain my concentration on my own work.

Now I know why spring break was really created: not so that undergrads can have a holiday, but so that TA’s can catch up on their own work after dealing with undergrads on their midterms!

March 5

I am writing this on the Friday afternoon of the sixth week of classes. I didn’t write anything here last week because I didn’t have much to say. This past week, though, has been unbelievably busy with grading the midterm for Briggs’s class.

First, though, I will say something briefly about the fifth week. I was really surprised that so few undergrads attended Briggs’s lecture that week even though it was the last one before the midterm in which he discussed what would be on it. Attendance was a little higher than usual—about 60—but still nowhere near the entire class. About 20 students came to my discussion section that day—mostly, it seemed to me, ones that had not attended Briggs’s lecture earlier in the day. I repeated what Briggs had said about the exam, including what general areas it would cover. What the students wanted from me, though, was to tell them what questions would actually appear on the exam. I told them that not only would I not tell them that, but that I couldn’t even if I wanted to since I hadn’t seen the exam (Briggs hadn’t even written it). Upon hearing this, most of them got up indignantly and left! I was amazed!

A few, including Shivvy, did stay and ask me questions on the material—about which these particular students appeared remarkably confused. I ended up getting annoyed at Shivvy when she took it upon herself to point out where my explanations differed from Briggs’s. For the first time since the first week of class, the discussion section lasted the entire hour. I really felt like a professor.

Shivvy walked back with me to my office, but she didn’t come in since there was a line of students waiting to see me. There were six altogether—none of whom had attended either Briggs’s lecture or my discussion section. What they all wanted, of course, was information about the midterm. I had them all come in at the same time so I would only have to repeat once more what Briggs had said about it that morning. After ascertaining that I could not tell them what was actually on the exam, five of them left.

One girl, though, stayed behind and told me tearfully about how she was so confused by this course and didn’t know how to study for it. I tried to make some helpful suggestions about what to study as well as to reassure her that she could do well if she tried. She finally left after half an hour or so, at which point Shivvy came in.

According to Shivvy, who had apparently been listening outside the entire time, the girl’s tears were all an act, and that she was actually trying to let me know that she was willing to trade sexual favors for an “A” from me. “And it seemed to me,” she added, “that you were pretty favorably disposed toward her. I wonder what you would have done if you hadn’t known that I was outside listening the entire time.”

I told her that her theory was outrageous on three counts. First of all, I hadn’t known she was outside listening; I never thought she would have been silly enough to do something like that. Second, the girl was genuinely upset. And third, I wasn’t attracted to the girl.

“Oh no?” she asked. “Well, there’s one way to find out: let me feel your crotch to see if your dick is hard or not.”

I really got mad then. I told her that she was completely out of line, and that I wanted her to leave my office now before she made an even bigger fool of herself.

She stood up slowly. “If I find out you’ve been fooling around with this girl,” she said, “you can bet that you and I won’t be getting back together at the end of the semester or any other time.” Then she finally left. I checked outside to see if there was anyone there who might have overheard her. Luckily there wasn’t. God, what a bitch she can be!

Well, I guess I had more to say about that previous week than I had anticipated. Anyway, let me move on to this past week. Briggs wrote up the exam on Monday. We met that day to go over what he thought would constitute an “A,” “B,” etc. He also gave me the exam to photocopy for the students, and told me where in the department office to find blue books to distribute (unlike public universities like Cal State Barstow where students must buy their own blue books, private universities like Charles buy them for the students).

Briggs told me that he wouldn’t be coming to class for the midterm and that I was to administer it. I arrived in class a few minutes early on the day of the exam. There was a larger group of students than I had ever seen there before, all busily studying the text books or their notes. Promptly at nine o’clock, I told everyone that the exam was about to begin and that they should put away everything except their pens and whatever beverages they had brought in with them (nearly all of them had). Some students, of course, had forgotten to bring pens (amazing, considering that they knew they were going to be taking an exam), but I had anticipated this and by bringing six or so with me from the department office.

I then passed out copies of the exam and the blue books—a process which took longer than I had expected. I reminded the students to write their names clearly on the front cover of the blue book. I also told them, at Briggs’s insistence, to write their names on the exam itself and turn it in with their blue books when they had finished. Briggs said this was important because a few students probably wouldn’t show up for the midterm when it was scheduled, and that he didn’t want them to be able to get it from anyone who had taken it. I would have thought that anyone who didn’t show up should automatically flunk it, but he said most of them would undoubtedly have some excuse and that I should arrange to administer it to them during my office hours without even consulting him. And, it turned out, there were four students in this category. Two of them showed up to take the exam during my office hours later that day. They didn’t bother to offer any sort of apology, but just said they had stayed up so late studying the previous night that they had slept through the exam.

What surprised me during the exam itself is that so many students arrived late for it—some by as much as thirty or forty minutes. Maybe I’m old fashioned or something, but I never would have dreamed of showing up late for an exam, much less missing it altogether and just assuming that I could take it at a more convenient time. I guess the top dollar tuition that their parents are paying here buys their sons and daughters quite a bit of slack.

As each student finished the exam, he or she gathered up his belongings and came over to where I was sitting to hand in both a blue book and the exam itself. This occasion was the first time I had a close look at those students who didn’t come to my discussion section—which was, of course, the vast majority. One of these, it turned out, was the African-American male who had had that contretemps with Danielle last semester. I hadn’t realized that he was in this class (could this have been the first time he attended?) I will continue here my policy of not mentioning his name for fear of causing any problems for him when this diary starts to be quoted from or is published. I can’t resist saying, though, that he is the son of a highly prominent African-American personage. If he were white, he would be what Michael would call an “upper classhole.”

Remembering the charges of unfair grading he had made against Danielle last semester, I decided to adopt the totally fair grading procedure that Brendan Cohen employed back at Barstow: before reading any of them, I folded back the front cover of each blue book so I couldn’t see the name of the person written on it. As I read each exam, then, I had no idea who had written it, and so did not let any personal acquaintance—or lack of it—affect my grading.

Students only had to pick one question out of five to write an essay on for the exam. Most of the essays I read, though, were not particularly impressive; some were downright stupid. Under my totally fair grading system, only a dozen students earned an “A” or “A-.” Shivvy only earned a “B+.” I didn’t give any “F’s,” but there were several “D’s”—including one for the African-American male student whose name I’m not mentioning. After I realized that I had given him a “D,” though, I raised his grade to a “C” in compensation for the past injustices experienced by African-Americans. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

I had to finish the grading today so that I could get the exams to Briggs because he wanted to have a chance to look at them over the weekend before passing them back to the students this coming Tuesday. (As a student I always appreciated professors who gave back exams quickly, but as a TA I’ve come to sympathize with those who don’t.) When I went over to his office this afternoon with the exams and a record of the grades, I was surprised to find Angie there instead of Briggs. It was the first time I had seen her since helping her move out back in December.

“Hey, Jonathan!” she said cheerily. “I was expecting you. Just set those exams down here. I’ll take them to Barry.” Barry, she explained, was attending a seminar at Harvard but had asked her to drop by his office both to get the exams I had graded and, more importantly, the package with the copy-edited manuscript of his new book, which she had opened to see if she needed to bring anything else from his office back home with her.

“I kind of doubt Barry’s going to spend much time reviewing those exams,” she told me. “He and I have got a lot of work to do on this manuscript.” She explained that he had to review all the changes made by the copy-editor on the manuscript, answer all last-minute questions, verify all quotations, and verify and complete all citations. “Barry hadn’t quite completed them all before,” she said with a mischievous smile.

“He’s got to get everything back to the publisher in two weeks if the book is to be out for the International Relations Association conference this September in Washington. And he’s letting me help him! Isn’t it exciting?”

First Doug, then Angie. It seemed like everybody has been working on Briggs’s new book except for me. “If you need any help with it, just let me know,” I told her.

If in fact Briggs doesn’t review the exams this weekend, then I will have busted my ass for nothing to finish grading them today. Oh, well—at least it’s done. And now I have the weekend to catch up on my own course work—of which there is now one hell of a lot to do.