Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27

This has been one truly hellish week so far. I say “so far” because I am writing this on Tuesday evening, just four days after my last entry. I just have to write down what has happened.

In short: my world has turned upside down. All I can say is that, unlike others, I have behaved in a highly principled manner. I will be vindicated by my future biographers—if, that is, there are any. I guess it shows just how badly things are going that I’m actually expressing any doubt about this.

I shall describe everything in the order it occurred. It was fun seeing Angie again this past weekend. As before, we worked together in Briggs’s office. We divided the galleys between us to read through. We were able to do this quickly since we were just reading for glitches, of which there were very few. We then started working on the index, which was indeed a slow process. By Sunday afternoon when I had to quit and go do some of my own work, we had just gotten through the first chapter. This alone, though, was useful for getting her started in setting up the index entries—including, of course, the all-important listings of other scholars.

After I left Angie, one of the things I was able to accomplish Sunday afternoon was to find the original source for another of the three book reviews that I suspected were plagiarized (even though I handed the two reviews that I thought were plagiarized back to the students with “A’s,” I kept copies so I could continue my investigation of them). I was very glad to make this discovery, since the student who wrote it happened to be a white male. Filing a cheating charge against him would prove that I wasn’t treating the African-American male I had already accused of cheating any differently from how I treated a white student.

But things started to go badly on Monday. When I went to the student judicial affairs office to file the cheating charge against this second student (whose name, in fairness, I won’t mention either), the secretary glanced over the paper work and told me I was too late. Suspected violations of the honor code, she said, had to be made within ten days of their occurrence—which in this case was the date the student turned in the paper. I couldn’t believe it! I asked her to please check on this. With great annoyance, she called her supervisor out to talk to me. He confirmed that this was indeed honor code committee policy. He wasn’t quite sure why (the policy was set before he started working there), but he thought it had something to do with student honor code committees in the past regarding any delay in reporting honor code violations as being somehow suspicious.

I was shocked! It never occurred to me that the honor code committee would even think of questioning the motives of a professor or TA who could prove that a student had cheated. So all that time I had spent finding the original source used by this particular white male student had been a waste!

But things really went bad on Tuesday. I saw Shivvy the next morning in Briggs’s lecture class. Just afterward, I asked her if she could please give me back my two papers. She said she’d come by and see me during my office hours later today; there was something she wanted to talk to me about anyway, but was too busy just right now. It was a warm spring day, and she was wearing one of those short skirts I remembered first seeing her in last September before the weather turned cool.

I waited and waited for Shivvy in my office that afternoon. My office hours came to an end and I was about to leave when she finally arrived.

“Hello, Mr. Vining,” she said with mock seriousness. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“Did you bring my two papers?” I asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t have them any more,” she responded. “I gave them to Barry.”

I froze. “Why?” I asked, still not believing what I’d heard. Maybe she was joking. “And since when did you start calling him by his first name?”

“Since we became lovers,” she responded, without any hint of embarrassment. “It is customary for lovers to be on a first name basis, you know.”

I was astounded. “You’re joking!” I exclaimed.

“Not at all,” she said.

“So that’s why your scrunchy was in his office!” I blurted out. “Angie was right about you!”

“Oh, so you two are still seeing each other?” she asked sarcastically. “How romantic! It also makes this much easier for me. For if you can have an affair with Barry’s girlfriend, then you can hardly object if I have one with Barry, can you?”

I insisted hotly that I was not having an affair with Angie, that I had gone to Briggs’s office at her request, and that I had spent much of the weekend there with her working on Briggs’s galleys and index.

“Working on his index with her, my ass!” Shivvy said derisively. “I’m sure it would be more accurate to say that you were working on her with your index finger!”

“Don’t talk about Angie like that!” I told her.

“Oh, just shut up, you asshole!” she shouted angrily. “I’m tired of you and all your sanctimonious subterfuges. What I came here to tell you, in case you haven’t guessed already, is that there’s no way in hell that I’m getting back together with you at the end of the semester. Even if you aren’t having an affair with Angie or anybody else (which I doubt), you can’t just dump me at the beginning of the semester and expect I’ll come running back to you when your precious qualms are satisfied!”

Suddenly, she seemed to pull herself together. “You treated me like some sort of inconvenient stock position you had to put in a blind trust while you served as a temporary presidential appointee,” she said, much more quietly but no less angrily. “You really hurt me! And I hope that what I’ve done hurts you just as much!”

I was stunned. There was no use trying to talk to her any further. She was beyond my reach. I thought I had explained my principles to her. She obviously hadn’t understood. Nor was she willing to. And now she had betrayed me.

Shivvy got up to leave. “Oh, by the way,” she said, with the familiar note of sarcasm back in her voice, “I’m afraid that Barry is none to pleased with either your senior thesis or with the paper you wrote for Saltz. I think he’d like to have a word or two with you about them.”

All of a sudden, my stomach felt very queasy.

“He’s in his office now. I just came from there,” she said with a lewd smile. “When I told him I was going to see you, he asked me to send you over to him afterward. I’d tell you to give him my love, but I’ve already done that myself!” And then, finally, she left.

It took me a few minutes to compose myself after all this. I finally got up and went over to Briggs’s office. The door was open and he was sitting at his desk, concentrating on his computer screen. I knocked lightly and he looked up.

“I have a few things I want to say to you,” he said grimly. “Come in here and sit down.”

I did as I was told. “I am really very disappointed in you, Jonathan,” he continued, handing me my two papers. “I’ve done an awful lot for you. I pushed to have you admitted here with funding. I voted to continue your funding this semester. I made you my TA. I even let you help out with my new book. And how do you repay me? By stabbing me in the back!”

I started to protest, but he cut me off. “I don’t really care about the senior thesis,” he said. “You wrote that before you came here. But to say what you said about me in this paper for Saltz last semester. . . that’s unforgivable. And Saltz knew you were my student, didn’t he? I’m sure it really amused him to know what I’ve only just learned: that one of my students is a traitor!”

I insisted on rebutting this. I told him that I had absolutely the greatest respect for him. I was not a traitor, but a disciple. I only critiqued his work in order to extend it, not denounce it. He himself, I pointed out, had made many of the same criticisms of his earlier work in his new book that would soon be coming out.

“Yes, now I understand why you were so willing to ‘help out’ with it,” he said malevolently. “I’m sure you’ve made a full report to Saltz on its contents so he won’t have to go to the bother of actually reading it in order to write a scathing review when the book comes out in September. Has he arranged for you to transfer over to his program at Harvard in exchange for this little service? Is that why you did it?”

I hotly denied all this. I told him that I hadn’t had any contact with Prof. Saltz since his class ended, that it had never even crossed my mind to transfer over to his program, and that I wanted nothing else but to work here at Charles with him since I too was a neo-radical. I further reminded him of the critique of Saltz that I had written for his class in the fall.

“Oh, yes, I remember that.” Then he laughed grimly. “You appear to be something of an equal opportunity traitor. Or maybe you wrote that paper so that I would think you were a committed neo-radical and trust you enough to let you see my new manuscript.”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this sort of conspiracy theory from him. This was a side of him that I hadn’t seen before. I realized that there was nothing I could say now to convince him that I wasn’t acting in bad faith.

“Yes, that’s what happened!” he said, pleased with what he seemed to think was a real discovery. “I’m very, very disappointed in you, Jonathan.”

Suddenly, I got angry myself. “How dare you make all these false accusations against me when you’ve betrayed me by screwing my girlfriend? Did you tell me that I had to break off my relationship with her because I was her TA just so you would have the chance to fuck her yourself, even though she’s your student too?”

“How dare you talk to me like this!” he thundered.

“Oh, come off it, Barry!” I responded. “Shivvy just told me all about it in my office a few minutes ago!”

“She told you?” A look of genuine confusion came over his face, but then he recovered. “What happened between her and me is our business, not yours or anybody else’s. And you’d better keep your mouth shut about it, if you know what’s good for you!”

I couldn’t believe this! He was threatening me! “I won’t let you intimidate me!” I said. “The rules against sexual misconduct apply to you along with everyone else! And I believe I have no choice but to report your violation of them to the proper authorities here!”

His face radiated both fear and hatred. In a voice thick with rage, he said, “Is it a fight you want, boy? Then I’ll give you a fight! Now get out of here!”

Which I did. I just don’t know what to do or who to talk to. I’m in real turmoil.

Shivvy said she had wanted to hurt me. Well, she succeeded—-more than she could have possibly hoped for.

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23

As I suspected, this has been a grim week. Just like when I handed back midterms a few weeks ago, all kinds of irate students have come to complain about the grades they received on the book reviews which I handed back this past Tuesday. Their various efforts to convince me to raise their grade on the book review were basically the same as those they had tried with the midterm. There is no need to repeat all the various arguments made, and all the various strategies used to advance them. I’d seen it all before. There are some aspects of teaching, I have come to realize, that are highly predictable.

There were some slight variations from last time, however. Those who had received a “low grade” (anything below an “A-,” according to the undergrads) on both the midterm and the book review tended to plead with me for a better grade, painting a grim picture of their future if their GPA wasn’t high enough to get them into this or that law school, or whatever. A few (all female) were even bold enough to sincerely advise me, for my own sake, to raise their grades so that I wouldn’t feel horrible pangs of guilt for having ruined their entire future!

On the other hand, students who had done well on the midterm (“A-“ or better) but not so well on the book review (“B+” or below) were incensed. The fact that they had done well on the midterm, as far as they were concerned, “proved” that they deserved a higher grade on the book review. Ugh!

The most difficult person of all to deal with, though, was the African-American student whom I had to report for cheating. He wasn’t in class Tuesday when I handed back the book reviews, but was apparently notified by mail of the charge against him that day. He came by during my office hours that afternoon, highly irate. He started shouting about how he hadn’t cheated at all, and that I was persecuting him because he was black.

I tried to calm him down by reassuring him of my racial sensitivity. I had to point out, though, that the book review he turned in was exactly the same as one that had been published in a journal. I told him that I was very disappointed in him, but that I saw this unfortunate event as an opportunity for him to confront a serious problem that he appeared to have. I tried to reassure him that I would urge the honor code committee to deal with him compassionately since he was from a minority group that had experienced much injustice historically.

“Don’t give me that white liberal condescension crap!” he shouted. I had never heard this phrase before. It certainly didn’t describe me. “If I had been white, this all would have been handled very, very differently!”

I tried to persuade him that this was not true at all, but he stormed out of the room, shouting that “this whole thing” was just a plot to discredit him, his family, and black leadership in general. I’m not sure who he meant by “black leadership.” Not himself, surely.

Later in the week, I was notified by the student judicial affairs office that the African-American student (whose name I still will not mention, despite how much his scurrilous accusations have provoked me) whom I charged with cheating has entered a plea of innocent. A hearing, then, must be held, before the honor code committee, which has been scheduled for the week after next, which is the last week of classes.

What a pain this is! He’s bound to be found guilty since the evidence against him is so clear. Why couldn’t he have just admitted to the obvious and pleaded for mercy? I doubt that anyone at this university wants to see a minority student punished too harshly. I certainly don’t.

Besides all this, however, the week did have one very interesting distraction—which many see as a scandal. I heard at the beginning of the week from Michael that it is now official: Trizenko has been denied tenure by the president of the university himself. The process is now over for this academic year. He can stay for just one more year and appeal the decision. But if he loses, he’s history.

I felt sorry for Trizenko. I thought that even if he won on appeal next year, the stigma of being turned down for tenure would be with him for the rest of his career. And if he lost his appeal, his career in academia would undoubtedly come to an inglorious end.

If I were in his shoes, I would feel miserable. But Trizenko, it turns out, does not feel this way himself. For later in the week, he did it again: he appeared on ABC, CNN, and NPR, and was quoted in several major newspapers. It all had to do with the publication of an article about what the U.S. should do about our troubled relationship with Russia which he wrote for one of those non-academic Washington “policy” journals.

Briggs and Asquith were furious. “What the hell is wrong with the news media?” Briggs said to me. “Don’t they know that somebody turned down for tenure is a loser, not a winner? Don’t they realize that this journal he has his little article in is descriptive and non-academic?”

Maybe they hadn’t heard the news about his tenure case, I suggested.

“I really don’t think these media people would even care,” Briggs responded. “They’re that stupid.”

Michael thinks that the gaucherie of being featured in the national news right after being denied tenure will be more than enough to “destroy his appeal before he can even file it.”

Trizenko himself, though, doesn’t appear to care. According to the rumor that spread at the end of the week, he has accepted a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington starting this summer! He intends to leave Charles altogether at the end of the semester without even bothering to appeal his tenure case! What arrogance!

Furthermore, it is widely rumored that Trizenko is about to marry Danielle, who has apparently been living with him since the end of last semester. She will go with him to Washington, where she has been admitted into a Ph.D. program at Georgetown University—which apparently has a lot of well-known Russia specialists on its faculty.

If this is true about them getting married, it’s probably just as well that Trizenko is leaving Charles. Their getting married would inevitably raise the question of whether their sexual relationship began while she was still a student here, and working as his TA at that. This would have been one more factor weighing against his appeal next year if he’d stayed. But with Danielle having already left the university and Trizenko just about to, there’s nothing that can be done about it now.

* * *

I wrote all of the above earlier today at my office computer and was just about to go back to my apartment when I got a phone call from Angie. She said she was up in “Barry’s” office and asked if I could please come and talk to her. She sounded like she had been crying.

Angie was there alone, sitting behind Briggs’s desk. “Close the door and lock it!” she told me in a whispered voice.

“What’s wrong, Angie?” I asked.

“I think Barry’s been cheating on me!” she hissed. “Look what I found!”

She took something out of a desk drawer and set it down in front of me. It was a blue scrunchy.

My head swam. “It’s Shivvy’s!” I blurted out. “Remember her? She’s my girlfriend—but just not this semester.”

Angie looked at me incredulously. “Are you sure it’s hers?” she asked.

“Well, I can’t be completely certain,” I responded, “but it certainly looks like one of hers. She was always leaving them over at my place last semester.”

I started to think a little more clearly. “They couldn’t be having an affair,” I said. “Briggs would never do a thing like that with a student.”

Angie snorted at this. “Besides,” I continued, “Shivvy doesn’t even like him.” I summarized for Angie all the negative things Shivvy had said about Briggs last fall, adding that she had postponed taking the class she had with him now as long as possible.

“Let’s not think the worst,” I concluded. “She’s always playing with her hair. She probably took the scrunchy off while talking to him, set it down somewhere, and forgot about it--like she always does.”

Angie sighed. “You’ve made me feel better, Jonathan,” she said. “He’s just got the galleys for his new book, and I’ve agreed to go over them with him plus do the index. It’s going to be a lot of work, and I sure wouldn’t do it all if I thought he was cheating on me!”

The galleys were right there on his desk. She flipped through the top few pages and took one out to show me. “This is from the acknowledgements,” she said, pointing. There was my name! Hers was also there, of course.

I told her how delighted I was that he would think to mention me.

“It was actually me who put your name in at the end of the copy-editing phase,” she said. “You helped a lot, so you deserve to be recognized.”

She told me that the galleys had only just arrived yesterday, and that she and Barry hadn’t started work on them yet. The galleys themselves shouldn’t take much work since they basically reproduced the manuscript from the edited version of the Word file she had worked on. “There should be no problem here unless Barry wants to make any substantive changes.” The index, though, would be a lot of work.

According to her, Briggs’s highest priority for the index was to make sure that all scholars mentioned in the text were listed in it. He had made sure that he had something positive to say in the text about everyone whom he thought might be asked to review the book. This would put them in a good humor when they went to write the review. But they probably would not see these favorable mentions of them that he had made unless there were references to them in the index. “`The first thing most of these bastards will do,’” Angie imitated Briggs telling her, “`is check to see if they’re listed in the index. Just being mentioned in the bibliography is not enough. If they see themselves in the index, they might write a good review. If they don’t see themselves in the index, they’ll definitely write a bad review—probably without even reading the text at all.’”

We both laughed at this. “I guess Barry knows,” Angie added, “because the first thing he does when he gets a book to review is check the index to see if he’s listed there. And if he’s not, stand back! Hell hath no fury like a professor not listed in an index!”

I hadn’t heard this before. I wondered if it was true.

After awhile, we both noticed that it was getting late and that we each had to get going.

“Better put that back where you found it,” I told her, indicating the scrunchy.

She did so, and then looked at me shyly. “Barry’s away at a conference this weekend, but I want to get started on the galleys right away. You wouldn’t be able to help me over the weekend, would you?”

“I think I’d better,” I responded, “now that I know I’m in the acknowledgements!”

She laughed at this. Since Briggs was away, I asked her if she’d care to have dinner with me this evening. She thanked me, but said she had to go waitress.

We said good-bye to each other in front of Case Hall. Back at my apartment, I began to wonder just what Shivvy had been doing in Briggs’s office. I called over to her dorm room, but her roommate said she was away for the weekend. I’ll just have to wait until either Monday or (more likely) Tuesday after my discussion section to talk to her.

It’s funny, but she didn’t come to my discussion section this past Tuesday, like she usually does. She didn’t come to my office hours either. Well, since I gave her an “A” on her paper, she didn’t need to complain about the grade.

I must not forget to ask her to give me back my senior thesis and the paper I wrote for Saltz.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16

This has been yet another grueling week of grading. The dire warnings Briggs made against missing the deadline for turning in the book reviews this past Tuesday worked pretty well. All but five students turned in their papers that day either during Briggs’s lecture in the morning or during my office hours that afternoon. Of those five, three came in on the Wednesday with different excuses (“My computer went bust and I had to write the paper all over again on a friend’s,” “My printer wouldn’t work,” and “I was sick). None of these problems would have delayed these papers if the students had written them ahead of time instead of right before the deadline, of course. I checked with Briggs about them, and he told me just to accept them without penalty.

The fourth late paper came in on Thursday with a form from the Charles University athletic department saying that the student was a member of the basketball team who had been at an away game. Briggs had told me in advance that, annoying as they may be, these forms are meant to encourage exempting student athletes from any penalties for lateness. The fifth late paper still hasn’t come in yet. I have no idea why.

Grading these papers was easier than grading the midterms. The midterms were all written by hand, and so I had to struggle through a lot of truly dreadful handwriting. By contrast, the papers were all prepared on computers, and so reading them was no problem.

That said, however, the papers turned out to be far more disappointing than the midterms. Since the midterms were written in class and by hand, it was understandable that many of them contained spelling mistakes and poor grammar. That the papers were filled with similar errors, though, was not. Unlike an in-class exam, the students presumably had the time to reread and revise their papers. The spell check feature that comes with word processing programs make spelling mistakes particularly easy to avoid, but most students apparently don’t bother to use them. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to them that they are capable of making such mistakes.

The content of most papers was pretty disappointing too. Although Briggs had repeatedly warned students against just describing what was in the book they chose to review, this is exactly what most of them did. Those who did this, I assume, were those who didn’t come to class to hear Briggs repeatedly say, “Don’t describe! Analyze!” I had no choice but to give these papers low grades. I fully expect that once they get them back, a lot of these students will come to complain, saying, “Nobody told me this wasn’t what I was supposed to do!” The behavior of undergrads, I am learning, is highly predictable.

As with the midterms, there were some students who wrote really good papers. These were a pleasure to read. Three of the papers, though, seemed too good. The students who wrote them, I suspected, had each plagiarized somebody else’s work. They just didn’t read like something an undergrad would write. My suspicions increased when I noted that all three had done poorly on the midterm. One of them, I am sorry to say, was the African-American male who had had differences with Danielle last fall.

As everyone reading this already knows, I am incredibly sensitive to racial issues. Thus, I fully realized that I had to tread very carefully here. Not knowing how to proceed, I went to Briggs to ask for guidance. He shook his head in dismay when I told him about my suspicions. “This is a problem, Jonathan. Unfortunately, it is all too common a problem.”

He then outlined the university’s procedure for dealing with cheating. The person who made the discovery (in these three cases, me) must fill out a set of forms (which Briggs had several copies of right there) and file them with the student judicial affairs office as soon as possible. This office would then convene the honor code committee, which was composed entirely of students, to consider the matter. If the committee deemed the evidence to be sufficient, notice would then be sent to the student that he or she was being accused of cheating.

The student would then be called upon to respond to the charge. If the student pleaded guilty, and if he or she had no previous record of an honor code violation, then the committee would usually hand down a relatively minor punishment such as an “F” for the assignment, or even just order the student to redo the assignment honestly. If the student pleaded not guilty, however, then the committee would hold a hearing at which the accuser (me) and the student must each present their side of the story. Each could call witnesses, “just like a real trial.” A student who pleaded innocent but was found guilty would, at minimum, receive an “F” for the class, and might even be suspended for a semester. And if he or she had a previous record of honor code violations, the student could even be expelled altogether.

“But, Jonathan,” Briggs warned, “the burden of proof is on the accuser. It is not good enough to suspect that a student plagiarized. You’ve got to find the original source from which he or she copied from. Often, you can do so by typing just one sentence into Google. But if that doesn’t come up with anything, then it’s usually pretty hard to find the original source.”

I told him that I was prepared to hunt around on the internet to see if I could find the original sources for the papers I suspected were plagiarized. I also handed him copies of the three papers in question in case he recognized or wished to do any searching for the original sources himself.

It appeared to me that Briggs blanched when he saw who had written the papers. “There are very sensitive issues involved here, as you well know,” he said, clearly with regard to the paper by the African-American student. “You can’t afford to make any mistakes here. If you can’t find the words written here already in print somewhere else, then you can’t file a plagiarism charge.

“And in any case that you can’t do this,” he continued, “you must grade the paper as if the student really did write it even though you suspect otherwise. Do you understand?”

I assured him that I was aware of the complicated issues involved, and that I wouldn’t file a plagiarism charge unless I could prove it. I expressed my hope that the honor code committee would be especially sensitive in dealing with a student of color found guilty of plagiarism. I insisted, though, that it was my duty to report to the committee any student whom I could prove had cheated, regardless of his or her race, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Quite right, Jonathan, quite right!” Briggs commented. “I’ll take a look at these papers myself, of course, but it just so happens that I’m incredibly busy over the next week. I’m afraid you’re going to have to bear the burden of searching for proof of plagiarism.”

He then let me know that it was time for me to leave by thanking me for bringing this matter to his attention. I don’t think, however, that he was really thankful that I had done so.

So in addition to hours and hours of grading this past week, I also spent time entering various sentences from the three suspicious papers into Google. I wasn’t able (so far) to find a matching source in two of the suspicious cases, but I did find one in the case of the African-American student almost immediately.

I clearly had no choice but to go ahead and file the plagiarism charge against him, complete with a copy of his exam and of the review he copied from, with the student judicial affairs office yesterday (Thursday). It really, really pained me to have to do this to a minority student, but I had no choice.

I told the secretary in the student judicial affairs office that this matter needed to be dealt with very sensitively because the student accused was African-American. But the secretary, who was black herself, didn’t seem to care. “We treat everyone equally here,” she said, and then abruptly returned to her work. I thought she would appreciate my racial sensitivity, but somehow she didn’t. Maybe she was just busy.

I haven’t been able to find original sources for the other two suspicious papers yet, but I will work on this over the weekend. I hope I succeed since I will otherwise have to give each of these papers an “A.”

There’s one other thing I should mention: Shivvy did something amazing on her paper. She too chose to review Briggs’s old book. What she did, though, was cite the most critical things I had said about it in both my senior thesis and paper for Saltz, and then present an argument as to how my argument was wrong while Briggs’s was right. Very clever, but very annoying.

I was just going to give her a “B+” at first. That’s certainly all she deserved. But then I remembered how she showed the midterm I gave her a “B+” on to Briggs, who then raised her grade. I didn’t want her showing this paper to Briggs, since he would then see my critical remarks about him (some of which she blew way out of proportion in her commentary). So I decided I’d better give her an “A.” That way, she’d have no reason to show it to him. [I’d better delete this entire paragraph before allowing anyone else to read this.]

Before I forget: although Shivvy handed in her book review, she hasn’t yet given me back either my senior thesis or the paper I wrote for Saltz. I must remind her to do so.

Friday, April 9, 2010

April 9

Another week, another scandal! And this one I witnessed myself!

It all happened on Monday afternoon. Craig, Lisa, and I had come back to the office together from Asquith’s graduate methodology class, as usual. Lisa had just given her presentation about how to design a research project for testing various feminist theories of international relations. It had been a tough session since Asquith clearly didn’t like the project. Lisa was really bummed out, and we were trying to cheer her up with some light-hearted suggestions. Craig proposed that Asquith would have been more receptive to a research project that sought to test the validity of various gay theories of international relations—provided that his was the one she concluded was right. I suggested that if nothing else, she could write a paper for Prof. DeKlerk’s feminist theory class on how making the presentation in Prof. Asquith’s class made her feel alienated. Although we didn’t succeed in cheering up Lisa (who really doesn’t have a sense of humor), we did amuse ourselves.

Lisa was in the midst of ranting to us about how feminists like her were discriminated against just as much by homosexual males as by heterosexual ones, when in through our door walked a truly good looking lady with shoulder-length auburn hair whom I had never seen before. It is not at all unusual, of course, to encounter beautiful women on college campuses. But unlike most such creatures who usually wear pretty casual (if not downright ratty) clothes, this one was wearing what was obviously a very well tailored suit and lots of jewelry, including a substantial diamond ring along with a wedding ring.

“You did it, babe!” she said, addressing Craig. “You’re in!” She then pulled a manila envelope out of her pocketbook, walked over to Craig’s desk, and handed it to him. Craig appeared as surprised as Lisa and I were. He pulled the contents of the envelope half way out and then pushed them back in. Craig stood up, and the two of them threw themselves into each other’s arms with a mutual cry of joy. They then began a long, intense kiss which gave every indication that Craig and this married woman were already very, very familiar with each other.

It was just at this point that Professor Asquith walked into the room. I don’t know why he chose this particular moment. Maybe he wanted to say something to Lisa about her presentation. Or maybe he wanted to hit on Craig again. Or maybe he had heard the noise in the hall and was just curious about what was going on. Whatever it was, he never told us. He probably forgot himself.

“What the hell is going on here?” Asquith roared.

This quickly put a stop to Craig and the red-head. “We were kissing!” the woman said pertly. “What’s it to you?”

Asquith spluttered in anger at this. “I wasn’t talking to you, young lady. You obviously don’t know who I am. What is the meaning of this, Craig?”

“We were indeed kissing,” Craig answered blithely. He wasn’t cowed by Asquith at all.

“But I thought you were gay!” exclaimed Asquith, his voice revealing a deep sense of betrayal.

“Did you?” Craig asked flippantly. “Well…you were wrong!”

“Very wrong!” the red-head added suggestively, and then laughed.

Asquith paused for a moment. There was real anger in his voice when he next spoke. “You’ve been passing yourself off as gay, haven’t you?” he demanded. “You did it when you interviewed here last year so that I would push to get you admitted and funded, didn’t you?”

“Now, Professor Asquith,” said Craig in a more serious tone. “I never once said I was gay. If that’s what you thought, then that was an erroneous assumption on your part.”

“Besides,” said the woman, “I’m sure a potential student’s sexual orientation would never influence you as to whether or not he or she should be admitted.”

“You’ve made a fool of me!” Asquith cried.

“It seems to me that you’ve made one of yourself,” said the red-head demurely.

“I don’t know who you are, young woman,” said Asquith, regaining control of himself, “but let me tell you, Craig, that what is obviously a sexual relationship between a male TA and a female student is a very serious matter.”

“Oh, I think it’s okay,” said the red-head. “I’m his wife.”

Asquith was dumbfounded by this. “I think it’s time I introduced you, dear” said Craig. “Professor Asquith, Lisa, Jonathan: this is my wife, Lee.”

So this was the person who wrote that poem I found in Craig’s desk! Since I also thought that Craig was gay, it never occurred to me that Lee could be a woman’s name.

“Well, imitating a gay person is a serious offense, as far as I’m concerned. And, I think it’s only fair to say,” Asquith said in an evil tone, “that your doing so is highly likely to affect the faculty’s decision about whether to continue your funding next year.”

“Oh, the funding won’t be necessary,” responded Craig. “I won’t be coming back. Lee had just come here to tell me that I’ve just been admitted to the Kennedy School at Harvard.”

“I don’t believe this!” Asquith spluttered. He finally left, defeated.

Once he was out of the room, Craig and Lee burst out laughing. “From now on, my dear,” Lee said to Craig, “you are going to wear that wedding ring!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Craig and Lee then invited Lisa and me to join them for a drink to celebrate Craig’s good fortune. Lisa declined (she probably wanted to go tell Prof. DeKlerk all about what had just happened here—as well as suggest my idea for a paper to her), but I went along.

When we were seated quite comfortably with drinks, Craig and Lee both told me the whole story. They had been in the same class together at the University of Pennsylvania, where they both graduated from last spring, and then gotten married last summer. Lee had gotten accepted into the Charles University Law School last spring, and was just finishing up the first year there now. Craig had not been certain whether he wanted to get a Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) or a Ph.D. in political science. He had applied to both types of program. But since Lee had gotten into law school here at Charles, and since they were about to get married and, obviously, wanted to live together, this narrowed down the grad schools that Craig could attend to those in the greater Boston area. He had gotten into several public policy programs in other parts of the country, but was turned down by the one at Harvard—the only one he really wanted to go to in this region.

By this time, Craig had decided he really was more interested in an M.P.P. than a Ph.D. He could have, of course, just moved to Cambridge with Lee, applied to the Kennedy School this past fall, and simply worked before starting (assuming he’d been admitted) this coming fall. He had a strong financial incentive, though, for getting into a grad program this past fall: he owed a large amount in student loans which he would have had to start repaying if he did not go to grad school, but could postpone if he did.

He still had not heard from the program here at Charles after he was turned down by Harvard last year. So he asked if he could come up for an interview last spring. It was just a fluke that the department office sent him to Prof. Asquith to be interviewed. Almost as soon as he sat down in his office, Craig said, Asquith started bemoaning the fact that the program lacked diversity since it didn’t have many gay students any more. It dawned on Craig that Asquith might well help him get admitted and funded if Asquith thought he was gay. So Craig played along. And it worked!

Once he’d started here last fall, Craig wanted to keep Asquith at arms length, but had to continue this little charade since he needed to keep on his good side to keep his funding. Besides, he didn’t know if he’d get into the Kennedy School until today.

Staying away from Asquith wasn’t so difficult last fall when all the incoming grad students were on fellowship. Craig, as I recalled, just didn’t come to campus all that much. It turns out he was working 30 hours a week in addition to collecting his fellowship stipend. This semester, though, being a TA kept him on campus—and close to Asquith—much more than he cared for.

He was glad to be leaving Charles, but being here was not a total loss. Indeed, he thought applying to the Kennedy School program as a grad student from Charles may have made the difference in getting him in. He was certain that he would get a high paying job coming out of this particular master’s program at Harvard—much higher paying, he assured me, than any job he’d get with a Ph.D. in political science from anywhere.

This surprised me. How could someone with a master’s degree earn more than someone with a doctorate? Could he possibly be right? I just assumed it would be the other way around.

Lee told me that the two of them would now both be finished in two years. Until then, they would take out more student loans during the school year. She had lined up a high paying job for this coming summer, and (with Craig in the Kennedy School) they would both probably have good jobs the following summer, so they wouldn’t be too strapped.

All I could say was that I was shocked that Craig could have started one grad program with the intention of applying to another one immediately.

He, in turn, expressed surprise at learning that I had not done likewise. He thought that everyone did, and that everyone should—just for their own protection in case things didn’t work out in the program they were in, as it hadn’t for him here at Charles.

The whole episode just amazed me, and everybody else who heard about it—which, of course, was everybody. Almost everyone, including me, agreed with Asquith: it’s highly unethical to pass yourself off as gay just for your own personal material benefit. I have to admit, though, that I was glad the scandal broke when it did since it distracted everyone from the Brendan Cohen fiasco as well as my connection to him. Michael was so eager to hear my first hand account of the conversation among Asquith, Craig, and Lee that even he stopped being nasty toward me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April 2

This has been yet another annoying week. It has not been nearly as bad as the previous one, mercifully enough, but it has been annoying nonetheless.

First, there was a long, ranting e-mail message from Brendan Cohen on Monday. He denounced me for repaying everything he had supposedly done for me with sheer ingratitude. He even had the nerve to blame me for how badly his talk at Charles went! He said that if only I had told him what was in Briggs’s new book, he could have adjusted his presentation accordingly. How pathetic! I just deleted the message without bothering to reply to it. I also deleted him from my list of e-mail contact list since I have no reason to contact him again.

Second, Michael has been openly hostile to me ever since Brendan’s ill-fated presentation. “So that was the best of Barstow?” he asked sarcastically the first time I saw him afterward. And whenever he’s seen me since then, he asks, “And how’s our boy from Barstow doing?” I’m not sure if he means Cohen or me. Once he said, “Jeez! You really didn’t have much of an education there at Barstow, did you? You were quite lucky to get in to Charles, weren’t you?” I couldn’t really respond in kind by disparaging where he had done his undergraduate work since he had done it right here at Charles. Michael’s open hostility is an ominous sign. It shows that he doesn’t see me as important enough to bother with being polite to.

Third, this African-American student (whose name I am not mentioning) is really proving to be something of a trial. Let me explain. During his lecture section this past Tuesday, Briggs reminded the undergrads that the 5-10 page critical book review they were to write for his course was due in two weeks and gave dire warnings about how papers would be marked down by one letter grade for each day late. He then reminded them that the list they were to choose a book from to review was on the syllabus. “And remember,” Briggs thundered, “I want analysis, not description. Don’t tell me what the book said. I’ve read it already myself. Tell me why the book’s argument is right or wrong. And I’ll give you a little hint: it’s probably wrong! Except, of course, for my book.” I knew that Briggs was joking, but I think the students (the third of them or so that were there) took him seriously.

Anyway, this one African-American male student comes to my office hours that same afternoon all in a stew over the critical book review, saying that he’s never written one before and demanding to know how he’s supposed to read an entire book and write a paper about it all in just two weeks. I reminded him that this requirement and its due date were listed on the syllabus he received at the beginning of the semester, and that he should have selected a book to review long before now. He responded angrily, declaring that my saying this implied that he was somehow an inferior student because he was black. I calmed him down by saying that he surely wasn’t the only one who hadn’t begun this project yet; procrastination was an equal opportunity problem among students.

He asked me what book he should choose and what he should say about it. This was up to him, I responded. He kept asking what sort of arguments Briggs would like to hear about the different books on the list. I replied that I doubted Briggs would be reading many of these reviews, if any; I was the one who graded them. So then, of course, he wanted to know what I wanted him to say. Finally, I told him that a good way to start thinking of what to say about a book was to see what others had said about it in previously published reviews. This idea appealed to him and he finally went away—after taking up over 45 minutes of my time!

But just as he left, in walked the week’s fourth annoyance: Shivvy. At first she railed against me for having treated such an obvious loser as the person who just left with such kid gloves, making her wait so long to see me in the process. “You wouldn’t have treated him so gently if he’d been white! Admit it!” she said. I told her to lower her voice before the black student or anybody else overheard her uttering something so provocative. She just doesn’t know any limits.

“Well actually, Mr. Vining,” she said with mock respect, “I came here to talk about the book review myself. What with that interesting presentation we had last week by that gentleman from Cal State Barstow (I think you know who I mean?)I thought I might do one on the Briggs book myself.” Briggs had indeed put his previous book on the list for students to choose from.

I told her that she was free to choose that or any other book on the list to review. “Yes, I’m aware of that, Mr. Vining,” she responded. “What I came to ask you is this: could I borrow that senior thesis you wrote last year, and also the paper you did for Professor Saltz at Harvard last semester? It would really help me organize my thoughts if I could.”

At first I said no, but she finally talked me into it with the argument that she really missed our intellectual intercourse (“as well as other types”) from last semester, and that if I really wanted her to believe that I hadn’t thrown her over but was serious about getting back with her at the end of the semester, I wouldn’t deny her this small request. We agreed that she would come over to my apartment on Thursday evening to pick up the two papers to save her the trouble of printing them out if I e-mailed them to her.

She looked at her watch. “Only ten minutes!” she said. “You were very efficient with me, Mr. Vining.” I let this pass without comment. She made as if to leave, but then said (in a way I was certain afterward she had rehearsed), “Oh, by the way: I went to see Professor Briggs about the midterm you gave me the “B+” on. He’s agreed to raise it to an “A-.”

This really pissed me off. “Why?” I practically shouted.

Shivvy shrugged. “You’ll just have to ask him, I guess. But don’t feel bad. This was the first time you've graded anything. It’s understandable that you made a mistake. I don’t hold it against you.”

And this leads me to the week’s fifth annoyance: Briggs. As soon as she had left, I called him up and asked if it was true that he had raised her grade. He said it was. I asked him why.

“This is the young lady,” he responded, “whom you had to put your relationship with on hold this semester to avoid a conflict of interest, right?”

After I confirmed this, he said, “Look, Jonathan. She explained to me that you were unhappy about her going out with other guys, and that this might have affected your judgment in grading her exam. She just thought it should be read by someone she had not been personally involved with. So I read it myself and had to agree that maybe your personal feelings about her didn’t allow you to appreciate the merit in what she had written.”

I told him how I had graded all the exams blind, without knowing who had written them. “There’s no point in arguing about this, Jonathan. I’m the one who’s ultimately responsible for the grades in this class. Although I agreed with your judgment in all the other cases where students appealed to me, I didn’t in this one case.

“I can understand why you might be so upset by this girl,” he continued. “She’s very, very charming. But the semester will soon be over, and you’ll have the opportunity to win her back, okay? And with that, I’m afraid I have to go.”

What a bitch! She just made that entire story up! I confronted her about it when she came over to borrow my senior thesis and paper for Saltz. She just acted as if it was all a big joke. “Are you jealous?” she kept asking—while looking all around the room for evidence of a female presence (all she found was another one of her own damn scrunchies).

When I asked her to please be serious, she responded, “Well, how else do you explain your giving me a “B+”? It had to be for some personal reason since it clearly wasn’t what I deserved.”

We argued inconclusively for awhile until she declared that it was all a misunderstanding and that she was ready to kiss and make up. I said I wanted to do that too—when the semester ended next month.

After denouncing me as a “fucking bore,” she got up to leave. But just before she went out the door, I asked her whether she was really going out with other guys.

“Oh, Mr. Vining!” she responded. “Such a personal question! How unprofessional of you to ask it!” And then she left.

God, what a bitch! But I have to admit: I admire her for her sheer brazenness with Briggs. And I really am looking forward to the end of the semester.