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.

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