Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Under The Rug

The first couple of days of this week were nice. Classes were cancelled, due to a slightly odd local tradition. I managed to get somewhat caught up on all the things that I have to get done between now and the break. When classes started again today, they did so in an exciting manner. An 8am class was somewhat rudely interrupted, when the local police force burst through the door of the class room and arrested a student, including clamping them in handcuffs, in front of the rest of the students in the class. Needless to say, this did not do much to enhance the 'learning environment'.

Such an incident, provided plenty of fodder for the gossiping classes amongst the faculty. However, it also rather egregiously violated the proper protocol for such situations. Apparently, many years ago, our local forces of law and order hit upon the bright idea of tracking down people with outstanding warrants by showing up in the middle of final exams. This was not an academically popular tactic. Eventually, a correct method (advise the professor ahead of time, have them ask the student to step outside, etc.) was developed. Today, all this was ignored.

One of the slightly strange things about Louisiana is that ignoring rules and procedure is almost a way of life, for some individuals. While this does lend a certain 'rustic' and chaotic charm to things, it is not always welcome. However, in this context, the latest hot gossip topic is something of a surprise. It seems that a tenured faculty member is being dismissed for cause.

This is something which has almost never happened, as best anyone can remember. If there is a problem, offenders are 'persuaded' that it is in their best interest to just leave voluntarily. This way, all the embarrassing details can be conveniently swept under the proverbial rug. Not so in the current case. Nobody seems to know who the person is, or what they have done to get such a sanction, but there are plenty of theories.

What is puzzling is what a tenured person could have done to get themselves dismissed for cause. Our campus is replete with stories about 'faux pas' that have been overlooked and even forgiven. There was the case of the faculty member who was trading 'A' grades, in exchange for coeds appearing on his porn site. This was 'discovered' by the father of a student who 'happened upon' the porn site, where he saw his daughter. That faculty member was sent on their way and the matter 'went away'.

In another case, an untenured professor was caught trading sex for grades. Although there was a bit of an uproar, the professor in question still managed to get tenure, quite recently. Needless to say the traditionalists raised a stink about this, but tenure was still granted. This case was not too dissimilar from the professor who specialised in sending out Christian homophobic e-mails to entire classes, attacking individual students. They got tenure too.

It is not just the male professors either. A fairly notorious (barely tenured, or tenurable) female professor seduced a graduate student in their department. When the affair ended, the student broadcast far and wide all the sexual shortcomings of the professor. The situation was widely known about, yet no sanctions were ever taken against her.

Of course, not all transgressions are sexual. There is the professor who likes to cancel classes. Like about 50% of classes in a single semester, without explanation. Result? Nothing. Then we have the minor administrator types who victimize their productive faculty, telling them that they are being nasty for making their idle friend look bad. Thus, all in all, almost every academic crime has been committed in these parts and forgiven and overlooked. So, what did the individual being terminated 'with cause' do? Folks are investigating.

The other amazing thing is that such a circumstance could arise without the details being widely known. Many faculty around here seem to do very little, other than gossip (they certainly do not publish). So, most things are known. In this case they are not. This too is strange.

There are a few theories. One of our mechanical workers swears that he knows which department the problem has arisen in. Given that this is an administrative unit that is notorious for their politics and intrigue (they make the Battle of The Somme look like a 'group hug'), it is certainly a possibility. However, none of the usual cast of incompetents and miscreants seem to fit the bill in this case. So, the mystery remains.

Perhaps the interesting conclusion here though is that maybe, just maybe, there has been a change of heart somewhere in my institution. It could be the case that the culture of ignoring the rules of good practice (indeed, any rules at all) and common sense has at long last been realised to be a shortsighted strategy. I will not hold my breath on this, but it would make a nice change from everything being swept under the proverbial rug. I can think of a few other individuals for whom that particular 'piper' has been calling all too long.

The CP


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