Ren doesn’t mind spending time with students who are struggling if they’re genuinely interested in learning. Or even if they just want to get a better mark, and are prepared to listen. But someone who just wants to blame their lecturer for everything, and is pretending their own inadequacies don’t exist, doesn’t belong at University. She’ll be one of those students who thought she had to go to University because that’s what everyone does now, or that’s what her parents told her to do, and she’s chosen Philosophy because there’s little else she can do. She should, of course, have chosen Sociology, where her lack of intellectual ability and her feelings of inadequacy and rage at everything around her would fit in nicely. But Philosophy is stuck with her now.
After another five minutes of hurt feelings being piled on top of outraged feelings, Ren tries to placate her once again, and once again he makes everything worse.
‘Look,’ he says, ‘Philosophy isn’t for everyone. In fact most people don’t have the ability to look at things in the way required in Philosophy.’
‘Now you’re saying I’m no good at Philosophy?’ she says with a rising note of hysteria in her voice, which is now quite loud. ‘You’re supposed to teach me how to do Philosophy, and all you do is tell me that I’m rubbish at it?’
Ren realises that he has two options at this point. He can continue on with this, as she deliberately winds herself up at everything he says, which will culminate in her running out of his office and straight to Robot’s office while screaming about Ren, or he can strangle her here and now, and throw her body out the window. That will cause him trouble, sure, but both options will cause him trouble. The question is, which will cause the least trouble? What he really needs is a fake fire alarm button under his desk. He can secretly press it, and everyone has to run outside, and then he’s rid of her, for the time being at least.
A knocking is heard at the door. Saved! He’s saved! A mercy mission has arrived. It’s Adalia Greenflower. Normally he’d do everything but bar the door to keep her out of his office, but today the welcome mat is out for her. On some strange literary-metaphysical level of Platonic reality he has opened a secret cupboard and got out a red carpet, which he unrolls for her.
‘Adalia, come in,’ he says with genuine sincerity.
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘You have a student. I can come back later.’
‘No, no, we’re just finishing up, come in.’
‘It’s not important. Just some admin.’
‘If it’s admin we need to sort it. And I have some urgent admin I need to talk to you about. Okay Angela, I’m sure your next essay will go even better now that we’ve had a look through this one.’
‘But I want you to re-mark my essay. I’m not happy with the mark. I demand it be re-marked. By someone else if you don’t change the mark.’
‘I’m afraid we don’t do that, as Adalia here can confirm.’
‘Er, yes, that’s right,’ says Adalia, looking about her as though she’s weighing up making a sudden run for it.
‘Essays are not re-marked on request, otherwise we’d never get anything else done, and it wouldn’t be fair to the students who don’t get re-marked. We only revisit marks if there’s been some procedural irregularity, which isn’t the case here.’
‘Well, I’m still going to go to Professor Kapchar to complain about this.’
‘You can try, but he’ll tell you the same thing. It’s general University policy. Just because you want a higher mark is not a reason for us to give you one. You need to learn from this one and just get that little bit extra next time.’
Angela storms off in a huff, worse than the one she came in on. Ren figures he has about twenty minutes before he’s sacked, and he’s not keen on spending that twenty minutes with Adalia, so he gets rid of her after ten minutes. An hour later and he’s stopped worrying. These days there’s no end of screwed-up, flaky students who have no real interest in their chosen field of study complaining about their marks. Robot should give her short shrift.
On the other hand, Robot has no backbone, except when kicking down, and he’d love the chance to get Ren in the shit. So maybe he should worry. And maybe he should worry about where this supposed dream life as an academic is heading. Is this going to be the rest of his life? To be kicked around every term by students and his Head of Department? He can see that power is already draining away from ordinary academics towards – or back towards – the Heads and the Deans and the Pro Vice-Chancellors, and towards the bureaucrats, who are being hired in ever greater numbers. And towards the students. Not so much to the good students. Mostly to the bad ones.
And the admin jobs are going to get even worse in the coming years. Being in charge of the weekly departmental seminars is a stroll in the park on a sunny day compared to being in charge of assessment, or admissions, or any of the other admin jobs. (The only other easy admin job is being library rep, but it’s looking like no-one is going to be allowed to do just that in future.)
He knows the job is still better than most jobs. But it’s not the dream job that grad students convince themselves it’s going to be as they slave away at their doctorates. We all fooled ourselves. And if he keeps slaving away at his papers and gets ahead then his reward will be a little bit more money. Or none at all – if you get promoted from Senior Lecturer to Reader, which requires a great deal of successful research to have been carried out, then your salary increase is exactly zero pounds and zero pence per year. The job title itself is reward enough, apparently. Although they won’t even let you put a sign saying ‘Reader’ on your door here. Only Professors are allowed a sign with their rank displayed on their door. And you don’t even get your alloted place in the hierarchy on the departmental web pages any more – they’ve recently been made politically correct, so that the names now appear in alphabetical order, rather than being grouped into ‘Professors,’ ‘Readers’, ‘Senior Lecturers’, and so on, as they used to be.
But promotion will mean that he’ll be lumbered with more of the responsibility for the running of the department, and he’ll have to make more of the decisions that will make people hate him. The more he advances the more hours he will have to waste sitting on mind-crushing Faculty and University-level committees, and people say that there are more and more pointless committees being created every year. And all the while he’ll get one – or even zero, or at best, two – papers on unfeasibly obscure topics published every year, which only three people will ever read.
Even within the department no-one reads anyone else’s papers. Everyone gives everyone else their draft papers, because that’s what people in proper Philosophy departments do. In those departments they all read each others’ papers and then write helpful, insightful, even brilliant, comments for the author. But in this department everyone has a huge pile of papers from everyone else, which they never read past the first couple of pages. Especially if it’s a paper from Pastygill. Or, obviously, Bill, because he just writes bilge about Robert Langston. Or Panos, because his stuff reads even worse than he speaks. Or if it’s… Ren realises he could on for a while here.
Occasionally people ask each other, ‘Oh, have you read my such-and-such paper yet? Because I was going to send it off to American Philosophical Letters soon, and wondered if you had any thoughts on it?’ And the other person will say, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to read that, but I haven’t had time to get around to it, got such a big to-read pile, and with all the essay marking and whatnot…’
There’s only one thing to do. He gets in his car, drives to KFC and buys a big bucket of chicken, and then goes to work at home where he can have the Test match he recorded on his VCR last night playing in the background. The only way he can get any work done is to do it at home. He may have his own office at work, but it has a door, and on that door people – students, admin staff, other lecturers – knock all day. Here he can concentrate on Philosophy, interrupted only by the occasional wicket.