They had me almost thirty years. I worked in higher education as a tenured professor. Three...decades.... How was life in the ivory tower? Don't ask unless you really want to know how the academic sausage is extruded.
Workplace enemies, lurking -- some obvious threats, others hid behind a camouflage of professorial congeniality. You’d easily spot the latter, though. They’re the first to say: “We’re in it for ‘the kids’ and who cares about promotion or that higher pay step.” Better watch your back.
None were from New York. To be fair I was teaching in New Jersey, but also to be fair the faculty and administrators were wannabe New Yorkers. They had wet dreams about fantasy graduate programs wherein profs would teach upper division courses exclusively and let low pay, non-union adjunct instructors do the grunt work. God forbid they had to teach intro courses -- such a chore! The money-shot in every wet dream they had was attracting and enrolling students from New York, then touting them as pilgrims seeking "JerZeducation: An education disbursed within the great state of New Jersey."
My real NY accent and outlook seemed all wrong to my colleagues who dreamed of licking those tasty NY students up and down and ferrying them across the Hudson -- students like NYU gets, mostly Asian, or ironically from outside New York and wealthy. Their impression of New York is "whatever NYU is," and as many now recognize, too late, that is precisely the problem with the New New York. It has no New Yorkers in it. A fashionable lamentation moaned by every transplant sitting in Starbucks, New York, New York, isn't it?
Honestly, much of the faculty in my department never met anyone like me. Their fantasy didn't jive with my reality. I was real. The kind of New York they wanted so dearly to bring into and validate their tiny little hayseed program was fantasy. They were misinformed about New York. For example, let me set a scene: I'm sitting in a NYC diner with my chairperson -- a rare treat for her. She orders food by addressing the waitress in an excruciatingly hammed-up Jersey version of New York "diner lingo." Maybe she heard the patois in a movie. How clueless can you be? The waitress, salt of the earth, felt mocked, was justifiably insulted and taken aback -- and I sincerely hope put "something" in my chair's food. I was embarrassed. You know, most of my former colleagues couldn't recognize authenticity if they tripped over it. Well, they most likely didn't care to. They disdained and disrespected my New York, and me.
Going back maybe twenty years ... my academic department was called into a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs to discuss budgetary issues. I fought continuously for more funding to get decent facilities for my students, not the fantasy NYU ones, but real students in my actual classrooms, and this meeting's agenda would largely comprise those items. We arrived prior to the Vice Chancellor, a flamboyant man who, like Liberace, made spectacular entrances, or so he thought they were -- perhaps staged more like the regional musical productions I imagine he was transfixed by back in Anywhere, USA, where he grew up and learned to project beyond the footlights. Nothing wrong with that, but his stagecraft was lacking. He confused delay with showmanship. So we waited. I used the time to look over the meeting’s agenda items and review my material.
Curiously, his anticipated spectacular arrival for this day's meeting would instead be characterized by unexpected avant-garde entertainment value. The doors to the Vice Chancellor's private conference room swung open and in walked a breathless supplicant, a male assistant, hands palms-up and gingerly holding before him, as if transporting the Queen's most precious jewel encrusted crown, a doughnut pillow, which was hurriedly, precisely, delicately aligned onto the vacant chair at the head of the table. He scurried back to the door taking the Vice Chancellor's arm, half stepping, assuring sure footedness, lovingly stabilizing, softly, very softly, both appearing as though plying a course barefoot over rotted eggshells, some with septic yolks intact. Gas faces. They moved in unison, and apart from the expressions of agony, with weird detachment that comes from routine -- as if they were alone. We didn't seem to register as present. No one spoke.
The Vice Chancellor was then silently rotated by his assistant in tiny sixteenth-step increments through an arc to face the assembled faculty, but really the purpose of the precision azimuth alignment was to orient his ass for a perfect soft landing onto Tranquility Base, the doughnut hole. His final descent was accompanied by the sound of a legato hiss, air escaping the cushion in a controlled manner, very even and very lengthy, hissssssssssss, like a snare drum buzz-roll fanfare concluding with the rimshot punctuation of a loud office chair creak. Both men grimaced exactly at that moment. Creak! Then the Vice Chancellor finally spoke: "A little surgery."
Now that's academia!
Speaking of entrances, Bill Murray did Liberace better than Liberace: