A frequent reader of these pages sent this timeline along this morning:
I'm a part-timer. I wasn't always. I taught for a while in the early 90s, then fell into educational consulting. That went very well for me and now I consult half time and teach the occasional class at a local university that has always treated me well. Here's what happened yesterday:
While going through the syllabus in class, I told students that it was their responsibility to be there on time, that coming late 3 times equalled an absence, and that 6 absences (university policy) allowed me to drop them. I told them that years ago when I first taught, I used to sit at the classroom door at the top of the hour and pass out red "tardy" cards to those who came late. I told them I didn't do it anymore because really it was the student's responsibility and not mine. I said, "Come to class on time, or just stay in bed. I don't want you interrupting the work of this class."
As I looked down at my syllabus to discuss the next point, a clear voice from the side of the room said, "Fuck that." It wasn't my hearing. The audible gasp and then nervous laughter from a number of students told me I'd heard it correctly. I said, "Pardon me. Who said that? I don't think I heard you clearly." There was silence for a minute and then a young man against the windows on one side of the room said, "Oh, Mr. Professor, I said, 'FORGET that.'" Then more laughter, him most of all.
I looked him over for a second and then said, "I'm sorry I don't know your name yet, but would you please get your stuff and go. This is not going to work out." More silence, and the young man didn't move. "I'm not joking. I don't care what kind of language you use in your own life, but in this classroom, any reasonable person knows that disrespecting me and this class is not going to work."
"I didn't say anything bad," he said, but I was glad to see he was picking his back pack up at the same time. I moved toward him and said, "I'm sorry this didn't work out. But there are a number of other sections of this class and you'll be able to transfer to one of them."
When he got to the door he turned around and looked back at me and said, "Fuck that." And then he was gone.
Class went on pretty normally after that, though the students were awfully quiet. We covered the syllabus, and did a sample writing assignment. I told them I was eager to get going on Thursday when we met again and they filed out. A couple of students came by to ask follow up questions and when they were done I went to a small adjunct lounge near the classroom.
A young lady came into the adjunct lounge where I was reading and said, "Are you Dr. Xxxxxx?" "Yes," I said. "Can I help you?" "Dr. Yyyyyy wants you to come to her office."
Yyyyyy is the department chair. I'd met her a few times during my original hiring a couple of years ago, and her husband let me use his office one semester when he took a sabbatical.
Dr. Yyyyyy, who I call Jane, waved me into her office and said, "Close the door, Dr. Xxxxxx." I sat down and she held up a piece of paper. "I have a student complaint. First day, and already a complaint. Do you know a student named Zzzzzzzz Aaaaaaaa?" "I know his name's on my roster, but I couldn't tell you for sure which one he is yet." "Well," she said, "he tells me you kicked him out of class without provocation this morning."
"Oh, I know who he is. He said 'fuck that' in my class, twice actually. I'm not teaching him. Let him register in someone else's class."
Dr. Yyyyyy then asked me to tell her what happened, and I did. I wasn't mad; I wasn't hysterical. It was matter of fact to me. I'm not about to let that level of disrespect go.
"You have to take him back. It'd be best if you took him back."
"I won't do it."
We were at an impasse. "I have to get into this with the Dean," she said. "Where are you going to be?"
I told her I had class at 11 and then I was headed home.
At home, after an uneventful second class, a phone call came in from Disaster Dean, the dean who gets the shit jobs. "We have a problem," Disaster Dean said. "There's a student complaining about being kicked out of class and Dr. Yyyyyy tells me you won't take him back." I told Disaster Dean the story again and there was a pause.
"You won't do it?" he asked.
"No, that young man is not going to be in my class. I don't want to be subjected to it, and the other 29 students shouldn't have to put up with it either."
"Hi," a voice said. "I'm Uri the Union guy and we better get our ducks in a row."
"Huh," I said.
Uri went on to tell me that some other adjuncts who'd heard the story called him and got him on "the case." "We're trying to save your job," he said. "We're trying to keep you in the classroom."
I learned that Dr. Yyyyyy had already turned in "termination papers" to the human resources office, labelling me "insubordinate." I had "refused" a teaching assignment she had given me.
"Uri," I said. "If I have to fight to keep a job like that, it's not worth fighting for."
Disaster Dean called. "This can be saved," he said.
Dr. Yyyyyy called. "If I got the student to apologize, would you teach the class?"
"I thought I'd already been terminated," I said.
"Things can change," she said. "I've spoken to the young man's mother and she thinks he'll apologize."
"She THINKS he might apologize? Do you THINK we'd be so lucky."
I called Dr. Yyyyyy. "Well?"
"He apologized," she said. "He'll be on his best behavior Thursday morning."
"What class will he be in?" I said.
"Uh...yours, of course. 8 am!"
"Get someone else," I said.