Frustration

Photo by Bernard Goldbach

Strike 2: The Muppet Show

After the first debacle, a few months went by with relative stability. My committee and I did our best to meet our responsibilities to the faculty and students in the form of scheduling brown bag luncheons, colloquia and comprehensive exam review sessions with professors.

During this time, the department was in the midst of interviewing ten candidates for a tenure-track position. As part of the interview process, they wanted graduate students to attend: 1) A lunch with each candidate; 2) An informal interview with each candidate; and 3) each candidate’s presentation to the entire faculty. While this request had been made repeatedly months in advance, they had consistently told us that they would need about 3-4 graduate students and that this entire process would take place around mid-November.

What really happened, though, was that the interviews for all ten candidates took place in the middle of December, while we all had final exams. Then, a couple of weeks before the candidates’ arrival, the department suddenly started insisting that at least 10-15 graduate students needed to attend these events. Essentially, they were demanding 90% of our active student body to divert at least 30 hours during our final exam period away from our top priority: working toward our diplomas. Nor were they willing to work with us by providing extensions on our final papers or exams. Oh yeah, and guess who they were strong arming to generate the numbers and promote these unpopular measures? Yep, the president of their graduate student organization, yours truly.

I did my best to share the department request with the student body at every gathering we had.  But at the end of the day, I had no authority over my colleagues to coerce them into doing anything they didn’t want to do because I was only a student.Needless to say, the faculty did not get the turnout they wanted.

Things came to a head at the end of December, when the semester had officially ended. The faculty member spearheading the candidate interview process, let’s call him Professor S, sent out a mass email to the entire department – faculty and students – informing us of yet another candidate interview for the following week, AFTER THE SEMESTER HAD ENDED, requesting student attendance at all three of the above mentioned events and to reply to Priya (me!) so that I could coordinate.

I was never consulted about this, he never bothered to check in to see if I was available, nor did he have any good reason to assume that I would be available considering that THE SEMESTER HAD ALREADY ENDED. As it turned out, I was heading to India the following week with my Dad to see my entire extended family for the first time in over fourteen years. No way in hell was I delaying this already booked trip for something so trivial. So I replied to everyone that I would be unavailable traveling abroad and asked Professor S to please find someone else to organize the students.

Professor S never responded. Instead, the chair replied for him – CCing the ENTIRE department – and accused me of being rude and uncourteous in my response, derelict of my duties as president of the organization for not making it my responsibility to find another student to “assume this important graduate student function” in my absence, and implied that I was unfit to be president. I was ordered to see him at my earliest convenience upon my return.

I was publicly berated by the chair of the department to all my professors and peers via email. My crime? I would not easily become the puppet they were really looking for to be president of an organization that they created to meet their own agenda. I mentioned in my last post that this program was trying to rebuild itself. Having an organized student body and one that plays a role in the candidate recruiting process are two criteria found in this country’s top graduate programs, a distinction the chair and Professor S were fighting for. They wanted it so much that they did not care what the cost would be to the student body. They really just did not give a damn.

I gave notice to my executive board the day after the chair’s email that I would resign from my position upon my return from India. While my trip was memorable and productive, I could not shake this new department drama from my mind and lost a few nights’ sleep from the stress. I had warned my committee after the first debacle that I would not stay if another crisis occurred. When the next semester started, I met with the chair, listened to his obligatory apology after he usually loses his temper but stood my ground on resigning.  He “regretted that [I] made this decision” but didn’t fight me on it.

I quietly stepped out of the spotlight and made leaving with my diploma my one and only goal because that is what I came here for. I focused my attention on finishing classes, drafting my dissertation proposal and preparing for my second and last qualifying exam…which leads us to the third and final chapter of this saga.

Stay tuned…!

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