The Diminishing Pyramid of Professor Privilege

Over at the Chronicle, a humanities professor has written a beautiful description of what many of our colleagues countenance to teach their students. Go over and read the entire essay (you won't regret it). It reminds me of the fact that I shared a desk with 7 other people in the corner of a basement cubicle farm (no joke) when I started at Penn State. The really lucky grad students got their own desks. When I went to work in Corporate U.S.A., I actually shared my office with only one other person (much luckier than my Wendy's days of standing in the back room next to the potato oven and resting against garbage containers to catch breathers). Now I actually get my own office. This essay describes holding class in a Quonset hut and meeting students for office hours in a car while putting coins in the meter. Here is my favorite part:

"I once had an office -- a cubicle really -- in the physical-plant building of a major university. Gigantic machines rumbled all around me. My coffee mug sometimes vibrated off my desk. I used to pretend that I was an oiler in the engine room of the Lusitania. The room was well below ground level, and, during the rainy season, the entire floor would flood, sometimes to a depth of 18 inches. There were high water marks on the cinder-block walls from previous inundations. Mold ascended the fabric sides of my cubicle until, finally, it looked and smelled like a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest.

After a couple of months -- and conversations with the other workers -- I learned that I could reach various points on the campus through underground steam tunnels. On my way back from teaching a class, I could pretend that I was Jean Valjean evading Inspector Javert in the sewers of Paris. My cubicle was so far from the center of campus that students rarely found me. Once, shortly after teaching Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I asked one of my advisees "Are you an assassin?" And he said, without missing a beat, "No, I'm an errand boy sent by grocery clerks." We laughed for two minutes. It was the high point of my semester."


Ruijie Zhao said...

Hi, Dr. mara, I saw the picture in your blog. Do you like the novel Heart of Darkness too? It is my favourite book. In my literature class in china, we compared it with Lord of the Flies. Sometimes, I compared this book with A Passage to India too.


Sun said...

Hi Dr. Mara,

What a coincidence! I wanted to comment on that cover of the book and met my wife in the depth of her thought.

I did not know that she had read this book. I know I didnot. But I watched Apocalypse Now and found that fascinating. Thanks for sharing.