Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Humanity of Faculty

I'm in final preparations for the trip. That sounds so normal. It is normal. People do this all the time. I have another friend in Nairobi, and a writing buddy in Dakar. (In fact, I may go to Dakar for a writer's conference. More on that as it develops.) They've done it - packed everything, gotten multiple vaccinations, passports, visas, and dealt with all the minor things. Mail. Phone. Vehicle registration. Moving doesn't freak me out so much. Even the schedule, tight and rather sudden, I can manage. My new title makes me cringe.

Professor. (Actually "Visiting Expatriate Assistant Professor". Translation: "substitute teacher".) Really? Me? I'll answer to it if I get a shirt that says, "I'M WITH STUPID" - arrow pointing up. I've known a lot of faculty, good, bad, and ugly. I've seen the humanity of faculty, in all their humor, anxiety, brilliance, and gob-smackingly brutal competitiveness. 

I've seen alcoholism, hoarding, and depression. I've seen two faculty members in a fistfight, and met one who ripped the lid off a copier. I've seen faculty steal research from their students and peers. I've seen faculty more interested in humiliating students than teaching. I've seen faculty members (male and female) having affairs. I knew a lovely faculty member killed by her insane grad student, and an insane faculty member who threatened to kill his wife and kids. I've seen several mental breakdowns - one led to suicide. I'll need to remember them. 

I had a professor once who taught his own C.V. in class - we had to memorize all of his accomplishments and their importance. Yes, there was a quiz. I knew a professor who walked the halls with his nose pointed at the ceiling - until he passed a pair of breasts. Then he'd point his nose right at them and say "Hello!" I listened to a faculty member complain loudly when the faculty parking lot (next to our building) was appropriated for a new building. "Faculty," he cried, "are the most discriminated-against group on campus." His new parking spot was in a garage a few blocks away. This was the same parking garage I used, except his (faculty) space was free and my (staff) space was not. A famous faculty member held the door for me almost daily, when I left for lunchtime bike rides. After a semester, I realized this was less due to notions of gender equality, and more due to notions of my bike shorts. I've seen artists-turned-faculty - amazing and productive people reduced to arguments over printers and mailbox placement. I'll need to remember them.

And I've seen faculty change people's lives, cure diseases, improve schools and neighborhoods, and protest all manner of evils. I've seen faculty cancel classes in support of student rallies. I took class with the man who discovered Things Fall Apart. I've had several amazing writing professors, and met many more at conferences. I've commiserated. I've seen faculty reach out to distressed students, volunteer time and energy, host visitors, and do everything they can to make life a little better.

I'll need to remember them too.

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