Friday, January 12, 2018

letter to a bureaucrat

It is ironic that I receive your end-of-year comments on my “performance” at the same time that I received a 25-year service thank-you note from Loyola, with a Seiko watch as present. I thank you and the administration for the 100-dollar Seiko watch (Amazon's price).
You really think that you’ll “improve” my “performance” by letting me teach five days a week at 8:00 and by having “colleagues” attend my courses? You’ve already unfairly increased my load, rejected my promotion, and froze my salary to an associate professor level. Why not treat people with dignity, and tell them we don’t want you with us anymore? Why this stupid game of forcing someone to quit by pushing him to unbearable working conditions? You call that a “plan”? Let’s think of it as a deathtrap.
You must be thinking that people have no dignity, that they could be pushed around and humiliated no matter what their core beliefs are.
My core beliefs have been clearly stated since I joined Loyola 25 years ago in every page that I’ve written for my students and to the outside world, and in every photograph that I did. I received my tenure in 1998 based on those principles.
I wonder whether Loyola has core beliefs that it is defending. If a university respects itself it will not appoint a professor on tenure when he is unable to teach, write, and publish. Moreover, the university only insults itself when it tells that same professor, a couple of years before retirement, that you cannot teach, write, and publish, and your colleagues will teach you. A university must be clueless when it tells a professor right before retirement that we’ll teach you how to teach, and that your students will tell you how to teach, and whether you teach well. Have you thought of grade inflation before you get me into one of your sinister “plans”? Maybe this professor has become the objet petit a of the university, or its dark consciousness. You’ll have to convince a judge in a court of law that, mutatis mutandis, you’ve kept a professor for 25 years in service “in spite” of poor performance. Or maybe because of it? Maybe the judge will tell you that it must be the university’s performance that has been going downhill! The Wall Street Journal had us ranked at 194 in 2017. We’ve always been low, but not that low!
The department must have a copy of every syllabus I taught since 1992. Read them and let me know if my teaching has degraded. Samples of those syllabi are posted on my private website and are available for the world at large. I do not usually receive from readers comments on “incompetence,” but more of the kind, I’m surprised you can do all this in a university like that!
If I cannot “do all this” anymore it’s because the working conditions at Loyola have degraded, at least since 2013. It has become difficult to even get the minimum required enrollment of 12 for most of those syllabi. Out of the five yearly courses, four are core, and the core is not a core anymore—more like a Persian bazaar with a hodgepodge of incompatible courses. Even a bazaar has more coherence, personality, and decency than anything we call core at Loyola. We’ve never had the luxury conditions of our friends in Hyde Park, but at least the room was open for experimentation. We’re now into a sinister machinery called the Core—with a capital C! I’m sure Loyola is making more pennies, and the WSJ will have us lower in 2018!
I find it wicked that you’re trying to “improve” my performance by assigning me five times a week at 8:00—when I expressly told you and David that I cannot teach that early, because never in 25 years did I teach that early, and because I work late at night and suffer from certain health conditions, which is not unusual at my age.
With the Syrian wars, I am under lots of pressure. I want to produce a book that matches the gravity of the conflict. Thank you for worrying about my Regenstein hours, but I need something more than your prayers: a good night sleep, the ability to work and concentrate, and days where I stay at home to write.
Rather than give me lessons of “ethics,” I want you to question your ethical line, assuming you have one: Are the 8:00am assignments really there to “improve” my teaching, or are they an overt attempt to make my working conditions unbearable? Is there any consciousness left in you?

So let’s come to business, which is what Loyola likes doing most, albeit clumsily.
I cannot accept any 8:00am assignments. You can do whatever you want with the two h104 sections, but I won’t be able to teach them myself. Let’s not waste time on this. Unless I’m brought back to the fall MWF 2017 schedule, I will only attend the course on the modern middle east in fall 2018.
I only accept my students to attend my courses, and will not approve anyone else attending, certainly not Stasi "agents" planted by the department to write dubious spying "reports." Let them work on improving their own courses. My syllabi are public on my personal website, and anyone can comment. Syllabi are too important to be disparaged by the macabre reclusiveness of academics.

My conditions are final and nonnegotiable. You can do whatever you want with me—that’s the sinister aspect of clueless bureaucracies—but you won’t be able to harm my dignity.