Monthly Archives: October 2008

As Promised: The Tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

Hey, I lost my voice. So I called the Department Secretary this morning to cancel my 10am class, thinking a bit more time to sleep and have coffee, and buy some throat lozenges, and I could probably make it to the noon class. Her reaction to my barely-audible squawkings on the phone was to say “Oh my God! I am cancelling all your classes.” Sweet. This leaves some unexpected free time, so let me lay on you the tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

One semester, after Sarcastic Bastard and I had got rid of Professor Crybaby from our office, and her desk was briefly occupied by Dr We-Won’t-Speak-Ill-of-the-Dead, we were graced by the presence of Sexual Harrassment Colleague (hereinafter referred to as SHC).

SHC is an older guy, who used to be a High School teacher; he’s a published author, and father of adult twins (both female). The final point is probably important in understanding his treatment of me. Gratuitously snarky detail: his hair looks like steel wool that was once on top of his head, but has now slipped down several inches towards his back.

It was SHC’s first semester teaching at our institution, but clearly, as an experienced High School teacher, he thought there was nothing he needed to learn about teaching an upgrading course at a college. Generally, when new colleagues move into our shared space, we give them a couple of weeks’ grace before we hate them and hang them out to dry (although we made an exception for the annoying one we already pre-hated who moved into our office when some of our other colleagues turfed her out of their shared space, but I digress). So when I saw SHC doing some stupid-ass shit, I kindly offered him some pointers.

For instance, on one occasion I happened to be in the room while he was having a chat with a student who was doing badly and needed to get some extra help. Instead of just making some suggestions, he actually phoned the relevant offices and made appointments for the student. Dude. That is not cool. These guys are in college, and need to be treated as adults. When I suggested that SHC was maybe going above and beyond the call of duty – and not in a good way – he gave me a talk about how he had loads more experience than I did, blah blah blah. Full disclosure: I probably look a bit younger than I am, and yes, I am short and blonde, but there I was, his colleague, and I had been doing the job for fully 3 years at that point. But that’s no excuse.

He never called me by my name. Often, he called me “my girl” or similar.¬† I certainly never heard him call Sarcastic Bastard or Professor Darwin (our other, male office mates) by anything but their names.

The other issue we were having was over the shared computer. This was a semester when my teaching and parenting schedules were pretty tight, so I was doing a lot of work from home. I had 2 hours a week in the office, and needed to be able to use the computer I was sharing with him during that time. I explained this to him during the first week of semester, and said, “You can use the computer any other time, but on these two days, I need the computer for this hour.” That was fine, he said. Except it wasn’t.

Every single day, I would come in, and he would be there, using the computer, and I would have to ask him if I could use it. He never offered to get off the computer, or asked if I needed it. He put me in the position of female supplicant. To me, sharing a resource means understanding that the other person has a right to use the resource. Previous computer-sharers (and this includes people I had made cry, I’ll have you know) had understood this. We had negotiated sharing when our schedules overlapped. None of them made me ask, every single time, if I could please have my hour of agreed-upon computer time. As the semester went on, I got angrier and angrier about his not-so-subtle power-game, and my requests got snippier. He wrote me a note chiding me about my “attitude” and telling me I ought to be more polite. I ground my teeth.

The final straw came one day when a Snowflake Student who hadn’t been to class all semester turned up in my office wanting to know what she had missed. This was, you know, like week 8 of semester. “You’ve missed about half the course,” I said. “The good news is you haven’t missed the withdrawal deadline. I’m going to recommend that you drop the class.” Oh noes! How could I? Of course Snowflake was going to make up the work. I stuck to my guns and convinced her to drop.

After she left, SHC, who had been in the room, leaned over, patted me on the shoulder and said, “That was difficult for you, but you did the right thing.” Excuse me? How dare you a) touch me and b) suggest that doing my job is something my weak female mind can barely cope with? I was so furious, I left the room so that I wouldn’t punch him, and stood fuming in the corridor until Professor Hobbit came by and said “You seem upset. Let me buy you a coffee.”

That day really made me appreciate my colleagues. Well, apart from SHC. Professor Hobbit calmed me down and talked to me about my options. Did I want to make a formal complaint, or did I want to do something more low-key? He suggested I talk to Dr Militant Feminist, who gave me absolutely brilliant advice about how to write a letter to SHC which would be a solid first step in case I wanted to take further action down the road. Professor Hufflepuff let me rant and rave for as long as I needed. Sarcastic Bastard was hugely supportive. Professor Birkenstock pointed out that SHC tended to be a patronising jerk, giving his behaviour some context. I left the note for SHC when I left that afternoon.

I didn’t have class the next day, and when I arrived at work the following day, Professor Hufflepuff (an older woman, who is very proper), pulled me in to her office. “SHC was very upset when he got you note,” she said. Apparently, he had gone to her to complain about the outrageousness of me calling him a sexist. He was not a sexist. He had grown-up daughters, for goodness sake. Prof Hufflepuff had given him short shrift. “You can’t act like this,” she had said, “cut it out. You owe her an apology.”

Miracle of miracles, an apology was forthcoming. After that, he was never in the office during the hour I was there, and at the next time he came back to teach, a couple of semesters later, he was in another office. He doesn’t talk to me, and I don’t talk to him. I don’t know if the experience taught him not to be such an ass, or if he just thinks I am difficult. He now shares an office with 3 women, all of whom are tough, mature and don’t take crap. Apparently, his behaviour is impeccable, so I guess the whole incident goes in the “win” column.

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May I please be excused? My brain is full.

Thought you might like to see the Starbucks snark in all its glory.

The reason I bring it up again is that the other day, when I arrived at my office, there was a posse of professors clustered around the door: Professor Birkenstock, Dr Pseudonymous and Sexual Harrassment Colleague, all commenting on this sign on the door. Which by the way, is not on the door alone in all its glory, but somewhat camouflaged in a cluster of papers about creative writing contests, schedules, political cartoons and funny posters about Gower being a wanker.

Anyway, (“Wait, what?” I hear you cry. “Sexual Harrassment Colleague? What is the deal with him? Tell us! It sounds juicy and salacious!” It is, and I will, but not now. Let’s get back to the Starbucks thing.) as I arrive, they all turn to me and ask “Did you or Sarcastic Bastard do this?” I knew it! No one will believe that Starbucks snark could possibly exude from the wide-eyed Poetess.

Later, when I told her about this, she was extremely smug.

In Pineapple-related news, I have been getting a series of emails from Pineapple Boy about why he wasn’t in class, why he isn’t going to be in class, and why his work is going to be late. There are variations in the exact details of the excuses (and I will spare you the dreadful spelling and grammar), but they pretty much all boil down to “my brain is full”. Seriously. And he honestly thinks this is a perfectly okay thing to say, like it is a reasonable explanation, and possibly a common problem.

Brain fullness was also his excuse for missing that in-class assignment a couple of weeks ago. Just the other day, he finally emailed me his “explanation”. Which, of course, makes me wonder about the speed of his thought processes, if it took him 10 days to regurgitate the same excuse. Essentially, it came down to: “I missed the assignment (worth 10%) because my brain was fried from working on the rewrite (worth 1%).” I know he has admitted English is not his strong suit; it looks like Math isn’t really his thing, either.

Meanwhile, he continues to eat and splatter in class. I am starting to be inured to the rudeness of the food, because his other rudeness is so boggling. Yesterday, when I was trying to get some discussion going about a class reading, his analysis was, “This just seems like all the other stupid crap you females come up with.”

There is an upside to this kind of comment, although I know it sounds completely appalling. The rest of the class are such a bunch of vanilla puddings that it is almost impossible to make an impression on them. The other day, when I was asking them about whether they thought war memorials made political statements, they answered “no”. As in “no w haven’t thought about it”, not “no they don’t”, even though I had just showed them a film about Maya Lin and the Vietnam Memorial. So, anyway, puddings. But even unshockable puddings will respond to comments about “crap females come up with.”

I am being all glass half full, because the other option is to stab my eyes out with a spoon.

Pineapple Boy is not my only moron.

The economic crisis is worrying, I know. It’s even worrying to bohemians without investment portfolios. However, I have some good news on that front. Apparently, a guy in my class is sorting it out for us. Unfortunately, it does mean that he can’t make it to class. He did email and let me know, though:

And I’m extremely sorry that I could not come to class today because I had
a very important meeting with the bank today. As we know about the
worldwide stock market crisis. I had to go and give them some special
instructions.
Sorry for any inconvenience I caused you.

Now, it is a concern that he also seems to be confessing that the whole mess may possibly be his fault, but on the other hand, he did apologise. I particularly like that he apologised for the “inconvenience”. I like a guy who thinks big enough to call 700 billion dollars for a bailout and a plummeting stock market an “inconvenience”.

I was talking to Sarcastic Bastard and my other officemate about Pineapple Boy today. Sarcastic Bastard suggested I could have a stern word about the eating in class, and he asked if I had advised Pineapple Boy to drop the class. “I kind of hinted,” I said, “but at this point, I am more interested in keeping him around for the lulz.”

Lest you think I am head and shoulders the meanest person in the office, I offer you the example of our other officemate – the Poetess – who joined us last year as a rather mild-mannered but interesting Creative Writing instructor. We have been assiduously cultivating her into a bitter and twisted harpy. Today she taped a little coffee-cup shaped card from Starbucks on the door. It’s a “we’re hiring” ad, and she had artistically added to the text a note about the deadlines for dropping classes. After I had finished laughing, I said “That is so mean, people will think I did it.” “Score!” she replied.

The promised update.

So, today in class Pineapple Boy was eating a giant greek salad with chopsticks. I spent half the class going over the assignment he didn’t do, and he sat there eating and kind of being generally annoying, like at one point he stood up and did some isometrics.

At the end of class, he came up to me and asked if I had marked his “thing”. “No,” I replied.

Then, because I could not contain my curiosity (and because I know that you, dear readers, are totally hanging out to know), I asked, “Is there a reason you didn’t do Monday’s assignment?”

“Yes,” he said.

I guess I walked into that one.

Oh, in other news, I am totally not the only one with stapler issues.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

You knew there was going to be an update, and you were right.

So, yesterday, while I am busy and important and on the phone, Pineapple Boy wanders in to my office, without knocking, grabs my stapler, without asking, staples his new “story” and tosses it on to my desk. I hang up the phone, rather abruptly, in order to speak to him before he leaves.

“Some people,” I comment, “would consider your behaviour towards me disrespectful, bordering on rude.” Of course, he has no idea what I can possibly mean. So, I point out that grabbing a person’s stapler without asking is kind of rude, and that sending emails about how I “won’t care why he left class,” has a bit of an attitude about it.

Then I say, “and you sprayed food all over me, and did not apologise”. “Oh,” he says, “that was pineapple.” I know it was pineapple! The fact that it was pineapple has not escaped me. Or anyone I have told about it, which is pretty much everyone. But he’s saying “that was pineapple” as if “pineapple” is some kind of exception category. You know, splattering someone with, like orange, is rude, but if it is pinapple, well.

We go back and forth a bit, with him saying he doesn’t hate the class, even though he is “being forced to take it,” he still “wants to learn”. Because, you know, people can force you to take classes to meet requirements for your degree, but they totally can’t force you to learn stuff in those classes. He’s all earnest and shit, and takes his leave after many protestations about wanting to do his best. “See you soon,” I say, making reference to the fact that his class is meeting in a little while.

An hour later, his class has an in-class assignment to complete, in the lab. It’s worth marks. He doesn’t show. It’s not like I am surprised, but now I am all in suspense, waiting to hear WHY he didn’t show. Is he offended that I took exception to the pineapple incident? Did he just forget? Did he take an extra-long lunch.

Amuse yourselves by guessing. I’ll let you know.

The Pineapple Chronicles, Vol. 2

Pineapple Boy (previously referred to as Muscle Boy, but the pineapple thing is already reaching legendary status) is struggling. I think all his braincells are engaged in digesting all his food, and then there’s the build up of muscle in his neck, which may be restricting bloodflow to the important thinking areas of the head. His class were doing an in-class essay a last week, and he had a lot of trouble following instructions, and especially instructions to do with the citing of sources in MLA format.

I give you the following as an illustration:

Pineapple Boy: So do we have to do that thing at the end of our story?
[It’s like a giant flashing warning sign when students refer to essays as stories, you know, like they have no clear understanding of writing as having genres or audiences or anything like that. Words on page=story. This is not going to be a nuanced argument that is produced here. But I digress.]
Me: The conclusion?
PB: No, the biography, or whatever.
Me [stabbing in the dark]: The works cited?
PB: Yeah, that. What is it called?
Me: The works cited. I just told you.
PB: Well, I can’t be expected to remember it. [I think the rule about “no food in the lab” is making him testy.]
Some time passes. I wander around the room answering slightly less moronic questions from the general populace. Later, I look over Pineapple Boy’s shoulder, and see that he has written “Citation” instead of “Works Cited”.
Me: You need to change that to “Works Cited,” like I told you.
PB: Well, geez. It’s not like I do this for a living, you know.
Me [thinks]: This is probably just as well, or you would starve.

Pineapple Boy’s “story” was not a roaring success. Among other things, it claimed that the term “sir” was a racial epithet equivalent to the word “nigga”.

So, he got a bad mark, and he wanted to rewrite, and against my better judgement I agreed. He informed me, during our conversation (which lasted about 10 minutes, and during which time he consumed some kind of health food bar) that he had “never heard of commas until this class”.

On Monday, the rest of Pineapple Boy’s class, who are lazy slackers, except for Entrepreneur Guy, who is very focussed but had to run out of class because someone dinged his illegally parked $60,000 vehicle, did not do their reading. The reason? Well, I had listed the pages they needed to read from the textbook in their Course Schedule, but I hadn’t given the exact name of the “stories”. Apparently, “Chapter 2, pages 67-78” is not specific enough. (I got the same shit from a student in another class who said that the instruction “Unless otherwise stated, all readings are from Textbook X” was not clear enough, and I should list the every single reading by the name of the story, the page, and the phrase, “this reading is found in Textbook X”.) Since none of them had done the reading, I turfed them out of the class with orders to do it, and the reading for next class for next class. They left. 10 minutes later, Pineapple Boy wandered back into the room – he was on a food break – and asked where everyone went. I explained. “I did the reading,” he declared, confidently.

So, Wednesday rolled around, and I decided to give the slacker class a kick in the pants by making them write a short essay about the reading. Because I am not utterly evil, I offered marks for students who did well. They moaned a bit, but eventually got cracking on the task. Five minutes later, Pineapple Boy – who had been on a food break – came back into class, and asked what was up. I explained. He proceeded to pack up his stuff noisily, including repacking his lunchbox, and flounce out of the class.

He emailed me later about how he was “sure you would not care why i left the class but i will tell you anyway”. Apparently, it is unreasonable of me to expect him to retain information or produce written responses to the assigned reading, because this requires him to remember stuff about what he reads. He has a lot of other classes, and after a couple in a day, his “brain is fried”. He also said he had been spending a lot of time on his “grammer. not that you will belive me when you read this email but i dont think that is important in this case.”

He’s very determined to succeed, but he has no idea what strategies will help him, so he flails around wildly. I offer suggestions about how he might work more productively, but he dismisses them as ridiculous and fanciful. He came to see me, all earnest about how he had copied out the reading. Why? I have no idea.

Stay tuned. There is sure to be an update.