This is a story that happened last spring, but since every morning I am gloriously reminded of it, I thought I might share it with you.
I have no real idea what our Dean does, except that occasionally he has to rubber-stamp decisions that have been made by our Chair.
This one time, he came to a meeting with the department during which he was very gung-ho about how we all had to hire students to do research projects for us. When asked where these students might work in our already rather cramped for space environment, he was momentarily stumped, but then suggested that perhaps they could be squeezed in to some of the cozy shared offices. You know, like during times when faculty were in class or whatever. One of my colleagues helpfully pointed out that maybe he could go fuck himself on that front. It might have been Prof Darwin, who, according to the previous Dean, has single-handedly turned our shared office into a fire hazard.
I whispered to my awesome chum that maybe since all the Dean did all day was go to meetings, he wasn’t using HIS office all that much, and so maybe these research students could use his office. Instead of, like, mine. Awesome chum immediately stuck up her hand and repeated my suggestion, attributing it to “anonymous sources”.
One other thing the Dean does is spend money. Last spring he spent an amount of money, large enough to be described as “inordinate” at a Faculty Council Meeting, on some trophies. And a case to put the trophies in. The trophies mostly involved expensive crystal, and the case a lot of glass, including glass fronts, and shelving. This is an important plot point. (FORESHADOWING.)
I don’t know about your campus, but on our campus, when you want to build something like a drop box for assignments, or a case for your inordinately expensive trophies, you have to go meet with a lot of people, including (I swear I am not making this up) the University Carpenter. Assignment drop boxes requested by regular faculty need to go to at least 3 committees, and the process takes enough time that “progress on the drop boxes” becomes a regular item on the Department Meeting Agenda. The Dean, having more time to go to meetings, manages to get through all the meeting hoops in less than an academic year, and in due course manages to get his trophy case carpented.
The case is strategically placed outside the Dean’s office, such that it displays the trophies in all their glory to anyone entering or exiting the elevator. You have to pass them if you take the stairs also, but elevator riders get the whole framing effect. Whooosh, the doors open, and voila, trophies. I have a gimpy knee, and the stairs have an annoying tendency to fling me down them, so I ride the elevator, and thus was witness to a good deal of the drama I am about to relate.
Over a period of some days in the spring, the trophy case was constructed. It did have a slightly fancy-ass trapezoidal shape, and hinges on the doors, as well as a lock (security, which was to prove ironic). The University Carpenting Team works at about the speed of me grading a bunch of essays, which is to say quite slowly with a lot of breaks for browsing reddit. During the time of the trophy case construction, they were also replacing the doors to one of the main buildings, a project they worked on for about an hour a day for 6 weeks. Thus there was plenty of time for the regular elevator-rider, going to work 4 days a week, to observe the progress of the trophy case.
Finally, there came a morning when it appeared complete, whereupon it sat empty for several days. Glue drying? Trophies getting a last minute polish? Who knows. (As it turns out, the pause may have been related to the guy who was meant to do the last couple of jobs going on vacay, or an extended lunch break. MORE FORESHADOWING.)
A few days later, then, I was enjoying a pre-class chat with my awesome chum, minding our own business, and heading leisurely in the direction of possibly getting around to going to class, when there arose an ALMIGHTY SMASHING NOISE. It was a noise like when you are in the bar and a barmaid drops a big tray of glasses, except it went on for approximately 3 times longer than that noise would go on. Like maybe there were 3 barmaids, and they each dropped a big tray of glasses one after the other, domino-style.
“Man, I am glad that is not my problem,” I said to my awesome chum, as I gathered up my books for class, and she concurred. We walked in the general direction of the elevator, in time to behold the Dean, standing amidst the ruin of the temple to his vanity; smashed glass all around him, and a sad, dented trophy plinth atop the pile, its crystal doohicky contributing to the general tower of destruction.
What had transpired, as I am sure you have gathered, astute reader, is that the glass shelves had been insufficiently secured to the sides of the trophy case. When the Dean, in his pride, had come out to place the biggest and most crystalline trophy on the highest shelf, the edifice had given way, and each subsequent glass shelf had increased the momentum of the avalanche of glass as they fell through one another and finally on to floor, which, in the event, was rather unfortunately hard stone tile.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the smashing noise, when I got downstairs (3 flights down) to my classroom, the students in the room asked “Do you know what that giant crash was?” To which I answered in the affirmative. I also gave my permission for them to go and gawk at it, which a handful proceeded to do. “JFC” was the general consensus. Also snorts of derisive laughter.
Two hours later, when class ended, I went back upstairs, whereupon the elevator opened, rather like the curtain in a theatre, on a scene of the Dean berating an assortment of subordinates. The words “paid a lot of money for this to be built” were issuing from his mouth, along with a bunch of indignant sputtering. I loitered shamelessly to enjoy the show. When he got to the point of saying “AND I COULD HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED” I could not resist a quiet “Dude” expressing chagrin at his hyperbole.
The broken glass was eventually cleared away, and the trophy case stood empty both of shelves and trophies for the rest of the semester.
On the second day of Fall semester, I was witness to the final act of the drama of The Dean’s Trophies, when the elevator opened on the scene of the Dean placing the replacement trophies on the renewed shelves. I lingered to watch him place the largest one on the top shelf, holding his breath, but sadly there was no repeat catastrophe.
The question on all of your enquiring minds, is, of course, “What does the Dean have trophies FOR?” If you are envisioning a mug with “Best Dean Ever” on it, I shall chide you for lack of grandiosity in your imagination. They are all chunks of glass (possibly crystal), or silver cups (safer, although possibly dinged up in the Grand Smash), set upon black plinths. The trophies bear titles, such as “Comprehensive Colleague,” “Outstanding Attempt at TeamWork,” “Most Improved Teaching” and “Best Attempt at a Beard”. The plinths all sport an array of shield-shaped silver plaques upon which can be engraved the names of the awardees. None of the shields is, however, inscribed with the name of any awardee, a fact which I find perversely satisfying. Kafka would get it.