What do you do with a tenured faculty member who behaves badly? That’s the question explored in a recent online Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled, “In a World of Tenure and Promotion, Demotion is a Murkier Matter.” One can almost hear ominous organ music from Phantom of the Opera playing in the background.
And when it comes to murk, there are few challenges as daunting as dealing with professors who are just plain odd. Consider the following:
— Two months after suffering a concussion while playing touch football with graduate students, Bucknell University Mathematics Professor Elwood Stanchion began denying the existence of both long division and any number greater than 14. He also claimed that the “equals” sign (=) was a Satanic symbol associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Eventually, these beliefs began to interfere with his teaching. (“He once threw a whiteboard eraser at me when I told him I was 19 years old,” says sophomore Molly Timmons. “And I am 19, I really am!”)
Following a semester’s worth of awkward classroom interactions, the Provost created a job for Stanchion: overseeing the library’s card-catalog operations. Bucknell had not used the card-catalog system since 1993, and had relocated all of its cabinets — filled with hundreds of thousands of brittle, yellowed index cards — to a storage area in the library’s basement.
According to the Provost, “things have worked out a lot better than I thought they would. Elwood fits in pretty well over there. I think he’s happy.”
— When his appeal of a $25 campus parking ticket at Ramapo College of New Jersey was denied in February 2018, Chemistry Professor Rufus Phlox stopped speaking. He now stands silently at the front of the room for the full 75 minutes of every class session, holding a cardboard sign above his head that says, “Ramapo owes me $25.” Enrolled students no longer show up for his courses, but the professor’s attendance record remains perfect.
Phlox’s attorney indicates that his client is currently negotiating with the College’s administration over the matter. “We’ve offered to settle for $15, but Ramapo has been holding fast at $17.50 for the past three weeks. We have another meeting scheduled for early November, when I hope further progress will be made. Of course, I’m the one doing all the talking in there.”
— Finally, there is Gretchen Hedley-Yoof, Professor of History at Auburn University. Mired in a dispute with the Dean of Arts & Sciences over a classroom re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings that took place in her course, in which five undergraduates suffered severe pole-axe wounds, Hedley-Woof took provocative action last week. She hijacked a group of high-school seniors and parents who were waiting for a student assistant to escort them on a campus tour. She led them across the quad to the Dean’s office, where they stood outside his door while Hedley-Yoof repeatedly screamed, “this man sucks, this school sucks, and all y’all should just go to the University of Alabama, not this guano-filled hole!”
The Dean has announced that Hedley-Yoof will not receive a merit-pay increase in 2019, and her full-professor discount at the faculty dining room has been suspended.
Sometimes, a Dean’s gotta do what a Dean’s gotta do.