Writing left handed

The Empire Strikes Back

On the occasion of yet another afternoon’s humiliation suffered at the hands of Temple University, the anthropologist in me feels compelled to offer a few remarks on the difference between institutions of higher education in the country of my birth (the US) and those in the country of my choice (the UK).

(It’s either that, or smash something and seeing as I’m currently seated in a coffee shop drinking from a ceramic mug that’s not exactly mine, I should probably restrain myself.)

For the sake of providing the proper context for my “anthropological” observations, I should explain that a year ago, I got in touch with the chairwoman of Temple’s Dance Department to schedule an informational interview.

Despite the fact that I spend the majority of my time writing about text messages and high heels, I do occasionally aspire to greater things, i.e. a PhD.  My first choice would be to high tail it back to the UK for the continuation of my studies but I figured I owed to myself to make an educated decision.  (A decision, for example, based on factors other than, “The bus system is better in London” and “I like Sainsbury’s mint chocolate and boys with English accents.”)

The result of this “informational interview” was my being offered an adjunct position—a position which then vanished a week before the start of the semester, with nary an explanation.  (I was later told it was a “paperwork glitch” on the part of the administration, and no, there was nothing they could do about it.)

Seeing as I’d decided not to return to the UK in order to “launch” my academic career at Temple, I was devastated.  Beyond devastated, actually, but then got my act together, landed my job at The Preschool and realized that not teaching at Temple (and not moving back to the UK) would give me time to finish writing my book… but I hadn’t entirely given up on the idea of teaching.

As such, when my co-worker (who just so happens to teach at Temple in addition to The Preschool) informed me that she had to swing by campus on our way back to Sou’ Philly, I decided to “pop” up to the Dance Department to see my “favorite” department chair.

Unfortunately, she was less keen on seeing me.  By which I mean she told her secretary to send me away on the grounds that she was “busy” and would continue to be busy for the foreseeable future.  I wasn’t even allowed to schedule an appointment, and I still don’t know what I did or didn’t do or should do… hence the fact that I’ve decided to offer a “comparison” (as opposed to the vitriolic slaying I’d much rather compose).

In the UK, department chairs invite you to dinner in their homes, bring back chocolates from their travels abroad and greet you with an all-knowing look when you stumble into class late (having enjoyed yourself a little too fully at a Norwegian bachelor party the night before…) only to follow up with a discreet, “So, when will you see him again?”

In the US, department chairs invite you into their offices, tear your work apart in one breath and offer you a job in the next.  Then, when said job offer is revoked, they surround themselves with secretaries and receptionists and graduate students who carry their bags and fetch their 20 oz. cups of Starbucks peppermint tea at regular intervals throughout the day.

Being a rather keen observer of detail, I picked up on the peppermint tea thing right away: it comprises an essential component of the groveling required to gain an audience with Her Holiness at Temple and as such, I was willing to give it a shot.  But Her Holiness didn’t want my tea when I first offered to stop by Starbucks last summer (before the great debacle) and today, she didn’t even want me in her waiting room.

I realize, of course, that Temple University is not representative of the entire United States and, by that same token, nor is Roehampton University of the entire United Kingdom.  Furthermore, I’ve had some wonderful professors on both sides of the Atlantic but I can honestly say that I’ve never felt as small as I did when I finally quitted the dance office.

I felt as small as an ant, actually, and I was wearing heels.

9 Responses to “The Empire Strikes Back”

  1. chauffeur

    Her high exhaulted pubah is, despite her position, a very small person. Bad karma for her. Just 3 days ago a young man I had not seen in 2yrs reached out to me for professional advice. I took him to lunch and spent a lot of time hopefully helping him. Because if you are secure and actually sucessful…. that is what you do, as others helped me in my career. Along the way, she has forgotten that and now can not be bothered.
    Your UK professors and many state side know how to offer help and guidence. Use their help and their model. The TU chair is self serving. I suggest do not waste any time, energy, or brain cells on someone who has so little class or professional etiquette.

    • Brazilian

      Well said Chauffeur. I’ve found, in many instances, that this kind of attitude by people who are in position of power is due to a serious lack of confidence in themselves and they feel a need to demonstrate their prowess by having their subordinates run interference for them. This is very unfortunate.
      It seems to me that Kat would do better interviewing other colleges. Good luck.

  2. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Well, transatlantic hugs and sympathy on offer here. The Chauffeur is right, in my opinion, and I’d like to add, in case it helps, that I can confirm that there are jerkish senior academics in the UK as well…

  3. Digger

    Blech… disheartening, especially after they blew you off the first time.

    A little Devil’s Advocacy: she truly may have been up to her eyeballs in crap that was due yesterday. Schools are in the final throes of the admissions process for September, and who knows what faculty/administration/service/student crisis or conference deadline was taking all her attention. It could have been the equivalent of having someone stop by unannounced when you’ve *just* stepped out of the shower and are running late for three somethings. Handled poorly? Ah yep. Personal? Possibly not.

    Un-solicited suggestion, should you still be interested in Teh Glamorous Life of Adjunctivity @ Temple: an email to the Chair along the lines of being sorry you were unable to meet when you happened to be on campus, that you’d like to discuss Adjunctivity with her, and you would like to meet with her at her convenience, how’s -insert date/time-. If she blows you off again, F* that S* and move on.

    • Kat Richter

      I know, I know… I knew the “pop in” wasn’t the best course of action (and believe me, I spent three minutes standing on the sidewalk trying to pysche myself up to go in) but I already have gotten in touch with both the chair and the dean to try to get to the bottom of this “paperwork glitch” and both have blown me off repeatedly. I did deign to send *another* email yesterday (great minds think alike, eh? 🙂 ) to let her know that I’d stopped by and would like to meet (fortunately I made myself take a few hours cool-down time before sending it) but seeing as she still can’t be bothered to let me know what’s going on, I’m rapidly reaching the point of F* that S*.

  4. Digger

    The Chair and the Dean? Then apparently the BS is endemic, and not just to the department, and Temple is probably somewhere you don’t really want to be. *shudder*

    Also, food choices and transportation networks and anything else that will help you maintain your sanity in doctoral studies are absolutely valid and critical criteria for picking schools. A doctorate does you little good if you’ve gone entirely off the rails!!!

  5. Debbie

    Well…as a fellow receiver of the “played too much last night?” look from a Roehampton Prof. I understand. You also forgot to mention that we still have a lovely and entertaining facebook friendship with them! How many people at Temple can say that!

    • Kat Richter

      True! That was actually what gave me the idea to take a “comparative” approach to today’s snarkiness… but by the end I forgot what I started out to say! lol 🙂

  6. Landlord

    Yea for Roehampton profs! They even opened up their homes to your parents! Now for the “others”…I still marvel at the fact that you had a contract, had the photo ID taken, AND the all important copy machine code 😉 and still no word on what caused the disconnect, just a complete mystery that I fear will never be solved, one last try with the dean and be done–onward an upward.


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