My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma
Lorna finds a way to push Dr. C from his high horse…
The title of this post is a quote attributed to the most prolific writers of all time, Anonymous; so I thought it was safe to use it.
The one thought running through my head after successfully defending my dissertation was, “No one can ever take this accomplishment away from me.” I never considered revenge against Dr. C. I was too happy to go to that
satisfying delicious negative place.
The opportunity for justice (more positive than “revenge”) came to me in the form of correspondence from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University. As part of their Quality Assurance and Make-Alumni-Feel-Generous programs, they sent a survey to all recent graduates asking us to rate our satisfaction with various aspects of our education at their prestigious university. They offered the standard 1-5 rating scale for all questions except the last one. The final question was open-ended. It asked if, as a recent graduate, I had any suggestions that might improve educational experiences for future students. Indeed, I did.
I composed a detailed account about my full scholarship and how Dr. C used the power of his position as Chair to blackmail me into ceding the Teaching Assistant part of my award to a student he liked. I detailed his abysmal teaching performance, including cajoling students to do research on homelessness for an “A” in his class and hosting a pot and alcohol party at his home during the last class of the semester. I emphasized that he displayed qualities I believed were the antithesis of the code of ethics to which teaching professionals were held at their institution and within the American Sociology Association. To be helpful, I included both codes of professional conduct in my correspondence. I asked if the Dean would tell about what, if any action was taken to rectify this situation for future students, because I did not want any diligent graduate student subjected to the stress and shame that I endured.
Approximately two weeks later, I received a call from the Dean of the Graduate School. In the interim, I contacted Dr. T, the professor who was my only advocate back then, and explained what I had done. Elated, he said he’d support me should an investigation occur–he even said he might file his own complaint. I spoke with the Dean at length, reiterating my story and referring him to Dr. T. He thanked me, said he took my allegations quite seriously, and would get back to me within the month.
He did. The Dean told me that Dr. C denied he blackmailed me and scoffed at the notion he hosted a mini-Woodstock festival at his home and called it a class session. Subsequent interviews with other graduates and Dr. T verified my story. Summarily stripped of his Chairperson title, Dr. C’s pay was down-graded and he was relegated to a mere faculty position. There he stays to this day. He still has influence over students, but no power to give or take scholarship and assistantship awards willy-nilly.
My further effort at justice, since his area is Criminal Justice, was to point out his name in sociology textbooks to all of my students (1,000s of them in my teaching career). Initially, they were impressed that I knew someone whose name appeared in a textbook. Then I told them The Story. Every face was riveted on me, each part of The Story more unbelievable than the last. Their faces turned from awe of this world-renowned scholar to disdain. I told The Story to illustrate a point I tried to emphasize for all my students: become critical thinkers. Challenge what you hear and read. Don’t believe or put on a pedestal someone who has a Ph.D. or some other “alphabet soup” flanking their name, simply because they have the credentials; they must also have integrity.
I also told The Story because I felt better each time I exposed his blatant, obnoxious, arrogant abuse of power. That’s the
wicked selfish human part of me.
I hope at least some of my students remembered that lesson that I learned the hard way. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for Dr. C…
We now move on to the next item on Lorna’s “Help!” list: raising a kind, respectful, human-rights-conscious son who picks up after himself.