Nothing raises my hackles quite like the suggestion that academia is an Ivory Tower or Unreal World. Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to criticize about universities and even more to belittle. No one seems to have written a non-satirical campus novel, after all, which is understandable. After nearly 20 years teaching for some of the world’s less prestigious, and more idiosyncratic, colleges, I quit. Right before promotion. And without a pension. I couldn’t take the nonsense anymore. But don’t fool yourself, the nonsense is real. On my first day at Zayed University, a government school for Emirati girls, one of my direct supervisors was murdered. He was stabbed repeatedly, by his young wife, while stepping from the shower. While he struggled to breath and reach for a landline, she used the bloody knife to cut the telephone cord.
This was only slightly shocking. At my previous job, in Ohio, I was taken aside by the Acting Dean just minutes into my first day. Apparently, the real Dean had been driving to Tiffin from his old post somewhere out West. Along the way, he pulled over and shot himself in the head. How do you feel about this? the Acting Dean asked me. Well, I never…actually got to meet him, so… How did I feel? I felt like he’d made the right decision. I felt like looking for a new job. Since this was Ohio, remember, suicide wasn’t the most unpleasant event of the day. At Faculty Orientation, an hour later, we held a Trust Workshop, which involved staring into the eyes of a colleague—for three full minutes—and then removing five articles of clothing. Admittedly, this felt vaguely unreal. Since then, I’ve seen my share of professorial fistfights, back-biting and front-screaming, petty cruelty and indicted felonies, love triangles and lust icosahedrons. Colleagues escorted to the gates by policemen or, more frequently, mental health professionals. Academia is much like the rugby pitch, but with added mayhem and less compassion. It’s important to realize that there is only one world, it’s quite real, and we all live in it. Even professors.