Monday, May 9, 2016

Friday Fun in Donorbucks Hall

A CM Playlet from OPH

Scene: interior of generic office. A single figure, OPH, stands facing the exterior wall.

Narrator: Ah, early May! That wonderful time of year in which professors are averaging five hours of sleep per night. It's a Friday afternoon, and they have retreated to their offices in the seventh floor of Donorbucks Hall, hard at work at their desks, oblivious to the meteorological mayhem ensuing outside. All except for one, that is, who is taking a short break. He has noted several Canada geese swimming in a pond that has formed around a storm drain visible through his arrowslit window.

OPH: [speaking to the window] Yeah, if you would sort of go ahead and confine yourselves to that part of campus, and stop shitting where the humans have to walk, that would be great.

Narrator: The climate control system of the Donorbucks Building has been fitted with a state-of-the-art, fuzzy logic computer that can handle any eventuality. It has switched from heating to cooling and back no fewer than six times today! Presently, it has registered an error code that has shut it down till engineering can find the reset procedure within its two-thousand page manual. In order to get some fresh air, the professors have opened their doors to the acoustically live concrete block hallway. The smell of unflushed urinals reaches the office nearest to the restrooms first.

OPH: I detect notes of methane, formaldehyde, asbestos, and perhaps a hint of radon.

Narrator: Let's spend some time with our protagonist while, in the absence of the air handler's jet-plane roar, he overhears his hallmates' conversations.

Phone: [sound from offstage] Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep! Preebee deebee dee...

Feta: [voice from offstage] Hello? Yes, I'll hold. [10 seconds pass] Hi Dean. Yeah, I suppose. But even May flowers need some sun, and I could use some, too... Well, naturally I'd like to help, but you know the accreditation site visit is coming up, and our self-study is due next Friday. Coming along fine. Yes, I'll certainly carry on. Same to you. [sound of phone hanging up]

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep! Preebee deebee deebee dee...

Stilton: [voice from offstage] Hello? Yes, I'll hold. [10 seconds pass] Hi Dean. No, not very pleasant out there at all... Hey, any other time and I'd be all over that, but I was on my way to crunch some numbers with Feta... Yeah, the self-study. Hey, actually, I was just about to ask you. I drew Roquefort's duty from the previous one, and I could really use his spreadsheets, so I'll need you to authorize IT to let me access his old account... wait, what? So make them recover it from backup! You had them do WHAT? Oh, this is a problem. This is a problem. I'll need to recreate them from scratch. This needs my immediate, undivided, sustained attention. But you know who just finished a big project and has some time to kill? Panquehue! Yeah, pretty sure she is. I saw her just five minutes ago. Yes, sir, I'll do my best. OK. And to you as well. [sound of phone hanging up] Holy shit! [sound of footsteps] Feta! Oh! Feta, you gotta hear this... [unintelligible]

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: So, now you dial the phone yourself?

[OPH turns from window to face hallway]

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: You forget that I have caller ID.

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: You like to make others wait. This time you wait.

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: Maybe you wait some more. Maybe you wait the whole weekend.

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: Now you are just tiresome. I dare you: let it ring one more time.

Phone: Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep!

Panquehue: Your Saab is parked in North Lot number 103 and I have a fresh case of nitrile gloves.

[silence for 10 seconds, then sound of purposeful footsteps]

Panquehue: Fuck you, Stilton. I heard you, and I know where you park that piece of shit you call a car, too!

Stilton: That piece of shit got me through my last post-doc up through full professor, and it's still going strong! It's the best car purchase I've ever made.

Panquehue: Compelling but irrelevant. Soon it will be your last car purchase.

Stilton: I already hid your gloves. They'll find your fingerprints all over it.

Panquehue: Then I'll find a less merciful way for you to have an accident.

Stilton: Whoa! We're already even, remember? That was just payback for when you made me Wensleydale's bitch on T and P!

Panquehue: Oh, you love Wensleydale. You are just too repressed to admit it.

Feta: HAH! Hee hee!

Stilton: The only thing repressed is my sudden need to vomit.

Panquehue: You are his identical twin brother twenty years removed.

Stilton: Aahgb, gob darrgle! No! Even if that were an actual thing, his massive fucking ego would have absorbed me in utero.

Panquehue: I have no counterargument.

Feta: Hee hee. Oh. Ow! You two have to stop! I can't take any more. [slight pause] I think I peed myself a little.

Stilton: Now that you mention it---power of suggestion and all.

[conversation continues unintelligibly amid laughter; sound of footsteps, then squeak of door opening]

Stilton: Good God! Who exploded in here?!

OPH: [seated with forehead resting on desk] Wait for it. Just wait. Only a matter of time.

Phone: [onstage] Preebee deebee deebee deebee deep! Preebee deebee deebee dee...

OPH: [answering without lifting head from desk] Hey Dean Fledermaus. [sitting up, visibly surprised] Oh! Hugh! No, of course I'm glad to hear from you. Anytime! But, well, it's not every day I hear from the director of HR. I was expecting... yeah, Fledermaus. Just got off? Probably not as coincidental as you'd think... Well, I am typically quite busy this time of year, and I don't expect... Oh, she said that? Well, I don't report to her and one must consider that my duties take me out of my office quite a bit... No, I can't think of a more important committee, nor one I'd rather be on...

Stilton: To him they're all equally unworthy!

OPH: [glaring into hallway] It's just that, I was already on one a year ago... Of course I would do as good a job as I did then...

Feta: He said, without so much as a hint of irony in his voice!

OPH: [to hallway] HEY! No, sorry, not you, Hugh. Someone just passed my office, I was just saying hi. Now, where was I? Oh, right! So, here's the thing: that search failed. Epic fail. No, I wasn't chair... no... you're not suggesting... Really? Fledermaus? Me? Yes, quite an honor. I guess we all have to share the wealth. Yeah, what's another one? I don't need to go home except to shower and sleep anyway. No, just some dramatic hyperbole. Exaggeration, right. OK. OK. Thank you, sir, and you have a nice weekend, too. [hangs up phone, then after a few seconds, nudges phone off edge of desk]

Phone: [after a few seconds] If you'd like to make a call...

OPH: You have no idea what I'd like. [facing hallway] Hey! Conspirators! You will pay for selling me out!

[laughter from the hallway]

Stilton: You said it yourself, share the wealth!

Feta: Quite an honor!

OPH: I will select the dullest, most incommunicative candidates I can find and then for dinner I will book only restaurants without a liquor license. You will run out of things to say within five minutes and watch in horrible silence while the candidates pick onions from their house salads and your inner voice pleads in vain for the night to be over.

Feta: Humm. Maybe we didn't think this quite through.



  1. Arrow slits would be useful...

    1. Overlooking the grounds or the hall?

    2. Archimedes of Syracuse was said to have invented the arrow slit window.

    3. I'm pretty sure they were used in the upper storeys of this building because they're hard for a human body to squeeze through. This tells me that the architect (who may have been from Syracuse) expected that egress to escape a fire was less likely than egress to escape other things.

  2. I must be mad. I *volunteer* to be on search committee, on the grounds that (a) they are temporary and (b) I get at least some theoretical say in who sits down the hall from me.

    But, yeah, they don't leave much time for showering.

    1. And you get to eat out on the departments dime a few times.

      But they are huge time sinks.

    2. I have spent some peripheral time on searches the last few years (i.e. attended some presentations and meetings and ate one meal per candidate), because they're trying to hire a replacement for my immediate supervisor, and even that is definitely a time sink. By the end of the search period, I was considering whether I should move closer to campus (not something I generally do). And we get to do it again next year! (Because searches keep failing, which seems odd in one way, but perhaps not so odd when you consider that we're looking for someone mid-career-ish, and other schools seem to be doing the same, and the academic job market over the past few decades has not been such as to produce a lot of people who are currently mid-career. There's also a major mismatch between local cost of living, especially real estate prices, and the university's salary scale.)

      And now there are rumors that the Dean would like contingent faculty to do service -- with no additional compensation/release time, of course. It will be fun to watch a group of faculty even more overworked and underpaid and generally overwhelmed than the tenure-track faculty deal with that hot potato. Of course, due to budget constraints, we no longer have office phones. We do, however, have email accounts.

    3. The heaping on of more duties without increased pay and/or job security is just wrong. The only right thing here is that you'd be getting (more of) a voice in governance. Will the tenured and TT faculty welcome that voice? If they do, through governance they may help address the issue of how much blood can be squeezed from a stone.

    4. There is some hope of that, at least at the departmental level. I have a very decent department -- one of the reasons I've remained in the job.

  3. For Chiltepin's reason B, I have volunteered in the past as well. Another thing that makes me do it is:

    C) I get some piece of mind knowing that my presence on the committee may well have prevented a worse fuckup from serving;

    D) I get a kick out of serving with colleagues who really know how to get shit done, and get it done well.

    At my joint, here's what else the search committee gets:

    1) to keep all our previously assigned duties and responsibilities;

    2) to have colleagues accuse us of volunteering just to get free food at nice restaurants;

    3) to deal with CVs that come in after HR jumps the gun and runs our unedited first draft of the ad, then an ad from a different department's search, then finally the ad we wanted;

    4) to endure prodding and poking from members of previous searches, because even though their picks either bolted after two years or remained to disappoint in other ways, they just KNOW we're DOING IT ALL WRONG

    5) to despair over the good candidates that turn us down for other gigs after we've fallen in love with them;

    6) to despair over the otherwise good candidates that don't fit our need (too senior, wrong research focus, etc.);

    7) to wrestle with how to weigh the imperfections of the remaining candidates;

    8) to wonder if we ARE doing it all wrong, and we're the fuckups after all;

    9) to find ways to convince ourselves that Dean Sprocket is wrong about us and our institution.

    We fixed #2 by putting the whole department in rotation for dinner duty; one can't complain if all enjoy the same benefit. The rest of it, we just endure, because of reasons B, C, and D. As for A, "temporary" is relative: you can easily lose a semester to a search.

    Yeah, first world problems. Even if Stilton hadn't dimed her out, Panquehue was due to serve again anyway. Lack of sleep can make good-natured needling take a turn towards the sinister. OPH was just playing along.

    1. Re #9, for those relative newcomers who may not have read all posts between this one and the Dean Sprocket one, this is an attempt to convince ourselves.