Monday, August 08, 2011

A Lone Dissenter

For a few days I've contemplated writing this entry, started it, stopped it, and here I am starting again. I am afraid I will offend, and afraid I will hurt people I love deeply who have a different opinion. I'm struggling with whether or not it is wise to put this down for the ages, as it were, or if it should be one of "write it on a sheet of paper and put it in a drawer and forget about it" kinds of things. I wish there was a way I could prevent some people from reading it. But. Here it goes.

A professor from my past passed away last week. He had been sick for a long time, and the last time I talked to a friend about him, she urged me to come to an event held in his honor celebrating him. I declined the invitation, because I did not feel compelled to do so.

"This may be the last time you get to see him," she told me.

I told her that I was actually okay with that.

Flashback to 1986 or 87. Not exactly sure of the year, because it is still all a blur to me, how I managed to even finish, graduate, get out of college with all the obstacles I had to deal with.

I was registered by accident for a class that I didn't need or want. It was in AV Technology, and this professor was teaching it for reasons unbeknownst to me. He was an English Professor. How he got hornswaggled into teaching AV Tech or how I ended up registered for this class is beyond me, but suffice to say, I wanted out.

I went to the registrar's office, and picked up the three piece form to withdraw from class before the add/drop period was over. I signed my section, went to the professor who bloviated about me dropping the class. But he signed off on the form and I went my merry way. I went to the registrar's office and turned in the paperwork.

His pooh poohing of my dropping the class was unwarranted and annoying. I didn't want to take an AV class that I wasn't interested in, especially with him at that point in my college career. 

I had taken two classes with him in the past and did semi-well. In one of his classes on the Romantic Poets, I worked so incredibly hard on the final paper, about George Gordon Lord Byron and his shenanigans. I spent night after night in the VAX lab editing, revising, printing, having peer reviews done on it... and the grade I earned was a B- with the comment "This reads like you wrote it the night before last."

Now, truthfully, most of the papers that I wrote in college were indeed written the night before last and I got a B-  and deserved it. This irritated me beyond belief. 

I was never one of "his" students. There always seemed to be a gaggle of loves surrounding him, and me trailing behind. After the grade in that class, and a semester of snide remarks thrown my way whenever I tried to contribute to discussion, and the piss poor final grade, I decided to stop trying to garner his favor. I opted to focus on developing relationships with the professors who seemed to like me, such as my advisor, and the one woman in the department for whom I ended up being Teacher's Assistant my second senior year.

I gave up on the cult of personality that surrounded him. He didn't care for me, it was obvious, so why waste my time?

Having withdrawn from the AV class, I then enrolled in the class I WANTED to be in, which I needed to graduate. Life was good.

The three-part form for adding/dropping classes was the bane of many college students' existences. Students who lost their part of the form meant they didn't have the proof that they had dropped the class, if for some reason later on the registrar's office (which they always seemed to do) couldn't find their part of the form. 

Sometimes the student would run to the professor for that third slice of evidence, and the professor would dig through the files and make a photo copy and send it to the registrar showing that indeed the class was dropped.

I happily went through that semester, working my hands to the bone at a part time job that was mostly full time due to lack of other people picking up shifts. When I got my grades for that semester I discovered there was something amiss... There were five classes on my transcript and there should have been four. The four classes I took that semester were there, with grades (not too stellar, but I did the best I could) and the AV Tech class with "Withdrawal Failure" listed as the grade, a 0.0 average for the class. My GPA went from 3.2 to 2.1 because of that grade (combined with the other grades that semester).

I also received a bill from the business office for taking more than 16 credits. My tuition block covered 16 credits, or four classes. Not five classes at 20 credits. I now owed the college a couple thousand dollars for the class I did not take, had actually dropped, and didn't want or need or anything.

In looking for my portion of the tri-form I realized that I had thrown it out while cleaning to leave for the semester. It was the end of the academic year, so I was moving into summer housing. I threw out a great deal of things... But not to worry, I went to the Registrar's office and told them what happened.

I spoke to the woman who I believe enrolled me in the class incorrectly due to her bad data entry skills and her sweet golden retriever like demeanor, with about the same amount of brain cells behind. 

She had handled the transaction when I turned in my add/drop form paperwork. I asked her what happened, and pointed out to her that I enrolled in a different class and everything, didn't she remember doing this? 

Of course she didn't, because she handled so many of them every semester. 

"Go see the professor, because he got a copy of the form in intercampus mail, and he'll have it. Get it from him, and we'll fix it." 
I RUSHED to his office, and asked him if he remembered having me withdraw from the class. He certainly did. I asked him if he had his portion of the withdrawal form, because the Registrar had no record of me dropping the class, and was billing me for a fifth class, and that I needed to fix it.

He certainly did... not. He informed me that he did not have a copy of the form, that he "threw it out." 

"It is your responsibility to keep the form, not mine."

Well yeah. It is. But ... how can you just throw that out? You're the professor, the grown-up, the responsible adult. I'm like 19! I'm stupid! Like a golden retriever myself! 

"I need your help here. I'm being billed for a class that pushed me over to the next tuition block. My GPA, it is ruined. I need really need your help," I explained these things to him, feeling my stomach in my shoes, my heart in my throat and a cold rush of blood to my belly as if I would vomit right there.

"Let this be a lesson to you then, don't throw important papers out."

"Understood," breathlessly came my response, "but I need you to come with me to the Registrar and tell the sheep lady behind the counter who always seems to mess everything up for every one that you REMEMBER me dropping the class. Please." 


He then let me know that he felt badly for me, but that he couldn't do that. He wanted this to be a teach-to moment for me. 

And I was screwed. 

I went back to the Registrar and implored the woman to fix it. Can't you SEE that in all of my other classes I've never gotten a WF. I've managed a C-, but never a WF. You can see this is a mistake. Let me talk to the Head Registrar Lady. Something. Anything.

The clerk behind the counter told me that without the paperwork from either my records or his records, she couldn't help me. "I'll pray for you," she told me.

Of course, you will. You can't help me fix a problem that you helped create, that I am also responsible for but really the long and the short of it never should have happened. You'll pray for me. 

I petitioned the Registrar, and my petition was rejected. the WF lives on my transcript. And I never spoke to that professor again. Never. 

My friend who had called to inform me about the party in his honor heard this story and told me that I needed to forgive him. I told her that I think I really have, but just because you forgive someone, doesn't mean you should feel compelled to ever see them, want to see them, pine for them, or go to a party for them if you do not want to. She fell just short of asking that I contact him and make peace with him. 

She said that yes, he was hard on me, but he always was hard on people to help them grow into stronger and more mature adults. "That was his way..." 

My point was that this was a three party responsibility process, and two parties (myself and the Registrar) had failed, but HE had leverage and could go and tell them that I had dropped the course, and make it all better. He had the opportunity to be a savior to me instead of a scold.

I didn't need a teach-to moment, I needed a champion. As a professor at a Christian College I had hoped really and honestly that he'd be compassionate and help me out. And he didn't.

Fast forward back to this week where my friend at the beginning of the entry called me to let me know that he had passed away. She was crying, very sad -- and I? I was sorry for her loss. And the loss that many others feel. I was sad that he was gone. But I wasn't feeling sadness, remorse, loss. We'd lost a couple other college professors recently, and I felt the same way. They were good men, but I had no connection to them, and felt sad for the overall community at their passing. 

Over the past few days, friends of mine have flooded my inbox, and their facebook pages all contain memories of his teachings, his sense of humor (which I guess I missed).

I am a lone dissenter in this, it seems. The only one who isn't feeling this overwhelming sense of loss. Is that wrong? Is it so wrong? 

I am wondering how many of the people who are bemoaning the loss on their facebook pages had given this professor a second thought at all during the last twenty or so years. It does make me want to reach out to the professors that I was close to and let them know how much they meant to me. Perhaps if that is the good thing that arises from this event for me, that will be grand. And I should do that right now.


  1. Anonymous4:31 PM

    Z used to have enough money to pay for 1st semester from working all summer but never enough for 2nd because Christmas break was too short. Invariably they would bill her a $50 late fee and then another and then another until she made enough working on campus for $5.50 an hour to pay her bill. She would go in and explain that she was completely alone in the world, no one was helping her with school, she always paid, she was working on campus and doing the best she could and would they please waive the fee. They would always say "no, but we'll pray for you". I've rarely heard anything that ever made me so angry. Until I read this. The lack of intelligence and compassion at that school at least at that time is so horrifying and shameful, I thank God that it's not my job to judge those people because I feel there's a special circle of hell for them. c

  2. It always seemed such a cop-out to me at GC when people would say "we'll pray for you."

    for me, action is prayer. which is why i drop things and DO THINGS for people all the time.

    and i think it helped form the person i am today, that i don't just shrug my shoulders and say "well, you should have been more responsible, it's not my problem, it's yours" like that professor did (God rest him) and try to "teach" people to be responsible because that moment is not the time. not...the... time. at all.

    i had forgotten Za's experience being much like my own. the poor thing. how did we survive and why the hell did we stay there???

  3. Peter gave me a quick run down of this post on the phone earlier (I had been out all day). Without having read it, mind you, I said to him "Stine always did have a cult following and I just never understood it. I took one course of his and it was fine, but, meh." So you're not totally alone. I'll pray for his family and those students who loved him and I'm very sorry for their loss.

    Also, I'm never sure that anyone at Gordon ever told me that they'd pray for me (in these types of situations). They told me "get your parents to send money or you can't go to class". Maybe the prayer would have helped!

  4. well, without mentioning names rebecca, yeah.
    i think that my entire circle of friends in the english department were in that group of followers, and i was not.

    i kind of feel like my lack of remorse about him passing is like ... wrong? or maybe it is what is to be expected when one just doesn't have a connection with someone. not sure.

  5. Honestly, I think it is commendable that you've made peace with the situation and forgiven him. I also think it is equally commendable that you aren't intruding on others' grieving just to go to a social function. I hope what I'm about to say makes sense, but funerals, wakes and memorial services aren't really for the person who died. They are ceremonies designed to offer those people who loved them some framework to achieve closure. It is not only disingenuous to intrude if you aren't there to grieve, it's rude. After losing a sibling two years ago, I really have spent some time thinking about the subject.

    I really think that posts like these are the reason I've been reading you for so long. You are a very genuine person with a lot of character. I wish I had more people like you in my own offline life.

  6. shelley4:38 PM

    You are neither wrong nor bad for not pretending to feel remorse or grief for someone with whom you had no meaningful connection. Someone who, in fact, did not help you at a time when you needed it, regardless of whether it was realistic that he would or could have. It would be wrong, however, to feign sadness or grief for a loss that isn't your own. Having lost a parent as well as close friends and family members over the past 18 years, I have no patience for peeple who seem to get off on grief in some weird way. You indicate you feel sorrow for those who did love and care for this man. That, to me, is appropriate. And as a college administrator myself, the idea of telling someone who sincerely needs a small bit of help to change a disproportionately bad situation that "I'll pray for you" is (no offense intended) insulting to the extreme. Even "there's nothing I can do" is a huge cop-out in many, many cases. I have, and regularly do, move Heaven and Earth for students who are legitimately in binds that are either no fault of their own, or their fault but not irreversible. If you never attended the course, or legitimately stopped attending before the date to withdraw without the WF, then I would have called the prof myself to get him to confirm when you stopped attending. Even if that guy didn't want to or couldn't go to the registrar WITH you, he could have made a simple phone call on your behalf to resolve it. There are teachable moments and there is unnecessary bureaucratic bullpoop. And there are also petty, vengeful, and selfish people, some of who are (alleged) adults and really need to get over themselves. But seriously. "I'll pray for you?" That's not very Christ-like, if you ask me. These people need to get off their arses and do something to help. *grumble*

  7. shelley4:40 PM

    *some of WHOM

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  9. thanks you guys. i feel a lot better. i also talked to a good friend who is a current professor at my college and he made me feel a lot better about this story, about how he himself learns from this tale that as a faculty member it is important to be a champion for all students whenever possible...

    the funeral is today, i send my love and prayers to those there and hope they have a celebration day sharing their love in his honor.