The Packrat

People wonder how I became a professor. It matters little to them that I’ve published a dozen important books and numerous articles in my field. What makes them curious is that I do not like students. And they know it.

My student evaluations, the ones they fill out after every class at the end of the semester, are not always as bad as you may assume. Sometimes a student will actually say good things about my teaching. As my colleagues know, however, these positive comments are few and far between. Like I give a rat’s behind.

You know, this is a research university. What matters at an institution like this is what research I do leading to publication. Teaching, and student feedback on teaching matter little. You are not promoted here based on your evaluations. What counts most are your publications and the amount of money your research brings in. And my research, especially considering that I am in the Social Sciences, is well funded by both private and public entities. I do not, will not ever, fear for my job. As long as I attract those dollars, I am golden.

As I say, I do not like students. The requirement to teach them takes away valuable research time. The kind of students I like least, are the ones with disabilities. They are needy, take up more of my time outside class than I would prefer. I post office hours because we are required to do so. We sit for hours on end with no students coming to see us during those hours. This is good. If we have to be tied to our desks, at least we can be reading or writing. But when I have a disabled student in one of my classes, it’s almost guaranteed that he or she will come during my office hours. And not once in a while, if I’m lucky, but often if they are more severely disabled and have even more idiotic questions.

Here at the University of O‘ahu, there’s a program that works with disabled students. They are supposed to be the liaisons between students and their professors. When I have one of their students in a class, I know I’m going to hear from them about things like exam accommodations, or getting copies of my notes to share with a student who can’t see the board or hear me well. Worse yet, they might send a sign language interpreter to my class. Maybe even send one into my office hours if a deaf student needs to talk to me.

And then there are the note-takers. I mean you have this extra student in the classroom who is there only to take notes for a student who can’t do it for himself, for whatever stupid reason, be it a learning disability or whatever.

Learning disabilities. That irritates the hell out of me. I don’t believe there is such a thing. The only disability those have is laziness or a low IQ. What they really need is a swift kick in the pants. They should try harder. Like me.

I mean I had trouble reading my whole life. So what did I do? I put in more time reading. I read around the clock when I was in college. And when I went to grad school, I read around clock, and then I read around it again. You have to work harder. That’s all there is to it. No one ever gave me any kind of help.

This semester I made a little mistake. One of the counselors over at that disability services office had let me know that I’d be having another one of those students in my class. We were on the phone, and when he told me about this student, I just couldn’t hold back.

“Wow, what a wonderful surprise. Any good news?”

I kicked myself for letting that slip. There was a longer pause than I expected, but he didn’t say anything about my comment when he finally started talking again.

First day of class, I don’t know. Sometimes I just can’t control myself. I called that student’s name, she raised her hand, said “Here,” and I simply couldn’t hold back my irritation.

I said, “I got a call from a counselor over at the Disability Help Program. He told me you have a learning disability. You do know there’s no such thing, right?” I said. “You just have to grow up and start studying harder.”

Everyone in the class stared at me. I almost laughed, but I held back. The student got upset and stormed out of the class. I thought, “Good riddance.” I wasn’t even thinking about the legal implications.

So after class, I’m suffering through my obligatory office hours, and much to surprise, in walks my department chair.

Now my office, some people say, is a bit of a mess. I’ve used just about every square inch, from the floor to the ceiling, for, well, I call it storage. It’s a mix of books, papers, and, well a lot of other things that are important to me, things I’ve collected over the twenty-odd years I’ve been here. A very rude colleague once told me that my office looked like a rat’s nest. Very unkind words. I don’t like him.

So my Chair walks in. The very first thing she says is, “John, the smell in here. How can you stand it?”

More rude people. “The smell?” I said. “I don’t smell anything.” I didn’t. Why do people keep saying that?”

He shook his head, came over to my desk. “Would you mind?” she asked, gesturing to the books on the other chair.

I got up and moved them onto the floor. She sat. Don’t you ever want to see outside?” she asked, looking at the way my boxes and things block up the window.

“If I want to see outside,” I said, “I can go outside.”

She gave me a stern look. It made me feel like I was back in high school again, failing another exam because I didn’t have enough time to finish. I always had that problem with exams. I learned tricks as I went along to help me do better. I learned how to manage exams through a lot of trial and error. I still was always better on oral exams, however.

“I got a call,” she said, from Chris Lee over at the Help Program.

“Yeah yeah yeah, no need to go on. I know what it’s about and I’m sorry, okay? But not really, you know? I mean, you know how it is? These kids with disabilities, they shouldn’t even be in college. All they do is waste my time.”

She stared at me, looked shocked.

“I’ll have you know,” she said, shaking, “my son has a learning disability.”

Geez, Louise. “Oh, no, I didn’t,” I said. “Sorry to hear about that.”

She sat looking at me for a bit, her mouth hanging open some. Finally, she said, “John, you’re very fortunate, you know? You do understand that disability status is confidential. Legally, especially if the student wanted to take this farther, it wouldn’t just be a he-said-she-said situation, given that you said this in front of the entire class. But the student doesn’t want to take this matter any further. She’s just asking that you be made aware of the need to keep information like disability status confidential.”

“And I suppose she wants an apology?” I said.

“No,” said my Chair, getting up. “She isn’t asking for that. She really only wants you to be aware of the confidentiality issue.”

“Yeah yeah yeah, I get it,” I said. “And I’m sorry about your kid.”

My Chair looked back at me, not too pleasantly, said, “John, you really need to do something about this office. You’ve got to start clearing it out. It’s like a pig sty in here.”

“Yeah, right, sure,” I said.

Talk about sensitivity. The last thing I need is another person telling me I’m a packrat, you know? That’s what my parents always used to say. It’s irritating and hurtful, but did they care, show me any compassion?

I wish people would just mind their own business. Leave me alone.

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