Recollections by Richard Bleil
And there I sat, speaking with the dean of a desperately small local community college that was advertising for a chemistry professor. I was living in Iowa where the university where I, myself, had been working as dean decided that my services were no longer necessary (thanks to a hostile provost). They couldn’t fire me because I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I was still pulling in a salary from my contract until it expired, but I wanted something to fill out my day, so I brought my thirty years of chemistry teaching experience to the college to see if I could help out.
The dean was young. Frankly too young for the position. He was holding my graduate transcripts, which he procured through a secure internet service as many transcripts are conveyed in this day and age. And he was telling me that it was fake.
See, my doctorate was conferred in 1992. Computers were coming into their own at the time, and while I’m sure that some institutions already were using them for record keeping, my college wasn’t there yet. They did keep computer files of courses and grades, but in the official record, at the bottom of the page, they had hand-written the date of conferral. I’m not sure why this final step was still recorded in this manner, but there is it. I had no control over that, but they then scanned the final document into my file. And this young dean, who had the transcript that I had never touched in his hand, telling me that he had never seen a transcript like this, and he doesn’t believe it is true.
As a former dean, I was thinking about arguing. “Listen, dumbass,” I would have started as was a family tradition for me, “I have no control over their records, so why don’t you just call them to verify it?” But something said that maybe I’m better off this way. I thanked him, and without further discussion, I got up and left.
So, what is the point to this post? I’m not sure. There are a couple of possibilities. My first thought is that I could discuss the shortcomings of today’s younger generations. Certainly not all of them, as there are many young people that I know that are intelligent and respect the experience of old farts like me, but there are others whose arrogance far outpace their abilities and knowledge. Here was a young kid, one who grew up with computer technology permeating his life, and never did he consider the possibility that there was a day when computer technology was just fading into academia. He didn’t stop to think that maybe he didn’t know anything, and instead seemed to be having too much fun thinking he had trapped somebody who was trying to con him. I could have picked up the fight, but instead, I just decided that this is not the kind of man I wanted to work with. As such, he robbed himself, his college and his students of the experience I brought to the table.
The other point, and probably the more important one, is just the challenge of finding people to take me seriously as I get older. After losing that dean position, I sent out about 1,500 applications for teaching and administrative positions from coast-to-coast (and a couple overseas). There was a day you could email your CV and that was all it took, but these days, to apply, you have to fill out THEIR application form which can sometimes take a couple of hours to complete. For these applications, I received five phone interviews, and three invitations to interview in person although, frankly, I don’t think they were serious offers. These days, there are rules about job searches, and by law, there are a minimum number of applicants they must speak with, even if they already know the individual, they want to offer the job to. You can kind of tell when you’re just a filler in these interviews.
So, what should the point be? That discussion with the dean was certainly a surrealistic experience, and it wasn’t just that he had his concerns. My problem was his accusatory tone, and that he somehow set the burden on my shoulders instead of taking the obvious and simple steps to verify it himself. Maybe it’s the usual cautionary tale that there will be a day that he, too, will be my age, and may end up facing these problems himself.
Or maybe I’m just venting.