Lecturing Stories: Part Two

Another academic kerfuffle that I experienced, here, was a dean asking me to water down the curriculum of a creative writing course because some students had complained about having to knuckle down. Rather than clarify to the undergrads that success takes effort, the dean told me that my contract would not be renewed since I was making those youngsters expend energy.

I protested that his school is a branch of a large, American institute and that I could not, in good conscious, ask enrollees for less than the minimum number and kinds of assignments universally associated with that course. To do so would be thievery. The Israeli section of that course had to be as rigorous as the sections taught at the main campus. To myself, I whispered, alternatively, the Israeli branch could forego receiving accreditation through the main campus.

I didn’t budge. My students received an equitable amount of exertion from me in exchange for their tuition. Some learned. Others continued to kvetch. Equally, the college did not budge. As promised, I was not invited to return for the next semester.

Sadly, that dean was more worried about funding (the school is tuition-based) than ethics. He didn’t give the impression of being concerned about his students’ long-term welfare, supporting his faculty, the quality of training that he was offering or the kind of morality that he was modeling. He seemed oblivious to all but the pressure to make a profit.

Instead, he could have embraced my behavior, i.e., conduct prioritizing principles. He could have chastised the students who, in lieu of fulfilling their roles took to sounding off. He could have led his school to meriting an abundance of incoming students because of its reputation of honesty, and, in that way, solved his funding problem. Unfortunately, fear pushes people, even folks in positions of authority, such as that dean, to make bad choices.

In fairness, North American strongholds of higher education often have vast endowments, whereas Israel’s smaller schools rely, to a large extent, on popularity among enrolled and future students. To boot, in North America, postsecondary learning’s often equated with a degree earned during four years of partying. However, in The Holy Land, higher learning’s often associated with bringing together enough experiences to enter a line of work. Israeli students, many of whom serve in the IDF or sherut leumi before signing up for an academic course of study, are, on average, older than their North American peers. Given their circumstances, Israeli collegiates are, likewise, frequently more focused than North Americans. Regrettably, they’re also more invested in getting as high of a grade as possible for as little industry as possible.

Anyway, employers are replaceable. Although I was and continue to be grateful that the dean inadvertently pushed me to renew my commitment to my principles, I’m sad that I had to choose between employment and scruples. To be effective as well as upright, professors must distance ourselves from illusionary miens; there is no rationalization that makes it appropriate to cheat students or pedagogical bodies.

After that semester, I taught at other Israeli colleges and universities. At one of those schools, located in a different part of Israel than that of the dean, I taught EFL, English as a Foreign Language.

One night, during a break that was regularly scheduled in the middle of my three hour lecture, one of my students engaged me. He asked me to view a video that he had fashioned in English. As I had already been to the bathroom, I agreed.

When he opened his laptop, he showed me a very violent, extremely anti-Israel film. That not-so-young man (he already possessed a degree from an Arab college) smiled as his recording spooled and asked me to verify that his diction was correct. I was flabbergast. When I found my voice, I answered that I would not help him with his project.

I spent the rest of that term inviting Jewish students, who needed a ride to my home city, to fill the empty spaces in my car, gratis. Word spread beyond my class. Thereafter, I always had youths, who were happy to forgo the cost and inconvenience of public transportation, to accompany me. What’s more, they didn’t laugh too much whenever they watched me check the bushes near my vehicle before I keyed its locks open.

While that school’s dean was easy with whom to work, I opted never to return to that university. Ultimately, I ceased teaching altogether at college and universities. Subsequently, I held private classes at various religious and social organizations’ buildings and in my home.

Later, I provided instruction over the Internet (time is precious and, BH, I’ve been busy fulfilling book contracts.)

I’m not particularly motivated to return to academia. After teaching for decades in the diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael, having my scholarship published, and receiving awards for both my research and my instructional practices, I’ve checked many boxes. Per the “prestige/social power” concomitant to participating in tertiary education, I shrug. Aging has helped me to slough enthrallments.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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