13 Ways of Looking at a New Professor by Terry Barr

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I.     After an initial interview for a first teaching job at a small liberal arts college in the late 1980’s, I wait in my office.

The phone rings; it’s someone I don’t know from the department that interviewed me.

“Are you a member of a Christian church?” she asks.

“I am a Methodist,” I say.

I don’t say that I quit attending ten years earlier.

“That’s all we need to know,” she says, signing off.

 

II.     Heading into my second, on-campus, interview, I drive

onto the main street of the college town, where I see a movie theater sitting in the middle of two blocks of retail businesses.

I mention this theater to the Dean of the college. “Oh, they’re tearing

it down soon,” he says.

I am dismayed.

Then, he says loves Faulkner.

I am elated.

My job would consist of teaching Cinema Studies and Southern Literature.

But as the Dean references The Sound and the Fury, he continually

calls “Quentin Compson” “Holden Caulfield.”

This might be

a test.

I do not correct him.

 

III.     I get the job. A colleague asks me to plan a team-taught media class. I suggest that we study the effects of MTV on youth

culture. My colleague asks,

“What is MTV?”

I ask if he’s serious.

He is.

 

IV.     My wife refuses to live in this tiny college town. She is Persian. I think she might be paranoid, but she’s my wife, so I commute 90 miles

each day from the city we agree on, which also has three working movie theaters.

My colleagues ask when we’ll be moving to town,

and which church we might be joining. For the next seven years,

I say, “I’m not sure.”

Tenure is in doubt.

 

V.     My professorial attire: double-pleated black pants, black high-top Chuck Taylor’s, and a zebra-striped Willi-Wear jacket. My hair falls

down my back, my beard runs scruffy and red. A student tells

me that a professor from another department told her that he

“can’t believe that this guy is my colleague.”

He meant me.

 

VI.     I tell my Chair one afternoon during my first few weeks on campus

that I ate lunch at a local diner, Roberts Drive-In.

“Didn’t you know that used to be a Klan hangout,” he smiles.

Then he walks away.

I believe him.

 

VII.     During my first year, two older colleagues, whose offices

sit on opposite ends of the hall, enlist me as an ally against

each other.

One says, “You know he’s a chauvinist. He’s against the ERA!”

The other says, “You know she refuses to teach our basic

composition course. She thinks she’s too good.”

I listen and try to care.

 

VIII.     When I ask why the college requires us to be church members,

my chauvinist colleague says,

“So that we can be assured of the character of the person we’re hiring.”

So I decide to pursue the character in me that’s

half-Jewish.

 

IX.     Year Two: My Chair informs me that “every tenured member of the

department thinks [I am] undermining the composition

program.” I therefore begin subtracting

three points for every comma splice and fused sentence I meet.

I don’t feel good about myself. Neither do my students.

One of these students complains to the Dean.

“He said he didn’t pay good money to be taught by a Beatnik,” my boss says.

I feel both complimented and outdated.

 

X.     Also during my second year, a colleague from another department

tells me that after my first interview, when asked how it went,

my Chair remarked,

“Well, he has long hair, but we like him anyway.”

I think I’m pleased but am not sure why.

 

XI.     After teaching World Cinema for five years, I propose a new

course in Film and American Culture. Most of my department

accepts the idea. One senior colleague–again, the chauvinist–opposes it:

“We hired you to teach one film course and that’s all,” he says, adding, “I’m just being honest.”

I thank him, and the proposal passes anyway.

 

XII.     At a forum to discuss the requirement of being a church member,

a colleague says, “We have a right to choose our members; you

wouldn’t expect Amnesty International to allow a terrorist to

become a member, would you?”

I am a member of Amnesty International.

I tell him that this policy is “bigoted.”

A member of the Christian

Education department retorts, “We are NOT bigoted.”

The policy remains intact for twenty more years.

I remain half-Jewish and begin teaching courses in Holocaust

Literature and Southern Jewish Literature.

My classes are always full.

 

XIII.     We never move to the college town. We never join a church. I

am awarded tenure, receive promotions, and after 25 years,

am named Professor of the Year. I still wear Chuck Taylors [dark green low-tops], and have a beard that’s gone mainly white. My hair is short, and there’s a Prufrockian bald spot in the middle of my head. I do not roll up the cuffs of my Levi’s, but I am mainly very happy. Half-Jews, Jews, and all other non-Christian types may teach at the college now.

And none of us wants to undermine anything.

None of us, to my knowledge, has bad character, or is a terrorist, either; however, I still subtract 3 points for comma splices and

fused sentences.

Roberts Drive-In is now a tax office.

And we have a lovely new theater on campus where last week we screened BlacKkKlansman.

It was very well attended.

 

Terry Barr is the author of Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother and We Might As Well Eat: How to Survive Tornados, Alabama Football, and Your Southern Family (Third Lung Press). His work has appeared in The Bitter Southerner, storySouth, The New Southern Fugitives, Hippocampus, Wraparound South, Under the Sun, Coachella Review, Flying South, and Eclectica. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

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2 thoughts on “13 Ways of Looking at a New Professor by Terry Barr”

  1. Alvena says:

    So funny and insightful, it’s time to reconsider penalizing those who use comma splices.

    Like

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