I zoomed with my advisor at The University of Minnesota before leaving the fine state of Pennsylvania. A pep talk. Tim’s been mentoring me for a long time. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy making him laugh. And making fun of him. I also can’t possibly thank the man enough for the kindness he’s shown me over the years. And the wisdom he’s imparted. Ahem. Not to get too sentimental.
Anyway, Tim and I were talking about being college professors. Tim suggested I read Straight Man by Richard Russo. The novel sounded familiar. I realized, after closing the Zoom window, that Russo had been an English professor at Penn State Altoona. Colleagues there had suggested I read Straight Man years ago. It’s biting satire of campus life, set in a fictional version of Penn State Altoona. In a fictional version of Altoona.
I read Straight Man in June. It killed me. It was the hardest I’ve laughed reading a book in a long time. Part of it was the timing. I was leaving Penn State Altoona and so it was fun to laugh at the campus with Russo. But the book is also just funny. And a really great take on the tragicomedy of academic life. Makes me want to write a satire of campus life. Add that project to my always growing list.
I’ve learned quite a bit about being a professor over the last seven years. So much so that I actually feel prepared for this new position at The University of Iowa. Maybe I’m not prepared, but I sure felt comfortable as I started setting up my office last week.
I sat back in my new office chair. Well, I tried to. The chair was busted. It was slanted (and maybe enchanted). So I was slipping forward. Still, I surveyed my domain.
Two bookshelves filled with an eclectic smattering of books I’ve picked up over the years. Some relevant to my new position. The Curriculum Studies Reader. Ethnographic Methods. Anthology of Diverse Literature. Some of the books had no business being on this academic shelf. Stephen King novels. Dune. The Happy Book of Kittens and Puppies. I worried my new colleagues would think I was a lunatic. Well, that would give them something in common with my old colleagues.
I had a monstrously heavy desk that I’d moved 16 times before being okay with it’s placement in the room. This thing was built in the 60’s. The 1860’s. It looked like a desk that had seen some things. I wouldn’t want to take it on in a dark alley. Or a fluorescent lit campus office. On the desk was a stapler that appeared as though it had been made in 1947. Enormous. Steel. Dangerous. I’ll save this as a last-ditch solution to an unpleasant interaction with a Dean. If you’re a Dean, I’m just kidding.
Two filing cabinets were pushed together against the wall. They were battleships. Ghastly things, I’d ask the staff assistant if they could be removed. He assured me they could. Finding them a home was another thing. It’s been two weeks and they’re still pushed up against the wall. It’s 2022. My filing cabinet is a laptop.
An assortment of paraphernalia from my twenty-some years in education littered the space. A mask I made in 6th grade. A basketball my high school drama students at Roseville signed before I left for Penn State. Pictures of students. Notes from students. Binders. Teaching evaluations from The University of Minnesota. A Robbinsdale Cooper High School doo rag some kids gave me before I left for Roseville High School. The letter my colleagues at Roseville High School gave me when I left for Penn State that was far sweeter than I remembered. Newspaper clippings, old play programs, and my Minnesota Twins hat from when I was 11. My student teaching name-tag from 2001. An old pair of glasses from when I was 16. I have the strangest collection of memorabilia I can imagine. I have no plans on throwing any of this stuff away.
They replaced the window in the office before I arrived. The windowsill took another week. The accumulated grime from beneath the sill spilled out into the office. I hope they have vacuums in Iowa.
The heat sensor in the ceiling looks like an aluminum joint. And there’s no trashcan. And the air conditioning was out on the Monday I chose to come into the office and write my syllabi.
But I have an office and I feel more prepared for this position than any other job I’ve had in my life. So here goes nothing. Or something.
I’m hoping to get two cheap, comfortable chairs to replace the ghastly filing cabinets in my office.
I had a sitting area in my old classroom at Roseville. Two old Victorian chairs that belonged to my great-grandmother. A recliner and some chairs from the theatre department. I’d have writing conferences with students there. Kids would hang out before and after school. Before and after class. I’d like something like that in this academic office. I’ll take human chairs over standardized filing cabinets any day of the week. Especially Monday. That’s a statement that captures the heart of my career in education.
I had a great office at Penn State Altoona. A view of the mountains. Big, luxurious desk with plenty of space. But I wasn’t in my office all that much. We lived in State College and Altoona was a commute. So I spent three days a week on campus before the pandemic. Less after that. Not that I wasn’t working. I was. Very hard. Just mostly from my office at home. Or Saint’s Cafe in downtown State College.
I live two miles from my new office in Iowa City. I’m looking forward to being more present in this new position. Setting up shop. I think two comfy chairs would go a long way towards humanizing the space I hope to inhabit for a long time.
I’ll need a vacuum too. Lots of dust. And maybe a lamp. Anything but the fluorescent light.
Dr. Samuel Jaye Tanner, Associate Professor, The University of Iowa, The Department of Teaching and Learning, N240 Lindquist Center. That’s my address. Something like that. Make donations to humanizing my campus office as the spirit moves you.