Books Magazine

Warning: I Am Upset

By Litlove @Litloveblog

Well, college has done it again. I went in on Wednesday, thinking to have a look at my room and to figure out how best to pack it up, only to be met by one of the heads of Housekeeping, very embarrassed and apologetic on my behalf. They’d been given the order to clear my room, and all my stuff was now boxed up in the storage rooms. If they wanted the room for someone else (as a stiff little note informed me later on that same day) then why on earth didn’t they just ask me? I’d have cleared it out, and been able to send a mountain of documents for shredding and another to be thrown away, all of which would have been easier than having to do it at home (I have twenty boxes arriving in the college van this afternoon!). And it would have been a chance to say goodbye at some level. I feel like there’s a dignified way of doing this, but college is determined to be as clumsily punitive as possible.

I realize that I need to back up a bit here and fill you in on what’s happened so far this year. Early in January, I cracked and wrote to the Master, as I still hadn’t heard a word from college, no letter, no email, I’d even received a pay slip for the princely sum of £7 (what for, I have no idea). Mr Litlove and I had consulted a lawyer, but she wasn’t much help. She was very unwilling to deal with college, as the university is a law unto itself pretty much, and usually gets its way in the end. I would have walked out after two minutes, but Mr Litlove is made of much sterner stuff, and he kept insisting there must be some way we could signal our displeasure and sense of injustice. In the end, she remembered that we could instigate a grievance procedure. So when I wrote to the Master, I said that this was something I could do, although of course I would prefer not to. After about five weeks, he replied with a very conciliatory letter. This was nothing to do with my work, indeed the college would be very happy for me to continue to provide study support – only it had to be at the level of a College Teaching Associate, not as a Fellow. He was trying to big up the CTA position, saying some other Fellow had chosen it as a route. But the point, I guess, is that he chose it. By having the Fellowship taken away I had lost my research grant (£2,000 over two years), my book grant (£400 a year) and my medical insurance. I wouldn’t even have a pigeonhole in college any more. Not to mention the drop in status. The positions are not at all comparable, although the law doesn’t recognize the loss of a Fellowship, alas, so in providing some sort of alternative, no matter how shabby, the college had more or less covered itself.

Well, I admit I sat on this for a bit. Mr Litlove was all for me making a fuss, asking them to put together a proper proposal for a job that would show me how I’d make up the lost money and so on. But I knew I wasn’t going back. And eventually I wrote the Master a brief note, saying that I did not want the CTA role, and explaining why, and then wishing the college the best for the future and generally being my polite-beyond-all-reason self. A few weeks before I wrote this, I actually received a plaintive email from a student I’d seen last year, asking if she could come again. It cost me to turn her down, as I hate knowing that someone is suffering whom I could help. But yet again it proved that no one knows about this; there’s been no announcement, nothing in the council minutes. I suppose they didn’t really tell the students in the first place that I existed, so it’s no surprise if they don’t inform them I’m no longer there. They just want me to disappear, and transparency doesn’t come into it; they couldn’t come out of this looking good, after all. Then this morning, I heard back from the Master (it’s about a fortnight after I wrote), just three lines thanking me for the work I’ve done and wishing me the best for the future. Is it wrong to feel this is too little too late?

I’m considering writing an article about what’s happened for the THES, I suppose – I’ve never written for a newspaper before and don’t know how best to approach the subject. But is this unreasonable of me? I feel I’ve lost my ethical bearings, and I know my general sense when wounded is to feel that I’m probably at fault. Although I’m not. And I don’t want to go back. All I wanted was for there to be some sort of nice, mutually respectful severing of ties, which it seems I am not to get.

Anyway, on a different note entirely, let me draw your attention to the way in which I’m moving forward from all this, with an article of mine that’s just come out in Open Letters Monthly about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a woman who had a great deal more to complain of than I have. In fact I became interested in her after reading her gorgeous book, Gift from the Sea, a gently feminist philosophical exploration of women’s lives and how they might be lived better, which is as relevant today as it was when it was written 60 years ago. Once I’d realised the author of the book was the same Anne Morrow Lindbergh who had had her son kidnapped and murdered, I became very curious to know how she had managed to produce such a beautiful, reparative, reconciliatory work after all she had suffered. And then that took me to the Lindbergh marriage, which proved to be a fascinating piece of biographical history. Well, please do pop over to OLM and read some of the other wonderful articles available there, too.

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