Dear Annie Em

A terrible thing happened to me this term.

I am a tenured, teaching-award winning full professor with generally above average teaching evaluations.

A student left an anonymous message on the voice mail of A Big Wig (someone whose name no one could tell me, but  I assume it is the college president) complaining that not only did I not return an essay to hir in a timely fashion, but that I taught class drunk one night.

Let me just say that while I do love a good ginger martini, I do NOT teach drunk. Not even tipsy.

Here’s the chain of events: the Big Wig forwarded the voice mail to the 2nd Big Wig in Command, who forwarded the voice mail to the mid-level Big Wig, who talked to  the very low-level Big Wig and told hir not to take notes  (all this I discovered later).  Ultimately both the mid and low level Big Wigs were charged with visiting this particular class to 1. try to figure out who the student was, and to 2. obviously, check to see that I do not teach drunk. The plan was to NOT tell me about this anonymous phone call until after the term was over.

I took the visits in stride since they were part of a preplanned observation schedule. Nothing unusual.

However,  the low level Big Wig decided to inform me of the situation right before hir visit to my class.  Out of some perceived friendship?  Out of the very very very mistaken belief that I may actually HAVE been drunk in class and in order to warn me of the uppity ups interest in this case? Who knows.

I immediately contacted both mid level and 2nd in command big wigs to demand more details and an explanation. And, not incidentally, to make sure that an anonymous phone call’s allegations did not end up in my file ( I may want emeritus status someday in the very far future, with its free email account, right?). I was assured that anonymous phone calls are not taken seriously, normally, but that since a VERY Big Wig got the voice mail, something had to be “done” but that NO, it would not be in my file.

The upshot: the student was discovered based on voice mail analysis done by the mid level Big Wig, and although no one approached said student, s/he dropped the day after the visit to my class by said Big Wig, despite getting an “A” on the essay that I returned exactly 7 days after it was submitted.  And, Second in Command Big Wig assured me that this would never appear in my file.

So, case solved, right?

My question is, since I’ve been obsessing over this, do I try to discover who received the initial phone message and chat with hir?  If it is the president, or some other Big Wig, I have to work with hir for years to come. As it is, I get nervous every time I see hir. Or, should I just chalk this up to a bad year and forgetaboutit?


Weekend Drinker ONLY


Dear Weekend Drinker ONLY,

My advice is to forgetaboutit. First, what if the Big Wig is NOT the president?  But, even if it were, does the President even remember the situation? Know who you are? Yes,  I see you are an award winning full professor, but really, the President may be getting lots of complaints about professors from students these customer-service education days.

However, maybe you should go check your file?

Annie Em

17 responses to “Dear Annie Em


    CHECK YOUR FILE. NOW. Do not think for ONE minute that anyone above you has your back. They don’t. They have their own backs. CHECK YOUR FILE.


  2. The incident happened over a month ago—so it feels like the distant past, but yes, JC, thanks for that reminder. A good friend of mine, a lawyer, texted me almost the exact same words you posted since I am, for better or worse, somewhat friendly with all of the Big Wigs involved and thus do not have my guards up as high as they should be.

  3. I second JC’s OMGWTFSHIT! What an silly but frightening situation. That student had their britches on a little too tight, or was just being mean for the sake of being mean. Thank goodness the worst seems to be over!

    Also, check the file.

  4. Wish I could tell more about that student—an odd duck, who was close to my age (there are many in that group in this particular class, though), and would send me lovely emails about the class. I’ll never figure THAT out. But yes, Clio, “silly but frightening” is exactly how those few weeks felt.

  5. WTF? Was that student drunk?

    I’m inclined to say you should just forget about it — I agree that most Big Wigs receive so many student complaints that it’s unlikely that any one specific complaint would stick in hir mind. Especially if the complaint was investigated & no further action was deemed necessary (because, um, you weren’t drunk).

    What this illustrates, however, is that most of us feel that our professional reputations are precarious — that one cranky student with a well-placed phone call and a salacious accusation could derail a career. I don’t think that’s actually true (is it???) but I’m often nicer to students than I want to be, because I’m a bit scared of them.

  6. BS Girl: yes, that’s exactly the horror of this situation. I am tenured. Promoted to full prof. A recent teaching award recipient. And YET. I have well over ten years at this institution with no issues. These administrators KNOW me. Yet, I was accused by ONE (there were over 30 in this class) student’s probably drunken anonymous (!) phone call, and it was investigated rather than simply dismissed. And I was afraid and disturbed by the entire non-event.

    Can you imagine if I were one of the 70% of comm college teachers NOT tenured?

    Of course we’re afraid of them, a bit.

  7. WHAT???? Whose ass do I kick?

    (I would try to forget it, let the issue rest awhile, casually work your Big Wig relationships, and let the utter ridiculousness of the situation emerge)

  8. You know what the worst consequence is, Dr. No (and yes, I’d love for you to come rushing in on the white horse and kick some ass)? At a faculty gathering last night with lower level Big Wig there, and I felt totally, utterly, uncomfortable drinking—anything.

    Jeez, that little inhibition is going to make the rest of my faculty socials oh so boring.

  9. You must, for the sake of maintaining your good reputation, engage in a little social drinking…never thought I’d say that, but it’s true.

  10. So sorry to hear that this happened, annieem; what a frightening situation! It’s amazing that they would take such a suggestion seriously, but yes, check your record.

  11. FYI to all: there are several files on every faculty member (HR and departmental, plus individual private files in the offices of the chair and dean).

  12. I am glad your first instinct was to forget about it.

    I don’t know whether I’d ignore this, since it was so obvious, but I ignore a whole lot. My university is soooo messy, and there have been sooo many issues; the instructors are really angry that PhDs were hired and they invent all kinds of lies about us that they tell to the administrators as they insinuate they might be available sexually … and I was involved with a faculty member in another department, who stalked me when I broke it off, and so police and a judge were involved, and he is the Dean’s best friend … and so I am SURE my file is full of all sorts of horrors, and yet I do not want to go and look, because asking to look will make them paranoid and I won’t be able to make the hires I need to and get the people tenured I need to, and getting things removed from it will involve filing a grievance or something because they won’t do it nicely I’m sure, and even looking and thinking about these things will take intellectual, emotional and writing energy I need for my book, my classes, and just my life … I would so rather just live it all down than pick at it.

    My friends in the Midwest and East say I should stand up and fight for my rights and that I am being too passive. I was once pushed by one of them so hard to do something — because I had mentioned to her one of the more MINOR things that went on — that I did. The result was disastrous and I have not been able to repair it yet; it just turned into one more thing I have to live down.

    In my view there is a great value in modeling the unimportance of things by not blowing them out of proportion. The administrators in this case obviously did blow them out of proportion but that is no reason to mirror them. I would just write a short note, you are welcome to observe classes at any time, and leave it at that. Let them assume you are so busy with research that you can’t be bothered with trifles.

    If you were not known to these administrators, were not an award winning Full, etc., i.e. if you were just a number to them and an assistant professor, or something like that, I’d have different advice PERHAPS.

  13. Dear Prof Zero,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I agree that my position here makes this situation just a minor and momentary personal horror more than anything else. It shall pass. And of course the same could not be said of someone who was untenured, adjunct, or contingent in any way, or had any other sort of rumors surrounding them. I’m lucky, but it’s also made it clear to me that I need to do more to help those less lucky faculty on our campus. I will let this particular situation pass (and I thought I’d check my file over the summer, when it would make fewer waves–one of the big wigs involved will be retired; another on a month-long vacation), but I need to find a way to work with and for those who do not have that luxury.

    I’m sorry you are going through what sounds like a series of horrors. I trust you are, indeed, doing the right thing for yourself by letting them go and moving on (there’s a lot to be said for saving our emotional and intellectual energies)….I wish you all the best.

  14. Dealing with the file issue under cover of summer, that’s a good plan.

    Stand up for others, yes, but primarily in class terms and in the framing of policy — it’s the most efficient.

    Horrors, me, thanks, I guess it’s true I’ve been surrounded by quite a few. They’re mostly past though, I hope! 😉

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