Walking back to the reception area and passing the still smiling receptionist busy on the phone, Marvin led Dan to the double swinging doors marked “To Classrooms” directly ahead of them. He opened the door to the right as a few students still poured through the one on the left and held it open for Dan to follow. He then moved to his left down a corridor to what appeared to be a corner office on the left of the hallway and opened the door to a conference room. It was not what he had expected. In addition to needing of a new coat of paint, the room, while large, was quite unattractive and sported a collection of metal folding chairs around a long, worn wooden conference table. Sitting around the table were a dozen people chatting, scribbling on paper or reading paperback books while eating their lunch mostly out of brown paper bags or plastic containers.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Marvin intoned cheerfully. “I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to your new Academic Dean, Dr. Dan Amor. He is starting with us today and will be back next Tuesday or Wednesday after visiting our flagship school for an orientation.”
“Hello everyone,” Dan said, looking around the room and smiling. Most of the faculty members smiled or nodded back at him, with a tentative “hi,” “hello” or “good afternoon.” Some simply looked at him blankly, neither smiling nor scowling—seemingly wary, weary or just uninterested.
Marvin then told the group a bit about Dan’s background and how pleased he was to have him on board and proceeded to go around the room introducing each teacher by name and telling Dan in general the subject areas they taught.
When Marvin had introduced everyone, including Jaime, the lab tech who Marvin said would be able to help Dan with anything he needed, Dan very briefly addressed the group.
“First, I apologize for interrupting your lunch break, but I am very pleased for the opportunity to meet with all of you. I want to get to know you and learn how I can best help you to serve our students. When I’m settled in next week, I will do my best to meet with each of you as your schedules allow. Meantime, enjoy your lunch and have a good weekend.”
Marvin then said “Yes, have a good weekend. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to know one another in the coming weeks.” He then escorted Dan out of the room as the hum of conversation once again began to rise in the room behind them.
“Now let’s go look at your office and then we’ll get you over to Bob to fill out the paperwork” Marvin said, walking Dan through the now nearly empty corridor. They passed through closed and locked labs as well as a few classrooms that remained open, some of which had students at their desks eating lunch or writing in their notebooks during the lunch break.
“Mr. Chang, our janitor, complains that students sometimes don’t clean up after themselves when they eat lunch at their desks, but we need to have some flexibility as there is no other place for students who don’t want to go out for lunch to eat. There’s a small café downstairs you may have noticed, but they have no seating available so many students bring their own lunch or run down and grab a sandwich or snack and come to the empty classrooms on both floors.” Marvin noted as they passed some students eating at their desks and chatting.
“It sounds fine as long as they make a reasonable effort to tidy up. I’ll look into the matter,” Dan offered. One of the young women sitting at her desk and daintily nibbling at a sandwich looked at him intently as they passed by. She was a remarkably beautiful, petite blonde with shoulder length hair and eyes the color of a cloudless sky at midday. She wore a dark blue dress with a design of tiny pink flowers and high heels looking more like a model than a student. She followed Dan with her eyes, regaling him with a broad smile as he passed by the classroom with the usual fishbowl window all along its wall. For some reason, he blushed and looked ahead, but kept her in his peripheral vision. She was simply stunning—almost painfully beautiful—and seemed completely out of place. Next to her sat another young woman, also in her early twenties, with wavy black hair below her shoulders wearing a black and white business suit with a skirt just above her knees, a white silk blouse, and a jacket that flared out slightly at her hips accentuating her figure. The second woman was also petite, but shorter than the first, and wearing three-inch high heel shoes. She also momentarily glanced at Dan as he walked by, stopping her conversation with her companion to see what had caught her attention. If Marvin noticed, he said nothing and shepherded Dan to his office one door away from that classroom, fishing in his pocket for a key to open it.
The first thing Dan noticed is that his office, like every classroom and lab, had the same waist-high picture window along its entire wall facing the hallway. That made him frown. The second thing he noticed is that the office was small and had no window to the outside. Marvin opened the door and motioned for Dan to enter ahead of him. The room was perhaps nine feet wide by twelve feet long—just big enough for two desks, one slightly more than three feet from the wall to the left, leaving whoever sat there a good view of the corridor to their right through the long window, and the other much smaller desk immediately across from the door, facing the wall opposite to that of the larger desk. Three of the four walls had shelving for two tiers of books and there was a four-drawer file cabinet immediately to the left of the main desk. There were two small chairs in front of the main desk and a high-back leather chair behind it and a small secretary’s chair for the smaller desk that faced the wall across from the main desk. The window, Dan noticed, did not have blinds of any kind for privacy. That would have to change.
Marvin pointed to the shelves and said, “You will find in those large folders the lesson plans for the last three years. We need to keep them on file in case of an audit. The file cabinets contain information about your teachers and their credentials to aid you in making up their schedules. We have a new cohort beginning a week from Monday for which you’ll need to assign coverage from your staff. That will be your first task for next week, but it should not be too difficult as faculty tend to teach the same classes in each cohort. State Ed requires teachers to have certain degrees and coursework in order to teach specific courses. Two of your teachers have business education degrees which are perfect since they can teach almost every course we offer other than the nursing or electronics courses. But most of the traditional courses in math, English, and the like can be taught by any of them. And with no tenure, union or seniority issues to worry about, you can assign classes as you like—as long as the State Ed requirements for credentialing are met in the relevant courses that require specialized degrees or coursework. You’ll get a handle on that quickly—it really is not very complicated.”
“Will I have access to secretarial support?” Dan asked.
“We don’t have money in the budget for you to have a full-time secretary at this time, but I’ll assign a part-time secretary for you from our secretarial pool, and you can borrow the receptionist any time you need her as well if you need work done when your secretary is unavailable. She is fully qualified, types 80 words per minute and knows shorthand if you need to dictate correspondence or reports. We have a couple of student workers who can fill in for the receptionist and also give you additional support as needed if you need help with filing, typing and the like when your secretary is not available. Just let me know your preference. That’s what the second desk is for” he finished, pointing at the smaller of the two desks. “I can have a Selectric typewriter brought in if you’d like.”
“I will likely do most of my own correspondence. But it would be helpful to have a computer and printer instead of a typewriter on the small desk if possible as I have gotten used to doing my writing on WordStar or WordPerfect and would also like to be able to use spreadsheets and database management programs for record keeping and reports.”
“I have a transportable Compaq computer that I will assign to you. You can use it here or take it home whenever you like. And I’ll get Jaime to connect a dot matrix printer from our classroom surplus.” Marvin said.
“Thank you, Marvin. That would be great.”
“Fine, now let’s get you over to Bob for that paperwork.” With that, Marvin turned around to head back to Bob’s office, smiling pleasantly with Dan following close behind through the double doors, past the still smiling receptionist on the phone, and past the second door to Bob’s office—the first on the right in the administration wing of the floor.
Bob noticed Marvin standing at the open door of his office with Dan at his side, as he looked up from the pile of papers on his desk and smiled at them, chuckling lightly. “Well, so they caught you, huh? Welcome aboard, Dan!” Dan had liked Bob even from his brief first meeting. He seemed a grounded, genuine, straight-shooter with a good sense of humor and he sensed he would get along very well with the HR Director/ Placement Counselor.
“I’ll leave you two to fill out the paperwork,” Marvin said, still smiling. “No need to go back to my office when you’re done here, Dan. Bob will give you the particulars as to your meeting Monday at the Manhattan school and I’ll see you probably Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Check in with me then. Meantime, I’ll have Jaime, your lab technician, set up the Compaq and printer so you’ll be set to go next week. Take care and have a good weekend.” With that, he offered Dan his hand and walked out, leaving him with Bob, who once again chuckled softly and good naturedly.
“Sit Down, Dan. Make yourself comfortable,” Bob said, pointing to one of two chairs across from his desk. He then pushed the pile of papers he had been working on to one side of his desk and fished a file folder out a desk drawer. “Let’s see,” he said. “We have some forms you will need to fill out, though I have already completed much of the required information. I will need you to have your official college and law school transcripts sent to my attention, but there’s no hurry—any time in the next couple of weeks will do.” He then passed several sheets of papers to Dan. “Mostly I will need your signature where indicated on the forms—please read the terms of your contract before signing and ask any questions you have.” Dan reviewed the papers quickly and signed on the places where indicated, adding personal information where required, including his date of birth, Social Security number, and his educational information. “I have a copy of your resume, cover letter, and formal job offer on file—a copy of the latter was not mailed to you as the decision was made too quickly for it to reach you in time. You will also see an attachment to the offer of employment letter listing the salary, benefits and related information,” Bob added.
Dan dutifully looked over the materials, signed his at-will employment contract and returned the package to Bob, keeping the copy of the offer of employment letter with its attachment for future reference.
“I’m sure Marvin would have gone over your basic responsibilities with you, but if there’s anything you would like to know that was not covered, feel free to ask,” Bob said, while taking the paperwork from Dan and nodding after briefly scanning each page, then putting the papers in the file folder on his desk—obviously Dan’s file. “Are you a U.S. Citizen?” he added.
“Yes,” Dan answered, “and I brought my passport and Social Security card in addition to my driver’s license if you’d like to make copies now.”
“That’s great, Dan. Yes, please, just the passport and driver’s license will do nicely.”
“You bet,” said Dan, reaching into his leather portfolio for the passport and retrieving his license from his wallet.
“So, what can I tell you about PEMTI while I make copies of these for your files?” He asked while getting up and going to a small Xerox machine to his right.
“Well, for one thing I’d like to know why the hurry to hire me, if you can tell me.”
“Oh, sure. Our last academic dean quit without giving us notice—wanted to go back to his old job. And there’s no backup, so we were very happy when you applied. We were considering several other candidates, but none with your credentials and law background. Marvin wanted to snap you up before you came to your senses.” He chortled again. “Jaime, the lab tech, wanted the job and has been doing some of the dean’s duties for a week, but he was never considered. He has a two-year degree from La Guardia Community College and, well, even for us, that was unacceptable. He just loves standing in, verifying time cards and the like.”
“Time cards?” Dan queried.
“Didn’t Marvin tell you? One of your responsibilities is verifying time cards every week. Faculty must punch in and out to get paid and get docked if they’re even a minute late or punch out a minute early—at least when Jaime checks them. He loves enforcing the docking of time – done in fifteen minute increments. Someone punches in a minute late, they get docked for a quarter hour. Sixteen minutes late, they lose a half hour—and the same with clocking out early.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“I’m afraid not—that order comes from the top and there’s a time clock like the ones used in most factories that everyone needs to punch in—everyone except you, Marvin, the Director of Admissions and me that is. We have one of those in this wing too for the support staff.”
“I’m not docking people fifteen minutes for punching in a minute late. The whole idea of having time clocks for faculty is insulting.”
“Oh, they don’t mind. Only one or two teach as adjuncts at local community colleges—the rest are proprietary business school lifers who are used to the grind. It’s the same everywhere—at least everywhere they’ve been.”
“What about you, Bob?”
“Oh, I’m actually a high school English teacher. I have a masters in English and taught for about ten years before coming to work here. Got tired of the grind—and of having to put up with increasingly unruly students that I had no real power to discipline in my classes. This is much nicer, and the pay is fairly comparable with a lot less stress.”
“What’s Marvin’s background?”
“He’s also a lifer—this is his fifth year here and he has been a director in at least two other schools that I know of. He’s a good guy, really. He’s good to work with and you can trust him—at least you can trust him more than anyone at corporate or at the other schools.” Bob said, chuckling again.
“I guess there’s a lot of turnaround in his position?”
“Yes. School directors can be as mercenary as the owners of these places. But overall, this is not a bad organization—they’re all bottom-line oriented but will leave you alone as long as you do your job. Your challenge is retaining your teachers and keeping students in line. Part of your responsibility is dealing with problem students—in that your job is not that different from a high school dean’s. But it is not nearly as restrictive and student issues should not present a real challenge for you. Your teachers can be more of a problem than some of the students—most keep perfectly good order in their classrooms, but others are, well, weak and whiny and will send students to see you because they are unwilling or unable to deal with them themselves.”
“What are my powers as far as disciplining students or faculty, for that matter?”
“As far as students are concerned, pretty much absolute powers. You can suspend them for a day, a week or a month if they cause problems and they will have to leave. No one will question your judgment on that—unless, of course, you discipline too many and then profits suffer if they don’t come back. But that is very rare—they will all come back, or they will not get their tuition paid for by Uncle Sam and the state, and, in many cases, they also will have their welfare checks taken away if they won’t work or go to school and are able-bodied.” Bob said, earnest, serious, but apparently enjoying the look of disbelief that seemed to blossom on Dan’s face like a rose touched by the first rays of the rising sun.
“What about faculty? Any problems I need to be aware of? What powers do I have to discipline them?” Dan asked, and by this time he began taking notes. He was really grateful for Bob’s candor, though beginning to realize some of the challenges he was going to have to face.
“Well, they’re as mercenary and disloyal as everybody else in this business—if they get a better offer, from another proprietary degree mill or especially from a public school system or a community college, most will bolt. There’s a fair amount of turnover, but frankly, that depends largely on who the dean is and how she or he treats them. Most in my tenure here—and there have been two—you are the third in five years—have not been very effective at working with them or making them feel valued. So they’re a bit gun-shy. They will expect little from you, and, in return, frankly, you can expect more or less the same from them. They will do their job, almost all will teach their classes regularly and pretty well, but that’s as far as it will go. Though I think they will respond well to you—I just have a feeling.”
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“Well, you obviously give a shit, and it shows—and they will notice that. Just give them a little time.”
“Thanks, Bob” Dan said, glad for the sentiment but still processing what he was hearing. The unforeseen challenges before him were beginning to look daunting. But he was not afraid of a challenge—like most naïve folks who feel everything is going just fine until the very moment they step right into the abyss. “But I have no experience at this, and it is becoming clear I’ll face challenges I was completely unaware of until now.”
“Don’t worry, Dan. I know you’ll do fine. We’ve had some very experienced burnouts on the job who failed miserably, at least one of whom was nearly tar and feathered before finally getting a hint and moving on. Inexperience is something you will quickly overcome. You have the right tools and attitude, and you will win at least most of them over I think pretty quickly. At least they will respect your background and the fact you have some real credentials, unlike their last dean. Keep in mind that they have no tenure, no union and serve largely at your pleasure. Most of them like their jobs, and this is a much better place than most in this industry. They will depend on you for their livelihoods and though you do not have the power to give them raises or lessen their teaching loads, you can make a great deal of difference in their quality of life here and in how they are valued. If you are fair with them, most will quickly learn to appreciate you.”
“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Bob. I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Dan. I suspect we’re going to get along very well.”
“One question, Bob. I know that classes here start at 9:00 a.m. and go on until 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. What is the expectation for my being on site? I’m responsible for day and evening classes, but obviously I’m not going to be able or willing to be here thirteen hours a day on a regular basis.”
At this Bob finally fully laughed out loud rather than merely chuckling. “No, Dan, you are expected to be here regularly, but your schedule is largely up to you. Most of your predecessors worked 35-40 hours a week—counting lunch. You set your own schedule—Marvin won’t care, as long as classes run smoothly and are covered when needed due to absences. You should always give faculty a free period in addition to their noon lunch break staggered so you always have at least one faculty member free every period to call on if one of them is out sick. They know they have to cover for each-other, and absenteeism is really not something that has been a problem here. They don’t get paid if they don’t work, so they always show up, unless they are really sick or have a personal emergency. Also, if they don’t show up regularly, they get fired quickly by the dean with Marvin’s blessing. They know to call the receptionist if they are not able to make it to any class or for the day. She then has a student worker get in touch with faculty who are free at the required times that day to tell them they need to cover a class. They are pretty good at arranging these things in advance other than in real emergencies, so it should rarely involve you directly. Because we have their lesson plans in advance, they can easily cover for one another or give an impromptu assignment for them to work on from their books.”
“If I’m free and it’s a light day, can I cover their classes if I want to?” Dan asked.
“You can do whatever you want. But be careful--being too caring and accommodating can backfire. Most of your teachers are fairly conscientious, but not all. If you’re willing to cover for them, some will likely take unfair advantage. That is at least my guess, though I can’t say for sure as no previous dean has been willing to teach any classes to my knowledge.”
“Again, you’ve really given me a lot to think about, Bob. Can I take you to lunch next week when I get back here? It’s just my way of saying thanks, and I’d like the company, as well as an idea of where one can safely eat around here.”
“Sure, Dan. But we’ll do this often—no need to spring for lunch.”
“Fine, but the first one’s on me—we can split the bill after that if you like. Okay?”
“You bet. I look forward to it, Dan.”
After that, Bob gave Dan some additional papers, including his card with the address of the Manhattan school scribbled on the back and the school’s main number, along with Dean Howard Green’s name as his 9:00 a.m. appointment. Bob then returned Dan’s license and passport and went over the details of the pension and health plans (both were actually quite generous), and Dan was done with his first day shortly thereafter.
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