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Academic deans are a strange and unpredictable species. One thing they can be relied upon to do is question the need for courses in Latin and Greek. And yes, I did have one who reminded me of a turtle.


25. Luck Is the Residue of Design

A week later, Lynn and Michael sat at a conference table with George Tennison, Dean of the College.

“What’s got the two of you looking so grim?” he asked. George was a substantial, white haired man who reminded Lynn of a friendly cartoon turtle. But his genial exterior was deceptive. If provoked, he could snap, and his beak was sharp. He always played his cards close to his vest, so that she could never tell what he was thinking. Sometimes he seemed suspicious that Lynn was biased against the Rhetoric program, as Jenko and his cronies claimed. Other times, he was careful to tell her how much he valued her service. Not long ago he’d insisted that she take some much-needed vacation, saying that he didn’t want her to burn out.

“It’s about the English Ph.D. review,” said Lynn. As George’s eyes turned questioningly to Michael, she added, “And if you’re wondering why the Chair of Classics is here with me, all will become clear momentarily.”

“As you know, George,” said Michael, “I have a modest reputation as a magician and mentalist. Today I’d like to predict for you the contents of the report you’ll receive from the external Ph.D. reviewers in a couple of weeks.”

“Is that so?” said George. He looked wary.

“First of all,” said Michael, “The report will condemn the Literature program, recommending that it be shut down. Blame will be placed on the graduate coordinator for Literature, Jonathan Sebelius, with much reference to his alleged misogynist and sexually discriminatory behavior.

George looked surprised. “The complaint filed against him was found to be frivolous. Has there been another?”

“No,” said Lynn, “but Bill Jenko has twice solicited Jennet Thorne to file a complaint against Sebelius over the tenure files. That didn’t work, so for all we know, he’s grooming someone else.”

“Is Professor Thorne prepared to attest to this herself?” George asked sternly.

“She’s waiting outside in case you want to ask her,” said Michael. “Second,” he continued, “the report will heap the Rhetoric program with lavish praise and suggest that by comparison to the stodgy and troubled Literature program, it is far more innovative. One of the four reviewers is a Literature professor, and her dissenting voice will be marginalized. The other three will deplore what they believe is a scurrilous attempt on the part of Chairperson Melton to do away with such a vibrant, cutting-edge program.” George’s eyes widened, but he said nothing.

“Finally,” Michael continued, “the report will contain a strong suggestion that the College consider reconfiguring English and Classics to create two new departments. One will focus on undergraduate education as a combined department of Ancient and Modern Literatures. The other will be the Graduate School of Literacy and Rhetoric, and it will absorb all the resources formerly devoted to the graduate programs in Literature and Classics.”

“I see,” said George. “You’re saying that someone is diddling the reviewers.”

“We’ve pieced it together,” said Lynn. She pushed the email from Gerhard Dahl across the table. “I’d appreciate it if you keep this confidential. Dahl’s the source of much of our information, and he has to be protected from Jenko. If the report comes back as Michael predicts, I’m asking that you throw it out and authorize a new review with equal representation for both programs, and that you and the Dean’s advisory committee select the reviewers.”

“If it comes back as Michael predicts, Bill Jenko’s finished as grad coordinator,” said George, nodding sharply at Lynn. Then he turned back to Michael. “And yet, allow me to play the Devil’s advocate.” He pulled up a file on his iPad. “Classics enrollments have been trending lower this year, as have publications. I signed off on your hire of Prof. Thorne two years ago in the hope that you would generate some excitement. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t take the idea of a merger seriously.”

Michael was opening his mouth to speak when Lila Kelsey, George’s secretary, stuck her head into the conference room, sounding excited. “Excuse me, Dean Tennison, but there are three reporters out here asking to speak to you and Chair Templeton and Prof. Thorne. One’s from CBS News! They said something about a papyrus…?” Her voice trailed off in a question.

George looked blank, as Michael smoothly replied, “Your reason is sitting outside the door, George. You’re about to find out why Thorne is one of the best hires we ever made. Now, have you ever heard of the Epistle to the Laodiceans?”

Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss

Notes: A short chapter this time. The payoff will come next week with the Final Chapter of Sword Dance! See you then.