There has to be a better method to gather together a very diverse and sometimes dysfunctional community of academics to socially interact with one another. The president of my university this year sent out a very disturbing and somewhat insulting memorandum to all staff entitled: “Mandatory Holiday Luncheon.” In it, this generally respected and revered leader bemoaned the fact that the annual presidential holiday luncheon, held every December, has suffered from declining attendance and disinterest. Therefore, this year’s gathering, held earlier this week, was mandatory.
No excuses without appropriate documentation would be accepted. Tenured professors no longer would be automatically excused due to their status should they request to be exempted. Everyone was expected to be a part of our observance of the winter holidays.
I can honestly understand my university president’s frustration over the declining participation at these holiday socials. I know that adjunct faculty and administrative assistants devoted a great deal of work in planning and arranging these events. However, if the interest isn’t there, then look at the format and offer something instead that would encourage professionals to attend.
No one appreciates being told that they must do something. Especially at a very busy and hectic season of the year such as the winter holidays.
And that group of persons who resent being forced to conform includes your’s truly: me.
My spouse, Aaron, when watching my endless tirade about being treated in such a cavalier and pompous manner offered: “Chill and suck it up. It’s only a lousy luncheon and it’s only once a year.”
Easy for him to make a statement like that. Needless to share the details here, but I did get my revenge for that unsympathetic comment later on that evening once we went to bed. He understood my message and apologized the next morning. Now this is where I start to digress…
I sincerely appreciate the position of our president – the university president, not this country’s president. He wants to build a sense of community and purpose for his faculty and this is the one time of the year where he feels he can do that in a totally neutral environment. The upcoming winter holidays can encourage us all to focus on something positive and purposeful plus most of us are in a festive mood.
But to command attendance at an event that the overwhelming majority of us would rather visit the dentist than attend is not the way to accomplish this. There is only a sense of dread instead of camaraderie and that type of attitude is hardly conducive to team-building and scarcely boosts morale. If anything, it probably has the opposite effect on our collective spirit.
I’ve always attended these events in the past. However, this year, with the recent death of my father, I wasn’t in a particularly joyful holiday mindset. Upon my return from Greece, I decided to see if I could “beg off” from the mandatory requirement. In my email with the obligatory documentation attached, I stated that I had never missed one of these gatherings in the past but that I wasn’t feeling very sociable this year. I concluded with my apologies.
Less than half an hour after hitting the send icon to my email, I received a very curt reply from the president informing me that my request was denied and calling my attention to the original email from him with the word “mandatory” underscored in red. He then continued with the comment that he was certain I knew what the word “mandatory” meant. Needless to say, I was furious!
By the time I returned home from work, I was incensed! Allow me to update that last exclamation. I was livid!
A part of me wanted to just shrug off the entire holiday luncheon altogether by faking a minor last-minute emergency the day of the event. Another part of me wanted to detonate a thermonuclear device (do we even have those anymore?) just inside the presidential office the morning of the planned social. Then reality kicked in and I knew that I would wipe the entire university community off the face of the earth. I didn’t think that I could live with myself after something quite that drastic and dramatic.
My the next morning, I had calmed sufficiently to discuss the latest developments with Aaron. He agreed with me not acting foolishly and hastily commented on why the luncheon was being held in the Kellogg Center on campus. His statement bothered me at the time but I didn’t ask him about it – I needed to get myself to the subway and commute to work.
While riding the train, it occurred to me why his remark was unsettling. “How did he know the lunch was at the Kellogg Center?” Thinking that I had perhaps communicated this to him or that he’d read a memorandum that I’d brought home, I allowed this thought to escape my mind.
The next few weeks passed swiftly. Having dismissed my curiosity over the location of the holiday luncheon, I gave it no more thought. Aaron never mentioned anything else about it and it faded into the deeper recesses of my brain (if I indeed have one).
Finally this week arrived, the week of the much dreaded holiday gathering. Having resigned to accept my destiny, Tuesday morning I forced myself into my car and drove into Washington, DC. I was planning to leave campus immediately following the festivities and avoided the subway system. My university president may force me to attend the event, but I’d be damned if anyone tried to make me spend an extra minute on campus. My winter holidays began the exact second the lunch was over!
At the appointed hour, I joined the throng of faculty, administrators and staff parading into the Kellogg Center. A coworker pulled me aside for a brief moment and offered his condolences over my father’s death. He asked if I was okay and let me know that he was available if I needed someone to support me during the holiday. “I know that you have Aaron,” he added, “but sometimes it’s easier with someone who’s not emotionally involved in the loss.”
He opened the door to our luncheon room and we walked in together. Blocking our way inside stood my spouse with an evil grin on his face. He took my hand and we both walked in, holding hands as everyone in the room stood waved their hands in the air (as Deaf people are unable to hear applause, we visually wave our hands instead).
Aaron escorted me to the front of the room where the university president (my nemesis at that particular moment) presented me with an award for my extraordinary efforts in coordinating and facilitating our institutions first ever interdisciplinary class – The Hundred Day Campaign: The End of the Great War. (Click the class title to view the previous post on this class.)
I was shocked, embarrassed, surprised and numb – and not necessarily in that order. I couldn’t believe this was happening! Aaron gave me both a hug and a kiss and walked me to our seats at the head table. I almost tripped mounting the three steps leading up the dias to our place at the table.
Somehow, I struggled through an appreciation for the honor bestowed upon me and, fortunately, remembered to thank my co-instructors of the Hundred Day Campaign. Humbled by the attention, the award and my rapidly dissipating anger, the entire luncheon remains a blur. Even now, several days later, I am still unable to recall if I even actually ate anything on my plate.
In case anyone is interested, Aaron did share with me how he learned the location of the holiday luncheon. He had received an email requesting his attendance almost six weeks ago when it was planned.