Monday, June 23, 2008

The Dean of Rub

[Note: this post is a desperate attempt to get some real work done. Does blog writing inspire that? Let's see!]

When last we spoke, gentle reader, I mentioned a rather physical run-in with a certain administrator at another school. I'm feeling very ambivalent about it; I think I should be irate, and I'm reaching for that. In actuality, however, I feel sort of perplexed, a bit amused, a skosh grossed-out and surprised. Here's the story:

Two years ago, Yogini and I trotted off to a conference that was closely aligned with our collaborative service project. Of the many panels that we took in there, one was a keynote presentation by a group from a small college that has really pioneered the use of a particular technological tool. We weren't the only ones who were interested: the room was packed to the rafters with at least 75 people, all oohing and ahhing over the examples they were showing. As we watched the presenters, Y. and I got more and more excited; this seemed to be an tool with potential for many of the things going on on our campus! And it could help students! And it was right in line with things we'd been toying with for awhile! Yeehaw!! Because we had come in late, Y. and I were sitting across the room from each other, but the mind-meld was in effect and we were already decided: these presenters were only about two hours away from Urbania. If we could hook our wagon to their star, we were all over it.

[I fear that this next section is going to sound like I'm some sort of egomaniacal narcissist. That may be true, but it's also the case that these events have external verification. If you think I'm getting too full of myself, I'd be happy to create a bulleted list of my shortcomings and physical deformities.] As the presentation wore on, I made with the smiling and the nodding and the obvious note-taking. And the main presenter--then the assistant dean of the college--made eye contact with me. And continued to do so for the rest of his portion of the session. Which was weird, but I attributed it to my enthusiastic listening face (really, I fear that it's quite aggressively enthusiastic; I like presenters to know that I'm paying attention).

When they finished up, Y. and I met up and planned strategy. She's the networker, I'm the clean-up crew in these situations, so she approached one of the women in group and began to tell her how interested we were, asked some good questions [you know, she did the networking thing. How does that work? I have NO idea, but she rocks at it]. As we're talking to the woman (okay, Y. is talking, I'm wearing my enthusiastic listening face), Dean-Dude finishes up his own conversation and comes over. He introduces himself to me, I take the "we're so interested" page out of Y's book, and awkwardly try to network. Not necessary! He's all over it---he finds out what I do, let's me know that he was a co-founder of a ground-breaking project in my field, offers to lead a team to little Askesis U. "if it could be helpful to us" and then hands over drink tickets to Y and me for the reception that evening.

I prefer not to think about how that could have played out if we had gone. Needless to say, we holed up in our hotel room and compared notes.

Last year, we contacted the school about making a site visit; after much wrangling, we made arrangements. At the last minute, Y. had to cancel because she was sick. I ended up going with Senor Fluff, actually, because of a kink in his job description. We spent most of the day in workshops with the school's faculty, and met briefly with Dean-Dude in his office over lunch. While there was a bit of sizing up, the tractor-beam gaze/hard sell thing he'd had going at the conference was gone. I figured that perhaps that was only his conference persona/behavior. Once he was in the office, he was the administrator dude.

Oh-ho! She speaks to soon! Last week, I attended a conference at the school; a part of their grant program to teach people how to use this tech tool. There's a team of peeps from my college---once again including Senor Fluff---that have been going down to the school once a month, but this time they needed others to whom they'd present their work. So an additional three of us showed up for the morning session. Dean-Dude gave his presentation to all, and I thought there might be a bit of the tractor-beam going on, but maybe I was imagining it? Who knows.

How about I shorten this up? At the end of the day, we were supposed to meet with our group, come up with a plan, and then report out to the rest of the groups. We were the last group to go, and I read our mediocre brainstorming. Break for lunch is announced, and as people start to break up, Dean Dude comes over to me. Well, perhaps that's an understatement: more like, "sidles up to me so that we're standing shoulder to shoulder." We have a strange conversation in which he tells me that he purposely put us at the end, because he knew that we'd have good ideas to share, that he was impressed with what I had said in a certain point, that our team was very smart. And I assume that I said the right things in response, but I was going on auto-pilot, because I was totally distracted by all of the touching that was happening. There was the initial handshake--all within the bounds of propriety. But as he talked, there was arm-rubbing, there was hip-bumping, there was more arm-rubbing. I couldn't help but look around in wonder; is this just how these kinds of things go? Am I the only one who is freaked out by this?! Is everyone else getting the rub-down, and I'm just hopelessly naive?

Note to the uninitiated: I don't like it when people invade my personal space, and that extends doubly to touching. I don't like hand-shaking, I don't like hugging, I hate the fact that the chairs in the college auditorium are so close together that I can't help but brush a colleague's shoulder with my own. If I could, I'd exist in a bubble with a two-foot radius all the way around me.

Why all of this didn't send me into a paroxysm of screaming I have no idea. I think was paralyzed by disbelief. This can't actually be happening; this is a professional environment; you're touching my arm. No, seriously, you're rubbing my upper arm---for an extended period of time. Is anyone else getting this?!

So that's the story: my association with this school, and in some ways with this tech tool in general is that of getting felt up by the internationally-known administrator who is the mastermind behind it all.

I feel as if the appropriate sentiment is outrage: who is this guy?! Why does he feel entitled to touch me?! Instead, as I said, I'm just sort of bemused. As in "really? Seriously, dude? This is what you're going for?" And the larger question: why?
And the second larger question: why me? [Oh, the therapists I've had that would tell me that my inability to create boundaries are visible...] Is it me, not him?! Am I sending the "please come and give me the academic rub-down" vibe? Is my enthusiastic listening face interpreted as "she wants to get with me and my tech tool"?

And finally, there's a special kind of weirdness to being at a conference and getting felt up on one side while your spouse, engaged in a different conversation, is on your other. That, my friends, is a post for another time.

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Anonymous The Bittersweet Girl said...

Oh, Kfluff, that is an unbelievable saga! I apologize for enjoying it so much -- I should be outraged, well, I am outraged, but you also spin a great yarn.

Seriously, he sounds like a real perv. Sounds like he's a serial letch with some pretty well-developed tactics: the drink coupons? The late afternoon scheduling? Is everything a ploy for unwanted petting of junior colleages?

Monday, June 23, 2008 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

bad touching! bad touching! inappropriate!

Maybe next time you see him you could mention your flesh-eating fungal infection.

Monday, June 23, 2008 7:24:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Bad touching, indeed. And public bad touching! That's what I can't get over, really.

I think "perv" is just the right word. Nothing backs this up more than the leetle tiny ponytail that he sports. Very Tim-Robbins-in-High-Fidelity.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 9:08:00 AM  

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