A Friend of Mine Passed Away the Other Day
Darlene (not her real name) was from Malaysia. She had made her way to Australia where she worked to obtain her Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems. When she passed, she was supporting her husband who was ill, and her son in Medical School. She was a valiant and strong lady who did not deserve to die at 56. Let me tell you her story!
Darlene was gorgeous. She had dark perfect skin, the biggest eyes, curly hair, nice and thin, and wore Fifth Avenue suits to class. She was dedicated, engaging, innovative, and competent in everything she did on campus.
From the time she landed a job at the university, she was harassed. In the beginning it was only words from her chair or colleagues like, “How can a colored girl make as much money as I do.” “Or, how come a foreigner can come here and take away jobs from us?” The boys did not like her because she was beautiful and competent. They could not have her, nor did they like it that her light was brighter than theirs. And she was the wrong color. The girls saw her as competition and would not advise her or help her in any way. She was on her own!
I think the bureaucrats got together and decided they did not want her on campus. Her chair changed the numbers on her student evaluations so it would look like she was not doing a good job. She was assigned overloads to keep her busy, and given mindless tasks like writing General Ed Proposals. Her chair allowed students to bring up charges against her that went to Human Resources. She was grading international students fairly but they wanted their grades changed. The bureaucrats forced her to change the grades. They did not want to lose the very high tuition the international students paid. It was a daily battle for her. How does one keep integrity in classes while trying to please the bureaucrats and lazy students?
Around her fourth year at the institution, it was time for her to apply for tenure. Her college passed her but her application stopped at the Provost’s office. He accused her of misappropriation of a huge grant she had received. The charges were bogus. She had to argue her case for weeks. Finally, she appealed to the sensible President and received tenure. The Provost lost.
In about her seventh year at the institution, she was came up for promotion to Full Professor. This is when I came to know Darlene. We worked together on a program where we brought speakers to campus. We became friends. In the process, she began pleading with me to help her with her dossier. I made suggestions and edited her document. She had accomplished more than most of the professors in my college.
Darlene was working day and night trying to please the bureaucrats. They denied her promotion. She took it all the way to the President again. This argumentation is very strenuous and stressful. They had promoted one of their male friends who had poor student evaluations and had not published. It was a blow that knocked her down. This is the very moment that she developed cancer.
For the past, approximately, two years she has battled cancer. She never gave up. Even when she could barely stand or talk, she went to class. She had to have a microphone installed at her desk so she could teach. She was in hospice care and still teaching online. She was remarkable in many ways.
I visited her and she showed me all the self-help books she was reading. She had created very positive signs that she plastered on the mirror in her bathroom, like “I am going to live! I am going to beat this!” She adjusted her diet, exercised more, and worked very hard to stay alive.
Throughout all of this ordeal, not one other person from the university visited her. At the beginning of this semester, as she walked to a class, one of her colleagues said to her, “Oh, I didn’t think you were coming back.” When she called her colleagues, and asked if any of them would help her in her classes, when she had to go to the hospital, not one of them would substitute for her. Last week her department sent flowers, finally.
Stress can kill. There are many articles on the Net that give evidence of the effects of stress on the body. I know because I developed a disease due to stress, but I saved my life by leaving the university. Darlene could not leave. She had too many responsibilities.
There are many more twists and turns to this story. But you get the picture I am drawing. In the end, the boys and girls won, they did not want to tenure or promote her — they killed her instead. It took some time, but they won. The war is over.
P.S. In the very last days of her life, they promoted her to Full Professor. It was a kind of sick gesture to me. They knew she would never collect.
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge