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Wild Justice By Ruth M. Sprague Characters: 11969

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

It was going to be a perfect June day. Already a cloudless, azure sky, promising no hint of rain, arched over a shimmering campus. All shades of green were represented and so was every color in the flowers that lined the walks and burst forth from the beds. In perfect compliment, the lovely old brick and stone buildings sat around the campus, complaisant and secure, full of pride and tradition.

The library building, squat and solid, redolent with the collected tomes of the ages, stood as a testament to humanity's progress. Works of ancient poets and philosophers, sinners and saints filled the shelves co-mingling with the more recent and modern books. Here were the records of man's highest achievements and his inhumanity to man but as yet, this building cataloged few, if any, records of woman's highest achievements and man's in-humanity to woman. The former being seldom recorded or remembered; the latter too usual and customary to remark upon.

Whistling softly to himself, Jonathan Bambridge, Professor, Ph.D., Faculty Ombudsman left the sidewalk and entered the administration building. He proceeded directly to the Vice President's office and entered through a door already open.

"Jonathan, good of you to come on such short notice," greeted the Academic VP, waving Jonathan toward the inner office.

One wall of the office was devoted to 'art'. The entire grouping reminded Jonathan of different aspects of the same road-kill.

"On a day like this, it is a pleasure, Henry. Looks like the weather is cooperating for graduation this year."

"Well, it's about time. Two years in a row we've been rained out. Drop your bag, grab a cup of coffee and sit down."

Henry Tarbuck, Academic Vice President picked up his own cup from his desk and went to the conference chairs arranged for conversation in the office alcove. From here he eyed Jonathan reflectively. Good man, he thought. Saved us a batch of trouble by coming to me right off.

Tarbuck adjusted his six foot two, rather heavy-set frame more comfortably in the chair. Young for his position, barely in his thirties, he directed seasoned professors twice his age and experience. This along with his imposing height and bulk had caused some resentment but Henry just ignored it.

As first assistant to the president of Belmont University, he reveled in power and position and firmly believed that those that can, do (like him) and those that can't, teach (like faculty).

He covered this attitude with a hearty, down-to-earth, back slapping manner that fooled no one but himself.

Bambridge joined him in the alcove, holding his coffee cup out ahead of him like an offering. "Damn good coffee, Henry. Must have made it yourself."

At fifty-five, Henry Bambridge figured he'd seen it all and most of the fight had gone out of him. Physically, he was the opposite of Tarbuck, slight in build and not quite five ten but looked shorter. His features were finely drawn, almost feminine in contrast to the dark, craggy, nearly simian countenance of Tarbuck.

"Let's get down to it." Henry Tarbuck radiated impatience as visible as the steam rising from newly deposited excrement on a frosty day. For a time, the men went over the schedule of events slated for the hearing.

"Everything seems to be in order," Jonathan suggested.

"Right, it's a go. I want to tell you, Jonathan, you've done a damn fine job so far." Henry gestured expansively. "By advising Diana Trenchant to attend her termination hearing without an attorney, you saved us all a great deal of trouble."

The ombudsman acknowledged the compliment with a nod. Jonathan knew his job was to provide just such a service to the administration. He understood that the ombudsman's function was ostensibly created to provide the faculty with a neutral source to handle complaints. Most times the illusion of impartiality was well maintained, but the reality of the position was otherwise-it was the administration's ear and eye on the faculty.

"Just followed your suggestion," Jonathan replied, preening self-consciously. Feeling himself in the good graces of the VP, he continued. "What's the story here, Henry? Why is this being handled so harshly? Her transgression is fairly innocuous and I'm surprised it's even coming to a hearing panel. Why not slap her down or suspend her? Hell, it would be less trouble to retire her, she's been here nearly twenty-five years!"

Henry twitched with ill-concealed indignation for an instant then answered calmly but with some passion, "Between you and me, Jonathan, the bitch needs a taking down. You know how we've adjusted to federal and state mandates that women be accepted, even encouraged to work and matriculate here.

"All in all, it hasn't been a bad deal for us. Sure, we've had to raise some salaries but, well, give the devil her due, most women do seem to work hard and get a lot accomplished. They are usually fairly easy to control. Most are scared stupid of being called a lesbian and petrified at the thought that this accusation might be spread around among people they know. Or, if they are married and obviously straight, plant the suggestion that it might get around that they are promiscuous. It turns them to jelly every time."

Henry laughed delightedly as he stood up and assumed a lecturer's pose, unwittingly mimicking the profession he disparaged. As he warmed to his subject, he walked back and forth across the office, adding punctuation to his lecture with his body. Jonathan watched him intently.

"Then there are the most enjoyable ones. They're on the make for any man who is looking for an easy lay. They trade their ass for any glory that may fall their way through association. As workers, most aren't worth shit but they do as they're told. Have to watch them though because if someone higher than you in the pecking, or ha ha, pecker order, comes along, they leave you cold.

"Now, so-called liberated professionals, feminists, may b

ecome a focus for women's groups on campus. They get a name for being champions of women's causes. However, jerk their chain and they are a hodgepodge of insecurities. They have worked so hard to attain their position and the prestige and power that goes with it, that they are our best allies against women's movements and demands for equal wages, in short, any kind of problem we may encounter."

"How can that be, Henry?" Jonathan was finding the impromptu lecture not only informative, but very interesting.

"We just put them on committees or hearing panels such as the one coming up. In appearance, we are being fair by having women represented, not just women, but women who are vocal regarding their movement. Actually, because they want so much for themselves, they are easy as hell to buy. We provide perks that make them feel important. They get invited to presidential teas, trustee cocktail parties-anything that puffs them up, makes them feel good-that's the carrot.

"The committee chair lets them know how to vote and how well pleased their dean will be with them and voila! Believe me, they well know how bad it can get if they fall out of favor with the boss. If this isn't convincing, just indicate to them that they can be made to appear mentally unstable or morally deviant-that's the stick.

"Very few women fight back or quit a committee even if they become uncomfortable with what it is doing. Most just keep their heads down and hope nobody finds out how they voted. I've appointed three women to the Trenchant hearing panel. Two of them are younger women hot to trot up the academic success ladder which I just happen to be holding." Henry paused, preening himself with obvious relish.

Eager for more of this fascinating information, Jonathan queried, "What about Diana Trenchant? She doesn't appear concerned that everyone would know she committed a crime. She refused to quietly resign claiming that the accusations are false and apparently is going to put on a defense at the hearing."

"Defense! Ha! It won't amount to bug dust. I chose the panel and I shall chair the panel and the panel will vote to terminate her." Henry was becoming very agitated. His pacing was now fast and choppy.

"She's one of those trouble makers who do so well in their job that it's hard to find a reason to get rid of them. It is vital that we hold this hearing and terminate her. We must provide an example." Turning back toward the table, Henry started to shuffle the papers busily. "We've gone over most everything in the handbook on procedure and as far as I can see, everything is proper. What do you think?"

Jonathan, who was holding a copy of the faculty handbook and studying the tip of his left shoe, shook his head in agreement. "It all appears to be absolutely correct so far."

"Fine. Now I'll expect you to be available during the hearing in the waiting room. This is just for appearance, for extra insurance. Things have a way of getting screwed up where she's concerned."

Hoping to reopen the informative flood gates with a smattering of devil's advocate, Jonathan observed slyly, "You know, Henry, her personnel file was rather impressive. She appeared to have been an capable technician, an excellent teacher and received high performance evaluations. No complaints for being late or absent from work, no reports of drink or drugs...."

Again the VP became agitated. This time he grabbed his cup and went to the coffee maker. "She gets people stirred up. That's where problems arise from-those unexpected, unknown sources. No administrator can prepare for those kind of events. For instance, a few years ago a student under her influence embarrassed Jimbo Jones-he was NERD chair before Lyle-and put the department in an uproar...."

Jimbo Jones, chairman, six NERD faculty members and two graduate student Teaching Assistants occupied the conference room at the weekly departmental meeting.

Over the general murmuring and grumbling of a discontented faculty, Peter, the departmental mouth said, "We ought to get a higher percentage raise, Jimbo. Every year you tell us the same thing. Times are tough, the legislature won't spring for a decent appropriation. The dean can't...."

"I know that and I've been thinking how I could cut the roster and have a little more to share among the rest of us. If you agree, I think it's time we let Diana Trenchant go. Last year I had to give her a whopping raise while the rest of us had to settle for the usual 3%, and Ted at the Affirmative Action Office says we've got to give her more again this year and then still more until she catches up to or surpasses Fred's paycheck.

"Of course, it means that you will have to share Fred, our only other technician, do your own research or get a grant and hire your own technician."

Most of the people in the room moved uncomfortably in their chairs looking down at the floor or out the window. Looking anywhere but at each other or Jimbo.

"It's settled then, we let her go?" Jimbo broke the silence. "No one opposes? All right then, it's....

"I don't know too much about these things," came a hesitant voice from the back of the group. Everyone turned around to look at the young graduate student, Holly Preston, who had spoken.

In a voice getting stronger all the time, she continued, "As I say, I don't know much about this, but I thought when someone was fired that there had to be cause. That is, that they were not doing their job properly or whatever.

"Since I've been in the department, I have been impressed with Diana Trenchant's hard work and knowledge. I've gone to her often for help. What reason will you give for firing her, Dr. Jones?"

A taut silence descended upon the room like a malignant fog. Then, an angry, red-faced Jimbo Jones glared at Holly, declared the action tabled and adjourned the meeting. The NERD faculty Judas goats shuffled out sheepishly, having been well and truly sheared by a lamb.

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