sexual harassment and hazing in Academia
L.L. SPRIGGS — THE DISSECTOR — 2015
A book that is obviously based on some personal technical knowledge you can only get from inside a profession, and in this case the triple knowledge you can only know in very few professional fields, that of embalming the dead for burial or for the dissecting “bench” of some laboratory in a university, and of course in a plain simple post-mortem police morgue where the body is opened up for autopsy. This expertise is autobiographical for the author who was a professional in one of these three fields.
That’s where I am embarrassed by the first person of the “dissector’s chapters” in which the main female character tells us what she does or did. Most chapters are in third person, hence an omniscient and omnipotent author or storyteller takes over then. I would have preferred the whole book to be in third person which would have not required to shift from one vision to another in these first person chapters. Or everything in first person, which would have required to shift from one storyteller to many storytellers. We of course cannot evade that duality that makes the storyteller in third person the same as the storyteller in first person, hence it is autobiographical and that is embarrassing again since it is the description of a perfect crime, a perfect murder. Is the author confessing? I hope not. Then the first person is irritatingly cumbersome.
But let’s enter this academic medical novel, I mean this novel dealing with a medical school on a university campus, here one in New Orleans. It is a novel so I will consider the said campus is not a real one. It would otherwise become a pamphlet. And I hope it is not.
The book is yet a strong denunciation of many shortc!omings that are common place in many academic institutions, a lot more than you may ever think or know. Academia is a ruthless, exploitative, cruel and extremely vain petri dish in which the human material is either the germs (top hierarchy among the faculty) or the culture medium bases (the lower hierarchy among the faculty and of course the students, graduate or not). In the book you can see how far such inhumanity can go between researchers at the top, teachers under the former ones, graduate students who are just slaves and plain students (undergraduates) who are nothing but chattel or guinea pigs. Rare are the exceptions among the faculty or in the student body. And body is the proper word: to be used, abused and exploited in any way you may think proper or fit, as they used to say about a death penalty in the middle ages by drawing, hanging, and quartering. The methods used were only the inspiration of the executioner or the audience.
It shows well though research requires a lot of work but it shows also how some at the top of the hierarchy are no longer doing much because they use their underling research workers to do their own research (they only put their names on the papers or books, at times with the names of their slaves, and at times without the names of their slaves. The same goes on with graduate students who in fact do a lot of the research of their research directors who will systematically use the results or attempts of their graduate students not to improve them for the benefit of the graduate students but only to enrich their own personal research declared as such and as theirs only.
Anatomy is gross in all possible ways. Gross by the smell, gross by the exploitation of dead donated bodies by uncaring professors or students. The book is graphical about it though it tries to remain only gross and avoid the level of offensive repellence. Page after page it becomes mortiferous and morbid. I would advise the sensitive minds among the readers to skip some paragraphs and pages. It is obvious all readers have not killed a pig tied up head down on a vertical ladder, slaughtered a sheep, strangled a few kittens or bled a chicken (by cutting its tongue with scissors) or a rabbit (by out-rooting one eye) to death. Imagine those numerous passages when the main female character has been dissecting in class or embalming dead bodies and without any mention of her washing her hands or getting out of her scrubs takes her sandwich out and starts eating. Gross I said. Really gross. Not to speak of the money made on the side by selling donated bodies to some body speculators who can do what they want with them.
The male professors are often — or is it only at times — improper with many things particularly with women, be they colleagues, graduate students or plain students. Strangely enough, female professors are never improper with their male colleagues, male graduate students or plain male students. And there is no mention of any crossing of the gender line in any other direction than heterosexual. That makes the book slightly one-sided, but it is common to see that this is the dominant vision still on university campuses. If you speak of improper conducts, you imply male offenders and female victims. That is totally fake both in reality and extension. A great number of female offenders and male victims exist both in different-sex and same-sex configurations. But it is quite revulsive to see here how a male professor is disgustingly repugnant. The explanation that his wife is a terroristic spouse in private and in public is no explanation at all. One unhappy individual in marriage looks for a solution and not perverse alleviation in one eye from an outsider in the palace of one eye from the offending spouse I do not have the courage to confront for the eye of mine she has ripped out of my skull.
Grades of course are manipulated in all directions. They call that with the decent euphemism of curbing; It can be general for everyone in percentage. It can be absurd for everyone in the same flat number of points given to all, or motivated by the hostility of liking of a professor for a student. I have been confronted to all possibilities, plus the order in a department not to flunk anyone, or the demand from some parents for me to curb the grades of their son or daughter. That’s why in an English test for a Fulbright scholarship I got 103%. I was over the highest grade ever given in that test. It was curbed and after me it probably was curbed up instead of down. Curbing is extremely questionable. It hides the reality of a situation. I remember a “school inspector” on a day of national test grading starting the session by telling us he wanted to increase the curbing by two points. We, the graders, refused flatly since those under passing level could go on an oral salvaging test down to 25% under this passing grade. The inspector wanted us to go down to 45% under the passing grade.
All that makes this book a real manifesto against academic practices and common obviously unrecognized rules and customs. And it does not speak of hazing, which is a serious shortcoming. Nevertheless, the book is fascinating but keep a pail next to you for the vomiting you might have to perform when reaching some pages.
Enjoy Uncle Sam’s exhibitionism.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU