Monday morning Dan showered, changed, had his usual two mugs of coffee and headed out of his apartment by 8:00 a.m. for the five-block walk to the 65th Street subway station to catch the G train to Queens Plaza. After a five-minute wait, he boarded the train for the short ride to Queens Plaza, where he walked across the platform to wait for the E train heading for Manhattan. Five minutes later, he boarded the crowded Manhattan-bound E train and suffered the approximately ten minute ride tightly pressed on all sides by fellow strap hangers—one of whom had obviously had too much garlic in his dinner the previous night or perhaps in his breakfast. Since moving was not an option, Dan tried to lengthen as much as possible the interval between breaths and did his best to inhale only when the other seemed to inhale as well. Immediately behind him, a lovely buxom brunette in a tight-fitting business suit pressed against him doubtless out of necessity rather than choice, but he felt mixed emotions at the warmth of her body against his back and the lingering essence of her expensive perfume. The latter would have been intoxicating but for the incongruous and nauseating odor of the young man’s breath directly in front of him. He began to blush, thinking of his girlfriend and trying hard not to dwell on the beautiful woman behind him whose touch was far from unpleasant—especially when the rocking motion of the subway car and curves along the route caused her to repeatedly rub up quite intimately against him. He wondered whether she was as uncomfortable as he while trying not to think what it might feel like had he chosen to face her way rather than towards the man who seemed to have attempted suicide by garlic overdose—and his blush deepened further at the thought.
After what seemed an eternity in his subway purgatory half way between heaven and hell which was, in fact, just one slightly longer than usual stop as the subway wormed its way beneath the East River separating Manhattan from Queens, the subway stopped a bit brusquely at the Lexington Avenue 53rd Street station giving him one final unintentional goodbye bump against the poor woman behind him. He barely managed to get out of the subway car before the doors closed again with only minor jostling followed by pleas of “excuse me, getting off.” He then proceeded slowly along with the throng of subway riders making their way to the exit, through the turnstiles and up the stairs to a cool, wonderfully bright early September morning in Midtown Manhattan. This was by far the part of the city that Dan loved best, though he generally loved and loathed the city in equal measure. His girlfriend, on the other hand, loved it with all her heart. That is something that would eventually cause them minor problems in their relationship and later major ones in their marriage.
There is no city like New York City, and even most of those who grew up in the city or its surroundings never quite get over the uniqueness of their city that showcases some of the best and worst humanity has to offer. It offers unparalleled cultural, educational, architectural, artistic, commercial and professional opportunities, with the singular richness that only a truly multicultural city can bring to natives and visitors alike, alongside too many pockets of abject poverty, rampant homelessness that includes many mentally ill people and addicts. Crime-riddled areas also abound in many neighborhoods where thugs run free in all five boroughs, including Manhattan—not unlike the similar problems faced by most major cities, if less visible perhaps to casual observers here behind a facade of glamor, wealth, beauty and the allure of the city that never sleeps.
Outside, enjoying the fresh, non-garlic-scented air, Dan breathed in deeply, feeling the unmistakable vibe of Midtown Manhattan with its moving mountains of humanity pounding the pavement, impatiently waiting for lights to turn green at street corners or jaywalking. He walked South for two blocks to 51st Street, then East for two additional blocks to 2nd Avenue and the PEMTI flagship school, located in a once-impressive office building that had seen better days but still retained a reasonably elegant facade if one did not look too closely. He went in unimpeded to the main lobby and scanned the building’s directory listing multiple businesses, including several doctor’s offices, insurance agencies and PEMTI on the top floor of the four-story building. There were already many people waiting for the elevator whom he suspected must be students given their ages and dress, along with a couple of better dressed older adults. He waited for the next elevator as the first one quickly filled to capacity, and eventually arrived at the fourth floor reception area approximately fifteen minutes prior to his 9:00 a.m. appointment.
“Daniel Amor to see Dr. Green” he told the twenty-something African-American receptionist sporting short hair and a fashionable light purple business suit with a yellow blouse who looked up from her reading material with a friendly smile. “He’s been expecting you,” she said, and picked up the phone to announce him. “Please have a seat, Mr. Amor. Dean Green will be with you shortly,” she added hanging up the phone.
“Thank you,” Dan replied as he moved to one of the unoccupied chairs to his right. He noticed that several individuals were sitting on about half of the available dozen chairs with clipboards, writing intently. He wondered whether they were applicants for admission or job seekers.
A few minutes later, a middle aged man approached the reception area and slowly ambled towards Dan. He was perhaps in his late forties, sporting a rumpled yellow shirt with rolled up sleeves and an ugly green tie with brown pants over which a ponderous belly hanged like over-leavened bread escaping a bread pan. He sported a full beard, black plastic rimmed glasses and longish curly dark brown hair. “You must be Dan” he said, extending his hand as Dan rose to shake it. “I’m Dr. Howard Green.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Dan said, offering him a firm handshake and a smile.
“Come with me. You’ll be shadowing me today and I’ll fill you in on your responsibilities as I work. But we’ll have some time together as well, including about a half hour now before some student and faculty meetings.” With that the man, looking for all the world more like a burned out undercover cop from central casting than an academic or academic administrator, turned and signaled for Dan to follow. Dan did as he was bid, his smile fading. It was not what he had expected, but he knew better than to judge a book by its cover, so he quietly followed his new mentor to his office.
The actual office was a cluttered, small, windowless room approximately twelve feet long by 12 feet wide—not too different from his own but for the lack of a window facing a hallway. A battered desk was located directly in front of the door, about four feet from the rear wall. Two plastic chairs with metal frames not much better than those one finds in a typical food court at a mall were placed in front of the desk and a well-worn leather high back chair behind it. Book cases ran all along one wall, and a filing cabinet similar to the one in Dan’s office was placed at right angles with the desk for easy access by the desk’s occupant. There were piles of papers and books everywhere with little room to move in the tight space.
“Have a seat,” Dr. Green commanded, pointing to the nearest plastic chair across from his desk while sitting on his leather chair. He then interlocked the fingers of both hands behind his neck and reclined on his chair. “So,” he continued after staring intently at Dan for what seemed a long time. “You are the new Dean of the Queens school. Is this your first brush with the proprietary business school market?”
“Yes, it is,” Dan said quickly. “It is not a path I had contemplated taking until I saw the advertisement in the Times and decided to apply. I’d been considering an academic posting, but in a traditional college or university setting.”
Dr. Green smiled. “So, you wanted to be an academic and ended up at PEMTI, eh?”
“That’s about it” Dan said.
“Well, the academy this is not.” Dr. Green scoffed with a wan smile. “But we do what we can for our students with what we have. I want to get some things straight out of the box since you’re a newbie at this and I’ve been around the block a few times in the proprietary market. You must understand that this is first and foremost a business, and that you can never take your eye away from what impacts the bottom line, or you’ll be terminated quicker than you can say bye-bye.”
“I have no problem with sticking to a budget or generating revenue for the school as long as I know that the students are being well served. I won’t have to be terminated if I find that is not the case—I’ll gladly quit,” Dan responded not attempting to hide his annoyance. “Increasing profits is fine with me, as long as the product provides a good return on investment for the students. If it does not, I won’t be a part of it.”
Dr. Green said nothing as Dan spoke, but simply stared at him with the same wan smile. “We’ll see,” was his only response once Dan had finished speaking. “For now, let me try to give you a basic idea of what you’ll be required to do. You are lucky that you have a decent Director to work for at the Queens school as far as they go, and that you also have a pretty stable slate of teachers there. Also, your enrollments are within acceptable limits and the support staff has been fairly stable, thanks in no small part to Marvin’s leadership style, which is generally supportive of his managers. And he treats his staff decently. So, they’re relatively happy with their lot and you don’t have too many serious issues to worry about immediately.”
“That’s good to know,” Dan noted, grateful for that assessment.
“Having said that, this is a tough business. We cater to the lowest common denominator as students go. Many choose the business school only because they need to work or study to keep the welfare checks coming, and school is easier than actual work. At least half of the students are here just to scam the system—even the ones who actually want an education. They will take out student loans they never intend to repay—just like any other credit they may have had in the past, if any—and will take advantage of the federal and state grants that pay the majority of their tuition. This is as true for the Queens school in general as it is for the rest of our schools and for the whole industry. We are basically being subsidized by the government and by student loans that nearly half of the students have no intention of repaying. And that is the perpetual sword hanging over our heads, as the government can cut off our ability to qualify for guaranteed student loans and grants any time if the default rates become excessive—and they will judge what that means—usually around a 50-55 percent student default rates.”
“I had no idea about any of this,” Dan said.
“Of course not. Nobody outside of the industry does. Moreover, the State Education Department, SED, does not in general think very highly of our industry so they can be a real pain in the ass when it comes to periodic audits or turning down new course proposals. You have to make sure that your teachers keep up their lesson plans and that these contain reasonable, relevant information. That is a major part of your job. Many, if not most, of your teachers will likely be a lazy lot and they will delay that part of their jobs as long as they can get away with it. You have to make sure they keep their lesson plans current and that you review and keep them on file regularly. I suspect you’ll have issues with a number of your teachers—even ones who are actually pretty decent in the classroom based on conversations with your predecessor. If you don’t crack the whip and stay on top of them, they will walk all over you and do the least amount of work they can get away with—and writing lesson plans is not a favorite part of the job for any of them.”
“Since you mention the faculty,” Dan interjected, “how and how often do we evaluate them, and do we have students evaluate them regularly?”
“That’s actually up to you, Dan. If you have the time, you can evaluate them annually, quarterly or any time you damned well please. SED does not much care about that—as long as their credentials check out and they have current lesson plans on file in your office during an audit, that’s all they will want to see. Student evaluations are irrelevant, as are your class observations—except in cases where you have suspicions about what’s going on in a classroom or want to build a case against a given teacher. As you know, they are employed at will and can be fired at any time with or without cause. But you have to beware of firing anyone in a protected class as they will likely sue or file charges of discriminatory firing regardless of fault or galloping incompetence. The white males you can chuck out the window for no reason and nobody will care—but watch out for just about everyone else. I personally don’t evaluate my teachers unless I have a problem or suspicion of a problem from one of them—including too many student complaints.”
“I see,” Dan said, not really seeing at all and having no intention of following the advice on evaluating faculty only as a risk management protocol.
Just then, a young woman peeked into the open door and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Dr. Green. But there’s a student here insisting to see you.”
“He rolled his eyes and asked,” What is it about?”
“She won’t say but says it’s urgent.”
“Fine, send her in.” Then, looking at Dan, “It never ends.”
A moment later, a young woman of perhaps 18 or 19 was shepherded in, with the secretary announcing “This is Tenisha, Dr. Green.”
“What do you want, Tenisha,” He responded, looking at the young black woman dressed in jeans and a faded T-Shirt in nondescript pastel colors.
“I’m sorry to bother you, dean, but I need subway fare to get home tonight.” The woman looked at Dr. Green intently, in neither a pleading nor a demanding tone, looking down from time to time as if embarrassed.”
“You need money for a subway token? Why are you coming to me? What do I have to do with that?”
“I don’t know who else to ask,” she answered, scrunching up her nose as if the answer should be obvious.
“You did not know that you would need money for a subway ride back home when you came in just now? What happened? Did you lose your purse on the way here? Get mugged?” His tone was sarcastic, and unnecessarily hurtful to Dan’s ears.
“No, I just did not have enough money for two tokens.”
“I’m not made of money. I don’t have a slush fund for students who can’t afford to pay for their transportation. Why don’t you walk home?”
“It’s too far. I live in Brooklyn and it would take me hours to walk home after my classes.”
“Well,” he retorted, still in a sarcastic tone and louder voice than necessary, “That’s something you should have thought about before coming, don’t you think? That’s why you have student loans, or maybe you need to get yourself a job.”
“I have a job,” she said, defiantly. Anger now tinging her voice. “I just don’t have the money for the subway fare today. I have never asked you before.”
“No, you haven’t, maybe because you’re new. But others do it every day. I am not your piggy bank. Why don’t you go see your admissions counselor? His salary depends on your coming to school regularly. Mine does not.”
“Please,” she pleaded for the first time. “How am I supposed to get home?”
At this Dan could no longer remain silent and pulled out his wallet, offering her a $5 bill. “Here—and get a sandwich or snack for lunch too, OK?”
“NO!” Exclaimed Dr. Green as the girl extended her hand towards Dan’s offered bill. “They have to understand that they can’t just panhandle every day.” With that the girl pulled back her hand as if stung.
“Just this once,” Dr. Green continued, “I will help you out. I won’t give you any money, but,” he stopped and reached under his desk pulling out a plastic bag, “here—take these cans and bottles. The corner deli across the street will take them and give you back the deposits. There’s more than enough here for a token. That’s a lot of money. But I’ll do this just this once.”
The girl reached out for the proffered bag, taking it and giving a very quiet “Thank you” while turning towards the door.
“Wait a moment, Ms.” Dan said. “Please take this and when you go to return the cans and bottles get yourself a sandwich,” he said offering the $5 still in his hand to her. You can’t learn on an empty stomach. Go on, please take it. Maybe someday when I forget my wallet home someone will do the same for me.” She looked up into his eyes with a thin smile and took the money, once again saying “Thank you” while holding Dan’s eyes for a moment longer. Then she walked out of the office.
As soon as she walked out, Dr. Green got up, walked to the door and closed it, returning to his seat. “Don’t ever do that again!” he said to Dan with barely suppressed anger in his voice. “You don’t know these kids, but you will. They will bleed you like leeches if they think you an easy mark. If you do that in Queens, you’ll never get rid of them.”
“Sorry, Dr. Green” Dan said. “But that girl did not seem a leech to me—just a desperate young woman who seemed caught between a rock and a hard place. You said she had never asked before—I might take a similar though gentler tack if anyone repeatedly asked for carfare.”
“You will learn the hard way.”
“You’re probably right, and I’m sorry if I overstepped here—she is not my student, and this is your office. I apologize for that. But I noticed she was wearing very well-worn clothing that was spotless. And she was clean, well-groomed and bright eyed—not the usual panhandler profile in the streets whom I also, frankly, avoid and very seldom give money to. If I said nothing, I know I would not sleep well tonight—and that, if you want to look at it from a purely selfish point of view on my part, is well worth $5 to me.”
“Fine Dan,” Dr. Green sighed, while rifling through a desk drawer for a file that he pulled out and placed atop his desk, then continued. “It’s your money, but know that these kids and most of the teachers will walk all over you if you let them.” He then handed Dan the file which Dan opened and began thumbing through.
“What I just gave you is a list of some of the forms you should use for various tasks in case your predecessor did not leave you such a folder. You can keep these as originals and make copies of each for your routine use. I developed these myself, and, though they are not official forms, you may find them useful.”
Dan noticed various forms titled “Teacher Evaluations,” “Behavioral Issues,” “Formal Reprimands,” “Lesson Plans,” “Student Suspension,” “Book Orders,” “Requisition Form” and several other one-page forms for dealing with routine matters. “Thank you, Dr. Green” he said after quickly thumbing through these.
“Call me Howard, Dan. We’re going to be working together so no need for formality.”
“Thanks, Howard.” Dan replied, noting the offer had not been made initially while Howard had used Dan’s first name from the start. He smiled at what he took to be a simple mind game to show dominance, or perhaps just insecurity on the other’s part. He had noticed that his staff seemed to refer to him as either Dr. Green or Dean Green, and his smile broadened further as he considered that his colleague would likely take Dan’s smile as pleasure for being recognized as an almost-equal. Nevertheless, he did not really dislike the man other than for his treatment of the student. Then again, he had a hard time really disliking anyone—something friends had often ribbed him about.
“Am I free to create my own forms if I find the need, or do I need to get approval?”
“You can do whatever you think best. No approval is ever needed unless you want to fire or hire someone—the Director gets the final say on those decisions—or if you want to spend any money, always a challenge unless dealing with routine office supplies. And don’t even think about asking for anything useful, like a computer. If you want such luxuries, you’ll need to buy your own. We don’t have a discretionary budget as such—all requisitions have to be approved by the Director.
Dan noticed there was no computer on Howard’s desk and did not mention that Marvin had promised he’d have one on his desk by tomorrow, along with a printer. He had no wish to stoke the other’s insecurity if that was, in fact, at play here and not just simple arrogance.
“Howard, I notice in the forms you gave me that there is a form for student suspensions. What type of due process are students given if they are suspended or expelled—or have a grade grievance, for example?”
Howard laughed, then responded “No such thing, Dan. If you want to set up a grievance process, that’s up to you, but you’d just open up a can of worms. Who would you ask to take part? How would you schedule it? No. All you need is the form for suspensions or expulsions. Just make sure you mark down a reason with details as to the circumstances of the transgression—almost always behavioral issues—and have the student sign it. If they won’t sign it, threaten them with expulsion. They will always sign then as they don’t want their dole dollars affected.”
“What about grade grievances?”
“What about them?” Howard retorted. “The grade is the grade. They don’t get to debate that. Now, if you think the teacher has done something wrong, you can look into it and request justification for the grade, but the student is never involved in that process. I usually tell them I’ll look into it and then get back to them that the grade is appropriate.”
“Do you actually look into it?” Dan asked, suspecting what the answer would be.
“Maybe two or three times in the five years I’ve been here when I had my suspicions about the teacher involved. The word gets around that the grades are not subject to challenge. Problem solved.”
“What If I look into it and find the faculty member did not award a fair grade?”
“Then you change it on the transcript. Hell, you can change it whether you check into it or not. You are the keeper of the transcripts—we have no registrar. If you don’t agree with a grade and you actually decide to look into the matter, just give the student whatever grade you want. Nobody will know or question it, and it is YOUR signature on the official transcript. Teachers just submit the grades to you.”
This conversation was making Dan more and more uncomfortable, and red flags were popping up in nearly every discussion in his mind. But he just said, “I see.”
Howard looked at him intently for a moment then smiled and responded, “You are over-thinking this Dan. This is not a college. You are in charge and have basically unlimited power to do whatever you believe to be right or expedient. These students are not going to challenge your decisions beyond the school level, which means you and Marvin. As long as he backs you up, your word is law. If he doesn’t, you won’t last long anyway. So be careful of what waves you think you can make. Tread softly and test the waters before diving in.”
“Thanks, Howard. I appreciate your counsel and will take it under advisement.”
“Good, now leave the folder here and I’ll show you around. But my first appointment of the day will be walking in soon, so sit tight.” Howard said. And, as if on cue, the receptionist walked in with another student in tow. This time it was a male.
“Dr. Green, this is Deshawn. He is here on a referral from Mrs. Smith, his typing teacher, for behavioral issues.”
“Thanks” Howard said. Then, addressing the student, he snapped “Come in, Deshawn.”
The student was dressed in baggy pants with the crotch extending down to his knees and army boots. He sported a black T-shirt with “Fuck You” written on it in red, dripping letters as if brushed on with a paint brush dipped in blood. He also sported a large diamond stud earring through his right nostril and a second larger diamond on his right earlobe. He walked in and pulled back the chair next to Dan, ignoring him, while glaring at Howard.
“What do you think you’re doing, Deshawn? I did not give you permission to sit. Stand there and look at me when I talk to you. And wipe the damned attitude from your face or this won’t go well for you.” The young man took his hand away from the chair and stood still, but the glare remained.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yah,” he answered. “The white bitch that teaches typing didn’t like me talking to the white girl next to me during class.”
“In fact, Deshawn, you were harassing the students around you and cracking jokes while Mrs. Smith was trying to deliver her lesson.”
“She don’t teach shit, man. She just sits there and barks out letters --F-F-F-F-U-U-U-U-C-C-C-C-K-K-K-K all class long. What kind of shit is that?”
“It’s a beginner’s typing class, dimwit. The drills are intended for you to learn touch-typing.”
“What I gotta learn me no fucking typing for? That ain’t what I’m paying you for!”
“Let’s get one thing straight. One more obscenity and you’re gone for good. I’m sure your parole officer would love to know that—and I’m also sure that Neo Nazi, Bubba, you were shacking up with in the Tombs is eagerly awaiting your return—no doubt he misses whispering sweet nothings into your ear as he takes you from behind every night without the courtesy of a reach-around.”
Deshawn, enraged, hissed back, “You can’t talk to me like that. I make more in a day than your sorry ass does in a month—I guarantee you that. Who the fuck do you think you are talking to me like that? Do you know who I am?”
“I know exactly who and what you are, a petty drug dealing thug and a two-time loser heading back to the Big House any time I decide he’s violated his parole. As to paying my salary, unlike you, I actually pay taxes and subsidize your sorry ass being here wasting MY money while you pay nothing—the federal and state governments pay for your ride to help you avoid prison and you are allowed federally guaranteed student loans you have no intention of ever paying back to boot for the rest of your tuition and living expenses. And one more unsolicited word from you will get you suspended for a month. Two will get you expelled.”
“You . . .” Deshawn began.
“That’s one word. Suspension for a month effective immediately. Care to go for expulsion and parole violation?”
Deshawn said nothing, just glared at Howard with pure rage in his eyes that he was having obvious difficulty restraining as Howard took out a blank suspension form and pushed in in front of Deshawn with a pen atop.
“Sign the form at the bottom and date it. Then print your name below your signature on the space provided. You’re suspended for thirty days starting today. When you return, you will not be wearing that T-shirt or causing any problems in any of your classes. This is your second strike and second suspension. The third time’s the charm and you’ll get the booby prize—expulsion and a trip back to Bubba’s house. Clear?”
Deshawn looked at the form, then at Howard, and signed it in blank. He then shuffled out of the office without a word.
Once he was gone, Howard turned to Dan with a smile and said, “And that, Dan, is how it’s done. I’ll fill out the form later. This one’s a tough nut to crack but he’s at the point of no return in thirty days so I can expel him the next time and PEMTI gets to keep the full tuition with no partial refund possible. I’ll also get a statement in writing from Mrs. Smith later just in case I do have to expel him so that I can contact his parole officer and get him sent back to jail—it is unquestionably where he belongs as he is an unredeemable lowlife.”
“Aren’t you afraid for your safety when you challenge him like that?” Dan asked.
“No, not really. He does not want to go back to jail. And he’ll actually respect my tough guy persona much more than he would a weak, bleeding heart trying to understand his pain and excuse his conduct as rooted in the vestiges of slavery, racism, or any number of other countless facile ways of excusing the inexcusable. Deshawn is a thug—however he got there is not my concern. He is what he is and will always be the same with one of two predictable outcomes: a life in and out of prison or an early violent death at the hands of other identical thugs. Either way, not my concern and not my mission to change what he is—that only he can do. But he won’t because the path of lawless self-indulgence is always easier and often much more rewarding than getting a real education and working your way through the rat race in the law-abiding world. He has never been a part of that world and wants no part of it. And he’s right about one thing—he’ll make more in a good day selling drugs and through his gang activity than I do in a month—all tax free and while living on the dole. God Bless America, man,” he finished, laughing.
“Still, Howard, what if he attacked you?”
“Well, we have the metal detectors at the door for a reason. He’s not likely to have a weapon on him and I have other means of defending myself I’ll keep to myself in addition to the button under my desk that will summon building security. If I press it, they will run in with guns drawn in less than two minutes. In five years, I only had to use it once. But it’s a reassuring backup. And, by the way, you have the same button under your desk, though I doubt Marvin would have mentioned it during your preliminary walk through as it is not something the average applicant would consider a selling point--unless they are veterans of the proprietary business school business, that is.”
Howard was certainly right about that, Dan thought. It might have given him serious pause about taking the job. The metal detectors themselves which he knew about were far from reassuring during his initial interview.
“But please don’t get the wrong idea, Dan” Howard continued. “Deshawn is not our typical student and you do not have to worry about a meeting like this very often—maybe once a year or so on average. Most of our students are slackers who ended up coming to us looking for a quick fix—a short program that could get them a first or a better job in an office environment. There are the scammers and thugs—but the average community college is no different in that regard. And faculty members there actually have to go through real due process before being able to effectuate any form of punishment, unlike here. In many ways, I’d much rather be an administrator or even a teacher here than in the typical community college. Their students are marginally better there—but only marginally—and they have their fair share of thugs gaming the system too. And the salaries are also only marginally better for teachers and most administrators alike, though their benefits rock in comparison to the benefits of our teachers and office staff here. The faculty and academic administration at a community college get about the same benefits that you and I do here but only a select few in our organization get. And for administrators, the vacation time is comparable to ours. Red tape here is basically non-existent for you and me, while it drowns the typical college administrator, especially at low-level community and technical colleges of both the public and private variety. So don’t let the seedy side of our business get you down—you’ve got to put it in perspective.”
“But community college have standards very different from our own both for the faculty credentialing and rigor as far as SED is concerned, no? And they have to contend with accrediting agencies like Middle States and the other regional accrediting bodies, as well as specialized accreditation for some of their programs, isn’t that so?” Dan queried.
“That’s true, Dan. But for students who are really interested in learning and picking up marketable skills at either a community colleges or here, we actually do a better job of providing training that get students real jobs. We are not saddled with the politically, turf-driven battles about inclusion of often completely worthless liberal arts and humanities courses as half of the curriculum. If you want to learn bookkeeping to be able to work at a small business as a bookkeeper, for example, you’ll need to spend two years at a community college taking mostly unnecessary and irrelevant courses in the liberal arts and humanities in order to get the AAS degree when only maybe 18-24 credits are actually directly related to the accounting major. You could take those credits in nine months and be done but for the core requirements that have nothing to do with the major. Basket weaving, music appreciation, poetry, creative writing, anthropology and psychology courses may be fun, but what do they have to do with bookkeeping? On the other hand, we can offer a bookkeeping program in twelve months that includes valuable skills in basic computer operations, business math, finance, economics, and business communications that are very relevant to the jobs available for individuals with solid office skills and no degree beyond a high school degree or equivalency diploma. And we offer real job placement—not just the trapping of job placement so many colleges provide for students with no marketable degrees that qualify them for the exact same jobs they could have had right out of high school. That is fraud, yet many accuse our industry of fraud—despite the fact that our students are trained for existing and emerging jobs and actually get those jobs generally while theirs are trained to do little more than they could with a high school diploma after two years of study and are forced to take mostly irrelevant coursework when it comes to job training or retraining.”
Dan knew enough to know there was more than a grain of truth to Howard’s statement as he had long lamented the veering away from the practical education that was originally a primary mission of community colleges and vocational high schools. They once prepared students for work. Now they largely serve as feeder schools to four year colleges and universities where students could often have gone in the first instance and been better served. He also knew the reasons, though not as intimately as he would discover later in his career: training blue collar workers and even office support staff required labs, equipment and supplies that are expensive to obtain and maintain and could only serve limited numbers of students in each lab, whereas one could put 100 students or more in a lecture class at a highly effective per-student cost with no additional support than chalk, erasers and perhaps a transparency projector in the classroom. So, turf issues aside, community colleges—always under-funded—changed their mission from primarily training workers to preparing students to pursue four year degrees that provided little by way of employable skills. And vocational high schools likewise all but disappeared.
Changing tack, Dan said, “I don’t disagree with you, Howard. But even though I’ve been on the job for less than a half day, I wonder whether we are doing all we can to provide intensive, short courses at a reasonable price. I’d much rather see short three month programs than a 12-month program that for many entry-level support jobs may be overkill.”
Howard again smiled benignly, “That may be, but remember that this is first and foremost a business. Short courses don’t bring in the money that longer courses do. So longer courses are going to be preferable. And, in any case, the shortest program we offer is six months here, and it beats two years of largely irrelevant coursework at a community college for students who need to get job skills quickly. They may pay more for a nine- or twelve-month course with us than a two-year community college associate’s degree—they do in fact--but they will be able to get real jobs that they cannot get with a typical AS transfer degree. And, since the vast majority of our students qualify for PELL and TAP grants, guaranteed student loans and even state incentives for some students, it is a relative bargain.”
Dan did not respond but was still unconvinced and knew he would work to add at least one three-month certificate program with the greatest possible flexibility for students that could get them good jobs as soon as possible in the emerging computer-assisted clerical and data entry fields of the 1980s. He was sure that was the right path to take and would not easily be dissuaded from pursuing it. He would just have to find a way to make it palatable to the organization.
Without further discussion, Howard rose from his chair and said, “Let me give you the grand tour, and then we can break for lunch.”
“Sounds good,” Dan replied, rising to follow his colleague out of his office.
For the next half hour, Howard showed Dan the various classrooms that were set up little differently from the ones in the Queens school. Each classroom had either large full-wall windows to the common corridors, and/or custom windows taking up the upper portion of every door so that prospective students could view students in class during tours of the school. He was surprised and annoyed to see two different admissions counselors taking students around actually go in to classrooms where lectures where taking place and continuing to speak to their charges as though they were tour guides in a zoo.
“Why are these people interrupting classes by walking in and showing their groups around during lectures?” Dan asked, turning to Howard.
“It’s the best way to showcase what’s happening in the classroom and to let prospects see what goes on in the classroom for a few minutes.”
“I find that very disruptive for the classes involved,” Dan replied.
“Well, I don’t agree—at any rate, I don’t think it’s a significant disruption, and they do the same thing in all of the schools. It’s a favorite tool of the admissions counselors for signing up students.”
That will continue over my dead body in my school, Dan thought, though he refrained from making further comment on the matter out loud. As the tour continued, Dan noticed that there was no nursing assistant lab and no electronics lab at this facility, but the other rooms and classrooms were about the same as in the Queens school. He noticed two typing labs with the same IBM Selectric typewriters in use, and the same computer labs with the outdated Apple IIe computers that he knew had become obsolete some seven years prior when Apple introduced the Apple III series in 1980.
“Why haven’t the computers been updated to the new IBM PCs that are the most commonly used computers in business today?” Dan asked Howard as they passed by the first of two Apple IIe labs.
Howard looked at Dan as if he had asked “Why do people have to pay for stuff at the supermarket?” He shook his head and said, “It’s a cost issue, Dan. These computers are old but still functional, and they are perfectly fine for business simulations, typing practice and basic word processing which is what they are mostly used for.”
“But they won’t run the newest common business software—WordStar and the new WordPerfect word processors, Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets and dBase III or the newer Paradox database management programs,” Dan objected.
“The Apple IIe can actually run VisiCalc and the earlier version of dBase, but we don’t even teach that at this point. Computers in the office are becoming very common, and you’re right that the IBM PC is the dominant system used in business, but what we try to do is to provide students with some basic computer literacy that will make them easier to train on whatever business programs and platform employers may be using now or in the future. They are way ahead of the game these days if they can just turn on a computer and load a program or know what a floppy disk is and the difference between RAM and ROM. That we teach them. The rest the employers will be able to piggyback on easily.” Howard responded, seeming to genuinely believe what he was saying. And, although Dan disagreed, he did not want to have that debate here and now. It would likely be yet another challenge he would need to overcome while finding a way to do it at a minimal cost if he could swing that somehow.
Shortly thereafter, the tour done, Howard suggested they go out for lunch at a local eatery. Dan happily agreed. They went out and crossed the street to the corner deli, with Howard saying that they had about an hour as the Melameds, the PEMTI owners, wanted to meet Dan at 1:00 p.m. The typically small deli in a high rent district sported only a half dozen high wooden chairs along a long, narrow table affixed to the sill of the plate glass window facing the sidewalk. There were no chairs or tables outside as these were prohibited by local codes. The seats were unsurprisingly all taken, so Howard suggested they buy their lunch and return back to his office to eat it. Howard ordered a pastrami and Swiss on rye with mustard and Dan ordered one of his favorites, a classic Reuben sandwich—thin-sliced corned beef with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and Swiss cheese on buttered bread grilled to perfection. He and Howard both got a half pickle with their sandwich and Dan picked up a can of coke while Howard grabbed a can of 7-Up from the self-serve fridge by the counter. The sandwiches were ready within five minutes, and Dan insisted on paying, but Howard would not let him. “This is on me. Trust me, although I don’t know and don’t want to know your salary, I guarantee mine is more than twice yours. Plus, I’ll get the Melameds to reimburse me for lunch.” Dan relented and thanked Howard who paid the $11.98 bill and they once again crossed the street carrying their lunch in brown paper bags back to Howard’s office.
As they ate their lunch on Howard’s desk, Dan asked Howard if he taught at all. He replied, “Yes, I teach Industrial and Organizational Psychology as I am the best qualified to do so here and get paid extra for it—something I negotiated with the Melameds when I was hired. I have a masters in sociology in addition to my Ed.D.”
“Howard, I was wondering how you handle the long days. I assume your school is also open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. or so. How do you juggle being around for both sets of faculty and having a presence both morning, noon and night?”
“We’re actually open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. here. And I try to be flexible by being here on some days as early as 7:00 a.m. and others coming in sometime after noon and staying through 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. I don’t tell people what my schedule is, except for my secretary and the receptionist in case they need to schedule appointments. Unlike everyone else, we don’t need to punch the clock, so our schedule is completely up to us. No one will ask you about it as long as there are no problems and no obvious pattern of abuse. I even take off when I need a long weekend from time to time—usually on a Friday or Monday. I check in from home with my secretary or the receptionist.”
“You mentioned a secretary. Do you have full or part time support?” Dan asked.
“I have a part-time secretary who is actually a work study student in the secretarial program—the best they have—who works for me about four hours a day during the week. She is paid partially by PEMTI and partially from federal funds. You can get one too—all the deans have the same support. And you can use the receptionist when needed as receptionists also have student workers assigned to them. All the receptionists are real secretaries with excellent typing and steno skills.”
“I’ll look into that.” He said, though Marvin had already offered him a similar arrangement but with a regular secretary rather than a student—something he would not mention to Howard either.
They made additional small talk and Howard continued to offer advice on a wide range of subjects as they finished their lunch. Then, at the appointed time, Howard called the receptionist over to walk Dan to the Melameds’ office to meet his bosses, telling Dan to return when the meeting was over, adding “It should go very quickly—they just want to put the name and the face together.”
Dan thanked him and followed the receptionist as she escorted Dan to the administrative side of the school through doors off the reception area. She found her way down a corridor with half a dozen small offices not unlike those in the Queens school, and eventually got to one of two large corner offices facing each other at the end of the hall. The corner office to the left had the name Benjamin Melamed emblazoned on an impressive, gleaming golden plaque with the title Chief Executive Officer immediately below the name. The office to the right sported an identical golden plaque on its own massive cherrywood door with the name Martha Melamed and the title Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.” Turning to the left, the receptionist knocked lightly on the partially open door and received a prompt “come in” from a male voice inside. She opened the door all the way and escorted Dan to a massive oak desk polished to a high gloss behind which sat a portly, balding man in his middle to late 50’s. To his right, sat a handsome woman perhaps ten years his junior on a large brown leather chair. Both rose and the man extended his hand to Dan. “Dean Amor, I presume” he said, cheerfully. “I’m Benjamin Melamed, and this is my wife, Mrs. Martha Melamed.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Melamed,” Dan responded, shaking the man’s offered hand and then extending his to Mrs. Melamed.”
“Please have a seat,” the man motioned to a plush leather chair across from his desk as the woman sat back on her own just a few feet to the left, at the right side of her husband’s desk. As Dan did as he was bid, the man continued affably. “Jerry, our V.P. for Administration, and Marvin were both very impressed with you on paper and in person and highly recommended you. We are very happy to have you onboard.”
“I’m very pleased to be here, and grateful for the opportunity and vote of confidence. I’m very much looking forward to my new role.”
“So, tell us, how is your meeting with Howard going today?” Mrs. Melamed asked.
“Dr. Green has been very helpful, and I appreciate his guidance before taking on a role about which I have much to learn. But I’ve always been a quick study, so I’m confident I will hit the ground running starting tomorrow at my new post, if that is acceptable to both of you, and to Dr. Green, of course,” Dan offered.
“Fine, fine,” Mr. Melamed answered. “We have every confidence in you, but you are welcome to spend a few more days with Howard if you would find that helpful. I know they’re eager to have you at the Queens campus, but we want you to be comfortable in talking on your role there—no rush as another day or two will make little difference.”
“Dr. Green has been very helpful to me today, but as I said, I’m a quick study and he has graciously offered me his assistance by phone whenever I need it, so I think I’ll be ready after today to assume my duties without further delay, as long as he concurs.”
“That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Melamed intoned, as Mr. Melamed smiled an apparently genuine smile. She then added, “We’re a family business and PEMTI is pretty much our only baby these days, so we are deeply invested in the success of each of our branches. We reward talent and like to promote from within when opportunities arise, so you can expect a rewarding and lucrative future with us both at the corporate and branch levels if as we suspect you prove to be a good fit for our organization.”
“Absolutely,” chimed in Mr. Melamed almost before his wife had finished speaking. “As Martha said, you can have a rewarding and lucrative future with us. We were very impressed by your credentials and background and more so now that we have the opportunity to meet you. We’re curious, though. Why does a bright, young attorney want to be a proprietary school dean at a salary that is far less than he should be able to command in his field?”
“Money has never been a primary motivator for me. It is important, and I do expect to be reasonably compensated based upon my performance when I’ve proven my worth, but salary is not a major consideration in my career choice. I can always make a decent living practicing law, even if I decided to hang a shingle as a solo practitioner. I am honest and hardworking, and, in this city, the mere fact that I have native fluency in Spanish would get me all the clients I could ever want to start a practice simply by advertising in the Spanish language media. I love the law in an abstract sense. Maybe someday I’ll teach law or consider running for a judgeship. But that is not in the immediate future for me. I want to devote myself to educational administration and I believe I am a good fit for the dean’s position at the Queens campus where I believe I can make a real difference.”
“How, specifically, do you think you will make a difference?” Mrs. Melamed asked not in a challenging way but rather with apparent genuine curiosity, tilting her head slightly as she watched Dan.
Dan immediately wondered if he should have said that as it could be misinterpreted as either arrogance or, worse, empty hyperbole. Fortunately, he really meant what he said, so he was able to answer earnestly without hesitation.
“Please forgive me—I know it must sound silly for someone who has not yet taken on the job to claim he thinks he can make a real difference. But I really believe I can. For example, I noticed that our programs run from six to twelve months. And I think it would be useful to create at least one new program that runs for only three months and concentrates on the emerging computer technology that is exploding in all sectors of business. I’d envision a course entitled something like “Computerized Office Support Specialist” that would allow students to learn MS-DOS, the WordPerfect word processing software, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software and the Paradox or dBase III database management software packages. They seem to be the leading software packages actually used in most business today. And I think advertising that particular program and highlighting the software competency that students would acquire would make our students more marketable upon graduation.”
Neither of the Melameds said anything for what seemed to Dan a long time. Then Mr. Melamed spoke. “That sounds like an intriguing idea, but our longer programs are our bread and butter, and we wouldn’t want to lose those students.”
“I don’t think you would, sir. I envision such a program running on a rolling enrollment basis as I would only create it to run exclusively as a self-paced course with students learning primarily by following step-by-step self-study workbooks guided by an instructor and a work-study student assistant. This means that rather than having to wait for six, nine or twelve months for a program to end before starting a new cohort, students could be enrolled at any time. And though the course would of course be much less expensive, I think the volume and the rolling enrollments could actually make it more profitable in short order. It would also resolve any attrition issues we may have with students dropping out prior to completing the course. If the 12-month courses now command about $10,000, a $2,000 three month course with classes filled to capacity would generate revenue of $8,00 per year per,” Dan said.
“But we now get $10,000 for the 12-month programs, as you noted” Mr. Melamed objected.
“That’s true, sir. But in the 12-month programs, each cohort must run for an entire year. You may start with 40 students, but there will be attrition. Partial tuition refunds and no government support for students who drop out means that on average you may have 30 students complete the course—and I’m being very optimistic here. I’m sure you know the actual numbers and that actual attrition is more than 25 percent. So, a 40 student cohort may produce $300,000 in gross revenue. My rolling enrollment which would allow students to enroll at any time in the program means that if one student drops out after a week or a month for any reason, she or he can be immediately replaced by students waiting for a seat to open. I am also confident that you would have an easier time recruiting for a three-month program than for the 12-month programs. So, 40 students enrolling in the program will actually yield $80,000 every three months or $320,000 per year in gross revenue. Conversion of labs from Apple II computers to IBM-PC or PC-compatibles would be needed, but that cost could be as little as $20,000 and would be offset in the first year that the course became operational with the excess revenue generated. And an IBM Compatible lab with the latest software would be a selling point for all of our other programs as well.”
The Melameds exchanged looks with one another when Dan had finished speaking. After a short pause, Mrs. Melamed asked, “But how do you know that you can find appropriate self-paced software or a workbook-driven format that could make that work?”
“That’s right,” Mr. Melamed said. “And you’re forgetting about the cost of the software itself. Licenses for PC-DOS and the application software packages you mentioned are very expensive.”
“I have a technical background in the emergent technologies, though most of it is self-taught. I’m a bit of a geek who learned BASIC programming on an Atari 400 and a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, both of which used tape recorders as storage devices. My first MS-DOS, IBM-PC near-compatible, was a Canon AS-100 system I bought new at a 90 percent discount when Canon decided to get out of the PC business not long ago. That is how I taught myself DOS, WordStar and dBase since the programs were included with that beautiful computer. I also built my first truly IBM-PC Compatible system from parts, buying the motherboard, case, all components, and the monitor from a half dozen different suppliers for about $500 all told—an unbeatable bargain at the time and still a great deal today, in addition to a priceless learning experience. Electronics in general and personal computers in particular are of great interest to me and something I’ve become somewhat of an expert on. I say all of this because I know that there are many self-paced textbooks and workbooks available for these programs, though I have done only very brief research on the subject to date for my own use. And I know that at least some of them come with free student versions of the programs. Also, any PC-compatible computer bought for the labs will likely include MS-DOS or PC-DOS either free or at a nominal cost.”
Both of the Melameds looked at Dan and at each other several times as he spoke, not interrupting him. When he finished, Mr. Melamed reclined slightly in his plush leather chair and said, “That is a very interesting idea, Dean Amor. We would like to hear more about it whenever you have a chance to develop a curriculum proposal. We’ll talk to Marvin. He has all the forms you will need and can help you submit it to the State Education Department. They have not been as receptive as we would like with our last few proposals, but this really seems like a radical departure from what not only we but any of our competitors are doing, and we’d love for you to explore the idea further and move forward with it as soon as possible.”
“Yes indeed,” chimed in Mrs. Melamed after nodding along with what her husband had said. “It really sounds like an intriguing idea. Please pursue it when you are settled in and have the time to devote to the project.”
“I’m pleased you are receptive to the idea. I will work on it with Mr. Lantz’s help and will develop a formal proposal as soon as I can review appropriate book and software packages. I’ll prepare a detailed proposal as to cost of books and any additional equipment that may be required. I’ll also do the research on hardware and keep costs as low as humanly possible. At worst, it will be a good intellectual exercise for me and a first attempt at creating and shepherding a course proposal through State Ed” Dan said.
“This has been a very interesting and productive meeting for us, Dean Amor. We are very pleased to have met you and look forward to hearing about your progress in general and on this project in particular,” Mr. Melamed said beaming. Dan got the hint that the meeting was over and rose from his chair and extended his hand first to Mrs. Melamed and then to Mr. Melamed. He then thanked them for the generous amount of time they had devoted to their meeting.
Mr. Melamed walked out with him and escorted him to the reception area, where he turned Dan over to the receptionist after once again shaking his hand and patting him affectionately on the shoulder. Dan was then escorted to Howard’s office, where Howard was busily reviewing some papers on his desk as the assistant knocked gently on his half-open door. “Dan,” he exclaimed looking up from his work. “Come on in. That took a lot longer than expected. Did they make you wait that long before seeing you?”
“A bit,” Dan lied, not wanting to give Howard any reason to feel threatened at the generous amount of time granted to what was supposed to be a courtesy meeting lasting only a few minutes.
“What did they talk about?” Howard pressed.
“Oh, small talk mostly, and a bit about my idea for a short course.”
“That must have gone as well as the average lead balloon, eh?” Howard retorted with a wry smile.”
“Well, they did not dismiss it off hand and asked me to send them a proposal.” Dan said.
“Yeah, well, don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.”
“Good advice,” Dan agreed smiling.
“So, what else can I tell you today about your duties, about PEMTI, or anything else?” Howard asked, reclining again back on his chair with fingers interlocked behind his head.
“Actually, I don’t have any questions at this point. You’ve been very kind and generous with your time and gracious enough to give me your card with your number earlier, so I know I can call you if something comes up that I can’t handle or need guidance on. And I really appreciate that.”
“Any time, Dan. I’m happy to help with anything I can.”
“I’ve taken up enough of your time, so, unless there’s anything else you think I should know, I think I’ll leave you to your work as I know I’ve kept you from it today.”
“Not at all, Dan. It was nice to have a break and I know we’ll get along just fine. Just call me if there is anything I can help with. I’ve been doing this for a while, so it’s unlikely that I would not be able to answer any question you may have at any time.”
“I’m grateful for your support, Howard. I don’t have any cards yet from PEMTI, but here’s my home number for now. If there is anything I can do for you at any time to return the favor, please let me know.” Reaching into his pocket, Dan pulled out a silver business card case with his initials and pulled out a card with his name and title of Attorney and Counselor at Law along with his current address and phone number.
“Are you practicing?” Howard asked after looking at the card.
“Not at present, but I have done some legal and consulting work for clients since being admitted and have these mostly for friends and family. Actually, my girlfriend had these made for me when I was admitted to practice and also gave me this card case. I carry it around more because it reminds me of her than anything else.” He then thanked Howard, shook his hand and headed out. Overall, it had been a good day despite some low spots. And he was again looking forward to starting work the next day.
Dan retraced his steps and walked the four long blocks to the subway station and thought about the days ahead. In due course, he transferred from the E to the G train at Queens Plaza, and rode it to the Northern Boulevard station, then walked five blocks East to his girlfriend’s Woodside home where she lived with her parents, eager to tell her about his day.
He arrived at Linda’s home around 4:00 p.m. and found her sitting outside on a lawn chair wearing a pink halter top and denim shorts, trying to get some sun on her long, beautiful, milk-white leg. He smiled at that. He’d gotten to calling her his little lobster during the summer, as she would easily burn under the sun’s rays like a luckless lob
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