“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.
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