The Zookeepers

Now that I’m a low-level administrator, I feel very embarrassed when I think about how we, the professors, must look to the janitors, cafeteria workers, building managers, and all of the people who work hard on campus, without whining, without drama, and without constantly pointing out how they are huge victims of everything.

They must feel like zookeepers who take care of a group of particularly obnoxious monkeys.

I feel this especially strongly in the midst of the discussion among professors about whether to shut down the campus again. There are so many people on campus who have been working their tails off to make sure classes can start. And we are going to tell them, “OK, bye, you aren’t wanted any more, we don’t need what you’ve accomplished.” All this because we are a bunch of politicized, self-important twats who feel the need to “save lives.” But we never ask these workers what they want. It’s like they are servants, to be discarded unthinkingly.

The workers were always there but this is so much easier to see now when really big decisions are made and nobody even mentions that the workers exist. Except to narc on them when one is glimpsed without a mask on an empty campus.

29 thoughts on “The Zookeepers”

  1. Hello, I am a fellow female academician from the northeast and a regular reader of your very interesting blog.
    This post really moved me enough to comment especially since I am seeing similar elaborate preparations, assiduously implemented by my University workers over the past months, go to waste over irrationally heightened fears about covid (not to say I think online teaching is a scam, but that seems an annoying little whine in front of what the severe budget cuts are making us do to our low-level workers and adjuncts!).

    I am hoping that the level of craziness manifesting itself is completely contrived (has to be, right?) and triggered by this being the election year, but kindness and sanity will make a comeback after November 8. In the meantime, Russians will also prove to the West that they were honest-to-God working on actually doing stage III and stage IV trials of their corono-vaccine, instead of devising evil ways to covertly sabotaging yet another US election.

    And we will all look back at 2020 with air of disbelief… and relief!


    1. Thank you for writing this! I keep wondering if I’m insane and not seeing what everybody else is seeing. I pore over death counts and hospitalizations to understand why everybody is so freaked out. And I just don’t get it. Things have clearly improved since May, dramatically so. But everybody is acting like it’s gotten worse. It’s incomprehensible.


    2. I am in the UK where things are less crazy but still. My university’s senior management would like us to offer as much in-person teaching as practicable but there are limitations due to the 2m distance rule. On the other hand, my school (Humanities) wants us to do everything online for as long as possible. In my department, only 2 other people and I are planning to teach some classes in person (not all, because there aren’t enough rooms for everybody with the distancing requirements), and I am the only one to do so out of choice (the other 2, due to the nature of what they teach, cannot do so fully online in any meaningful way). Everyone else in my school is ecstatic at how saintly our school’s leadership is for wanting us to teach all online, and rabid at how evil senior management is because they’re asking us to risk our lives and our students’ (most of the students, btw, do want to be back in the classroom). Many rationalize their choice with idiotic slogans to the effect of “Online teaching is just as effective as f2f teaching!”. I am really looking forward, when the pandemic is over, to the next time our school goes to senior management to demand they build a new Humanities building (because, honestly, our existing places are crumbling down) and senior management replies: Oh well, move your classes to online only – didn’t you yourself way that it’s as effective as f2f?


      1. “Everyone else in my school is ecstatic at how saintly our school’s leadership is for wanting us to teach all online…”

        Methinks much of this is very precious class snobbery – they’re so special they’re entitled to live in a virtual “upstairs” while the proles labour unseen “downstairs” in the ever-so-dirty real world to provide them with all the life sustaining services required to continued living their privileged lives.

        In the dictionaries of the woke, craven and courageous have become synonyms.


        1. With this particular group I have in mind, I think many sincerely believe that we can all (rich and poor) stay home forever without society completely collapsing. Don’t know what’s worse.


          1. “many sincerely believe that we can all (rich and poor) stay home forever…”

            You’re giving them way too much credit. At some level, they know perfectly well that the proles are labouring away providing them with food, electricity, internet, retail, transport, rubbish removal etc. etc. Indeed, their virtual COVID ‘upstairs’ would be nearly as satisfying if the less worthy ‘downstairs’ plebs weren’t toiling away in their service.


  2. Bourgeois class consciousness at its finest.

    Marxism has always been sublimely bourgeois intellectually, in its leadership. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Ho Chi Min, Castro, Che, Pol Pot, Kim Il-Sung – none of them were “working class,” “proletariat.”

    All of them were either of distressed middle or spoiled upper middle class backgrounds, all privileged yet disaffected. All of them contaminated by of some sort of intellectual (usually Enlightenment university) education, which is the true mark of the bourgeoisie.. They come from “the towns,” fancy themselves sophisticated, have some money (but never enough) and “elite” education (yet no humility, kindness, or wisdom).

    They loathe their political order (“nature” “aristocracy” “patriarchy” “God” “canon” “law” “religion” “tradition”) which they believe represses them and their own original sublime genius, cette pute “l’infame” who denies their right to overturn everything that they have received.. The irony is that the money and “education” they have are the very thing that divorces them from the people that they claim to champion, who have of both little to none.

    The “revolutionaries'” money and “philosophy” is catalyst of their decadence. Their money, their materialism, divorces them from the mythos of their environment, biology and land, from sane work. Their philosophy divorces them from their tradition, born of countless generations rooted in working our land, which in their arrogance they objectify and despise. They condescend to teach and save the peasant, the “prole,” the working man..

    But the irony is that even in extremely advanced materialist (“capitalist”) societies like ours today, the “working man” still retains a tinge of his patrimony, his mythology, despite several centuries of indoctrination and conditioning, exploitation and contempt, still has a visceral sense of himself, still feels his excised heart as if a phantom limb..

    Remember how Lenin took the train from Switzerland through Germany in 1917 on the Kaiser’s bankers’ pfennig. Just as “Antifa” now roils our cities now on George Soros’s dime. The so called revolutionaries always ultimately play the bankers’ materialistic game. The “Communist” always falls victim to the capitalist.

    It’s a prophetic game of threes. First came Napoleon. Then came Hitler. Who can we expect next?


    1. “They condescend to teach and save the peasant, the “prole,” the working man.”

      “We have said that there could not have been social-democratic [revolutionary] consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, that is the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.” Lenin, What is to be Done?, 1902.


      1. Precisely. Lenin didn’t ask them.

        Nor do most American academics advertise to parents that they’ll be teaching their kids “critical theory” and “deconstructionism,” Foucault’s sado sodomistic masochistic utilitarian “panopticon” Nietzsche’s cheeky fizzy nihilism, Fanon, Crenshaw, Bulter, or whomever else they seem to be stuffing our kids – our children’s – heads with these days.

        I’m way behind the curve here, I have no idea what the hip kids are reading these days. All I know is that it’s got nothing to do with me or my own. It’s all alien to us.

        That’s why the Academy is dead. Contempt. Deceit. Dissimulation. Fraud. Violation of Faith and Trust.

        Sacrilege. Alienation.


  3. I’m teaching about desire in a gay writer (it’s a major, canonical person), liberation theology and its influence, current protests and recent coups in Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, and all kinds of awful mayhem.

    I’m sorry you behave that way to your staff, you really shouldn’t, those are colleagues, you know?

    I’m not for the all-online plan and am glad I am not locked out of my building. But most people are a lot more afraid of the virus than I am, so I am assuming I’m the deluded one.


  4. I feel that I’m caught between two camps: 1) the terrified of COVID/ we are all going to die tomorrow camp and 2) the teach f2f no matter what camp. I want to teach f2f but can’t see how it will work if we are all masked and sitting feet 6-12 apart from each other. We can’t even move the tables in any room. I am really not afraid of COVID. (Of course, I would prefer NOT to get it but feel that I would be fine if I did contract it.) I am worried about teaching under impossible circumstances.

    Everyone I have spoken to says teaching in a mask is miserable and communication is near impossible. I would rather teach online where I know I can be successful. If I had a true f2f option, I would choose that. But I don’t.

    I don’t think I am discounting the labour of the workers on campus. I appreciate the work everyone has done and am so glad that there are spaces on campus (dorms, dining halls) where students can congregate maskless. But I just don’t think that a reasonable classroom experience can be delivered from behind a mask and when everyone has to sit so far apart that we can’t talk to each other.

    Has anyone here actually started teaching in a mask? Has anyone had a good experience doing that?


    1. // Everyone I have spoken to says teaching in a mask is miserable and communication is near impossible.

      Do you have to teach in a mask even if there are 2 meters between you and students?

      If yes, why not to turn to university officials and ask for a permission not to wear a mask for a teacher as long as there is a suitable distance?

      Another idea is to wear a face shield (and keep students away from you since the shield doesn’t actually protect).


      1. Yes. We have to wear a mask under every circumstance. The minute we walk on campus, we have to wear a mask. We are only allowed to remove them in our offices with our doors closed. And shields have also been ruled out! (Although once I tried to wear a shield, I hated it almost more than the mask. So so flimsy and it continually got fogged up.)


      2. We can choose a face shield instead of a mask but we can’t have nothing at all even if the distance is 10 meters. Which is OK, I’ve accepted it.

        Who knows, maybe it will be horrid on Monday. But at least it will be a new experience. 🙂

        Does anybody else here feel that the mask is really hurting their ears? It tugs so hard on them, they are constantly sore and give me headaches.


        1. Yes. I did have that problem and discovered that I had been wearing my mask too small. My sister is a good seamstress and very sweetly measured my head and made me a customized mask. She also made the “ear loops” out of extra soft fabric. So now the mask is actually comfortable. It made a huge difference in my life.


            1. I suggest ear-savers. Masks give me chronic headaches without it, because the straps hit the nerve behind my ears.

              Here’s a link to one of many, many ear-saver options:

              I don’t wear my masks quite like in the illustration — I keep the ear-saver down further, so the straps don’t go around my ears at all. You have thicker hair, so you might be best off with one of the crochet ones. Nurses I’ve spoken to have said they work very, very well.


              1. The solution I had come up with is to wear my hair in a high-up bun, and then use a folded bandana for a mask, tying it over the top of the bun– this way, it doesn’t fall off, and also doesn’t hurt my ears. Not sure it would be comfortable all day, but works well enough for shopping.


              2. That’s a really good idea! I can’t use it for work, though, because I work at a hospital and we use surgical masks.


    2. Our semester begins on Monday and of course I will share how it goes. We won’t be teaching in masks but in face shields, though. Which has its own set of challenges because they get clouded up with condensation. This sounds weird but you know what I mean. So it’s either teaching on mute in a mask or blind in a face shield. 🙂

      I can’t imagine how it will go but I’ll let everybody know.

      I’m against forcing anybody to teach f2f. I think faculty and students should decide for themselves. Everybody knows what works for them. You say you prefer online asynchronous and it works for you. That’s great. I couldn’t make it work for me last semester but everybody is different. Maybe it would have worked better for me if I didn’t do it while taking care of my kid all day. But it definitely can work. I have faculty who chose online synchronous and those who chose online asynchronous. I have no apprehensions at all.

      If I start f2f and students and I feel that it’s crap, we’ll move online. Fortunately, our administration has been great at not forcing anybody into any one model and letting people change their minds. I have several faculty who initially chose f2f but then asked to change to online. I immediately accommodated. (Obviously, I can’t guarantee a change in the opposite direction, from online to f2f because of logistics.)

      I think if we all become a little less rigid and try to accept that there’s no single way that’s right, we will all be happier. Asynchronous can be wonderful. Zoom can be wonderful (not for small children, though) if you have an engaged, happy teacher who freely chose it.

      The only thing that bugs me is people (and I don’t mean you, of course) who don’t even want to let me try to do it my way. I’m not preventing anybody else from anything. Why not just let me be and trust that I’m doing my best?


      1. Oh I completely agree that faculty should be allowed to teach in the format that works best for them– although I do think some faculty are acting hysterical and need to tone ot down.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You reminded me of my own experience study geology at the U of Saskatchewan in the 1970’s. As a break from studies, to earn some cash and out of a sense of civic duty, I served weekends in a reserve infantry unit. Our membership included people who worked in various support positions at the U of S. It was interesting hearing their point of view. Without exception, they saw that the professors had scant regard for the people for the support workers, as if they were mere functionaries with no other place in the world.

    My experience carrying a rifle for the Queen gave me a fairly balanced view of the many different classes of society since we worked together as a cohesive unit. One group that was notably absent from our unit of part time soldiers were any of the instructors from University even though many of them were young and fit enough for service. Maybe that’s the problem, they didn’t feel an obligation to perform a public service.


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