Wanted: job for deserving worker

28th June 1996 at 01:00
Gradgrind on the triumphs and trials of college life

Taking care Minder was nowhere about, Stott and Pearce looked at the piece of paper. Their eyes widened with every sentence. "Throughout his career at the college, Roger has always carried out his duties with exemplary conscientiousness," they read. "Not only has he shown himself to be a teacher of outstanding quality, but his willingness to accompany students on often demanding field trips has made him one of our more valued members."

"Indispensable," muttered Pearce. Stott nodded. "A pearl," he murmured. They recalled the day Minder broke the news. Looking strangely exultant, he had burst into the staff workroom. He had gathered himself before raising both arms above his head, fists clenched. "He got it," he said softly. There was wonder in his voice. Then, louder: "He got it!!" To begin with, there was a stunned silence. Then people turned to each other, their mouths open. "Never," some said, while others just shook their heads. Miracles did happen, after all.

Roger had got another job. Of course, people came and went from the college all the time. But Roger was different. Very different. Roger had been appointed several years previously, largely on the basis of a glowing reference from his employer. At first all seemed well, even if lecturers at his previous college were known to smile mysteriously whenever his name came up.

Before long, people began to suspect the message behind the smiles. A little later, it became obvious. A neon sign saying "You've been lumbered" over the college entrance would have made it hardly more so. His colleagues eventually identified Roger as the human embodiment of the seven deadly sins, with greed and lust marginally ahead of the rest.

A Doppler effect laugh hardly added to his appeal. Mostly, his peers coped by finding an urgent task whenever he came into view. Students, though, had no such choice. The charge sheet lengthened with every passing year.

Students repeatedly condemned Roger as vain ("Has love bites on his mirror, " one cracked), boring, intolerant, idle and, most disturbingly, openly lustful towards favourites. Minder knew about it, but there was nothing to be done. Until, that is, the field trip incident.

It was racy stuff. Roger and woman colleague take students on residential geography course; female student goes AWOL in middle of night; woman colleague knocks on Roger's door, hears commotion inside, fears the worst. Missing student turns up soon after ("I fancied a walk"), but story reported to the college authorities.

While not exactly of OJ proportions, the subsequent investigation was pretty sensational in its own way. Roger managed to wriggle out of a charge of professional misconduct largely through student witnesses' reluctance to get involved.

Colleagues lamented a lost opportunity. Their hopes remained dim even when Roger announced he was thinking of leaving. The news of an interview failed to lift spirits. Anybody could make themselves look good on an application form, they reasoned; but it was the reference that mattered most.

Minder would never dare . . . Stott and Pearce got to the last paragraph. "Such a popular and efficient member of staff will be hard to replace. I greatly regret the fact that I am at present unable to offer Roger the advancement he so richly deserves. I have no hesitation in recommending him to you." It was signed "R Minder, Head of Department".

"The crafty sod," grinned Pearce, returning the piece of paper to the drawer marked Confidential.

Stott laughed. Sometimes, it was just too hard not to laugh at other people's misfortunes.

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