What I learned from “The Chair”

Well, since I am undergoing a “staycation” for 21 days, at Hong Kong, there are lot of things to do, one may say reading is one of those things, but after a while, that feeling of the possibility to read non-stop just fades away, and, well you turn to what is easier, watch tv series, sitcoms, etc…, so after finishing seasons 1 and 2 of Happy, which is essentially a blood bath, and finishing the 99, I thought to myself to watch something more “constructive”, and set myself on to my chair to watch the Netflix “drama-comedy” The Chair, saw it from cover-to-cover so to speak, since, well there is a lot you can do on a 21 day staycation on a hotel, but as well there is little you can do.

From the outset it feels that Pembrook University is located in a cold place, and is the perfect place to wear ties, sweaters, and cool coats to have mismatches on the wardrobe, which hopefully is my case in the future. But, I am not to sure to be in cold places teaching, prefer warmer places. If you are an international student, coats and sweaters are just too heavy to be carry around all over the place.

So, from the outset, it seems to me she has three fronts which make her duties quite difficult, especially as she is being a single mother tenure professor cum Chair of the English department with South Korean heritage.

On the family front, she is with the great challenge to rise a her daughter as her own, and I say this because her daughter is an adopted child, born from a Mexican mother from the South state of Oaxaca in Mexico, which is one of the poorest in the Mexican country. I can relate to her situation, not because I am a single parent with an adopted daughter from Oaxaca, but because my wife is raising our daughter on her own in Guadalajara, Mexico, meanwhile I am away in Hong Kong pursuing my research, one of the hardest decisions we have made as a couple, but we will come through.

As a single mother, she is depicted as a person that does not have cooking skills, and having a daughter from Oaxaca, one of the places of great cuisine traditional heritage, is a soft pun, you get it if you have done a tour to Oaxaca, there are great delicacies and the whole place is incredible, however, I would have liked more that her daughter came from Michoacán, the state were the “Dia de los Muertos” was created. One of the greatest problems that my wife faces, and well the main character Dr. Kim, is that she has to combine her duties as a single mother and as a full time administrative staff for a K-12 School. Sometimes she is torn apart as to this double role, which is not easy, since you have to actually find someone who really wants to look after your kid, and is not an easy task, the marvelous thing is that her family is there, well at least her dad, since well, her mother passed away when she was little.

Her struggle in her role as a mother is that she has to bounce back with her dad, and her dad is not so please with the idea, not because he doesn’t like to be a grandpa, but because he believes that his former partner who lives in another city is better suited for the task.

In times of Covid, the academics who were affected the most on the “academic productivity” were women, they were the ones who got back to their houses, to be in the household, and to be attending their family, there is a great burden placed on women. My wife for example, she took the hardest hit, and I am in a huge debt with her.

The academic side, seems to be not to chaotic, you have the old and new professors, but it opens the eyes to the Professors, it has an scarry note, if you want to be part of the academic administrative ranks of a university, you will face the politics of an academic institution, and I relate to it, before pursuing my research at the University of Hong Kong, I was the LLB director at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Guadalajara, and you see that there is a struggle, as to the identity of the professor within the classroom and the identity of the professor who now is the academic face of the university, I remember the continuous talks that I had on this, I was no longer a professor to the students I was the face of the university, and this is a struggle, you are free within a tight space, for one side you want to be critic within your classroom, but for the other you have to keep the institutional ethos of the university, and try to handle the two sides, you become something like a “demi-God”, you have the powers of a professor to be in the classroom, but not quite, and at the same time, you have the powers as a chair with a rank, but not quite. So you have to follow politics, and do politics, and we as people that would love to be in the classroom and in the books and theorizing, well, to know a thing or two in politics wouldn’t hurt no-one.

Her duties as a chair is that, to navigate the politics of an institution that seems to be a white male dominated institution, with lots of bureaucratic ups and downs, and you are in a position where everyone expects something from you, to teach, to listen, and to do. Mostly listen and doing. But listening is the most required avility, and be nice from time to time, which is one of a direct critique given by an esteemed colleague of hers, to play nice.

As to love matters, she is attracted to a white male professor Bill Dobson, who is also depicted as a mess, and whom has a great knack with childrens and cooking, but is terrible at being organized, and has some alcoholic-pills issues due to the passing away of his wife and the departure of her daughter to pursue a university degree away from home. It seems that the love story is how Dr. Kim must look after Dr. Dobson, since this guy seems to be a good author but an irresponsible professor, whom is longing for someone to take care of him, it looks like he is looking for a motherly figure, not a couple.

Watch it, you will see later on the details, but the story ends with her losing her chair, and I guess as well she put her position as a tenure professor somewhat in jeopardy, the season ends with her on a bench sipping coffee with Bill, she seems more relaxed and at ease, enjoying being a professor, being in the classroom away from the bureaucratic-political academic struggles.

I will not sugar coat this moral, the academic bureaucracy, can be stressful and devastating for those who only want to be in the classroom and doing research, and if you are thrown into the bullfighting arena thinking that what you want to only do is being in the classroom and tinker on new ideas, you will have a rough time ahead of you. Also, that if you are a single mother, you cannot be in the academic ranks of the academic institutions because they will absorb you and you have to choose between personal-family life or the institution’s well being, the ranks are for the ones either willing to do the sacrifice or the ones that are just better off.

It seems that there is much to do in the academic institutions as to places to pursue not only an academic career, but a place where academics coming from different backgrounds can pursue their dreams, as cheesy as it may sound, to have the possibility to strike a balance between the administrative obligations, academic passions and a personal life.

Watch the chair, you will like it.

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