Opinion Column: Today on ecotheologist.com we feature the story of Corrie Green, MA (almost PhD) who was mentored by world renowned C.S. Lewis Scholar, Don King, and spent her summers researching at Oxford University. Could you imagine telling a mom of five working on a PhD that she is a dime a dozen? I surely can’t. Corrie Green is a gem. Read her story of being a woman in academia here:
Screw the First Rule of Fight Club: Requiem for Montreat, Fitt the Second
I bet I know what you want, what most of us secretly want: blood on the floor. Why do I defend and sentimentalize a place that the true author of this blog has revealed to be rife with disenfranchisement, sexism, and clandestine culpability? Where is my rage against the machine and what do I have to add to the current conversation happening here? Here is the point of the first Fitt (section/part/subdivision in Middle English): All the events that happened after Montreat employed me cannot remove the ethos of love, inquiry, largesse, and witness coursing through the stories that make up the poetry that is Montreat. The actions of one administration are merely one Fitt in the epic. Like any good epic, there must be a battle. For me, the battle was not between Good and Evil but against my willingness to admit that Montreat College was changing, and I was “incompatible” (their words, not mine). George R. R. Martin wrote: “If you think this story has a happy ending; you haven’t been paying attention.” And so, we go over the top and let the bodies hit the floor as they will.
I had three goals in my Montreat classrooms: 1. To instruct in a way that logically laid out the cultural landscape my students were encountering and to inspire them to think about their place within that landscape. 2. To teach them how to use rhetoric, persuasion, argumentation, literary analysis, composition and research to impact the world around them. 3. To show them the same fierce, accepting, encouraging, and inspirational love that I received when I was a student at Montreat. Vegas would give you good odds that I succeeded in my goals.
You may assert: “Anyone can be hubristic enough to think they were a successful instructor.” Well you are right, but my classes filled up in 16 seconds during online registration with waiting lists large enough to fill another section. Students sat on the floor and brought their friends. I taught mixed classes of adults, athletes, homeschoolers, kids who should have been in honors and kids who needed ESL support. Our lectures included literary theory and criticism, analysis, argumentation and rhetorical theory as well as cultural studies. I added minority, POC, gay, female, transgender, and non-binary voices from the Norton Anthology of English to the typically canonized White English Male voices. I did so to represent every student in our readings. In my personal and professional time, I mentored students; my family housed and fed, cumulatively, six UK/European members of the Montreat men’s soccer team each summer, gratis—because we loved them. I held my students when they cried; advocated for them; listened to their confusion when what they were taught about the message of Christ did not match up to what they saw on campus. I strove to walk out the mantra of my classes: “My job is not to tell you how to think; my job is to show you what you will encounter and teach you to think for yourself.” But in the end, my students taught me more than I could ever teach them.
As successful as my classes were, the crediting system changed, and I was notified via the Academic Dean that my four-section teaching load coupled with my Writing Center Directorship counted as part-time rather than full-time. My department appealed and requested several times for my return to full-time status. Their requests were denied by the Academic Dean. Still, I went to see him to discuss the continuing assurances by the Presidents Montreat Road Show that Montreat was special because of its liberal arts foundation. How could the President and his representatives promise parents strong liberal arts classes when the liberal arts departments were on life-support? His response: “Departments no longer make decisions regarding hiring“ (even though the 2015-2016 Employee Handbook says they do, pg. 7). I tried again to lay out my qualifications to him. You may say to yourself, “Oh waah, you didn’t get your full-time status back— the Academic Dean knows way more than you do about the budgetary concerns of the school, suck it up lady.” Honestly, if that had been the reason, it would have stung but it wouldn’t have annihilated me. Instead I got this response from my Academic Dean— eyeball to eyeball— “Your degree is a dime a dozen. I can get one of you off the street.” Wait what? I died inside.
This was not the only time the Academic Dean belittled or attempted to intimidate me. I had meticulously documented our meetings because I am a scholar and documentation aids in recall. I pulled up this documentation and crafted a letter to the college President. Tying in the New Testament definition of covenant (which is bilateral and reciprocal) I outlined my experiences with the Academic Dean footnoting narrative with dates and references in order to show that the individual chosen to uphold the flip-side of the covenant faculty were being asked to sign was either unable or unwilling to do so. The President did not respond to me, but he did read my letter aloud to the Academic Dean and requested he seek reconciliation with me. That same evening the President held a listening session about the school covenant with the students. Most professors attended as well. At the end of the session I stood outside with some students and said “Goodnight and thank you for coming” to those who passed by. The Academic Dean passed me and as I said “Goodnight,” turned to me, scoffed twice in my face and walked away: “Huh! Hahhhh!” There was no desire to reconcile on his part, and if I ever doubted that our interactions were personal— my doubts were removed.
There is more, you can find our fight in the newspapers, on WLOS, and Blue Ridge Public radio if you so desire. I wrote about it recently as well. I fought for my students; my degrees; to be the best instructor I could be; for the ethos of the Montreat I knew and loved who would not exclude and marginalize students and faculty; for my colleagues who were receiving the same or worse treatment than I— and I lost. I lost my job; confidence; belief that what I did served a greater purpose. Post-Montreat I took a job as the Chef de Cuisine at an Inn. I threw myself into 14-hour workdays often seven days a week, drank too much and slid so quietly into hatred of my Academic Dean that when given the opportunity to take communion I found myself refusing. Every academic success I have earned since 2017 is tempered and informed by his words “Your degree is a dime a dozen. I can get one of you off the street.”
Imagine you conflate your eternal life and your vocation with your job and then imagine you and your life’s work are equated to garbage, and prostitution? Now imagine that the college President, who brought this Dean in to the nascent community of Miracle Montreat to rehabilitate it, appears to refuse to listen to myriad faculty grievances regarding his behavior? Would you be angry? Would you entertain the idea that the tacit Presidential support came from a greater desire to court conservative Evangelical donors and high student enrollment numbers rather than foster mental/ spiritual health within the ranks of faculty? Imagine your students feel the hypocrisy swirling around them every day and lack the tools to deal with their waning faith. Would you risk everything to speak your truth to power? Maybe your answer is “No, not for this.” Maybe you do not believe the same as me; maybe you think the trajectory of Montreat College is biblical and sometimes in the pursuit of biblical adherence there are casualties—regrettable or not. Maybe you think I/we/she deserved what we got. No matter, believe what you will, but as for me and my house: The best is bad. I am broken and I was not broken by the Montreat that fostered me; I was broken by what it is becoming.