David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Forgive A Middle-Aged Man And His Memories

March 6, 2011: Forgive A Middle-Aged Man And His Memories

Somewhere along the way of my getting older, colleges and universities determined that amenities were necessary to attract students: student activity centers, residence halls vs. dormitories, healthy food options and more.  These durn kids just have it way too easy these days.

When I was a student, West Virginia University's Stansbury Hall, where the English Department was housed, used to be the field house, site of Jerry West's glorious college playing days.  By the early 1980's, the basketball court in Stansbury Hall was relegated to mostly pick-up games and intramurals, a place where Steve and I could get our butts smoked on the court.  It was as if we had never left high school. The other part of the original Stansbury Hall had been converted into classrooms and faculty offices.

Stansbury Hall resided at the bottom of one of the university's steepest hills, which is saying something in a town like Morgantown.  Going to class meant simply allowing gravity to do its work. Leaving class and heading back up the hill required a Sherpa.  What the heck had English and other liberal arts-based departments done to merit the former field house at the bottom of the hell, uh, I mean hill?

At some point, an "addition" had been built onto Stansbury, additional classrooms running parallel to the Monongahela River, offering views of the river, little used tennis courts, or physical plants. I took classes and eventually taught classes all over WVU's campus, but the ones most vivid were in "The Addition," where the classrooms were cold, the paint was chipped, the desks were from the 1960's, and the smell from the river, if the wind was going the wrong direction, made for a teary-eyed  educational experience.

The undergraduate introduction to writing poetry course was consigned to "The Addition."  In such a characterless place, I attempted to discard my shyness about writing poetry and impress my teacher, Lloyd Davis.  I failed miserably.  Mark, a friend taking the class for an easy elective, received better grades on his poems than I got on mine.  Of course, he intuitively knew better than to submit doggerel like this: 

These are the days of remorse/and the night of drinks,/a tightrope life/where everything surely stinks./His brain is at the end/and her life is on the brink./They are always fighting/but they never stop to think.

Dozens of undergrads crammed into a corner classroom in "The Addition" to enjoy a popular culture course, captured audience of chain-smoking Carolyn Hansen, who postulated endlessly about "Bob Dylan, the greatest living poet," while grinding her lipstick-stained cigarette butts into the floor, leaving a pile of  cigarette butts to await the poor instructor using the room next.  Her class was the first time I heard The Doors' "The End," wondering if the damn song ever would end.

Finally, in "The Addition" first-year graduate student teaching assistants met every week to talk about our developing pedagogy and compare our teaching practices.  We swapped front-line teaching horror stories as if they were Pittsburgh Pirates' trading cards, none any more significant than the rest; still, they were our stories, just as, unfortunately, the cocaine-tainted Pirates were our team.

Humorously, I can't remember where my math classes were, or some of my literature courses, which appeared to warrant classrooms at the top of the hell, uh, I mean the hill.  Maybe the hill represented the hierarchy of university rank, full professors teaching at the top of the shining hill.  Even now I struggle to remember where the biology and chemistry classes were during that first year and a half of college when I thought I might be an oceanographer or marine biologist. 

The English Department is no longer at the bottom of the hell.  They've been moved to a beautifully renovated building along the main street of university buildings. Students and faculty can view the stunning new library across the street, or walk to the student union or nearby sororities without breaking a sweat. Recent graduate students don't know just how well they have it.