An epistolary novel made up of letters of recommendation written by an academic in the creative writing department at Payne University is going to be funny and cynical. And this one filled the bill. Jason Fitger, the put-upon professor of a department that is sinking in importance in the eyes of the university administration has much to complain about. He also must allude to his own various bad actions, including a much-discussed, inadvertent "Reply to All" email.
In writing to the new English Department Chair, he says
God knows what enticements were employed during the heat of summer to persuade you, a sociologist, to accept the position of chair in a department not your own, an academic unit whose reputation for eccentricity and discord has inspired the upper echelon to punish us by withholding favors as if from a six-year-old at a birthday party. "No raises or research funds for you, you ungovernable rascals. And no fudge before dinner." Perhaps as the subject of a sociological study, you will find the problem of our dwindling status intriguing.
And in a letter about a Ph.D. graduate of his department to a community college chair,
Alex Rufel has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries upon which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Rufel the need to move to Lattimore, wherever that is. You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice and then charge your students a thousand dollars to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.
Before you become weary of the cynicism and the humor could wear thin, the professor reveals his better side, and the book ends on a high note.
Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members, Doubleday, 2014, 180 pages (I listened to the audio version). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.