The Room at the End of the Hall

Posted by jlubans on January 29, 2021

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I was getting to know, as part of a new job, my organization’s large building. I was learning the lay of the land, so to speak.
As it turned out, one event revealed a great deal about the organization’s culture, and it was not flattering.
During my wanderings about the building, I encountered a locked door at the end of a dark hall.
There was no name on the door, only a number, 319. Nor was it listed on our directory of rooms.
Given the room next door to 319 faced the Yard, the university’s most desirable space, I assumed 319 did as well.
I went outside and confirmed the handsome view. 319 had a tall window, partially obscured by tree branches.
Well then, why was this space not listed in our directory?
I asked my boss and he directed me, inexplicably, to Human Resources.
HR told me that 319 was assigned to Professor Baxter from the Business School. I had never heard of Baxter. Nor, I learned subsequently, was he listed in the faculty directory.
I asked, why was the professor in this building since the Business School was on the other side of campus?
HR - Byzantine as ever - avoided a direct answer, but averred that 319 was promised to Baxter for five years. We were not to use this space.
Was he using the space?
I got a master key and looked inside.
I found no skeletons. Nor, the usual deshabille of a professorial office, not even a waste paper basket, or a rug on the floor.
There was a desk (dusty) with a new red IBM Selectric typewriter (also dusty) and the usual office accoutrements. The book shelves were empty, as was the gray filing cabinet. Apparently, no one was using the room – it smelled abandoned.
I found out, via the grapevine, that the office was part of a termination settlement.
Prof. Baxter was unhappy with his job and his Dean was unhappy with Prof. Baxter. The Dean gave him an ultimatum: resign or be fired.
Prof. Baxter, convinced of discrimination, told him to go to hell and hired a lawyer.
The university (and its lawyers) - ever seeking to avoid embarrassment – “agreed to disagree” without admitting guilt.
The university settled for a private office on campus (as long as it was not in the Business School!) and committed to pay him several years’ salary. Anything to get rid of Baxter and keep him quiet.
I imagined these concessions, like the new typewriter, a private office with a window, were wrung out of the university by Baxter’s lawyer. There never was any intention for daily use; Room 319 symbolized an implicit admission of the university’s connivance in the claimed discrimination.
I never saw Baxter. I suspect he’d moved on – into a self-imposed exile far away while the university direct deposited his monthly salary into his bank.
Some years later we got to reclaim the space.
I never learned who in our organization went along with this secret deal and if there was any quid pro quo for giving up a very nice room for 5 years.
I sure hope there was; somehow I doubt it. This episode was a cover up; anyone in the way would be hammered by those sweeping the matter under the rug.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

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