Down the hatch
The drinking was a problem, as I saw it. The whole point of some of the impromptu faculty get-togethers was to allow certain members of the department to get a buzz on.
When you're an adjunct hoping to work your way into the full-time ranks, you try to play the reindeer games. You knit everyone a Christmas scarf. You buy birthday and sympathy cards. When someone's out for surgery, you step in and guest-teach a class or two. You go to the going-away parties and you chip in for the shower gifts.
It's a delicate dance, trying to act like you're part of a group that you're really not part of.
So if you're not a drinker and your boss pops her head in the office and says everyone's meeting at the pub at 5, what do you do?
I went a few times, hoping for a little collegial fun. But there wasn't much happy at these happy hours. Everybody drank fast and with fervor. Tongues loosened by alky-hawl, they tore into students--naming names and gossiping like little old ladies at a mah jongg table--and then they ripped into whatever profs hadn't come along. Now you know I like me some juicy tidbits, but I got uncomfortable at some of the vitriol (I didn't always agree with their asseessments) and I knew that if I weren't present, I'd probably be getting the red-ear from all the sniping being done about me in my absence.
The department chair was never in a good mood at these after-work tipplings. Personally, a divorce weighed heavy on her. Professionally, she was on a constant trawl for money to feed into her department. This new tack--every department on campus raising its own budget money--made her dollar-crazy. She always wanted to know who the wealthiest students were among the new majors and if we thought their parents would like to pour some shekels into the department's coffers. She got loud when she drank, too.
Pub time would extend into dinner time and the drinking would continue. I'm not a drinker. I think in the past year I've probably had three glasses of wine and one margarita. It just doesn't interest me. But dept/chair liked her cocktails and she could really put them away.
Drinking with co-workers has always made me hinky. In the early days of my journo-career, my colleagues would repair to a crummy Manhattan dive called Fleet Street. We'd occasionally run into Jimmy Breslin there, which was enough of an incentive to frequent the joint. But the bar also sold cheap beer and had free eats, including the worst Swedish meatballs ever made. I didn't drink much then either. And I never had the same respect for my married boss after I saw him get liquored up after work and hit on the woman who sat at the desk next to mine. I just went along to go along. And to maybe share a "howya doin'" with Jimmy.
As my years as an adjunct ticked by, I stopped going along so much. Some profs seemed to be drinking more and earlier in the afternoons. Stories from students about how much this prof or that one boozed up filtered back to me. On one school-sponsored trip to NYC, one of the profs got so blotto, two students had to help her stumble back to the hotel. One of the girls was under 21 and was so fritzed out by how much the prof/chaperone drank, and how she wrangled students into drinking along with her, the girl called her parents, who offered to let her fly home immediately. This same prof showed up one semester with her arm in a cast. She'd gotten blitzed and tripped over a fireplug, a story she didn't seem to mind sharing.
"Who here likes to drink?" asks one of the department's tenured teachers on the first day of classes. When students raise their hands, she says, "You guys will be my favorites. I like to drink."
Another teacher routinely holds evening classes at a nearby pizza joint that serves beer and wine. She doesn't mind if students drink during class sessions there. She does, too.
One of the kids in my class went to a study-abroad thing this summer. A pair of married profs were in charge of the program and one weekend took some of the students to Amsterdam. "They smoked out right in front of us!" the student told me. "I guess they thought it looked cool."
I don't think this is cool. But I'd like to know what you think. What are your experiences, either as student or teacher? When does drinking with colleagues or in front of students go from casually cool to uncomfortably crude? Post your musings. I really want to know.