Swiss Professor Robinson chapter I!

At least one person liked my previous description of my classroom daydreaming “Swiss Professor Robinson” (Dr Slater of the Nerd Nebula) so I will try and write something about it.

I am a professor of engineering. Nevermind what kind of engineering, you’ll find out if I finish this account and it ever finds a publisher.

Anyway, I am a professor with a— what WAS an — office in Slater Hall. That’s the engineering building at my college. Room 331. I was assigned that on joining the department and promised I would be able to keep it as long as I stayed a professor there. Now though… I think I’ll be able to keep it forever.

A truce to these annoying flash-forwards! I am an engineering professor. I teach and research at college. My office was/is Room 331. Office hours are posted on the door and in the syllabus. Class cancellation, withdrawal and academic honesty policies are per the department/college guidelines. Anyway…

In late May I was in my office after a hectic semester (have I ever had a semester that wasn’t hectic? I mean, my office was always trashed after 14 weeks.). I had submitted the final grades to the Registrar and been notified they were accepted. My responsibilities for the past semester were officially over. I had escaped teaching a summer course in introductory engineering when the class didn’t attract enough students.

This was true of an alarming number of courses being offered over the summer. The college was in the middle of a wide rural area with the nearest really decent sized city several hours away in any direction. Engineering is no exception to the academic rule that the rich get richer. As fewer people attend, prospective students see fewer fellow students to hang out with, and so don’t apply here. This causes fewer classes to be offered, less mony brought in and so on down the dreign. To attract even professors to this hole in the ground is harder than it once was. No one wants to live a day away from culture.

About half the campus would be deserted this summer as an economical measure. Professors would be allowed in, but no classes would be held in those buildings. In the mathematics department, the professors obtained permission to use some old loading dock in one of the administration buildings as a cube farm. They moved their essential office matter over there and had the communication lines rerouted. Their normal building then completely shut down over the break. There was a grim feeling that the building might never come back.

Slater Hall was on the far north of the campus, about a 5 minute walk from the nearest building that would have any life in it during the summer. We could expect the custodial staff around on Fridays to polish up before the weekend, when truely nobody came in and the campus was totally deserted.

It was infact a Saturday when I was in my office. I had forced an entrance by pulling really hard on a door with a weak latch and effected an entrance. Yes, professors DO hear what students say during breaks. Ofcourse my office I had the key to. I found exactly what I wanted: my very marked up handbook of design coefficients and factors. I had been working out a problem at home and realized I would need some factors of safety in order to arrive at a reasonable answer. I knew I had calculated them before and noted them down in the handbook. I could rederive them by taking up maybe 15 pages of work at most or sneak into my office and try and find them.

I will admit to, while there, being distracted by other textbook, reference book and materials that I had long ignored in the hurry hurry super scurry of the professorial life. The ones that were from when I was in college were especially memorable. That particular problem, 4.37, took hours to figure out! I remember Timmo the class clown using it as his Halloween costume… That and Paul came in dressed, well, distinctively…

You, I think, get the idea. I was completely distracted in an absolutely empty building. Not safe. Not safe at all.


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