1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Could a college professor get away with this?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, May 29, 2016.

    In my General Mystery story (set in our world, modern times), there's a college professor (well-respected, been teaching for years, and has a PhD) who lost his wife and small daughter to a drunk driver a few years before the story takes place. By sheer luck and coincidence, the former drunk driver -- now paralyzed and in a wheelchair -- is a student in his class.

    Here's what I planned for the college professor to do:

    • Be as passive-aggressive as possible; refuse to grade and turn in this student's papers and insinuate that the student never bothered to write them. “You obviously think you're above it all,” he tells the student in his office. The papers are ungraded and at the professor's home.

    • Crack jokes about paralyzed people out loud where the student can hear it. Maybe he even stretches his legs and announces he will be running the tracks that weekend. At one point, he even blocks the student's way to the elevator and says, “Take the stairs.”

    • When confronted by the main character, Kevin, the teacher says something to the effect of, “I had a life. I had a future and he took it from me. If he wanted to ruin my future, I'll ruin his.” In short, he's doing everything he can to ensure the student fails the class. And bonus, the class is a requirement needed for the student to graduate.

    • He ignores the student's questions, refuses to engage the student in the class debates on the subject.

    I keep looking at this and thinking, This is an unbelievably cruel character. No way will anyone find him sympathetic, even if he did suffer a tragedy. While that may be the point of his character, to show how anger and pain can really twist someone on the inside, would he even get away with all this? I would think that at some point, the Dean or a Chairman would be called in to discipline him for belittling and mistreating a student -- a disabled one at that. At the end, he does change slightly and start acting more humane toward the student, but would he even get the chance before he lost his job because he let a personal vendetta get in the way?

    If an actual professor, in our world, did all of this, could he actually get away with it, or would he be fired/disciplined in a heartbeat? Now, it's possible that the professor does get disciplined, so he has to find more subtle ways to ‘strike back’ at his student but I'm thinking that eventually someone would get tired of his shit, report him, and he finds himself unemployed.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    One way you might be able to swing it is if the student is feeling so much guilt that he doesn't complain to anyone, so nobody would really KNOW what was going on.

    Otherwise? I'd be shocked to hear of any school that allowed this to happen. Really, as soon as the school was aware of the history, the two should have been kept apart--unless this is a tiny, tiny school there'd be someone else who could teach whatever course it is, and/or the student could be given dispensation to take the course from somewhere else, or something. For the sake of both the student and the prof, this isn't a situation a reputable school should allow.

    And then, yeah, if the student complained about any of the mistreatment I'd absolutely expect the school to act. You could maybe draw things out a bit by having the Dean or whomever the student complains to be a good friend of the professor, trying to bend the rules a little to give the prof a chance to recover his equanimity? But I wouldn't think that would last for long.
     
  3. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    On top of what BayView has put, every education institution I've been involved with required prospective students to declare past convictions on application. If you have to declare 'Drunk Driving Double Manslaughter' or, worse, you don't and they find out through a routine background check I can promise your student won't get a place at the school.

    EDIT: If there's a way you can get your character to not be convicted for what is a clear cut manslaughter case but still have the professor character know, the plot might be functional.
     
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  4. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't be able to read it. I'm a professor (in Japan, so standards may vary), and several years ago, I had a student pop up in my class who I had tutored (juku, for those who know the meaning) a couple years prior. Told my supervisor, who said it wouldn't be a problem but to be careful not to let the prior educational relationship prejudice me either way.

    Sorry to be so harsh, but you'd have to go a long way for me to find it believable.
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree with you and @BayView . Maybe it'd be more believable if the person wasn't a student at the professor's university, but the professor discovered a way to contact him (somehow, and by accident) and decides to do a little cyber-bullying under an assumed name and identity?

    If the incident had happened while the student was still enrolled within the university, would he be expelled? I agree, though, @BayView , the institution would probably want to keep the student and the professor as far apart as possible.

    Bay, while it could be possible that the student would be so racked with guilt that he considers this treatment just rewards for his stupidity, wouldn't the other students take note? All it would take is one student thinking the professor is going too far and alerting the Dean.

    So my suspicions were correct: there is no feasible way for the professor to do this to any student and not expect some kind of trouble heading his way. He sounds more like a common schoolyard bully than an aged, bitter, vindictive professor the way I have him written now.

    Perhaps I can tone it down and have the professor be a generally sour, angry person? He's not directing his anger toward anyone in particular, he's just a sour, vindictive person?
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2016
  6. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    Cyber Bullying lacks the immediacy and high stakes which stories, especially ones like this, require.

    The death of mother and daughter make an exceptional emotional high-point so I'd consider making it central to your story. Establish your professor, well-respected and no-nonsense. Establish your student, a party boy who shows up late and acts aloof. Maybe the professor even sends him home for showing up to seminars still inebriated from the night before. Then, your student drives home from a house party one night and severs branches on professor's family tree, leaving himself physically and emotionally crippled as a result. From there on, you have a professor obsessed with revenge and a student beside himself with guilt, dramatic changes in both their psyches. A reversal of roles as the professor, once antagonized by the student, harasses and tortures the defenseless student.
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's exactly what I'm trying to aim for. I think my goal here is to try and make the professor's actions understandable while not making it so outlandish that people wonder why he's not being fired. I think what I'll do is tone back his revenge, as in he doesn't crack jokes about crippled people or openly tells the student to take the stairs because the professor's smarter than that. He'll be more passive, mor subtle. Like a venomous snake striking from the bushes. He'll openly praise the student and encourage him, but it's when the others are not around...when its just him and the student that his darkness comes out.

    I think that'll be what he'll do. Subtle, dangerous.

    There's...one problem though. The setting in which this happens is from the perspective of Kevin, a friend of the guilt-ridden student and student of the professor. Would it make for a stronger story if the POV was from the professor and the student rather than Kevin? And make this the main plot rather than a major sub-plot?
     
  8. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    Once the manslaughter happens, the student would no longer be at the college. There's no way. More plausibly, you have the car wreck happen and the setting leaves the college for the campus town, The Professor watching The Student from a distance as they both pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. If anything, the professor becomes more unhinged and considers going lethal to finish the job the collision started.

    Doing it like that, I'd say a Third Person Limited Perspective would work best but if you're more comfortable with First Person then consult The Great Gatsby for utilizing an outside party to watch other people's conflicts. I do think you'd miss opportunities for some great scenes by locking yourself outside of those two character's mindsets but it's really down to how you feel most comfortable writing.
     
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  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good thought. Maybe the POVs can be the Student, the Professor, and Kevin (for a third-party outsider perspective). That might make for a powerful story told from three different angles.

    Thanks. You all have given me things to think about. Glad I posted this question.
     
  10. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    There are a couple of ways to handle this. First, I like the idea of the Student being so overwhelmed with grief that he doesn't have the heart to contest his treatment. It might take Kevin's taking up the Student's cause to get the mistreatment exposed, and to show the Student a way out of his grief. A lot of the abuse could just skirt the limits of propriety: the Professor's remarks to a smaller group of students rather than the whole class, the papers returned late rather than never returned at all, or a paper returned ungraded due to "administrative error" or a contrived personal emergency. The Professor attempts to cover this subterfuge by randomly leaving other students' papers ungraded, but is eventually exposed when it is found that the Student is the only one to which this is happening on a regular basis.

    The preceding might make the story a little more difficult to tell, but it would add some depth to the Professor's character, and keep it from becoming the sort of Evil Incarnate Bad Guy that most writers use for an antagonist these days.

    As for the car wreck, it needn't be actual manslaughter. If the car had gone out of control on an icy road while traveling at a normal speed and had struck the Professor's family's car head on, for example, it might not have been something that would have gotten the student ineligible for admission to the college. But that might not have made a particle of difference to the Student, in his attempt to deal with his "survivor's guilt," or to the Professor, who couldn't see beyond his own loss.

    I think you have the kernel of what could be a very, very good story. I hope you can write it in such a way that you show how the characters grow as they deal with each other, and with their own separate pain. It struck me recently how many of Robert Redford's movies (as actor, or director, or both) involve wounded people helping each other work through their wounds ...The Horse Whisperer, Ordinary People, and An Unfinished Life, to name a few. It's that dynamic that made the stories work, in my opinion.
     
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  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's a really great idea! It would flesh out the professor's character to be more than just ‘Token Evil Professor McNasty™’. One single event and the aftermath as examined through these three characters: the perpetrator besides himself with grief, the Professor who is driven by his own pain and anger, and a third-party student who acts as a sort of mediator for the two -- and a bit of a breather for the readers so it's not constant drama left and right.

    Would it be possible for the student to be so guilt-ridden that he feels taking his own life is the only course of action? While that wouldn't really expose what the Professor's doing, would that make it a wee bit too dramatic? Almost soap opera-ish dramatic?
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's amazing. I don't remember having to declare such things when I went to college, either time. But that could be because I wasn't really paying attention. Have things really changed so much?
     
  13. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    The situation in Britain might be different to Canada. Job applications also require declarations of unspent convictions and pending trials. If you don't have a record, you probably wouldn't have thought twice about it even if it was there.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I never had to answer those questions to go to college. More schools in the U.S. are adopting them, but apparently it is still only 55% or so (based on my Google searching), and the criminal record isn't an automatic disqualifier.
     
  15. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    Frankly, I think that writing it this way would be a sort of cop-out. That way, the Professor doesn't have to change. The humiliation goes unpunished. And everything is pretty much as it was. Where's the real story in that?
     
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  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um, I'm pretty surprised by your sympathy toward the drunk driver and your lack of sympathy for the man who lost his wife and daughter. That's pretty f***ed up, Link. Not wanting to grade a murderer, especially one who murdered your family, is hardly what I'd call cruel.

    Not to mention, the drunk driver should and most likely would (assuming he isn't rich) be in jail, not in class. Therefore, I'm not sure how realistic this situation is. At the very least, I don't think he'd be given to this professor as a student.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The funny thing is, I don't know who is the victim and the villain. I guess they both are in some capacity. The student did a horrible thing, yes, but do you think he deserves to be emotionally and psychologically tormented? The professor suffered a terrible tragedy, yes, but do you think that gives him the right to insult and belittle the student?

    There's no clear Evil Professor™ and Victimized Student™. They're both the protagonists and the antagonists of the story, in their own way. The story is about what happens when you let pain and anger cloud your judgement, how it can twist you into becoming something you never thought you could. That's kind of the theme I want to explore here.

    I also decided to scrap Kevin and make this not a mystery because the story doesn't demand that. He'll be in another, unrelated story.
     
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Funny you should say that. :)

    In my misspent youth, I was tossed into jail a couple of times, once for selling marijuana to a police informant and another for driving without insurance.

    In my own defense, on the marijuana charge, it was a one-time thing anyway. I was hitchhiking across Canada, got stuck in Toronto, ran into a guy who'd grown some pot and offered me some to sell so I could take the train the rest of the way to Halifax (it was November and getting too cold to hitchhike). We 'cured' it in his mom's oven, bagged it up and he gave me half (a very generous guy). And he got me stoned before setting the 17-year-old me loose on an unsuspecting city.

    I likely wouldn't even have ended up arrested if I hadn't made the mistake of getting into the back seat of a two-door car to make a sale. Had it been a four-door, I'd have been out the door and gone as soon as the cruiser pulled up. Shows how stoned I was.

    To make matters worse, I wouldn't have been charged with a felony if, while the cop was filling out my arrest papers, I hadn't volunteered the information about selling. If I'd let him use his own judgement, I'd have been charged with possession, a misdemenour at the time. But I didn't and I ended up in a scary hell-hole of a jail with Tiny the monster guard (I'd heard stories all the way over in Halifax about this guy), cold tea, and tattooed inmates whom I was convinced were going to beat me up, rape me or both.

    In the courthouse three days later (I was arrested on Friday night) I got some good advice from another inmate (while he was taking a crap on the toilet in the middle of the cell!) to ask for a barrister who could plead temporary loss of faculties and get me my freedom. Which I did. My punishment ended up being probation. I had to report to the police station where I was arrested every day until I left Toronto. And as long as I told them about it, I could report in that day and leave the next. I stuck around for three days just to prove they weren't scaring me off.

    The other time—which started before the Toronto incident but ended afterward—was driving without insurance in Vancouver. I'd just arrived, bought an old beater of a car, and found out that because car insurance was about to be taken over by the province, the insurance companies were bitter and were charging rates that were totally insane for the intervening six months. I drove all summer without insurance despite knowing that if I were caught, I'd face six months in jail, a $500 fine (a lot of month in 1973), or both.

    Then one night, after my girlfriend had gone back east to return to school for the fall, I was lonely and went for a drive. I was pulled over less than a block from my apartment. The cop was nice, though. Even though he gave me a ticket, he told me to drive my car home, park it and leave it until it was insured. Which I did... the first part, not the second.

    But I was still lonely, so I went out for another drive. And got pulled over twenty blocks from home. That cop wasn't so understanding. He made me leave the car on the side of the street and walk home with my second ticket.

    So, there I was, alone, broke and facing two charges of driving without insurance. And they were cumulative at the time. I was facing a year in jail or a $1000 fine, likely both since I'd defied the order of the first cop to leave my car home.

    I scraped together all the money I had, jumped on a bus and ended up in Toronto... where I met the guy with the marijuana. Remember him?

    Two years went by and I finally decided it was safe to go back to Vancouver. Well, for the few weeks I was there, everything was fine. It was when I hitchhiked out of town that the trouble began.

    I was hitchhiking on a restricted roadway. The cop who stopped to tell me this had the same last name as me which made me stick in his mind. He checked me out, found two outstanding bench warrants, and I ended up in another hell-hole. Thankfully, during those two years I'd spent elsewhere, the law had changed since it was almost impossible to drive without insurance with the new government car insurance programme. Instead of a year in jail or $1000 fine, the judge (who punished me—in his words—to the fullest extent of the law) sentenced me to 10 days. Since, again, I'd been arrested on a Friday, I was out four days later. They accounted for time served (the weekend) and early release for good behaviour. I wasn't behaving to get early release, though. I was scared shitless the whole time.

    And so goes the story of me, master criminal. :)

    I lived with the specter of these crimes hanging over my head until I was in my mid-thirties and finally wrote away for a pardon. The reply came back and said I had no record... of anything... ever.

    There were two reasons for this: 1) I was under the age of consent at the time of the crimes, and 2) this was before criminal records were kept in databases. So, either the records were lost during the switch from paper to computer or because I was underage, they assumed I'd finally grown up, mended my ways, etc. etc.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2016
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