CODA
+
Tippin' In
Since July
1996,
I've lived in a Philadelphia suburb along with my wife
and two daughters and have taught at the University of Pennsylva-
nia. It has hardly been an idyllic arrangement for me; actually, my
return !night best be described - to echo the title of the collection of
poems Houston gave me on the day my mother died-as a blues
journey home. At least once a week during my first year back home,
I longed to visit my mother's grave, throw myself upon it, and beg
her to let me join her rather than be forced to return to the hell my
life had become. But even in the midst of often debilitating anguish, I
couldn't face the pink marble tombstone, whose cold, penetrating,
masonic strokes wrote her into and out of history
("1929-1986")
and
immortalized a childhood designation ("Tippy") that only the peo-
ple directly associated with that mysterious time ever used.
After more than a decade of recruitment, a
1990
tenured job offer
just four years after I received my PhD., and months of verbal and
written assurances from administrators, I was informed on May
8,
1996,
that as a consequence of a negative vote by the Personnel
Com!nittee of the School of Arts and Sciences, Penn was obliged to
rescind its offer. Three years as an administrator at Michigan, during
which time I was involved in efforts to recruit, promote, and retain
faculty, suggested to me that this decision was, at the very least, the
legally actionable result of multileveled administrative incompe-
tence. Whatever the reasons for this surprising turn of events, I was
forced into the self-protective posture of rummaging through frag-
ments of conversations, e-mail messages, and official documents,
hoping to make these fragments cohere into a narrative that, along
with loving arms and other numbing comforts, could sustain me.
My family ended up in Philadelphia because after weeks of delib-
erations, Penn's administrative and legal teams came up with three
options besides compelling the dean
to
ignore the recommendation
of the School of Arts and Sciences' Personnel Committee. I could (I)
come to Penn for two years as a visiting professor; (2) permit the
university to reinstate the offer of an associate professorship it had
made me six years earlier, effectively nullifying my subsequent pro-
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