Harris Green, Professor of English (retired) DeKalb College '71-'94
The South Campus “Sting”
The following is a recounting of an event that took place at the South (now Decatur) Campus of DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter) sometime in the late 70’s. The story includes the recollections of Agnes Donaldson, Robert Clark, and Andrew Lawson (a relative of Robert), and me.
The event was a “faculty development day” program that the above people concocted to introduce levity into the overly serious business of educational consulting. The Faculty Development Committee that year was comprised of Agnes Donaldson (chair), Robert Clark, Wayne Cooper, me, and one other who chose not to get involved in our scheme. Andrew Lawson was hired by the committee to play the role of educational consultant.
Never before or since have I enjoyed committee meetings more than I did those. We would congregate in one member’s office or the other and spend the whole time laughing, sometimes uproariously. In fact, we were afraid we were going to spill the beans if we weren’t more careful. Fortunately, no one suspected anything and the plot thickened. Andrew had trained as an actor and had an impressive theatre resume, so he was a good choice for playing the role of Dr. Ralph Fader, expert in the faculty and administrative decision making process. We created a curriculum vitae for him and drilled him on the current educational buzzwords. The format for the session, which would be the crowning event of the day, would be a panel discussion. The committee would serve as the panel, and “Dr. Fader” would stand at a lectern next to the panel. Each panel member would pose a question to him, and he would address his answer to the audience, made up of the rest of the faculty and administration. Of course everything was rehearsed, and he knew all of the questions beforehand, but we pretended his answers would be spontaneous. Bob reports that he and Andrew were on the telephone every night for two weeks rehearsing the questions and answers. Andrew was to receive a dozen or so questions, and they were to become increasingly more outrageous.
On the day of the event, we had to “age” Andrew with some eyeglasses and a little makeup to make him credible as an expert in anything, but his acting skills served him well. After the usual introductory remarks, “Dr. Fader” was introduced by Agnes and the format for the program was explained to the audience. The questions we picked were those we knew were of particular interest to our colleagues, and the answers we prepared were exactly contrary to what our colleagues wanted to hear. We were facing the audience, so it was priceless to watch their expressions as they listened to the answers. I noticed one faculty member scribbling furiously on her pad. I could just imagine the comments she was preparing for the follow-up. The last question was something like, “What should an administrator do to further the professional growth of his faculty?” The answer was something like, “Mainly stay out of their way. Our research shows that the more administrators do to help their faculty the more they hurt them. We find that, generally speaking, administrators care about nothing except advancing their own careers.” With that, one of our administrator jumped out of his chair and yelled, “Not this administrator!” and sat down. Then, in the shocked stillness, over the intercom, quietly at first then increasingly louder, came the theme from “The Sting,” and soon everybody realized they had been stung.
Even though the whole thing was a ruse, most of our colleagues understood our purpose, which was to demonstrate that we should not trust every “expert” who comes along, and that we probably rely too much on the opinions of “experts” anyway. Having enjoyed that one so much, we hoped that after enough time had elapsed we could do another “sting,” but we never did.