The dean said she was moving Women’s Studies to Simpkins Hall to promote our visibility. I might have contemplated the Simpkins ghost stories that had chilled the spines of many Macombie Homies, but I didn’t have time for ghosts.
I brushed aside warnings from a journalism professor about the noisy “draft” in the quirky west-facing office I was set on. My junior and senior colleagues chose warm and quiet offices that faced north.
I soon became acquainted with the draft, a long and whistling moan that steamed out of the radiator. On a windy morning in November, I opened my office door to a room as cold as death. An ashy black dust covered my desk.
The office was haunted and I was cursed: in December, I was laid off. My junior colleague continued to teach Women’s Studies. Maybe I should have chosen her office.
In the deadest of winter, my name was on a brown envelope with no return address. Inside, I found typed-up “notes” from a meeting in Sherman Hall. I held the thin, white paper and read the names of assistant provosts, other high administrators, and staff. The “notes” expressed disapproval with some of the faculty’s open support for the Liberal Arts.
Upper adminsitration said WIU was suffering from “overstaffing in the faculty area.” This quote haunts me: the only essential employees of an educational institution are educators, and university educators use rigorous theories and texts to provide students a space to think, ask critical questions, and make meaning of their lives and the world. The political elite have had enough critical thinking from the public.
Because these notes arrived with a complaint form, an attorney said someone might be trying to set me up: at Western Illinois University, official complaints are frowned upon. An unfriendly ghost was haunting my end of Simpkins Hall. Ghosts started to make me feel unhinged–were they friendly or evil? Who could I trust? Each colleague or superior was a ghost or at the service of one.
My computer was also haunted. Attempting to apply for a chair position, I checked all the required qualification boxes, but the next day, the qualifications changed in a way that excluded me from elligibility. When I complained, I was told that the qualifications screen I had seen the first day had never been there.
Ghosts spook me most when I can’t see or hear them–when they leave no hard evidence. The week before final exams, with two or three weeks of my contract to play out, I arrived in the morning and inserted my key into the lock, but didn’t feel any resistance. The door was already unlocked.
“I must not have turned the bolt all the way yesterday,” I thought. When I closed my office, I began to test the bolt. But the following day, it would be unlocked.
I reported the unlocked door to my chair, who said it was probably absent-minded custodial staff.
“But we empty our own trash.” I said. She told me to email the facilities office. Right. Maybe Harold did it.
In 12 years at WIU, and 5 offices, I had always, ALWAYS, arrived to a door just as locked as I had left it. What had changed?
You don’t believe in ghosts, you say. Fine. Then who has been bullying me and why?
A ghost was trying to scare me and make me feel unsafe. A ghost had violated my privacy. A ghost was bent on sending a chill down my spine.