Ah, the dreaded mingle. The line-up, the handshakes that were always either limp or death-grip, the horrible rictus grins telling him how wonderful he was(n’t) and that they hoped (not) to see him again soon. Then, straight for the booze. This was one of those universities that asserted their prestige by getting you drunk at every opportunity. You could almost feel the TA’s and RA’s looming just out of sight, waiting for the dust to clear so they could swoop in for a free meal and a buzz. David remembered well from his own grad-school days: few things resembled a wolfpack, so much as a university symposium once the omegas descend.
He bore it all with grace, waiting patiently for that one face he actually hoped to see among these anglerfish grins. He had nursed the same Cabernet for nearly an hour, not wanting to be even a little bit tipsy when Ellis arrived. Discipline. It becomes a prospective employee. At last, there he was, and David summoned just about the last of his social reserves for the evening.
“Dean Ellis,” he smiled, extending a hand.
“David! Please, just ‘Lew’.
The Dean was one of the few in this throng who came off as genuine. The luxuries of the tenured, he supposed. Nothing to gain by kissing ass; nothing to lose for not being one. He made Ellis out for about sixty. He was Kilimanjaro: snowy up top and decidedly broad at the bottom. He dressed well but comfortably; like someone who wasn’t slovenly but didn’t really give a damn whether you were impressed.
“You did well. I liked the way you handled that one pain-in-the-ass,” Ellis said, undoubtedly referring to Frontrow. “You got better the more flak you took. You’re a born teacher, and Christ knows we could use some of those.”
He shook his head sadly. “Yes, the research pays the bills, but the students are the heart and soul of the university. Too many professors are superb researchers, and crap teachers. I sincerely hope your application will be the one accepted.”
David nodded, feigning a sudden interest in the color of the Cabernet while anxiety ate at his stomach. “Then… no decisions have been reached, yet?”
“I expect it will be another two months. The pool of applicants was staggering. I won’t lie, David; there’s a great deal of talent to wade through, yourself included. Heaven knows what kind of criteria they’ll use for the first few cuts.”
David nodded. It made sense, the economy being such a shithole. Tenure-track didn’t pay a tenth so much as a comparable position in industry, but it was a measure of job security. Not that a Ph.D. was in great demand in the business sector, anyway.
“I’d recommend you apply for an adjunct position while you wait,” Ellis continued, “but you’d need three of those just to keep a roof over your head.”
David chucked, though not in amusement. “Well, I’ve little to lose. As of this morning, I am roof-less already.”
“Oh damn; I’m sorry. Anyplace you can stay for now?”
“Thanks, I’m okay. My friend Michael’s putting me up for a bit.”
The Dean exhaled. “Ah, good. Listen, let me recommend for now that you step up your search for independent funding. Scoring a tenured position is always pulling teeth. But a visiting scholar with his or her own funding… well, that’s a welcome mat almost anywhere. And from there, who knows what could happen?”
David’s brow furrowed a bit as he tried to imagine powerful people paying him to say what they didn’t want to hear. It wasn’t an encouraging notion.
“Christ… here he comes,” nodded Ellis, as Frontrow sauntered over, apparently with a second wind.