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Chapter 3
After speaking with Julie, I went immediately to Gene’s office inthe Psychology building, but he was not there. Fortunately hispersonal assistant, The Beautiful Helena, who should be calledThe Obstructive Helena, was not there either and I was able toaccess Gene’s diary. I discovered that he was giving a publiclecture, due to finish at 5.00p.m., with a gap before a meeting at 5.30 p.m. Perfect. I wouldmerely have to reduce the length of my scheduled gym session.
I booked the vacant slot.
After an accelerated workout at the gym, achieved by deletingthe shower and change tasks, I jogged to the lecture theatre,where I waited outside the staff entrance. Although I wasperspiring heavily from the heat and exercise, I was energised,both physically and mentally. As soon as my watch showed5.00 p.m., I walked in. Gene was at the lectern of thedarkened theatre, still talking, apparently oblivious to time,responding to a question about funding. My entrance hadallowed a shaft of light into the room, and I realised that theaudience’s eyes were now on me, as if expecting me to saysomething.
25/290‘Time’s up,’ I said. ‘I have a meeting with Gene.’
People immediately started getting up, and I observed the Deanin the front row with three people in corporate costumes. Iguessed that they were there as potential providers of financeand not because of an intellectual interest in primate sexualattraction. Gene is always trying to solicit money for research,and the Dean is constantly threatening to downsize the Geneticsand Psychology departments because of insufficient funding. It isnot an area I involve myself in.
Gene spoke over the chatter. ‘I think my colleague ProfessorTillman has given us a signal that we should discuss thefinances, critical as they are to our ongoing work, at anothertime.’ He looked towards the Dean and her companions.
‘Thank you again for your interest in my work – and ofcourse that of my colleagues in the Department of Psychology.’
There was applause. It seemed that my intervention had beentimely.
The Dean and her corporate friends swept past me. She said,just to me, ‘Sorry to hold up your meeting, Professor Tillman.
I’m sure we can find the money elsewhere.’ This was good tohear, but now, annoyingly, there was a throng around Gene. Awoman with red hair and several metal objects in her ears wastalking to him. She was speaking quite loudly.
‘I can’t believe you used a public lecture to push your ownagenda.’
‘Lucky you came then. You’ve changed one of your beliefs.
That’d be a first.’
It was obvious that there was some animosity on the woman’spart even though Gene was smiling.
‘Even if you were right, which you’re not, what about the socialimpact?’
I was amazed by Gene’s next reply, not by its intent, which Iam familiar with, but by its subtle shift in topic. Gene has socialskills at a level that I will never have.
26/290‘This is sounding like a café discussion. Why don’t we pick itup over coffee sometime?’
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I’ve got research to do. You know, evidence.’
I moved to push in but a tall blonde woman was ahead ofme, and I did not want to risk body contact. She spoke with aNorwegian accent.
‘Professor Barrow?’ she said, meaning Gene. ‘With respect, Ithink you are oversimplifying the feminist position.’
‘If we’re going to talk philosophy, we should do it in a coffeeshop,’
Gene replied. ‘I’ll catch you at Barista’s in five.’
The woman nodded and walked towards the door.
Finally, we had time to talk.
‘What’s her accent?’ Gene asked me. ‘Swedish?’
‘Norwegian,’ I said. ‘I thought you had a Norwegian already.’
I told him that we had a discussion scheduled, but Gene wasnow focused on having coffee with the woman. Most maleanimals are programmed to give higher priority to sex than toassisting an unrelated individual, and Gene had the additionalmotivation of his research project. Arguing would be hopeless.
‘Book the next slot in my diary,’ he said.
The Beautiful Helena had presumably departed for the day, andI was again able to access Gene’s diary. I amended my ownschedule to accommodate the appointment. From now on, theWife Project would have maximum priority.
I waited until exactly 7.30 a.m. the next day before knockingon Gene and Claudia’s door. It had been necessary to shift myjog to the market for dinner purchases back to 5.45 a.m.,which in turn had meant going to bed earlier the previousnight, with a flow-on effect to a number of scheduled tasks.
I heard sounds of surprise through the door before theirdaughter Eugenie opened it. Eugenie was, as always, pleased tosee me, and requested that I hoist her onto my shoulders andjump all the way to the27/290kitchen. It was great fun. It occurred to me that I might beable to include Eugenie and her half-brother Carl as myfriends, making a total of four.
Gene and Claudia were eating breakfast, and told me that theyhad not been expecting me. I advised Gene to put his diaryonline – he could remain up to date and I would avoidunpleasant encounters with The Beautiful Helena. He was notenthusiastic.
I had missed breakfast, so I took a tub of yoghurt from therefrigerator. Sweetened! No wonder Gene is overweight. Claudiais not yet overweight, but I had noticed some increase. Ipointed out the problem, and identified the yoghurt as thepossible culprit.
Claudia asked whether I had enjoyed the Asperger’s lecture.
She was under the impression that Gene had delivered thelecture and I had merely attended. I corrected her mistake andtold her I had found the subject fascinating.
‘Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?’ she asked.
They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description ofLaszlo Hevesi in the Physics Department. I was about to relatethe famous story of Laszlo and the pyjamas when Gene’s sonCarl, who is sixteen, arrived in his school uniform. He walkedtowards the refrigerator, as if to open it, then suddenly spunaround and threw a full-blooded punch at my head. I caughtthe punch and pushed him gently but firmly to the floor, so hecould see that I was achieving the result with leverage ratherthan strength. This is a game we always play, but he had notnoticed the yoghurt, which was now on our clothes.
‘Stay still,’ said Claudia. ‘I’ll get a cloth.’
A cloth was not going to clean my shirt properly. Laundering ashirt requires a machine, detergent, fabric softener andconsiderable time.
‘I’ll borrow one of Gene’s,’ I said, and headed to theirbedroom.
When I returned, wearing an uncomfortably large white shirt,with a decorative frill in the front, I tried to introduce the WifeProject, but28/290Claudia was engaged in child-related activities. This wasbecoming frustrating. I booked dinner for Saturday night andasked them not to schedule any other conversation topics.
The delay was actually opportune, as it enabled me toundertake some research on questionnaire design, draw up alist of desirable attributes, and produce a draft proformasurvey. All this, of course, had to be arranged around myteaching and research commitments and an appointment withthe Dean.
On Friday morning we had yet another unpleasant interactionas a result of me reporting an honours-year student foracademic dishon-esty. I had already caught Kevin Yu cheatingonce. Then, marking his most recent assignment, I hadrecognised a sentence from another student’s work of threeyears earlier.
Some investigation established that the past student was nowKevin’s private tutor, and had written at least part of his essayfor him.
This had all happened some weeks ago. I had reported thematter and expected the disciplinary process to take its course.
Apparently it was more complicated than this.
‘The situation with Kevin is a little awkward,’ said the Dean.
We were in her corporate-style office and she was wearing hercorporate-style costume of matching dark-blue skirt and jacket,which, according to Gene, is intended to make her appearmore powerful. She is a short, slim person, aged approximatelyfifty, and it is possible that the costume makes her appearbigger, but I cannot see the relevance of physical dominance inan academic environment.
‘This is Kevin’s third offence, and university policy requires thathe be expelled,’ she said.
The facts seemed to be clear and the necessary actionstraightforward. I tried to identify the awkwardness that theDean referred to. ‘Is the evidence insufficient? Is he making alegal challenge?’
29/290‘No, that’s all perfectly clear. But the first offence was verynaive. He cut and pasted from the internet, and was picked upby the plagiarism software. He was in his first year and hisEnglish wasn’t very good.
And there are cultural differences.’
I had not known about this first offence.
‘The second time, you reported him because he’d borrowedfrom an obscure paper that you were somehow familiar with.’
‘Correct.’
‘Don, none of the other lecturers are as … vigilant … as you.’
It was unusual for the Dean to compliment me on my widereading and dedication.
‘These kids pay a lot of money to study here. We rely ontheir fees.
We don’t want them stealing blatantly from the internet. Butwe have to recognise that they need assistance, and … Kevinhas only a semester to go. We can’t send him home afterthree and a half years without a qualification. It’s not a goodlook.’
‘What if he was a medical student? What if you went to thehospital and the doctor who operated on you had cheated intheir exams?’
‘Kevin’s not a medical student. And he didn’t cheat on hisexams, he just got some help with an assignment.’
It seemed that the Dean had been flattering me only in orderto pro-cure unethical behaviour. But the solution to herdilemma was obvious. If she did not want to break the rules,then she should change the rules. I pointed this out.
I am not good at interpreting expressions, and was not familiarwith the one that appeared on the Dean’s face. ‘We can’t beseen to allow cheating.’
‘Even though we do?’
The meeting left me confused and angry. There were seriousmatters at stake. What if our research was not acceptedbecause we had a reputation for low academic standards?
People could die while cures for30/290diseases were delayed. What if a genetics laboratory hired aperson whose qualification had been achieved through cheating,and that person made major errors? The Dean seemed moreconcerned with perceptions than with these crucial matters.
I reflected on what it would be like to spend my life living withthe Dean. It was a truly terrible thought. The underlyingproblem was the preoccupation with image. My questionnairewould be ruthless in filtering out women who were concernedwith appearance.
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