Reading ‘Everybody’s Fool’ and Sharing Stories of Toxic Academic Colleagues

Can a minor character in a terrific novel spark a discussion of our worst higher ed co-workers?

September 13, 2016

Everybody's Fool: A novel by Richard Russo

Published in May of 2016.

To call Everybody’s Fool a book about higher ed would be a stretch.  (Okay, a complete fabrication).  Russo is the author Straight Man, my choice for at least top 5 billing of the most funny and accurate novels set in academia.  Can you recommend other contenders beyond Moo, Wonder Boys, Dear Committee Members, Small World (or any of Lodge’s Campus Trilogy series), and The Lecturer's Tale?

The world of higher ed might make only a fleeting appearance in this brilliant, hilarious, and pitch-perfect sequel to Nobody’s Fool - but Russo gets a lot of mileage from a couple comparatively minor academic characters.  The most memorable of these minor characters is Kurt Weller, the political scientist and newest faculty member to join the local high-toned liberal arts college

Here is how the decision to hire professor Weller is described:

"He’d certainly looked good on paper. True, he hadn’t published much, but he was professionally active, attending numerous conferences and giving papers, and he appeared to know the biggest names in political science personally. His letters of recommendation were among the strongest Gus had ever seen."  

Does this sound like any of your hires?

What happens once Professor Weller arrives on campus is not pretty - but is perhaps familiar to anyone else who has ever made the mistake of a toxic hire:

"By Thanksgiving, everyone in the department seemed to know something horrible about everyone else, and Gus’s once-sociable colleagues had begun to teach their classes and go home, skipping committee meetings and begging off their usual Friday afternoon happy hour at a tavern near campus. 'What’s going on over in poli-sci,' a friend in the history department asked him. 'You guys used to be the life of the party.'"   

What was the worst hiring mistake that your department has ever made?

Can you describe the behaviors of a colleague that were so toxic that they killed your local work culture?

Have you had the experience of hiring people who looked good on paper, but were absolute nightmares to work with?

Have you ever written a positive letter of recommendation in the hopes that a terrible person might end up someone else's problem?  (Or have you been on the other end of that transaction?)

Do you think that academia attracts a disproportionate share of narcissists, borderline personality types, and psychopaths?

Should Everybody’s Fool serve as a warning about the reliability of letters of recommendation?

What are your favorite higher ed novels, and what are you reading?



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