This is the final copy of Chapter two of Celts & Kings.
The next morning Michaels knocked on the door of Hillstand’s office. “Come in,” snarled the voice of the inhabitant.
“I came to get a grade change form,” said Michaels.
“Well, come in!” Hillstand said, his voice turning jovial. “Coffee?”
“No thanks, I’ll just take the form and be on my way.”
Hillstand stood and walked Michaels to the door with his arm around Michaels’ shoulder. “ I’m glad to see you are doing the right thing. I can tell you this now because it will soon be public. Today at noon there’ll be a press conference announcing a major building project for the school. A new gymnasium and athletic field. The Governor, Dr. Hartstein, the University President, and Senator Hayes will be there. The funding for the project will get a jump-start from Samuel Reed who is personally donating $300,000. The Alumni Association will announce a major fund raising project that he’ll head. Now you see why we can’t antagonize him. Thanks for coming on board. You won’t regret it. By the way, you know that new computer system your Department wants? Consider it done.”
When Michaels reached his office, Megan was waiting. “I’ve been thinking about you all night. What did you decide?”
“Megan,” he sighed, “Janet and I spent a lot of time talking about it. Although she’s scared, she’ll support me in whatever I decide. I’ve thought a lot about it. I’m going to change Roger’s grade. I can’t put my family at risk of losing everything we’ve worked for.”
“Don’t you have a contract? Tenure?”
“Schools don’t give tenure anymore. Except for a few older professors, we’re all on contract. Mine is up for renewal this December.”
“It’s only May. You have a few months.”
“Yeah, months filled with hell. Poor teaching assignments, extra committee work, harassment by Hillstand. And then at the end no contract renewal. Hillstand will find some reason to let me go. If they want to get rid of somebody, it won’t be hard to find a reason. Maybe even find a way of ending my contract early….” He paced back and forth across the office.
“John, aren’t you doing the very thing we talked about yesterday? Selling out? Not making a difference?”
“You know, it’s easy for you to say; you don’t have a family to support. You don’t have the responsibilities of a child and a mortgage. You can be idealistic. I can’t afford that.
“And, did you know,” he continued bitterly, “that today at noon, the Governor, President Hartstein, and Senator Hayes are announcing a major fundraising project for a new athletic field? Guess who’s kicking it off with $300,000? Yep, Samuel Reed. No wonder Hillstand wanted me to go along. Yep, it’s possible Reed could get so ticked off, he’d pull out of the project altogether. And all because I didn’t change a grade for a stupid, bratty kid.”
“Oh my God!”
“After all, it’s not like the kid doesn’t have the grades. He’s victim to a stupid attendance policy that somebody made up.”
“What about your integrity?”
“Integrity? This is the real world.” He waved his arms with disgust. “I don’t have to like it, but it is reality. This is the way the world works. Yeah, it sucks. It really sucks. A world where everything is for sale. I don’t want it but I have to live in it. And I need to take care of my family. That comes first.” He waved his finger at her and punctuated the air with short thrusts.
“What about the John Michaels who fought ten years ago to stop a horrible tragedy? The John Michaels who risked everything on a mad race down the Champs Elysée?”
“Well you know what?” He half-turned toward her. “I did my good deed ten years ago. I risked my life for the greater good. I put my time in. Don’t ask me to do the world anymore favors, make anymore sacrifices. The world isn’t worth it. I did my good deed. I gotta look after number one. Whatever I do won’t make a difference anyway.”
Megan walked to the door, turned toward Michaels with a sad look, and said as she left, “No John, I guess it won’t.”
Michaels returned to his desk. He filled out the form but hesitated a long moment before he put his signature on it. The phone rang. It was Dryer.
“John, Janet called Annemarie this morning and told her what was coming down. Did you sign that form yet?”
“No, but I was just about to. Why?”
“Well, you might want to think twice about it. Roger Reed is going around telling everybody how his old man kicked your ass. Made you cave in. Gloating about how you’re such a wuss.”
“John, he’s completely destroying any credibility you’ve had. You sign that paper and you’ve lost any respect the kids ever had for you.”
Michaels had a dawning awareness. Then the realization hit him. “God! What an example I’d be! I spent years teaching my classes how individuals changed history and how they can too. And now the teacher is caving in. Tom, thanks, I will probably lose my job. I may never teach again. But now I see the mistake I almost made.”
He hung up the phone. He tore up the grade change form and debated whether to email Hillstand or tell him directly. He decided the direct approach would be better. He walked down to Hillstand’s office. Hillstand was just hanging up the phone. He looked up.
“John! Did you bring the form? Good timing. I just got off the phone with Reed. Looks like everything is a go for the press conference. Thanks for your cooperation.”
Michaels swallowed. “Dr. Hillstand, I came to tell you I can’t sign the form. If I do, it’ll repudiate everything I stand for and teach my students. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”
The veins in Hillstand’s head swelled like thick black snakes. The next words he spoke were raw and angry—a declaration of war. “John, I am very sorry to hear that. Did I tell you I’d be evaluating your classes from now on? I heard some complaints from some of the students about your teaching methods. By the way, should you decide to leave, don’t plan on a good recommendation. That will be all.”