The Castle Herald
Every Picture Tells A Story

Plagiarism, Part Five: I Demand Answers from My Boss

This is the fifth part of our series on plagiarism. Read previous entries:

On November 2oth, 1996, I presented my design for the Stop Form to the Dean and head of the retention committee at my Colorado community college.

My presentation explained how the form I designed would help my employer improve student retention. Students filled out the Stop Form before dropping a class. It informed students of alternatives to dropping their classes; if students did drop, the Stop Form made it easy for college staff to reconnect with them.

Dean Joey had been impressed and excited when I explained the Stop Form. Her excitement wasn’t surprising. All the student retention committee had accomplished was to rehash current procedures, and she needed to meet the goal of higher student retention. She hadn’t sighed with relief when she saw the Stop Form, but she must have been feeling pretty desperate about what she would put in her report for the President’s Cabinet.

Immediately after the committee meeting, my boss, Ryan, had taken my design prototype to Chuck Herzog,  public relations manager for the college, in order to improve the appearance of the stop sign on the form. On November 25th, Chuck, Ryan, and Dean Joey attended the President’s Cabinet meeting and presented our committee’s findings on how to improve student retention — the Stop Form.

Past experience should have prepared me, but Ryan didn’t call me or stop by to see me after the President’s Cabinet meeting. I was surprised by the slight and worried about what it meant. By the time I left work that day, the deep breathing exercises and calming phrases I’d been repeating to myself weren’t easing the tension. An old familiar knot in my stomach settled in.

The last time I’d lost one of my ideas to someone who worked under Dean Joey, I had promised myself  it would never happen again. Before I presented the Stop Form, I had decided that I would follow up. No polite silence or servile holding back; I would ask questions about what was happening with my ideas and with my design.

I shouldn’t have had to ask Ryan about the Cabinet meeting; he should have told me how my idea was received. However, he lacked both courtesy and any sense of obligation, so it was my duty to myself — and to my work — to confront him. It helped that I was ticked off.

I had created the Stop Form. Anything to do with the Stop Form was my business. I had a right to know what had happened at the President’s Cabinet Meeting; there was no reason for Ryan to avoid me or withhold information about my design. I tried to be calm, telling myself that I might be wrong; perhaps he’d needed to leave work right after the meeting.

But in the back of my mind, a little voice kept saying that something funny was going on. This time I would not wait until it was too late.  The next day, November 26th, I did what I had promised that I would do. I wrote a letter to Ryan asking about the status of the Stop Form:

I was nervous about writing that letter because I was only a classified employee, and Ryan treated  me like an underling who had no rights. If I’d been a manager, he would have treated me with respect in the office. If he had any sense at all, he would have treated me much better after I had created the Stop Form, which was important to my college.

When Ryan started as Registrar, he had been even-handed, maintaining a good relationship with everyone in the department. But things had quickly deteriorated between the two of us, and now Ryan seemed determined to treat me badly.

As I got to know him better, I thought he was short on honesty and courtesy. For the last several months, his outwardly pleasant exterior had turned surly in private. He seemed to really enjoy being rude to me.

I supposed that some of his attitude and behavior had changed because he was under the thumb of both Dean Joey and her former administrative assistant, Stella. Ryan had to follow their lead, and they did not have my best interests at heart. Ryan had no inclination to be a hero in the best of times, so when he was offered a chance to play a villain, he took it.

Stella had become Ryan’s assistant after Dean Joey’s promotion. Because she knew where all of the bodies were buried at the college, Stella had more power than most administrative assistants.

If Ryan had treated me well I might have been sympathetic to his situation, because Stella was a piece of work. From the way she behaved, it was clear that behind the scenes, it was more of a case of Stella managing Ryan than the other way round.

When I had first started my job I liked Stella; she was friendly and went out of her way to make  employees comfortable. We enjoyed each other and went out socially. But Stella needed lots of attention. She had a husband whose work took him away from home, and no children or family nearby. She was at loose ends with too much time on her hands and no idea what to do with it.

Stella was focused on her job, especially maintaining her position and power in our office. She did favors for some employees, but she expected that support back in spades. She needed friendship on her terms —  and expected a great deal from her friends. She was an extrovert and needed a high level of interaction.

Soon after I started work, she began calling me at home to talk about our day at the office. She called every night and on most weekends. Stella had freedom at work; she was in and out of the office all day long. She checked in early, ate breakfast, and then visited the different departments throughout the day to see what was happening and to chat. She left early most afternoons, and she took days off that never showed up on payroll records.

I didn’t have the option of choosing my own hours; I came in, worked hard, and had to worry about getting  any breaks during the day. I was tired and Stella was high maintenance; it was exhausting to be on call for her after work.

Between being chained to my desk during the day and Stella’s after-hours calls, I was suffocating. I began to pull back. I needed my evenings and weekends in order to live my life. I needed space, but Stella looked at any space between herself and a friend as rejection. When Stella was rejected, she was angry and dangerous. After I pulled back, Stella seemed friendly, but somehow, my job became a little bit harder.

Her power existed because she was an information gatherer. She collected secrets. She knew too much about many from the top down in the college. She could not  be ignored or thwarted, so Dean Joey and Ryan flattered and appeased her.

Stella and Joey were a better team than Ryan and Stella. When they had worked together in the Registration department, Stella and Joey made sure  that everything followed their agenda. They didn’t tolerate interference with their plans.

For my first two years, I had enjoyed popularity in the Registration department and in the college. I was good at my job, and I liked most of the people that I worked with. Things were fine until I bypassed Stella and Registrar Joey’s  authority. Bypassing authority is a dangerous move in any office, but it is especially dangerous in a state agency. I knew that it was dangerous, but I felt that I had no choice.

I’d been working hard under difficult conditions for over two years. I was an hourly contract worker and was paid $6.10 an hour. Stella had often told me that it was impossible to give me a raise, that money was too tight in the Colorado government. She said that I must wait for a better time before I could become a classified employee.

I believed her and waited. Then I discovered that Stella and Registrar Joey had recently hired their friends for $10 or $12 an hour while I’d been working for $6.10. Stella and Dean Joey had lied to me. After two years of trusting her, I had learned that Stella was a  liar. I expressed my concerns to the dean who oversaw the Registration department. The dean understood, and I received a small raise. Later, I managed to become a Colorado state classified employee.

Stella and Joey didn’t show their anger over the raise, but they were steaming. How dare I object working for less than what they gave to their friends who were recent hires?  It was clear to me that they held a grudge and waited till they could get back at me.

When Joey became Dean Joey, Ryan took her place as the Registrar. Because of this tenacious trio, my job, which could have been pleasant, was never without stress.

This was my office environment; it wasn’t strange that I was afraid to inquire about the Stop Form. I was scared, and the finished letter was halting, hesitant, and badly punctuated. It showed my fear. What would happen next?