••• The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Uncle Pringle and Political Correctness
No safe space for a diference of opinion
“What’s wrong, David?” asked Uncle Pringle.
We were at dinner in our suburban house where the family had assembled to greet our son David, home from his first semester at college. Besides myself, there was my wife Eleanor, our daughter Stephanie, 13, and Eleanor’s Uncle Pringle, who had taken an early interest in David. I should mention that Uncle Pringle was an unusual person. He’d worked in several government agencies, all top secret, and since then had been a consultant, although exactly what he consulted on was never clear. What was clear was that he had many high-level contacts and that he’d helped out our family, including David, and a number of our friends over the years.
David had arrived about an hour earlier. He was 17 and had won a soccer scholarship to a college in upper New York State. After greetings and hugs all around we were having his favorite meal, pot roast, but David looked uncharacteristically glum. “It’s my American history teacher, Mr. Beard,” he told us. “He might be fired.”
David had mentioned Mr. Beard in several of his letters and I knew that he was David’s favorite teacher. “What’s he done?” I asked.
“That’s just it, he hasn’t done anything, anything wrong, that is. He had an article published in some magazine that one of the guys in our class, his name is Ronald Bumpus, didn’t like. The guy went on Facebook and Twitter about it and there was a big student protest. A lot of the faculty joined in so now it looks as if Mr. Beard is out.”
“What was the article about?” asked Uncle Pringle.
“That deal President Obama made with Iran about nukes. He wrote that it might not be as great as we were told it was.”
“And this one student, Ronald Bumpus, in your class, he disagreed?”
“Yeah, he said it made him feel uncomfortable.”
“Hardly reason for firing your teacher, I’d think.”
“Well, you aren’t supposed to have anything at college that makes any student feel uncomfortable. That means anything they don’t agree with or don’t like. ”
“What about free speech?” asked Stephanie. “We’re studying the Constitution and that’s in the first amendment, the Bill of Rights.”
“That used to be true but not any more, at least not at colleges. Now you have a right to free speech unless I don’t like it and then it’s bad speech.”
“It sounds as if your college is like many others in the country.” I said. (I should mention here that I’m a science-fiction writer.) “Political correctness rules. You know, I’ve considered writing a satirical novel about a planet where political correctness is the law, but every time I get started something new comes up that’s even more absurd than anything I can satirize.” I looked at Uncle Pringle. “I don’t suppose you can help out in this matter. You’ve had some contact with the President, haven’t you?”
“Not for a while.”
“But even he’d admit that the Iran deal night have given away too much.”
“I’m afraid the President doesn’t suffer criticism too well these days. He does owe me a favor but I don’t think in this case that would suffice. But, speaking of presidents, there may be another way. Who is the president of your college, David?
“His name is Henry Fairweather. Why?”
“Well, he’d have the final say about firing a teacher. What do you know about Mr. Fairweather?”
“He’s Dr. Fairweather. I don’t know. He does a lot of traveling, to raise money for the college. He usually takes Ms. Lynch with him. She’s the head of the Department for Gender, Transgender and Minority Studies.”
“Interesting. Well, let me see what I can do. When do you return to college?”
“In a week.”
“I’ll be in touch by then. Now let’s enjoy this delicious meal.”
It was a fine spring day in upper New York State, the site of David’s college. The sky was a cloudless blue, the trees were in leaf; we could hear birds chirping. David met us at the college gates. Uncle Pringle had obtained a meeting with the college president, Dr. Fairweather. I thought it must be through his contacts with the White House. He’d mentioned that the President owed him a favor. “We may have a problem,” David told us. “That guy I told you about, Ronald Bumpus, has organized a protest against Mr. Beard still being here and they’ve blocked the Admin Building.”
“Let’s see what we can do,” said Uncle Pringle.
As we proceeded onto the campus the sound of birds chirping was replaced by a roar coming from a crowd of students gathered in the square in front of the Admin Building. I saw a number of older persons and assumed these were faculty members. A large student was on the building steps, talking loudly through a microphone. “That’s Ronald Bumpas,” said David. “He’s been saying that we should shut down the college until Mr. Beard is thrown out.”
“We’d better get in to see Dr. Fairweather,” said Uncle Pringle. He started to make his way throw the mob, saying, “Excuse me. Excuse me.” Uncle Pringle was a small man with white hair. I’d always thought he resembled the English actor Claude Rains, whose first name he shared. The students, possibly because they saw an elderly gentleman, parted to let him through. David and I followed.
“Where do you think you’re going, old man?” It was Ronald Bumpus, who’d come down from the building’s steps. He saw David and sneered at him. “You’re not gong to save Beard,” he said.
“We’re going to see Fairweather about that,” David replied.
“You’re not going anywhere,” said Bumpus. “We’re keeping Fairweather in his office until he agrees to get rid of Beard.”
“Please let us by,” said Uncle Pringle politely.
Bumpus looked at Uncle Pringle and laughed. “I don’t know who you are, old man,” he said. “But you’d better get out of here before you get hurt.” I knew that to Bumpus Uncle Pringle looked completely inoffensive but I’d seen Uncle Pringle in action before and knew he wasn’t a person to be trifled with. Uncle Pringle took a step forward, Bumpus tried to grab him by his shoulders, Uncle Pringle nimbly sidestepped, made a quick gesture and suddenly Bumpus was on the ground, groaning.
“You of all people should know it’s impolite to invade another person’s space,” said Uncle Pringle. “Now if you good people will kindly let us by.” There was something about Uncle Pringle that said he meant business. The startled students parted like the Red Sea; we went of the steps and into the Admin Building.
Dr. Henry Fairweather’s office was as large and sumptuous as that of the CEO of a multinational corporation. It had a large window that gave a striking view of the campus and of the hills beyond. No wonder David’s tuition and room and board were so high, I thought. Dr. Fairweather looked like a college president out of central casting, tall, tanned, fit-looking, white-haired, dignified. We sat down in front of his large desk and he said, “I’m sorry you arrived at a time when we’re having a, uh, slight campus disruption. The students tend to get out of hand at times. But in this case they do have a point.”
“That’s the reason we wanted to see you,” said Uncle Pringle. “David here is a student of Mr. Beard, the teacher they want to have dismissed and he considers that Mr. Beard has done nothing wrong.”
“He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had,” David put in. “He shouldn’t be fired just because some students don’t agree with his viewpoint.”
“I’m afraid Mr. Beard has gone against the prevailing climate,” said Dr. Fairweather. “We can’t have these, ah, disturbances. I have no choice in the matter.”
“David tells me you travel a great deal, fund-raising.”
“Yes, I’ve been successful in raising a fair amount of money for the college.”
“And you have a travel companion, a Ms. Lynch?”
“Yes, the head of our Gender/Transgender and Minority Studies Department. She’s been invaluable.”
“Hmmm.” Uncle Pringle reached inside his jacket and took out some papers. “I’ve had an interesting report on your last trip with Ms … ” he began. Before he could go any further, there was a sound of shattering glass as something flew through the large office window and landed in the room. It looked like a bomb, with a lit fuse that sizzled. Dr. Fairweather let out a little shriek and Uncle Pringle quickly jumped to his feet but David was even quicker and dove upon the bomb. I was horrified, waiting for an explosion, but nothing happened. David stood up; the fuse had gone out. Uncle Pringle picked up the bomb. “Hmmm. Not a well-made explosive. A dud. Of course, whoever threw it didn’t know that, nor did David. I can see why you’re a first-class soccer goalie.” He turned to Dr. Fairweather. “I think you’ll agree that my nephew David is a brave young man.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You might reconsider dismissing Mr. Beard, his teacher. If you don’t, you’ll be giving in to bomb throwers. That won’t make a good story for the newspapers.”
Dr. Fairweather looked shaken. “I’m going to call the police right now and have the students dispersed. Yes, Mr. Beard can stay. I won’t give in to violence.”
“You’ve made a wise decision,” said Uncle Pringle.
Uncle Pringle and I were driving back, our mission accomplished, thanks to David. “Your son is quite something,” said Uncle Pringle. “You should be proud of him.”
“I am,” I said. “By the way, those papers you’d taken out. What were in those?”
“Just a bit of interesting information about the good Dr. Fairweather and his traveling companion Ms Lynch that my, uh, associates came across. Given the current climate, it might come in handy at some future date.”
© Martin Green July 2016
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