At Oxford University, you don’t just have good students. You don’t just have great students. Oxford gets its pick of the very best worldwide. And I was lucky enough to have Steve behind me vouching for my credibility and intellectual work. I moved my two suitcases into my small room, ordered my clothes and belongings, and met the patron schoolmaster of St. Benet’s hall. His name was Father Henry. And he was a kind man and knew Steve personally. We talked for an hour about classical rhetoric and he offered me a cigar. I gratefully accepted and began touring the University. Oxford has cobblestone streets throughout the very large campus. There are numerous bookstores, Oxford clothing stores, trinket shops, bed and breakfasts, and most importantly — bars. I remember Steve telling me that each one of the bars had a special story and was named after an important scholar or author. I went into one called the “Bird and Child” and ordered a pint of Strongbow hard cider. There were pictures of CS Lewis on the wall and apparently this was his favorite bar. He used to come here to drink and write his masterpieces. I drink my cider and went on a red tour bus throughout the campus. World-class museum after museum; library upon library; college upon college; administrative buildings — this place was like nothing I’d never before seen. I spent the next three days before Steve Smith arrived at our hall touring the campus, watching public races, drinking ale, and generally getting oriented to the city campus. Our hall was right next door to the facility where penicillin was invented. These were not just smart people, these were intellectual giants. And for the first time in my life, I felt completely inferior and totally intimidated. How was I there? Obviously it was more a matter of me being connected than it was smart. Steve and the rest of the students finally arrived for the seminar, and we began classes immediately. The discussions were rich and filled with free-flowing ideas.
About a week into my trip, Steve Smith pulled me aside and notified me that the headmaster, Father Henry, had become impressed with my understanding of classical rhetoric during our conversation. Then Steve told me that the headmaster had appointed me a visiting scholar of the hall, officially to be recorded in University documents. I began crying. After all the hard work and the late nights, I had finally achieved something that was truly of importance to my heart and ego. Steve smiled. And then Steve reminded me that even though Bill Clinton attended Oxford University, he never graduated. I was honored. We carried on conversations during class, took oral examinations, had high table, and generally used the last week that we were there for touring the UK. One of my close friends there was René who was from the Philippines. She was the wife of a Filipino military general. She asked me if I would do her a favor. She said that she wanted to take the speed train to Paris through the underwater tunnel but did not want to go alone. So, she asked me if I would accompany her and informed me that she would pay all my expenses if I simply went with her. I was flat broke, but decided that it would be a good idea to see Paris because I never knew when I would be back to Europe. We took a taxi to the train station, boarded the speed train, and made it to Paris in less than an hour and a half. In the UK we got to see Shakespeare Stratford-upon-Avon, the British Parliament, Big Ben, London Bridge, and a Jack the Ripper exhibit. In Paris, we toured the Eiffel Tower, spent an entire day in the Louvre, visited all different types of museums, bought some clothing and perfume, and had fresh bread and chocolate crepes. As well, there was the Notre Dame Cathedral and Arch de Triumph. While my wife and mother-in-law were at home watching our son, I was engaging in high-end academics and touring Europe. Not exactly fair to my wife, to be honest. But, these are the horrible things that a scholar must do.
I returned to Monticello about a week before classes began. I got my syllabi together, updated my CV, and continued building the online journal — known as the American Communication Journal — with my good friend and colleague Dr. Jim Kuypers. Jim and I were coeditors of the Journal. I handled the web design, and he generally handled the content. One of our editorial board members was named Michael Calvin McGee. And Dr. McGee was based at the University of Iowa, home of the Hawkeyes. McGee and I started exchanging emails. I sent him a copy of my dissertation and he was impressed. He told me it was one of the most thorough dissertations that he had ever read. And this is high praise coming from someone at Iowa, especially McGee who was considered the kingpin of communication studies in the United States of America. We published a lot of articles, some of them really good and some mediocre. But McGee was always there to advise me and Jim on how we should structure the content to create something that was true of substance. Meanwhile, while Jim was at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire – I was still stuck in Monticello, Arkansas. It was really starting to become an unbecoming situation and financially unbearable. I had a child now, and even though both my wife and I were working we were barely making ends meet. Like I said before, teachers are not exactly compensated well, especially in Arkansas. Just a matter of fact.
McGee sent me an invitation letter one day, offering a visiting professorship at the University of Iowa for a month. He said he wanted me to come to the campus and lecture to the graduate students on new media technologies as it related to the communication discipline. He said it would be a paid gig, and also informed me that he wanted me to apply for a new assistant professor position that was opening and that he was the chair of the search committee. Finally, a chance. Steve was still trying to get me at the University of Arkansas. A friend of Steve’s known as Dr. Rita Kirk Whillock at Southern Methodist University asked me to apply for a position in Dallas. And Paul Barefield down at the now University of Louisiana in Lafayette was recruiting me. I even got an offer for an interview at San Jose State University in California that I declined. My wife said that she would not go to California because it was going to crack off the earth and fall into the ocean. She was serious too. So our choices were SMU, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana. I went to Iowa and did the visiting professorship, which was paid. SMU did not work out. Arkansas did not work out. And we finally got an offer from the University of Louisiana. By now, my son was one year old and we had been in Arkansas for a total of five years. If Louisiana was our only option, we were going to take it.
I thanked Steve for everything that he tried to do for me. I thanked Rita for everything she tried to do for me and SMU. I thanked McGee at Iowa for everything he tried to do for me. Sent a note of gratitude to San Jose State University. And we signed the contract with the University of Louisiana located in Lafayette, Louisiana which is the south-central portion of the state along U.S. Interstate 10. The big public schools in the state were Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. The big private schools in the state were Tulane University and Loyola University in New Orleans. Even though I was not the flagship school, which is LSU, the University of Louisiana recognized and supported research among the faculty. UL had aspirations to become competitive within the state and region. In my salary was instant $20,000 a year better. So, it was pretty much a no-brainer.
We said our goodbyes in Arkansas, resigned from our jobs and gathered his many cardboard boxes as we could from Walmart. We packed our household goods, clothes, and furniture in a UHAUL pack van, and vacated the premises. My mother-in-law was with us, and I had the help of a student to drive the truck. Everyone in Arkansas was sad to see us go, but they promised to visit us in Louisiana. Our house was clear, my office was clear, Brenda’s classroom was clear, my mother-in-law was taking care of my son, and we started driving south. Given the horrible situation that Monticello had become professionally, I was truly looking forward to experiencing my new assistant professor line at the University of Louisiana. Upon arrival, we moved all of our things and furniture into the new two-bedroom apartment. Then we all went out to dinner — crawfish, shrimp, oysters, you name it. This was French Louisiana, home of the Ragin’ Cajuns. We had finally arrived at a decent institution. Or so I thought.
Read Chapter 5…