Fenno

BY

Fenno couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

It had started out as a routine day for him. As usual, he woke up, went to a couple classes, grabbed lunch, and did some reading. Also as usual, around 5:30, he headed up to the fifth floor of Griswold and paced the hallway as he waited longingly for Professor Jolls to head home for the day. Like clockwork, she soon emerged from her office, the doorway framing her lithe figure. She glided gracefully into the stairwell, her unquenchable hotness bearing down on Fenno as he peered furtively from behind a newspaper. Oh, Professor Jolls, thought Fenno, you truly put the “bone” in pro bono.

Captivated by the siren of employment law, Fenno followed her down the stairway, keeping a sufficiently safe distance so as not to repeat that awkward incident with his FYL instructor from last year. Oh, Megan Dixon, thought Fenno, you truly put the – well, it wasn’t important any more.

Fenno trailed Professor Jolls as she exited Griswold and headed toward the Everett Street Garage. He just wanted to see her drive away, that’s all. To Fenno’s surprise, however, at the garage entrance, Professor Jolls looked surreptitiously to her left and to her right. Not spying Fenno, who was hiding in the bushes nearby, she placed her palm against a panel in the wall of the garage. To Fenno’s great shock, a doorway – imperceptible before – slid open, revealing a gloomy staircase. Professor Jolls passed through the doorway and descended into darkness.

Fenno had to know what was going on. He leapt from his hiding place and sprinted to the hidden doorway. Just as it was about to close, he hurled himself toward it, passing through with only millimeters to spare as the wall silently slid back into place.

Fenno found himself at the top of a winding staircase. He headed downward, the path lit by torches planted on the walls. He continued for a good five minutes, and soon the staircase ended, leading into a damp tunnel. Fenno cautiously walked along the edge of the path. Up ahead, he heard a great clamor. The tunnel soon opened into an enormous subterranean cavern, well-lit from an unknown source above. Centered in the gigantic room was a massive wooden table, around which sat dozens upon dozens of figures. Fenno was astounded: somehow, some way, he had stumbled across the law school faculty’s secret lair. And from the looks of it, a faculty meeting was in full swing. Fenno scrambled to a perch overlooking the room and stayed hidden in the shadows, witnessing the proceedings below with rapt attention.

“What more can we do?” cried Professor Frug. “I mean, the economy’s in the toilet, the war in Iraq is a mess, we raise record amounts of money, we register record numbers of voters… and we still can’t win! I mean, what the holy hell?”

It was clear from Frug’s comment that the faculty was in a state of despair over the recent election results. Hysteria, really. And they were letting their feelings out in a much-needed group therapy session.

“I just don’t get it,” commented Professor Meltzer. He wiped his hands on his jacket, through his hair, and back on his jacket again. “What is it that fifty-one percent of America doesn’t understand? Don’t they realize that we’ve got their best interests in mind? That we know what’s best for them?”

Professor Desan stood up to speak. “People say we’re out-of-touch, ivory tower elites whose ideas don’t resonate with most of America. But I have no idea what they’re talking about,” she said as she put the finishing touches on an article justifying forced property transfers from suburban landowners to transgendered llamas. “Professor Hanson, what’s your take on all this?”

In the corner of the room, Professor Hanson was curled up on the floor. He looked up, sobbing. “We’ve got it all wrong,” he whimpered. “All wrong…”

Professor Rakoff rapped a gavel for attention. “Look, folks, all this complaining isn’t going to get us anywhere. What we need to think about is how – “

He was immediately interrupted by Professor Miller. “Rakoff, you want to order us around, send your brother up here. You ain’t the judge of me!”

The meeting began to fall apart. In one corner, Professor Singer railed against the election’s implications for the Americans with Disabilities Act, complaining that he would now have to spend eight weeks, not his usual seven, covering the Act in his property class. At the refreshments table, Professor Kaplow inquired about the cash value of the doughnuts he was eating, just to cover all his bases on his tax return. And seated at the main table, Professor Hay was being sketchy.

Suddenly, a loud boom was heard at the back of the room. A door at the rear entrance to the cavern had been kicked open, and through it strode Professor Fried. “Sup bitches!” he exclaimed, high-fiving Professors Manning and Goldsmith as he moved toward his seat. “Manning, Goldsmith… props to my right-wing homies.”

He turned toward the rest of the crowd. “Sup wankstas! How’z about four more years!” He raised his arms in triumph. “Out of my seat, Fallon.” Professor Fallon sheepishly slid out of Fried’s engraved nineteenth-century Austro-Hungarian oak chair and into the metal folding chair beside it. “Respect,” muttered Fried.

Farther toward the front of the room, Dean Kagan did her best to bring the meeting under control. She employed the caring manner for which her use of the Socratic method had become known. “Will you retards please shut the fuck up?” she screamed. Her pantsuit was impeccably pressed.

The room fell silent. “Look, I’m as pissed as any of you. There’s only one of us in this room who was going to be named to the Supreme Court if Kerry won.” Professor Tribe tried to stifle a smile. “And I’m not talking about you, Tribe. With the Republicans controlling the Senate, you couldn’t get confirmed as dogcatcher. I’m talking about me. I had the most to lose, and you don’t see me crying into my cookies – even though I have to stick around this junk-heap and be caretaker for a bunch of blubbering intellectualistas.”

Kagan continued, “Might I suggest you take a look around at some of our visiting faculty this year. Professors Feldman, Vermeule, McConnell, Tushnet, Sunstein… the list goes on. Any one of them could be replacing your sorry asses at any point in the future. You’re all fungible.”

A lone voice piped up from the crowd, “But don’t we have tenure?”

Kagan smirked. “Oh yes… tenure. President Summers and I have some big changes in store for tenure. But that’s for another meeting. For now, quit your crying, or we’ll give you something to cry about.” She cackled ominously, turned, and marched out the back door of the room.

The meeting erupted into chaos. Losing an election was bad enough, but the possibility of changes to tenure – to their precious protection from any possible retribution for lazy, self-indulgent piffle labeled “scholarship” – was the worst of all. Shouts and screams abounded. Arms waved in the air. Papers were thrown in every direction.

And then: the lights in the room suddenly went out. A hush filled the air. Over the main table, a cloud formed, and soon within it appeared three hazy figures. From his perch above the room, Fenno could just barely make them out… they appeared to be the former Assistant Professors Schlanger, Bagenstos, and Ring – all recently departed and reaping the benefits of tenure at other law schools.

Professor Bartholet looked up. “Margo… is that you?”

The ghost of Professor Schlanger peered downward. “Yes, Elizabeth, it is I. Denied tenure at Harvard but now living the good life at Washington University in St. Louis!”

“My God, you look… great!” exclaimed Professor Bartholet. “Your hair! It’s so… full of body!”

“Yes, Elizabeth. Only after leaving Cambridge did I finally recognize the value of taking care of myself!” The ghost of Schlanger continued, “And take heed, all! Life beyond Harvard is deep and fulfilling! Fear not the revocation of tenure! Seize it as an opportunity to understand the way the rest
of the country works, what they believe, why they view you as wacked-out commie freakos!” The ghosts of Bagenstos and Ring nodded in agreement.

“Let yourself go!” the ghost of Schlanger incanted. “Let yourself go! Let yourself goooooooo…”

And with that, the ghosts faded away, the cloud dissipated, and light returned to the room.

Fenno decided he had seen enough. All he had set out to do was get his Jolls fix for the day. Now he wasn’t sure if he could ever look at her, or any of them, the same way again.

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