Professors Share The Behind-The-Scenes Drama Students Don’t Know
Get enough people together in one place and you will find, without a doubt, a whole lot of drama very quickly. Naturally, when people interact with one another, they end up splitting up from each other to form their own cliques, groups, couples, etc.. When at least most of those people possess above average intelligence or athletic abilities, the potential for drama, and the complexity with which it is expressed, is magnified!
College campuses are perfect examples of this. Students, professors, and campus staff all come together to create a perfect storm for drama. The stories below come from professors and other members of staff at universities all over the world, sharing some of the behind-the-scenes drama they’ve seen that isn’t common knowledge.
#1 Laptops On A University Dime
The professors were looking to purchase their work laptops shortly before leaving the university. The university was letting the professors purchase the hardware because it was “used.” We’re talking $2,000 to $3,000 machines being purchased six months down the line for $500. Someone finally caught onto the scheme and now nobody can purchase the used hardware.
#2 No Bending, Only Breaking
I work for a prominent university in Japan. My Japanese colleagues tend to follow all the rules very strictly. One day, an American professor had to rush to the US to see his dying mother. The staff members of class operations called him as he was grieving, asking him to teach classes and review reports. Obviously, the lack of empathy and inflexibility led the professor to take his bags and work for another school… His students never knew the true reason why he stopped teaching.
#3 Hostage Situation
My teacher was a Syrian. He was practically always at the university, always tired, and always acting off. He would sleep in his office, forget to hand back assignments, mix up basic things, and cry randomly in the hallway. We later found out his family was being held hostage back home while he was teaching in Canada.
#4 Shine Janitor
The night shift janitor made some really good moonshine. Some of the professors and graduate students would leave cash in our top desk drawers when we left work, and the next day, a mason jar of homemade moonshine would be waiting there. He’s since moved on from that department, but he was nice to everyone while he was there.
#5 Slave Labor For Lecturer
A former health sciences lecturer and her husband were arrested for keeping a man as a slave, locked up in their garden shed for four years and making him do renovations on their house. No one knew what they were up to until one day when the police just showed up at his office to arrest him. It was all anyone could talk about that year.
#6 Trashy Drama
I’m a research fellow at the University of Exeter. We recently had all of our office bins removed as part of a new policy to try and improve recycling. We received mass emails full of sass and annoyance. One professor just replied, “What next! Do you expect us to drive to the local dumpster!?” Honestly, it’s really annoying not having a bin in our shared office. The worst part is that everyone now has to bring in their own plastic bags to use as a temporary bin for the day.
#7 The Undesirables Shift
I worked for the maintenance department one summer while in college, and got exposed to a lot of the drama in that department. The entire third shift cleaning crew (except the team lead) consisted of staff with disciplinary issues. One man was caught stealing from students and spying on them, multiple times. None of this was ever told to the students — the head of facilities and planning knew this was an issue, but never really acted on it.
#8 Dean Of Spending
I worked at a large university. Right before I started, the long-time dean of the school went on sabbatical. I didn’t think anything of it until two months later when I found out that the university forced him to take time off because he blew almost all of the school’s budget on fancy dinners with donors. He also showed up to official university events under the influence and kept a second administrative assistant as his slave. He sent the school into a major budget crisis.
#9 Chemistry Department Shenanigans
Two professors were arrested for the production of illicit substances. One of them hurt his wife in order to get the lab supplies, while the other was an embezzler. When they were eventually caught, the university replaced half our chemistry department within the year. The craziest part is, those two professors both seemed so nice and not at all capable of doing something like that.
#9 The Poison Closet
We found a bunch of unmarked jars of cyanide while cleaning out the chemistry closet one semester. They were stashed way in the back with zero notation. Someone grabbed them and ended up dropping one on the ground. A few people nearby started throwing up. The chemistry professor immediately screamed for everyone to get out.
He forced some students into the eyewash station and had them take all their outer clothing layers off. She was across the room but had a really good nose, so she smelled the cyanide immediately. No one’s sure who had been stocking unmarked cyanide, or why, but someone had quite a hidden stash. It’s terrifying to think what the person was planning to do with it all.
#10 Like A Bad Novel
In the English department, one of the professors got arrested for domestic violence. He divorced his wife, then got another English professor pregnant and eventually married her. They all saw each other at department meetings. It was super awkward. Everyone was surprised that the university didn’t immediately fire him after they found out about his arrest.
#12 Dramatic Contests
Our last non-interim president had two vice presidents who all hated each other. They were constantly competing with one another. One of the VPs got the other one fired by ratting him out for not sending in his official college transcripts upon hire, despite being given over two years to do so. We also had a dean who did the same thing, but he quit before he was fired.
#13 Padding The Numbers
The heads of department would purposely keep passing students to make themselves look good. They’d purposely grade the student just above a pass even though the content of their work was astonishingly bad. The statistics would always be ridiculously high for that particular degree, which would then allow the university to “sell” that to prospective students and parents. This is currently still going on.
#14 An Unwise Hire
A professor was hired to start a research center. He got paid a lot of money and came in with tenure. He was weird, to begin with, but as time went on it became apparent that he had wasted all the funds he was given. The whistleblower hotline was provided with a bunch of data that strongly suggested he was funneling a lot of that money to a company owned in part by his brother, in addition to a lot of blatant and casual misuse of the funds.
Things started heating up and they called him in for a hearing about it. The very next day, we found an indignant letter announcing his resignation and accusing the entire department of unethical behavior. He skipped out in the middle of the night, leaving a big pile of deliberately damaged equipment in his office. The university didn’t pursue him. I believe it was because they were in the middle of a scandal involving faculty and students in another department.
#15 Ph.D. In Faking
I knew a guy who had several million dollar NIH grants that he was overseeing. He was well known in the international community and everyone treated him as an expert in his field, as he had been working in it for a couple of decades. Then, he stopped coming to conferences. Turns out, he had faked all of his credentials. He hadn’t even graduated from high school. It was sad to hear about since he had done such great work. His colleagues were completely caught off guard with the news.
#16 From Handsy To Forgery
I knew a professor who was harassing pretty much all of the women who worked for him. After all of them talked to HR, the university decided not to fire him, but instead simply ban him from campus. He was in research, so he wasn’t teaching classes anyway. Instead, he worked from home and still was allowed to keep pretty much all of his benefits as a professor. A year or so later, an audit of one of his studies showed that after he’d been banned from campus, he’d started forging consent documents and questionnaires for his study. That’s what finally pushed the university over the edge to fire him.
#17 Dramatic Tension
I think students would be surprised to know just how much drama professors deal with. I’m talking everything from major drama like lawsuits to minor drama like colleague quarrels and office antics. I just went to a faculty meeting that was so tense I legitimately wanted to leave the room. The tension was over a small wording difference in a policy that literally did not matter because it was departmental and not university-wide. Then, there are the students we have to deal with — they’re usually drama-free until the last week of classes when everyone starts hustling for a higher grade.
#18 Game Of Department Chairs
I was a grad student at a major university. The department pretty much all loathed one another, and the professors had multiple alliances that were probably more complex than any game of CIV you’ll play. At one point in time, a group of professors had aligned to overthrow the dean, and they were so successful in doing so. It was brutal. I had a colleague who had people on their doc committee get into an argument and refuse to sign off on anything they did; not because of the quality of the work, but because the professors simply hated each other.
#19 Overly-Large Bonuses For All!
The head of one of our research institutes and a few of his colleagues somehow awarded themselves $1 million bonuses each. In my country, it takes about 70 years of work on an average salary to get that money. Also, the same professor forged some data in his research paper a few years ago. Who knows how it is going to end because but more and more dirt just keeps being uncovered.
#20 Good Grades In Botany
I work at a college in the midwest. A few years ago, our president very quickly resigned. Turns out, his son was producing illicit substances in their basement and was selling out of their house. Whether the president knew about it or not is still being debated.
#21 Everyone Wins Or Loses Together
Two professors in my department had been best of friends for over a decade and had a HUGE falling out. They couldn’t even be in the same room together, which made department meetings awkward or impossible. Both started recruiting allies in the department and basically split it down the middle. It got so bad that a committee of faculty from other departments was convened to interview every faculty member and decide the fate of the department.
One of the proposed options was shutting down the entire major. I had tenure at the time, but tenure does not protect you if your department no longer exists. There is a loophole in the rules that states if you have tenure and your department dissolves, you can keep your job if another department will absorb you. I met with three other departments and all three agreed to absorb me if I was cut loose. Most of my colleagues did not have that leverage. Once 90 percent of the faculty realized the possibility of joblessness, everybody decided to play nice.
#22 Rewarding Popularity, Not Skill
I’m married to an adjunct at a community college. There’s an incredible amount of politics regarding full-time and adjuncts. It’s like you immediately become part of a “best friends club” once you get tenure. My wife is CONSTANTLY working and taking more classes than she should be allowed to as an adjunct. Her profile on ratemyteacher.com is ridiculously good, as are her scores on the anonymous student surveys. She goes above and beyond at every turn to make sure her students succeed, and I can tell you without a moment of doubt that she will literally never become a full-time professor at this college because of the clique that starts at the top and trickles down.
#23 Cost Of Not Snapping To Attention
The provost’s office recommended a cost-cutting change in scheduling. The chair of the department wrote a memo not disagreeing with the recommendation but saying that the change would require more planning than anticipated. He also mentioned that it may not be possible to implement the plan during the current school year as the various curriculum changes would first need approval.
The provost pitched a hissy fit and canceled one of the department’s tenure lines. There were two professors who were not yet tenured and the chair had to pick one to fire. It wasn’t even for anything; the guy got fired just because the provost gave him an order and he didn’t snap to attention fast enough for his liking.
He didn’t care that they’d be getting rid of a good teacher, or replacing with a bunch of adjuncts at the last minute; he just wanted to make a point. The guy who got fired was one of the best professors in the department—the students loved him, but the other one just had more seniority. It was really an injustice.
#24 Disrespectful To Those Working Under You
I used to be a custodian at a prominent university and one of the TAs in the art department would routinely leave her studio a pigsty. She told her students not to worry about the mess because she “just giving the janitor something to do.” A number of students complained about her sense of entitlement and she was rejected for a professorship for calling me a “janitor” instead of the proper nomenclature: custodian.
Crazy Otter Lady
My lab had a graduate student who got in based on the fact that her family was wealthy enough that she could self-fund her project and pay the full tuition. Despite not meeting the GRE minimum scores, they appealed and got her accepted to the program. Fast forward six months, and she apparently sees it fit to scream at the PI every other day and be an overall witch to everyone.
Her project involved zoonotic diseases in otters. One day, she disappears. This is noticed only after it becomes apparent that her otters are missing from their enclosures. Turns out, she freaked out, packed up her apartment, stole the otters, then fled across state lines. The department decided not to pursue her based on the fact that she had a rehabber’s license and the otters really weren’t worth the legal trouble to get back. She then attempted to sue the PI not once, but twice for her project’s data, which belonged to the university.
#26 Club Is Gone, Funds Remain
One of the deans at my community college was a finance officer for some kind of club campus organization that was mothballed. For some reason, they never closed out the bank account associated with the organization. She eventually became the preparer and approver for that account and quickly went about paying her condo fees with money that was still being directed to the account. I don’t recall why it was still being replenished.
#27 Provost Drama
Our last provost was on an interim basis. I assume they wanted to take some time naming the next provost because it’s a big commitment. At some point, a provost search committee was formed, and every criterion was aimed at naming the interim as the permanent provost. It is the second highest position in the university after the president.
The interim provost (IP) was put in charge of a huge university-wide development plan. Millions, possibly billions, of dollars would go into it. The IP was sent around the country to sell this plan to alumni and donors. He talks a big game and makes it sound like he has dedicated his entire life and career into the university. Just as this development plan was going to the regents for a vote, IP is was confronted on the steps of the admin building by the husband of one of the women who work in his office.
The IP and the woman had been having an affair while they are both married to other people. One of my colleagues had seen them at the airport together but didn’t think anything of it since they were both in very top positions and could have been traveling together on university business. They were just about to announce that he got the permanent position. He ended up resigning to ‘spend more time with his family.
#28 Disappearing Dean
Our dean of students was a really fun, charismatic guy. Everyone loved him because he would do awesome speeches at orientation and was super nice to anyone he met. Literally, no one had anything bad to say about this dude. Turned out, he was secretly a drinker. There were a few months where he straight up disappeared off the face of the planet during the middle of summer.
He missed a bunch of orientations and the director did his speeches for him (she was not a good orator). Then, the rumor went around and the school forced him to go to rehab or he would have been fired. They kept it real hush-hush too because the has such a pristine reputation among the current students that there could have easily been a revolt over his firing.
#29 Professors Leaking Information
My university tried to change the way that graduate students are funded. They tried to do this secretly so that no one would have time to raise problems, but one of the professors thwarted them by directly emailing the information he got to the graduate student council. We bombarded the administration with lots and lots of push back and they halted the policy change. This is the same professor that called out and shut down the administration during meetings when they tried to make jokes about the grad students.
#30 Chaos In The Shelves
I work in the archives of a university. The archive consists of multiple collections throughout the country. Recently, the owner found out through me that old books from the 1500s were stored incorrectly. She got super upset about it. Archives seem to have a logical way of storing books, but it’s chaos. There’s only one person walking around that knows where everything is. If they were to leave, no one would know how to find anything.
#31 Not The Spring Water!
I saw a teacher almost in tears because the student reps on the budget committee wanted to save several thousands of dollars a year by discontinuing the delivery of mountain spring water to the faculty buildings that had drinking fountains… during a budget crisis. That same teacher was in support of discontinuing the bus service to the school, which was way outside of the city it primarily served. She was also in support of closing the cafeteria because she didn’t eat there. She got all red-faced and emotionally distraught by the suggestion that a single luxury faculty service was maybe unnecessary.
#32 Clear Warning Signs
Instead of firing a professor at my previous institution for being inappropriate with students, they installed glass windows, replacing the walls on one side of his office. That way, everyone could see in. Still, everyone wanted him to get fired or reprimanded. The lesson is, if your professor has glass walls, there might be a reason.
#33 Heavy Drama
Our library was designed by university architect students. They forgot, in their design, that libraries hold books. So, the bricks in the building started popping out after the books were installed. The library was 8 stories tall.
#34 Friend With A Professor Schemer
A few years ago, I had an organic chemistry teacher named Mr. F who was famous for being a bit of a nutcase, to put it mildly. Keep in mind we’re talking about chemistry professors – the “nutcase” bar is already set somewhat higher for them compared to your average university teachers. I happened to get on his good side for some unknown reason.
We became pals throughout the semester and, even after I stopped having classes with him, I still regularly visited his office to chat about academia and random university matters. This included drama and inside politics, of course. One day, we were talking about a group of older and more traditional teachers who were always against Mr. F because of his slightly different teaching methods.
They were always overruling his proposals and such. You could almost see the fire burning inside his eyes whenever he talked about them, a fire that only someone crazy enough would have. He said to me, “Mark my words, one day I’ll become head of this freaking department and I’ll make sure those morons get what’s coming for them.”
At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to it because, well, Mr. F was a nutcase and there was no chance he’d ever become the department head in such a prominent state university. Due to some issues, I had to drop out of college for some time. Two years later, I got admitted again and, lo and behold, Mr. F managed to become director of the organic chemistry department. Every single one of those professors he hated wasn’t working at the university anymore.
#35 Expensive Engineering
I was a graduate assistant at a university. Apparently, the engineering department went $2 million over budget, so the other departments (including the Education department which I worked for) had to reduce their budgets to make up for it. The students never knew, but most of the GAs found out because our bosses were all talking about how ridiculous it was.
#36 Drama Waiting To Happen
The housing and dining databases at the university where I work are all housed on a single Windows XP machine that no one has admin access to. The guy who wrote most of the code passed a few years ago and no one knows how to access the system other than as a user. They have been working for three years to get something new in place, but nothing can translate the data in a way they want, and no one seems willing to build a new one from the ground up. We have almost 20,000 students. If that system malfunctioned, no one could access their dorms or eat at the dining halls.
#37 Financial Staff Played The School
Most of the senior staff in the finance division were made redundant to save money, but no one made sure they knew how to run things without them. They eventually had to re-hire them all as consultants at considerably higher rates than what they’d been paid originally. It was a complete and utter mess, but there was no one to blame but the school.
#38 The University Strains
The crop science professor and several farm workers were growing illicit substances and then having private “effects determination groups” to test them out. They planted several rows of corn around the outside to hide the crop and kept secret records on their breeding projects. The FBI has that now and everyone involved has been reprimanded.
#39 Anything To Maintain Funding
I worked in a well-known institute. At the end of the year, the president was calling students who hadn’t been in over six months, telling them to come in to complete their qualification. Higher pass rates meant they could maintain government funding. The also claimed at graduation that 90 percent of students ended up working in the industry or going onto further education, but that number was more likely five percent.
#40 I Deny That Size And Substitute My Own
Academia sometimes draws ridiculous people. I had a dean once who caused so much turmoil by simply denying objective reality when it didn’t suit her. I remember spearheading a project to repurpose a section of our building. I got the plans and she refused to believe the blueprints on square footage. So I measured it myself, but she still pretended it wasn’t the case.
It wasn’t large enough to accommodate its new purpose, but according to her, it was 30 percent larger in her mind. I went over her head and ended up in meetings with higher administration trying to get them to understand. They all took her side. She proceeded to make my life miserable for the remainder of my time at the university.
#41 Basics Are Necessary
I worked at a two-year art college that was a mess for so many reasons. I worked in the English department, and we were frequently blamed for our students failing. The problem was that the school accepted all students but didn’t have a remediation program of any kind. This meant someone writing at a 3rd-grade level was placed into a college level English class.
This also meant we had students with poor work habits. As a result, we had many failing students. My boss and I did the best we could for them, but our hands were tied by the administration in many ways. In spite of that, within a year, I was able to show tangible progress with these students. Their test scores met requirements, and they were writing advanced research papers.
This was the result of nonstop work. My boss was fired by the end of that academic year. Why? The administration was mad we didn’t pass all of the students and give out mostly A’s and B’s. I eventually quit in what I like to think was a spectacular fashion. I wrote an email about everything wrong with the decision and sent it to all faculty and administration.
I kept in touch with a few people though, and they replaced my boss with a “give them all A’s” professor. The students have been getting A’s ever since. Since then, the school’s reputation has taken a hit, and other art schools are refusing to take their transfer credits. Apparently, art schools do care if you have basic reading and writing skills. Who knew?
#42 College Staff Or High School Students
Having peeked behind the scenes as a college staff member, I was definitely shocked at how much drama there is. It amazed me that professors who I had once taken classes with and respected, could act worse than high school students. The levels of jealousy, resentment, backstabbing, deceit, and outright lying are absurd.
#43 Chinese Cheating Ring
I worked at a state school where about 30 percent of the engineering students were from China. The last year I worked there, they caught a civil engineering student aid taking photos of exams and sending them to a few students for some quick cash. Those students were Chinese and it was found out that they shared those photos with all of the other Chinese students taking that class.
After about a week later, a similar incident happened in a different engineering department. The school decided to launch an investigation and found there was a massive cheating ring that involved almost every Chinese student and quite a few other students in every single engineering discipline. It was also discovered that many of the students did not speak or understand English well enough to have passed the TOEFL.
One of the department deans was Chinese. He knew that these students had cheated on the TOEFL, and went out of his way to help cover that fact up. Cue a ton of panic from the school. After a few weeks, they ended up dismissing the student aid. They worked really hard to cover it up, but unfortunately, some adjuncts still worked as engineers in the industry. There wasn’t any kind of public hubbub and very few students ever knew about the scandal.
#44 Removing The Competition
The power plays that faculty and researchers make are outright scary. One scientist I worked with was fired for redirecting his project’s fund into other projects. He sent out a one-page research proposal to a company without explicit acknowledgment from faculty. The faculty was insecure about this scientist, who was more accomplished than any of them (researches are supposed to be independent).
#45 Classroom Not Dorm Room
I was one of two philosophy professors at my school. Now I am the only one. The other one got fired for living in his classroom. Turns out, he was staying in the room for over a month. The professor was pushing 60. We’re now hiring.