On February 23, 2012, I was attacked by the English Program coordinator, a Thai, at the university where I’d worked nearly two and a half years. My assailant pounded the back of my head from behind me. The attack was so brutal and unrelenting that I was unable to turn and face him; the back of my right hand was swollen from trying to shield myself from over fifteen hits. I wound up with a concussion, three stitches in the back of my head, and a blood-soaked shirt collar. Luckily, at least four other Thai ajarns were in the office: one of whom, a Thai lady about 60, tried to pull him away, but he shoved her away and resumed hitting me. Had no one else been in the office, I probably would have wound up in even worse condition.
Before telling what preceded and followed this event, let me first say a few things about myself. I was an educator for 15 years before coming to Thailand. I have three college degrees. My abilities as an educator received recognition three times in the months preceding and succeeding the attack. I was asked to help a former dean’s daughter prepare for TOEFL. I was asked by the dean of education to teach a special intensive English course to Thai ajarns on that campus. I was asked by one of my former university students from seven years previous to train English teachers in her province for a special Ministry of Labor project.
In the last few weeks of the semester, before the attack, there were several examples of my assailant’s, the coordinator’s, inability to manage effectively and efficiently (I have emails and memoranda to illustrate). Most significant for this story is the email we received the morning of the last day of class. It said finals with listening components should be given the last day of class instead of during finals because “the sound might disturb some other exam room” (sic). In my previous four semesters, there had never been any similar announcement; in part, this late order was probably payback for my closing the classroom door on the coordinator on the next-to-last day of class so I could hear my students give presentations over his grandstanding on the microphone in his room next door. I’d already had my last classes before that email and was prepared to start doing individual ten-minute interviews with 150+ students. Now, however, I had to find different rooms at the previously scheduled time or when three sections of students were free from other exams and could take their final listening test together. Not an easy task.
On February 23, the previously scheduled date for their exam, I was still hoping to find suitable rooms away from other test-takers where I could give my listening final. I was in the faculty offices, discussing this issue with one of my proctors when the coordinator approached and started needling me about last semester’s grades—at the end of this semester. Actually, two months before, I had rechecked every numerical entry for every student in the all-Thai grading program and accidentally ‘Add-ed a student,’ a completely blank line, at the top of the printout but couldn’t delete it because all I could read were student ID numbers. “Is this right this time? Are you sure? Are you sure? What’s this blank line at the top? So, there are only 47 students, not 48?” (Believe me when I say he tried to find any little way to make a foreigner look bad, even one who’s taught for over twenty years and is respected by students and other instructors.)
The problems with this coordinator actually started the summer before this academic year. I had spoken my mind a couple times but more often kept my peace even when he did not (see below). On this day, however, I had had enough and fought fire with fire. “Very bright of you!” I said. Then I picked up on something he’d said to me a year before, accusing me of ignorance of how things are done in a university; I said: “I’ve been around universities more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen anyone as incompetent as you.” I continued: “Your IQ isn’t half what mine is.” And, using something I’d learned from a colleague in another faculty, “Your previous employer contacted this campus to say you are not to be trusted!” The proctor I’d been talking to, the senior member of the English program, had been encouraging us both to stop and leave, which I did. I walked out of that building, across a parking lot, across a street, and back into my group office to tell the young woman who was the previous coordinator I was ready to quit and let someone else do my 150+ individual interviews and all my exam marking.
Before I could finish talking to her at her cubicle, I was being pounded on the back of my head. He had run out of the other building, followed me across the parking lot and across the street to my office (his is next door). He must have gotten in more than fifteen strikes before other instructors in the room got him away. I finally turned and saw him half-way to the door. I yelled: “You’re going to jail, faggot!” (I was a little distressed and bleeding profusely). He screamed, ran out the door, and disappeared. However, he wasn’t gone for long.
After getting my stitches and x-rays, I went with a couple other Thai ajarns to the local police station. It was after 5:00 PM, and the chief detective was out investigating a shooting else-where in town. It took a few weeks to get the paperwork going, but on April 12, the police sent my attacker a letter telling him to report to the police station for questioning by April 20. He did not appear and was sent another letter. In mid-May, the police were tired of his excuses and his family’s lies about his whereabouts. My attacker showed up to be told he was being arrested. The hospital report said I needed more than 21 days to recover, key to his receiving jail time and having to pay larger reparations.
What did the university do? Not much. He was not immediately fired or even suspended. He didn’t even step down as program coordinator until a week and a day after, probably very reluctantly at that. The day after the attack, the dean, the ajarn who was going to proctor for me, and another Thai ajarn came to my apartment lobby to ask me to “accept an apology, a little money, and give him one last chance.” I was shocked and disgusted they would even ask such a thing and said: “No. His last chance was when he wrote those emails last November.”
On March 2, there was a meeting of a university committee set up to “investigate the incident.” I was unable to attend because it was scheduled at the same time I was finally able to give my students their listening final. The dean’s office had left a memo in my mailbox to inform me of the meeting—as if I were eager to go back to the office while I still had stitches in my head! The dean’s office didn’t even call to inform me of the meeting until it had actually begun and couldn’t understand when I said I had to finish giving the exam and then give it again to students who had showed up late to the first proctoring. (It was the last day of exams.)
On March 5, I wrote and had a student hand-deliver a letter to the vice president’s office asking for official, written notification of my attacker’s status. Had he been fired or suspended? There was another meeting of the committee a few days later at which I told my story in detail, but I never got any answer to my letter or my question about his status. There was to be another meeting after that so the witnesses who had not given testimony yet could do so. I never heard any more about that or any other meetings. I did find out later he was actually allowed to teach his courses throughout the summer session after the attack.
I was not eager to go back to my office. He was probably even angrier when he got the April 12 letter from the police, informing him he was being arrested for “harmful assault” –as several lawyers had already described it to me as. The Thai ajarns in my group office would be teaching classes all summer, but I did not have any teaching duties. How could I sit alone at my desk when someone I could not trust would be around all summer because he hadn’t even been suspended by the university? I did know of some work that someone needed to do. The day after the attack, my assailant proctored a final exam for another foreigner in the program who had had his own problems with the coordinator.
Mr. F had joined the program at the beginning of the semester in November. One of the first things Mr. Coordinator told him was he must take on some extra classes above and beyond what the contract stipulated, for 200 baht per hour. Mr. F was close to 60 and did not feel he could handle the additional hours. The only other foreigner and I had made clear we did not want the extra work for such minimal compensation either. So, Mr. Coordinator was probably unhappy he was not going to get a kickback for someone else’s hard work and re-iterated to Mr. F he had to do the extra classes; to emphasize his point, he approached Mr. F in “an aggressive and threatening manner.” Mr. F said ‘no’ again and left to drive home for the day. Before he got home, Mr. Coordinator called to fire him, a procedure he could initiate as coordinator but probably couldn’t carry out by himself in a university hierarchy (he was quite intoxicated by his own power). The day after Mr. F held a towel to my head to staunch the bleeding, he found my assailant proctoring his final exam and challenging a question on it.
Disgusted, Mr. F left Thailand a couple days later; no one ever heard from him again. He didn’t even start grading his students’ final exams before he left. I had had the same groups of students and knew no one else in the program had time to figure out how to grade his exams; in all likelihood, they would avoid the responsibility. Mr. F didn’t use the book the students had bought and based his finals on handouts, which I did not have copies of. There was no other data: no mid-terms, no attendance, no homework scores, no syllabus, nothing. I discussed with a couple senior Thais in the program my idea to make another, more relevant final exam for each of Mr. F’s four courses so his students could just take another test instead of RE-taking the course. They both said, “Thank you” to me for taking on the job. This task kept me busy at home from early March until late April. (I will return to this part of the story below.)
I mentioned the dean wanted me to give my attacker “one last chance” and my reply was “No. His last chance was when he wrote those emails last November.” In the same month he was bullying Mr. F, the coordinator left on my desk a memo groundlessly attacking my teaching and professionalism; he gave no specifics, which is the reason I tell above of three specific times my teaching ability was recognized in that time period. I answered Mr. Coordinator’s memo with an email, which is still in my inbox. My tone was sharp, yes, but I kept it focused on professional issues. (I did say I have a handout in my files that might help with all those verb tenses he has problems with.) He wrote two emails in response. Here is the first one:
Bustard (my name), (He means “bastard” but despite being an English teacher, he can’t spell or use MS Word.)
You are very idiot person and like an naive little child from a remote state of US somewhere who never learn anything outside your own community. I'm your boss who can evaluate your work performance. I'm in this position. If you think Thailand is very low standard, why don't you go back and die there in your isolated home with your Thai wife who suck your blood all the time and forever. Don't say bad words to me again otherwise I will put this issue to the committee of our program and then pass through the President and we may terminate your work contract as soon as possible since the huge complaint about your teaching performance is very low and under the standard that we can't accept it, but anyway, I feel sympathy with you that you need money to feed your wife and that's the only reason why I extend the contract for this year renew contract last month. Don't you know that? DO NOT insult me this way. If you can't follow my suggestion, it's time for you to go to hell and out of my sight. OK?
I wanted to respond to this. I wanted to tell him that I’d been to ten different countries before I was 15 and that I’ve read more books and materials on more topics than he ever will. I very much wanted to tell him what a low life he was for writing what he did about my wife and the mother of my child. I wanted to point out that his complete lack of compassion regarding my health issues (his other email) would make a real Buddhist cringe. But I did not. Instead, I printed and copied his two emails, with my email answering his memo, and distributed them to colleagues, the dean, and the vice president of international affairs. I heard a lot about people’s shock at the content of his emails, but nothing was done to remove him as coordinator despite a clear lack of emotional, ethical, and professional suitability to work in a leadership role. In fact, no one from the dean’s or vice president’s offices even called me to talk about the emails. If someone in the administration had acted on what I shared with them in November, perhaps I would not have had to get three stitches in the back of my head in February; perhaps my family and I would not be experiencing the difficulties we are now. (The story is not yet finished.)
After the attack, I finished my interviews (off campus) and grades (using Excel instead of the Thai program) and emailed them on March 21 to two Thai ajarns in the English Program. I did not want to see my assailant again unless it was at the police station. Not wanting anyone to have to do too much work on my behalf, I learned how and tidied up my Excel grade files to print more like the Thai program and sent them again, this time to three Thai ajarns in the program, on March 30. I also asked in both emails if someone could check Mr. F’s desk (in the same group office as my attacker’s) to see if there were any other materials I could examine in trying to figure out how to give Mr. F’s students their grades. I got no answer to either email.
In April, I sent two letters to both the dean’s office and vice president’s office, again asking for help in checking out Mr. F’s desk and the house he’d been renting (through my attacker) and abandoned when he fled the country. During the entire month of March, I didn’t hear a thing (call, memo, or email) from the university. In April, there were three memos and a couple phone calls from the dean’s office (April 2 and 19), asking me to come to a meeting the next day about my “summer workload,” but not a word in either the calls or the memos about the status of my attacker and the incident nor my doing the university a big favor by trying to complete the work of someone who up and left without doing any of his students’ grades. Actually, for both calls, I was in Chiang Mai, seeing my doctor and consulting legal advisors and sage friends about what to do next. I was also tired of being a prisoner in my own apartment; many people had cautioned me to be very careful going out and about in the town I was working in; some young men from my classes acted as bodyguards when I did go out. (He had been stupid enough to attack me in front of a half dozen witnesses the first time!)
On April 25, I waited outside the vice president’s office for three hours to speak with him (the dean over English couldn’t understand any English and I didn’t trust his interpreters). The vice president said he had read my letter of the day before and talked about “rules” and “culture.” He said my not signing in at the office had nothing to do with the criminal case. Wrong! I was the common denominator in both, and the university had done nothing to make me feel safe enough to return to my office. As for “culture,” well, what he was trying to pass off as “cultural” I didn’t stick around to find out. They have “rules” for signing in but no rules for attacking another teacher and sending him to the hospital for stitches in the back of his head? Or did that fall under the “culture” which farangs should not try to change?
I also found out for the first time during this meeting, after spending nearly two months working on figuring out grades for the guy who left, that I “didn’t have to do that; the dean said he will take care of it.” How? Was someone else going to have the time to figure out how to grade all those finals which were not based on a textbook but handouts which had disappeared and for which there were no answer keys? Was someone else going to have the time to figure out and write suitable secondary tests which the students might actually learn something from as they took them? Was someone else prepared to take on the responsibility of grading the extra exams when the next semester started and the students returned?
Back to my “summer workload”: Wasn’t getting nearly 200 students their grades more important than some silly “summer project”? Okay, so I knew about “summer projects” when I decided to try to help (even though I didn’t have to) with the unfinished work of the guy who up and left. I remind readers the dean had lost my confidence vote when he wanted me to “accept an apology and a little money” from my attacker and “give him one more chance.” As time went on, I had less and less interest in having anything to do with someone who lacked the moral, professional, and social backbone to take quick, decisive action when one of his faculty members seriously hurt another. Incidentally, the contract I signed does mention “serious misbehavior” as a reason for “rescission” of the contract. Might that include giving someone else a concussion, stitches, and a bloody shirt collar? However, the same contract does NOT mention anything about “summer projects” for foreign contract teachers or the possibility (threat) of withholding all of one’s pay for the months of April and May in connection with them.
Flashback to summer 2011: After finishing grades for the 2010 academic year, I got to work revising the materials for Oral Communication I and II. When my first summer at the campus began (after 2/2009), the young woman who was program coordinator at the time gave us project proposal forms and deadlines. For the summer after 2/2010, the program’s leadership had changed. This time, Mr. Coordinator did not come around with a project proposal form or a schedule or anything. I had no reason to believe things would be any different from my first summer, when my pay had arrived in the ATM every month on time, and set to work myself.
On April 18 last year, I was approached by the then-deputy dean and told half of my project was due that very day—no word at all before this. In talking with foreign colleagues across campus, I learned they still had another week before the first part was due. My pay for the month of April was three days late. Mr. Coordinator informed me (again, only verbally) of the May deadline, but when it came, I still needed the weekend to finish writing (from my own head) the last four or five pages. I turned my completed project in on May 23, 2010—six full working days before payday, on which I received no money. Two days after payday, I was called to the now former dean’s office and told my project was “not acceptable” and “did not follow format”—the first time I’d heard anything about either of these: two weeks after the final deadline! There’d been no descriptions or samples of acceptable vs. unacceptable projects; there had been no style sheet or description of format. When I asked what the required format was–MLA, APA, LSA? –the answer was “Up to you.” (Good answer!) However, my pay was withheld for three weeks. I had meetings with the same vice president who talked about “rules” and “culture.” I finally sent several emails to the Ministry of Labor to point out, chiefly, that the summer project was not even in the contract signed by the university and by me; I never heard back from the Ministry of Labor, but my pay did arrive soon after. [As a side note: What happens to all that money that comes up from Bangkok for farang teachers when they leave or are fired months before their contracts are completed? That’s a lot of money. Where does it wind up?]
A little more about the “summer project”: Last year, because nine weeks is not enough time to write an entire course book from scratch, I decided to take a very good book a friend had given me a copy of and divide it into two semesters. That meant that in addition to the six chapters per semester, a lot of extra material related to those chapters had to be created from scratch. I have no problem with that. Alternatively, after talking with a non-career teacher across campus, I found out it was likely “the committee” would accept a simple RE-typing of an already well-written, well-designed book from a Western publisher like Longman or Macmillan but with your name on it. I do have a problem with that, two in fact: it’s against the law (plagiarism) and, more importantly, it’s a waste of time!
Back to the April 25 meeting this year with the vice president: during the months of March and April (until this date), there had been not one word about my ‘not having to do’ the grading for Mr. F’s students despite the fact that I had repeatedly mentioned it in emails, letters, phone calls, and a couple times in person, and despite the fact that quite probably no one else in the program had neither the time, nor the inclination, to take on such a large responsibility. I got up and walked out of the meeting; I knew what I had to do next.
Earlier that day, I had received another phone call from the dean’s office. This time it was about my grades, which they claimed I’d not turned in yet. This was April 25. As I write above, I had originally emailed five worksheets in one email to two Thai ajarns in the Program on March 21. I emailed the worksheets again on March 30 to three Thai ajarns. (Both times, I sent copies to myself, and they remain in my inbox today.) I thought maybe one of these three good colleagues would bother to acknowledge receipt of the email and forward the files to someone who could take care of them (maybe one of the girls at the faculty offices who sit around all day watching TV or YouTube or playing Facebook). “Thanks, we’ll take care of them!”
On May 1, after I did not get any pay the day before for the month of April, I took a CD with my five Excel grade files to the dean. He was standing outside talking to two other ajarns, one of whom I considered a friend. Despite having another semester (1/2012) left on my contract, I handed the dean the CD along with my hand-written data sheets and said, “I quit.” He didn’t understand, and my friend had to translate for him. The dean still wanted to talk, motioning for me to join him in his office. (On April 25, the vice president had emphatically said to me: “The dean doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.” A lie?) Then, I went home, loaded up my stuff, and left town. (One of my students called me on May 21 to ask about her grade. Apparently, even after I personally handed him the CD three weeks before, the dean’s office still had not done its job. And let’s not forget: the day of the attack, Mr. Coordinator still had my grade sheets from the semester previous. Does anyone withhold their money for not getting their work done in a timely manner?)
I did not write a resignation letter and sign it because I’d read many times doing so would preclude the possibility of my filing for severance pay. I knew May 1 was going to be the two-and-a-half year mark for me. I knew also I’d need a letter from the university to cancel my visa properly. I didn’t want to be out of the country and get tripped up at a consulate despite having a wife and child here. (I do my best to go along with reasonable rules.)
On May 31, I received the letter I had to show Immigration. It said my contract ended on April 1. (I’d actually quit May 1.) By changing this little fact, the administration is trying to get out of having to pay me three months’ severance pay. I do have the memos to me from the dean’s office dated after April 1, as if I were still employed. By “ending” my contract on April 1, the administrators are also trying to cover up the fact that they illegally held my pay for April for something not in the contract. (Much like their trying to cover up not doing anything about those hostile emails three months before the attack.) The university’s letter also noted my work permit had been cancelled May 28. The letter was dated May 30. It arrived at a friend’s house May 31.
Both Thai Immigration and the Thai Police have both been very helpful to me these last few months. Thai friends and acquaintances I’ve told the story to have also been sympathetic and supportive. However, the administrators at that university have not been exemplary in their “good social.” In fact, though they think they are saving face, they are really only bringing more shame on themselves, on their university, and sadder still, on the country. Is this the kind of face Thailand wants to present to ASEAN and the world?
What happened to the students, mine and Mr. F’s, and the courses for which they did not get grades because I was told (LATE) I “didn’t have to do that”? Well, in addition to their full load of new classes this semester, they had to retake Mr. F’s classes in an abbreviated, five-week schedule, taught by (you guessed it) my assailant, who was still allowed to teach the 1/2012 semester despite having been arrested for committing a violent crime and, hopefully, facing a date in court in the near future. Me, I’m still looking for enough work to make as much money as I was working at a university that thought it more important to protect a sociopathic criminal than to keep one the best qualified career professionals they’ve ever had. (NB: This same campus is where, several years ago, alleged administrative callousness caused another farang to go on a border run while very ill and end up dying of that illness in a neighboring country.)
And some people wonder why I left the teaching "profession". I hate to say it but nothing in this story surprises me, nothing at all – and I don't think I can say anything more damning than that!