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The Secretary and the ABD by Anita G. Gorman

I’m just the Sociology Department secretary, so what do I know? Well, as it turns out, I know a thing or two.
    Claude H. Frackenburg was hired two years ago as an ABD. The department chair, Dr. Ernestine Goodenough, had a crush on Claude. At least that’s what I think. Not that I can tell that to anyone. I’m just the secretary. I could tell my friend Sadie over in English, but so what? Who cares? Well, I care, because I know that Claude is up to no good.
    ABD, in case you’re wondering, means All But Dissertation. It sounds like doing the dissertation is no big deal, but let me tell you it is. Since I work here at Ashleyville College in the great but small town of Ashleyville, Ohio, I have met lots of people who were working on their dissertations. I’ve even done some of the typing for a few of them. Let me tell you, those dissertations are usually long and involved, to say nothing of unreadable. But the thing is, you don’t just throw it together in a weekend. In my opinion ABD should be changed to ABARLD, All But a Really Long Dissertation. Heck, it even makes an acronym. ABARLD.
    OK, so Claude H. Frackenburg was hired on one condition: he had to complete his doctorate, meaning that pesky dissertation, in one year. That was two years ago.
    I’ve been around long enough to know you can check these things out. I have access to all those databases at the Ashleyville College Library. You can look up stuff like who has written a dissertation lately. Well, not just written the thing; it also has to be approved and filed and accompanied by a really spiffy abstract so curious readers have some inkling of what it was about.
    So when I have nothing much to do, I check stuff like that, and let me tell you, there is no Dr. Claude H. Frackenburg in the databases, no abstract written by our Claude. He remains, in fact, ABD, or ABARLD. I’m kind of proud of my new acronym.
    But here’s the thing that really made me annoyed, that forced me to do something. Just a few weeks ago the fall semester began. Dr. Goodenough reminded me to remind all the Sociology faculty that they had to update their web pages with their syllabi and recent accomplishments and course policies and office hours. They were also to remove political statements. Dr. Goodenough tries really hard to be fair to everyone, and I think that’s good. Those political statements can get people into trouble.
    I sprang into action and dutifully checked everyone’s web page. I got to Claude H. Frackenburg. There it was, at the top of the page: Claude H. Frackenburg, Ph.D. Below his name was a flowery description of our Claude’s recent work: “Dr. Frackenburg has done on-site investigations into the sociology of women’s hats of the 1930s and has researched with great thoroughness the implications of birth order among Alaskan youth.” I stopped reading. Dr. Frackenburg? When could Claude have become a doctor of anything?
    Dr. Goodenough walked by and saw me frowning at the computer screen. “Everything OK, Melissa?”
    I started at the sound of her voice. “Yes, Dr. Goodenough. I’m just going through the websites and taking notes. I see that a couple of faculty members didn’t list office hours for this semester, and one forgot to attach a syllabus.”
    “Thanks for taking care of this. You know you’re the one who really runs this department.”
    Dr. Goodenough was always complimenting me. But she wouldn’t be happy with me if she knew I was planning to expose her boyfriend. Boyfriend? I had no idea what these people did after hours, and I didn’t do any snooping in Ashleyville’s finest pubs. I did know, however, that our department chair liked Claude H. Frackenburg, ABD, ABARLD, and PPHD (Pretend PHD). What to do?
    I decided to be indirect. CHF, as I had started to think of him in my own little mind, was committing fraud, or so it seemed, but I didn’t think calling the Ashleyville Police Department was my first move. No, he just needed to know that someone was on to him.
    I decided to put a short letter in his mailbox, but I was afraid to do it with my office computer and my office printer. No, I did it at home with the shades drawn. I used a font I don’t normally use, not that I expected the APD to be checking my home office anytime soon.
    This is what I said. I kept it short and not so sweet. “Mr. Frackenburg, you should not be referring to yourself as Dr. Frackenburg on your web page. Cease and desist right away, or Dr. Goodenough will be informed of your fraud.”
    It was terse and to the point. Since I’m usually the first to arrive, I found it easy to place the letter in CHF’s mailbox. Then I waited.
    Nothing happened. His web page still referred to Dr. Frackenburg. The next day I placed another letter in his mailbox. Here is what I said: “Mr. Frackenburg, you must stop calling yourself Dr. Stop it! Finish your dissertation asap if you want to continue working here.”
    Later that afternoon I checked the webpage one more time. It was still there: Dr. Claude H. Frackenburg.
    On the third morning I tried again. This time I was more direct: “Mr. Frackenburg, take that Dr. from your name or face the consequences.” But as I placed the letter in CHF’s mailbox, a booming voice said, “So it’s you, Melissa. You’re the one who’s trying to destroy me!”
    I walked up to him and wagged my finger in front of his nose. “Listen, Mr. Frackenburg. . . .”
    “It’s Professor Frackenburg to you!”
    “Sure, Professor Frackenburg, but it’s not Dr. Frackenburg. Anyone who teaches here can be referred to as Professor, but only people who have successfully defended their dissertations can be called Doctor.”
    “And how do you know I haven’t?”
    “Because your name is not in the databases. I’m also wondering if you did papers on the sociology of women’s hats in the 1930s and birth order in Alaska. I’ll go check.”
    He sat down in the chair reserved for visitors. It seemed appropriate somehow. “How humiliating. To be done in by a mere secretary.”
    “What are you talking about, Claude?” Dr. Goodenough had arrived in the nick of time, as they say. I looked at Claude. He looked at me.
    “Well? I’m waiting. What has Melissa done?”
    Claude turned to Dr. Goodenough and attempted to give her one of his winning smiles.
    “Well?” Dr. Goodenough wasn’t smiling.
    “I put Dr. in front of my name on my webpage. Melissa discovered it.”
    “Oh, then you defended your dissertation, Claude,” the chair said with a smile.
    CHF looked at his shoes. “Well, not exactly.”
    Dr. Goodenough frowned. “Then why put Dr. in front of your name on our website?” It was no longer his page, but our website. That didn’t sound good for the professor.
    “I was hoping no one would notice. I can’t finish the dissertation. It’s just not in me.”
    “And what about your other research?”
    “What other research?”
    “You’ve talked about your work with the sociology of women’s hats in the 1930s and birth order among Alaskan children.”
    “Well, I made those up. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. They sounded rather preposterous.”
    “Oh, you think those topics are preposterous? Just go to a sociology conference. That’ll show you preposterous.”
    I got up from my desk. “Stay, Melissa,” Dr. Goodenough commanded. I sat down.
    “Well, Claude, I was going to give you an extension for the dissertation, but if you’re not interested in finishing and your other research is non-existent, then I think you can clean out your desk.”
    “But who will teach my classes?”
    “I’ll do it. Melissa does most of the work of the department chair anyway. Oh, do bring me your textbooks. I’ll need to do a bit of review before showing up for class.”
    I was pleased to hear that I did most of the chair’s work. But I don’t get even a fraction of her salary. That’s what my friend Sadie in English would call irony. What would she call what happened to Claude? Poetic justice.
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