Me, Cinderella?

By: Aubrey Rose

“Because of my financial contributions.”

Patterson paused.

“In part, yes. Yes, you are correct. This would all be much easier to handle if you continued to be as generous to our department as you have in the past.”

“What contributions do you make to this department, Dr. Patterson? Apart from teaching the mandatory lectures.” Eliot brushed his thumb against the stack of homework papers on Patterson’s desk.

“I teach all of the higher level courses I can manage with my schedule.” Patterson seethed. “But then again, I happen to enjoy making a contribution to this university.”

“The last contribution I made,” Eliot said, “was handed out as bonus grants to already-tenured professors.”

“Not at all!” Patterson cried out. “The money came from the general fund.”

“I’m no idiot,” Eliot said. “The year before my contribution there was no money for grants. I wonder where you happened to find such funds?”

“The grants were handed out to those who increased the prestige of the university!”

“By publishing reams of tedious, uninspired dreck. I fail to see how that does anything for Pasadena’s prestige.”

Dr. Patterson flushed a bright red. Eliot tried to remember how much of the bonus the department chair had claimed for himself. Although he couldn’t remember names, he remembered math, and the chair’s papers had been supremely lacking in actual mathematics. He focused his research almost entirely on statistical economics, and for the past few years had been pushing out newly-polished computer generated statistics on the same basic market algorithms, over and over again.

“But then…what of your research, Dr. Herceg?” Dr. Patterson said, trying to regain the upper ground. His forehead was beginning to glisten unattractively with tiny beads of sweat. “When was the last time you published anything?”

“I’m sure you know that better than I do,” Eliot replied. “As I said, I’m working on a difficult problem.”

“Surely you can publish something!”

“The problem has not been solved.”

“But surely…surely—”

“I won’t publish my work until it’s done,” Eliot said.

Patterson exhaled loudly through his nose.

“When do you expect your work to be done and first ready to publish?”

“When it’s done,” Eliot said. “And not a moment sooner.”

“That’s unacceptable!” Patterson rapped the top of his desk with his hand. “A completely unacceptable answer! You haven’t published a single paper in the years you’ve been here!”

“What did Gauss say about Dirichelet’s publications?” Eliot leaned forward, his face growing hot with anger. “Jewels are not weighed on a grocery scale!”

Patterson sighed. “Your reputation has waned in this country, Dr. Herceg. I can’t force the department to keep your fellowship on for another year like this.”

“Then don’t.” Eliot paused. “ Are we finished?”

“You’ll lose your visa. You’ll have to go back—”

“Are we finished?” A streak of fury flashed behind Eliot’s eyes and he hissed the words.

Patterson stood up behind his desk. He leaned forward across the papers and extended one trembling hand. His gaze flickered over to Eliot’s scar, then quickly back.

“I look forward to seeing your work published,” he said.

“So do I,” Eliot said. He shook the man’s clammy palm once, forcefully, turned on his heel and left.

The inanity of it all! A dull fury burned in the embers of Eliot’s heart. To be forced back into a game of prestige and reputation! And then for Patterson to threaten his fellowship—

A bluff. The same game lay at the heart of all organizations, academia most of all. Eliot strode past the reception area, pushing his way out the door and past a group of tittering students. They still believed in the purity of academics, in the chase of knowledge above all else. He hoped that they wouldn’t learn the truth until much later, until they had already done something significant.

Dr. Patterson was more right than even he knew. Eliot’s work had stalled. True, his initial forays into the experimental field of projective groups had broken new ground. When he was only a kid of twenty, he had published paper after paper on projective algorithms without breaking a sweat, and if he never published again he would still be remembered as having made significant contributions to the field of mathematics. Now, though, stuck on a monumental problem, Eliot felt himself losing hope.

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