MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE (Excerpt 47 from THE HARVEST of REASON) Maddie and Lisa came up the stairs from the little auditorium in the basement. They had just been down listening to a seminar given by a candidate for assistant professor. READ MORE

(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-46 in earlier Blogs )

Maddie and Lisa came up the stairs from the little auditorium in the basement. They had just been down listening to a seminar given by a candidate for assistant professor.

“How many people are they going to interview this time?” Maddie asked Lisa.

“Four. They usually interview four.”

“Any idea who the next person is?”

“Oh, some guy finishing his post doc at Texas A&M. He used to be Dr. Carothers’ student though.”

“Another guy.” Maddie sighed.

“Yeah, another white male.”

“You know Lisa, I don’t like to say this, but I just don’t understand. Why can’t they find some women to interview for these positions?”

Lisa made a scoffing noise. “Beats me.”

“Don’t they know how much we need to see some women faculty? How we need some women mentors around here?” Even though she was speaking quietly she was highly irritated. “I mean, don’t they have any vision?”

“Vision? Honey, their vision of a new professor is a young guy who looks just like they did thirty years ago. Get it?”

“But this department has forty-two faculty, and only one is a woman!”

“So? It’s like almost every other department in the College of Agriculture, or in the sciences for that matter. Don’t you know,” Lisa elbowed Maddie, “one woman is enough? Haven’t you read the bottom of all the department stationary where it says: ‘We’re an Equal Opportunity Employer?’ That’s what it means: We already got a woman!

The topic lingered on in Maddie’s mind for the rest of that day. She and Lisa had barely touched on the subject of minorities. In all of the United States, couldn’t they find some minority faculty either?

She found herself walking down the hallway next to Dr. Ellison a few days later. He seemed to be in a highly communicative mood and actually brought up the subject of the faculty search.

“What did you think of our last candidate?” he asked.

“Oh, the seminar was interesting,” Maddie replied in a non-committal tone.

“Well, I thought he was dull as a doorknob!” Dr. Ellison volunteered.

Maddie laughed, as expected. Dr. Ellison leaned over in a conspiratorial way and said in his booming voice, “If Charlie Carothers thinks he’s going to foist his protégé on us, he’s mistaken. That boy’s got nothing we want. Nope – I don’t see him filling this position, not by a long shot.”

They had reached the door of Maddie’s office just as she had gathered enough courage to ask him a question. “Dr. Ellison, you’re on the search committee, aren’t you? Can I ask you something?”

He stopped and stood in front of her office door.

“How come…there were no women interviewed for the position?”

He seemed very enthused about the question. “Well, my dear, you can blame Donna Shalala for that!” he said, with complete assurance.

Maddie hadn’t the slightest idea what he meant. What could the new chancellor possibly have to do with keeping women away from being interviewed? Her recent statements in the State Journal would seem to contradict that.

“I…I don’t understand,” she said.

“Well, we had quite a few excellent women near the top of the list. You know how I support you young women. In fact, one of the girls was my own student, Tina Grell. Yes, she’s doing excellent work at a small college in Iowa. I wanted to bring her back here for an interview.”

“Yes?” Maddie prodded, because the picture was still unclear.

“But you know, we’re cutting back on everything since that woman took over, so we could only bring four interviewees this time. She’s threatening to hold back funding if the college doesn’t hire minorities. Every department has to have two percent minorities in their faculty.”

Something pricked in the back of Maddie’s neck, like a danger warning. She was standing in front of Dr. Ellison but felt like she was standing on a shifting fault line. And then his next statement gave her a curious feeling of invisibility.

“Where the hell are we supposed to find a Black plant breeder?” He showed all his teeth in his smile. “There are none to be had.”

“None?” She echoed like a parrot. A polite, invisible parrot.

“It’s a ridiculous requirement when there is no pool from which to draw.”

“I don’t know if that’s entirely true, Dr. Ellison. I’ve heard of a few. Indiana and Michigan have found…”

“Well, if they did, then they snatched up the only ones!”

Maddie didn’t get the idea that he was speaking from any factual search, but simply from his limited perception. She left the conversation with a need to go somewhere and put the world right side up again.


Sitting at her desk, working in the lab, driving home at night and brushing her teeth before bed, Maddie thought about that conversation. She couldn’t get it out of her head. She was sure Dr. Ellison hadn’t meant to hurt her; she must give him the benefit of the doubt. He couldn’t have understood what he was doing. To say there were no black plant breeders, when he was looking at her face. Wasn’t she almost a plant breeder? She was scheduled to finish this semester. Of course, she wasn’t ready for an assistant professorship, but…

She couldn’t put her finger on it, couldn’t name it. But it felt like a betrayal. She had always looked up to Dr. Ellison, and felt that he cared about her development as a scientist. But it seems he had never really seen her.

And if he didn’t see her, did she even exist? It was a silly question, of course. Don’t let the turkeys get you down, Maddie, she heard her father’s oft-repeated admonition.

Then she started to realize the enormity of it, how his utter confusion about pitting women against minorities was influencing departmental policy. Damn it! If they could only interview four candidates and they really cared about having women on the faculty why not push them up higher on the short list? Why couldn’t they interview at least one female candidate for every three males? She was sure Dr. Ellison, with his caustic tongue, could wield enough power on a committee to do that, if he really wanted to.

And how dare he blame Chancellor Shalala for the committee’s decisions? What did he expect to accomplish by pitting minorities against women? Maddie felt there was no will, no desire to implement the recruitment policies being handed down from the administration, only excuses. If they did not feel there was a pool of qualified minorities (and she seriously doubted anyone had even made any systematic search), then what were they doing to create a pool at a lower level? Why couldn’t they groom some people, through assistantships and post docs, until they were ready for the higher positions?

It was late before she fell asleep, and her dreams were tortured. She got up the next morning with no relief of the angst. It sat like a rock on her chest.

Because she went around for the next few days in an irritated state John wanted to know what was bothering her. She wasn’t sure why, but she resisted telling him about it. Their relationship was still so new, so beautiful, she wasn’t sure if she wanted their racial dialogue to begin. She just wanted them to relate as human beings for a little while longer, before reality started to bite.

“Maddie, if you say it’s nothing one more time, you’re gonna drive me crazy. I’m already so worried that I’ve done something wrong—”

“What? Oh no, John, it’s nothing to do with you, really.”

“Then tell me!” He was insistent. He was leaning up against the lab bench watching her set up a run.

“Okay, okay.” She took a deep breath and launched into a recounting of her run-in with Dr. Ellison. Because it was not in Maddie’s nature to backbite she tried to simply explain the issue dispassionately.

When she was done he was silent. So silent in fact that it aroused her curiosity.

“What are you thinking.”

“I’m ashamed to say, I never really questioned it before, who was being interviewed, I mean. I just looked at the guys and evaluated them at face value.”

“Really? You never missed having a female prof, or noticed that your environment was almost totally male dominated?”

“Well, yeah, I noticed that, but I thought we were making progress. Moving in the right direction.”

“Well, if the thinking on all sides is like Dr. Ellison’s, then hell is gonna freeze over before there’s some real change here.”

“I can see what you mean.”

She looked at him critically. “Do you?” She decided it was time to bring him into her world. They couldn’t do the love thing without really knowing who the other person was. She stopped what she was doing for a moment.

“John, I don’t know if you know this, but you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It’s called white privilege. And male privilege. Here’s a perfect example. You’re the golden boy. Everyone would want to hire you for this position. That’s not to say you’re not good, or that you haven’t worked hard for what you have. But you just have a better handicap starting the game. You fit the profile, because you look like these old guys did thirty years ago when they first started out. You’re familiar to them, and it doesn’t look like their imagination can extend a lot further.” She halted, suddenly realizing that he was silent while she raved on. He just stood there, listening. “I’m almost done here,” she said, “but I’m going to have to come back at eleven and shut it off, otherwise the proteins will run clear off the gel.”

“Okay, let’s go grab a bite to eat then. I’ll bring you back.”

“John, you don’t have to do that. I’ll come back on my own,” she protested.

“Maddie, I want to,” he countered, brooking no resistance. “Besides, we can kill some time after dinner by going for a ride around the lake.”


John wanted to lighten things up a little. With the Ellison episode hanging over them like a bad odor he couldn’t very well bring up the rape thing. But he was almost compulsive about not leaving her on campus alone at night. It was the one thing he could do to protect her. He had to feel that he could control something. What had happened with Ellison he couldn’t. It was hard to accept that things impacted on her, hurt her, and there wasn’t a damm thing he could do about it.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

DISCUSSION QUESTION 46:  What is “the old boy’s network?”

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends) ____________________________________


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
This entry was posted in agriculture, bahai, chastity, college students, educators, equality, excerpt from THE HARVEST OF REASON, female professors, feminism, genetic engineering, genetics, global discussion, graduate school, interracial marriage, John Pitts, Maddie Hawkins, national discussion, plant breeding, race, race in America, race on campus, unity in diversity, University of Wisconsin-Madison, women in science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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