Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vampires in the Hall

There is one class of people on this campus that I fear the most. If I see them in the hallway, I flee quickly to my office and shut the door. If they knock on my door, I pretend I'm not there. I once had one of them wait outside my closed office door for almost a half-hour (I know this because I texted General Disarray to let me know when it was safe to emerge. He offered to come down and scare the person off, but I was actually getting a lot done trapped in my office). If one of these people manages to find me in my office with the door open, it is invariably at the most inconvenient time. And they never, ever, ever take no for an answer. "Oh, I understand, BUT...". Who are these people terrorizing my academic existence? It's book representatives (you thought I was going to say students, didn't you). Yes, those people who work for the big textbook publishers who roam the halls to talk to you about their latest, greatest textbook for your class.

I think most people probably don't understand why this is the bane of my existence. For example, I don't think General Disarray has ever had a publishing rep ambush him in his office. But then most of his classes are less than 20 students. I on the other hand teach a 160 person course, which is one of five sections of the course taught yearly- collectively fluxing close to 1000 students a year (the other sections are much bigger than mine, a fortunate side-effect of demanding a teaching time when none of the truly huge lecture halls are available). A course that fluxes this many students yearly is like waving red meat in front of a pack of pit bulls. And the outcome is just as unpleasant. In vampire lore (and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer and spin off Angel - don't ask I won't admit anything anyway), vampires cannot come into someone's home without an invite. I have learned that there is a corollary for book reps. Except with them, the trick is to make sure they DON'T come over the office threshold. If you can keep them in the hall, they move along quickly. But woe befalls you if they put both feet across the threshold. The results are pretty much the same as if you invited in the vampire: it is a battle to get them out again and the encounter will probably not end until they have sucked you dry.

I don't mean to imply that I think these are truly evil people in the employ of the devil. It's just that I know their sales tactic is to ambush me and hold me captive until either I agree to use their book or a half hour has passed, whichever comes first. This is why they never set up appointments before showing up on campus and why when I tell them I'm too busy to talk right now, they try to cross the threshold to extend the conversation. I once showed one of them my schedule and told her that if she really wanted to meet with me she needed to make an appointment two weeks in advance. I never heard from her until she stopped by unannounced again in a couple of months.

The crux of my problem, of course, is that I am incapable of being rude to these people. Salesperson and telemarketer pretty much top my nightmares of "what might I have to do if I get fired", so I am pretty much crippled in my interactions with them the "God, what if that was me" reflex - much to General Disarray's dismay.  General Disarray has fewer problems with face-to-face confrontation than I do. But, in a moment of irrationality, trapped in my locked office wondering if I can wedge my pregnant belly through the tiny window that doesn't open very far (I will neither confirm nor deny that I have installed a webcam over my door to see who is coming down the hall), I may have hit upon a brilliant plan. I am going to post the following sign on my door:

If you are here to convince Professor Chaos to use your book for her class, you are in the wrong place. Professor Chaos does not have that authority. All book decisions for Professor Chao's class must have the approval of Dr. General Disarray. General Disarray hates book reps.

Oh yes, I think this is the perfect solution.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The lab supplies reps are just as bad. Not only do they push their shit, they don't know why their shit is SHIT!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The crux of my problem, of course, is that I am incapable of being rude to these people.People like this prey on the natural human tendency to be polite. They are the ones who are rude for exploiting this aspect of human decency, and they deserve no politeness in return. If salespeople of any kind show their faces in my lab, we firmly state that we do not accept any unsolicited sales visits and they need to leave immediately. If they persist, they are told that if they do not leave immediately, we will call campus security.

After you do this a few times, word filters through the grapevine that there is no point to coming to your lab, and they stop bothering.

scatterplot said...

My job starts in August, my phd hasn't been submitted yet and I live about 10,000 miles from my department-to-be, so I've only had to deal with one of these guys so far, and only by email. He deftly (and untruthfully) implied the textbook he was pushing was being used in the class currently. The email closed with, "I look forward to meeting you." Fortunately I have very few qualms about being rude to liars.

Drugmonkey said...

when they come in, pull up some blog and start randomly reading sentences. that should clear them out.

River Tam said...

@Drugmonkey: LOL. Perhaps I should choose a hybrid option and have Comrade PhysioProf write the sign for my door! (General Disarray thinks that might lose me my job, though)

@scatterplot: awesome! that's the worse book rep story I've heard so far.

JLK said...

You should tell them that you'll use their textbook when they stop charging $135 for them.

Unless, of course, the $135 charge includes autographs and automatic grad school offers from the authors....

Unbalanced Reaction said...

No kidding! The squeak, squeak of the wire book carts (or, my favorite, the wheeled luggage bags) gives me about a 38 second head start to shut my door. My office is second on our hall, so I have a little bit of warning at least.

I do like CPP's approach; I might have to try that at my next job!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I too am a Professor and I have seen more of the book sales people than my own students. In fact instead of asking me to BUY books, they want to know if I will SELL mine (and then they look with longing at my bookshelves). No! Go away! Next semester maybe!