The students were led into the august lecture room and asked to help themselves to cookies and coffee.
They were told by the teaching assistant, Ms. Dela Cruz, that the Professor would begin Budget 101 shortly, but they were also warned that some of them hadn’t been doing their homework. The Professor had not been happy with some of the papers he had been reading, she said.
The students, the brightest the state’s institute of higher learning had to offer, sat patiently and flipped through the documents handed to them by the Teaching Assistant. Some turned on tape recorders while others tapped quietly on laptops. Others reviewed the Professor’s best-selling book, The New Day.
Professor Abercrombie entered wearing a blue blazer and red tie. He carried with him a tea cup and small teapot to soothe his throat during his 45-minute lecture.
The Professor thanked the students for attending class on a day when school was not in session. He said he would speak first before turning the lecture over to his Prized Student, Mr. Young.
And here is what the Professor had to say.
Professor Abercrombie said earning a successful grade in Budget 101 required that students understand his Guiding Principles and the Goals he wished to accomplish.
He was open to other ideas but said there would be no gimmicks, that he would not unfairly burden some while favoring the narrow interests of others.
He defended why it had taken his team — the Teaching Assistant, the Prized Student and dozens of others — so long to put his Lesson Plan together, even though two months of the semester had already passed. (His team, he said, is only half the size of the one that did the work for his predecessor, and had worked tirelessly.)
He wanted to “get it done right,” he explained, “think through options thoughtfully, and develop a plan that was comprehensive,” as he stated in the helpful Q&A sheet provided to each student.
The reason for the delay, he would reveal, also had to do with the unfortunate fact the that the students’ previous instructor, Dr. Lingle, had created a Lesson Plan based entirely on fiction.
But Professor Abercrombie said he was not here to blame his predecessor … even if it really was her fault, he pointed out (several times, helpfully, in case a student forgot).
He was also open to the ideas of others, although he poo-poohed the biggest idea of them all, the GET Solution, which he said was short-sighted and would not address the long-term Structural Problems his Lesson Plan would specifically deal with.
“It does not even begin to get us back to where we need to go,” he argued.
The Professor also wanted to make sure students had a copy of the 69-page Yellow Handbook, as well as the four-page essay entitled “Changing Our Ways.”
“I hope you all have the opportunity to read it,” he said of the essay, noting that it was “beautiful.”
Some students held the papers up, basking in the approving glow of the Professor.
The essay contained powerful words like “salvage” and “wreckage” and “broken parts” when referring to Dr. Lingle’s lesson plan. By contrast, his plan was “factual, clearly delineated” and had a razor-thin “margin of error.”
“The times are challenging, but that is no excuse for standing still,” he declared. Someone has to make “the hard choices” and abandon the “unacceptable status quo.”
“If there are better ways to get to where we need to go that address our multi-dimensional challenges with thoughtful conviction, we are happy, indeed eager to entertain them,” he said. “But we cannot tolerate unnecessary delay or drama for the sake of advancing personal agendas because we lack enough civic courage.”
So certain was the Professor of his plan that the earlier lessons he had submitted to the Committees on Curriculum for consideration — only to see them shredded, like his “Treatise on The Reimbursements” and “The Tax That Must Be Levied On The Sugary Substance” — were given new life by his very conviction.
“Nothing is dead,” he stated, firmly. “Let’s expect more of ourselves. Let’s get to work.”
The Professor’s plan would increase efficiency and productivity, improve morale, restore trust. Sacrifices would be needed, however; everyone would have to contribute “something.”
The Professor then turned the lecture over to his Prized Student, who turned on the PowerPoint to lull the students into a state of complacency.
“This is a balanced approach in all measures,” said Mr. Young as Professor Abercrombie sipped his tea and followed the PowerPoint with his hard copy version, carefully turning the pages as the slides went by. Occasionally, the Professor would gently tug on the Prized Student’s sleeve and whisper a direction or two.
When Mr. Young finished the numbing PowerPoint, Professor Abercrombie said he felt so strongly about the Lesson Plan that he would take the plan to the world outside the Five-Story Tower, to meet with the community and to submit to television interviews that could be broadcast on consecutive nights if need be in order to properly explain his plan.
“I am happy to come and talk,” he said, about this “ongoing colloquy.”
It was time for questions, and the graduate students, quiet and respectful until now, suddenly erupted.
“Why did you not follow the advice of the Council on Revenues!” asked Derrick the Diligent.
“Isn’t this lesson actually $800 million dollars more than the previous Lesson Plan — the one that was already $800 million in the red?” asked Gina the Sly.
“How is this plan structurally different than the old one?” asked Richard the Gray.
“Is it correct to say that the Lesson Plan asks for $800 million more while still balancing the previous Lesson Plan?” asked Mark the Meticulous.
More questions followed — “What’s so bad about the GET?” and “Do you really think you will save $88 million in labor costs?”
The Professor and the Prized Student thrust and parried, and if a question could not be answered adequately the Professor would merely raise his voice and speak in quivering tones to silence all challenges.
Finally, T.A. Dela Cruz shouted out “Last question!”
It came from Daryl the Dogged: “You have huge increases in construction spending. Why increase it so much if you don’t need it?”
The Professor said the extra spending was really a reinvestment that would reward everyone in the class and the aforementioned Committees on Curriculum.
“I am obligated to offer them the opportunity to judge how thorough I have put together a plan to aid them in their task,” he said. “I am making a presentation. I am going to be working with them — I understand how tough it has been on them to this point.”
With that Budget 101 came to a close. Some students rushed to genuflect in front of the Professor while others asked questions of the T.A. and the Prized Student.
At least one student — Chad the Obscure — ate a cookie. He would need all the energy he could muster when Professor Abercrombie and Prized Student Young faced the Committees on Curriculum in the morning.
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