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I Was a Professor at the Horribly Corrupt American University of Iraq... Until the Neocons Fired Me

Horror stories from the graft-ridden American University of Iraq campus in Kurdistan.

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I was facing the same decision, because it was now Spring 2010, and though everyone I knew had already been rehired by Agresto, I hadn’t heard a thing from him, and that was a bad sign. He liked to keep people on the hook.

I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. I was the most abjectly loyal, earnest employee Agresto and Mitchell could want. I wore a suit and tie every single day. I even wore the silly nametag that everyone else dropped after a few weeks. And I tried to be a cheerful American, even though I’m not very good at it, consoling myself with the fact that this bunch wasn’t very good at it either.  

At last, I made an appointment with Agresto and told him directly I’d like a contract for two more years. His response floored me: “I don’t know anything about you,” he said coyly, adding, “You never have lunch with me.”

The reason I never had lunch with him was that I was sick as a dog, constantly nauseous, going through four or five awful spasms of vomiting every day. They started at 5:00 a.m. (the people who lived downstairs from us said they used my dawn vomiting session as an alarm clock) and continued through the teaching day. My students got used to my sudden departures followed by off-stage retching noises, but I was trying to hide them from the administration.

I had no idea what was wrong, and no way to find out. There was no doctor on campus, though we’d been promised there would be. There was nobody. Worse yet, there were no competent doctors in the entire city. When I asked a Kurdish friend for a good doctor, she said, “The Kurds don’t go to doctors. They wait until they are dying and then go to hospital.” And I’d seen the Suli hospital, which reminded me a lot of Matthew Brady’s photos of the Union Army’s medical facilities; I wasn’t going back there.

But I was literally more afraid of poverty than of death. So I swallowed the bile (again literally) and made a point of sitting at Agresto’s table in the cafeteria, smiling and being submissively sociable. Agresto liked my new attitude, and deigned to visit one of my classes. That sealed the deal, and I soon got the two-year contract I craved -- and I got it the same way I’d gotten the job in the first place: by playing on John Agresto’s huge, wounded ego. 

I’d prepared for that first interview by reading Agresto’s book, Mugged by Reality, on the plane. And it’s a pretty good book, I’ll admit. But the way he ate up my flattering account of it was a bit of a shock. And I felt the same shock, seeing how quickly he responded to a little lunchtime sucking-up. The man was more easily played than a kazoo.

With my new contract signed and sealed, I started to warm to Agresto and Mitchell. Maybe I’d been unfair to these guys, I thought. They must be more broadminded than I’d thought. They must have googled me before hiring me, and if you google me you soon find out that I’m a comic writer, and not of the harmless-joshing variety. Conservatives are wary of comedy in general, infatuated as they are with High Seriousness; and my comedy is rather harsh by any standards.

“It was damned nice of them to hire, and then re-hire me,” I thought, “They’re actually very tolerant people!”

Of course, I was wrong. They were as tolerant as Cotton Mather. They were exactly what they always seemed to be: pompous petty tyrants.

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