The Chair – S01E03 – The Town Hall [Transcript]

Bill hosts a town hall with the students that quickly takes a turn. Joan starts a fire. A dinner with the dean puts Ji-Yoon in an awkward position.
The Chair - Season 1

Original release date: August 20, 2021

At the disciplinary proceeding, Bill refuses to write a public apology for the Nazi salute. Instead, he talks to the students, saying he is proud of their dissent. He compares himself to professors who fled Nazi Germany and says the students are misinterpreting what he did. After being asked to apologize, he apologizes for other people’s feelings, and the students jeer him and continue the protest. During a discussion about Herman Melville in Yaz and Elliot’s class, a student asks about allegations of Melville beating his wife. Elliot refuses to discuss the matter, but Yaz says she will do so in her section. Joan reads her students’ poor reviews of her teaching, lights a few on fire, and nearly burns down her office. Ji-Yoon is told the distinguished lecturer will be David Duchovny, even though she would ordinarily be the one who chooses the lecturer, and she chose Yaz. Ji-Yoon argues with the Dean over the choice, with the Dean saying the school needs a guest lecturer who will increase enrollment.

* * *

[indistinct chatter]

[Ji-Yoon sighs] Okay.

Don’t say anything provocative.

I will not embarrass the Fatherland.

Hey, you get how much trouble you’re in?

Know how many times I’ve been in trouble for real shit?

For once, I’m in trouble for something demonstrably stupid.

You have to take this seriously.

I am. I will.


What is going on here?

I told you to pull it together.

I left it crooked ’cause I like it when you fix me up.

You smell good.

Please, be receptive to their input, okay?

Yeah, I’m not about to validate the total absurdity of this proceeding.

[laughing] I’m not a Nazi.

Do you think it’s acceptable to joke about Nazis?

No, but that does remind me of this time when two Nazis walked into a bar…


We have a straightforward protocol for this sort of situation.

The two of you, you work on a statement of apology,

and then we post it on all relevant platforms.

I’m sorry, what’s your name again?


Yeah, that’s Ronny.

Ronny. He’s, uh, chief of communications.

Some people call it crisis management, or reputation management.

I don’t co-write.

How do you suggest that we handle this then?

I’m gonna talk to them.

To who?

“To whom.”

“To whom.”

The students.

No, no, no. No, no, no.

I wouldn’t advise that.

I’m tenured.

You can’t constrain my actions in my own classroom

or my speech on this campus

unless I’m in violation of the faculty code of conduct,

which I’m not.

Universities are supposed to encourage dissent.

We should be proud of these kids.

This is what they do.

In fact, when I was an undergrad,

I sat bare-ass on that very desk for South African divestment.

[door opens]

Are we gonna get that cappuccino latte?

There are still a couple things we have to discuss.

I’ll catch up with you later.


[Larson] This is already all over social media.

The president is starting to get calls from donors and alumni.

If it’s not resolved immediately,

I wouldn’t be surprised if he asks for Bill’s resignation.

No, he’s going to apologize.

He doesn’t seem remotely apologetic.

Well, I can guarantee that after our next conversation,

he will be filled with remorse.

[bell tolling]

Oh. Wait up.

I like when you act like you’re my boss.

You should’ve seen your face in there.

I am your boss.

Okay. Well, then what are you doing tonight, boss lady?

Can I take you out for dinner?

What’s the matter with you?

No, you cannot ask me out right now.

This is a serious disciplinary matter.

Oh, so I’m gonna let some paper pusher from HR write an apology for me?

That’s a disservice to my students. They’d smell that coming a mile away.

Know what else they’ll smell coming a mile away?

This little streak of arrogance you got going on here.

For Chrissake, I’m not a Nazi, okay? Am I not allowed…

This is not about whether you’re a Nazi.

It’s about whether you’re one of those men who, when something like this happens,

thinks he can dust himself off and just walk away

without any fucking sense of consequence.

That a “no” on dinner?

[classical music playing]

Yaz hit 8,000 Twitter followers,

so I posted that to the department’s website.

You posted she won the NEH Fellowship?


And unfortunately, I’m coming to a dead end in terms of Joan’s office.

There’s gotta be something we can do.

[knocking on door]


Oh, hi. Thanks, Laurie I wanna talk to Lila for a second.

Come on in.

I know it seems like I have been ignoring you,

but it’s just been chaos.

Don’t forget, you have that dinner tonight.

Oh crap. What is that again?

At the dean’s house. Maybe it’s about the whole…

Uh, uh… Thanks. Thanks, Laurie. Thanks.

[door closes]


My friend Sarah at Wisconsin, her adviser got accused of harassment,

and his recommendation ended up being worthless.

Nobody thinks Bill Dobson’s a Nazi.

I have a mountain of student debt.

It was a bad joke, and he is about to apologize.

People have been calling me.

What people?

[Lila] Reporters.

What should I say?

Oh my God, don’t say anything.

If this gets big, it could… it could really hurt us.

I mean, that means you too.

[Rentz] Moby-Dick was a failure, of course.

Critics hated it, and Melville died in obscurity,

as he himself had predicted in letters to his friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne,

to whom he dedicated the book.

Not until the 1920s was it reappraised as the seminal master…

Are we going to discuss the fact that Melville was a wife-beater?

[students murmuring]

It is true that some feminist scholars have posited that,

but in the absence of definitive proof,

well, I… I think it’s best we attend to the text itself.

We’re concerned with Melville the author, not Melville the human being.

But you just referred to Melville the human being.

His personal letters to Hawthorne?

[students murmuring]

I was only making the point that his, uh, his friendship with Hawthorne was, uh,

was an important aspect of his growth as a writer.

[all murmuring]

Come on, are you serious?

It was not until the 1920s

that the novel took its rightful place as the…

We’ll cover the wife-beating in my section.

That, as well as some important contributions to Melville’s work

by the women in his life.

[all agreeing]

[Bill] Indefinitely?

Who told you that?

Indefinitely just means “until further notice.”

You wanna help me put these flyers up in here and around campus?

I could send an email to the class through Blackboard.

It’s gone way beyond just the students in our class.

[classical music playing]

Your boy’s toast.


[door closes]

[Joan] Guess what else? There is no Wi-Fi.

[Ji-Yoon] Oh Jesus Christ.

You tried tech support?

I’ve already left 700 messages.

I’m on my way over there right now.

Do you wanna come? Pull your weight?

I gotta go nudge Rentz. But I will bring it up to Larson tonight.

I’m… I’m so sorry, Joan, I…

You know what? You wanna work here? I can move some of this crap.



[smacks lips] You look at your evaluations yet?


And what did they say?

[sighs] That I’m too exciting.

Wait a minute. Was he always in here?

Oh, I haven’t had time to redecorate.

I gave him a hand job in his car

when I got tenure. To celebrate.

That’s the president of the college from, like, 1924.

Who looks like the guy I gave a hand job to.

Also, how is that a celebration for you?

[Joan] Good point.

He owes me an orgasm, whoever he is.

Hey, Joan? You hear about Bill doing a town hall with the students?

I’m worried.

This is what he does. They love him.

He’s so empathic.

Now, if it were Elliot, or even you, I’d be worried.

[door closes]


Knock, knock.

Oh, hey.


Uh, thanks for the apple pie.


[Bill] Right.

Yeah. [chuckles]

Uh, do you have a minute?

Sure. Sure.

Oh. Hey, we need to keep that open.

This is going to be a bloodbath.

Why do you say that?

See, any so-called jokes related to Hitler are in their own special category.

You know some kids put on Hitler mustaches and posted knockoffs of your meme?

Do you not see this? There’s a larger campus context here.

There’s a larger national context. To be Jewish with all these militias?

Last year, we had the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents in 40 years.

Of course intent matters, but even if you meant no harm,

if the impact of something that you did has… Oh.

Uh, this is Daphne. Dr. Kim…


Hi. I was just, um, telling him the same thing.

Great minds think alike. [laughs]


[Bill] Um… [smacks lips]

Do you need me for something?



Uh, there’s something else I wanted to ask you about, but to be continued.



What the fuck are you doing?

She came barreling in here and she closed the door.

Why didn’t you open it?

Because she was accusing me of inciting the alt-right,

and I didn’t wanna interrupt her in the middle of that.

Hey. Hey, hey, hey, hey.

Hey, hey, hey.

No. What?

That’s nothing, okay?

You’re trouble.


Can I ask you a favor?

After your performance this morning, you owe me one.


Can you babysit Ju Ju tonight? I’ve got this thing at Dean Larson’s.

For what?

Oh, who knows? Grease the wheels.


What is this?

[Bill] I don’t know.

What wheel is like this?


[classical music playing]

The Wi-Fi in my office is on the fritz.

[sighs] What’s wrong with it?

There isn’t any.

Well, I could get you a booster,

but your department will have to fill out the paperwork.


Have you talked to your chair?



[lighting match]

[in singsong] Thank you.

Thank you.

[fire crackling]

[fire whooshing]




Oh. Uh… Sh…

Oh. Ah!

[breathes deeply]

Oh my God.


[fire alarm beeping]



I heard your internet is down.

Wonderful. Come in.

[man] And… you’re online.

Where have you been all my life?

I don’t know, IT department?

Actually, have you ever heard of

Yeah. Mmm.

I’m supposed to take in some of my students’ criticisms.


I already know what they’re gonna say.

That I shouldn’t teach any books that are more than 300 pages long.

Well, I wouldn’t just assume they’re gonna say that.

I mean, maybe they’ll have something interesting to say. [laughs]

I would give you a good review.


This font is so small.

Would you mind reading some of these out loud to me?

The ones that you think might be helpful.

Okay. Yeah, let’s, uh, let’s see.

You sure this is legit?

No, not that one.


Oh. Uh…

[hesitating] No, not that one.

What? What does it say?


“All dumpty, no humpty.”

What, like I’m fat? Or do those words mean something different now?

No, that’s what they mean.

But clearly you’re not. Look at you, you look great.

Go to the next one, okay?

“Professor Hambling’s what I think about when I’m trying not to, um…”

[muttering] No.

It’s okay.

I don’t think this is constructive.

Come on.

“When I’m trying not to cum in my girlfriend.”

I’m what he thinks about when he’s trying not to cum in his girlfriend?

I don’t get it.

I wouldn’t overanalyze it.

I’m what he th…



Let’s just have a little look at that.

This was posted yesterday.

Oh, was it? I didn’t notice that.

I don’t suppose there’s any way you could track this fucker down?

Well, yeah. I mean, it’d be illegal though. [laughs]


[Ji-Yoon] I’m heading out.



Oh, um, did you take a look at Yaz’s suggestions for external reviewers?

We have to have people who take feminist scholarship

and critical race theory seriously, Elliot.


She’s our only junior Americanist.

You share a mutual interest, obviously, in making sure your field remains

one of the most prominent in our department, right?

Anyway, we want her case to go through with flying colors.

I’ll send her work out to respected scholars

who will review it objectively.


[woman] When I found out the English department

elected their first female chair,

I did cartwheels.

I was an English major, so I told Paul

I have to shake her hand, and…

Oh. [chuckles]

And say well done. [chuckles]

I don’t know how competitive the election was, but thank you.

Oh, don’t undersell yourself.

[woman] He’s right.

No woman ever got anywhere by underselling herself.

Now, I have been thinking about this clusterfuck.

Oh. Professor Dobson. I can assure you he is going to apologize.

He is truly devastated.

[woman] No, no.

You all need a pick-me-up over there. Some new blood. Some star power.

Mrs. Whittenden has a special visitor…

I happened to run into such a person…

You go.


[Mrs. Whittenden] Go ahead.

[Larson] No, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

At the farmers market, if you can believe it.

He has a country house around here.


We started talking, and I thought,

“Here’s the kind of person

who can revitalize the study of literature.”

And lo and behold,

he agreed to give the Distinguished Lecture this year.


I thought that, um…

Historically, that’s been at the chair’s discretion.

The funds are at the discretion of the trustee who endowed them.

And you can’t beat my candidate, Dr. Kim.

I already announced that Dr. McKay would be…

Guess who it is.

I don’t… I really can’t.

You’ll be thrilled.

That’s a… [laughs]

That’s a clue right there.


Colson Whitehead.

Try again.

It’s someone you’ll like.

I like Colson Whitehead.

David Duchovny.

The actor?

Agent Scully himself.


Mulder. Yeah. He’ll, uh…

Well, he’ll need to prepare his lecture

and, uh, have meetings with selected English majors.

We’re planning to choose names by lottery.

And so we’re gonna need you to find him an office.

[Bill] Ready, set, go.


[Ju Ju] What’s it like to be you?

Uh, it’s a mixed bag.


I saw you crying…

when your wife died.

In the kitchen, and my mom was crying.


Well, you know, that was a… That was…

I don’t have a dad.

Well, one of the things about life is you real…

You don’t really realize what, you know, until you’re a lot older…

Do you have cavities?


I don’t. [spits]

[faucet running]

[turns off faucet]

Do you wanna read my favorite book?

I sure do.

It has naked pictures in it.

I don’t remember being a baby.

[Bill] Yeah, me neither.

[Ju Ju] What’s he doing?

[Bill] They’re breastfeeding.

[Ju Ju] Oh.

I don’t remember my birth mom.

[flips page]

When I have a baby, I’m gonna be 25.

Maybe 27.

I don’t wanna be really old.

And I’m gonna be married.

A lot of people think marriage is a bourgeois institution.

You know what that is?

My mom is turning 47.

Yeah, well, she had to wait a long time to get you.

For two years, she had your car seat by the door,

a whole set of clothes ready to go.

She was waiting and waiting,

and, you know, she had to jump through a lot of hoops.

Today, my teacher said

that I’m going to lead the class for Día de los Muertos.

You know what that is?


Mmm, that’s exciting.

So we can make your wife an altar so her soul can find you.

I just need to know what her favorite things were.

Well, she was really good at piano.

And, like, what were her favorite things to eat? Like cake, candy…

It’s good if it’s something she can smell.

Um, she really liked pizza.


We’re about to see another penis.

[flips page]

I tried to warn you…

You can’t just pretend he’s an academic.

He almost got his PhD.

That’s another way of saying he doesn’t have his PhD.

I have real faculty with real credentials who need support.

Who cannot do their work. Who are literally sitting in basements.

He is a recognizable name.

No, he is not.

These kids don’t watch TV. They’re on TikTok.

Butts in seats.

That’s the only thing that should matter to you right now.

Creative writing?

That’s the only field in your department building enrollments.

Students want to produce content.

[sighs] Oh my God. Content.


Whether it’s a novel to self-publish, or… or a blog.


Then at least get a real writer.

He is a New York Times bestselling author.

No, he’s not.

Look it up.


[keys jangling]



[whispering] Hey.

[mouthing] Hey.

[whispering] Yeah, let’s…

You did all my dishes.

Hey, so, uh… [sighs]


You figure out what you’re gonna say? Town hall?

Can I, um…

Can I try it out on you?


[Bill] Okay.

Thank you for coming.

I’m truly heartbroken to have offended anyone here.

The fact is…

♪ It’s springtime ♪

♪ For Hitler ♪


♪ In Germany ♪

You know what? I give up.

Sorry. I’m just…


There’s this.

David Duchovny is a bestselling author.



Still can’t let him give the Distinguished Lecture.

I don’t have a choice.

“David Duchovny wrote his thesis at Princeton on Beckett.”

Oh, just like you.


“He was Harold Bloom’s advisee at Yale.”


I know.

Oh, wait, wait. Go back. Is that really David Duchovny’s butt?

Why do we keep saying David Duchovny’s whole name every time we mention him?

Is that really David’s butt?


He is in shape.

That’s enough.

[instrumental music playing]

[indistinct chatter]

[Ronny] The party tents are here, but we’re unable to set them up.


There’s students waiting to hear from Bill Dobson. The town hall.

Oh Jesus Christ. That’s in the main quad? Right now?

Should we move the venue?

[Larson] No.

Just start setting up when they disperse.

Get the campus police there.

Keep the quad clear for the rest of the afternoon.

[Bill] Hi, everybody. It means a lot to me that you showed up for this.

Obviously, I am not a member of the Jewish community,

and I’m not in a position to tell you what is or isn’t offensive.

[student 1] That’s right.

[all] Yeah.

But I am a member of the Pembroke community, as are we all,

and I wanna understand your point of view.

No Nazis at Pembroke.


I agree. There should be no Nazis anywhere.

Hate speech has no place here.


Are you harboring neo-Nazi sentiments?

[student 2] Are you a Nazi?

No, I’m a professor.

Uh, Nazis hate professors, because Nazis are enemies of thought.

One of the greatest gifts that American universities ever received

was the influx of intellectuals who fled the Third Reich.

Writers like Thomas Mann,

Hannah Arendt, Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno.

Many of them wrote invaluable studies of the fascist mindset.

Invaluable defenses of freedom of thought.

I wouldn’t use the stories of Jewish refugees here, if I were you.

[students murmuring]

Not all of them were Jewish.

Some of them were standing in solidarity.

You comparing yourself to Hannah Arendt?


After saluting Hitler in your class.

Let’s hear him out.

We are inheritors of their legacy.

The university should be a place to uphold free discourse.

The exchange of ideas without fear.

It’s all about free speech as long as you’re the one talking.

[students agreeing]


No, I want this to be a forum where everyone can voice their opinion.

You’re a white tenured professor who writes op-eds for the New York Times.


You really think this is an equal forum?

I get that. That’s a great point, and it’s never gonna be perfect.

But having this conversation is a start.


Someone drew a swastika in Brooks Hall yesterday.

In the lounge.

[student 3] Yeah.

Do you know that?

[student 4] You think that’s funny too?

If you are suggesting that what I did

is the same as propagating neo-Nazism, that’s inaccurate.

That is a willful misrecognition of what was clearly…

Are you saying we misrecognized a Nazi salute?

No. I’m not… I’m not saying that at all. I was trying to say…

This is how it always goes. You do something that’s objectively fucked up,

and then when we call you out on it, we get accused of getting it wrong.

[students agreeing]

I didn’t say anyone was overreacting. I was making the case…

Are you going to apologize?


[student 5] Okay.


Okay, so let’s hear it.

[Bill] Okay.

[student 6] Yeah.

I am sorry if I made anyone feel…


That’s not an apology.

If I made you feel…

You’re sorry about my feelings.

You’re minimizing your responsibility by saying you’re sorry for how we feel.

Hey, Dean Larson.

It’s nice to see you come out to defend a member of Pembroke faculty

for saluting Hitler!

[students jeering]

No, that is not why I’m here.

I didn’t ask him to be here. This is between you and me.

[student 7] Why didn’t you show up to our town hall last week?

We hosted a town hall on racial justice literally right here.

Professor, did you call the police?

[Bill] No.

You brought backup.

I can’t believe you brought them.

Please. These are two separate issues.

No Nazis at Pembroke!

[Bill] Hey!

[students] No Nazis at Pembroke!

[chanting] Dobson out! Dobson out! Dobson out! Dobson out!

Dobson out! Dobson out! Dobson out!

[classical music playing]

[music continues]


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