The Chair – S01E06 – The Chair [Transcript]

As his hearing approaches, Bill's academic future comes into question. Ji-Yoon's revelation puts the board on the spot and shakes up the department.
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The Chair - Season 1

Original release date: August 20, 2021

Joan, John, and Elliott tell the Dean they will be giving a vote of no confidence against Ji-Yoon as chair. Bill’s attorney advises he take a settlement and move to New York City. The attorneys for the university tell Ji-Yoon she must speak out against Bill. Dafna goes to Bill’s home to ask him to read a draft of a book she’s written. He sees a newspaper article criticizing Ji-Yoon and goes to visit her. He asks her to move to Paris with him if he would take a settlement. They kiss, and she tells him she needs to fire him. He accuses her of not supporting him, and she accuses him of using his wife’s death as an excuse for behaving badly. He leaves. At the hearing, Ji-Yoon tells Dean Larson firing Bill won’t change the underlying culture at the school. She excuses herself from the panel recognizing she is not an impartial party. Bill is removed from the university. At the department meeting, Elliott tells Ji-Yoon about their vote of no confidence. The majority votes against Ji-Yoon and she nominates Joan to replace her as Chair. Later, we see Joan happily ensconced in the Chair’s office. Ji-Yoon, back in her role as professor, is happier. Bill tells Ji-Yoon he refused the settlement offer and will fight for his job back; he wants to teach more than to be rich. In the meantime, he offers to babysit Ju Ju to make ends meet.

* * *

When my mom was sick, I tried to start cooking, to help out.

But she was always like, “No. Go study.”

She never wanted me to do anything homemaker-y.

I wasn’t gonna be a housewife. I was gonna be a doctor.

Well, not this kind of doctor, obviously.

I got engaged when I was 36, and he wanted to start a family, but…

but then he was offered a… a job at Michigan.

They tried to negotiate a spousal hire for me, but…

They offered a three-year instructor contract.

A fucking 5/4 teaching load for diddly-squat.

[breathes deeply]

We tried to make it work long-distance, but…

[scoffs] When he told me he met someone else,

I wasn’t even…

[clicks tongue] I just buried myself in my work, and pretty soon,

I had a half dozen R1 universities begging for me to apply.

But Pembroke’s retention offer was…

They gave me everything I wanted,

so I stayed.

Now I’m scared to show my face on campus.

[paper rustles]

Ever been on the cover of a newspaper

for having inflicted harm on a large group of people?

It’s like… It’s like Pol Pot, and Stalin, and me. It’s…

Listen, we’re almost out of time.

And since this is your daughter’s session,

I’m going to move on to her now if that’s okay.

Of course.

[sighs]

Want some?

What is it?

Poison.

[classical music playing]

[Ji-Yoon] Alrighty.

Let’s go, let’s go. [sniffles]

Oh.

[exhales]

Isn’t this exciting, sweetie?

Wait, what?

Actually, I don’t want Habi to come.

Oh, why? He got all dressed up.

Ju Ju!

Can you just stay for one minute?

[sighs]

No, I can’t.

Here, honey.

Take… Have a good presentation.

Wah!

[classical music playing]

[indistinct chatter]

[student] That’s her.

There are some quotations, like this one from Audre Lorde,

that are so well-known we assume we understand them.

But I’m curious to hear if reading the actual essay surprised you in any way.

You’re all so quiet.

What’s your relationship to that idea?

I want to hear yours. Come on. Anyone, jump in.

Well, the university, being a bastion of white supremacy,

that’s the master’s house.

Therefore, whatever you learn or teach,

those are the master’s tools.

Some women in the academy pretend to be allies,

but they’re not really doing the work.

They stick a couple of Black women on their panels or on their syllabi,

pat themselves on the back, and call it a day.

It’s not enough to just insert a few people of color.

[student] Right.

[Joan] Well, here goes nothing.

Hey, hey, hey, listen. You are nobody’s lackey.

You take no prisoners, right? Huh?

Yes! Yes!

You’re a tiger! Get in there! Gimme it!

Give it to me!

[thuds]

Oh shit!

[chuckling] Oh my God.

Come here, tiger.

[Joan] Oh. Uh…

I’m… I’m sorry, I was looking for the Ethics and Compliance office.

You’re in the right place. We merged with Title IX.

But…

So where’s the other coordinator?

It’s just me. We’re now a department of one.

Is this still about your office?

[Joan] Oh.

I started as an assistant professor here 32 years ago.

They offered me $26,000.

But I found out that John McHale,

who… who started the same year I did and is still kicking around,

got 16,000 more.

Mm-hmm.

I thought about saying something,

but I didn’t wanna be that woman.

I wrote a book on Chaucer

that was the first feminist reading of “The Wife of Bath.”

But here at the department,

they’d ask for a volunteer to be on faculty governance,

“Oh, let’s have Joan do it.”

Or they needed someone to host the annual holiday party,

“Joan won’t mind. Joan loves parties.”

It’s a well-documented fact that departmental service

falls disproportionately on female faculty.

[sighs]

I, um…

I let my research go, and I never went up for full professor.

[breathes shakily]

But I’ll tell you what.

This is the last straw. I am not gonna just sit back…

What outcome are you hoping for here?

No one who worked at Pembroke in the ’80s is still around,

who’d be accountable for this.

And… our records go back, but I don’t know if they go back…

I want someone to acknowledge what happened.

I’m acknowledging it.

It sounds totally illegal.

[stutters] Someone other than you.

Have you talked to your chair?

[dramatic classical music playing]

I’ll do it.

Attagirl.

[panting]

Now?

A vote of no confidence in her as chair

would add to the sense that your department is in disarray.

It is under her leadership.

I’m not sure we can put that squarely on Ji-Yoon.

I assume you’ve seen this?

Yes.

[Rentz] Students are calling for a boycott of the English department.

At this point, our ability to function as a pedagogical institution is…

Look outside.

[students shouting]

Nobody’s coming to class. They’re too busy marching.

Marching puts the system on notice.

On notice that Ji-Yoon needs to be replaced.

Nobody’s gonna register.

I’m not teaching Freshman Composition!

After the termination hearing,

Ji-Yoon’s gonna recommend to the provost that Bill be dismissed,

which will undo this perception

that the department’s initial stance wasn’t strong enough.

This is gaining traction.

We will just wait and see how Bill’s hearing goes in the morning.

And whatever you do,

you’d better have the backing of the full department.

[woman] They’ve got one thing working in their favor.

You’ve become a scandalous figure.

Nobody wants to go to bat for you,

nobody wants to come out and support you when you’re a scandalous figure.

I’ve been there 25 years. I have a lot of support.

The chair of my department, she’s got my back.

She’s the one who sent you this?

That’s just a pro forma thing.

Look, why don’t you have a seat? It’s… Just take a load off.

If I take a settlement, that’s like I’m admitting wrongdoing.

Your daughter’s a freshman at Columbia, right?

Freshperson.

[woman] Freshperson.

Will you be able to afford that without a salary?

I can’t afford it with a salary.

I can make sure you get what you’re owed.

You could buy a little apartment in New York.

What about a brand-new city? What destinations are on your bucket list?

I’ve always wanted to see Hitler’s mountain retreat.

I’m going to be very frank with you, Professor Dobson.

Do with it what you will.

Your ability to make a living is in jeopardy.

Given that he’s tenured, here are the portions that apply.

“Insubordination, immorality, a lack of collegiality,

unethical conduct, and/or conduct unbecoming.”

Lack of collegiality? That’s very vague.

Here’s how I suggest we play this.

Play?

You’ll read from the affidavit alleging

what took place in the classroom and town hall…

The dean should be the one to do that.

It’d be better if Dean Larson, as the one presiding over the hearing,

didn’t also have to present the evidence.

Have you compiled the student complaints?

I haven’t printed them out yet.

How many are there?

[sighs] Quite a lot.

Uh, but I’ve also received some strong endorsements of Bill,

students who have been deeply impacted by his teaching over the years.

[students chanting indistinctly]

This…

This has become a…

[smacking lips] …a serious reputational matter.

[inhales deeply] Not only for Pembroke, but for you personally.

What we are trying to do here is create a narrative

that will allow you to realign with your students, regain their trust.

Because right now, the perception is that you are defending your boyfriend

who goose-stepped his way across a classroom.

Have you seen Joan?

I saw her in the lounge with everyone.

Who’s everyone?

Rentz, McHale, uh, Yaz. They were in a meeting.

What meeting? Was it the whole department?

Ji-Yoon, someone from the New York Times just called.

About Bill?

No, about you.

They’re asking to interview you about the gag order.

What?

The cover of the Daily?

The gag order that you placed…

Stop saying gag order!

Wait. No. Say it as much as you want.

[exhales] Thanks, Laurie. If you see Joan, will you tell her I’m looking for her?

Yep. Will do.

I know that you didn’t mean it the way they construed it.

Not your fault.

[smacks lips] I shouldn’t have said it.

I wrote a statement in support of Bill. I wanted you to have it before tomorrow.

Submit it to the committee, okay?

I thought you were the committee.

Just, um… directly to the dean.

Someone… Someone other than me.

What’s your take on Professor Barron?

What about him?

How would you feel about him taking over as your dissertation adviser?

I… I sent him a paper my first semester to see if he’d give me some feedback.

Never got a response.

I’ll talk to him.

You’re putting me on a lifeboat.

Feels like it’s time.

Do you have one?

[sobbing]

[crickets chirping]

[sniffling]

[in Korean] What is it, darling girl?

[sobbing]

[in English] Hey.

[in Korean] Don’t cry in front of her.

It will scare her.

[in Korean] I’m not scared.

[gasps] She understands.

[sighs]

[knocking on door]

[Bill laughs]

Hi. [chuckles]

No. I’m sorry, you can’t. It’s not okay for you…

It took a lot to work up the courage, so I’m just…

But… Hang… Wait, wait.

Uh, you can’t sit there.

Don’t take your jacket off. Don’t… Hold on.

Uh, just one second. Jesus.

[door closes]

Okay, um, when you leave, you’re gonna leave out the back door.

No, it’s gonna look like you didn’t leave.

I just wanna ask you something, and I want you to be honest.

If the answer is no, I will be… I will be totally fine.

Okay, look, I’m… I’m old enough to be your dad.

And, um, whatever you think you feel about me, it’s not…

Your feelings aren’t about me.

Wait.

You… You think I came here to try to fuck you?

No.

Because, no offense… [laughs]

Oh yeah, no.

[Dafna laughs]

[both laugh]

That’s… Yeah.

Yeah.

This is like a crazy comedy of errors.

Yes, it is. I’m gonna look back on this moment and laugh.

Yeah, okay. So you’re still…

You’re still with the same publisher, right? The New Press?

Mm-hmm.

I was just, um, wondering if you’d consider reading my first novel.

I’m submitting it to them and I…

I wasn’t sure if they’d broken ties with you over this whole thing.

But…

When did this… Is this today?

Uh, I don’t know. Yesterday?

Uh, Jesus Christ.

It’s all over Twitter.

I gotta go.

[Dafna] I’ll just…

Should I just leave this here? My… My book.

It’s a quick read. You can do it in like one sitting.

I’d love to get your notes.

[stuttering] Whatever.

Just… If anybody asks, we didn’t fuck, okay?

[Ji-Yoon] Careful, careful.

[Ju Ju gasps] Bill!

Hey, you.

[grunts]

[Ju Ju yelps, giggles]

What’s going on? Did you get taller again?

Can you stay for dinner?

Go inside. Move.

You’re not the boss of me.

Oh. Yes, I am.

That’s what I’m always telling her, but unfortunately for both of us, she is.

[Ju Ju] Can he stay for dinner?

No.

You take away everything good about life!

No wonder nobody wanted to marry you!

[Bill] Hey.

[Bill sighs]

Hi.

Hey, I saw the Daily. Are you okay?

I’m the face of totalitarianism on campus.

Don’t say, “What else is new?”

I’m literally being called Hitler,

so I don’t think you get to be the face of totalitarianism.

Oh, oh. You win.

I’m just saying I know you were just trying to walk the line.

Listen, you’re living proof this entire world hasn’t gone completely insane.

I can’t have this conversation.

[Bill] Please, please. Let me finish.

I met with a lawyer. She had this whole plan

about how I could get a settlement. If they try to fire me, I could sue.

So I played it out. [sighs]

I could go live in Paris, produce great works of literature.

Well, that is a total cliché.

It didn’t include you.

And then I was like, “Why can’t it?”

Don’t tell me you wanna stay at that shithole

after the way they treated us.

I can’t just run away.

I have a lot invested here. My dad, Ju Ju…

In this scenario, we would go as a family.

I still love teaching.

I know. I know you do.

[stuttering] It’s what you were born to do.

But there are other universities, and they’ll be fighting for you.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Paris or Peoria…

I’ll follow you.

I’ll go anywhere.

[both moaning]

[Bill] Oh God. I’ve waited so long for this.

I have to fire you.

Huh?

I mean, I… I have to recommend to the provost and the board of trustees

that they fire you.

Uh, don’t I have a hearing tomorrow?

They’re closing ranks around you. It’s…

It’s a kangaroo court.

But are…

When… When were you gonna tell me?

You didn’t return my calls.

Are you helping them?

What do you… What do you mean?

Are you presenting evidence against me?

My students are turning on me.

I am being seen as complicit.

Who gives a fuck about how you’re seen?

How about helping me by doing what’s right?

I’ve been hanging on by a fucking thread for a year and now you, you…

You did this.

You ignored all my advice that might’ve ended it,

and you kept digging and digging until you buried the both of us.

And now you’re gonna guilt me for not helping you?

I love Sharon, and I miss Sharon,

and if she could see how you are using her death

as an excuse to indulge in all this self-destructive bullshit,

she would be ashamed of you.

I never would’ve pegged you for a lackey of the dean.

Even if you stop talking to me, I’m still gonna talk to you, so…

I love you.

Goodnight.

Why are you a doctor?

Oh. Because…

I wanted to read novels and poems for as long as I could.

Why?

Uh… to try and understand their meaning.

But why are you a doctor?

You… You never help anybody.

[students yelling]

[chanting] No Nazis at Pembroke!

No Nazis at Pembroke!

No Nazis at Pembroke!

No Nazis at Pembroke!

No Nazis at Pembroke!

This is a hearing on Professor Bill Dobson’s dismissal charge.

We’re here to determine whether the behavior you exhibited

constitutes… [clears throat]

…conduct unbecoming,

uh, as defined in the faculty handbook.

Before we get to that, we want to give you a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

Give you a chance to submit evidence to controvert these grounds for dismissal.

Okay.

[students chanting] Nazis out! Nazis out!

Nazis out! Nazis out!

Aren’t you gonna read it?

It’s too long. I mean…

It’s not a rebuttal. [clears throat]

Don’t you want to say something?

I was… I was thinking this morning, uh…

that to be an English teacher…

you have to fall in love with stories,

with literature.

And what you’re doing when you do that is… is you’re…

You’re always trying to see things from someone else’s point of view.

You’re trying to occupy a different space. Uh…

And…

when you’re in the middle of a story, you’re in a state of possibility,

as opposed to whatever state of oppressiveness

you’re in in real life.

The text is kind of a living thing,

and it’s a dance, an ongoing conversation that you have with it.

Sometimes, you love a poem so much, you…

Every time you read it,

you learn something new and you feel transformed by it.

It’s a very complicated but faithful relationship.

[Larson] Um, okay.

Thank you for that lecture, Professor Dobson.

Ji-Yoon, would you, uh…

Wait, that’s, um…

What are we doing here?

[Larson] Uh, well…

Firing him isn’t gonna change the culture here.

When were you last in a classroom?

Ji-Yoon…

Or had a personal interaction with a student?

Uh…

[Bill] Don’t do this.

I don’t need you to save my reputation.

Ji-Yoon, please.

Those people?

Those are our students.

Our job is…

is not to… to trick them or manage them or… or make them fall in line.

Our job is to offer refuge from the bullshit, to level with them.

No, no. Why should they trust us? The world is burning.

And we’re sitting up here worried about our endowment?

Our latest ranking on U.S. News & World Report?

If you think Bill is a Nazi, then by all means fire him.

If you’re hoping that just by getting rid of him

you’re gonna stop what’s going on outside,

they’re gonna see right through that.

What do you think is gonna happen when he’s fired and nothing else changes?

[smacks lips] Well…

According to the faculty handbook, this is supposed to be an impartial panel…

and I am not.

Therefore, this is not a fair procedure.

Word is you put on some performance.

And Bill?

[Ji-Yoon] He’s gone.

And you?

They’ve decided it would be helpful in terms of optics to remove me,

but they didn’t want another lawsuit on their hands,

so you’re stuck with me for the time being.

[scoffs] Don’t everyone celebrate all at once.

Okay.

[clears throat] Action item on leadership.

Is this about…

That was Joan’s item as well.

Go for it.

No, we don’t have to go first.

No, I think it’s best we proceed now.

Uh, Ji-Yoon, we so appreciate your willingness

to step up and steer the troubled vessel that is the English department.

Here we go, ship metaphors.

But we’ve come to believe that you’re not… you’re not the best person to manage us.

Our very field is at stake, both within the university itself

and in the culture at large.

We don’t have time for any more missteps.

We’re calling for a vote of no confidence in Professor Kim as chair.

All in favor?

Actually, department bylaws state that

you can’t take a voice vote for chair removal.

We have to go round the room.

When you’re untenured, you read the bylaws.

Obviously, I’m in favor.

Uh, McHale?

How about you, Jim?

[Jim] I vote no.

[professor 1] I vote yes.

[Rentz] Joan, your turn.

Come back to me.

The only reason we’re here is because you supported this.

[Joan] And I am having doubts. All right?

[Rentz] You’re in the basement.

[inhales deeply]

I’m a no. I can’t do it.

Unbelievable.

I’m with Rentz.

No.

[professor 2] Yes.

[professor 3] No.

[professor 4] Yes.

That makes six for and five against.

That was close, a real squeaker.

[Rentz] I’d like to thank Ji-Yoon for her work,

and I’d like to offer my services as interim chair.

Oh, fuck no. I vote Joan to replace me.

It’s a shit job, but it comes with an office.

All those in favor of Joan as chair.

[mellow music playing]

[indistinct chatter]

[Ji-Yoon] “Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all

I’ve heard it in the chillest land

And on the strangest sea

Yet never in extremity

It asked a crumb of me”

So, what do you…

What do you think she means when she says

hope never asked a crumb of her?

It’s… It’s a weird locution, right?

And why is hope the thing with feathers?

It’s airborne, like a bird.

[Ji-Yoon] Good.

Why does she describe the song as a “tune without the words”?

[Capri] Maybe because hope looks different for different people.

[in Korean] No, I can’t…

“…and know we cannot live within.

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.

Love is a value…”

[Capri] It can’t have specific words…

just a melody.

[student] Or maybe even just a beat, a sign of life.

[grunts]

[uplifting music playing]

She’s the real deal.

Um…

You won’t regret it, I promise.

Why does she put in so many dashes?

[laughs] That’s a good question.

[inhales deeply] It’s almost like there’s something between the words

that she’s not saying or able to articulate.

I mean, these dashes and gaps,

it’s been a subject of scholarly debate for, like, a century.

But… what do you think?

[uplifting music playing]

[chuckles]

[indistinct chatter]

[breathes deeply]

[exhales]

[exhales]

Gun bae.

[chuckles]

[both chuckle]

[smacks lips]

You look good.

Relaxed.

[sighs]

Not being chair suits you.

It’s too many assholes to manage.

[laughs]

Does it feel weird to be on campus?

[smacks lips] Little bit.

[clears throat]

So are you filthy rich or stinking rich?

Which is more?

I think filthy.

Mmm.

I’m neither.

I turned down the settlement, and I’m fighting to get my job back.

Do you know what your odds are?

Horrible.

Well, can you afford this?

No.

[smacks lips, sighs]

If I take a settlement, no college is ever gonna hire me.

And, uh, I wanna teach.

What are you gonna do for money?

I, um, have enough to tide me over at least until Friday.

[chuckles]

Then I’ll get a job. [laughs]

Well, I need a babysitter.

What happened to the last one?

Ju Ju broke into her phone

and emailed all her contacts something unmention…

[laughs]

It’s unmentionable.

Sorry.

Please don’t.

This Ju Ju sounds like a real nightmare.

[clears throat] I’m sorry.

I think you could take her on.

You can’t afford me.

I pay $12 an hour.

Deal.

Terrible at negotiation.

What? Fifteen?

No, it’s too late.

Too late.

Too late?

Too late.

We can roll back six seconds.

No, I locked you in at 12.

That’s your…

[Bill] You locked me in?

[Ji-Yoon] That’s your price.

[Bill] Jesus!

[Ji-Yoon] You’re at 12.

[“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend playing]

♪ Who gives a fuck About an Oxford comma? ♪

♪ I’ve seen those English dramas too ♪

♪ They’re cruel ♪

♪ So if there’s any other way To spell the word ♪

♪ It’s fine with me, with me ♪

♪ Why would you speak to me that way? ♪

♪ Especially when I always said that I ♪

♪ Haven’t got the words for you ♪

♪ All your diction dripping with disdain ♪

♪ Through the pain I always tell the truth ♪

♪ Who gives a fuck About an Oxford comma? ♪

♪ I climbed to Dharamsala too ♪

♪ I did ♪

♪ I met the highest Lama ♪

♪ His accent sounded fine to me, to me ♪

♪ Take your handbook, it’s no trick ♪

♪ Take the chapstick Put it on your lips ♪

♪ Crack a smile, adjust my tie ♪

♪ Know your boyfriend, unlike other guys ♪

♪ Why would you lie About how much coal you have? ♪

♪ Why would you lie About something dumb like that? ♪

♪ Why would you lie About anything at all? ♪

♪ First the window Then it’s to the wall ♪

♪ Lil Jon, he always tells the truth ♪

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