I ended my first week as department chair by watching the new Netflix series, “The Chair.”
The series stars Sandra Oh as an English faculty member who has just been elected chair of her department. Times are tough for the English department at the fictional Pembroke College, and she’s the first woman to lead the department.
There were some things that made me roll my eyes, but other things that I loved about the show. Let’s start with the former.
Rolling my eyes…
- We first see Oh’s character, Ji-Yoon Kim, walk through campus to her building. The campus, and the building, has that stereotypical “ivory tower” feel, lots of brick and ivy, all the buildings old but apparently impeccably maintained. I’m guessing this is supposed to be an East Coast private college, but I will say that my campus MOST DEFINITELY does not look like that, lol. The department chair’s office is spacious, like a small apartment. The department holds its meetings in a classic old-building board room with lots of tall windows and wood. Since I had my department meeting on the same day I watched the first episode, the differences could not be more stark.
- Sure, every university has long-time faculty members. But the ones in “The Chair” are made to look like dinosaurs, unwilling to change anything to keep up with the times. One faculty member can hardly function. I’m not saying this is not unheard of, but the vast majority of long-term faculty members I’ve worked with have been adaptable and are even excited to change things up to meet the needs of students.
- Can I import Pembroke students into my classes? Class discussions in this show are robust, with students shouting out answers. No one is looking at their phones. They all are enraptured by their professors (except the old-timers, but even still no one is looking at their phones). I don’t know, maybe a small private college has more engaged students. Or maybe I’m not a very good teacher…
What I loved…
- The writers of this show clearly know the ins and outs of faculty life. The character Yaz McKay is going up for tenure, and her struggles seemed very real.
- Bill Dobson, played by Jay Duplass, is a charming, brilliant, yet troubled professor on the English faculty. He is the exact mix of two professors that I’ve known. That character couldn’t be more real. He is also completely adorable; I fell in love with him.
- Great soundtrack. The music was used perfectly to capture the mood of scenes.
- The David Duchovny bit…brilliant! The use of him was hilarious.
- I loved how we saw Ji-Yoon Kim try to do her best in all parts of her life: chairing the department, attending to her personal life, handling crises both at work and at home. Fingers crossed I don’t face those same type of work crises…
- Holland Taylor steals the show. What a gem she is.
Overall, I give this show a solid “A.” Some parts were stereotypical and not representative of my campus experience. But the characters are well-rounded and the storylines captivating.