Did Umbridge Have a Point: The Other Professors
Abstract: Discussing the possible legitimacy of the Ministry reviewing the professors of Hogwarts (ignoring the obvious corruption of the Ministry in OotP).
When Umbridge passes Educational Decree No. 23, creating the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor so she can inspect other teachers and fire them if need be, the response is outrage. How dare Umbridge mess with the teachers of Hogwarts? How dare the Ministry try to interfere with Dumbledore’s running of the school?
Well, actually, the idea isn’t a bad one. Of course, giving Umbridge the job is a bad idea because she’s evil, and the whole thing reeks of corruption due to the Ministry’s ulterior motives. But considering Dumbledore’s highly questionable choices of professors, perhaps a bit of supervision would not be remiss.
Truth be told, the faculty at Hogwarts make the NYC school system look like a paragon of academic virtue, by comparison (and trust me, it’s not). Dumbledore hires professors who are abusive, negligent, alcoholic, biased, and (worst of all) incompetent. Why is this? Because Dumbledore treats Hogwarts as an asylum first and a school second. And generally, it is not a good idea to protect political refugees by giving them teaching jobs.
I have already discussed Hagrid and Snape at length in my other editorials (“Dumbledore’s Giant Mistake” and “My Damnation of Severus Snape,” respectively). In a nutshell, Snape bullies his students to an absolutely unacceptable degree. Hagrid is too stupid to be a professor and either introduces dangerous creatures with no regard for students’ safety or wastes their time by feeding flobberworms. And both men are totally partisan towards the different houses although teachers are supposed to be unbiased.
In the interest of fairness, I will leave the DADA professors well enough alone. Any shoddy staff choices here are excused because the applicant pool has grown rather thin after forty-something professors in as many years. And at the very least, Lupin was a good teacher.
The Divination Professors
Umbridge’s first victim is none other than the laughingstock of a Divination professor, Sybill Trelawney. Trelawney is inspected, put on probation, and eventually sacked, with the parting words, “Incapable though you are of predicting even tomorrow’s weather, you must surely have realized that your pitiful performance during my inspections, and lack of any improvement, would make it inevitable you would be sacked?” (OotP 595)
This is unnecessarily harsh because in actuality, Trelawney is as good a Divination professor as one could hope for. Her predictions mostly come to pass – Neville’s broken teacup, Lavender’s dead rabbit, Hermione leaving the class, etc. Technically, even her predictions of Harry’s death come true when he sort of dies in Book 7.
We tend to discredit her because Harry does, but there are more pressing problems surrounding Trelawney. For starters, there’s her complete inability to hold a class’s attention – the only one of her classes that has the students’ rapt attention is the very first one. All subsequent ones usually include mentions of students chatting, giggling, making jokes, dozing off, and doing everything but paying attention to the professor. Even Professor Binns, whose soporific lectures put all the students to sleep, commands enough respect to ensure his class does not become a social event.
Trelawney also has very little sense of what is and is not appropriate to say about her fellow professors. Professor McGonagall is all set to start a diatribe against Trelawney, revealing she has little patience for Divination. But she stops herself: “If it were not for the fact that I never speak ill of my colleagues —” (PoA 109). The intent is clear, but McGonagall never stoops to insulting Trelawney in front of the students.
Professor Trelawney, on the other hand, has no such qualms. She tells Harry and Luna, “Dobbin, as I prefer to think of [Firenze]. You would have thought, would you not, that now I am returned to the school Professor Dumbledore might have got rid of the horse?” (HBP 317) “Dobbin” is rural slang for a horse, which in itself is an offensive term for a centaur. Trelawney also calls him a “nag” on a different occasion, also talking to Harry (HBP 544). So from what I understand, Trelawney just used the equivalent of racial slurs against a fellow professor.
Firenze, of course, is no better than she is. One of the first things he tells his students is that everything they worked on for the last two and a half years “is human nonsense” (OotP 603). He then intimates that humans in general are inferior, talking about how Trelawney is “blinkered and fettered by the limitations of [human]kind.” And he concludes with another insult to Trelawney and humankind, saying, “she wastes her time, in the main, on the self-flattering nonsense humans call fortune-telling.” Personally, if the first thing my new professor told me is that all I’ve done so far is self-flattering nonsense, that would not endear him to me. And at the very least, Trelawney teaches her students something, no matter how bogus, while Firenze only works to impress upon them how futile divination can be.
Both of these professors don’t exactly inspire assiduous behavior in their students. Professor Trelawney leaves her students “in no doubt that Professor Trelawney considered her subject above such sordid matters as examinations” (OotP 237). Just about all of Harry and Ron’s homework and exam answers are completely fabricated, with no one being the wiser. And Trelawney even states (“in scandalized tones”), “the Inner Eye does not See upon Command!” (OotP 314) If the subject does not lend itself to academics, it seems to me like Divination really should have been some sort of after-class extra-curricular. Then more students would take something like Muggle Studies, which really should be a required class in my opinion (judging by how little wizards know about Muggles).
But the biggest issue with Trelawney as a professor is her blatant alcoholism. From Order of the Phoenix to Half-Blood Prince, there is always a mention of cooking sherry whenever Trelawney shows up, to the point where “Harry caught a powerful whiff of sherry though the bottles had been left behind” (HBP 544). The quote refers to the sherry bottles that Trelawney is attempting to hide until she finally “dumped them unceremoniously in a large blue-and-white vase” (HBP 543). Is it any wonder Trelawney doesn’t command the students’ respect if she’s seen hiding sherry bottles?
The question of which Divination professor is better is an interesting one. On the one hand, Trelawney actually teaches her students divination (the validity of which is immaterial for this specific question). Firenze doesn’t really teach them anything. On the other hand, at least Firenze is sober, whereas Trelawney clearly isn’t. Firenze commands a class’s attention far better than Trelawney does, but Trelawney’s students are arguably better equipped for exams. And both of them are equally unprofessional in terms of things they say to students. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on which Divination professor you think is better.
The faulty professors at Hogwarts fall into two categories – those who don’t teach adequately (Hagrid, Firenze, Lockhart, Umbridge), and those who do teach but act inappropriately while doing so (Snape, Trelawney). Slughorn definitely falls into the latter category – he is an excellent teacher, but his behavior cannot be condoned.
Like many of the professors at Hogwarts, Slughorn plays blatant favorites. The good news is that he does not choose favorites based on house like Snape does. The bad news is that he completely disregards everyone but his chosen favorites (the “Slug Club”). After half a year of having Ron in his class, Slughorn still calls him “Ralph” and “Rupert” (HBP 397, 485), and references are made to how he ignores Ron. When he approaches Harry and Hermione about one of his parties, it “was as though Ron was not present; Slughorn did not so much as look at him” (HBP 233).
And alcohol comes into play again. After Slughorn cures Ron from the love potion, he “hand[s] Harry and Ron a glass of mead each before raising his own” (HBP 397). Drinking with students aside (since maybe that’s considered appropriate by different cultures, though it sure isn’t condoned in mine), Slughorn is also providing alcohol for an underage student. Harry is still sixteen at this point and therefore cannot legally drink mead. And Slughorn does this again during Aragog’s funeral, giving wine to Harry (HBP 485).
Of all Dumbledore’s controversial staff appointments, I think Filch makes the least sense of all. All of his other staff members have something to recommend them, but Filch does not. For starters, there is Filch’s rather disturbing desire to torture students – manacles, whipping, and other things like that. He is also completely irrational when it comes to punishing students – by Chamber of Secrets he is “lunging out at unsuspecting students and trying to put them in detention for things like ‘breathing loudly’ and ‘looking happy’” (CoS 146). True, he’s stressed out because of Mrs. Norris’s petrification at this point, but still.
The fact that Filch is a Squib makes his working at Hogwarts a dreadful idea. The students’ magic is a permanent reminder of his own inadequacy as a wizard. This is what leads to his bitterness and hatred of students. And it clearly bothers him very much or he wouldn’t still be trying to learn magic through Kwikspell courses in his forties.
But it’s also downright cruel to make him clean up after students when he only has Muggle methods at his command. Filch shouts at Harry, “It’s only a bit of mud to you, boy, but to me it’s an extra hour scrubbing!” (CoS 126) True, it’s an hour’s scrubbing for Filch… or a single Scourgify for any wizard. Anyone capable of even simple magic would be able to keep the castle clean without much effort, whereas Filch has to spend hours mopping and scrubbing. Seems like a lose-lose situation here. It’s a testament to Filch’s desperation to be in the wizarding world that he sticks around for a quarter of a century.
Long story short, a good portion of the Hogwarts faculty really has no business working for a school. So the question is why Dumbledore keeps them around. The answer is that Dumbledore treats Hogwarts as his own personal sanctuary rather than a school. He discusses the issue of Divination professors with Harry in Book 6: “I cannot ask Firenze to return to the forest, where he is now an outcast, nor can I ask Sybill Trelawney to leave. Between ourselves, she has no idea of the danger she would be in outside the castle” (HBP 427).
So let’s get this straight: Dumbledore is keeping on two woefully inadequate professors, to teach a subject that he thinks is worthless, because they both need to be protected? That’s not how I remember schools working – usually professors are kept on for their teaching merits, not because they’re in danger. Moreover, there is a grand total of eight Divination classes (two in each year from 3 to 5 and one class each for sixth and seventh year), and Dumbledore insists on keeping them both on the payroll. Why not get a second Transfiguration professor to take some of McGonagall’s workload (twelve different classes to teach, duties as Head of Gryffindor, and duties as Deputy Headmistress), if he has the budget?
Dumbledore keeps on Trelawney and Firenze because they are both in danger. Snape is a valuable asset as a spy. Slughorn is needed for the memory of the Horcrux conversation with Tom Riddle. Dumbledore feels sorry for Hagrid and keeps him as gamekeeper and then as a professor. And I’m guessing Dumbledore feels sorry for Filch, and that’s why he keeps him on as caretaker.
None of this is acceptable. Filch should be encouraged to either integrate into the Muggle world (like Mrs. Figg) or to find a job that doesn’t require magic (like Stan Shunpike). Hagrid and Snape should not be allowed to teach children. Slughorn’s Slug Club should be disbanded. And Trelawney and Firenze shouldn’t waste students’ time and school resources with their joke of a class.
If Dumbledore wants to open up a sanctuary for people, then good for him. But the witches and wizards Dumbledore offers asylum to should not be the ones teaching children.
The High Inquisitor
“The Inquisitor will have powers to inspect her fellow educators and make sure they are coming up to scratch.” (OotP 307)
Upon reflection, the Hogwarts faculty could actually do with some inspection. In a school, teachers should be inspected every now and then to ensure that they are up to par (of course, this doesn’t happen once teachers achieve tenure in my former school system, but it should). Normally, the Headmaster would do so. But Dumbledore does not ever hold his staff accountable – the only time we see him defending a student against a professor is when Umbridge “shak[es Marietta] very hard,” and Dumbledore tells Umbridge he “cannot allow [her] to manhandle [his] students” (OotP 616).
In light of Dumbledore’s misguided staff choices, an outside party should be holding the professors accountable. Naturally, this person should not be Umbridge. Umbridge sabotages Hagrid’s lessons, she has other agendas, and certainly doesn’t have students’ interests at heart, and she is the worst professor of them all. However, her sacking of Trelawney and Hagrid was the right thing to do, though the way she did it was horribly wrong.
I believe that a Hogwarts High Inquisitor post may be necessary – it should be an objective outsider, who would inspect the professors every couple years. So I think that Educational Decree No. 23 actually has some merit. And I hope that under Headmistress McGonagall, Hogwarts became a much better school.