Merrimack College is a private college in the Roman Catholic, Augustinian tradition located in North Andover, Massachusetts, 25 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts. John Bellairs taught here between fall 1969 and spring 1971.
Bellairs on Campus
Bellairs had taught the 1968-69 school year at Boston's Emmanuel College and, unhappy there, looked for employment elsewhere. He found Merrimack College, the 20-year-old private college in North Andover. Merrimack was also a Catholic college, founded by Augustinians, but, unlike past experiences at Teresa and Emmanuel, it was a coed institution with only a small percentage of the faculty actively religious.
Bellairs had partially chosen Merrimack because it was where John Murphy, with whom he had taught in Minnesota, had taught since 1965 and it was to Murphy that Bellairs expressed his own teaching interests. Murphy encouraged Bellairs to apply but secretly hoped he would not. "While John could be a fine teacher if he got interested enough in his students, he was perhaps too brilliant to be tolerant of the limitations of enough of them." His eventual acceptance was possibly thanks to the influence of a senior professor that was taken with Saint Fidgeta and pressured to have John hired after he gave a reading on campus.
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Bellairs taught two freshmen composition sections and two junior Renaissance Literature sections. Up until the early 1990s the English Department was housed on the third floor of O'Reilly Hall, making it the possible location of Bellairs's classes. One of his teaching colleagues, John Gordon, says "first-year [all but dissertation] instructors were pretty routinely put in the salt mines. I taught four courses a semester, twenty-five students per section, a paper a week, for a grand total of $8,500."
Murphy relates that over time Bellairs grew increasingly careless with teaching, becoming absorbed in his writing. "John was a ham in the classroom at Merrimack, somewhat influenced by his acting in the theater productions back in Winona, and therefore he was more interested in entertaining students then grading papers. By the time of his second year review, the handwriting was on the wall: students were complaining (although a handful supported John for his brilliance - or easy grades) and papers had gone uncorrected and usually graded A. When the students complained, the administration took a vote and John was gone."
Murphy abstained from the vote and Bellairs was, as expected, unhappy, storming angrily around campus and reportedly swearing at everyone in the English department and going as far to drum up support from a few students in his defense. By then, Murphy notes, the semester was over and final exams had started. Unfortunately, Priscilla Bellairs adds, the outburst resulted in him being ostracized by the faculty and earning a schedule that kept him on campus for most of the day for the spring semester. Bellairs's last semester on campus was the spring of 1971.
The following year both John and Priscilla began applying for jobs in the Haverhill area but by that September, John became a house-husband, which Priscilla described as full-time care for their two-year-old son, lots of dish-washing, and writing every day. Murphy, who left the college in 1984 after eventually serving as department chair, felt this was ultimately good for John, forcing him to take a serious look at his life and his true desire in writing.