Discussion Questions and Excerpt from Death By Committee
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR DEATH BY COMMITTEE
1) Death by Committee is set on a university campus and centers on the issue of faculty tenure. Was the process of gaining tenure clearly explained? Do you think it is a fair process?
2) Susan is put on the committee because she is seen as a “neutral” party with regard to Abby Gillette. Is she really neutral? Does she maintain that neutrality to the end?
3) Does this book have a villain? If so, who is it and why?
4) Did your feelings about Abby Gillette change over the course of the story?
5) Did you guess correctly who the murderer was, and when in the story did you guess it? Did the author “play fair”?
6) Family concerns take Susan away from campus at a critical point in the story. Does this help or hinder her work as a detective?
7) Three pairs of sisters appear or are mentioned in this book. How does the theme of sisterly love and loyalty play out in the story?
8) Was justice obtained at the end of the book?
9) What do you think will happen to the main characters after the book ends? Will Elaine’s affair with Jon Henninger bring her happiness? Will Abby stay at Metropolitan University?
10) Whom would you cast in a movie version of this story?
by Carole B. Shmurak
“Faculty members should encourage the free pursuit of learning in all of their students. They should demonstrate respect for the student as an individual and adhere to their proper role as intellectual guides and teachers.”
– from the Contract
I had volunteered to teach Nanette’s graduate level curriculum theory class the following Monday evening. Nanette’s class, which had met on the second floor, had been rescheduled to another building so I had to hike from the Student Teaching Office, down three flights of stairs, across campus, and up two more flights to get to the class.
Arriving breathless at the door to the classroom, I overheard Nanette’s students speaking excitedly about the past week’s events.
“My younger sister — she’s a senior here — told me that Dr. Lehman’s office was set on fire because Dr. Lehman was opposing Abby Gillette’s tenure,” said a woman with gray-blond hair.
“I had heard that Dr. Gillette was trying to get Dr. Lehman removed as department chair, and now she won’t have to,” added a younger woman.
“How do these rumors start?” I asked as I dropped my books down on the front desk.
“Are they only rumors?” inquired an athletic-looking man wearing a Metropolitan sweatshirt.
“Come on, you’re all teachers. You know how students gossip about each other — and about you. Do you think you should sink to their level?”
A few of them looked embarrassed and a few of them just shrugged.
“How is Dr. Lehman?” the gray-blond woman asked.
“Upgraded from critical to serious condition, as of this morning,” I replied.
“I think we should take up a collection and send her flowers,” said one of the students, a balding man with wire-rim glasses.
After those arrangements were made, we did get down to business and the class flew by. Fortunately for me, the students were prepared to make presentations on various curriculum theorists. So all I had to do was make a few brief comments.
After class, I remembered that I had left a book I needed in the Student Teaching Office and I trekked back to the Ed building and up the stairs. I carefully avoided looking down the hall as I passed by the second floor. Some students straggled down the stairs as I went up, but I didn’t recognize any of them.
I got my book and headed down the deserted third floor hallway. I could see through the frosted glass that the light was on in Abby’s office. Okay, I thought, stick your head in there and be friendly; she’s probably going to be your colleague for a long, long time.
“Abby?” I said, knocking softly on the door.
When there was no answer, I knocked a bit harder. Could she have left the light on and gone home? I didn’t think so, so I tried the doorknob. The door was unlocked.
“Abby?” I repeated, sticking my head in. The office was remarkably neat for a professor’s domain. Then I remembered that Abby shared the office with Laurie Nash, and decided that its immaculate condition was probably the result of Laurie’s overwhelming energy. But something that looked like a bundle of clothes was in the far corner near a tall gray filing cabinet. Why would Laurie or Abby leave that there? I walked in to find out.
It wasn’t a bundle of clothes after all. It was Marjorie Hopper, in a heap on the floor. She didn’t seem to be breathing.