Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sausages Being Made - What Job Candidates Should Know about Notification

You know there's that old saying about not wanting to know how sausages or laws are made? 

So I want to say there's something of that to the hiring process.  To remind you, I chaired a search committee for a one year position in interdisciplinary basketweaving.

The committee did its part, the applicants did theirs.  The chair offered the position to someone who accepted, put in the paperwork.  And voila, that should be good, right?

This was back in mid-May.  

In May, after we'd had the offer accepted, I drafted a short rejection note, using the help you folks had offered here, on May 19th.  But everyone warned me that I cannot send the rejection note out until we have a signed contract back.  It's been over a month.  And it hasn't even gone out to the candidate yet, I bet.  (I bet this because I got an email on Friday asking me for some information needed to process the candidate, so I'm guessing the processing didn't get done until after I responded to the email at 3pm, if then.  And being Friday and all, even if the contract was put in outgoing mail, it's probably still sitting there, waiting for the Monday pick up.)

I'm sure the candidates have decided that I'm an irresponsible jerk. 

I'd like to apologize to all the job candidates out there who've complained, and rightly so, about not getting a timely note about their status when a campus has hired someone else.

The thing is, once the call's been made and an offer accepted, a long train of paperwork starts.  Here at NWU, the department chair initiates hiring paperwork, which goes on it's merry way up the ladder, first to the dean, and then the provost.  The provost gets it to HR, where it sits for however long (in this case, over a month).

And the committee chair who intends to send out timely notifications can't.  And then the committee chair gets really busy, and is probably out of the loop about when the contract gets back, so maybe things get pushed aside, and by the time the committee chair looks at them again, it feels silly to send out a rejection note.

I'm going out of town in early July, so if I don't get the information before then, my notes will have to wait even longer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Over My Head

Way back in April, I agreed to do a talk for a local group connected with a not-quite so local Shakespeare festival, here in town.  We set a date, and it's coming up.

I knew I didn't have to worry about it for a while, but now, well, it's coming up, and it's hanging over my head.  But it's still a week off.

Here's the thing.  If I do the work on this talk, get it set up, figured out, then I'll feel free to go out and play at different stuff.  But instead, I've been procrastinating.  But I haven't been procrastinating by going out and playing at what I most want to play at (say, biking, birding, kayaking, gardening), but instead just procrastinating and wasting time.  (I have been practicing the violin at least.)

So, today, I just need to go get the initial work done, and then I can feel good about going out and playing.  Right?

(I need to reread some lit crit, reread the play, put together a handout, put together a power point with a couple of pictures, and write out notes for the talk.  I'm guessing 10-16 hours, at least.  I should keep track.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Last Week's Best Ride

It's a loop, I call the Priory Hill Short Loop, about 22 miles.

About a mile in, there's Priory Hill.
 It's way harder than it looks.  But at least the hill's short.

Further along, on the left, soy, on the right, corn.  Along with some wheat and alfalfa, pretty much the big farm crops around here.

The road goes off into the distance.  But that hill isn't nearly as steep as Priory Hill.

 There's a little, well-kept 19th century cemetery.  I'd never stopped there, but as long as I was taking pictures, I did.  Here's what I saw.
 What stories Timothy Burgess could probably have told!  From the War of 1812 to the great North Woods.
These were about the earliest grave markers I saw.  So sad.

Here's something I see a lot around here.  I little building at the side of the road.  If you're not from the Midwest (in which case, I'm guessing you know), feel free to hazard a guess!

Friday, June 17, 2016


I had cause to call our Human Resources office today, to check on something re the interdisciplinary basketweaving hire.  Holy Cow.

I see, day to day, the difficulties in my department from the budget cuts.  I hear from friends in other departments, too.  I talk to students, and know they're having problems getting courses, despite everyone's best efforts to keep things as good as possible for our students.

But I didn't think so much about how much difficulty HR is in.  First, I have to acknowledge that a good, experienced HR person is pretty employable all over the place.  It's not like a Shakespeare person, where there are 15 to 25 jobs in a year to apply to, all at once.  Nope, an HR person who's good (and ours are, pretty much.  Or were.) puts out feelers, and before long, they have another job lined up, one that probably pays better than ours.  And off they go.

So, the interdisciplinary basketweaving hire problem is, I hope, on its way to being solved.  I expressed my sympathies for the overworked HR person.

I know there's administrative bloat.  At NWU, there's a bunch of people whose basic jobs are to make work for other people, making extra paperwork, making assessment rules and then changing them mid-stream, and so on.  (We've now combined a few of those, thanks to some retirements and people taking other jobs.)  Their other job is to create acronyms to make it difficult for anyone to understand what they're doing.  This they call "accountability."  We're supposed to be accountable for how long it takes our majors to graduate.  Should we not accept students who switch into the major as juniors?  How about if we didn't accept students who can only take 12 credits a semester because they're working full time?

But at the basic level of people necessary to running an institution, those folks are really hurting here.

In, what, three years, the governor and legislature have shattered a university system that was pretty darned good, to the extent that even if they totally changed their attitudes right now, it would take 10 years to rebuild.  Of course, as far as they're concerned, this is a feature, not a bug.  They went in intending to devastate the university, and they've accomplished a lot.

I think one of our teaching units may lose accreditation from it's official area organization.  That could devastate it.  What student would come here for that area if the unit isn't accredited?

Monday, June 13, 2016


Just like that, and ten (plus) days pass.  I've been happy, busy, stunned, and horrified.

I want to read more about the men of color who were killed in Orlando.  I think we need to see the intersectionality of the gay community, to recognize it purposefully.

And I think we need to end male violence.

Meanwhile, in more peaceful pursuits, unless you're a weed in my garden, I've been weeding and weedwhacking.  It felt like there was the end of the semester business, then other business, then a week of rain, and my garden was just buried in weeds.  So I weedwhacked and weeded. 

I whacked the back greenspace so that I have a path by the fence, and also can get to each of the trees I planted there (and cleared around them so they have more light and less root competition).

I weeded a small 6'x6' area I've come to think of as the "weedy area" and found a surviving asparagus plant.  I left that, but weeded the area, then got myself a couple of hostas, a couple of astilbes, and some cedar mulch, and planted.  In fall, I'll put in some bulbs, probably.  It will still grow weeds, but there's a big improvement.

I also cleaned up generally in that area, weeded another weedy area (smaller, much smaller) and found that my lavender plant is still alive.  So that was rewarding. 

I put in some little concrete ornamental sort of barrier things to keep the soil off the cement paved area.  And weeded that, poured vinegar on the weed parts that looked likely to come back fast.

Right now, there's a pile of weeds on the cement area (I like to let them dry a bit in hopes that they'll actually die for real before I toss them out to fertilize the green space).  But after I toss them, and sweep again, that whole area will look a lot better than it has in ages. 

I'm so out of shape that all the weeding and such (paddling, weedwhacking) has my arms feeling like lead, sore lead.  Ugh.

I need to get off the couch now and get some stuff done.

Goals for the week:

Vinegar on the weeds surrounding my garden raised beds.  I can't physically get to them well because of the fence and retaining wall, but I'm going to try vinegar and them a big load of mulch down.  And hope.

Weed one more over weedy area.  That would pretty much clean up the back.  Then back to the front, where there's a bunch of dead heading and such to do.  Because it really does never end in summer here in the garden.  That's okay, on one level, because it sure is nice to be outside!

Practice violin.  I missed a day, and boy can I tell.  But I'm very slowly improving, memorizing my new pieces, and working on the hard parts.

Work on a talk I'm giving at the end of the month.

Reread a student paper, write comments, and send it to them (because they asked, and of course, I'm happy to do it.)

Ride my bike, paddle my kayak.  Good stuff!  Maybe head out camping if the rain stops for a couple days in the middle of the week.  (Weekends seem way busier at the state parks.)

Stretch every day.  I should start with this.

Work on a paper for SAA.  I have an idea, I think.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Kids Today...

In the wake of the horrific news from UCLA, one of my facebook folks started a thread about how everyone on campus should have had guns, which several other folks replied to commenting on how much safer it would be if everyone had guns, and so on.  And then my friend started a sub-thread about how kids today are spoiled, whiny, etc etc. 

So, I responded not once, but twice.  First, to the guns on campus thread, where I said that I dreaded the idea of returning exams (or any assignment) where some students hadn't done well to a group of 30+ students, all armed.

I well remember having fantasies, running around the local schoolyard with friends and cousins, waving finger guns, playing I, Spy, and Man from UNCLE, that one or two of us with a gun could easily take out bad guys, keep the good guys alive, and be heroes.  At some point, certainly by the time I was in high school, I'd outgrown that fantasy.  Most adults do.  But the ones who haven't, seriously, need to go play laser tag or something (where I lost totally, and where even our winner was hit more than a few times).  Imagine a campus full of armed people, all hearing a gun shot, drawing, looking around, and seeing everyone armed, ready to shoot.  It's not like the old WWII movies where you knew who was on your side by the uniforms (though friendly fire accidents probably happened), and where everyone manages to shoot accurately in the heat of the moment (which, I've read, doesn't actually usually happen in combat).

But the kids today thing really pissed me off.  So I posted about my students, mostly good folks, mostly hard working, mostly dealing with a lot more responsibility and work than I had in college. This is a generation that's spent their coming of age years, since 2008, rocked by a crappy economy.  Remember reading about all those people who lost jobs, homes, livelihoods?  Those adults, some of them had kids, and those kids are college-aged now.  Sure, some haven't been hit at all by the recession and grew up pretty privileged.  And some of those are brats, no doubt.  The same way some of the previous generations were spoiled brats.

We (my generation, the folks in our 40s and 50s now) haven't done well by the next generation.  And the Baby Boomers, because they have more political clout, have perhaps done worse.  We thought college was expensive then, but now, it's way, way more expensive for a public education.  And our schools aren't getting the funding they did when the government was all worried about Sputnik.

So, kids today.... are pretty much like kids in any day.  Some have it easy, but most don't.  Some are wonderful, a few aren't.  Some work really hard, and some are still growing up.

After I responded with my defense on my facebook friend's post, he responded that he didn't actually know or work with any young adults, but had just gone on what the media says.  WTF?  It's like deciding you hate Blacks because the media report on Black men in prison, isn't it?

Let's recognize that the news out of UCLA has told us about the victim, but (from what I've seen so far) nothing about the murderer/suicide victim.  For all I know, that person might be a non-traditional student in his 50s (I think I read male pronouns being used, but I'm not sure even of that).  The student might have had mental health issues.  (I think you'd pretty much have to have something very bad going on to plan and commit murder, no?)  Ages 18-25 are tough in a lot of ways, not least in that if someone's going to have mental health issues, they often surface then, when a lot of people have (or feel they have) little access to support systems.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

And, Exhale

The term is over!  Well, mostly.

I turned in grades, but still have to go fill out assessment forms.

Why didn't I fill out the forms when I did the grades?  Good question.  On Sunday, I got a call from my niece that she was doing a special concert on Thursday, and inviting me.  And a friend was moving, and ended up needing a whole lot more packing help than I'd figured on.  So, I helped my friend, did my grading, turned in my grades, raced across the Midwest to the concert, and then came back.  My niece did really well at her concert.  She's really an adult now, and a good, kind, thoughtful, smart, caring one.

When I got back, there was news from our one year search in interdisciplinary basketweaving.  We'd passed five names along to the interdepartmental director, and they started calling people.  One of the five politely declined the director's interview because they had another job.  The job's been offered, and we're waiting to hear from the person now, I gather.

If they don't accept, then what happens?  I don't know, but I'm guessing it will be my responsibility somehow.

I offered to chair a search in my own department next fall, and the offer was accepted.  The ad has to be done on our end within the month, so that it can be approved on up the line and be ready to go out at the very beginning of the search season.

I need to make a list and check it twice.

So, of course, I've gotten messages from my mom, asking if I'd turned in my grades yet, and if I were taking time to hang out with my niece and sister-in-law across the Midwest.  Apparently, in her mind, I'm an irresponsible person who barely keeps my job and doesn't do anything much all summer.

I dread the stupid assessment forms.  I guess I'd better look up and see what I have to fill out and for what authority (departmental goes one way, program another, GE another, and if we had accrediting in our field to worry about, that would go another yet); each path, and each form in the path has its own unique set of acronyms.

The other thing I found out when I got back is that two thirds of my colleagues are relatively sane.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Job Well Done and a Help Request

I've been blogging about a search I'm on, which I've characterized as interdisciplinary basketweaving.

Looking for Dr. Right - introduces the search
Dr. Desperate - applicants who aren't really qualified, or who don't convince us they are
Finding My Biases in the Job Search - Thinking about some biases I have when I read applications
Schedule This - The difficulty of scheduling interviews at this point in the semester, and calling references.

We've now finished our interviews.

What I wish from job candidates:  imagine if we list an interdisciplinary basketweaving job, and say we're interested in people who can teach basket aesthetics and economics of basketweaving at intro and advanced levels.

Our first question was about the intro to interdisciplinary basketweaving.  An ideal answer would have started by recognizing that we think aesthetics and economics issues are important, and would talk about focusing the class through one or both of those issues, or would talk about some of the important themes or areas to introduce, and include those two areas.

Then we asked a question about the basketweaving aesthetics course.  A really good answer talks about what's important to introduce in basketweaving aesthetics, and how the person introduces those.  A brilliant answer also ties in the economics of aesthetic issues, because the candidate knows from our job ad that we see a relationship between those things as being important and think one person should be able to do both areas.

Then we asked about the economics of basketweaving in our lower division and upper division courses, both required for some majors.  A really good answer explains the differences between the two courses in some way, and then talks about each, and thinks about how the second builds on the first.  A brilliant answer includes something about the economics of aesthetic issues as a theme in one of the courses.

I'm grateful for the people I worked with on the search committee.  They're smart and good colleagues to work with.  We reached a strong consensus at each step along the way, focused on what we'd decided was important and were able to write up a short statement about each of the candidates we ranked for the next level up in the process.

And now it's out of my hands except for one thing:  I'm going to have to write letters to the folks we didn't hire (after we've hired someone).

That's where I need your help.  What graceful, kind, and decent thing can I say having interviewed (or not interviewed) people who've worked hard to get where they've gotten and really need a job, and aren't getting our job?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trans Folks and Privilege

I had a rather random conversation with a retired math prof today.  I don't quite remember how it came up, but the math prof started talking about how unfair she felt it is that a trans person could grow up as a boy, then identify as a woman, and be allowed to apply for, say, a women's scholarship in math (a field where women are historically underrepresented at the university level). 

She worried about her (hypothetical) 9-year old daughter, and what if she identified as male, what would she do.  (I suggested she be supportive and loving of a child whatever their gender identification.  She seemed surprised by that.)

Then she expanded her discussion, to talk about how unfair it would be if a bunch of men decided to identify as women and "take all [the women's] privileges."

I have to admit I was shocked.  I guess I'm pretty insulated, because in most of my conversations about trans-related issues, we're talking about how we can be more supportive and educate ourselves and our students to be caring, respectful, and supportive.

Once I caught my breath, I asked her what women's privileges she thought men would be standing in line to gain?  The wage gap?  lack of paid maternity leave?  and so forth.

I just don't think many men are going to give up their male privilege just for the fun of it.  And if they do, who cares?  Maybe if all men identified as women, the wage gap would actually disappear?  And married folks would share housekeeping and child care equally?

At the end of the conversation, she said she'd think about what I said because she'd never thought about these issues in that way before.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Schedule This!

In addition to the usual end of the semester mix of grading jail, student panics, and tiredness, I've got the special joys of calling references and setting up long-distance interviews with candidates.

The committee laid out times for interviews, and naturally, our schedules don't overlap nicely.  Then I started setting up interviews.  The candidates all were very cooperative, and we managed, but some are quite busy with teaching and stuffs, and they can't drop everything for an interview.

I started calling the references on my list.  I got hold of one person right away, and they were really excited to talk about the candidate, and it was great.  I thought to myself, hey, this is way easier than I thought it would be!  Then I tried the next person on the list, and the number took me to a veterinary school person.  And I looked on line, and the number I found listed there took me somewhere else.  Then I looked on line and called the department office, and they told me that the person wasn't around because classes are already over, and I should email.  So I did.  And that's pretty much how the rest of my calls went.

When I worked as a receptionist, I learned very quickly to answer the phone "Good [morning/afternoon], [Business Name], how may I help you?"  I still do a variation.  My calls to different departments and such trying to get hold of referees has reminded me that answering the phone with something more helpful than "yeah" does matter.  It also helps if the on-line directory has the right phone numbers.  (Fancy Pants U, I'm looking at you about both of those!)

Also, if you're going to set up one of those automatic "out of office" messages, put some words there.  I got return emails that were totally empty.

Fortunately, the references are all enthusiastic about their candidates, got in touch, and I've now talked with all but one, and we have an appointment to talk on Monday.

But holy cow, it takes a lot of time.


We made some national news outlets this week, and not in a good way.  We're in the midst of a variety of political moves, led by our tireless union folks, who can't bargain on our behalf, but are doing good organizing work.  Who knows, maybe we'll make the news in a better way next week?