Monday, February 17, 2020

With Every Assignment Due, Disaster Strikes

I have the first semi-big assignment due in one of my classes today, and disaster struck.  There's one car repair, one ill relative, one aging pet, and several oops, I didn't get it done because...

I don't doubt any of them, either.  I think the thing that's most changed in me over the years about handling disasters or non-disasters is that I'm less cranky (or less overtly cranky) about the need to turn in some things late.

It's not that I'm happy, but if you're 18 and a loved one is ill, or your car breaks down, or you mis-time things and have to work a long shift, I'm more inclined now to be sympathetic.

It's a tad frustrating to try to get a pile graded and then have to add more, but a whole lot less bad than having a loved one ill or something.

Strep and flu seem to be hitting hard locally, too.  And to be honest, if a student is feeling sick, it seems better to me that they stay home and try to take good care of themselves, and not spread whatever.  But, yeah...  I wish they never got sick (and not only for my convenience).

Thursday, February 06, 2020


I came in at the usual time today (before 8am so I could get parking nearish my building), mostly because I'm going to start attending chair meetings with the Dean and other chairs. 

Almost as soon as I got here, a colleague came and stood at my door to chat.  We exchanged the usual pleasantries.  And then the colleague started to tell me about this and that, and here's what we need to do to make the world better, and so forth.  So I suggested maybe starting with step A would be something we could do.  And then I got an earful about how they aren't paid to do step A, and besides, they've already been doing step A (sort of), and we'd really need to start with step A prime.  So I said, okay, so A prime.  And I got another earful about how they shouldn't have to do Underwater Basketweaving 101 so they could develop this new idea.  And I said, basically, that I didn't think that was going to happen, but that there might be a way to do their new idea taking a different approach.  And then they sidestepped to another idea.

And I realized I totally didn't really have a grasp on our conversation.  I was treating it as a colleague saying "I want to do X, and I want you to support that when you're chair" when what they really wanted was to just vent.  And that's fine.  We all need to vent sometimes. 

I recalled what a former chair explained to me once, about how there were colleagues who would go into his office to just vent, and they were going to do that about an hour a week.  And he just had to listen and nod and let them vent.  And then there were other colleagues who'd show up once a semester, and they'd want to vent, maybe, or want to test out a real idea, maybe, or whatever.  And sometimes the colleague who usually vents actually wants to get help with an idea.  And figuring out the actual conversations he was having with different colleagues was key to being effective and getting done what could be done.

I don't think my colleague today feels comfortable enough with the current chair to vent at them, but clearly they feel comfortable enough with me to vent at me.  And I'm sure there's someone else who vents at the current chair and won't feel as comfortable venting to me.

So much to learn and keep track of.

I went to the chairs' meeting and felt like I needed a scorecard to keep track.  I think I need to listen really carefully this semester so that I have a better sense of what's important and how to best serve my department, the college, and the university.

So very much to learn!

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

A New Semester, New Things to Learn

So much to learn, not just for me, but for my students, too.

It's the morning of the second day of classes, and I've already had three students anxious about stuff.  I solved two of the problems, I think.

I had a student yesterday tell me they were going on vacation during X week of classes and what could they do to make up the work.  I said they could do it ahead.  BUT seriously, who schedules vacation during the semester for college aged students?  (And I realize "vacation" may actually mean that it's the only time my parent can get off of work or something.  Still, it seems weird.)

Yesterday, I taught five hours.  My normal Monday/Wednesday schedule will be four and a half hours, but I filled in for a colleague for half an hour yesterday.  I don't know how K-12 teachers do it.

My Mom's memory seems to be more and more a problem.  I'm grateful to the other family members who are helping and geographically close.  But there are times when it takes a lot of mental energy just to call and try to talk to her.

Here's to wishing everyone a good semester!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Third Hand

On effbee, one of my colleagues posted a link to a student blog where a student at NWU says she was sexually harassed by a male prof at NWU, a prof who teaches in her major; she says she reported it a trusted professor who reported it to the department chair, who had a chat with said prof.  And said prof made it about his sad situation.

So this is, at best, third hand information.  What does one do?

Not my department?  Not my monkeys, not my circus?

Or is there still some responsibility?

I emailed the campus Title IX officer/legal eagle with the link and asked.  They've contacted me and are aware of the situation and reaching out to the student.  The fact that they're reaching out now makes me think they heard it from either effbee or someone who saw it on effbee or me...  and it seems like one of the campus publicity and marketing folks contacted them;   I'm guessing one of the people who's responsible for monitoring those web search things that aggregate anything and everything that mentions specific words you target.  Good on them!

And now the student has filed a more official report.  Good for her!


I think what I find frustrating at this point, separate from being pissed off at that stupid professor hanging out at a student bar bugging young women (bugging any women is inappropriate), is that the female faculty who are responding feel ineffectual and seem to actually BE ineffectual.

It reminds me of the sexual harasser who was grad program chair in my graduate department; reportedly, numerous women talked to a female professor (untenured), who supposedly told them that they needed to talk to the department chair.  But everyone was too afraid.  (Including me.)  It felt like it would be the end of any graduate funding, any support from any of the male faculty (who we all felt had to already be aware of the grad director's behavior, since he did it at every gathering where there were faculty and grad students).

And so, nothing happened.  For years.

The woman whose post I originally saw asked in general if other colleges have policies, seemingly unaware of ours.  Then someone posted ours (which I went and read), which covers the situation reasonably well.  Then someone posted more about the current policy, and how it didn't seem to actually work, given what had happened.

But none of them said, hey, I'm reaching out to our Title IX person.  (And I didn't post on the threads at all, just reached out to the Title IX person.)  And they all KNOW the Title IX person.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is the Shine off Comp/Rhet (Job-wise)?

I'm reading applications for a position that's not Composition and/or Rhetoric, but about 15 percent of the applications are from folks in Comp/Rhet.

Since I don't teach at super famous R1 in a fabulous place to live, that leads me to believe that the shine is really off the Comp/Rhet marketability.

It seems like there are a lot more Comp/Rhet PhD programs out there, graduating a lot more Comp/Rhet PhDs, but there's not a great tenure track market, certainly not what there was?  (Maybe it's the ratio: it seems like there used to be fewer candidates for each job, so a greater likelihood of graduates finding something, as opposed to say, 20th century American Lit.)

It used to be that when I had a promising undergrad who wanted to get a PhD in an English Studies field, I'd recommend they think about Comp/Rhet.  But I'm thinking that's outdated thinking now.

On the other hand, my suspicions are 100% based on an anecdote, and data isn't the plural of anecdote...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Reading Ibsen

NWU is doing a production of Ibsen's The Doll's House next semester, and since I'm teaching an Intro to Lit, I thought I'd teach it.  And it's in the anthology.  So I started to read it so that it wouldn't be totally new when I taught it.  (I don't remember reading it before.)

I'm just in far enough that one of the characters is basically blackmailing another about the way she handled signing for a debt.  And I feel totally stressed out and tense.

I don't have any big financial stresses, and my only real debt is my mortgage.  But just thinking about the legal stuffs and financial problems makes me stressed out and tense.

I don't have a problem reading about a character in a play deciding to kill their king, perhaps because it's quite clear to me that 1) I'm not going to go out and kill anybody on purpose, and certainly not a national leader, and 2) in part that's because it's clear to me that killing someone, except under extreme duress (like actual, real, self-defense) never makes anything better.  So it doesn't stress me out that Macbeth wants to kill Duncan, or that Henry Tudor wants to kill Richard III.  Nope, not the least.

But the debt thing?  For some reason, that was so unpleasant that I just put the play down and went and did some cleaning. 

I may not actually teach it after all.  It will depend if I can make myself get through it.  But there's a certain point at which I really don't see the need to read lit to teach that makes me unhappy.

I really don't understand the theater folks wanting to put this on...

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Applications

I've been reading applications, and I've noticed a couple things. 

First, a number of the letters of recommendation are targeted, at least by an address and salutation, specifically at our search.  I've never noticed that before.  It means letter writers are reworking letters (at least minimally) specifically for each institution the applicant is applying to.  Maybe that's not many, but holy cow, it's a whole lot of work.  And it really doesn't seem necessary or even really helpful.  It's not like the faculty at Prestigious R1 are actually likely to know enough about a regional comprehensive such as NorthWoods U to really make the strategy effective.  And it's got to make things MUCH more complicated for submitting letters on time.  (Whose letter writers weren't always pushing the deadline?  Anyone not have that issue?  So it's got to add stress.)

The second thing is how few of the application letters clearly address some of the stuff in our ad.  If we put in our ad that, say, speaking a foreign language is vital, then the letter should tell us about the foreign language the applicant speaks and how well.

In my role as future chair, I've talked to some folks who are on the market in different fields, and at least one has told me that doing an invited talk is a real CV booster.  From my point of view, it's so not.  A conference or three is great, but an invited talk doesn't really catch my eye.  And given that a lot of candidates have multiple conference presentations, an invited talk basically disappears into the background.  It's certainly not the make or break thing that my colleague seemed to think.  For others?

What do folks see as make or break?

For me, a well written letter that addresses our job ad requirements.  Research that sounds interesting.

A clear CV that shows growth and ... exploration, experience, interesting work.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Academic Anxiety Dreams and a Question for Medievalists

Last night, I had my second anxiety dream about teaching Chaucer.  The first one, I was without any syllabi on the first day of classes, and then for some reason, went home instead of going to my first class (intro to the major) and then was trying to get back for the Chaucer class, but still didn't have any syllabus or calendar for any

The next day, I wrote up the basic academic calendar template for next semester.  That was three weeks ago, I think, soon after the previous semester finished.

Last night, my dream was more focused on not having the Chaucer calendar ready.  And when I woke up, I was thinking, but that's three weeks away, almost.  And it is, but there's no telling the dreaming that.  So today I'll start rereading the Canterbury Tales and thinking about the calendar.

I was looking at the Harvard Metro site the other day, and on one of the teaching pages, they suggested starting with the Shipman's Tale, as easier to read (in part because it's short and has a really basic plot-line) than the General Prologue.  So I'm thinking of doing that...  are there medievalists out there with thoughts?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Visit from a Former Student

I was in my campus office yesterday, having gone to get my computer back, and then trying to delete some emails and do some little chores. 

And a youngish person stood in my doorway and said hello.  I didn't recognize them at first, but then they reminded me: a former student.  This one had gone on to grad school in Practical Basketweaving.  They'd stopped by because they'd learned from a faculty member in the department that there was going to be a new chair, and had dropped by the department to find out who it was, and then came to my office.  They lamented the difficulty of finding an academic job, and the earnest wish to come back to our department.  They mentioned that they'd made it to the interview stage for a job we had a while back.  And they hadn't even gotten a phone interview for the short term hires made by the chair.

It was awkward.  I'd better get used to that, I suppose.

They kept sort of asking why they weren't getting a job.  And probably the real answer is that the job market sucks, and they aren't quite competitive, given the absolutely stellar people that are out there in Practical Basketweaving.  Which I didn't quite say, though I mentioned the incredibly bad market.

They revealed that they'd had a TT job at a strong regional comprehensive, but had left to follow a now-ex-spouse.  I didn't ask more, but I did silently realize that a friend of mine also teaches at the former school.

I finally told them I needed to get going, and wished them well, and they left.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility for a graduate of ours who goes on and doesn't get a job, though I can say with absolute certainty that if they talked to me about graduate school, I would have told them the bad news about the market.  But the person they were closest to, I think, wouldn't see that as their responsibility at all.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Running in Place

On Friday, I went to the office, turned on the computer... and waited.  So I started cleaning up my office, which was pretty messy, as happens towards the end of the semester.  It took about half an hour for the computer to get to the log in stage.  So I logged in... and waited.  And reshelved my books, put away files, the usual.

I tried to do computer stuff, the things I'd come to campus to take care of, but every time I tried to open a program or something, I got the "(not responding)" thing, and it hung up.

Finally, I called the nice people at campus tech support.  The person who answered was, well, hesitant.  I said I needed help because my computer was so slow, and they suggested I could wait until next week.  I said I needed the computer sooner to do my work, and finally they agreed to send out a tech.  So I started reading.  And the tech came, and started doing stuff on the computer.  And waited...  because it hung up every time.

So at least it wasn't just me.

The upshot was that the tech took away my computer for re-imaging, and I'm supposed to meet with someone this afternoon who will bring it over and set it up for me.  So, YAY!  That should be good.

I have so much to do before classes start:

Chairing a search committee: our application deadline is soon, and we have to read everything before our first meeting.

Rereading the Canterbury Tales, because I haven't taught Chaucer in about 5 years.

Reading The Dolls' House, because I'm teaching intro to lit and the theater department is putting it on.  I don't think I've ever read it before...

Reading a couple of books.

Trying to exercise.

Practicing the violin...