Monday, March 02, 2015


I dreamt last night that I was driving to Washington, DC, but then somewhere near Philadelphia, decided that I forgot something at home, and that the weather was so lovely that I'd go back home and go for a bike ride.  And this was all possible within a three or so hour drive, because that's how dreams work.

Imagine my disappointment on waking to below 0F windchill.  Yeah, even though it's sunny out, I'm not going out for a bike ride.  Nor am I within a three hour drive of Washington, DC, so visiting a Smithsonian, the National Archives, etc, is out for a quick trip.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

"Yelled At"

Every so often, a turn of phrase just irritates me.  For the past couple of weeks, it's been "yelled at."

Now, if someone raises their voice and yells at you, then use it, by all means. 

But mostly when I hear it used, it's hyperbole. 

Recently, my screw up came to light, and my chair talked to me about it.  (And then I did what I could to unscrew it, and it came out okay.)  Now, our chair is eminently reasonable, decent, ethical, and humane, so the chair spoke to me respectfully, without a raised voice.

And later (since the unscrewing involved telling other people I'd screwed up in order to get things to happen), one of those other people said s/he was sorry I'd been "yelled at" by the chair.  And I said I wasn't yelled at.

But I hear it so often, and mostly the way it's used makes the issue way more confrontational than it should be made.  Actually being yelled at is way more serious than the usual corrections or reprimands people are talking about.

For example, I hear students say their professor "yelled at" the class, and I know I didn't yell, but merely warned them about doing homework or something.

Or I hear someone say their doctor "yelled at" them for not losing weight, and I'm pretty sure their doctor didn't raise his/her voice (though may have been exasperated, of course).

I think what bothers me is that the phrase has lost its metaphorical power, but hasn't lost the sense of violence; people don't think of it as a metaphor, and so it seems to carry this quality of anger and violence to characterize what isn't always an angry or violent situation.

Maybe we can use "chide" instead?  Or make "tsk" a verb?

However, I don't think comments on my little blog are going to change this pattern of language use.  Maybe if I raise my voice?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Victory Lap

I just sent off my SAA paper, HOURS before the deadline!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Justice Kagan for the Citation Win!

In her dissent on Yates v. United States, Justice Kagan writes (page 2 of her dissent):

And here I was excited to cite Monty Python.

Life Lesson

I'm chairing this committee for the second year, and there's a task which is sort of on the back burner; it's not part of our primary function, but if we did it, it would help us with our primary function.  Last academic year, Good Old Boy said he'd do the task.  And just about every week we've met since, he's mentioned that he thinks the task really needs to be done, and he'll do the task.

Yesterday, I finally came to terms with the fact that Good Old Boy isn't going to do it, decided it was important enough to me to do it, and sat down for an hour or so and just did it.  At least, it's drafted.

Then I put it on the agenda for our next meeting.

This got me thinking about some life lessons, and trying to articulate them.

1.  If something's important to me and I can do it (physically, legally, etc), then I will do it.

2.  If I say I'll do something, then it becomes important to me.  See #1.

Corollary:  What's important to me, isn't necessarily important to another person, and vice versa.  I am working hard to learn to accept that.

It's easier to accept in one direction, that is, I am better at understanding that something isn't important to someone else, and, as in the example above, if I decide it's important enough to me, I do it.  (And, I'm working very hard on just doing it, and not being cranky about it to the person who didn't think the it was that important.)

I have a harder time saying "no" when something isn't as important to me as it is to someone else.  And if I say yes, then I treat it as important to me.  So I really need to not say yes, and be honest in my "no."

I have two things to work on very much:  I need to not resent when other people have very different priorities.  If it's important, I need to just do it.  And if it's not, I need to let it go.

And I need to be firm about what's important to me, and what's not.  And if it's not, I need to not take on other people's priorities.

That one's so hard because so many people say "yes" they'll do something, with total intent to do it, but it's just not important enough to them to actually do. 

I'm no saint, but I tend to put other people's welfare pretty high up on my "important" list, especially if I can affect it positively or negatively.  So if someone's depending on me for a letter of recommendation, I do the letter in a timely manner and do a good job on it.

On the other hand, I sometimes don't prioritize my own welfare as highly as I should.  Just in terms, say, of exercising regularly.  I let that fall by the wayside while I write the letter or recommendation or something.  I need to do a better job balancing.

I must admit, I really resent people who make all sorts of sympathetic noises about other peoples' welfare stuff but then don't actually do their part to make it happen, to write the timely letter of recommendation, for example.  I have a colleague who makes sympathetic noises, but doesn't follow through unless it's her own baileywick, and I've pretty much lost respect for her as a result.  If you're going to make sympathetic noises, then do your work in a timely fashion, and don't just ride other peoples' coattails!

Obviously, I need to work more on that corollary part.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Digging Deeper - My First MOOC

I just finished participating in my first ever on-line course, a MOOC, basically, from Stanford, on "Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts."  There's a second part, and I've signed up for that, too.  And it's FREE!   (The next beings April 21.  Be there or be sad!)

The first course was six weeks; each week the organizers uploaded stuff onto the course platform on Tuesday morning, and we had a week to work on it before the next part got uploaded.  I probably spent about two to two and a half hours each week on the course.  About two thirds of that time, maybe, was watching/listening to the short videos or reading materials, and then another third was working on the "practical paleography" part which was practice in transcribing medieval manuscript texts.  (My lack of Latin really slowed me down on some, no doubt, because when we did a Middle English one, it seemed so much easier.)

For each week, there's be a short, one paragraph introduction to the week, and then you'd click forward, and do part one of maybe five or six parts for the week.  Each part would have a video of a few minutes, which might have someone talking, and showing pictures of a text or textual materials.  You could make the video run a little faster if you wanted (I went with 1.25X speed) and there was a running transcript so you could read as you listened and watched.  (I thought those two features were quite helpful.)  Then after the video, you often could scroll down and you'd be able to look at big pictures of the manuscript or materials in question, which was really great.  So you'd look, and then when you were ready, you'd click through, and go to a little quiz of 2-4 questions, multiple choice with buttons, mostly.  (A few you typed in a number.)  The quizzes mostly picked up on vocabulary from the video.  For me, the most difficult part of the quizzes was remembering to hit the "submit" button rather than just scrolling to the next question.  [And at this point you can tell just how obsessive I am about grade stuff even when it doesn't matter because I was frustrated with myself when I finally figured out that I hadn't hit submit a bunch of times and so "lost points."]

And then you'd hit a manicule (pointy finger graphic) and go on to the next part.

At the end of the video type parts for each week, there was a "practicum" section which would ask you questions about parts of a manuscript or such, and basically quiz you a little more deeply on what you'd learned across the videos for that week in full.

And then finally, each week had a "practical paleography" section which would set out a small bit of manuscript and some directions about abbreviations and such, and you'd transcribe it and hit submit, and then you could see what the professionals did with their transcription.

There was a lot to like about this course.  I had fun, and exercised my brain a tiny bit.  But it wasn't a college course, and I didn't learn in any week what I think my students usually learn in a week or even, say, two hours of classwork.  On the other hand, I didn't put in the time I expect my students to put in preparing, reading, and working on stuff for most of my courses.  I didn't get college credit, either, but supposedly if I finish the course with a certain percentage, I'll get a "Stanford Statement of Accomplishment."  I'm guessing they'll email me a pdf or something, and I may just put it on my wall to laugh about.  The most I've ever gotten out of Stanford before is a couple of pleasurable hours in a library, chatting with David Riggs who I ran into quite by accident.  (I certainly wasn't Stanford material as an undergrad, and frankly never thought that any actual mortals studied there.  No one I knew growing up had gone anywhere like Stanford.)

I think six weeks is a good time to set.  It's enough to get into it a bit, to enjoy knowing it's coming up, and to learn some stuff.  But it's not a daunting time where you'd worry about being gone and missing a huge chunk of stuff.

The organizers clearly did a fine job organizing.  Things were mostly clear and made sense, and they did an excellent job producing the videos, showing pictures of manuscripts and materials.  I think about the second week, they responded to people having difficulty with transcriptions by adding hints about abbreviations and a modern translation.  I found those useful.

I didn't find the forums useful; they were overwhelmingly huge to me, and I didn't tend to read many postings by other people.  That was fine for this course; there was no requirement that you read a lot of postings by others, nor were there papers due that we had to edit or anything like that.

All in all then, I enjoyed the course.  It was enough of a challenge to keep me interested, and familiar enough that I could find my way (except for my lack of Latin, to my shame). 

But it wasn't a college course.  It was more of a community enrichment course.  And that's fine as what it is.

My next question, though, is why?  Yes, I feel more positive about Stanford than I otherwise would, and here I am, mentioning it in my blog.  But that and five dollars will get you a small coffee at *$.

From the production of the videos, showing digital images from Cambridge and Stanford libraries, and faculty time and expertise to put it all together, I'm guessing this course cost Stanford thousands of dollars.  Are they basically trying out on-line learning platforms in low stakes environments where people will be forgiving?  Are they hoping we'll love it enough to pay for courses for credit?


Juggling Badly

I feel like there are so many balls flying above my head.  Disaster threatens. 

The biggest disaster is that I expected a good old boy to be responsible for doing something, and it seems the something hasn't happened, and now it's on me, because I'm the end of the line responsible, even though I have no power over the good old boy and the thing they're doing.

I expect the good old boy could avert the disaster at the other end with a call to another good old boy, and he knows that.  But the not good old boys in the middle (me and another woman) don't have any of that good old boy power, and the good old boys don't give a [expletive deleted] about anyone but themselves.

I spent an hour and a half this Friday trying to make air reservations on the NWU required system.  I suspect that the powers that be have made a contract with the travel agency, for which the travel agency paid the NWU some money, and then the agency charges those of us who have to use their system extra fees and such, more than making up the money they put into the initial contract.  NWU gets money to play with, and it comes out of the smaller units' budgets.

Of the hour and a half, forty minutes I spent watching the "trying to search" thing try to search before I gave up and closed out, relogged on, and tried again.  I had to two that maybe five times total because it kept locking up at different stages.  While I was waiting for the initial search thing, I hopped onto a commercial travel site, found flights that would work in about 7 seconds (it took me longer to type in the parameters than for the engine to search), and those flights ended up being about 10% cheaper than what I had to buy through the system.

I had planned to teach my Thursday morning class and leave Thursday afternoon, but that seems to be impossible, because flights don't fly in the afternoon or something.  So I'm leaving earlier, and now need to change other things. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Good Mistake

I've been working pretty well on my SAA paper for a couple of months, but really, the hard writing part has been in the past few days, because of the deadline, today.

I finished a draft this evening.  It's an okay draft, but not a great draft.  Given the craziness around here demanding a lot of energy, it is what it is.

And so I pulled up the email program, and did a search on it to get the email for the seminar leader, finding it in the last email, the one with the deadline.

And, the deadline isn't today.  NO!  And for once, I'm not late because I got it wrong!  Rather, I thought it was today, and it's not until nearly the end of February!

I'm sort of in shock now.  I have a draft, and now I have time to go to the writing center to get some feedback, and then it won't be an okay draft, but a pretty good draft (I hope!).

I can't even begin to say how good it will feel to get up in the morning with a draft in hand and time to revise!

Monday, February 16, 2015


The headmaster appointed an emergency team (35 people) to make recommendations to help deal with the budget emergencies, and only after some people at the first meeting complained did he notice that he hadn't appointed a single person of color, and had that women were seriously underrepresented.

And yet we're supposed to believe that he's committed to anti-racism on campus.

And we're supposed to believe that the emergency team is going to make meaningful recommendations.

From the new list, it looks like he's added a few people of color and maybe another woman or two.

Composition Issues

Confessions of a Community College Dean has a post up today on varying organizations of first year Comp courses.  And it got me thinking, not about varying organizations, but about some problems with comp courses.  (And when I say "comp courses" throughout, I mean first year writing or composition courses, and not advanced level theory of composition or rhetoric courses, which I'll specify as upper level.)

Somewhere back in the dawn of time, faculty across universities decided that college students aren't good enough writers, so they decided to require some writing course(s) for all first year students (with variations, of course).  But there was no department of teaching writing to first year students, so by and large, English departments took on the task.  (Asked for or were asked, it's probably different everywhere.)  And because English departments took on the task, they needed more faculty.  And because R1s needed more people to teach comp, they got to take on more grad students, which is good for prestige and for teaching fun grad courses on Blake's Left Nostril.  And so, English departments got way bigger than they'd needed to be to teach lit and philology, linguistics, and such.  And English faculty (at many schools) took on comp as the part of their load they mostly didn't like, but as a sort of purgatory for getting to teach the stuff they loved.  And most of us work very hard to do a good job. 

The first problem with comp courses is that very few people actually want to teach comp courses.  A lot of people want jobs, and they're willing to teach a lot of comp in order to get those jobs, but given their druthers, many of them would much rather teach something else.  (It's really hard to teach comp, and it's hard to work closely with first year students, and it's hard to hear other faculty complain that their student doesn't "know grammar" when what the other person is complaining about is a style preference and not grammar, and when all the research shows that teaching grammar doesn't improve writing.)

When we think about how to improve comp then, we might want to think about taking it out of English departments and putting it in writing departments.  English departments will resist this to some extent, naturally, since it will see them lose positions.  And if that loss involves layoffs or firings, a lot of people will be very unhappy, and not only in English departments. 

But then there's the problem of staffing writing departments.  R1s can use armies of graduate students, as always.  But the rest of us would need to hire comp specialists.  Except composition (or comp/rhet) specialists are in fairly short supply these days compared to other humanities areas.  In English, we at NWU likely to get 100 applications for a fairly specific lit position, but for a broad comp/rhet position, we're more likely to get 30 applications.  (Comp/rhet is the field to go into if you want an academic job.)   And comp specialists don't want to teach endless sections of comp; they want to teach upper level courses, in the same way that biology faculty teach intro biology and also upper level, more specialized courses.

So, to compete as a writing department for comp/rhet faculty, you have to offer a job that isn't all first year comp, but also includes upper level courses.  And you have to pay a salary that's higher than for, say, English lit.

Let's imagine: you have comp faculty teaching, say, 12 credits a semester, and they teach two comp courses, and two upper level courses.  And then we get to another difficulty: relatively few undergraduate students are interested in upper level comp theory type courses.  So those courses are pretty small, and expensive.  Instead of the current balance, of lit courses with comp, including fairly large lit courses (45 at my institution, without graduate student TAs), you'd get all expensive courses with low enrollments taught by fairly expensive faculty.

And that won't work. 

What are the solutions?  I have some thoughts, but I'm sure there are other thoughts out there, probably better than mine.  And I'm pretty certain that what works for R1s isn't going to work for regionals, and what works for community colleges isn't going to work for SLACs, and so on.  We're going to have to find our own ways.

I'd argue that writing is as closely related to biology or political science as it is to English; we all write.  To teach comp, we all need good training and support.  Anyone able to earn a PhD in Philosophy is certainly able to learn to teach comp at the first year level.  A PhD in English is not the same as a PhD in comp or comp/rhet.  Teaching comp requires specific training, leadership, and support. 

Thought 1:  Spread the teaching of writing across many departments, training faculty across disciplines to teach writing within their disciplines, and it becomes part of the load of many faculty, with some direction from a faculty leader or committee.  Slowly divest the English department of positions to balance overall needs.  (If biology is teaching one FTE of writing, they're going to need another FTE.)  (You probably need to find an incentive for other faculty to take on the additional training to teach comp, and to take on teaching comp, so that would be potentially expensive.)

Thought 2: At one of my previous institutions, in an urban area, you train MA students and use them, and also send them to all the community colleges in the area.  That works for the MA folks if they can compete as MA comp specialists with PhDs in English for those community college positions; meanwhile, it staffs comp courses with people who work relatively cheaply but are pretty well qualified.  They never get permanent jobs or tenure, so for the institution it's flexible.  They may get benefits, but largely, its not a great solution for full time employment for the MAs who don't/can't move on to community colleges.  (I know people who were full time at community colleges as a result of this program, and others who were freeway fliers, cobbling together work.)  This may be sustainable for the program, but if it's not sustainable for the people teaching in it, it's unethical.

Thought 3:  At more regional, non-urban institutions, maybe create a department of writing with a few comp/rhet specialists and then hire people without PhDs in comp to teach, hopefully full-time with benefits, and maybe but probably not as TT faculty.  Certainly as long-term instructors at some level.  Train hires without specific comp preparation to teach comp, and slowly divest English departments of positions to balance overall needs.  Thus, MAs in creative writing with training in comp, MAs in Art History with training in comp, could be valued colleagues.  Or somewhat valued.  They'd still be teaching comp full time, and I really don't see that being a life goal for someone with a degree in Art History.  (A lot of SLACs and regional institutions require a terminal degree for new tenure-track hires; changing this might be problematic for accreditation.)

I think this is sort of what community colleges have long done, except they've mostly hired English PhDs to teach full comp loads.  With training, they could hire other people, and perhaps favor MAs in comp/rhet for these positions over PhDs in non-comp fields.

(Thought 3 is sort of like Thought 2, except it might hire grads of Thought 2's programs rather than producing them.)

Thought 4:  Get rid of first year writing courses.  Do they even work?  Does student writing improve in a one or two semester first year writing course enough to spend the money on them?

All of my solutions involve shrinking English departments.  With the exception of the last, a school could do this humanely, using retirements, though it wouldn't be easy, and would make English departments cranky.  (Imagine, for example, that an English department has 2 English Ed specialists, and one retires; the one remaining probably can't carry that whole program.  Inevitably lit would probably ask people to teach more broadly, so not the Romantics, but the 18th and 19th century.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I was at a brainstorming meeting, and one of my faculty colleagues suggested that we should all reorganize and refocus all our studies.  Coincidentally, this colleague believes their field is the one true field, the master field, without which all other fields aren't really.  (As I know from other conversations.)

Guess what we should all reorganize and refocus everything around.

Friday, February 13, 2015


One of my friends/colleagues over in Underground Basketweaving just told folks that zie is leaving for another job.

And so it begins.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ringing Costs

I just got the bill for the appointments about my ringing ears.

I had an appointment with a primary care doctor (a family practice doctor), an appointment with an audiologist to test my hearing, and an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

The result was that I have very minor hearing loss at the upper end.  It's not worth using hearing aids for, they said.

And there's nothing to be done for the ringing; I just need to ignore it and deal.  They suggested putting music on, which is okay for sometimes, but not really when I'm in a meeting, class, or working at something requiring real concentration (like most of my work).

The insurance was charged $500.  To tell me to just ignore it and deal.  I don't know why I even bothered, since looking at various sources on the web had pretty much said as much.  Stupid me.


Things are dismal around here.  If you saw my facebook feed, full of all sorts of dismal news, political, from friends' personal lives, environmental, and on and on. 

I have a relative (well, a relative in that blended family sort of way) who is grieving a spouse's death; but this relative is an artist, and right now is working on some amazing art, and I keep wishing I were close enough to go see the art in person. 

Art matters.  There, I said it.  I have some students in my Chaucer course who are taking (together, even) Shakespeare and linguistics, and it's so joyous watching them make connections between the three courses.

We're talking about free will (or not) in Chaucer, in the way one does with "The Knight's Tale," and the students are getting it, and wrapping their minds around how something can be a great story and also think deeply about knowing and knowledge and what matters.

The most dismal aspect of all this is knowing that our students are really going to be slammed.  I just can't comprehend how we voters and taxpayers decided that education is such a low priority for all of us.  Personally, I would happily pay a whole lot more in taxes to support our educational systems (and not only education, because feeding and housing people is necessary for them to have real access to educational success).