Thursday, December 18, 2014


For the past, maybe 10 days or two weeks, I've had a constant ringing in my ears.  Not really ringing, more a steady, high-pitched sound, not horribly loud, but loud enough.  It's bad enough that I have a sort of constant low-grade headache and queasiness.

After about two days, it went away for a while, and then came back, and it's been steady ever since.


I checked the web, and it said that sometimes it's a symptom of high blood pressure, so I went to the mall, and after sitting quietly for a couple of minutes, mine measured at about 125/180, which is higher than it should be, but not scary high, I don't think.

I haven't worn earphones or plugs in a long, long time (think a couple years for plugs, and longer by far for earphones).  I haven't been at anything really loud.

The web site also said that sometimes it's from an aspirin overdose, but I haven't taken aspirin in years.

I sometimes have a nightcap, and I stopped that for a week, but the ringing continued.

Finally, today I called to try to make an appointment at the clinic.  The doctor I saw there before moved a while back, and I haven't been sick since, so I haven't gone, so now I have an appointment to see a new (to me) doctor there, in January.  I sure hope the ringing stops before then, because it's irritating.

(The web thing said that it wasn't usually a sign of horribleness, and the person making an appointment at the clinic didn't say I should go to the emergency room ASAP either.  So I'm not really worried, but more frustrated.  It's hard to concentrate this way.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching Citation

I feel that I've failed a bit in teaching citation this semester.  Some of my students have gotten into the habit of citing, at least, so I don't think I've failed there, at least.  (And to be honest, if I could get every student to get in the habit of citing in academic contexts, I'd feel pretty good.)

The failure's a bit deeper than that, and comes from my sense of some of the research papers I've been reading this week.  The students know they need to cite.  But on some level, they don't know why they need to cite.  Or, perhaps more to the point, they don't know why they're incorporating someone else's argument so that they need to cite it.

As we discussed a few months ago, we cite people's work for many different reasons.  But some of my students don't seem to really understand any of those reasons.  So they include something about someone else's work in the paper, and cite it appropriately, but it really doesn't contribute to their argument.  It's just there.  Maybe they think having it there will lend "credibility" to their own argument, but since it's not contributing, it doesn't work that way, even.

Back to grading jail.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"People Change Towards You"

I've had a couple friends move into various administrative type positions over the years, and a common refrain I've heard is that they were told that "people change towards you."  And they tell me it's true that people change towards them.  Things just aren't the same.

So I've tried to be pretty aware of how I change towards people as they've gone into administration.  And I think it's true.  Some things I do change.  For example, I don't easily share personal problems because it feels like every conversation is "official."  And if I share that I'm having difficulty with a class, that's going to be on the person's mind if they review me, or see my application for something, and so on.  If I tell them I'm feeling lousy, then the response is all official and not what I'm probably looking for, the sympathetic "gosh, I'm sorry, I hope you feel better soon!  Have some chicken soup."  So if a friend who's gone into administration feels that I've pulled back, that's a reasonable observation, I think.

But what I don't hear from the administrative folks is that they, too, change.  For one, they seem to quickly lose touch with the rhythm of the teaching semester.  I've had administrative friends suggest I take a week off in the middle of the semester to do a group vacation, for example.

And this week, there's another: 

In the stone ages, my department used to give a "common" grammar type exam in comp courses.  Everyone hated it, and we voted it away not long after I came, but when it was there, it was on the first Monday of finals week, at 8am, and then we'd have a departmental potluck for lunch that day, too.  We were all on campus anyway, and the emeriti and spouses would come, and we'd all blow off some steam, and then get back to grading jail.  (I'm sure it was even easier when most of the faculty were married men whose spouses would cook the potluck and bring it still hot from the oven.)

The practice faded away because without the common exam we weren't all on campus on Monday, and we're all busy, and about half of us are women who don't have a spouse to obligingly cook and bring our potluck dish, and so on.

The new chair decided to bring back the tradition.  I think some of the emeriti really missed it. 

I signed up because I want to be supportive of the new chair, but I'm irritated that I'll have to get up early to get to campus to get parking, spend at least half a day on campus getting far less grading done than I would at home, figure out food to bring (I've done that, at least).

Judging from the nudges we got from the departmental staff folks, sign ups were slow.  And the sign up sheet wasn't very full when I put my name on there.  I think this is one of those things we should let go of, and let us do our jobs without demanding that we socialize on campus, officially.

May I also note that it irritates me slightly that the married faculty couples (both in the department) bring one dish, prepared by the female partner.  The married men in my department seem largely incapable of turning on a stove or oven; the ones who are married to non-department members always seem to note that their wives made their dish, unless they've chosen to bring cheese on a platter, in which case they may have made the purchase. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Northern Hawk Owl

In addition to reports of lots of Snowy Owls irrupting into the upper Midwest, we've got a Northern Hawk Owl!  So I took a little field trip away from grading and got lucky!

And the owl was very cooperative.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Special Studies

I got a polite email the other day from a student enrolled in my Chaucer course who wants to do a special study thing through the honors program so that it counts as an honors course for hir degree; zie asked if we could meet.

I looked at the agreement form on the honors website, and it looks like the instructor and student need to agree on something that will make it count for honors.  The form suggested that the student might do an extra paper or project, might teach a segment of the course, might do research, or extra journal writing, and so forth.

So I emailed the student back, happy to meet, and suggested that zie talk to the head of the program about what sorts of things students did.  When zie came in, zie said the program head had basically shown hir the form with its suggestions and that was it for suggestions.

I'm at a loss.

I asked hir if zie had interests in medieval lit, or in a specific theoretical approach, but zie said no.  Zie thought zie'd read some Chaucer in high school, but couldn't remember if zie had read in Middle English or not.

Zie is qualified to take the course, no question.  But zie is not so qualified that I can imagine hir coming up with a project beyond what the course will require of all students.  Nor does zie seem qualified to teach a segment of the course.

I really don't think it's my job to think of a project.

I suggested that the student go back to the program director and ask what he'd do if a student who'd taken only a single intro course in Spanish, and were in an upper level Don Quixote in translation course wanted to do this sort of project. 

In an ideal world, I'd have a lab where I could slot the student to measure some plant growth or something, and that would count for the extra work.  But in the humanities world, it's hard to see how to do this sort of thing without it being a lot more work on my part.  And unless this student's exceptional (some are!), it's hard to see the student actually doing meaningful work on Chaucer without a huge amount of extra work on my part.  And honestly, I don't see most students being willing and able to do a huge amount of extra work.  Some are, and I'm happy to work with them.  But most aren't.

Has anyone else done a similar sort of thing with humanities?  Can I ask for project suggestions?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Void

Yesterday, my senior seminar was doing a proofreading exercise on their final papers.  The papers were formally due yesterday, too, though I'd said I'd happily accept them until whatever time I left the office Friday afternoon.   Indeed, I also told them that while I'm happy with neatly handwritten corrections to proofreading problems, they could also take their work home and make the changes electronically, and then turn in the hard copies until Friday. 

Still, about a third of the papers got turned in yesterday.  A few didn't because there was a proofreading problem the student just didn't want to hand correct.

In our casual conversation towards the end of the class session, when I told them that I'd be handing their papers back during the final exam period, and that we'd discuss what they learned, a couple of them commented on how unusual it is to get final papers back, and how happy they are about it.

They talked about turning in papers they'd worked really hard on and not getting any feedback or even knowing how they'd done on the paper.  They find this understandably frustrating.

From the professorial point of view, of course, it's way easier to read the paper, put a grade on, add it to the record, and move on than it is to read the paper, think about what might be useful feedback, give feedback, put a grade on, add it to the record and then move on.  It can take me as long to think about and give useful feedback as it takes to read the paper and put a grade on it.  Longer, even, because giving useful feedback is intellectually difficult work, often.

And, as a professor, I know that if half of my students will never pick up their paper, but I've put feedback on it, I've wasted a whole lot of time.  And I can't predict which half.  So what a lot of people do (including me, at times) is make papers due during finals, so there's no way anyone can expect to get them back during finals week, and then tell students that I'll give them feedback if they'll come to my office and ask.  And very few students do that.  The thinking is that it will be easy to give that feedback if they do come, but of course it isn't easy, and I tended to begrudge the time.

My solution nowadays is to try to return papers during finals week.  But that means I have a hard, hard week ahead.

I'd better get to it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame

The words are from Bourbon, in Shakespeare's Henry V, talking about the impending loss by the French to the English at the battle of Agincourt.  I don't think there was eternal shame in losing the battle, certainly not in being a character that talks about losing the battle.

But there may be eternal shame, nothing but shame, in the way the US government has tortured captives.

Here's the BBC page on the report.

Here's a floor statement from John McCain, someone I rarely agree with politically.  McCain says,
I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.
I think McCain's right here: the practices amounted to torture, and were shameful.

Unlike McCain, I think "unnecessary" really isn't the point.  I don't think we can excuse the US government's use of torture even if we assert that the US gained a single bit of useful information.  Torture is wrong, and we were wrong to use it.

Here's a bit more from McCain:
“But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.
I'm ashamed because I haven't done something to stop the torture.  I still don't know what I could have done, but I'm ashamed that I've done nothing.

And I'm ashamed that I've done nothing to insist that the US government not hold prisoners without charging them or giving them a fair trial.  We've all known about Guantanamo and the torture for years.  Let's not lie to ourselves or anyone else about "not knowing."

These values are central to the US Constitution, as central as values of free speech and freedom from governmental establishment of religion.  Just to remind ourselves:

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.
My question is, to avoid shame and eternal shame, what can I, a citizen of these United States, do to stop the government and its agents from torturing and illegally holding prisoners, depriving them of liberty, without charges or a fair, public trial?

We, the people of the United States, have allowed the government and its agents to act illegally for far, far too long, to our shame and eternal shame.  What can we do to make change?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Quiet Before...

I made a rookie mistake this semester.  Yep.  I made the due dates for the biggest projects in all three of my courses on the last Friday of classes, as it happens, this Friday.  So, I've pretty much done all the grading that can be done until I get those in.  (I will have peer revision/draft day grades for one course, but can't do those until I get in their feedback papers.)

So, for now, I'm sort of waiting for the deluge.

I should be working on my SAA paper, of course.  Yes.  And I am, slowly.  But I should be pushing that a whole lot harder.

Time to get to that!

Monday, December 08, 2014

It's Official

I have a half share in a big snow blower, which is sitting in my garage at this very moment.  (I'm sharing with some neighbors, which is great, let me say.)

I guess I really am a midwesterner now.

Also, I had a conversation this morning about forcing bulbs.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Damned if You Do...

The Underwater Basketweaving Department was having such a lively discussion of assessment today that I could hear it from my 9th story office.

All the UB majors choose a submajor, so what may have at one time been considered just "Underwater Basketweaving major" is now the "Comprehensive Underwater Basketweaving" major.  And there's also "Creative Underwater Basketweaving," "Technical Studies in Underwater Basketweaving," and so forth.  About half the courses that all the majors take are basically comprehensive courses.

The "comprehensive" faculty tends to teach pretty much all the students, while only a small subset takes "technical studies" courses, since the technical studies submajor has maybe 15 majors at any given time, and comprehensive has 150.   So, pretty much everyone takes one or another senior course in "Understanding Contexts of Underwater Basketweaving" in whatever context area the faculty member does.  So, when a deepwater UB historian is teaching it, then deepwater is the context.  And so on.

The argument seems to have been about this:  the comprehensive folks have to assess how the comprehensive submajor program is doing, and the logical place to do this is in the senior context courses, since all their submajors take these.  But lots of other submajors take them, too. 

Thus, if the course is assessing outcome X, where X is supposed to be learned in a bunch of comprehensive courses, and there are 15 comprehensive submajors and 5 other submajors, the assessment is going to be potentially problematic, no?  What if in the assessment, the 15 comprensive submajors all do "good job" on outcome X, but the other 5 do "not a good job"? 

Either they just run the data as is, and find out that they're only doing 75%, and that's not good enough, right?  Damned.

Or they tease out the data, but then they're told that since the other course is supposed to teach students outcome X (something like, say, piano playing, that's likely to be much better if you've practiced again and again as opposed to having a lesson and thinking you're ready for Carnegie Hall), then they're damned because they aren't teaching the other submajors well enough.  Damned.

Or they tease out the data and find out that the other submajors do just as well as the comprehensive submajors.  Then obviously, those other comprehensive courses aren't necessary at all, and they can just cut those out of the curriculum, and students will "achieve the outcome" with the one course no matter their submajor.  Damned.

In times of budget cuts, which are plentiful around here, the comprehensive folks are going to be damned either way.  And, of course, they're doubly damned because since they're the only courses where all the submajors take courses too, they're also responsible for the whole program assessment. 

Dress Up

Last month some time, someone administrative from the services side sent around an email requesting that everyone on campus dress in campus colors every Friday.  This morning, I saw a little poster put up about it.

Folks, I'm an adult.  If I want to dress in colors and such, fine.  But this semi-official "everyone dress like we're high school students" stuff is just irritating.

And yesterday, a faculty member sent around an email requesting that everyone wear "ugly sweaters" or other "holiday" garb, including a list that was very Christian-centered.

Also, I'm not Christian.  For six to eight weeks a year, I get slammed with Christmas stuff.  Last Friday, for example, I turned on NPR in the morning to a Christmas song, and I immediately turned it off.  I have no idea why they had a Christmas song playing (between segments, maybe?), but I just couldn't bear it.

And I don't have any sweaters I consider ugly.  I've gotten rid of sweaters I considered ugly, but they're no longer taking up my closet space.

Why, oh why, are we at a public institution being BSed into wearing Christmas crap?

I don't know how to respond.  Christians here are so effing repressive that any complaint will be made into a war on Christmas thing.