Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gloomy Day

I recently read a post from another blogger complaining about some funding cuts to his university/program.  The blogger sounded genuinely irritated.

To me, the complaining sounded, well, callous.  The level of funding the program enjoys even with the cuts is far, far beyond anything my program, or indeed, any program I've ever been associated with experiences (yes, even in my phud program, I'm pretty sure).

As I was on the edge of irritation, I realized that the way he sounds to me is probably a lot like the way folks at my university sound to less privileged folks in my region, especially people who are really hurting financially, who look at my health insurance and job and wonder how I think I have anything to complain about.

Unfortunately, those aren't the people being helped by tax breaks in this area, so they're just hurting more and more.  Moving the big budget cuts around here from the university to other state funded stuff will hurt them even more, since other than the university, the state pretty much pays for prisons, some Medicaid, some public education, some public health, state troopers, and some roads. 

***

The new law in Indiana allowing businesses to discriminate against people based on religious belief seems insane.  I hope every single ally in Indiana asks every time they walk into any business if that business discriminates based on religious belief, and if the business says yes, they turn around and walk out.  If someone doesn't want to do business with some folks they don't like, then I sure don't want to do business with them.

It looks like some other states are working on similar laws. 

How does that seem reasonable to anyone?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Springish

It's snowed a couple times this week, not much but a little. 

When I left on Saturday, I did the glance back at the house, just to make sure that the garage door had closed and so forth, that glance you do, and saw that there were a couple bits of yellow from crocus blooming.

Then the snows came.  But this morning, I went out and took a couple of pictures.  I really like the first picture.


 
 
 
One of the things I enjoy about the blog is that you can look back and see when you post about things.  I was thinking that our spring is unusually early this year, but looking back, I can see that I often have pictures of crocus up in mid-March, so spring's pretty much on track with many other years.
 
These are all from the area where I tried to make a crocus smile the fall before last.  This year, a few crocus are up, but not at all enough to tell that there's supposed to be a pattern.
 
I forced some bulbs this fall/spring, and now have a couple of tulips blooming in the house.  Unfortunately, I've had a really bad infestation of aphids, which killed some of the tulips as they were coming up.  They also killed some of the artichoke plants, much to my dismay.  I finally got to the point where I got some insecticidal soap, and I get a paper towel wet with the soap and then gently wipe down the leaves, killing some aphids from the wiping, more than anything, I think.  It grosses me out for some reason, but I'm desperate to try to save the remaining artichokes, so I do it every few days. 
 
At any rate, here's a close up of some tulip pollen.  (The flower is leaning a bit, so the photo isn't actually on its side.)
 
 
 


Monday, March 23, 2015

Off Track / On Track

My spring break started productively.

And then I left to visit relatives.  Only for one night. 

I went to a HS performance of a musical which was pretty good for what it was, but slow.  They went with fancy sets, which meant that between pretty much every little scene, there was a big, slow set change.  (I don't know if they rented sets or built their own.  They were pretty fancy.)  The thing about fancy sets is that the coolness of the fancy part is done after about two minutes of whatever cool fancy part there is.  After that, it's just time for changing sets, if that makes sense.  I think they need to do a better job of balancing the coolness factor with the time to change sets.

They also over-amplified some of the singers, and they were often hard to understand (even when not over-amplified).

I went to a regional concert thingy, with two middle-school string orchestras and a HS orchestra.  Yep, you pretty much have to sit through two middle-school string orchestras to hear the HS orchestra (which is what I was there for).  No doubt this helps get everyone a bigger audience, but, well, middle-school music is what it is.  (And so are HS performances, but students learn a lot in a few years of playing instruments, and do improve a lot.)

And now I'm back, and it snowed!  I am just not emotionally prepared for even light snow right now.

I have some crocuses up, which is cheery, and had planned a fair bit of yard work, but I resisted doing it in the snow.  And then I was just lazy.

And now I have to try to get back on track.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Planning for Break

Unlike most of the academic world, it seems, our spring break is next week.

Mentally, I'm afraid I'm halfway there already.  But I'm plugging away at this week's work.

But I'm starting to think of plans, of what I want to accomplish.  There's SO much I want to do!

Clean a closet or two.  Or some of the kitchen cupboards.

Prep for SAA.  (I've done some, but not all.)

Finish rereading Troilus and Criseyde.  I started this at the beginning of the semester, and kept getting waylaid by stuff.  I have about 20 pages still to read, so a couple of hours.

Grade a stack of papers (which I'll get on Friday). 

Start some plants for the garden (kale, maybe some spinach or greens, a little early for squash or zucchini, probably, or pumpkin.)  Get some seeds (for zucchini and a sugar pumpkin).

Dig in the garden.  Partly to prep the soil, and partly because it will feel so darned good!

Ride my bike, maybe 100 miles?  (That would be so good!)  I took my first outside ride of the year yesterday, and it was really good.  I was slow, but it felt good.

Prep for a thing I'm doing with another faculty member.  (More on this at some point, maybe.)

Read for a paper I need to get back to work on.

I think I need a nap just thinking about all the stuff to do!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

No News that Isn't Bad

Politically, at least.

I was mildly chastised by a colleague at a meeting the other day for being too down on things.  A quite new tenure-track colleague had asked how worried s/he should be, and I said that given the situation of the proposed budget cut, the tuition freeze, and previous tax cut which brought us to the current massive deficit, and the requirement that the state budget be balanced, the only ways things can really change are:

1.  Reduce the proposed budget cut to the university, and instead cut other social or health services even more than they're already proposing to cut them.

2.  Raise taxes.


And since I don't see the republican majorities in our legislature deciding to raise taxes, I think we're going to experience very bad cuts.  Various legislators have publicly said that they value the university system and don't want to cut it as much as is proposed, but unless they collectively decide to raise taxes, there's no way out of the cuts that I can see.  (They ARE proposing to raise fees for camping and such, which is regressive, rather than raising income taxes in a progressive way.  So I'll pay more to go camping, and rich folks won't pay more to go to their vacation homes.)


On the other hand, it's feeling very much like spring here, and that helps in so many ways.  I've had this weird desire to go camping.  If it's a bit warm, I may put up my tent next week during break, in my back yard, and sleep out there just to do it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cousin

I talked last night to one of my cousins for the first time in, well, forever, for a talk like this.  I called him earlier in the week to ask his professional opinion, and he got back in touch.  (Imagine, for example, if you had someone who does something that's a local/regional thing, but knowing the thing in general means you know what questions someone should ask even in a different location.  Like that.)

I'd wanted to talk to him about what questions I should ask as I approach doing something new. 

In his approach, he reminded me of my Dad, in the best way possible.  When I was a young adult, I worked at times for the family company filling in when the receptionist was on vacation and such, so I got a chance to see my Dad at work, to see how he treated employees, people who were selling stuff to his company, and the people he was selling stuff to.  It confirmed for me the sort of person my Dad was: he was in a business where doing a good job for people and treating them well so that they wanted to do more business was key; giving people a good value, so that business deals were good for both parties, was how you stayed in that sort of business long term.  The same held for relationships with employees; treating people with respect and care meant the work got done well.  My Dad received several awards from the unions he dealt with for his work.)

And it made me remember my Dad talking about having a conversation about his future with this cousin, when the cousin was starting to settle down after college, and how impressed my Dad was with this cousin of mine, and how my Dad had said he wished there were a way to bring him into the family business because he'd be very good at it.  (The family business model was less and less tenable from the early 80s on, but continued for family reasons another 15 years; my Dad had discouraged my brother from it, too.)  (My Dad was sexist enough that encouraging any of the women in the family didn't occur to him.  He was a man of his generation, though he tried not to be a jerk.  My cousin isn't of that generation at all.)

The thing is, even though I haven't talked to this cousin much, and don't think of him as someone I'm close to or know well, I just feel like I can call on my cousins for advice, and they'll be glad to hear from me, just as I feel like I'd be glad to talk to my cousins if they called me for professional advice, or if their kids did (which is probably more likely).  I have confidence in my cousins that way.

One of the things that's very different these days is that while our parents' generation was pretty big, so my generation has an abundance of cousins, our parents' generation had smaller families, and that's mostly continued, with some adults in each of those two generations not having children, so the next generation has way fewer cousins.  And the second cousins, whom its easy to imagine being close, considering how most of us cousins feel about each other, are mostly growing up much more separated geographically.  (I have a few second or third cousins I feel about pretty much as I do my first cousins, too.)


When I think about growing up in my extended family, when family gatherings often included my grandparents siblings and their families, I think about this one time when I was pretty little, and one of my relatives got arrested for possession.  And the immediate move was to call on an uncle who was a detective, and get his input into the situation.  Even though I was little, my sense was that Uncle Wally would know and share his input, and that no one in the family was really judgmental about the possession issue, but everyone was concerned about how to deal as best we could with the situation.  (I'm sure if the possessor relative had done something violent or that we perceived as hurtful, family members would have had a different reaction, but possession just didn't seem morally bad, even if illegal.)


I'm incredibly lucky to have grown up with my cousins, but sometimes I wish I were close enough to have a deeper relationship with them more easily.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Colleagues

We're in a rough spot up here in the Northwoods.  Let's just say the budget situation is less than ideal.

Yet pretty much every day, I'm reminded of what great colleagues I have here.  I was at a meeting yesterday.  We worked away, planned what we could despite budget concerns.  Someone had taken the lead on a course proposal, and did a great draft.  We refined it slightly, and passed it.  We know we need to work on our assessment protocols.  (There are two ways to look at this:  if we're not going to be here next year, why bother.  And on the off chance, let's be as compliant as possible, and maybe there will be pity.)  So someone else stepped up and offered to take the lead on revising those. 

(Around here, the assessment folks about three years ago said that we all needed X number of outcomes for each of our Y goals, with the idea that we'd do assessment every three years or so.  And then about a year ago, the assessment folks said, you're going to need to assess all outcomes every year, and suddenly what we need is not X outcomes, but X/3 outcomes, because otherwise it's just paperwork hell.  So we need to change that.  No doubt things will change again next year.  They always do.)

I got a lovely note from a colleague about how the work of a committee I chair has been helpful to him/her in this time of stress.

There's talk of possible early retirement incentives for some folks.  Supposedly, right now, the talk is that people over a certain age will be offered a chance to apply for early retirement with a bonus of 50% of a year's salary if they get it and take retirement by a date in summer.  The incentive means that if you're thinking of leaving anyway, a bonus to leave is good.  You can get a lower retirement here and get a different job.  Similarly, if you're on the verge of retiring anyway, you might take the bonus. 

I was talking with a colleague who's close to retirement in age (that is, nearing full Social Security and pension stuffs), and thinking about it, but is worried that even with the incentive, s/he can't quite afford to retire yet.  That's sad.  We'll lose a lot of institutional knowledge when these folks leave.

On the other hand, it's way, way better for someone to get an incentive and retire early rather than for us to lay off young faculty folks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Discombobulated

Daylight Savings + a cold that means I don't sleep well.  At about 1:15 this morning, my cold went from my head to my lungs, and I started coughing a lot, enough to wake me up.  So I took some cough medicine, and went back to bed, but didn't sleep for a while.  And then the alarm went off.

As someone who watches bike races, I've learned that riders improve over long distances as they get older, into their late 20s, and then can stay quite good at those distances into their mid to late 30s.  But they may lose some sprinting speed in that time.  And they may get better at mountains.  It's like they develop a different sort of stamina.

I bring this up because even with almost no sleep, I got up when the alarm went off, got to school, met with a student, held class, wrote an exam, and so forth, pretty much as usual except that I didn't feel great.  It's like I have that sort of longer stamina.  When I was younger, I could pull an all nighter, and felt like I was effective until late.  But then I was crap the next day.  Now, if I'm up all night, I can carry on the next day pretty well, better than I used to.  I still feel lousy, but I can do what needs to be done.

At any rate, it's supposed to hit the 50s today in the Northwoods, so I hope I get outside a bit.  If nothing else, that will make me feel better!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Substituting, or, Still, the Students

When someone in my department is going to be away, especially if they know ahead, we often try to make plans for someone else to teach their class(es).  If you're suddenly sick, it doesn't work, but if you get diagnosed with, say, flu on Wednesday, then you know you're likely to be out on Monday and Tuesday at least, so you'd try to get some coverage. 

This works best with writing courses because of the way they're set up.  It works okay with lower level lit courses, often enough.

What the sick (or going to be absent) person does is either send an email to the chair or the department list asking for coverage, and giving specific information.  The chair may handle coordinating things if they ask.

So, this week, a colleague needed coverage and the call went out, and I waited part of a day, and then responded, and said I could take one of the classes.  At which point I was added to the emails about who was covering what, and what information we'd need, and so forth.

I'm sort of ashamed every time this sort of thing happens, because by and large, the people who respond with offers to help are our non-tenure track folks, who are teaching 15 hours a semester, and yet somehow find the energy to offer an extra hour or two to help someone else.

There are a few tenured or tenure track colleagues who regularly offer, too, especially one male, who's very helpful in these situations.  Otherwise, mostly women, mostly non-tenured/tenure-track.


So, today I substituted for a first year writing class.  You know all the stereotypes of subbing, and the horrid ways that subs are treated.  Let me tell you what happened in this class.

My colleague had given me information about what they did last, and instructions that they were going to spend their hour working on drafts, and consulting with each other as they found that helpful. 

I went in, made sure I was in the right place, and checked in with them about what they'd done, and yes, she'd talked to them, and then reminded them about what they'd need for the next class meeting.

And then I set them to work.  And they worked.  Some worked on a computer screen with white and text (that is, not a game or anything), some worked on paper.  Some would stop and consult with the student next to them quietly on occasion.  And then they worked some more.  More than a few consulted the text(s) they're using as they worked.

At the 45 minute mark (out of a 50 minute class), they started getting a little wriggly, so I reminded them again about the next meeting, and thanked them.  And they all thanked me and said good bye, or wished me a good afternoon, and packed up and left.

I think my colleague has really pulled this group into something special.  They were just there, doing what was expected.  Now sure, we have generally good students, but the way these students worked and handled things tells me that something good is happening in the course.


On my way back to my office, I got in an elevator with a student who was also going to my floor, and she said that she was a little scared because she was on her way to go see her writing professor for help with a paper, and she'd never done it before, and she was a bit lost, and scared to ask for help.  So I assured her that she was doing exactly the right thing and it would be fine.  And the elevator door opened, and off she went, so I hope it really was a good consultation for her.  But I couldn't help thinking how lovely it was that she was willing to confess to a perfect stranger that she was a little scared.  I think there's something lovely about a young person being willing to be not-jaded, if that makes sense.

Despite all the craziness, our students really are good people who deserve to have good educational opportunities, far better than they often get, and certainly better than they're likely to get around here in the near future.

I'm Officially an Old Grump

I was having a doorway conversation with a colleague the other day, and s/he was talking about going to a pop culture conference.  So I politely asked about their paper, and s/he said it was on [a TV show about a sort of magical person who sounds like, but isn't Buffy, but you get the idea].  And after listening politely about the wonders of the TV show (but, weirdly, the person didn't really say anything about their paper), I said that I really didn't get the fascination with TV shows about a sort of magical person (and there are a number of them, and have been since Kung Fu at least, and maybe before).  (And yes, I know Doctor Who has that same basic plot, and when I think about it, it frustrates me, too.)

And s/he said that was okay, because there is something for everyone on TV!

And I was sort of taken aback and asked, "really?" because I haven't seen a show on USian TV in a long time that I really found compelling or wanted to watch (rather than having on in the background or something).

I just don't think much commercial TV is made for my demographic.  I'm okay with that, but let's not lie and pretend that there's something for everyone just because a 20 something likes it.  (I felt more connected to TV shows when I was a 20 something, but the last time I felt that connection was with West Wing or Northern Exposure, I think, both when I was in my 30s.)

So, yes, I've aged out of the TV sales demographic, mostly (except, maybe, for daytime TV, but since I'm work under the conditions I do, I'm not their demographic either).

I'm not (and wasn't) saying that TV stuff isn't worth studying, just that I don't get it.  And I totally understand when people don't find Shakespeare compelling, though I try to teach those in my courses to read him well and carefully even so.


Part of what bothers me about this particular show is that it just assumes a vague Christian framework for understanding the world, but the Christian assumptions are totally unquestioned, and sloppy Christian thinking, too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Searching Databases

As part of the budget crisis response, our library is trying to figure out if they can drop some of the search in databases they subscribe to, especially the ones used by relatively few people, and ones that are covered by other databases.

So they sent a question to us about the MLA database, and we talked about it at our meeting.  And two of us, two out of 25 or so at the meeting, said that we think MLA is important.

Good old boy said that he hadn't used a database in years, so he didn't much care.  (And I was in shock the rest of the afternoon.  How do you teach students to find critical or theoretical work without using some database?  Even if you never look up stuff to read for yourself, or try to keep up even a bit in your field.)

But still, only two of us spoke to using MLA at all.

I'm pretty sure EEBO is going away for us.  And there's talk of the on-line OED going away, too. 

Of course, I realize that people being fired is way, way more important than not subscribing to a database.  But as I think about trying to teach or research without access to recent work, I'm pretty much ... I don't even have words, because I'm at such a loss.