Monday, September 30, 2013

We Are Where We Are

The market's heating up, or, more truthfully, getting ever so mildly warm.

Last year, since I was on a search, I was thinking a lot about search stuffs, so I posted a lot about search issues.  If you're interested, I made a list of the job posts at the end of last year.

Earlier today, I was reading Pan Kisses Kafka (what a GREAT name, no?), talking about the difficulties of the job search in German, and especially about the problems of searches in specific areas (the South, rural communities, communities far away from support networks).

I'm mostly sympathetic to Rebecca Schuman, the blogger who writes Pan Kisses Kafka. 

The market is horrible in good part because taxpayers have decided that public education is not a public good, but a private one, and thus that students should pay for their private good with their own money.  That's been happening for a long time.  Public colleges and universities have responded by raising tuition and using more and more contingent labor to save labor costs.  (I think private colleges and universities are responding to somewhat different stresses.)  Let's stipulate that the market is horrible, and that PhD producing institutions are producing a lot more PhDs than academic markets can employ.

But I'm also, well, a tiny bit unsympathetic, I suppose.  (Maybe because I'm part of the "internet full of morons.")  And I write this as someone who's on the other side of the job market now, but who spent three tough years on the market, who moved to a very rural area, and who moved to a less rural area, both far from anyone I knew.

First, even in the best of times, labor often has to go where there are jobs (that's true in socialist economies, too; can't blame capitalism as much as I'd like to).  Even in the best of times, some of the jobs PhDs got were in rural areas and in areas far from established support networks, great libraries, and so on.

So, if you look at a job we're advertising, don't blame us for advertising a job up in the Northwoods, where it gets very cold, in an area where there aren't great libraries, and where culture sometimes seems to involve watching football in an icehouse.  It's where we are because it's where our students are.

You may decide not to apply here, and that's okay.  Decide what's best for you.  But don't be mad at us because this is the job we have available, and it's not geographically inviting to you.

Second, I'm suspicious of blanket statements about how "fit" guarantees that everyone hired will look just like the people already there.  For one thing, there may be a lot more diversity already there than you realize, because that horrible job market for the past 20+ years means that there are a lot of people who've moved all over for academic jobs for a good long time.   In my experience, here, at my previous school, and when I interact with people at other schools in my system and beyond, there's a whole lot of variation in how departments/schools approach hiring.  In some, yes, there are a lot of people who look like younger versions of the old pictures on the wall.  In others, there aren't.

Anyway, good luck to all who are on the market.  Know that you may be fantastic and wonderful, but that there aren't enough jobs in academia for all the fantastic and wonderful PhDs.  It's horrible.  I don't know how to change it, though, short of convincing taxpayers to consider public education a public good, and, at the same time, convincing PhD programs to produce fewer PhDs (without limiting opportunities for people who aren't already privileged by race or social class).

Friday, September 27, 2013

Out of Touch

I got an email the other day from a friend of mine who's moved into administration, and moved a couple schools away now.  This friend and her partner (who is retired) are planning to go on a cruise during Thanksgiving week of next year (so planning way ahead) and have sent information to a number of friends, encouraging us to sign up for the cruise, too, because it would be way more fun to have a bunch of friends on the cruise.

It would be more fun, of course.

I emailed my regrets, because there's that whole teaching thing that means that some of us can't just take off for 8 days in the middle of the semester.  And my friend emailed back that she'd hoped I could make arrangements since there's so much lead time.

It strikes me that my friend's sort of forgotten what faculty life is like, eh?  I mean, yes, I have a lot more flexibility to travel in summer, but pretty much none during the semester.  She has much more flexibility in terms of when during the school year, so long as she can make arrangements ahead.

And then I wondered how the deanling here with my friend's same basic job would feel about faculty deciding to take off during the middle of the semester and make other arrangements.  How about if we all did it!  (The deanling below about my friend's current level is the deanling who sends us emails about not canceling classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, with admonishments that we have to be there, but should be forgiving of students who aren't.)

And then I wondered if maybe people really can do that?  I mean, I can see how you might be able to pull it off if you teach two classes a semester, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and you decide to cancel the one Tuesday class, which pretty much gives you a week plus a day on either end, and voila, you're there?

But someone who teaches an 11 credit load?  Four days a week?  That seems like a lot of canceling classes, doesn't it?

(My friend taught and administered here for a bit, so knows our load.)

I know of a faculty member who makes other arrangements (has his students do on-line stuff) so that he can go to the first day of hunting season every year.  But he doesn't do it for the whole week, I don't think.

(To be honest, I don't think cruise ship stuff is much for me.  I did go on a cruise once, on a 41 foot boat with three crew and four passengers, for five days in the Galapagos, but that seems like a world of difference from this sort of trip.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Critical Mass

This year, something's changed about my department.  It's not a bad change, just a change.  At least it feels like a change to me.

Suddenly, I find myself being one of the faculty who's been around a long time.  And there's this group of faculty who seem very young.

We hired a few new people this past year, and I think they've made a critical mass with the people who've been here two or three years, and to me it feels like there's much more of a community of young faculty, and I'm definitely not part of it.  That's okay, just a bit weird.

I think one of the things that makes it weirder is that we mostly use some of the same social media, so I see posts about their trivia nights at the bar and so on.

But, of course, I'm one of the older folks, so I'm not very savvy about this newfangled internet stuff.

The good thing is that when I was hired here, I know the senior colleagues at the time looked at my cohort and thought how young we were.  And they were gracious about that, and welcomed us as members of the department, listened to our contributions in meetings, and so on.  They were a good model for me, I think.

Still, it's weird.  And I'm amused that I find it weird.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Cake!

One of my student bakers actually took a picture and sent it to me, along with permission to post it.

So here, with permission, is evidence that my students are way cooler than yours!

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's the Northwoods

In one of my classes, we've read Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" and a chapter from bell hooks Yearning on quilting in African American women's lives, especially about her grandmother.  We've also looked at a couple picture books and websites focused on the African American women's quilting community surrounding Gee's Bend, Alabama.

And today, two of my students brought in the most amazing crazy quilt cake.  They must have spent hours baking, cutting the baked cakes into "pieces" for the crazy quilt part, and then putting frosting between.  It was amazing and creative and oh so cool.

They didn't bring any way to cut the cake, though, or napkins.  So I sent a classmate down to the Social Forestry department on the same floor as our class, where the admin assistants are super nice, and told her to ask if she could borrow a knife for me.

And a few minutes later, she came back carrying a 10 inch knife that looked like Crocodile Dundee might pull it out as an extra.

Can you imagine in some places, a department member lending some random student a huge knife, and that student walking down the hall without raising even an eyebrow?

There are good things here, for sure!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Filling Time

I sometimes feel that if I had one less big thing on my plate, I'd do everything a whole lot better.  I feel that this semester in a big way.

I'm somewhere between just about caught up on everything and devastatingly behind.  And right there in the middle is I want a nap.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Again with the "Kids These Days" Things

I've seen this article a couple times in my eff bee feed.  It's "Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy," and basically sets up an argument (that's generous, perhaps) that back in the good old days, young adults worked really hard and were very serious, and then finally they made good, and their grass was green (seriously, it's like a lawn care metaphor).  But kids these days, the "Generation Y Yuppies" the article calls them, are unhappy because they think they're special, and they aren't willing to work hard, and they look around and think everyone else has longer, greener grass with flowers and unicorns and such.

It does this narrative about a character called "Lucy," apparently a middle or upper middle class woman.  (I think the character is female for a reason, which I'll get to.)  Her parents, the narrative says,
were born in the '50s -- they're Baby Boomers. They were raised by Lucy's grandparents, members of the G.I. Generation, or "the Greatest Generation," who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II
And then it goes on to tell us that,
They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they'd need to put in years of hard work to make it happen.
And fortunately, so the narrative says "after graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy's parents embarked on their careers."

Even putting aside the "everyone's white and middle or upper middle class" sort of narrative, this bit took me by surprise because I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and by the time I could read, watch the news and TV, and listen to the older generation, I heard a whole lot of complaining about how the boomer generation were lazy no-good, spoiled, unwilling to work, entitled, privileged, and you can add your own adjectives.  I heard it for years.  It wasn't the sort of narrative I heard once and then everyone thought it went away.

If this narrative thinks that generation "graduated from being insufferable hippies," it should also recognize that young folks these days will likely "graduate" from their self-involvement, also known as "being young adults in relatively well-off circumstances," and turn into adults who muddle through being happy and unhappy just like their parents and grandparents.

So let's think back.  And let's start with the idealized WWII generation, post war, raising kids.  You remember them, the generation where white women were lamented for taking tons and tons of tranquilizers and anti-depressants, where books like Valley of the Dolls satirized middle class white women's lives, and The Stepford Wives expressed fears of patriarchal control of women?  Happy times, right?

And remember those same women looking around and holding consciousness raising sessions because they were so damned unhappy with their middle-class white lives?  Of course they were mocked by the patriarchal media, but they were out there.

What this narrative's Lucy needs, I'd say, is some time (which she'll get if she's lucky).  In all likelihood, she and her generation will grow up, be more or less happy, more or less unhappy, and then at some point, write narratives about how their generation went through a short, rocky period, and the current generation of young people are lazy no-good, spoiled, unwilling to work, entitled, privileged, and you can add your own adjectives.

For better or worse, I probably won't be around to be irritated by that particular iteration.

And really, really, I'd like to see someone in the mainstream press think about narratives that aren't about middle and upper middle class white folks.  I bet that narrative about the wonderfulness of the 50s would change a heck of a lot when told by African Americans or Asian Americans. 

For what it's worth, my observations of my students lead me to believe: this generation is tied to their phones in much the same way teens were tied to phones in 50s and 60s TV shows, except they can carry their phones with them.  This generation has people who are hard working and who are lazy, and a lot do both at times.  It has people who are entitled, and people who are humble, people who are self-involved, and people who are actively committed to stuff, people who are apathetic, and people who are on fire to do something important.  Same as the old days.

Monday, September 16, 2013


I'm a bit amused that a couple colleagues who've had course release for various administrative stuffs are complaining about how hard it is to teach a full load.  And thus, they shouldn't be expected to take on certain service tasks until they readjust.

The thing is, with these administrative stuffs (not necessarily all, but these specific ones), there's a steep learning curve, so that really, the first year, the faculty member absolutely needs serious course release.  But by, say, year three or four, there's not a steep learning curve, so certain people have been able to direct their energies where they want.

And then, suddenly, they have to direct their energies where the rest of us have been.  (Yes, the learning curve eases a lot after, say, your second or third year of teaching.  But if you're doing a good job, there's still a heck of a lot of work involved.  So say I, teaching basically three new courses this year.)

(I have a couple other colleagues whose work is probably easier now that they don't have the administrative duties for which they got course release, too.)

Friday, September 13, 2013


Some students put up an effbee page about what we NWU instructors talk about.

And naturally, some NWU instructor found out, and posted on effbee about the page.  So all the friends of that NWU instructor have looked at the page.

And one of those folks submitted to the page that s/he longs to be quoted on the page.

I'm more than willing to guess that more than a few students know that the NWU instructors are chatting about the page on effbee, as well, and teasing each other about who's been quoted and what they've said.

What happens on effbee stays NOT on effbee.

(And yes, I'm already quoted.  I'm both weirdly happy and amused, and horrified.  There you go.  My sense of being a bit daring is overwhelmed by feeling that with all of us saying stuff, everything is just mundane.)

(I have a feeling this is probably something that gets action for the first two or three weeks of a semester, and then dies down until the next semester.)

ADDED:  And now, on the faculty page post, we have a comment assuring us that zie isn't worried, and another saying that zie doesn't find these that amusing.  Apparently, those of us in touch with our inner 12 year olds (and that's the level we're talking, as you can imagine) were thinking that this page was going to have a far more lasting impact than that video of the dog riding the roomba thingy. 

Making Sausage

This thing I'm doing, it feels sort of like people in the past were making sausage, and not well.  As in, I'm surprised no one got food poisoning from the sausage.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Bit of Frustration

I put in my SAA (that's the Shakespeare Association of America) registration choices today.  There were one or two things where I thought, okay, I could make that work.  And then, not so much.

But I chose two more.

This sometimes happens, and then I get the third or fourth choice, and by the time I get it, I'm buried in the semester, teaching my 11 credits, and digging through committee stuff.  So sometimes, all too often, I pull out of the seminar because I just don't have it in me to do the paper.

I wish they'd let me just put in for two seminars, and if I don't get those, I just know I'm not going.  Maybe for people who aren't overwhelmed by teaching, or who have better research facilities, or who have more self-discipline, this system works.  It worked better for me when I was finishing my dissertation.

But now, not so much.

On the other hand, my classes seem to be going well, and it's now the end of the second week, almost.  I've been feeling like I'm getting good work done pretty much every day this semester, so far, and not feeling hugely frustrated by committee stuff (there's plenty of it, but it isn't as frustrating right now as it was last year).

I've already graded small assignments for every course, so I feel as if I'm getting to know the students a bit.

And I'm so happy to be teaching all literature type stuff this semester!  This week:  Lanval, "Everyday Use," Book I of The Faerie Queene (well, the first few stanzas, so far), and The Shoemaker's Holiday.  Good stuff!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Textual Arts

And, the text of the day is?

(This is, perhaps, more loosely tied to the text than my usual complete accuracy.)

Multiple Majors?

I talk to students and advisees, and a surprising number of them seem to think that they should have more than one major and minor. 

I have one advisee who has an English major, a science major, and arts minor, and a second humanities minor.  There's not much overlap, so that's 120 credits without any other requirements (and there are others beyond majors/minors). 

Most of these students are worried about getting a job someday, and they're trying to do that something extra that will help them feel like they're going to succeed and it will all be okay.  I'm sympathetic to that.  It's terrifying to look at our economy and think about looking for work.

On the other hand, I'm just not at all sure that an extra major or minor convinces employers that this applicant is the one.

Has anyone seen evidence that having multiple majors/minors helps job seekers?

There are also those who do a major in something they don't really like, but think will land them a job, and another major in something they really like, but don't think will land them a job.  I worry about these folks.  First, if you don't like it, will you like your job enough to make it worth while getting up in the morning?  And second, if you really like, say, creative writing, do you have to declare a major in it, or could you just take some classes and enjoy those?

The Fort folks are worried about the time to degree for our students (we have a very low 4 year graduation rate, and a reasonably respectable 6 year graduation rate).  So would it make sense to limit students to one major and one minor?  Or maybe one major and two minors?  (They won't do that because it's much easier to beat up faculty about the graduation rates than to tell a student "no" to anything.)

What can public universities do to help their graduation rates?  Legislatures care about the graduation rates, so we have to care, but should we try to convince them otherwise?  Or are they right to care?

(Given that our students take out loans and often work a lot of hours, an extra year in school costs them a lot in the long run, even if it doesn't seem like a lot up front.)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Initiatives from Above

This past year, we got a bunch of initiatives from the Fort.  One of them is that every student on campus is supposed to fill in a special degree plan form on the campus computer system.  Guess whose fault it will be if someone doesn't fill it out?

I have nothing against students figuring out what they want to take to finish their degree.  I think it's a great idea, and I've been helping students do it for a good long time.  But I don't want to be treated like I'm lousy at my job because the student didn't fill in a form on a computer.

Another big initiative has to do with trying to get students to graduate more quickly.  We have a dismal 4 year graduation rate, right along with most other regional comprehensive public universities.  It is what it is.

So the Fort has sent over a command that all advisors are supposed to look at their advisees' credits, and do something to ensure that the advisees will graduate in a more timely manner.

I'm not sure what they want me to do, though.  Do they want me to email every advisee who's within a semester of graduating and tell them exactly what to take?  And threaten them with what if they don't? 

I'm not sure.  Some students who are close to graduating come in and chat, and we go over their planning carefully.  But students who have junior standing don't need to see an advisor at all, so they can change majors, add a second major, add a second minor, whatever, without an advisor's input or advise.

I have to go to a departmental function shortly.  I went out with friends last night, and I had the best time, and I'm thinking that's going to contrast hugely with how this evening's thing feels.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Defining Terms

As someone who changed fields in a pretty big way fairly late (after my bachelors), and who sometimes felt alienated because I didn't understand the "lingo" my peers in classes often took for granted, I try to be pretty careful to define even fairly basic terms in classes when I first use them.  Today, for example, I defined "rhyme."*  Yes, I'm pretty sure my students have heard the term before, but when I define it, I get them to slow down and think about what it is.   And that means when we define "alliteration,"** it's not this weird repetition thing, but one of several different repetition things.

That's not to say I'm prefect, by any means, but I try to remember not to assume that everyone speaks "lit crit" or whatever.

In one of my classes, we're reading Bennett and Royle's Intro to Lit, Crit and Theory, which I chose because I read it as I was choosing books, and it seemed really good.  And I think it is.  But last night, reading the second chapter as I was prepping for today, I noticed that it used terms without defining them.  For many of these, there are definitions in a glossary in the back.

So students who are aware can look stuff up in the back, or look stuff up in a dictionary or wikipedia or whatever.

But while they define "poststructuralism," they never define "structuralism."  How are you supposed to understand the post part without the base part?

And they use "postmodern" but never define it, nor do they define "modern."  Do most early career college students feel comfortable with those terms?

They start the chapter with "Ozymandias" and call it a sonnet (and it's the first one in the book, I think), but "Ozymandias" (while lovely and wonderful in itself) doesn't do a lot of the basic sonnet stuff that most sonnets do.  It's like using "sit com" and using Southpark as your example.  It's a sitcom, but it challenges the typical form in all sorts of ways that make it hard to get a sense of the genre.

*  Rhyme is the repetition of sounds, usually end sounds, or end of a syllable sounds, often at the ends of word and lines.

**Alliteration is the repetition of sounds, especially consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words or stressed syllables.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

New Definitions

A good day this semester, I think, is a day when I cross more things off the to do list than I add.

A potentially bad day is when I add more things than I cross off.

I was pretty much busy from 7:30 to 6pm with stuff:  prep, committee work, three and a half hours of classes, a meeting, and advising a student.  I did have lunch for the better part of an hour, but other than that, there wasn't much down time.

And yet I added more to my to do list than I crossed off.  If I can get a couple things done this evening, I may bring the cross-offs up to the adds.  And yet, nothing horrible happened today.  There were minor problems, but nothing really bad.

I did find out, for example, that the edition I use has different pagination than the edition the rental system has.  But we were able to straighten that out in class.  (The same readings were there, just on different pages, in that anthology way.)  I couldn't get the campus advising program to work, but then when I asked for help, it was working fine.  And my advisee really needs to panic less and look up stuff more.  I hope she'll get there!

And now, to cross some stuff off the list if I can!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

86 and 116

Today, the first day of classes for me, I decided to try something.  I wore my heart monitor to class.

You should know, I'm one of those teachers who totally runs on adrenaline.  I feel like I'm just going all Robin Williams on the class.  I'm not quite, but you know, it feels pretty energetic.

My heart monitor is pretty basic, and keeps track of the high, average, time, time in zone (That's supposed to be the heart rate where you're getting the "best" exercise or something), and calories.

My average for the two hours of class was 86, and the high was 116.

I'm surprised it wasn't higher for both categories.  My resting heart rate at the blood donation center is usually in the high 60s or low 70s, and when I bike, I can get into the mid-170s when I'm really pushing up a steep hill (which I can't keep up for long, so I pretty much have to sit down and just try to keep pedaling squares).  Biking, I can average in the 150s for an hour or so and feel tired but not unable to continue.

There we are.  Apparently, I have a heart, which should be good news to my students, anyway.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Another Special Day for XKCD

If you don't read XKCD, you should.  Todays is beautiful and sad (that's a link to it).  (You should click on it, because then you get the cursor over thing, too.)  The title is "Bee Orchid."

According to wikipedia, though, there's still a bee that pollinates it in some areas of its range.  And it's hardy.  So maybe it isn't dying.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Common Nighthawk

Last night, I went out to play with the dog I'm dogsitting in the yard, and while I was waiting for the dog to figure out that I wasn't going to chase it to get the ball to throw again, I glanced and saw a bunch of birds swooping around over a neighbor's yard down the block.  Being me, I got all fascinated and went to get my binoculars, and then the camera.  The birds were fairly big, say Kestrel size, but with narrower, pointier wings, and a slight V to the tail in regular flight.  (It rounded when they turned, which they did a LOT!)

They were dark, but with a distinct stripy part on each wing, back to front, just past the mid-joint.

There were a fair number, at least 15, I think, flying and swooping like swallows almost.

After I had a pretty good handle on what they looked like, I got my birdbook and looked, and they were Common Nighthawks!  It was my first time seeing them, so I'm pretty excited.  (The pictures aren't great, but you can get a sense of their general shape and see the stripe.  The deep wingbeats are also, according to my Sibley's, an important thing to notice.)