Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Into the Abyss

 As I mentioned last time, our office staff person has left.  So we're working on hiring someone new.  And that involves paperwork.  Except, of course, nothing's actually ON paper.  What do we call it now?

We have permission to go back to the old search and call the next person down the list.  And between the folks on the search, we've dug out our notes and have the next folks' names.  What I don't have is their phone numbers.  So, I thought, I'll go into the computer documents about the last search and pick them up easily, and... I was wrong.

Between the time we did that search and now, the computer interface has been changed, so nothing I'm doing works to get me in.  At least nothing I can figure out.

I emailed the HR person who's mostly in charge of hiring stuffs, and who, I assume, is super busy.  Then I called the Question Center to get help from them.  That's our centralized "one stop shopping" administrative unit that's supposed to be able to help us with all sorts of administrative stuff.  No answer.  

I tried calling the administrative staff person at the Dean's office, who I thought might know.  No answer.

Then I got an email from the Question Center asking what my question was, sorry to miss my call, etc.  So I emailed them, and the response was to send another email to the HR person I'd already emailed.

I decided to work on other stuff.  And after a while, I got a call from one of the staff people at the Dean's office, to try to help.  But they didn't know.  So they asked the Dean, who, it sounds like, basically threw up his hands and said he always has to ask for help to get into the hiring system.  So then she called the Deanling, and we talked across phone lines, and decided to do an internet call.  

We did the internet call, and the Deanling realized that the directions page he was going to point me to (which I'd used already) didn't work any better for him than for me.  So HE put in a call to the HR person.

And now the HR person sent me new instructions, so I can get into the system.  But I can't seem to find my search in there.

I've now spent two or more hours on just this problem, and I've got 6 other problems to try to take care of, or tasks to do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

So Much Has Happened...

 since I last posted.

We made it through finals.  One of my students says they're going to go through the process to grieve their grade.  I think the grade I put in is the grade they earned.  

Most of the other students did pretty darned well.  In their final reflection, a number talked about working harder on my class than on other classes, and learning really valuable skills about critical reading and research.  So that was good.

The person I talked about hiring here and here has quit for another job.  I don't know whether this has to do with me being a poor manager and not doing a good job bringing the person on board, or the person being a job-hopper, or what.  

But it means trying to hire again for that position, which is a huge additional task.

In the meantime, Covid continues apace and more.  The Northwoods' hospital is supposedly overbooked and in difficulty.  And the numbers of people who just won't wear masks is frustrating.

And the numbers of people who insisted on traveling or getting together with large groups for Thanksgiving and Christmas is even more frustrating.  I GET that it's hard.  Really.  But if we can all hold on for six months, things will get so much better, and fewer people will be sick, or die, or have long term problems.

Thanksgiving for me:  called with family, not zoom, but you get the idea.  That was nice.  A friend invited me to pick up a lovely dinner and bring it home.  So I did.  It was a lovely dinner.  And a bit lonely.

Christmas for me: called with family, not zoom, but you get the idea.  That was nice.  A friend invited me to pick up a lovely dinner and bring it home.  So I did.  I was a lovely dinner.  And a bit lonely.

I did a fair bit of Christmas prep for my Mom from afar: first, I sent a package with some things she needed and some reindeer antler hats for her and a friend.  Then I sent a package with a flannel Christmas tree thing, treats, and a note.  Then I sent another package with cute ornaments in various "people" shapes (elf, Santa, snowman, gingerbread man, etc) with pictures of family members in the face area (I got the ornaments, and family members sent me pictures, which a local place printed in the right size).  I think that was helpful for her.  I hope so.

Before Christmas, I started taking a walk about once a week with the dinner friend's six year old kid.  We walk to a local coffee shop, get hot cocoa or cider, and then walk to the park area where there are big rocks and such to play on, and play with our imaginations for a while, drink our drinks, and walk back.  It's little enough to do to give a friend a break from homeschooling and such.

About two weeks before Christmas, I got one of the ornament things, and asked the kid if they wanted to give his parents a present.  They did, of course.  They're at that age when giving a present is important, too.  So we took a picture, and I said I'd get it printed and put it in the package.  And then they drew a picture to go with it.

And then the next time we went to get cider, I gave them the wrapped package and they put it under their tree.  They were excited.

On Christmas Eve, my friend called to tell me that the first thing when they were going to open presents under the tree, the kid had wanted them to open their present, and was so proud of it.  And, of course, my friends loved it, too.

I got the kid some legos, and arranged with their Mom to do a scavenger hunt.  So I wrapped five gifts with clues and put a little sticker on each about where it should be hidden (so they'd be in the right order), and the kid got to do a scavenger hunt for their present on Christmas, which I'm told they enjoyed a lot.  (I'd left the gifts wrapped in the back of my car while we went on our walk for cider, and their Mom took them out and took care of the rest.)  The Mom really wanted to make this a good Christmas for the kid, even though they wouldn't be with family, and I think this added a little.

So now, things to do:

Hire a new person.

Year Evaluations for everyone but me (the Dean does mine)

Assessment stuffs, both our programs and the GE program

Scheduling stuffs (I need to schedule our non tenure track folks for fall)

Budget work

Prep my spring course and get it all on line and ready, as much as possible.  My spring course is too big to fit all together in a room, so I have to do what they consider a "hi-flex" thing: one third of the students in class each day, the rest on line.  What a flustercluck!

Evals for our non tenure track folks with our writing program and personnel committee chair.

Write letters for two tenure track folks' reappointment.

Work on a scholarship thing.  This is actually the BEST news lately.  A generous donor asked us what we'd do with a couple thousand dollars, and we said we'd love to give scholarships to a cohort of underrepresented students entering, thinking of English majors/minors.  And now we have to find students!  But it's all very late in the game, so...

And yet.... I feel absolutely no energy to do this stuff.  I really need to just power through.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020


 I got copied on some emails today sent out by an administrative aide telling colleagues in my department that they need to do X before the year is out or else.

I get these sorts of emails fairly often.  We're supposed to do time sheets, pretty much like any other job, saying when we took sick leave and such.  But some people don't do them or skip some, or whatever, and so I got a bunch of copied emails telling people to get caught up or else.

I can sure understand missing a month.  It happens.  But not doing them for an entire year?  That's not just a mistake.  That's on purpose.

And we have a departmental email that goes out at the beginning of the month as a reminder, and then a week later as another reminder.  

This time, it was trying to get people caught up on "training" stuffs we're all supposed to do before the beginning of the academic year.  There's one on email and other security, and one on not sexually harassing students, and so forth.  Yes, they're useless.  And yes, someone is making way too much money supplying these mandated training things to large employers.  For each, it's about 90 minutes of stupid irritation.

But just do it and it's done.  (I did three for the coming year over Thanksgiving break.  Two one day, and one the next, and now I'm done for the year.  Yay me.)

I'm sure pretty much every largish employer or government agency has these for employees to do.  And mostly, I'm sympathetic to the goal: don't think you're going to get millions of dollars if you send your bank info to that Nigerian prince.  And don't sexually harass people.  And try to treat people with respect and decency.  All of those are worthy things, even if the training module thingies are dreadful. 

What I've decided to do is send one follow up email about whatever, reminding the person of the consequences (you lose some benefit that's nice, usually).

Today, I got a polite email back, thanking me for the nudge.  Okay.  Nice.  At least it was nice.  But seriously, I shouldn't have to nudge someone who's been here for nearly 10 or more years.

I think the biggest shock for me as chair is the constant reminder that my fellow faculty members haven't bothered to "read the syllabus" or "do the reading" or "do the homework" or whatever that we all complain that students don't do.  

And for exactly the same reasons: we're overwhelmed, and the things we're supposed to do don't seem as important as other things, and so on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Advising Woes

 Like many other campuses, NWU has moved to a system of centralized advising, with students having faculty advisors assigned rather late in the game, and not having any perceived "need" to contact the faculty advisor.  All their registration codes come through the central system advisors.  And those advisors are really pushed to get students through in four years and to keep them as happy as possible in that customer service sort of way.

But they seem really easily riled.  Mostly, this seems to come from a lack of understanding about how departments work.  And, no doubt, from pressures to keep students happy.

So, for example, there's a senior special basketweaving course that some majors absolutely need, about 26 a year.  Ideally, this would be taught with a max of 20 students per section.  And that's what we do.  But that means there are often sections with 12 to 15 students, and that feels like a problem in some ways.  First, it means we have an instructor teaching a small student contact hour load, and that feels unfair to the folks whose senior courses are packed full constantly, and who also teach bigger lower division courses.  And it means that the faculty member can't teach a bigger lower division general education type course.  And the administration wants us to offer lots of those.

So, we've talked about whether we can move to teaching the special course once a year, only in, say, fall.  But for next year, the plan is to teach it both semesters.

But holy cow, the central advising folks had a massive panic and were trying to get permission for students who aren't ready for it to take it this spring, because they can't possibly graduate without it and blah blah.  I think I've written them three or four emails trying to calm them down, and they seem calmed now.  But they needn't have gotten panicked anyway.

My best solution would be to teach it three of four semesters, but I'm not sure that will happen.  If it does, then doing a good job advising students will be vital, and I'm not sure our advisors can handle the complexity.

Then there's also the patterned basketweaving major.  It's super popular, and students need to take five special courses in patterned basketweaving, starting with a second year course, two third year courses, and two fourth year courses.  But students can take two of these at the same time.  So, if they don't get into the second year course until their fourth year, they can take the other required basketweaving and general education courses, and then take two third year courses in one semester, or two fourth year courses in one semester.  

Almost all students who have to delay a bit still get through in four years.  

This situation is nothing new, of course.  We've never been able to offer so many patterned basketweaving courses that all students get to take them the first semester they want to.  

And in the old days, all the faculty advisors knew that, and advised students not to panic, and things worked out just fine.

Now, though, there's major panic over in the advising center, and they're upset because an instructor with a course for spring that already has a full waiting list suggested a student (who contacted him about the course) talk to their advisor.  What else should they have done?  (They're not a TT person, and so aren't expected to do advising, and so they don't know the advising stuff, quite naturally.)

And they're implying that the basketweaving department doesn't know what it's doing and is purposefully scheduling too few patterned basketweaving courses.

The thing is: NWU hired 30 plus advisors, and that means, say, we didn't hire 15 faculty members across the university.  Those 15 people could make a whole lot more classes happen, couldn't they?  (Even though I don't think there'd be another patterned basketweaving hire.)

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Feeling the No Power Position

 Let's imagine, for a moment, I've received a letter of complaint from some students about a colleague.  The students meet with me, and say that their instructor didn't give them a syllabus for the class until after the fourth week of classes, and they spent the first four weeks of classes doing "introductions" to "get to know each other."  

They also note that the instructor's a really nice person, very kind and supportive.

The instructor's supposed to be teaching reed management, but spends most every class session on reed dying, though the big project is on reed management, which (they say), they aren't spending much time on in class, even though it's a really complex subject.

That big project is coming due, and they've asked for help, but didn't get it.

They asked me specifically not to talk to the instructor until after the semester ends, and not to use their names.

And did I mention, the instructor's a full professor?

As a chair, and especially a new chair, I really don't know what to do.  I think an email to the Dean is in order.


Sunday, November 01, 2020


 As chair, I'm responsible for doing my own classroom visits (aka observations) of tenure track and newer adjunct instructors.  Because I was worried about being shut down, I worked pretty hard early on to visit the in person classes I could.  

And now I'm trying to do the last on line observation.  It's totally different, way harder, and more time consuming.

Typically, around here, when we do class visits, we have a chat with the instructor to learn about what they're doing in the class, what their goals for the class meeting are, what difficulties they're experiencing, what concerns they have.  We get a copy of the syllabus and any assignments that are relevant.  Then we visit the class for an hour or so. (If it's an hour and fifteen minutes, we probably visit the whole session.  If longer, we visit part.)  And then we meet again with the instructor to get their take on how things went and give feedback.  Then, in most cases, we write up a report and a copy gets put in a file and given to the instructor.

On line: I visit with the person, usually virtually.  Then I'm invited into the course management site.  And I start looking at the overall organization, which is what I'd get by looking at a syllabus for a few minutes, but usually it takes longer on line because it's been split up.  And then I start in on the material I've been asked to look at.  Except usually people teaching fully on line don't teach day by day, but organize by the week.  So I end up needing to look at a whole week of material.  And sometimes it's hard to know when a week is ending or not, especially with a longer work (such as a novel).

I use the Chico State Exemplary Online Instruction website and rubric (and have told the instructors ahead of time that I would be), because it gives me a foundation to work from.  It's super helpful.  (Thank you, Chico State!)  But it also takes a fair bit of time.


A couple of my colleagues now have covid, and I'm worried.  Before, a colleague was quarantining because a family member had it, but they're back now, and never caught it. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Little Stuff

 As instructors, we all have little stuff that needs to get done.  

We have monthly time sheets, which basically ask, did you take sick leave.  If not, you say no.  If you did, you put in the days you were out. It takes about 3 minutes once a month, and one of our administrative assistants sends out a reminder each month with directions how to do it.

And yet: this past week, I've gotten emails from the deanling letting me know that about a quarter of our folks were missing at least one, and of those, most were missing significant numbers.  Some people were missing the whole year's worth.  It's a little thing, right?  Except when we retire, unused sick leave gets converted into payments towards our group health insurance, and for me, at this point, having been here 20 years, I have about 5 years of insurance (unless I get sick and have to take sick leave now).  That means, for a lot of people, retiring before 65 is a real possibility.  And that's incredibly valuable!

So I sent out reminders with specific months that folks had to do.  And still, even now, some people haven't bothered.  (The notes I sent out specified that people would lose x hours of sick leave, because that's what the deanling told me.)

Another piddly thing: we're all supposed to turn in a syllabus for each course to be kept in an electronic file.  This way, if a student needs a copy of the syllabus for a transfer or something, the office staff can help them with that easily.  

So, the same admin assistant sends out requests.  And then reminders.  And at this point in the semester, they're sending individual requests to the people who haven't sent them yet.  

I don't get why.  Seriously, you hit "reply" and then "attach" and go through your computer files, attach the file, and hit send.  Two minutes?  And this is for things you're currently teaching, so you probably have the files somewhere pretty handy, right?

These piddly things come to me, as chair, to send reminders and such, or to try to add my urging to the admin assistant's.  For all the good it does.

And yes, the irony: faculty are FAR worse than students at turning things in, even when reminded repeatedly.  We don't, as it were, read the syllabus.

Except, like most students, most of us do the things we're supposed to do, if not immediately, after one reminder.  It's just the ones who don't cause extra work for other people, and the work adds up.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reviewing the Review

 This past week, our former chair, several high level administrators, and I had a meeting to review the department review that was done in 2019.  Usually, they said, the reviews of the reviews happen in summer, but as we all know, this summer was something else, and so, it was delayed.

The review was good, as was the initial review.  There are problems, but we all knew that, and we also know that we can't mint money, so we can't easily solve the problem.

Over-reliance on instructors with short term contracts.  They're great, but we're constantly juggling how we're going to pay them (we being the department during planning season), rather than them being paid through the base plan as tenure track folks and more permanent folks are.

We were advised to hire some people on more permanent contracts.  And, of course, we'd put in a request to do so last spring, and the administrators didn't give us the go ahead, because they had a massive budget shortage looming, of course.  So then they said, well, it's a good idea to hire people on more permanent contracts.  And we agreed.  And nothing is likely to come of it because the state is in more and more dire circumstances.

And even when things ease up, we'll never get back to where we once were.  Or we won't unless the voters decide that they really do want to fund public education in a more meaningful way again.  And I hope they do, and I think they should start with K-12 schools first.

And thus, we all performed our little performance for each other, yes, these things would be good, and maybe someday.  But today is not the day.  Nor is next year, in all likelihood.  Nor the year after.  And in the long run, we're all dead.

I can't imagine how disheartening it must be for the administrators at the meeting to have these meetings with chairs of recently reviewed departments, and to know they're just performing, and that they'll never have the money to throw at the problems in a meaningful way.

Our former chair asked a GREAT question during the meeting: What are [the highest administrator's] priorities for us?

Of course, our work had been focused through the last five year plan, but now there's a new one... and it's even more STEM focused than the last.  F the humanities, is the latest word.  But if we just find a way to be more STEM focused!

My favorite was from our Dean, the person most directly responsible for giving us, or denying us, permission to do searches and make hires: catch up on hiring people.  Well... yes... but...


It's been over a month since I posted.  So much keeps happening, and there's constantly something new to learn.

Next up: I have to cobble together the plan for how we're going to pay our short term contract people next year.  That should be fun.  Oh, so very much fun.  Except, yeah, not really.

Saturday, September 12, 2020


 I can't get the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" out of my head...

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
I'm not in a war zone, and not in nearly as much danger as your average roofer, I'm sure.  Still, I'm worried.
I did my first class observation as chair the other day.  The class was super, as I'd expected, but I couldn't help feeling a bit on edge.  As chair, I'm going to be doing a fair number of class observations this semester, most in person, sitting in an empty chair amongst the students, all of us masked, all of us socially distanced, and still.
The administrators tell us that the public health people assure them that the masks and social distance works really well to make the risk of transmission really low.  But sitting there for over an hour the other day, I was still worried.
I'd be a bit reassured, I supposed, if the administrators were making their presence on campus felt, walking between classes with folks.  But I see on effbee that some are working from home, and others are hunkered in their offices, staying far from the rest of us plebians.
Most of our students are being reasonably careful in classes, but what of the weekends?  The bars?  I doubt they're empty these days.
And the dorms are already a concern.
Several of my students have decided not to come to class, but to attend virtually, and since I organized my class so that they could do that, thinking that there'd be some quarantined at some point, it's fine by me.  I did a check in with the class on Friday, and most were feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and worried, pretty much like everyone I know.
I'm hearing from colleagues that they're hearing from students who want to attend virtually, too.  And some are able to accommodate that, and willing, and some aren't.
One colleague resents that students feel that they should get to stay safely at home when my colleague doesn't get to do that.  But officially, none of us is supposed to be so worried that we feel staying home is imperative.  

It feels like we instructors are caught in the middle between administrators tucked in their offices insisting that we all have to teach face to face, and students who don't want to be face to face, and the administrative pressure to help those students who are quarantined keep up, but not caring about the students who are anxious...


I went to a training session by our teaching center folks, the ones who act like they know so much more about teaching than anyone else, even though most of them have never stood in front of a real class to teach it.  Anyway, they said we could take attendance through our streaming system.  That sounded good.  But I couldn't find my notes, so I went to their site to try to find the ppt they'd used, which is supposed to be available.  (They're not.)  So I asked in a 9 am Q&A session.  And the person showed me.  So I went to do it, and it lists students by first name and then last name, and some with middle names.  Unlike EVERY other thing done by any large organization ever...  So I went back to the Q&A session, and the facilitator sounded like she'd never even thought of how to move from the list to the official attendance record.  So she decided to show me on her fake class of five... and started taking out the middle names, one at a time.  I stopped her and said she couldn't do that because it wasn't practical for a large class (where about 20% of my students show middle names).  And she was befuddled.  I wanted to say: put 150 students in there, and then come back to me and show me how to do this without a massive work around.

There's no way to do it without a massive work around, apparently.  So I suggested she needed to contact the provider and let them know this would be a good feature.  And she said no, she couldn't do that, that they weren't going to change things.  

But here's the thing: I bet thousands of instructors would find that useful across the country, and if the company doesn't get told, doesn't have customers INSISTING, then they're going blithely on with crap.


I dropped by some friends' house yesterday afternoon to drop some stuff off, and they invited me to dinner, so we had lovely hot soup in the back yard, socially distanced and all.  But it was chilly.  And soon it will be far to chilly for dinner outside to be pleasant.  I'm so going to miss that.


Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Weirdest Change So Far

 The weirdest thing about being chair so far is that people seem to think I know stuff.  Not special, secret information, but stuff no one would have asked me about six months ago.

I've had a long conversation about balancing demands on a colleague's time.  Six months ago, I pretty much knew what I know now, but no one would have bothered to ask me.

And then there was a conversation about how to deal with a split class (we have to put fewer students in a room, due to social distancing, so classes with say, 30 students, meeting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, might have to be split into three groups, one meeting Monday, one Wednesday, and one Friday.  I've thought a lot about how to do this during the summer, but I assume everyone around here has.  I don't have any brilliant insight, but I still got asked.


I had a problem doing the split class thing myself, it just became physically impossible to do because of an accommodation a student needed.  So I asked another chair, and was told that since there are a lot of classes on line now, there are sometimes extra larger rooms, so we might be able to move to a larger room at the same time and not have to do a split class.

I emailed the staff person in charge of that, who is an absolute gem of a staff person, and they said, yes, and were able to change my room.  Then I asked about our first year writing courses, a couple of which were scheduled on a split option.  And they fixed those (I gave the instructor a choice).  Then I asked about lower division courses, and a few could be changed, so I asked the instructors, and most said yes with great enthusiasm.  And then we moved to other upper division courses, and so far, a couple good options.  Overall, I'd say we went from having all but one (non-first year writing) course split, to having about 8 not split, so maybe one fifth?  That's a pretty good change.

The semester begins next week.