Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Adios, Washoe

I just read that Washoe, the chimp who learned how to sign and taught several other chimps to sign, has died. You may recall that I went to see Washoe back in the summer of '06, when I was on my cross-country trip, and blogged about it.

I think we owe a lot to Washoe and her species in all sorts of ways that we're unlikely to repay adequately.

Where I lived in the Peace Corps, one never said "adios" unless it was pretty much the last time you expected to see someone. So, saying "adios" for me still has that finality to it, even though I'm a total athiest.

Adios, Washoe.

Pharyngula's Evolutionary Cyber-meme

I've been tagged by Harmonia's Necklace for the meme started by Pz Myers at Pharyngula to demonstrate evolution in cyberspace.

First, the rules:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question.
For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

So, without further ado:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Primate Diaries.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is a k8, a cat, a mission.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Monkeygirl.
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is DancingFish.
My great-great-great-grandparent is Dr. Brazen Hussy.
My great-great-grandparent is Addy
My great-grandparent is Mommy/Prof
My grandparent is Tree of Knowledge
My parent is Harmonia's Necklace

The best television series in SciFi is: Star Trek
The best cult movie in comedy is: The Princess Bride
The best comic novel in classic fiction is: Persuasion
The best high-fat food in vegetarian cooking is: Cheesecake!
The best recent movie in comedy is: Forty Year Old Virgin
The best fairy-tale film in fantasy is: The Princess Bride (can I answer that twice?)
The best historical fiction novel in young adult literature is:

[I bolded my changes. I don't know what happens that I couldn't answer one of the questions. I think my gills just fell off or something? It's extra embarrassing that I couldn't answer lit questions.]

I pass this along to Artemis, Midwife with a Knife, The Blog that Ate Manhattan, and anyone else who wants to get in on the action. Thus done, I've bred one heck of a lot more in cyberspace than in blood, bone, muscle, and guts! Thank not-god for birth control and good luck!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Time is Not on my Side

I checked my email between classes this morning to find that one of my three hours of meetings scheduled for the afternoon was cancelled.

This committee I'm on was facing a really difficult decision. We've had people from across campus come talk to us; we've received literally four inches of double-sided copies of letters and reports. I know I've read all the materials, taken notes, done some looking up of things to make connections. Other colleagues on the committee have spoken in ways that convince me they've equally prepared. We were supposed to meet today to act on the proposal.

There are probably 9 people on the committee; assume we each spent at least 5 hours reading the material and prepping, and another three hours in previous meetings together (including those where we listen to people). That's a lot of time and effort over the past weeks.

And the meeting's cancelled. Apparently Administrator_03 realized that s/he made a serious initial mistake in making the proposal and withdrew it, so the process is starting over, almost from the beginning. That puts the committee off the hook until some time next year, and probably puts me off the hook because I'll be in Asia. (I don't want to think about how many more trees will die for this process.)

But dang, the next time I hear an administrator talk about how much time faculty "waste" in governance, I'm going to have to bite my tongue to keep from talking about Administrator_03's poor management skills.

At any rate, the hour meant I got an extra half hour of grading AND got to have some lunch before the longer meeting of mind-numbing administrative BS.

I was almost totally caught up (as in done, with no grading to do) when I walked into my office on Monday morning. And now I have four stacks of things to grade. I already finished one small stack during the non-meeting.

And we have to do midterm grades for our first year students, and those have to be done by Friday, so I have to get their stacks done. And I have a stack for my once a week class (that came in today), that I try to get done by our meeting on Thursday. And the third class, well, they need to be done quickly, too! I suppose I should be grateful that we're expecting miserable weather so I won't be sad not to see the sun, eh?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Job Wikis?

Back when I was on the market, I sure didn't know anything about job wikis; I'm not sure they even existed. But they do now, right?

I know minimally about the academic job wiki linked by (organized by?) the Chronicle of Higher Education. But when I checked it out, it seemed to be missing some areas. Then I started looking for specific jobs I know about, and it seems pretty hit or miss.

Does the Chron set the listings up? Are they taken off Chron advertisements? Does that mean a job that just lists in MLA Job Information List wouldn't be on there? Or do people add stuff?

I feel sort of out of things, job searching-wise, since I don't work with PhD students who are looking, nor have I been looking myself in recent years.

I'm wondering how job seekers are using the wikis? Are they useful, or just added stress?

Do any job seekers JUST look at the wikis (rather than, say, the JIL)?

Are there other wiki type resources a job seeker should know? Or forums?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Befuddled than Usual

A student contacted me to make an appointment the other day. Nothing unusual there. But, this student wants to talk to me about a paper he's writing for another class, a lower level, introductory class. And the paper is on one of Donne's poems.

I'm not quite sure what's up. The student said he'd asked his prof if he could talk to me about the paper and gotten an okay. But why didn't he just talk to his prof about the paper? Or more to the point, why didn't the prof talk to him about the paper when the issue came up?

The prof teaching this class does contemporary stuff, but decided to teach Donne in there. So the text is a bit of a reach for the prof. I do the same thing when I teach contemporary short stories in my intro class. We all do for those classes that are supposed to introduce a really broad area, I think. Often, we'll wander over to a colleague's office to consult and share ideas, and it's really fun and helpful.

But I'm a bit befuddled that a student wants to talk to me about an assignment for another prof's class. It's not like this is an interview assignment; this seems to be more of an explication type assignment.

It just seems weird to me that the prof would send the student to me? Or that the student would decide out of the blue that he needs to talk to me without that prompting? (It's not a student I know from another class or anything.)

I'm not one of those charismatic people folks just want to talk to, either.

I suppose I'll get a bit more of a sense on Monday, eh?

Thinking about Grad School?

Here's a really good post from Sisyphus at Academic Cog about things you should think about if you're considering grad school, especially in the humanities. The responses are interesting, too.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Midway Through

This week marks the half point of the term, a time to finish up tasks and get ready for the tasks ahead, a time to rethink how things are going and make some changes.

I've been sort of fretting and putting off asking a friend a huge favor, keeping an eye on the homestead while I'm gone. But I need someone with common sense to handle things, just in case, and my friend has an abundance of good sense mixed with solid ethics and smarts. And, happily, also generosity. I shouldn't have fretted, because my friend was as she is, and will take care of things. It's a weight off my shoulders.

My writing class pleases me immensely these days. By and large, they have great personality and chemistry; they're engaged and interested, and most of them seem to care about their education. They don't seem much worried about being cool (in the detached, I just couldn't care less, don't hassle me sense), which of course makes them cool in the nerdy educational sense. I look forward to going to class with them, and that's not something I feel about writing classes every semester.

They're also making strides in their writing. Most have markedly improved in organizating their work and developing their points with good support. Most have improved in giving better feedback for their peers' writing.

I've had some really good office hours this past week. A student came in to talk over her application letter; I find it very rewarding when I can talk with a student about writing application letters and help them articulate how their education has prepared them for writing and giving presentations, for doing analysis, organizing and working with teams, and so forth. I feel that when I can get them to think about the skills they've developed and talk about those in their application letter, then they realize they aren't an English major, but an educated, skilled person with an English major. She said she'd run over to tell me if she gets the position.

One of my advisees came in to talk about changing majors. Sadly, that means she won't be my advisee anymore. Happily, it means we've done a really good job working together to plan her education, because she's well prepared to do the major she wants, has developed good organization and planning skills. And she promised to stop by and chat even though she won't be my advisee.

One of my students came in to talk to me about a course grade so far. It's one of those cases where a really good student is stressing. We worked through the math, and now he can put his energies to continuing the good class efforts and not to worrying. Sometimes meetings like that seem petty, and I wonder why the student--demonstrably capable intellectually--can't put things together for him/herself. But sometimes I realize that they're really important opportunities to tell a student that they're on a good path and give him/her some personal encouragement. We all need that, right? And when you're 18, away from home, engaging in a lot of growth, well, having an adult give you positive feedback might be just what you need at the midpoint of the term.

So at the midpoint, then, things are going pretty well. I'm in good grading shape, with a small set of things to grade over the weekend, and a reasonable load ahead. In the classes with new material, I've taught the bulk of the new material (new book and essay assignment in the writing class, new plays in my early modern class, new text in my grad class) and am looking forward to the projects we're working on next. I have some hours of prep this weekend for my library presentation, but that should be enjoyable, rewarding work. And I have a boatload of committee work to take care of, information to master to help make some important decisions.

And just maybe, if the weather's decent, my bike will take me out for some fun, too!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today, Then and Now

Today is Saint Crispin's day. Did you remember?

In Shakespeare's Henry V, on the eve of the great battle of Agincourt, Henry gives a great speech about how it's Saint Crispin's day, and how all his soldiers will be remembered, and how people will remember them on this day until the end of time. That I remember Saint Crispin's day has to do with what Shakespeare wrote, rather than anything Henry V didn't say at the time. (I have a feeling he didn't speak beautiful iambic pentameter. Was English his first language, or French?)

When I hear politicians today mention how certain things will never be forgotten, I think back to that day in 1415 and how little that huge battle means to most people today. But it meant enough to people of France and England that they were willing to die there, and hundreds did.

The English won that day at Agincourt, and the English and French eventually signed the Treaty of Troyes, acknowledging Henry V the heir to Charles VI.

But Charles outlived Henry, and Henry's son, Henry VI, couldn't maintain England's claim, and so never took the throne of France. (Joan of Arc for the win!) And today, of course, after a couple world wars, France and England are pretty solid allies within the European Union.

Were all those deaths at Agincourt back in 1415 worth it? I don't know. It's hard to think that many deaths in wars are really "worth it," whatever "it" turns out to be. It's really not fruitful to wonder what might have been, back in 1415, but to think on what might yet be, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Sprezzatura, for those of you not obsessed by early modern Europe, is a term that Baldassare Castiglione uses in his The Book of the Courtier to talk about the way a courtier should seek to make difficult things seem effortless and spontaneous.

For example, if you were an Elizabethan courtier, you might want to think of some really good lines of poetry in advance, so you could "toss them off" as though you'd just thought of them on the spur of the moment. Done well, I imagine dazzling mastery. Think of Joe Montana making the quick pass to Jerry Rice look easy. We all know it's not easy, but they could sure make it look that way sometimes.

It's a matter of being so thoroughly prepared that you make whatever it is look like it takes no thought or work at all.

I admire sprezzatura, I admit. Some people are naturally more capable than I of pulling things off; I need serious preparation. Sometimes, that means really figuring out the questions and problems, and doing some background research to really have a solid sense of the issues, and to be able to discuss them as if you've put no effort in. It means reading whatever reading, taking good enough notes that you don't have to refer to them much, and being ready to field questions.

In a way, I've been thinking, being a good committee chair is a little like sprezzatura. I spent a fair bit of time these past few days putting together memos and sending off this and that, making sure I'm ready for whatever questions will come up at the meeting when we make our proposal. And mostly, no one will realize how much time things took. I don't think I'm especially slow about things, just that doing things right actually does take some time. And I imagine other folks take time to put their stuff together, more time than is readily apparent. Except when someone doesn't have their stuff together, it's easy to tell there's a problem.

And, of course, you have to balance the need for information or explanation with the time you have available and the brainpower you have left. Alas, I don't have a photographic memory, either!

I gave my first presentation at the local library this week to a very receptive audience. It was fun, but also a little nerve-wracking. You see, when I came here to the Northwoods, I filled the spot of a colleague who retired that year. And this colleague, an utterly charming, kind, and helpful person, came to the presentation. And I'm still a bit intimidated by this colleague, in part because I know s/he was a big part of the committee that hired me and has said how much s/he enjoyed my teaching presentation when I was interviewed. So I feel like I have a lot to live up to in order not to disappoint him/her, if that makes sense.

But some of the questions the audience asked were tangential, and that's when the whole sprezzatura thing comes up. It's spine-tingling fun to know things well enough to have answers to even really bizarre questions, to have specific examples to help people understand the answer, and that's how the questions went. Of course, they could easily have asked a dozen questions I'd have been stumped by, but I got lucky. Or just was adequately prepared.

I love the performance part of sprezzatura, the making things seem so easy that it looks utterly safe, although you know there's really no net.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I was at a smallish meeting about a budget type issue. One of the people at the meeting suggested that a course s/he doesn't teach should have higher enrollment to solve the budget problem. Really, s/he said, it's not a problem to add more people to those classes.

Yeah, right. Does s/he think that the people who teach those already FULL classes will eagerly take on more students to solve someone else's budget overrun? Really?

Sometimes I'm frustrated by administrators. But in this one case, I have to say that I have a little taste of how frustrating my faculty colleagues can be, too.


One of my students insisted that an essay we read in class made X stupid argument. I asked the student to show me where the essay made that argument, and she couldn't. But she still put the assertion in her essay (of course without a page reference) by setting it up as a straw man in her thesis and arguing against it. And she's shocked that the essay didn't get a great grade. ARGH! We have an appointment to talk about it; I asked her to reread the essay so she could show me where the essay makes X argument. (Hey, I could be wrong, even after reading the essay 12 times! If I am, I'll admit it when she shows me. I've been wrong before!)


In class the other day, we were discussing the papers they'd written for an assignment. One of the students noted that he hadn't actually read the assignment before writing his short essay. He said this with a sort of pride.


I hate when I feel that reading and commenting on an essay has taken me longer than writing the essay actually took the student. Usually it's not a sign of a great essay, but somehow I'm supposed to find something supportive to say. It's difficult.


We have a mandate in the state that says that any returning veteran doesn't have to pay tuition to go to a state school. The law doesn't say that the state will provide money for that student, however. So, if we get, say, 50 veterans, that's a fair bit of tuition we're out. Now, I'll admit that I'm not going to take a pay cut willingly so that someone can get a free education. Where's the money going to come from? The law doesn't say. (The money will probably come out of tuition raises, that is, from other students.)


We have to change our computer passwords every several months. There are a few rules: minimum number of characters, minimum number of types of characters (upper case, lower case, wingdings, numbers). Oh, and they can't be regular dictionary words.

I hate hate hate trying to think of passwords. And then trying to remember them. Usually, I come up with some fake Latin sounding word: $hak3sprioRum or something. Blah, I hate changing.

I had to change today, and now I can't remember what I made up. I hope I remember tomorrow. At least I don't put a sticky paper on my monitor with the password, as one of my colleagues does.


Every few years, there are big fires in the Malibu area, and every time, firefighters risk their lives to try to save homes, very expensive homes. The canyons, from what I've read, make for very dangerous firefighting conditions because they've got steep wall and (in the usual conditions) lots of dry stuff to burn.

After Katrina, there was a lot of talk about making some of the lowest, least protected areas of New Orleans off-limits to housing because of the flood risk. The idea is that there's a high risk of recurrent problems, and those problems will endanger rescuers and cost lots of money. It just so happens that those areas were also some of the poorer areas of the city.

So how come no one is talking about making parts of the Malibu area where they have those recurrent fires off-limits to housing? How about at least they don't allow houses to be rebuilt?

Recurrent natural disaster danger
High cost to deal with the danger to rescuers and local governments

Rich residents vs not rich residents?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grading Decompression

I could go the rest of my life without reading that "X is always there for Y" or some variant thereof. What does that mean? "Always"? X and Y aren't going to die someday? I'm a nasty cynic, aren't I?

This set was overall significantly stronger than the previous set. The class is good as a whole, and I think they're getting a sense of what college asks of them, and stepping up to do the work. It's cool!

They also have a fun class personality. It's a pleasure to work with them. Today we did bunches of brainstorming for a coming essay, and they shared great ideas.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I've been listening to Edward Elgar's Enigma variations all evening. I've never really known his music beyond the graduation theme, "Pomp and Circumstance," which is a fine march, though it gets old after your 15th or so graduation. But this is a great CD, just really warm, flowy music. I especially like #10.

I'm so glad I got this CD!! (Thanks, TD!!)

I also got a Mozart CD with wind concertos. But I'm enjoying this a lot right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Scary Fortune

My fortune cookie fortune tonight: Today brings out the performer and humanitarian in you (in bed).

I'm sort of imagining pity sex and having to fake orgasm because it's so bad.

Apply inside.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thinking Theatrically

My upper level students seem well prepared to talk about texts as written entities; they're less well prepared to talk about plays as playing texts, as bearing a relation of some sort to theatrical practices.

I think we rarely ask students to think about metanarrative issues in reading most novels or short stories; sure, if they're reading Nabokov, maybe. But mostly, I think, their novels classes tend to focus on narrative as narrative, and don't think about the material of the text as such. (I'm sure there are exceptions.) So they're not in the habit of thinking about texts that way. They tend to read for the "story" rather than for the telling, if that makes sense?

Early modern plays, on the other hand, beg to be staged, if not on a real stage, then on a stage in the reader's mind. Imagining the text as a theatrical text is especially difficult for our students who tend to have little experience with live theater, and who watch television and movies perhaps less critically than one might wish.

Early modern plays often reward the theatrically thinking reader with a rich commentary on the problems of representation, or theatrical desire, and of textual desire. I was struck by that in my class the other day, especially.

We've been reading Marlowe's Edward II, a play about the "troublesome reign and lamentable death" of Edward II. The play begins shortly after the death of Edward's father (Edward I, helpfully enough), and the return of Edward's beloved companion (and lover, in some senses) Gaveston, previuosly exiled by Edward I. Edward favors Gaveston, much to the dismay of his wife Isabella, and the nobles (especially Mortimer Senior and Mortimer Junior, uncle and nephew), and they force him before long to exile Gaveston again. But Edward mopes, and the nobles let Gaveston come back long enough to off him; meanwhile, Edward has met a new favorite, Spencer, and begins focusing on him. And Isabella and Mortimer Junior are having an affair. The nobles capture Edward and kill him, with Mortimer momentarily taking charge, until the young king, Edward III, has him killed.

It's easy for most readers to follow the nobles in thinking Edward is a bit of a naughty boy: not only does he have male favorites, but he spends money on them, gives them titles (which the nobles argue is wrong because the favorites aren't "noble") and ignores his wife and monarchal duties. In short, he's a partier who isn't taking his responsibilities seriously. And the play really does support this interpretation on some levels: we hear that France is invading; Mortimer Senior is captured by the Scots while serving in Edward's force and there's no money to ransom him.

But the play also subtly undermines this reading, reminding the audience that it's in the theater enjoying all the spectacular theatricality of a play, and desiring spectacle and pleasure. So, in a way, we (the audience and readers) are complicit with Edward and Gaveston in desiring pleasures.

Near the very beginning of the play, Gaveston imagines what he needs/wants to entertain Edward when they're together again. He says,
I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Musicians, that with touching of a string
May draw the pliant king which way I please;
Music and poetry is his delight,
Therefore I'll have Italian masques by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies and pleasing shows,
And in the day when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad,
My men like satyres grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat feet dance an antic hay;
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian's shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportfull hands an olive-tree,
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring, and there hard by,
One like Actaeon peeping through the grove,
Shall by the angry goddess be transformed,
And running in the likeness of an hart,
By yelping hounds pulled down, and seem to die;
Such things as these best please his majesty.
It's a brilliantly evocative speech with lots of vibrant imagery. Try reading it aloud, and imagining what fun it would be to see played out on stage. The pages (boys whose job is to run small errands around a household or court) will be dressed (clad) as woodland spirits (female). (Let me recall that on the English professional stage at the time, all female parts were played by boys or young men. Some writers show a lot of anxiety about the ways that men's desire may be "mistakenly" inflamed and misdirected from women to boys as a result.) So, in effect, those boy pages are a lot like boy actors, dressed up evocatively.

And then we have satyrs, hyper sexual man/goats, grazing and then dancing around (a "hay," according to the OED, definition n4.1, is "a country dance having a winding or serpentine movement, or being of the nature of a reel.").

Finally, Gaveston imagines a show of Diana and Actaeon, the guy in Ovid's Metamorphoses who saw Diana (aka Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt, and notorious skinny dipper) naked while he was out hunting with his hounds. Diana, being a goddess and pissed, turned him into a hart (male deer, buck, stag), and he got torn apart by his hounds. Fun times! But notice the "seem" in line 69 there. Gaveston is clear that we're going to see a theatrical production of some sort.

And seriously, when you read that, wouldn't you love to see all that on stage? nymphs, a satyr dance, and then a man turned into a stag and chased around by his hounds? It would be a theatrical extravaganza, a miracle of staging, a spectacle to draw all eyes. So we're right there with Gaveston, imagining ourselves watching this as he imagines Edward watching, taking pleasure, being drawn. And like Edward, we're drawn for the moment, pliantly, our desires for spectacle engaged at least a little.

And if the play could give us that spectacle, why we'd be pretty darned pleased, but it wouldn't be Edward II, of course. It would look a lot like some of the entertainments famously thrown for Elizabeth I, though.

What we get instead in this play is lots less spectacle. It's as if the play is resisting our desires; heck, we don't even get to see the best murders. (We get to hear Edward's, but not see it; does Edward replace Actaeon, while his nobles act as the hounds, rending him?) And if the play's resisting our desires for spectacle (because we go to the theater to see and hear plays, but Gaveston's speech is all about seeing stuff), then is it sort of punishing us for turning from our complicity with Gaveston and Edward and becoming complicit with those rather puritanical nobles?

I think it's mostly confronting us with our conflicting desires for hedonistic spectacle and tight social control, safety, and heirarchy. If we take Gaveston's speech seriously, and get into it, we have to recognize that we're at least a little on Edward's side, wanting pleasure even though others might want us to get back to work. (Early modern plays were played in the early afternoon, when weather permitted, outdoors, Mondays through Saturdays, that is, during prime working hours, and attended by apprentices and others who'd skipped work. Bosses complain about theater being a disruption to getting work done.)

And because I'm obsessive:

Marlowe, Christopher. Edward the Second. Ed. W. Moelyn Merchant. (New Mermaids) London: A. & C. Black, and New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random Worries and a Bit of Biking Bliss

Today our vice chair for undergrad stuffs held an advising session for our majors; a couple of weeks ago, she'd asked for volunteers in each subfield to come help advise in break out groups. So, I said I'd help if she needed me.

We have five subfields, and the VC tried to get one person to lead a break out group for each. Our tenure line faculty is almost exactly 50% male and 50% female.

Want to guess what the gender balance of faculty at the session was?

If you said 100% female, you'd be correct! Well, the chair (male) also showed up to speak for a moment and be supportive. And another female faculty member showed up because she's advising for the first time this semester, and thought it would be helpful to her. Count: 5 women, 1 man.

Time: 2 and a half hours. Students at my break out session: about 14.

Have I mentioned lately how happy I am to be spending the next semester in Asia?


I'm worried about my seminar. The men speak way more than the women. I've tried a couple things to try to encourage the women to speak, but I'm not succeeding.

The women DO contribute well when they're leading discussion. And they participate in group stuff. But when we talk as a whole, they aren't speaking as much.

I try to be cognizant, and I'm not seeing men cut off the women, and I don't think I'm cutting them off. I try to give positive and challenging feedback to men and women when they speak. But I'm not confident that I'm actually doing so equally, and that bothers me. I need help with this.

I'm semi-satisfied with the discussion leading. They've been bringing up great questions, but don't press people hard to really bring out stuff from the texts. So I do. But then I'm talking too much. I need help with this, too.


I got an email earlier today from a colleague who bikes (and knows I bike) about a bike thing with the headmaster.

I don't know if I should go.

Why go: networking by bike. Bike. And did I mention, BIKE!

Why not: I don't want to get dropped by a group of mostly men, or make them feel like I'm holding them back. Biking is for fun, not networking or stress.

Maybe the headmaster is a sexist jerk? Maybe he isn't, really, but needs to be a bit more aware of how sexist he can sound? I'm a foolish optimist, aren't I?


I went to the local library this afternoon to learn to use the DVD player and such for the series of presentations I'm doing starting Monday evening. The librarian took me down, and we spent 10 minutes while he decided if the TV was okay. Then he tried to get the DVD thing to work. And it did, except that the remote didn't (and you need the remote to select "menu" and so on, to choose scenes to show). I spent the next 20 minutes while he went to change the batteries, and then decided that it wasn't the batteries, but that it was the wrong remote.

I'm glad he figured it out today, and not on Monday evening with however many local folks hanging out, staring at me. I can sit calmly for half an hour when there's no rush. I get a lot crankier when there are a number of people waiting.

I'm really glad I went in today. Really glad!


I got on my bike today; I wasn't going to go, but then I decided it would be good to get some exercise, so I got things together, and then I got on the bike. And getting on the bike was just gut-wrenchingly good. The smoothness, the rhythm, something just felt so indescribably right that I caught my breath with surprise.

I don't know. I should expect that the bike feels smooth and easy when I get on, right? It feels that way every time. But somehow, I was surprised at how good just getting on felt.

I was really glad I went out.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today, from what I've read, is "Blog Action Day," a day when bloggers are asked to blog about their efforts to make small environmentally positive acts.

I'm theoretically pro-environment. But I'm also lazy and like to be warm and such. I drive my bike to a trailhead to take a ride. Not good, I know.

I have doubts about any blog action actually contributing to meaningful change. Do that many people read blogs? Compared to the numbers of people who watch TV?

And then there's the blog thing itself. I'm sitting here with a computer on my lap, typing, with the TV on in the background, in a room lit by electric lights (the new, supposedly energy efficient type). How much extra energy am I using by being on a computer rather than, say, grading in the same room? How much extra energy am I using by reading the blogs about environmentalism today?

Were I a really good blogger, I'd quickly locate the answer. Anyone know?

I feel a little like I'm trying to write a Stanley Fish interpretation of a Herbert poem, a self-consuming artifact: my environmental action right now? I'm going to turn off the computer. (Admittedly, more because I need to grade than because I'm environmentally good.)

Loving my Colleagues

It's sometimes important to remember that our colleagues are really students at heart. I got an email this morning from a colleague serving on a committee I'm chairing asking if I didn't think that someone else in the department wouldn't want to serve on this committee in his place since he's so busy.

I'm trying to imagine a scenario in which someone in our department is pining for another committee assignment, but I have to admit, I'm not finding it likely.

Maybe something else is up that's making my colleague feel especially overwhelmed this term, but it's not departmental committee work. Or maybe he's turning into that rarity here, someone who turns off once s/he's gotten tenured and such.

Seriously, most of my colleagues work hard on several committees, with tenured members usually leading. But we do have one or two slackers, and we all know who they are, and we generally resent them. I hope this colleague isn't turning into one of them.

Meanwhile, as chair, I'd really appreciate if if he did the two smallish tasks we asked him to do in a timely fashion. Is that so much to ask?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bardiac Goes to the Movies!

Okay, so Elizabeth: the Golden Age opened, and do you know where your Bardiac was? Well, not at the opening, alas. But I did go to a matinee today. Were you expecting less?

I went, I saw, and here I am, writing.

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed in the direction and editing. First, it's SLOW. OMG, slow slow slow. It's slower than me trying to climb a hill on my bike!

I felt sorry for Jordi Molla, the actor who plays Phillip II of Spain. He's wearing these incredibly tight and uncomfortable looking boot things, and forced (?) to mince along rather than walk. As someone who does early modern English lit, I'm pretty used to seeing Phillip put down in writing here and there, but I must have missed references to his mincing. To my mind, Phillip's mincing is a synechdoche of the film's broad and heavy handed anti-Catholic attitude; it's as if the writers, directors, and producers all read a bunch of Tudor propaganda and believed every word. (I also felt sorry for the actor playing the Infanta.)

The anti-Catholicism reminded me of the way Elizabeth I, the 1998 film about Elizabeth's earlier years, treated Mary Tudor, making her look as nasty and ugly as possible in all sorts of ways.

And as with that film, I often felt a bit at sea (/grin) about who was who and what role s/he played. I never did remember who the Jesuit was, and I couldn't figure out if William Cecil was in the film at all (there's no listing in the cast), but dang, how can you have a film of Elizabeth's 1580s without Cecil?

My biggest disappointment with the film was with the minimalist approach to the Tilbury; seriously, you've got one of the all time great speeches (whether it was given as claimed or not), and they absolutely minimize it! Where's the great line about having the heart and stomach of a king? How could they cut that? It's not like they didn't have lots of time; they could have taken out ten minutes of flowing clothing shots, of birds' eye view shots, and still had an overabundance!

And just so you have the pleasure, here's the speech before the troops at Tilbury:
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
Now there's a great speech, eh?

Other things? Did I mention how slow the film was? Yeah, slow. And seeing the Spanish Armada burn in the background while Elizabeth watches on shore? Not so convincing; the ships looked really fake, too, in that cgi way.

The film condenses a lot of time (poor Archduke Charles! nearly 20 years late!), but that's how showing history on stage and in film works. And look, a couple months of sea battles and stuff in less than 15 minutes, and all within sight of land, too!

Good things? Cate Blanchett. I thought she did a good job with the role. The main theme of the music was really lush and gorgeous at points. There were lots of nice scenery setting shots, looking lush and lovely.

Thumbs Up!

I get so wound up in reading for work, reading and marking essays, reading committee stuff, reading to prep classes, reading criticism and history, that I sometimes forget what good fun reading novels is. At some point in the not too distant past, I heard and NPR spot on Sherman Alexie's new young adult book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and at the time, I thought about getting it for a young relative. Then the other day, I went with a friend to Frontiers, the big box bookstore (and the only non-Christian focused bookstore in town, other than the little box bookstore in the mall), and remembered to get it.

But I couldn't just give a kid a book I hadn't read, right? I mean, I have to make sure it's a good one and such, you know?

So I thought I'd read for a few minutes in bed before sleeping. A couple hours later, I finished. Yeah, it's that good. I was tired, but it didn't matter because the book kept me happily reading away, laughing some, crying some (because I'm a serious book whuss), and thoroughly enjoying.

I think it's a little old for the kid I had in mind yet, maybe in, say, two years. On the other hand, I'm not much of a judge of children's maturity. I'm trying to think of what I was reading at his age, and trying to think what I would have made of the book. So I'm thinking that I'll give it to his Mom to read (because she reads lots and we trade books around) and she can pass it along to him when she thinks he'll get more out of it.

On the other hand, it's sort of fun to imagine the kid asking Dad what "masturbate" means, isn't it? Do they cover masturbation in sex-ed these days? When I had sex-ed at age ten or so, they basically separated us in the single-gender groups, and showed the girls a film about getting our period, a film which didn't mention useful knowledge about tampons or the pill, but had hokey cartoons of a HUGE uterus filling with blood which then poured out. And refilled, and poured again. (Seriously, I thought a uterus was about the size of a medium-large butternut squash* for ages; not god knows it felt that size when I got cramps!) Anyway, they didn't mention masturbation at all, so far as I recall, though good masturbation lessons might have kept some of us out of other sorts of trouble a while longer.

Anyway, Alexie's book is in the young adults section in the bookstore, but I think it's more an adult book with a young adult character that kids might like, too. Seriously, if you're an adult with a sense of humor and an interest in a good book, you should read this one. I'll be passing this one around to some friends, for sure.

ps. I'm always up for good book suggestions, and the authors don't even have to have been dead for 300+ years!

*I tried to come up with other things to compare it to in size: a football just seemed wrong, though about the right size, and confusing because it could also mean what folks in the US call a soccer ball. So in looking for an object the right size, I found myself thinking purely in sort of food or sports things.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New Hills

I went for my ride today, down the Joe's River Road and across a double alphabetical county road. There's another county road, single alphabetical, that takes off from from the double alphabetical one, but I'd never ridden it because it looked rough or under construction. Today, though, it looked beautifully newly paved, so off I went.

It started off easily enough, a slight slope up, barely noticable. Then the slope got noticable, and I could see the road rise higher, a long, not too steep slope, up the side of a hill. I rode up, getting to that creeping speed where a good jogger would pass me easily, and went around the curve, then up some more. Finally, another curve and I'd made it up, had a slight rest, and then a steep but encouragingly short uphill. Single alphabet county road was about a perfect challenge level for me, tough, but do-able, with fun, rolly downhills, not much traffic.

I just felt great. I was going slowly, sure, but I kept going. Up, up, then down and around, and up some more. I didn't turn around until the newly paved part had run out.

I rode just short of 30 miles, not too fast, but it was great coming down those hills!

My legs are tired now. And they feel great.

Interesting Link Plus

The Citizen of Somewhere Else wrote a post on writing academic job letters.

And, back when I wrote about the job search calendar, St. Eph asked a really good question about date stuffs and application materials. St. Eph asked
One question: that "can't look at anything received after the deadline" thing? Does that hold for partial applications as well?
I haven't answered before because I didn't know. But I asked one of the people who should know, and here's the answer I got, paraphrased.

The goal is fairness to all applicants. So, yes, the hiring committee could say, we'll read applications of everyone who's letter came in by the priority deadline, and read their letters if they come in a few days late. OR, the committee could say, if everything's complete, we'll read it; if not, we'll put it in the not complete pile and only read them if we don't make a hire through the priority deadline pile.

So, that's the unofficial answer from a friend in the biz who's darned smart but not a lawyer. If you're reading apps, how does your committee handle things?

Editing to add: The Philosophy Factory has a GREAT post about things you should know as you enter grad school and as you begin working as a new faculty member.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I cheered in bed this morning when I heard the voice on the radio say that Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. It's been a long time coming, and I was very happy to hear it.

When I was in the Peace Corps and after, I got exposed to lots of different literature, stuff I'd never run into in high school or even among my college friends (some of whom were quite well read in their areas of interest). Reading Lessing's works challenged me on all sorts of levels; she was one of the reasons I thought about literature when I returned to school.

All day, in my mind, I've been cheering this Nobel Prize.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Does it Take?

Our headmaster speaks to university groups fairly often, and in my committee roles and such, I hear him. He seems like an intelligent, thoughtful person. And then he makes some sexist side comment. He talks about students as "girls" or explains how the most important thing a wife can do is being a "[fill in your favorite sport] mom." (He never talks about male students as "boys" or about parenting as being the most important thing a husband can do.)

I don't get it. The man's a professional academic. Surely he realizes that academic discourse uses "women" for adult females? And that the female academics he's speaking to aren't there because they're [sport] moms?

Is he deep down a sexist [bleeep] (and unaware that his sexism is a problem)?

Or is he deep down a stupid [bleeeep] (and doesn't care that his sexism is a problem)?

Are there other options?

I was at a meeting the other day where he tossed off some sexism. One of the women I was sitting near mocked his sexism as the meeting ended. I think he's lost the respect of the women who've heard him much, including me.

Of course, with the male domination around here, he could be both a sexist and uncaring about his sexism, and the men at the top wouldn't notice the sexism, or think there was anything wrong with it. And losing women's respect couldn't mean less to those men.

Tired Eyes

I was reading into the early hours of the morning. Well, you might think, of course, you're an English professor! You were probably reading some Shakespeare! Or Jonson! Milton! There's an inexhaustible load of texts you must always be reading.

And that would sort of be true, but not about last night's/this morning's reading.


Because it's ENROLLMENT TIME for health plans here in the northwoods. Yeah. It's not exactly a page turner, but I've been reading the book, trying to figure things out.

The insurance plan I've had for the past couple of years no longer covers care at the clinic I've gone to (for my basic and happily boring needs /knock wood). So I'm trying to figure out the way things work with another plan that covers care at that clinic. BUT, under the old plan, if you got really sick, you went 80-90 miles in the one direction. (Everyone I've known who went there felt pretty darned good about their treatment.) Under the new plan, you go 60 miles another direction. (And with a different plan, you go 90-100 miles in yet another direction; no, I don't find it comforting that all the plans basically advertise based on sending you out of town if you get sick...)

Does that matter? Only if I get really sick. (Or crash my bike badly.)

Then there's the uniform plan coverage, the basic coverage that all the plans offer as part of the state dealio. Yes, some things I can understand, others, I really hope I don't ever have to try to understand. For example, there's a list of things that they cover heart transplants for, and that list leads me to believe that there are things one might need a transplant for but not have it covered? I really don't have much clue what any of those things are, either way.

And what does it matter? If I need a heart transplant, either it will be covered (yay), or not... the plan I choose doesn't really affect that aspect of coverage.

I don't normally spend a lot of time worrying about needing a heart transplant, but reading a health plan coverage book filled with coverages and exclusions gets you thinking, you know?

If that weren't enough to make me cranky, there's dentistry. I went to the dentist for a cleaning this year after not going for longer than I'd care to admit. (The dentist was highly recommended by several friends, and after I'd been, I understood why.) I liked the office and the folks there. It was partly covered by my old insurance.

Under the new insurance, a dental visit is covered, but only at a specific practice in town (not the one I went to), and I've heard mixed reviews about the practice. So I'll probably go on my own dime, which is fine, except that I'm paying for my insurance (both directly and indirectly), so I'd rather be covered at the dentist office I like.

Have I mentioned pharmaceuticals? There's a whole separate thing for pharmaceuticals.

Eye care? Basic exam. Contacts? Not a chance. I can live with that; nothing new there. (Though, why are hearing aids covered but not lenses of any sort? They both help someone cope with a sensory problem?)

I hate this legalistic stuff.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Grading Grind

I got a new stack of first year writing papers this morning; other than that stack, though, I'm completely caught up on my grading. I was a busy grader this weekend and this morning.

I spent a lot of time this weekend grading peer editing responses. Basically, I have my first year writing students work together in class on peer editing; each reads his/her work aloud, and a small group of peers gives oral feedback. But then the peers take home the written work and write a fuller response. Each student makes two copies of that response and gives them to the writing peer. The writer reads the responses and writes a response to each response, saying explicitly what was most helpful and what s/he'd like more help with. The writer then hands that response in to me.

I read and grade the reponses on a basic level, record the grades, and return the response to the respondent so that each respondent gets a peer's feedback on his/her response along with my feedback.

It's time-consuming because it means I have to read twice as many responses as there are students in the class (assuming groups of three). It also takes class time to do the paper exchange and have writers respond to the responses.

But, I was very happy to see that most students really improved their written peer response this time (compared to the peer editing for their first paper). I think they're capable, but aren't really in the habit of putting serious effort into another person's work. Once they realize that the effort counts for them, then they respond accordingly.

The next step is to see how the papers match up.


My biggest grading frustration this weekend came from essays for another class. One of the papers was especially frustrating because the writer's clearly smart and capable, but didn't respond to the assignment at all.

So, okay piece of writing, but doesn't address the assignment. Frustrating.

I don't mean to stifle creativity or anything, but I give assignments for fairly serious pedagogical reasons. I expect my students to learn from the assignments; the assignments aren't just a measuring device of how much has already been learned. So not addressing the assignment means the student didn't take the opportunity to learn from the assignment, and thus probably didn't learn what the assignment is after teaching.

I'm tired of students complaining that they don't understand X in a piece of writing, and then when I ask them, they admit that they didn't bother to look up X in a dictionary. We use a pretty specific and technical vocabulary in English studies; if you don't know what metonymy is, and an essay (in an English course) focuses on a problem in metonymy, then maybe you should look it up?

I need to eat dinner and get started on the next set of essays!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What I Want from Assessment

I've been thinking a lot about assessment lately, and it's not fun. I get the feeling there's been a sort of bass ackwards approach.

Here's what I want from assessment. (Let's think at the departmental level for a moment, because I'm really not ready to take on the whole university.)

I want a short list of things we're doing well. Hey, this part of the program really helps students understand stuff! The classes students take for this or that requirement? They find those invaluable. Students coming from the preparatory classes show an understanding of some central concepts in upper level courses.

Then I want a short list of things we need to work on. Senior level writing isn't tackling real questions or using resources effectively. This set of classes isn't preparing students well for their upper level work.

The next step would be for people to try to figure out the "why" of the good stuff and the bad. What is it that makes X really successful? What specific weaknesses are we seeing in student preparation for upper level work?

Then we could brainstorm about how to do better, using, where possible, models from what we do well to do other things better.

My questions about assessment have to do with how we get useful information. We really have two sources: faculty and students.

My department does student interviews, and not surprisingly, they sometimes tell us useful information.

But instead of talking to faculty, my department has one person read senior level projects and a portfolio. The portfolios are generally put together at the last minute. And the one person may or may not be a really good reader for all the different sub-fields we have within our English major. (I'm not being mean when I say that, I hope, but realistic; I'm a pretty good reader of work about literature and texts; my science background may make me an adequate reader of work about scientific and technical stuff; but I'm totally unqualified to judge student creative writing, high school education writing, or linguistics.

So, how to get feedback from faculty without imposing onerous additional work? We could, of course, look at grading as a sort of assessment, perhaps? That hasn't been a well-accepted way to do assessment, and it's fraught with potential complications.

Okay, who out there has a really effective method of departmental assessment (not necessarily in English) and is willing to share some ideas? (Feel free to email if you don't want to leave a message.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Today was homecoming day, but being me, I was more up for a bike ride than for watching a parade and a football game. So off I went, skirting by the gathering parade folks to get to the trail where it winds through town.

There's this older man I often see when I ride on the trail. He's notable because he always waves and smiles and says hello. He's one of those folks who make the trail feel friendly, and I like waving and smiling at him, too. I look forward to seeing him on the trail, along with other now familiar faces.

Today, I recognized him from behind as I biked up. I called out a "good morning" to warn him ahead, and then pulled up alongside, slowing a bit to match speeds. We commented on the lovely weather. He asked if I'd been riding much the past week, and I hadn't, and said so. But he had, because, as he said, he's retired and so it's what he likes to do. And we got chatting as we rode about the town, where we were from, our work, the joys of biking, hometowns, just the sort of relaxed chatting that works on bikes.

I have to say, it was delightful. After a few miles, we reached his turn back place, and parted ways after sharing our names and shaking hands.

I rode back into town, passing unsteady young folks on the main street of the student area (next to the bike path) on my way to meet some friends for lunch at a local place with some outdoor seating. At the next table, were some students, and as we ate, other folks, including students, passed by.

Homecoming seems marked this year by brightly colored t-shirts with slogans. For example, on a bright yellow shirt front: LiverStrong. And on the back: Join the Fight Against Sobriety. Others weren't as memorable, pictures of kegs with something about tapping into something or other as the caption, that sort of thing.

A couple of young women walked by wearing "I Swallow" on their fronts, but I didn't make out what the backs said.

It would be funny, but it wasn't, quite.

I feel like an old fuddy duddy. I have far more in common with the retired guy on the bike path--a veteran of WWII, a parent and grandparent, alumni of Flagship U, and a fan of their football team--than I do with the students I teach.

My friends at lunch and I laughed at ourselves as we talked about being grateful not to be college students; we all loved college, I think, or we wouldn't be profs, but none of us misses the pressures of certain social occasions. And we all seem to be enjoying our work and lives despite struggles and difficulties.

I rode 35 miles today (some later with a friend and her out of town visitors), and they felt good. I hope that if I make it to the age of my biking companion today I can bike and smile the way he does. I hope I'm still appreciating the fresh air and the beauty of the trees and fields in fall.

And I hope all our students make it through today safely, so that maybe they'll get to the point where a day of biking and chatting with friends will seem about the height of perfection.

Friday, October 05, 2007

When Colleagues Collide

Dear Colleague,

Wishing does not make it so.

Writing up a revision of a major policy document for the department, and pretending that it's the actual policy without bringing it before the department for discussion and a vote doesn't actually make it policy.

And sending it to me telling me that it's the policy document doesn't make it so.

It's not policy until the department adopts it by voting. No amount of passive aggressive sidestepping is going to change that.

Thanks for wasting several hours of my time and for making my job a lot more unpleasant. NOT.

Bestest in departmental adoration, B~

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I'm reading a play, prepping to teach, occasionally checking through the email.

At a meeting the other day, we sort of postponed an issue so that the full constituency of people who might have an interest in the issue would have a chance to be present and to have input into our decision.

Since then, I've gotten a flurry of emails about potential input, or, more specifically, about the timing of potential input.

And we've moved the meeting from our regular meeting space to something a bit larger. Okay, a metric boatload of people larger.

We're facing a tough decision, and we do, indeed, need to get input from various folks; we've already had a fair bit of input and information. But we'll get more.

And whatever way it goes, this is going to be a wrenching and painful decision. This is one of those big decisions, and I'm a little overwhelmed that I play a role in making it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hiring a Colleague: The Job Search Calendar

This is part 2 of my attempts to demystify the job market a bit. The first part is here.

As a reminder, I work in a regional comprehensive university and am only talking about my experiences. I'm happy to hear from other folks about how their experiences differ, or to entertain questions.

One of the things that's so frustrating for applicants (along with the generally poor odds of actually getting a tt job in English) is that the job search takes forever. Why can't academics be efficient and just get things done?

Here's how timing looks from this side of the search.

Spring: My department meets (sometimes starting in different committees and eventually in whole department meetings) to discuss whether we think we have curricular needs that require hiring a new colleague. After prioritizing our needs, we put in a request for a tt line, complete with an argument about how and why we need a colleague in a fairly specific area. We compete for tenure lines with every other department at the university; given budget cuts in recent years, it's a rare department that doesn't seriously need a line or two.

In late August (when our contracts start), if we're lucky, we get a provisional okay to do a search from several higher ups. The department chair (DC) and personnel committee chair (PCC) get together to decide who to ask to be on a search committee; then the PCC goes to individual members of the department and asks for their help to form a committee.

Serving on a search committee is a serious time commitment in addition to our other work. When you look at the search committee members interviewing you, remember that they've put a lot of time into getting to the point of the interview, too.

September: The search committee members talk to our campus legal eagles who handle equal opportunity, affirmative action, and hiring legalities, and they teach us about legal issues. We work on an ad, vetting it with different offices to make sure it's legal and appropriate. We identify places we want to place the ad so that we'll reach potential candidates.

We know we're not an Ivy or in the most coveted location, so we're trying to entice candidates with our ad while being honest and up front. When we interview you, we want you to like us, too!

For MLA, we're under a huge rush to get our ad in the mid-Sept JIL. We set our priority date for applications (usually October/November); we have to word that dating explicitly to be legal.

Meanwhile, we meet again as a committee and decide on rubrics for how we'll decide who doesn't fit our criteria (we have to justify every decision for our legal folks). The rubric also has to set out ways of ranking candidates.

Priority Date: Each person on the committee has to read every application and fill out a rubric form. Then we start getting together and sorting through our application pool. We cut applications that don't meet our criteria. (Based on our rubric: appropriate degree qualifications, field of study, requisite experience if appropriate.) We check in with the legal folks as necessary.

The DC sends out early rejection letters.

Then we start ranking. (See my previous post about what we look for.) For some fields, we may literally receive hundreds of applications. (At my MA institution, I heard about an Americanist search that netted 800 applications. I was told at my first job that they'd received 500 applications for a job.) In other fields, the applicant pool may include 20 candidates.

IF we asked in our ad for only a letter and CV, we now have to contact potential candidates to get a writing sample and a dossier. If we've already got those, then we begin ranking after reading full application materials. The upside of getting everything up front is that we read most application materials only once before we start working on rankings. The downside is that it's more expensive for our candidates AND we'll end up reading writing samples/letters for people from whom we wouldn't have asked for materials. The downsides to asking for materials later are that some won't reach us in a timely manner and we'll have to reread letters/CVs for those folks. I don't know a right answer for this problem.

By late November/early December, we've ranked our top candidates. We check back in with the legal folks. Our chair starts arranging interviews at MLA.

The committee meets to set up a basic interview template. Legally, we have to go through the same basic interview process with every candidate, though we're allowed to ask different follow up questions and such. We care about doing the search ethically AND legally, so this stuff is important to us.

December 27... MLA. If you think it's hell to go to MLA as a candidate, you're right. It's somewhat less hellish to go on an interview committee. We can only afford to send part of our committee. That's less than ideal. (Keep that in mind as you look at interview committees. If you have a choice, all else being equal, a rich school is better than a poor one.)

The DC and committee member(s) interview our top 10 or so candidates, taking notes so they can report back.

Mid-January: Classes start! Committee meetings! The interview subcommittee reports back, and the search committee narrows its pool to the top two or three candidates. We clear these folks with the legal office and with appropriate administrators.

The committee sets up a feedback form so that everyone who wants to can give us feedback on a candidate's visit.

The chair calls to set up campus visits. We usually do a two day interview process, which is absolutely packed for the candidate. There may be a week or more between candidate visits for a given search.

January/February: Campus visits!

Each member of the department has an opportunity to give feedback on each candidate using the form. Taking those forms into consideration (and also verbal feedback), we decide if one or both of the candidates is a good fit for us. If so, we put through a ranked list to the dean's office. Usually, the dean's office approves our rankings, and our DC makes a call to our top ranked candidate to offer the job.

If we're turned down, we already know whether we want to offer the job to the second ranked candidate. If not, then we may ask to bring two more candidates to campus. Rinse and repeat. At some point, if we haven't successfully hired a candidate, the administration or committee may decide that we've failed the search.

Once we've hired someone, our chair sends the final rejection letters; in the past, our chair has called each candidate brought to campus for an interview to speak to them.

If we're successful, our new colleague comes under contract in late August. If s/he comes to town before then, then there are opportunities to get to meet people, learn some ropes, borrow from a syllabus here or there, and so forth.


I've talked a fair bit here about checking in with the legal folks. I think my department colleagues really want to do a search as ethically and legally as possible. But we know diddly about legalities, so we turn to the legal eagles for advice. The legal folks help us think about things we might not even think about. For example, how do we set a due date for applications? If we say, "applications must be received by X date," then we cannot look at any applications received even a day later. Period. So if we're not finding what we're looking for in a pool, we can't look later, not even if we're failing to hire someone. If we set a priority date, then we have to prioritize applications received by that date, but if none of those are acceptable, we're allowed to look at applications received later. None of us wants to be sued for not knowing a legality.

And those little EO/AA cards? They go to a completely different building. The EO/AA folks use those to help make sure that we're getting an appropriately diverse applicant pool and treating everyone fairly. (There may be other uses, but those uses don't come to our department.)