Monday, July 28, 2008

I would prefer not to


Ahh, yes, the secret cry of English professors when we don't want to do something.

I don't want to. Dun wanna. Bartleby's "I would prefer not to" sounds so much more calm and sophisticated. Lot of good it does.

There are several things on my agenda coming up that I just don't want to do. They're not, in all probability, horribly painful or anything, but I would prefer not to do whataver they are, mostly because I perceive them as imposing someone else's control on my life.

In truth, I am a control freak. I confronted this about myself yet again the other day, when I had a choice of driving myself somewhere to the tune of half a tank of gas, or being in the back seat of a couple for hours. I chose to drive myself, and didn't regret it in the least. I drove with all the windows down (because deep down I'm a dog, and want to hold my head out the window, tongue lolling), music I like on, and left when it was convenient for me (to get home earlier to let the guest dog have some attention and a walk).

But sometimes, if you want X, you have to put up with Y to get it. Jump the hoops, so to speak. Some hoops are more irritating than others. Some hoops take a boatload of time, and you can't really do anything to make it go faster, just try not to get cranky about it, because if you get cranky, maybe even jumping hoop Y won't get X, you know? Some hoops are supposed to be beneficial in and of themselves, but they just don't feel that way to me, so I don't want to jump through them.

A lot of it is about feeling like I have control or not, and when someone else is waving the hoop around for me to jump through, I don't like it. It's not really rational, just how I am.

I got an email this morning, and I would prefer not to do what it requests.

What email could prompt me, ME, Bardiac, to refer to a novella by Melville, for gosh sakes! It must be serious stuff, eh? Melville's barely cold, even.

The email, cc'd to a campus deanling, asked me to participate in an assessment thing by taking an hour plus of classtime.

For example, imagine for a moment I'm teaching a class in introductory underwater baseketweaving. And this test is going to try to measure a variety of underwater adaptivity skills, some of which we'll work on in the class over the semester. So I have to condense or drop some important part of introductory underwater basketweaving (reed preparation, snorkel management, weaving techniques) so that the powers that be can measure an advanced skill. And then they'll compare my students' skills to the skills of graduating seniors to try to prove that indeed, we teach our students the all important underwater adaptivity skills they'll need in later life.

I would prefer not to. I wonder how it would go over if I said that. It's not like they'd fire me, right? But you know there are always negative repercussions. Nothing positive for doing it, but extra petty jerkiness from petty folks for not doing it. There's a lot of going along with stuff in hopes that people won't get in the way of other stuff in life, you know? I'll do your thing, and you won't go out of your way to prevent my thing from happening.

I used to do assessment stuff willingly. Yep, it's true. I was a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed beginning professor, and I actually believed what the assessment folks told us about how doing their stuff would help my teaching and all. It never has. Not one single bleeping time. There's never been a benefit in it, not so much as a helpful suggestion, or even feedback about what's working or not in my teaching. I've never seen a benefit for any student, either.

But there's been lots of jerkiness, lies, and wasted time/energy.

And so now, I simply would prefer not to. I would prefer not to take my classtime for this activity. I would prefer to just get X without jumping hoop Y.

It's not going to happen, though.

And here's the thing: while I can vent a bit here, if I'm going to do this stuff, I might as well try to do it with good grace, and not let on how irritating I find it all. I have to try to act all grateful about hoop Y, and how wonderful the assessment stuff is. Ah, hypocrisy, thy name is Bardiac.


  1. I did time on our assessment committee -- talk about a hot bed of baseless anticipation of backlash from faculty... I suspect your assessment infrastructure isn't much different -- and thus, I can see why you haven't had any useful feedback.

    The problem is that the committee thinks faculty will see assessment feedback as critical and somehow threatening --- like they are checking up on you etc. Thus, the data isn't processed in a way that "closes the loop" (to use 2 year-old assessment jargon).

    If I got an e-mail similar to yours, I'd respond with a much nicer and more diplomatic version of "I'll rearrange my syllabus to accomodate this exercise when you explain to me how the data will be used and when I can expect the loop to be closed. Until then, the syllabus will remain unchanged and I'll respectfully decline to participate. Further, I'll discuss this with my colleagues and I suspect they'll respond in a similar manner..."

  2. It seems perfectly logical to me to respond with a polite no. Granted, I don't know what sort of vindictive behavior you might have to deal with if you did so but...

    As IPF said, the odds of you or your students gaining anything from the assessment are slim to none. Syllabi aren't inviolate, of course, but losing classtime to something so useless as campus assessment isn't a worthwhile reason to cut, cram or shave material.

    Is it possible to decline with a well-worded and perfectly polite "no, thanks, but I appreciate you thinking of me"?

  3. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I like Inside's idea, if you feel like you want to play along at all. It would force people to consider HOW they are going to use the information. Data is very easy to collect but very hard to use; lord knows there are plenty of us around with stacks of unanalyzed, uninterpreted data from 10 years ago.