Saturday, December 28, 2013

Being the Enemy?

Reading the intertubes lately, and talking to some job seekers, I have a sense of alienation, my own, more than theirs.  (They have plenty of their own.)

The thing is, it sometimes feels like those of us with tenure are being figured as a sort of enemy to job seekers, and I don't recognize myself as the enemy.

The problem with the interpellation is that even if I try to refuse it, I've recognized the call to myself as the enemy, no?  And so my alienation.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Uphill Through the Snow Both Ways

I had dinner with some folks on the job market the other day, and naturally, talk got around to the job market.  In the course of our conversation, I got to wondering just how much worse the market is now than it was say in 2005, or in 2000, or in 1995.  I know I think it's worse, but I wonder if there's a way of thinking about how much worse?  Maybe comparisons of numbers of PhDs produced in a field vs number of jobs in the field?  That wouldn't be perfect, but it might be at least something?

I wonder if the ADE Bulletin would have that information, and might be visible over a the years to give a longer perspective?

You know how when you're young, and you look at some older person and think they're completely out of touch?  And maybe they are, and maybe they aren't.  But some are.  And some are very out of touch.

I don't want to feel like that older person and not even be aware of it.

In line with the feeling out of touch, I was thinking about how we handle our department rejections.  I know I've asked, and our chair calls the people we had visit campus personally.  Or she says she does, and I have reason to believe she's honest about that.  But I don't know how we handle the other folks.  Do we send them a note?

I know we tend to have to wait until we've successfully made a hire to notify anyone, and that takes a long time.  The thing is, on occasion, we've had to do a second round of interviews to find someone willing to take the job we have to offer (at least in some fields), so we don't tell people we've rejected them if the job is still open.

Edited to Add:

Undine at Not of General Interest posted a link to the MLA statistics (2011-2012).
I found this graph particularly interesting:
I first went on the market in 1993, and got my first TT job in '96.  I went on the market again in fall 1998 (and started a new job in '99).  I guess my timing sucked, big time.  (There may well be more PhDs in English graduating now, or not.  I don't know.  So maybe it's harder now.)

(I have to admit, I kept my mouth shut when the job seekers at dinner the other night talked about how people with tenure couldn't get jobs now, and so on.  I was right to keep my mouth shut, but I feel a little less crappy about myself now.)

Stir Crazy

I hope everyone's having good holidays.

I had a few colleagues over for dinner last night.  I'm not a very confident cook, and was worried about the food.  It tasted like cardboard to me, a bit, but I think that was more my anxiety.  I had a ham sandwich for breakfast, and it was good, so the ham at least must have been okay.

Irony:  My mom complaining about someone talking about hirself too much.  (And yes, I recognize the additional irony of a blogger who writes mostly personal stuff saying that about anyone else.)

I need to get out and be by myself, but I don't think it's going to happen any time soon.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Empty Office

I finished packing up everything in my office, brought the last few things home, and took some goodbye pictures.

 There is the green I so enjoyed!  (Here's where I tell about the mysterious painting of the green.)

And here's a link to a post with some pictures of the office full of stuff.

Only a few of my boxes are in the room.  Most are stored in our central meeting room, along with most of the other boxes from our department offices.  We had to keep the last few in our offices when that got full up.
This is a view of my computer desk, which looks out into the hallway, not yet cleared (at least, not by me, since I didn't put them up).

And there's my green chair from the past.  It's surprisingly comfortable, but the wheels have been tending to come off, and each time, I practically fall.  So I'm getting a new chair with the move.

Remember the move?  Here's the layout of the new office.  And more on the new office.
 I closed the door and turned off the lights.  My door used to be covered with printed out comics, lots of them from XKCD.  Now it looks forlorn, along with the empty bulletin board next to it.
It's not alone.  Pretty much everything looks forlorn down the hallways now.
At the end of this hallway, you can see the big recycling bin they put out for our paper, which has been filled several times over.  And beyond that is a free book shelf, which has also been filled and then gleaned a couple times over.

And that's it for my time in the great Green Office.  Good times, and not so good times.  But now it's on to a new office.

When we're allowed to go, I'll try to remember to take some pictures.  At least it has wallboard and not concrete block walls!  And the halls are wide enough to pass current legal standards, so a bit wider.  They're also WAY longer, long enough to be something from a nightmare about bureaucracy in the 60s.

Anatomy of a Grading Session

First, you gather your materials.  I use pencil for grading (except for very short journal sorts of stuff, for which I use different colored pens), but I also often need coffee or tea, some music (I prefer classical or jazz without words), and a fairly solid notepad.

While gathering your materials, you may become distracted.  Perhaps there are dishes in the sink.  Or maybe there's effbee.  Or snow to push around on the driveway.  There's probably something.  Fight the urge.

You sit down, pick up the first paper, and start to read.  Congratulations, you've just done the hardest part, the getting started part.  If you're lucky, the first paper you've read is good, and you can power through several more.  If you're not lucky, and the first paper sucks, then the dishes become so much more important.

No matter how brilliant the assignment, how good the papers, you power through a few, and then you want a distraction, something else to do.  So you count the papers.  You've done six, and there are 30 more to go.  This is the vital moment, almost as difficult as sitting down to the first paper.  If you can power through just a few more, then you can get to being a third done.   And a third done is close to half done, right?

If you can't, then may I suggest writing a blog post about how difficult it is to power through?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Heater Diaries

I've mentioned that my car heater's out, and that this means that I sometimes have to drive around (in seriously cold weather) with my front window down a bit to keep the windshield from totally fogging up.

Last Thursday, I went by the shop, and they were packed with lots of cars, many of which also have/had heater problems.  It's a very casual shop, which doesn't take appointments, and they suggested that they'd need the car overnight (as I mentioned before), so we chatted, and we agreed that I should being it back on Monday.  So I did. 

On Monday morning, I took it in at the buttcrack of dawn (well, not quite, but close) and Gary, the garage owner/mechanic gave me a ride home.  I spent most of Monday at home, and then Gary called in the early afternoon to tell me that they couldn't fix it.  They thought it was an expensive part, but they weren't sure, and they didn't want to order the expensive part without being sure, and so on.

So I got a ride, and picked up my car.  And then Tuesday (it was too late by the time I got home on Monday), I called to make an appointment at the dealer. 

The dealer gave me an appointment at 7:15, and I took my car in and they gave me a ride to work.  So I've been at work all day, giving finals (my last final is from 5-7pm tonight).  And then I got a call a bit ago, and they've figured out that they need an expensive part, and it won't be in until tomorrow.  Meanwhile, my car is in pieces, because that's easier than putting it all back together and taking it all apart again.

So I guess I'll call a taxi to go home tonight after my final.  (I live quite a walk off a bus line, especially on a cold night with finals to carry, so I'm going to spend the big bucks on a taxi for a 3 mile ride.)  (I could call a friend, but it seems like it would be a pain for someone to have to go out and drive around in the evening for me to avoid a taxi ride.)

But tomorrow, I should have a working heater in my car!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grading Jail

I feel like Mephistopheles, where I am is grading jail, nor am I out of it, even when I'm not actually grading at that moment.

I have an assignment that seems to me really good in some ways.  And when students actually follow the directions, it works GREAT.  When they don't, they really bomb horribly.

But it takes for bleeping every to grade, and that's not good.

Friday, December 13, 2013

You'll Know it's Me...

... when you see someone driving in mid-winter with their front driver's side window down.

Yeah.  It's minus hella cold here, but as soon as my breathing makes the windshield start fogging up, my side window has to come down.


(I took the car into the shop yesterday, but I'll need to leave it over night, and that's best done on Monday.  Apparently it's so cold that before they work on certain sorts of stuff they need to have the car warm or things are brittle and break.  Who knew?)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Making less Misery?

One of my facebook friends commented about some job market stuff, and it got me thinking about what we can do to make the job search a better experience for everyone, or perhaps a less miserable experience.  And what we can't do.

Let's face it, short of all quitting our jobs, faculty folks can't make the job market suddenly and magically open up.  Nor can we move our midwestern schools to places with less brutal winters, or move them closer to places with good jobs for spouses in specific industries.

What we can do?  Here's what I'm thinking about the early stages of the search:

Think really carefully about asking for materials up front, and where possible, ask for electronic submissions to ease mailing costs.

On the search committee side of the market, I think it makes a lot of sense to ask for letters of reference up front, though I recognize that getting people to write letters of recommendation can be hell, and getting people to write them in time is sometimes a worse hell.  (Those problems are with letter writers, and not with search committees or the market, though.)  I've looked at interfolio, but I'd be interested in hearing more about it.  It gives one price for a year (and other prices for 3 or 5 years), but it's not clear to me if there are also additional charges for sending out portfolios or letters of recommendation.

I'm less convinced either way about asking for writing samples up front.  I don't tend to use them for the "first read through" of a set of applications, but I do by the second, and if there's not much time between, I might want them up front.  Having them up front means that the committee can work from one cut to the next a bit more quickly.  Whether they actually do or not, that's a different question.

I've been on several searches that have used phone interviews for the first round, and I've found it at least as good as conference interviews.  For one thing, I had pretty horrible experiences at MLA, so I have no urge to ever go back.  And for those who say that grad students should go to conferences, that's great, but let's be realistic about which conferences are likely to be useful, and which not.  For me, MLA was useful when I was on the market because I was on the market.  It was useful at other times because I was giving a paper and able to go see and hear papers.  But those two never happened at the same time.  Market years were simply to miserable to go see and hear papers meaningfully.  More local or area-focused conferences probably make more sense in terms of budget and networking for most grad students.  Talking to friends, my sense is that some smaller or poorer schools really prefer phone interviews, and have for some time.

I don't have a lot of experience with Skype, but I prefer phone, I think.  That preference is based on watching students Skype when I was overseas, and on an old photography article I read once about taking baby pictures.  Here's the baby picture article in short:  if you're taking pictures for the parents of a baby, then you get really close to the baby's face, so that it's like a parent being right up close to the baby.  If you're taking pictures for non-parents, then you take the picture a bit further off, because non-parents aren't usually as comfortable with the extreme closeness that parents are used to.  People may not articulate their discomfort, but they'll choose photos that way.  The connection to Skype is that most people do it sitting pretty darned close to their computer, and the social distance feels awkward to me, like we're too close.  Just me?  Maybe.  How about you?

Timing.  It takes a huge lot of time to read job applications.  Even if you read fast for the first cut and spend ten minutes per, if you've got a hundred to get through, you're looking at a lot of time.  And if you've got 200, a lot more time.  Then there are all the discussions, rereading, preparing for the next step.  All this is done, in my experience, as an add on to the rest of the job.  I know it's hard to wait for an interview call, of course.  My suggestion is that when the department sends an acknowledgement, it should include a realistic timeline for hearing about interviews.  And at each step thereafter, candidates should get realistic information about the timeline.  At the same time, we all know searches where the first two or three campus visits didn't pan out well, and the third or fourth person was asked late, but turned out to be just the right hire.  So for those on the receiving end, try not to take late calls as bad news or as personal issues.

What else should we on the search committee side to to make our searches as humane as possible?

Sunday, December 08, 2013


I had a long phone chat with a friend and former roommate from grad school this morning, and it was just great to talk.  We haven't much talked for years, not because we had a falling out or anything, but because other things happen, and we're both busy, and so on, but talking was great, and I hope we talk more sooner rather than later.

This roommate was one of the sanest, most common sense, down to earth people I knew in grad school.  She was really smart in all sorts of ways, but also really decent and thoughtful.

Of course, chatting with my former roommate also got me thinking about some other grad school folks, many of whom were (and are) wonderful in their own ways, but few of whom I have much contact with these days.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Free Advice

If you're interviewing for an English department type job, don't call Shakespeare "the Bard" even once, and certainly not repeatedly.

You sound like an fool.  And not a good kind of fool.


So, yes, here in the upper Midwest, it's unseasonably cold right now.  If the past is any hint, it's unlikely to stay this cold for long.  But yes, it's cold.  (Though not as cold as some places!)

We have a number of new colleagues in various roles and departments around, and I'm rather amused at the facebook posts I'm seeing and our encounters in the hallways.  Early on, several of them were sort of laughing when we asked if they had winter clothes, assuring us that they were from really cold areas, so no worries.  And now, they're facebooking (look, I made a verb!  Surely I'm not the first.) about needing boots rated for arctic expeditions and such.

Somehow, I've found myself in the rather odd position of comforting them about the relative pleasantness of winter in the teens.

For those who know me in meat-space, you're probably laughing at that one, because I'm notorious for putting on long johns sometime in September, and wearing them through nearly to June.

Then there's the shock of ice on the sidewalks.  With a wet, heavy snow, followed quickly by a cold snap, we've got hellacious ice on the sidewalks and such.  But again, experience tells me that people will scrape, and salt, and ice will sublimate, and before long, the sidewalks will be clearer.  (To be honest, yaktrax are my friends all winter long.  But for now, it's too cold for road salt to work, even.  Brrr!)

One of my students was in shorts and flip flops yesterday.  I still can't quite believe that most people in the upper Midwest somehow grow up with all their fingers and toes intact.  But he seemed sanguine.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Professor's Dilemma

Let's imagine, say, a professor is teaching an advanced underwater basketweaving class.  And let's imagine, too, that the class grades are based primarily on a presentation, a portfolio of several baskets, and a self-evaluation of the basket portfolio.  Just imagine.

Now imagine that there's a student enrolled in the class who appeared for a couple of weeks, and did the group presentation, and did a fine job at that.  And then the student pretty much disappeared.  But the student emailed occasionally saying that zie was coming to class the next week.  And then that zie had had to miss class, but couldn't drop because [fill in excuse], and zie would do the work for the class and turn it in on the last day, because that's what the grade depends on.

How should the professor handle this?

Not that I'd be asking for a specific reason, because, of course, I don't even teach underwater basketweaving.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New Digs, Part the Second

As I posted previously, we're moving to new digs.  They've promised to get me another file cabinet, and they've revealed that there actually IS a coat hook on the wall behind the door (I'd looked at the door, only), so things are looking up.

It's a massive logistical undertaking, really.  Two big departments from our building, plus a whole school from another building, plus some resource type offices (tutoring centers and so forth) will all be moving to the new building.  And it all has to happen in mid-winter, when we're not in full on teaching mode (though there is a winter session).  As with any big logistical undertaking, they've made rules to govern us.

First, except for books and "official" files, they won't move any personal belongings.  So if you've brought an office lamp to campus, you have to move it yourself.

Second, none of us is supposed to be in the way on moving days (ie, in either building).

Third, none of us is supposed to have more than one set of keys.

So, it looks like we have to get all the personal belongings out ahead of time, and then wait and move them into our office some days later.  We'll be able to use our offices (well, more or less) until the day to move offices, and then we'll have to lock up, turn in our keys, and wait.  Then on moving day two, we'll be given keys to the new building and our offices, and be allowed in.

And as they move people out of the old offices, they'll take the locks off the doors so that nothing can be locked while the rooms are empty.

Our department office has one moving day, our individual offices a later moving day, and I guess that's also different for each of the other units moving.

We're all supposed to have our stuff (well, the stuff they'll move) boxed up in boxes with labels, which we're storing in our department's conference room by the department moving day.

Fortunately, we have student workers to help with packing books and moving boxes of books from our offices to the conference room for storage.

Today, I packed some files and old student work.  I think (when I came here) I was told that we were supposed to keep student work for two years so that they could pick it up later.  But I've recycled all but the last semester's work now, and packed that, along with files from classes and committee work  (fortunately, I'd gone through my files and weeded some last winter) this morning.  I've also had student workers pack up six and a half of my 20 shelves of books (just the ones in my campus office, of course).  Packed are Shakespeare (because I'm not teaching Shakespeare this semester), though a couple went home because I want to read them over break, and contemporary drama, and most early modern texts, and contemporary lit (admittedly, that shelf is pretty small).  (You can see a picture of my old office, with art and books, here.)  (And here's the tale of how my office got its glorious green walls!)  (There will, alas, be no gloriously green walls in the new building.  I've been warned.)

I'm hesitant to pack up my lit crit, because I feel like those are handy for students, and since I keep them in alphabetical order (of course), I don't want to pack them randomly if I can help it.  I think I'm about ready to pack up the anthologies and such, because I think I won't need them much.  (I rarely need them, but when you need them, they're super handy to have just there.

I've been taking personal stuff home bit by bit: all the art is home, and most of the toys (especially the Einstein Action Figure, with Power Chalk!  Raised Fist!), and my regalia.  I still have some things to take home, though, and printed out comics to take off the door.  But that can wait until the last, since the office will seem much less friendly that way.

It's strange walking through the department and seeing some folks shelves barren of books.  We do love our books around here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Not Your Mommy

I'm chairing this committee and there's this work we have to do.  It has to get done, or bad things will happen to other people.

We set a due date of today for 11 of the things to be done (by 11 people).  How many are done?  3.

(These aren't things that can be done in just a couple of minutes at the last moment, but take a fair bit of time.)

Sometimes, my colleagues are worse than my students about lateness.  (But, fortunately, I know that, so we set the date a bit earlier than absolutely necessary, and I sent out a reminder today.  Yeah.  The thing is, if the task isn't done by the real deadline, there's no way to do it late and push the deadline back.)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

When a Thesis Doesn't Have a Thesis

Back at the beginning of the semester, I wrote about a problem I've had in the past with MA students who disappear for a couple of months and then send a chunk of work and hope for a quick response.  And despite my request that it not happen, it's happened.  I sent the student an email last week, asking about hir disappearance, and zie sent me a short apology and a revised chapter and a new chapter.

I'm so frustrated.  I've been slowly reading, stopping when what I really want to write on the paper or in my response how frustrated I am to be reading a thesisless, argumentless hunk of writing.  I don't know what to call it, but it's irritating.

And then, of course, I wonder about the quality of my own dissertation draft chapters.  I don't think I was so aimless in my writing, but it's hard to tell retrospectively.  I hope they were better.

I resent the amount of energy I put in to responding and then get a new chapter (or revision) that doesn't seem to have taken anything away from the previous responses.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nearly Mindless

Why is it that nearly mindless computer games are so engrossing?

Even if I'm not particularly enjoying a game of computer solitaire, I still want to play it rather than grade or any number of other more or less useful things I could do, many of which are way more pleasant than grading?

What is it about these games?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pizza on Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

Last year, I started a new tradition and had some friends over for Pizza on Thanksgiving (TM). 

Everyone loves pizza, right?  And it's way less stressful and overwhelming to make than a turkey, especially if you're a single person.

Pizza on Thanksgiving (TM) doesn't pretend to be a traditional thanksgiving dinner, so I don't feel like I'm missing out on what made thanksgiving great when I was a kid, and that was being a kid with a lot of cousins around, good food, and fun.  (Even that wasn't without its conflicts, however, since as a girl, I was expected to be all dressed up, and dressed up meant I didn't get to go outside and play football with the boy cousins.)  Instead, Pizza on Thanksgiving (TM) is about sharing a relaxed, informal meal with friends

We make adult pizza, so not the overloaded saucy pizza of kidness.  Instead, we've got a variety of choices, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a crumbly goat cheese, basil, oregano (both fresh), quartered artichoke hearts, olives, and mushrooms.  We'll see what folks want to do with the different pies.

Now if I can get some grading done, my weekend will be much better!

Monday, November 25, 2013


We did the coolest thing today, thanks to Susan (who sometimes comments here).  We had a Skype session with her and my class, and we learned tons, and it worked great.

It also made me acutely aware, in ways that I sometimes forget, how shy and quiet many of my midwestern students are.  They'll chat away with a ton of questions one on one, but in a group of four or more, especially when they don't know someone, they're a whole lot quieter.

Still, they tell me they had a great time and thought the session was really valuable for them.

I think I'm making it to the 21st century after all!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Digs

We're moving to a new building, soon, the first new academic building on our campus since the 70s, I'm told.  And it's beautiful.  For one thing, it's not built for riot control!  And it's using all the technology to allow windows and light.  So, yes, it's beautiful. 

And it's built to ADA code, so people with wheelchairs should be able to use the restrooms and get down the hallways, even.

But the layout, boy oh boy, the layout feels like it was done by people who've never actually inhabited an office.

Here's the basic layout for instructors' offices  (not to perfect scale):

We were all given basically the same office furniture, with a few choices optional (and thank dog one of the deanlings said that we actually needed more than a four foot tall single bookshelf available).

So, we could have a hutch on the top of the desk, which would only fit on the wall at the top of my picture, and would effectively block half the window.  But EVERYONE had to have the same big L-shaped desk, and it has to be where it is. 

Instead of the three bookshelves I've chosen, you could choose 2 bookshelves and a sideways file cabinet, or 1 bookshelf and two sideways file cabinets.

And you could choose an additional desk space sort of rounded off thing to make the desk into a horseshoe shape.

But other than that, it's all basically the same Ikea-style screwed together furniture, with the biggest difference being that every other office is the reverse of the ones next to it.  (And some offices don't have the structural element my office does.)  The chairs aren't in yet, but there will be (I'm told) two student chairs in the upper left space, and one rolling office chair for me.

So, yeah.  I should be thrilled, right?  It has a window, which is good.  And I have an office, which is good.  (And before anyone starts in, our adjuncts all have basically the same office, though some have skylights instead of windows because they're inside offices.)

We went in for a tour, and to tape down sticker things to show where we want our computer and such to go. 

And I was almost crying.

I hate it.  I shouldn't, but I do.

And I don't think this is just me being resistant to change or something.  I think the office isn't well designed for my use.

1.  There's no way to sit and work at the desk and either face the door or be, say, directly sideways to the door.  It will always be behind me.  Do you folks have those students who just walk into someone's office without any hesitation and loom over the space?  We do.  A lot.  In my current office, I can see them coming.  I have a feeling my office door is going to be closed all the time in this office.  (Usually, I leave it fully open because I think it's a more friendly feeling to the building.  But friendly be damned.)

2.  There's a window, but there's no good way to, say, stand and look out, and mull.  To get a good look out beyond the roof (we all look onto the roof of the floors below us), I'll have to sit on my desk.

3.  The office has about 18 inches of file cabinet space (hung with a single regular drawer under the desk).  Yes, I chose the three bookshelves option, because I teach literature and have a lot of books.  My current office has three bookshelves, and they were pretty darned full.  (I say "were" because we've been told to start packing, so I've packed most of the books I don't think I'll need before the beginning of the semester.)  What the hell am I going to do with four file drawers of files?  (We're required to keep all student work that isn't handed back for two years, so that's filling part of my file drawers, along with a full drawer for text teaching notes, and another drawer with course notes, and them stuffed in, advising and committee notes.)   And the single desk drawer?  That's gotta fit everything, the emergency tampons (because some of us are female humans, right?), the Tums, and so on, along with pens, stapler, index cards, etc.

4.  There's no coat hook on the back of the door.  I know this is a small thing, but think about it.  This is the icy north, where we have some six months of serious coat weather, and not a single office has a place to hang coats.  Who designs a building in the icy north without thinking about where to put big bulky coats?  The same people who design academic office spaces without both book and file space.

I don't think they were purposefully trying to make the offices inutil, but rather that they're used to designing corporate type offices, and didn't talk to any people who actually inhabit academic offices about how we use them.  Yes, some people really like desk space, and they should have been able to choose desk space options.  I'm guessing digital humanities people will tend to need fewer bookshelves than lit type people.  And some people won't keep paper files at all.  And some people want to sit right next to the window to look out.  And some people don't want to sit with their backs to the door.  And so on.

The administrative types who like uniformity and "branding" are happy, though, because every single office looks alike on every floor.  Each floor has it's "accent color" (ours is muddy brown, though they call it something that sounds more corporate), and everything will be uniform.  All of us interchangeable cogs in the academic machinery will march along like factory workers, hoping they don't outsource us.

How soon can I retire?

One last thing:  the hallway is interminably long, like the long of one of those nightmarish scenes in 60s movies where there's a long hallway of offices, all alike, and the workers all march in step to their place in the office.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shared Chaos

We have computer storage areas (that is, storage areas set up on university servers somewhere in physical space, rather than closets where we store spare computers), and some of those storage areas are dedicated in specific "drives" (a denotation which makes sense when you're talking about a hard drive, but I'm not sure that's how these storage areas work in physical space at all; who knows).

So, there's a "drive" for the [organizational unit] for this committee I'm chairing, and within that OU drive, there's a big file area for the committee I'm chairing (which I'm going to call the CIC for now).  And within that big file area are CIC stuff dating back to when the drive was first set up, long ago.  And it's all the heck over.

There are file folders labeled: Urgent Work
And there are file folders labeled by year: 2007
And file folders by topic: Forms to fill out, or meeting notes

And there are "loose" files, some of meeting notes, some of forms, some of committee actions, and some with names such as LBP34, where LBP doesn't seem to stand for anything I can recognize even when I open up the file and read that it's meeting notes from 2011.  You know each person who put something in there thought they were saving it in a place where it would be "easy" to find, but over time, and with different ideas of what's "easy" to find, it just becomes chaos.  And then a new chair takes over, and labels things a different way, but doesn't change the last chair's labels, and so on.

I'll be honest.  I may be a little obsessive about some organizational sort of stuff.  I keep, for example, files for works I teach, and files for classes, and files for committee work.  My teaching files are alphabetical by author.  My books are organized in shelves:  Shakespeare alphabetical by title, crit/theory type alphabetical by author, other early modern lit alphabetical by author/title, other plays alphabetical by author/title, other lit alphabetical by author/title.  (Then there are the anthologies, which are on the bottom shelf.)

So the OU drive disorganization bothers me.

Or did.  Because this morning, I got to the point of bother where I just started reorganizing.  I started with the premise that stuff older than 3 years can all be put together.  And most stuff that's not from this year can be put by year.  And then stuff that gets re-used, such as Forms to fill out, can be put together and not separated by year.

So now the OU drive looks something like this, by file folder:

CIC 2010 and older
CIC 2010-2011
CIC 2011-2012
CIC 2012-2013
CIC 2013-2014 Agenda and Minutes
CIC 2013-2014 Communications
CIC 2013-2014 Work in Progress
Forms to fill out
General Information

At the end of the year, I'll make a CIC 2013-2014 folder, and put the three folders in there as subfolders.  At least that's my plan.

I feel so much better now. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I'm chairing this basketweavers' committee and the person who volunteered to be secretary keeps taking more time or being later with stuff than I'd like.

So, for example, if we have a meeting on Friday, and agree to make some changes in a document for which the secretary is responsible, then I tend to feel that sometime on Monday I can look for a new version.

I think I'm impatient to get these things moved on, because I know other people are waiting for them.  But I'm not really sure if my impatience is in any way reasonable, so I've been trying to hold my peace about it. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Teaching Angst?

In that early modern class, we're reading Donne and Herbert and Herrick, three priests who have really different poetic practices and whose poetry works through a fair bit of religious thought.

It might help to know that I'm an atheist, though I was raised Christian.  I remember as a teenager having a serious episode of religious angst (to which my Mom responded with a stern "get over yourself") and finally decided that Christianity didn't make logical sense to me, and that was pretty much that (which didn't make either of my parents very happy with me).

Most of my students, though, are Christian to some extent.

I talked a bit in this recent post about teaching Donne and got some helpful advice from Flavia about being more direct with my students in asking them to think about how Donne imagines God.  So we did that with Donne and Herbert together, and put the students' thoughts up on the board, so, for example, they thought that in what they'd read, Donne sees himself (and when I say "himself" I mean the speaker, though it's hard to feel that separation sometimes) as worrying about being saved and sees it as necessary for God to do the saving, but worries that God won't.  Herbert, on the other hand, sees God as already reaching out to him, as being welcoming, even though he sees himself as deeply unworthy.  Herbert doesn't worry about being saved because he feels that God has already reached out and is reasserting his welcome.

They found Herbert's confidence much more familiar from their experience in our culture, much more what they hear around.

Then one of the students asked how two people with a common religion in the same period could have such different ideas about God.

On one level, that's a naive question.

But on another level, it's a really good question for my students to ask because it reveals that they're beginning to see that there's a possibility of two really different understandings of the same religion by two people who are both demonstrably serious about their religious beliefs.

We talked a bit about how even one person could feel at some point utterly confident in God's grace, and at another point completely terrified of not experiencing that grace, and then, perhaps, again confident, and so on.

It's not that I want my students to stop believing in whatever they believe, it's that I want them to think seriously about what they believe and to think hard about what their religion means.  And I think that Donne and Herbert have gotten some of them started thinking about that.

And then, of course, Herrick comes along.  I think someone with a good bit of wit should start a Herrick twitter feed and have a nice chat with Chaucer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Midwestern Tough

A couple of springs ago, I planted some violas in my yard for that annual flower happiness they bring.  But a year ago this spring, I got some marigolds and put them around, and this year I used the seedlings from those marigolds.
But this viola started up in a container with an artichoke, and thinking it was pretty, I didn't pull it.  And now, despite a few weeks of chilly mornings, it's still flowering.  After each hard night frost, I look out, and think, aw, it's dead now.  But then when I get back in the afternoon, it's back looking lively and flowery.  So I leave it.  But I haven't done anything to take care of it since the artichoke with it died some weeks ago now.  Still, it goes on, flowering like it means it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wagging the Dog

Over in the underwater basketweaving department, they're working on assessment projects like mad because the new campus assessment person has said jump in a very loud voice, and the headmaster's assistant has cracked the whip.

They have this program, a certificate in underwater basketweaving, which is a bit less than a minor, but gives students practical skills for managing and working with basketweaving projects later.  The certificate has six classes, Basketweaving basics (UBW 10), Underwater safety (UBW 20),  Introductory reed work (UBW 101), Basketweaving theory (UBW 103), and Integrative basketweaving (UBW 190, a sort of capstone experience), with one elective (at the 100 level or above) to be chosen from a group of basketweaving classes.

They were told that they had to write out specific goals and outcomes for the certificate program, and that for every goal, there had to be at least one outcome, and for every outcome, at least one way to demonstrate that every student did it.  The pressure from the campus assessment person is that we all have to do assessment stuff "in a meaningful way," and so he hints that we should all limit the numbers of outcomes.

The goal for this certificate is that students should be able to weave basic underwater baskets, and that they should do so safely, and they should understand how basketweaving works.  That gets broken down into a couple of outcomes, which I'll number:

1)  Weave underwater baskets.

2)  Use safe and appropriate techniques.

3)  Understand basic basketweaving issues.  (Which in assessment outcome talk is going to come out as something like "demonstrate an understanding of basic basketweaving")

Then they were told to make a grid, showing where each of the outcomes was taught, and where each would be assessed.  Let's use "T" for courses where things will be taught, and "Ass" for where they'll be assessed

Basketweaving basics (UBW 10):  1T; 3T

Underwater safety (UBW 20):  2T

Introductory reed work (UBW 101): 1T; 3T

Basketweaving theory (UBW 103): 3T

Integrative basketweaving (UBW 190, a sort of capstone experience):  1A, 2A, 3A

Since they don't know which of the electives students will take (Advanced Underwater Safety, Intermediate Basketweaving, whatever), they don't put the electives on the list.

Then they're asked to fill out another form, telling how UBW 190 is going to assess each of the outcomes.  So they've chosen as their assessment the final project, the production of an underwater basket without drowning or losing body parts.  Oh, and they also have to use something written to demonstrate understanding, but some people don't give an exam, and some people require an extensive reflection piece about the woven underwater basket, while others do give an exam, but do it as an oral.  It's a mess, but they're working on it.

And now, they're a bit worried, because budget cuts are coming down the pike along with an emphasis on getting students through programs as fast as possible, and they're going to be driven by assessment.

UBW 103, the theory class, doesn't seem to teach any of the outcomes that aren't also taught in the other classes, so are the beancounters going to come back and say, "Well, it doesn't contribute to the outcomes you've assigned, so why is it required?  If it were important, you would have put it on your grid."

"And the elective?" the beancounters will ask, "Do students even learn anything in the elective?  It's not on your grid, so they must not learn anything."

Coming soon to a campus near you, because it's for the students!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reading Religion

I taught a couple of Donne's Holy Sonnets this week, and the students had a short writing assignment about one of them:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Most of the students did a fine job, looking carefully at the sonnet and thinking well about the imagery and word choices.

Some of them didn't do quite as well, and their difficulties reminded me of the difficulty one of my students had way back when doing a short assignment which asked her to look at the imagery used for Jesus in "The Dream of the Rood."  The difficulty is that they've been taught and strongly adopted one set of imagery for Jesus, and they're unwilling or unable to grasp other imagery for Jesus by themselves, without someone pointing out in an explicit way that they're accustomed to one sort of imagery, but that there's other imagery being used in this piece of literature.  Usually, the imagery they've been taught is a Jesus as pastor imagery, with a totally merciful, kindly diety.

The student who reads like this, for example, writes that this poem is talking about how much Donne (or the speaker, if they're a bit more sophisticated) loves God and knows that he will be saved, of course.

That's not the imagery that Donne uses and it's not the God he imagines.  His God is fearsome and aweful, and Donne's speaker expresses real doubt about their relationship.

In teaching early modern lit, I often teach texts that demonstrate a variety of imagery for the Christian diety, but students don't seem to ever misrecognize the pastoral, lamb of God sort of imagery for a more violent or doubtful imagery the way some students misrecognize violent or doubtful imagery as pastoral.  Is that because students who've experienced more violent or doubtful imagery have also experienced the more pastoral imagery?  Or have they been taught to approach religious imagery differently?

That said, I think some of the students who are reading Paradise Lost this semester are getting a lot out of thinking hard about the justification part.  Do I get points for inspiring existential crises?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Around the Intertubes

There's an image going around the intertubes, which seems to come from a student affairs sort of office, and invites the recipient to a "special etiquette tips" meal (Source).

Yes, you're thinking, this is a good idea!  Help students learn to have table manners that will help them fit in with the middle or upper classes!

 Except, it's not aimed at students.  Nope, it was apparently sent to faculty and staff.

Okay, now take a closer look. 

And, respond!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Get it Out of the Way

You've probably heard this from students, where "it" is some requirement, a course, test, whatever.

I'm sure I said it myself at some point, and about some things (a certain requirement from my phud program comes to mind).

As an adviser, though, I find these statements frustrating.

I usually try to get the student to recognize that someone thought this requirement was useful and important, and maybe the student should think about why that might be and what they might gain from doing whatever it is the requirement requires.

Sometimes, I recognize, it's a hoop to jump through because someone had a political or turf stake in creating or maintaining that hoop.

But mostly, I think general education requirements have a real, useful purpose, even if they aren't worked out especially well or explained to students even minimally.

How about you folks?

General Education requirements?  Useful or total BS?

And how do you communicate to students about them?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Scene from my Day

Scene:  Bardiac, sitting at a computer in the office, trying to get work done before a meeting starts.  The door is open.

Enter a student to the office door

Student:  Do I need a registration code?

Bardiac:  I don't know.

Student looks both befuddled and frustrated.

Bardiac:  How would I know?

Student:  (As if the thought has never occurred to him/her that s/he isn't the center of everyone's world.)  Ummmm, I don't know.

Bardiac:  Are you a first year student?

Student:  No.

Bardiac:  Are you a sophomore?

Student:  Yes.

Bardiac:  Then you probably need one.

Student:  Can you give me my registration code?

Bardiac looks confused (as usual).

Student:  (Making to walk into the office, before stopping at the withering stare.)  You're my advisor.

Bardiac:  Do you want to make an advising appointment?

Student:  Oh.  (Wait a beat or two.)  I guess so.

Bardiac:  My office hours are on the door, can you come then?  (Pointing to a big, colored display on the doorStudent looks confused.)  The office hours are in that pinkish color.  (Student points to each of the three hours separately, slow motion.)

Student:  Not this week.

Bardiac:  Monday?

Student:  I have class on Monday at [time].  I could usually come on Friday, but I have work this week at [time].

Bardiac:  How about 8 am.  Do you have something scheduled then?

Student:  No.

Bardiac:  So, how about 8 am on Friday?

Student:  Okay. (Starts to walk away.)

Bardiac:  Wait, what's your name?

Student:  [Name] (Gives name as if insulted, because how could anyone possibly not remember his/her wonderful special self.)

Exit Student, manet Bardiac.

Want to bet someone's going to hear from this student about what a horrible person I am, and how I didn't help him/her get the registration code the instant s/he wanted it, and I was just sitting there at the computer?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Birding Road Trip

This may seem like an odd time to take a birding road trip in the upper Midwest, but there have been some reports lately of Whooping Cranes in a couple of areas.  So I packed up an overnight bag, and off I went.

I had two possible places on my visit list, so I started at the closer one, a national wildlife area.  Fortunately, I came across a sign for the visitor center pretty quickly, went in, and got directions for four areas to try. 

I started with the walk near the visitor center.  I could see some Canada Geese, and a few Sandhill Cranes.  It's weird, but after driving very focused on getting there, it took me some time to slow down, or calm down, and just relax and walk and listen.  There was a lot of calling going on, geese and that weird crane call.  (If you've never heard a crane, you can hear recordings at the Cornell Lab's About Birds Page.  You should listen!)

Then I went to a southern observation area which had a short walk and a small observation tower.  And, of course, I took some pictures.

These are Sandhill Cranes.  They're BIG!  Really impressive birds.  You can see that they're light grey.  If you compare them with, say, Great Blue Herons, you can see that these Sandhills have a red cap area on their forehead, and also their bodies look bulkier.  They're not hugely uncommon, but I still think they're amazing.

So, I looked and looked, and then I saw this white spot!
You can tell it's a pretty big bird, but holy cow, it's way far away!  But bright!  White!  It really stands out, doesn't it?

It's either a Whooping Crane or?  Well, I thought maybe an egret, but it's body is more the crane bulkiness.

And then there were two!
You can tell how much bigger and brighter these are than the Canada Geese near them.

But, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.  I'm pretty sure these were Whooping Cranes, but they were really far away, barely more than dots in my binoculars.  So maybe I was more than a little disappointed.

I went on to the second place they'd suggested, but I didn't see or hear any cranes there.  I was a bit sad.  And it was time for lunch, so I drove to a nearby town and found a little Polish deli (at least I think so, because a lot of the stuff seemed to be Polish style or come from Poland).  And I got myself a really good sandwich.  So that helped. 

I also stopped back at the visitor center and showed the pictures (in my camera) to two of the volunteers their, and they both seemed pretty confident that it was the right bulkiness and brightness for a Whooping Crane.  So that gave me a bit more confidence.

The next step was to drive north along this one dirt road, and stop at a couple other observation areas.

I passed this area that was wooded on both sides, before the road went out onto a dike thing between two watery areas.  And my jaw dropped, because right there, on either side of the road, about 100 or so feet from the road, were two pairs of really big, really obvious Whooping Cranes.

Can you tell I was excited?

And it wasn't that they just stood there, either!

The photos don't do the cranes justice.  And, I'm not thrilled by all the lint that was on my lens.  The day was overcast, and I was using my 400mm lens with a doubler, so I didn't get many good pictures (I did get a lot of really blurry ones, though).

I did get to see some crazy rare birds!  I saw at least four, and maybe six (probably six, unless the first two flew up to the other place). 

And yet, somehow, the grading still gets to get done.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Evolution of Faculty Attitudes

January-March of year Minus 1:  I have a job offer!  Hallelujah!

TT, Year 1 - Bright and shiny!  I have a job!  Oh, and look, the Dean is new, too!  I am totally on board with the new assessment program!  This idea will revolutionize teaching!

TT, Year 2 - Thank dog I have a job!  There's a President/Chancellor search?  Hmmmm.  There's this cool advising initiative!  I can't wait to get started!  Gathering all that great assessment data!  Takes a lot of time!  We went through institutional review?  What's that?  Hey, I get to be on a search committee!  Neato!

TT, Year 3 - HOLY CRAP, I have to publish more!  Teach better!  What's this advising change they've made?  What do you mean they changed the assessment program, and all the time I spent gathering that data was wasted?  And now you want me to do what?  Okay, I can totally do that!  We're searching for a new chair?  I wonder what that means for me?  What's a Provost, and why are we searching for a new one?

TT, Year 4 - Head down, write write write!  Must develop new classes!  What happened to that advising thing?  Why is it totally changed?  Learning the new advising system.  Gathering assessment data!  Hey, did you know we had this whole big department review thing to work on?  We found a new chair!

TT, Year 5 - OMG OMG OMG must write more!    Did I hear something about massive curricular reform?  You want me to do what for department review?

TT, Year 6 - Portfolio submitted!  Waiting on tenterhooks.  Um, when did we get a new Dean?  And what do you mean, we have to totally rework the assessment program?  There are a whole lot of meetings to go to about that massive curricular reform.  Sure, I can be on that search committee.  Hey, I guess our departmental review suggested that we change our three majors around totally.  Sure, I'll help with one of those.  I'd love to.  Really.

TT, Year 7 - Tenure!  I made it!  What do you mean, I need to do a lot more service now?  And I need to be on the President/Chancellor search committee?  Still more meetings about the massive curricular reform.  If we can just get everyone to agree on the new major revision for our department.  Sabbatical application DENIED!

TT, Year 8 - The new President/Chancellor hates our curricular reform ideas, so we have to start over.  How did I end up chairing this committee?   I have to learn all about new curricular reform stuff.  Damn, I hope someone good ends up on the Provost search committee.  Yay, we've revamped our major, and it goes live next year!  Sabbatical application APPROVED!

TT, Year 9 - Sabbatical!!!!  OMG, must write!  (Time to start gearing up for the institutional review!  Glad I'm out of that loop!)

TT, Year 10 - Institutional review!  Look, we're working on this curricular reform, and in a couple years, it's going live!  Assessment, assessment, who's got assessment?  Me?  Um...  crap.  What did you people do last year?  Hey, we got a new Dean!  Chairing a new faculty search committee.  We need two new people, but we get one hire... what to do?  Holy cow, how do I advise for the new major?

TT, Year 11 - We really have to get moving on the curricular revision, or we're not going to get accredited next time!  Ack!  There's a totally new advising system!  It doesn't work with the computer system, but the advising office says it will make life so much better for them.  And they want me to notify them every time a student misses class...  But the new system doesn't take into account our new (well, not so new now) major.  The President/Chancellor just resigned.  It's interim time!

TT, Year 12 - You want me to chair the department review committee?  And we simply have to do something about assessment within the department for the new major.  Oops, I was supposed to be all ready to go up for full, but my book isn't at a press yet, and I haven't had time to revise it fully, and those three articles just haven't come out.  Next time!  MUST write more!  President/Chancellor search time!  Should I go to those meetings?

TT, Year 13 - Portfolio submitted for promotion!  Oh, look, the new President/Chancellor has these new ideas about curricular reform and assessment.  And promises to raise lots of money.  Yes, I'll be on the Dean search committee.  No, I won't be department chair, not this time, anyway...  And the Provost just took a new job elsewhere?

TT, Year 14 - How long until I can retire and just teach part time, because I really do love that, still...

Thursday, October 31, 2013


A couple of my artichoke plants were absolutely thriving in the early fall, so I brought them inside.  And now I'm trying to figure out how to get them enough light to get them through winter.  Or, at least, get the one through to where the choke you can barely make out has time to grow a tad more before I eat it.  EAT IT!  (I love artichokes!)

You can see the choke developing on the left in this picture. 

Aren't they beautiful?  I think artichokes are just cool plants.  They're a differently beautiful green, with really interesting leaves and growth patterns.  (This picture is from the opposite angle of the first.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I donated blood today; when the Red Cross folks called to tell me I was okay to give blood (the 56 day wait was over) and they needed my very special blood (okay, they didn't say that my blood is special, but I'm saying it!), the Red Cross person said this donation would put me at 8 gallons (I'm guessing that's just through the Red Cross in this state, but it might also include a few donations at the Red Cross in the last state I lived in, I suppose).

So, 8 gallons.  That's a lot of blood.

It looks like I wrote about donating a couple years ago, when I had just passed the 5 gallon mark.

I still haven't gotten a wall marker, though.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Survey Says?

I've been working on a project this fall with a student, building off a project he did for a class last spring, which looks at how high school teachers do a specific sort of thing.

We're using a survey, and then following up with interviews if folks are willing.

You know what this means.  Yes, the IRB.  This is a computer survey, so we aren't even worried about possible paper cuts, but of course these things need to get done.  (And while I may sound flip, because I think the risk of harm from our survey is laughably small, I think it's vital that researchers treat human subjects well and with real respect.  The thing is, I think we're held to a higher standard than the people who make you sign a thing when you enter a clinic/hospital saying that they can do anything they like with whatever they find, and if you don't like it, they won't treat you at the clinic/hospital.  We HAVE to include a statement [and take it seriously] that our subjects can opt out without any coercion.)

The student has been doing most of the leg work, with me providing guidance, which is how it should be.  He's done background reading (much of which I found and read over the summer to figure out if such a project might be useful and interesting), done some searching in high school text books, did the IRB certification (I did a re-up on mine, too), and put together the survey.

And then we submitted it, and waited.  And the IRB folks sent it back with some suggested revisions.  So we made those, and resubmitted, and waited.  And then we got to do some more revisions (all of which were helpful), and clarifications.  Then we got the go-ahead.

But then the survey test email was a mess.  It turned out that the way it displayed letterhead made it seem like there was something really bad on the email, so it wouldn't download the letterhead, and therefore also the letter, without a special click.  And since no one is crazy enough to special click something they've received from crazy people at some university, we knew that wouldn't work.

Happily, the student worked with the IT folks here (who are wonderful in all sorts of ways, and great and helpful at solving problems), and voila, it worked, and now it's sent out.

So now we wait to find out!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Chewed Up

I'm feeling a bit chewed over by the semester.  I don't think I'm the only one, either.

I was chatting with a colleague this morning, someone who's been in our department fairly long.  We were both in by about 7:30, as is our wont, and he commented that it used to be that folks would come into the department by 7 am.  And he named a couple of the folks that used to show up early, and then said that they'd all go have coffee in the coffee room, and hang out.  And we realized that there are probably about the same numbers of people in early (though not at 7am) now, but that we all go to our offices and work there.

And the lunch room used to be a busy place at lunch, but now people go in to nuke something or get hot water or coffee, and then leave.

I think we've sort of collectively found that we have more work to do, and that the time we've found to do it used to be more relaxed social time.  So now, instead of going and having a cup of coffee with colleagues to start the day, we get the coffee and go work in our individual offices.  And we have lunch working at our desks instead of chatting in the lunch room.

I wonder how else the social life of the department has changed?

This is a department which had female chairs in the 60s, and a fair number of female colleagues since then, though we're now at a close to 50% balance.  So I don't think the gender numbers have changed drastically.  And I know that a lot of the women who were here then had families, and some didn't, so that hasn't changed.

I think most of the men then had wives who worked outside the home, as they do today.  But I think today and then the wives do most of the cooking and childcare (at least going by what both male and female colleagues and friends say about their lives).

Racially, I think we're a more diverse department than we were 15 or more years ago.

I think there are folks in the department who socialized outside the department (that is, at homes, in the evening or on weekends) about the same as before, but I think we socialize less within the department, less chatting over coffee in the mornings, or over lunch, or over coffee again later in the day.

I wonder, do people work from home more than they used to?  (That is, does someone not come in and have lunch here because they're at home until almost time for classes?)

I think we have about the same numbers of adjuncts as we had 15 or so years ago, though we have fewer TT faculty.  And partly we have even fewer TT faculty because we have a lot of people who are partially reassigned to administrative tasks.  Now, some of those administrative tasks are GREAT and way important, but it means that others have to do more work.  So, for example, we have two TT faculty who are more than 50% time as program leaders outside this department, so they don't serve on our personnel committee, which means we have fewer people to do the personnel work.  And greater "accountability" means that there's more personnel work to get done.

Friday, October 25, 2013


NWU has hired someone to come give some talks to students and such about career preparation and stuffs.  And that's fine. 

That same information is pretty much already available here, though.  The career services folks talk about this, and so do advisors (well, I do, anyway).  But we're paying this other person to come and talk.

The thing is, the faculty member who has responsibility for making sure the visitor's time is occupied is a friend of mine, and asked if I would be willing to have the visitor come talk to one of my classes (a core majors class) about career preparation stuff.  And so, I said yes.  And then the idea of the visitor also coming to my senior class for a few minutes came up, and that seemed okay.  Our seniors need to think about what comes next, for sure.

So the idea was that the person would come to the last 15 or so minutes of my core class, and then the first 15 or so minutes of my senior seminar.

You'll note the "was," right?

My friend (and I want to emphasize friend, because this is a super person in every way) emailed me saying that the visitor would be interested in sitting in on the classes and then talking to students at the end (the idea being, it seems, that the visitor would talk about the sorts of skills and such we're building in the career preparation stuffs).

So now I get to spend two and a half hours, at least half "on show."

This could be fine.  The visitor may be really great, and my students might be really interested.

Or it could be a "trash the instructor" session.  I don't think it will consciously be that, but I have a certain sense that someone who thinks they have so much to offer that they get paid to come around and talk about this stuff might feel that they need to make some points.

And then, of course, this is me doing a friend a favor to keep this visitor occupied because no one else jumped at the opportunity, and it's going to be cast by administrative types as: I'm a crappy teacher who wants someone to visit so that I don't have to teach, because my classes are empty crap (we all know administrators like that), and also going to be used to show how desperate we are for visitors like this so that we'll spend more of our money on visitors.  And not on, you know, people who show up and work semester in and semester out.

I should have backed out, shouldn't I!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Begin Again, Finnegan

There's a lot I enjoy about my job.  I get to teach great literature, work with wonderful people (students and colleagues), and always have new challenges.

But there are, of course, also frustrations.

We're just about at the midpoint of the semester, and that means that some of the students who've been getting by are beginning to take notice.  This happens in three waves, I find, roughly.

The first wave happens to a lot of first year students about the third week of classes, when they realize that the strategies they used to get As in high school aren't going to work in college.  And some of them get themselves in gear and work on figuring out what it takes to do well in college, usually better time management and a lot more self-discipline about learning on their own time.

This second wave comes with midterms, when students realize that they really aren't getting some work done, and now they want to, but it may be too late to totally catch up.

The third wave is yet to come, of course.  Those are the students who realize at the last minute that they're in desperate straits.

The good thing for the folks who are in the second wave is that there's mostly plenty of time to actually do pretty decently in a given class.  They may not be able to earn the A they were used to in high school, but they can probably pass, or even earn a B.  That's often not true for the third wavers.

The thing is, after the first few semesters, the student's sudden, new to them realization is just the same old thing, same as that last time, and the time before that.

And then there are the students who seem to have the same sudden realization every single semester, but who never quite carry the learning from one situation into the next.  And you're pretty sure that they've found this a useful strategy, and that other instructors have enabled it in the past, allowing them to turn in stuff way late, or do extra credit, or whatever.  No?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What to Say?

In a formal essay, in a section about Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, one of my students complained that Cleopatra is a "drama queen."

Well, um, yes.

Seriously, I don't think the student was even thinking about what s/he wrote.  What do you say?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chairing Meetings

I spent a lot of time at meetings this week being frustrated by poor chairing.

Now, the stuff we were doing was important, and the people are all good folks, so it isn't that.  It's that the chairs weren't efficient or smooth.  And that, naturally, got me to thinking about what it takes to do a good job chairing an academic meeting.

The bad thing is, of course, that none of us gets a whole lot of education in how to run a meeting (we get little enough in how to run a class, sometimes), and academic meetings aren't like the meetings I went to as a lowly worker bee in a corporation, where I was expected to listen and act on what I was told.  Usually, in academic meetings, we're supposed to meet as more or less equals and make decisions about stuff that's more or less important.

At both of the meetings I was at this weekend, the chair had provided an agenda.  And at both of them, the chair went way off the agenda or into different orders.  Now it's fine for the chair to say that someone has recently requested that we consider X problem that's come up, and is urgent, and to introduce that.   There should be some metacommentary, not a lot, just enough to say, hey, we're going to suspend the agenda for a bit to deal with this urgent problem.  Here goes...

Chairs in at least some cases have a lot of power in setting the agenda.  They need to be aware of that.  And that may mean they need to not talk a lot in the meeting itself.  And certainly, they need to not complain about how hard it is to chair.  (A single comment about being overwhelmed is fine, and perfectly understandable, but don't spend 5 minutes of the committee hour complaining.)

Sometimes, as in the case of an urgent problem that needs to be addressed, the chair will need to explain some context.  But that either has to be fairly short (as in not super complex), or there's got to be time for the committee members to get up to speed on the question before making a decision.  If the chair's the only person who has time to think about the issue well ahead, then the chair's likely to have more influence on the question than is quite right.  And the sneaky stuff where the chair's prepared several people, and not informed others at all, that's probably more sneaky than should happen at a healthy institution.  (I think it happens a lot, though.  I just don't think it should.)

Speaking of the agenda.  It's there for a reason.  As chair, you get to set it, so set it thoughtfully, and only move from it with really good reason.  Don't vary because you forgot about X or Y.

If there are decisions to be made (and usually there are), try to keep everyone focused on gathering the information to make a good decision, sharing and discussing that so that the committee really understands the issue, and then making the decision.  Some decisions really do take some time.  Some don't take as much.  But if the committee is going to need some information, the chair needs to provide the information to start (or ask someone else to do so).  Stopping half way to run to your office to make copies because you didn't think about it reveals poor planning.  (Yes, it happens, but it shouldn't be habit.)

I really like when meetings start promptly and end on time.  I try to do the same with classes.  Yes, I understand that sometimes people will be late, and I can deal with that, especially when they're coming from class or across campus in the snow.  But I've found that when the chair of a committee sets a standard of starting on time, most people manage to get there on time.   (Now someone who knows me in meatspace is probably going to laugh at me for this.  Oh well.)

Now it's your turn.  What would you like from a committee chair?  What makes a chair effective?  What drives you nuts from a chair?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What about that Visiting Position?

Over in the department of Basketweaving, they're advertising for a Visiting Assistant Professor of Basketry.  Then one of my students asked what it means, a visiting assistant professor.

So, I thought I'd test the waters and ask about your experiences with VAP sorts of stuff.

Here's what I've seen myself.

Some are rotating positions, where the school has decided it doesn't have adequate funding for tenure line positions, but it's pretty sure it can fund a position for a couple years, and probably a couple years after that, and then they'll see, based on demand and such, and maybe continue.  For the administrators, this means a smaller paycheck, and probably smaller benefits.  (The health insurance will be the same, but there will be a lower cost for retirement benefits, if they're included, based on the VAP's salary being lower than a TT salary.  And so on.)  By doing a VAP thing, the school can bring someone on board with a terminal degree, who might not otherwise be available nearby.  (This is important for more rural schools, for sure.)

Some are sabbatical replacements, perhaps.  Those are usually advertised up front for one year.

Some are planned leave replacements.  For example, if a member of a small department has found a different job, but isn't sure they really want it, they might arrange a leave of absence for a year.  They go off to the new job, and if they don't like it, they return, and if they like it, they tell the department they won't be back.  If they come back, the VAP was a one year position.  If they don't come back, then it might be too late to do a full search by the time they inform the department, and the department might use a VAP for a second year.

Some are unplanned leave replacements.  NWU did this with a position for a year, when someone here got really sick.  The person was well liked and greatly respected, so no one wanted to hire a new person permanently for the position (even if they could have, legally).  But no one knew whether the person would have really successful medical treatment, or not.  Similarly, if someone who wouldn't be expected to leave takes a leave of absence because there's a family difficulty, a school might use a VAP to fill in.

What other situations do you see VAPs advertised to cover?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sometimes a Lousy Notion

We have a small MA program here, problematic for a bunch of reasons, but there we are.

Over the past three or so years, I've directed theses for some four MA students, each of whom has done their course work on campus, and then been pretty much absent while they write their thesis, usually working at some job so they can eat and have shelter.

We're lucky that technology helps us speed up some aspects of the work.  They can email me chapters, and I can email responses, and then pdf the notes I've written on the pages I printed out, and send them through email, too.

Hypothetically, these technological aids mean that things will go swimmingly.  But in practice, I find working with absent MA thesis students really difficult and trying.

The most important difficulty is that the students get busy with their lives, and the thesis isn't a big focus.  Until it is.  And then often enough, they really want my feedback fast.  And I understand the loss of focus, and it would be fine, except if they want me to attend to their work, it needs to be not crappy work, you know?

The second most important difficulty is that students either don't have real access, or don't use what access they do have to library resources. 

In combination, these two cause problems.  Seriously, I spent a good part of the morning reading what was supposed to be a chapter, but which was basically paragraphs doing close readings of bits of a play.  I know the student can write well, but I also know that zie has another job, and that the thesis isn't really a focus.  What I want to say to this student is that there's moral obligation to finish the MA, and that if zie wants to go on with hir life without it, zie probably won't miss it.

I think maybe it's easier to email a rushed, poorly written chapter than it would be to put it in my box in person, or especially to put it in my hand.  It's a lousy thing, though, and I'm coming to resent the time I spend responding to the student.  And I really don't want to resent my students, because that doesn't lead to my happiness, and it's all about my happiness!


Do you remember the ending of A Fish Called Wanda?  When the one "bad guy" (the Kevin Kline character) gets run over by a steamroller? 

Or all those Road Runner cartoons where poor Wile E. Coyote would get steamrolled by an Acme steamroller?

That's how the semester's feeling for me right now.  I keep reading about friends elsewhere on fall break, but we don't have a fall break (because the legislature has legislated that we can't start until after the tourist season so that public university students can work at tourist season jobs), so I just look jealous at their posts.

I could really use a four day weekend, just long enough to really sleep and take care of yard stuff that needs taken care of, and grade and prep and so on.  I've managed not to fall horribly behind, but I often feel that I'm on the edge of falling horribly behind.

And midterms soon!  Someone needs to write my midterms, and then grade them.

I have a long committee meeting this evening.

And then a committee job that was way busy in the first weeks of the semester, but which has since been quiet, is going to get wildly busy again.

Go go gadget Bardiac!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sins of Teaching

Actually, this is more a mistake of teaching, but "sin" sounds so much racier, doesn't it?

Here's my mistake of the semester, so far:  I gave my students an assignment that's good in many ways, but that I'm not quite sure how to grade.

It's not a huge assignment, but it's a bit complex to think how to grade.  So I've been procrastinating about grading, which has made it even worse, of course.  (Procrastination about grading is my prime teaching mistake, I think.)

I really, really need to just sit down with this and grade.

Hmmm, I wonder if I get a radio for the front part of my house... I should look at radios!  And maybe go out to buy one!  Yeah... because that will be a useful strategy, right?

Friday, October 11, 2013

The List

Each fall in my department, we get "the list."  Basically, the list puts down the whole array of courses the department expects to offer in the coming year, and asks us to choose our top choices in each of several categories.

There are the central courses, the ones that every major has to take.

And there are lower-division courses.

And there are upper-division courses.

And then there's composition courses.  We have several composition courses; the form asks us which we would "enjoy" teaching.  So I left that blank.  I don't "enjoy" composition courses.  I do them, and I try to do good work on them, because that's part of the job.  But "enjoy"?  Nope.

I've come to accept the fact that I'm lousy at cutting the special deals some people around here manage.  Usually the special deals have to do with not having to teach composition.  I have one colleague who plans never to teach composition; I don't know if that will work in the long term, but that's the plan (it worked for this year).  I have another colleague who's negotiated her way out of composition for two years for taking on a position that had included a course release, but not composition.

But I've never been good at negotiating these sorts of deals. 

The list is good, though, because it does give us some sense of agency, even though most of the agency comes through hiring.  So, for the lower division classes, I typically put Shakespeare, and an early modern class, and then poetry or drama.  Another Shakespeare person might put women's lit rather than the early modern class, or whatever.  But there are three people who pretty much put Shakespeare at the top of their list.  It only gets weird when someone decides that they really want to teach a course outside the area they were hired for.  So, if I decided that I really wanted to teach the American Ethnic lit courses, that would be weird.  And thus, the three people who will put Shakespeare first.  (Some courses are assigned by area committees, because there's no need to put linguistics courses on the list for everyone when we have few linguists, and they can figure those out between them.)

In a couple of weeks, the schedule committee will get together, and figure out who's going to teach what.  It's usually a pretty good system, though there are times I've found it frustrating.  (I didn't have a Shakespeare class for three semesters in a row, which made me extra cranky.)

Then, once they've done that, we get a piece of paper with our course assignments on it, and get to fill in a "here's the schedule I want" thing.  You get to choose preferred days/times for each of the courses, and preferred room configurations for some (do you want a computer lab?  individual chair/desks?  shared tables?  a circle or rows?).

I really love this aspect of how we assign schedules.  The committee spends pretty much all day going through and figuring out who wants what, when, and works through so that there's a spread of times and days for different courses.  The idea is that we don't teach a bunch of senior seminars all at the same time, so seniors can take several if they need to.  And we don't schedule all the intro creative writing courses at the same day/time, so the student who has a Tuesday/Thursday job schedule can find a section that works.  And the committee assigns our priority classrooms, so we keep them occupied from the start of the day until afternoon.  It's like a massive, multi-dimensional puzzle (people, courses, times, rooms, requirements), and yet after a whole day of work, the committee mostly manages to give us schedules that are pretty close to what we ask for.

(The committee also schedules IAS folks with their choices, to the extent it can, and tries to give humane schedules to the new hires we hope to make.)

All in all, it's a really good system, WAY better than systems where one person decides, based on what's been done for the past 20 years or on their own preconceptions.