Monday, January 14, 2013

In Which I Express Frustration

I went to a meeting about advising today.  It's a preparatory meeting to help people be better advisers.  You can decide for yourselves if I'm being sent for remediation or advanced training.  There are more meetings tomorrow and the next day, and we're to be paid.  (Now you can decide if I'm doing this for remediation, advanced training, or my budget.)

We spent time going over how things work out from students coming in with AP or test scores or classes from other schools.  Much time was spent on how we should look at these scores to know where our students should be.

The thing is, by the time an advisee gets to me, those things have mostly already been set, or once in a while, there's a problem.  So I asked, what do I do to solve the problem if there's one?  And the answer is, you can't, but you should send the student to the official office of solving problems with AP, test scores, or transfer classes.

So why, I wonder (but did not ask aloud), are we spending an hour on this?  My best guess is because it looms large in the mind of the deanling in charge, so he thinks it should loom large for all of us.

It shouldn't.

He droned on.

We have this computer system that's supposed to help students check their courses and requirements.  Let's call it a requirement check, or RC.  As advisers, we can pull up the RC (and so can students), and look at it to help students decide what they need to take when.

But, the deanling warned us, it does this and that wrong, and it can't do this.  And we can't make it do that or correct it.

Why, I asked (stupidly).

Because the computer programmers can't do it.

And stupidly, I said, "I don't buy it.  We pay the programmers to solve problems."

And I was told I was wrong.

So here's the thing.  No one, but no one would ever accept me saying "no, I just can't teach this course I was hired to teach."  No one would accept me saying, "no, I can't teach this student."

And that seems reasonable to me.  My job is to stay qualified to teach the intellectual area(s) I was hired to teach, and to teach the students in my classes.  If I couldn't do that, I would rightly be fired, yes, even with tenure.

But the programmers (who are all paid at least double my salary, I'm sure) get to say, "no, I can't solve this programming problem"?  I call bullshit.

We are all too often here told to make curricular decisions based on what the programmers say they just can't do.  And I think that's a bad practice.  And the deanling smiles and smiles and bullshits along.

Fire the lot of them.  Let's hire programmers who can solve the problems we need solved, and deanlings who can communicate the need to solve problems (and which problems in a reasonable order).

We met in a science room.  Did you know that F stands for Flourine?  And Au for Aurium?  And gold is from the Old German?  Shiny!

My personal favorite is plumbum, from which we get Pb, or lead, and from which we get people who used to deal with lead pipes, or plumbers.  Etymology is fun, my friends!  And the word "plumbum" is just fun to say. 

This post brought to you by the letters F and Y.  (That's Flourine and Yttrium!  What were you thinking?)


  1. I join you in calling bullshit. We get this response all. the. time. at my university whenever we question why we're operating a century behind the times.

    FYI: when I first arrived here (seven years ago), students were still registering for classes with signature-required paper forms. I kid you not.

  2. GAH! (I love both F and Y).

  3. If those programmers were working in the corporate world they'd be fired in no time flat. They just don't get to do that sort of thing when under presuure to deliver. Amazing that the administration puts up with that.

  4. Every time our school tells us they can't do that, I ask my hubby, who works in corporate IT. He says that BS. He could do it in about 15 minutes. Only in an academic setting can they get away with that.

  5. I wonder if the issue is that they aren't allowed to make certain sorts of changes to the proprietary system they are paying to use. Very few schools develop their own advising software from scratch. The problem may be that the systems the schools are paying to use are poorly designed in the first place, and to fix these things that are wrong would probably screw up something else far worse. I mean, if you told a college IT guy, "Word doesn't do X, and I need it to," we wouldn't bink an eye if he said, "sorry, I can't do that." It's not that he couldn't do that in the sense of create a program subscript or whatever, but can't in the sense of "not allowed to." This is just a guess.

  6. I'm going to defend the programmers just a bit. If they're working with a system that isn't open, I.e., the code cannot be accessed, then it may well be that they can't do what's needed. I'll also say that at many schools, the programmers aren't actually making that much money, compared to what they could make in the business world. There are two effects of that: 1) they aren't as talented because if they were, they would be making the big bucks elsewhere ad/or 2) they don't care. So, their hands may well be tied, which I've seen a lot, when schools pay for these big, proprietary pieces of software. The other thing I've seen is not enough care given to what users need and more time spent on say, the development office's web site. :)

  7. We've been using an RC system for a few years and at least once each semester, I find a flaw in the system, a place where the online requirements don't match the requirements as listed in the catalog. When I report these flaws to the appropriate office, they're always surprised that no one else noticed the problem, even when it's something huge and obvious (like the time the RC allowed freshman composition to count as a 300-level creative writing course). Part of the problem, I think, is that the computer people setting up the RC don't really understand the academic program, while the academic people don't know how to make the computer program behave. And faculty are frustrated with the program so they're not using it, which allows flaws to go undetected. I wish I knew the answer.

  8. Sounds like a frustrating day ... but at least your chemistry setting allowed for an amusing blogpost! I'm not sure if that counts as adequate reward or not.

  9. Anonymous8:45 AM

    Fluorine, not flourine

  10. Oops! Thanks for catching that, Anonymous! Fluorine!