Sunday, May 28, 2017

There's That...

I participated in my first recital today, playing a short piece (Dvorak's Humoresque), one of 5 of my teachers students to play.

The world didn't end.  I didn't lose my job.  And I didn't vomit in front of everyone (or at all, even).

Other than that... well, I'm really disappointed in how poorly I played.  I've been playing it pretty well, but today, in front of people, I just didn't.  At least I didn't completely fall apart when I made mistakes.  I suppose there's that.

Everyone was nice, of course.

But I'm pretty disappointed.  Gah.

I guess that's part of learning.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scholarly Editions

When the semester ends, I always seem to sleep for a week.  This year, the weekend seems to have sufficed.  It probably helps that it's been too rainy to do much out of doors, so I've read, slept, and packed.

I'm having hardwood floors put in the main floor of my house, the BardiacShack, replacing the carpet that was put in when it was built.  Let's just say the carpet has seen better days.

But it means that I basically have to move everything out of half the house, including the half with my bedroom, living room, and home office.  So that means clothes and books.  Holy cow, I have a lot of books!

I'm probably the only person in academics who has more shelving than I need, thanks to inheriting three big barrister cases when my Dad died, after having bought sufficient shelving before.  And having a regular office where I have most of my books.  It's rather nice!  (But the big shelves all need to be moved!)

I took three boxes of books to the local library to donate to their sale; I hope they can sell them.  I'm sending some scholarly editions to a grad student I know.

It's weird, these scholarly editions, mostly from the Renaissance Text or Medieval and Renaissance Text Societies.  They're incredible, and beautiful.  But they're not something I use a lot.  A few of them I do.  I use a George Herbert facsimile edition about once every other year, when I teach poetry.  And there are a few other editions I use, or just plain like.

They're one of those things that you really want your library to own (if you're at an R1 and have grad students), because the occasional grad student will find them useful, but unless the specific edition hits your needs, you probably don't need them.  But I didn't really get that when I joined the organization.  And I'm not sorry I joined, because I found various sorts of editions like this so useful when I was a grad student.

But in a way, EEBO and other on-line resources have solved immediate access problems for many people, though the editorial apparatus that makes these editions especially helpful at times isn't there.  For medievalists, EEBO is no help at all, so maybe the editions are still really useful?

I'm guessing there was about a hundred years where these editions were absolutely invaluable.  And now, maybe less so?

Do you folks find yourselves using scholarly editions of less well-known texts?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Requesting a Search

The Powers That Be around here let our department chair and personnel chair know last week that they'd be letting every unit put in a request to search for a new TT position in the fall.  These decisions need to be made earlier rather than later for a number of reasons.  The big one is that if we decide in summer, then the committee can be basically set up and write up a job description early.  That way the ad goes out, and we can request materials early.  And we can do phone interviews early.  And then we can invite candidates to campus at the end of spring semester.  Otherwise, since we don't start back until the end of January, it's February before we have campus visits, and then we're late trying to make offers and such (and paperwork here takes forever).  Then, as sometimes happens, our first choice candidates already have offers we can't compete with, and on down the line.

So we met to discuss the issue.  (And here, let me explain that all meetings of State agencies are completely open to the public unless we invoke a specific state law, and we didn't invoke that at this meeting because it wouldn't have been appropriate.  So you all could have come and sat in this meeting, and even asked to speak.  Which is all to say, I'm not violating any confidentiality stuff here.)

Our chair prepared some numbers about enrollments, and so forth, which pretty seriously demonstrated that in three of our core areas for student majors, and for our first year writing courses, we're having serious difficulty covering our courses.  (In a given semester, most TT faculty teach one first year writing course with 5 meeting hours per week, and two other courses.)

One of the suggestions is that we hire someone in comp/rhet in hopes this person would solve some of the difficulty of first year writing courses.  Basically, they're thinking this person would come in and have a steady, long term diet of first year writing courses, all year, all the time.  And upper level comp/rhet type courses are already well covered; it's one of only two areas that could add a number of students to each section at the upper level.  So we really don't need someone more to teach upper level courses.

That seems to me like a recipe for a really unhappy colleague.  I just haven't met anyone who's done a PhD in comp/rhet who really wants a full time first year comp load.  Maybe they're out there...  And it seems like that load would also really be hard on a research agenda (unless they were totally doing SOTL work on first year writing class stuffs).  (The response to my concern about this was that the person could also teach some lit, and yes, but then it doesn't solve the first year writing coverage, and it adds people in a likely area where we already have plenty of coverage, pop culture.)

We also discussed areas A and B, including the possibility that we try to find someone who does both A and B.  The A folks rejected that, since anyone who does both probably likes B better and isn't wholeheartedly A.  (And we have some folks who could do some A along with their B, but the A folks always, always refuse to let them.)

The A folks made an impassioned argument for a specialized position within A because they want someone who looks different, but not someone who looks TOO different (as in, too B).

The B folks made an equally impassioned argument for a specialized position within B in case our current person there goes off to be a deanling, which they really want to do and which seems likely.

I suggested a different specialization within B that could also reasonably offer serious help to area C.  That didn't go far.  But I conceded that the other area was probably more important to us.

And so, with much discussion, we came to a consensus which makes me very glad to be part of a department where folks can make an impassioned argument for something and yet be convinced that at this point, something else should probably have priority.

And so we'll put forward our recommendation.

And in all likelihood, since we searched this past year, the few searches there are will go to other departments and programs.

We have some 15 people there for an hour and a half.  That's half a week of work, and probably for nothing, really.  (And more work in the prep the chair and chair of the meeting did.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hit the Ground Running

And we're back!  At least I'm back.  From Kalamazoo, where I met Dame Eleanor to say hi, and also other medievalists. 

I felt good about my paper, and heard some stellar work.  I learned to play a game, and am trying to think how I might make that work in my own courses.

But I barely slept.  Blanketgate. 

Just so we all remember: at some point a short while before the conference, word got out that people staying in the dorms wouldn't be provided with blankets, but would need to either bring their own, go without, or buy one.  Some smart folks figured out how to arrange so that the bought blankets could be donated for one or more shelters for people more needy than most medievalists, and also worked to fund some blankets for more needy medievalists (especially grad students).

I bought a blanket.  It was an okay blanket, but nothing to blog home about, mostly because it was too short.  I'm about 5'5", and I had a choice of either shoulders or feet for coverage.  Fortunately, it wasn't super cold.  (And in case it had been, I had long johns and sleeping socks packed.)

Most important, I reconnected with a friend and had several lovely long talks with her.

But now, holy cow, back trying to catch up on all the stuff I put off.  I have papers to grade by Wednesday morning (so I can give them back at the final).  I had a final to write, but it's now written.

My home is a mess, my office is a mess, my life is chaos, and I haven't practiced the violin since before Kalamazoo.  (This afternoon, I promise myself.)

I need to figure out all sorts of things before summer really starts, but can't do some of those until official paperwork happens, and we all know how paperwork getting done sometimes is.

And the Giro d'Italia is on, and Nairo Quintana is in the lead!  (It's a rest day today, the second during the three week race.)  Tomorrow is a time trial, which I don't find much fun to watch, alas, and which may also spell the end of Quintana's time in pink for now.  (Since the Tour de France is more familiar, folks may be more familiar with the yellow jersey worn by the general classification leader of the Tour.  The general classification is the total time to finish the race.  For the Giro, the general classification leader wears a pink jersey.)  There's also a cyclamen/purple jersey for the points leader, which is basically a jersey for sprinters, currently held by Fernando Gaviria; a blue jersey for the leader of the mountain competition, currently held by Jan Polanc; and the white jersey for riders under 25.  (There are other competitions, but only four result in distinct jerseys.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

At the 'Zoo!

I'm in Kalamazoo, pretending to be a bit of a medievalist.

And, I got really good news today.  Back in 2011, I did a semester of teaching abroad at a place I called the Abbey; well the person in my department who was scheduled to go there in the fall doesn't want to go, for a very reasonable reason.  So my chair reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to go.  But, you'll remember, I'm scheduled for a sabbatical this coming year.

Well, it all worked out.  I'll go to the Abbey this fall, teach at NWU as usual in spring, and then the next year, will take my full year deferred sabbatical!  Things couldn't be better for that!

Except... I'll be teaching a course in Victorian Literature.  Uh huh.  I mean, I can pretend to be a medievalist, sure, but a Victorianist?  Fortunately, one of my colleagues offered to help me put together the course and prep for it.

I'm thrilled!

And now, back to pretending to be a medievalist!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Thoughts on Not Hiring Local Adjuncts

I've been involved in a couple searches recently, from a variety of angles.  For each of them, some NWU adjuncts* applied.  And none of them were hired.  And now a couple are really angry. 

I know some adjuncts ask how it is that we're willing to keep them as adjuncts, but not hire them as tenure track faculty.  The answer is that there's much more competition for tenure track jobs.  Someone who applies for one of our newer adjunct positions is usually fresh out of a grad program, has some conference presentations, is abd or just finished, and has a good record of grad school teaching.  They write an application letter, do a phone interview, and are hired by the chair.  The job description says nothing about scholarly activity, so that's not something the chair can ask about.

In contrast, the folks who stood out in our tenure track searches generally had a publication or two, conference presentations, a good record of grad school teaching, good references, and what made them stand out to get the interview were stellar letters of application.  What makes the letters stellar always includes addressing the things we put in our job description, and says meaningful things about those.

From the stellar letters, we looked at CVs, and letters of recommendation, and then writing samples to narrow down the pool further.  We care about scholarly activity and teaching.  But no one got an interview that I know of unless they had a stellar letter.

What makes a stellar letter?

One of the candidates who isn't mad and I talked for a good while about their letter.  They sent me a letter of application for a different job, and a job description for that job.  So I used different colored highlighters to highlight the things the job description said were important, and prioritized those.  And then I used the same colors to highlight in the candidate's letter where they addressed those things.  That made the lack of addressing the job description really visible.

For example, this job description said it valued candidates who could contribute to diversity.  On first glance, a white candidate might think that means only a candidate who's a person of color.  But what it means is that everyone needs to learn about diversity, and especially about working well with diverse students and colleagues, and about contributing to diversity efforts on campus.  So, for example, this adjunct mentioned in their letter that they worked with a diverse student body.  And that was it.  But in reality, when I asked the candidate, they'd made at least some effort to learn about effective teaching for a diverse student body.  But they hadn't talked about it in their letter and it didn't show on the CV, so how was the search committee to know?

I did suggest to the candidate that they could do more, start a reading group for the adjuncts across campus, maybe, to take on some leadership in contributing to diversity.

The thing is, unless a letter tells the search committee that you actually can contribute in the required and valued areas of the description, the search committee won't know.  And they don't have time to go look you up on the web to learn more because someone else's letter did tell them that information, and made it sound meaningful and committed.

So, let's hear: why do your schools hire or not hire adjuncts?

*When I use "adjuncts" in this post, I mean any teaching staff who aren't on a tenure-track contract.  These may be full time or part time, and may have a variety of different names, even on one campus.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Two Good Things!

We had a big poetry reading last night, the main rule of which was that the poem/passage not be in Modern English.

So, I read a passage, and had a prop, and I got a big laugh reading about a beheading.  I also had audience participation (thwack, thud, splat, and ewww were the audience participation parts).

It seems wrong to get a big laugh about a beheading, but it was the prop.  (I balled up a green jacket, put a hat on it, taped on two blue circles for eyes, and used red ribbon for blood, and had a colleague roll it out at the appropriate moment.)

I've gotten several congratulatory comments today about the reading.  So, that's good.


I have a review coming up next year, a big one for me, but I'm on sabbatical, so I arranged with a colleague to do a class visit this semester, so that there's a fresh report available.  Today was the only day that really worked in the past couple of weeks.

My colleague came to my seminar class, where we did final revision work on their seminar papers.  It can't have been especially exciting, but it was good.  First, every single student was really engaged in working on their papers.  And they had useful, good questions that showed their engagement.  And, at the end, most every student said the session had been really useful to them.

We basically worked through the sorts of things one should work through to fine tune an essay: thesis, intro, topic sentences, organization, checked citations, definitions, and so forth.  The thing is, most students are busy and won't make themselves double check this stuff (because they think they've already checked it by writing the paper), but it's really useful to do.

My colleague had a great suggestion to make it even better, and was overall very complimentary about the session.  I was a little nervous in that way one is sometimes, so I'm glad and relieved it went well.

It's one of the things I really wanted to take care of this semester for fall.  Check.


Just over one week of classes left!  I have a bad case of spring fever and sabbaticalitus, but I'm done with grading until next week, at least.  I do have to work on my Kalamazoo paper a lot more, but that's do-able, I think.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Home Stretch

We have two more weeks of classes, then finals, and then, yes, it's spring.  For real.

I had a great time at Birding School, and learned a LOT, which was wonderful.  Such fun!

In the meanwhile, I have to finish grading a stack to hand back later today, prep for peer revision stuff in my senior seminar today, prep to teach Persepolis, and yes, work on my Kalamazoo paper.  (I'm guessing Kalamazoo is really convenient for folks who are finishing up right now; they have a week or two without classes to work on papers, then a weekend trip, and then summer begins for real for them.  Not quite so convenient for me, alas.  But I'm looking forward to it.)

I had my seminar students turn in drafts in the discussion area (in groups) on Sunday.  Two were late (they turned it in after midnight when it was due at 5 or 6pm), but everyone turned one in.

One of the late students wrote on their turn in note that they don't usually do drafts, just write and turn things in.  What they turned in was 6 pages (the assignment is 12-15).  So I'm hoping that they'll get some good, critical feedback and take revision more seriously than usual.