Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#MeToo: Sherman Alexie

My social media feeds have pretty much exploded with posts and comments about Sherman Alexie, most in response to Debbie Reese's post in her American Indians in Children's Literature site.

There are a lot of women saying that Alexie's harassed them and hurt their careers and such.  I'm especially pissed off because I like his books, and I like teaching Reservation Blues.  In fact, it's on my Intro to Lit calendar in April.

I recently read a really smart argument that we shouldn't teach or buy books or art by artists who've abused their power.   (I can't find the article now, or I'd link it, so if this sounds familiar, please share it in the links.)  I'm convinced.  And while I can't change the calendar now (because students have already purchased their books), I won't be putting him on the next one.

One of the smart things this argument said was that there's a substantive difference between teaching works by dead folks, people who can't benefit from others purchasing their works, and living folks, people who benefit a lot from others purchasing their works.  So we can teach Chaucer and Picasso and such.

What are your thoughts?  Are you going to teach Alexie's works (if you do already)?  Will you show or attend movies by men who've been identified as harassers? 

(Please note, the numbers of women who've come forward to talk about Alexie's behavior is convincing; they were threatened, and now, with the threat potentially fading in power, they've come forward.  Others, such as Joy Harjo, have publicly said that they'd heard about problems for years.)


Edited to add: I just saw this statement from Sherman Alexie on effbee.

Edited: Corrected my typo of Joy Harjo as Joyce Harjo.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Shaken, Not Stirred

For some reason, this semester seems especially taxing.  Personally, I feel happy and physically healthy.

I'm upset about Fie's being denied tenure.  People posting have talked about legal possibilities, but not being an employment law attorney, I know nothing about that.  I have a bad feeling that the school has all the power here.


Over the past year, the university has, like so many others, made noises about supporting social justice.  We've made noises for years with few results.  About 10 or so years ago, we had some anti-racism training that our then Dean paid for out of college funds.  I posted about my responses here and here.  Then that Dean left and then next Dean didn't put money there, nor did the next, nor the next, and here we are.  One of my frustrations since has been a feeling that we reach people "anti-racism 101," but never really get beyond that.

This past year, responding to whatever pressures they're responding to, the Powers that Be here decided to do more education towards social justice.  First, they mandated that everyone do an on-line course (along with an on-line course in computer security: did you know you shouldn't send someone your bank information just because they say that you won a lottery you never entered?).  It was as bad and useless a waste of time as you'd predict.

But along the at, they announced that there would be other levels of learning/activity opportunities.  Then they said those would be available to administrators, pretty much.  And then, magically, they decided that these would be more open.

Here's how it seems to work.  For now, at least, they're running a bunch of 1-2 hour (or more) programs.  Someone can sign up for 10 of these, and do some sort of project (not clear on that, since the meeting was at a time I couldn't attend), and then they'd get a third level certification.  So the programs are all second level, and then the third level is about doing 10 of them and doing a project of some sort.  And anyone can participate, including students, so that's really good.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a program before they're quite rolled out the whole thing publicly, but it counted.  So I took a look at the programs and signed up for some based on my interest and time slots.

While I'm somewhat cynical, I'm also somewhat hopeful, and really interested in some of the programs.  There will be programs on disability issues.  I know little about disability issues, but I know that there's a lot to learn, and it's complex.  Alas, those are all at times when I can't participate.  (But I emailed the leader expressing interest and my hope that they'd schedule them again.)

This week, I went to one, a screening of the movie 13th with a discussion afterwards.  I didn't really learn new stuff at the movie, but it did a good job putting all the pieces together.  The discussion afterwards was shallow mostly, though my small group included a colleague who's disabled, and they were really knowledgeable about some issues, and a student nurse who was also interesting and helpful.

I've signed up for a couple more, one on American Indian issues, which should be really interesting.  

If all goes to plan, I should finish 5 of these this year.  

The film thing was tiring.  I can't pretend that watching a film that's depressing and infuriating is anything like being oppressed by the issues in the film.  Still, it was tiring in a way that didn't leave me feeling like there's anything meaningful I can do.


Once again, Friday was a day of meetings, and left me feeling drained.  We had a lovely personnel meeting, one of those meetings where you talk about how tenure-track colleagues are progressing to decide if you want to vote for their reappointment.  Our tenure-track colleagues are stellar, so it's actually quite pleasant talking about them and trying to make our committee letter provide the best support for our decision to go up the line that we can.

But then we had a union exec council meeting, and that was frustrating.  The president is a good guy, but not especially good at running a meeting, so things just wander all over the place, and I don't keep focused well.  We're prepping for working on a membership drive.  It's necessary, but, well, frustrating.  Last year, before I joined the exec council, they decided to have a "friends" category of people who were interested, but who didn't want to pay the nearly $50 a month membership dues, most of which go to the state and national union offices, and which don't seem to benefit us locally.  (It may be worth reminding readers that state law means that unions for state employees--except for police and firefighters--aren't allowed to do much collective action.)

Me, I think we should really encourage people to join as friends.  It puts them on our email list and could help with getting out the vote sorts of actions.  And that's really what I think the local focus should be.  We could work with the local union temple to contribute to phone banks and so forth.

I think there are a lot of people locally who are frustrated by what's happening, who'd like to feel like they're contributing to something bigger, but who don't have/want to spend $50 a month out of their already slim paycheck.

Anyway, the president put together an interest sheet, basically a piece of paper with some categories that people could check if they're interested in that aspect of the union, and then put their name and contact info, and we'll get back to them.

Political activity wasn't on the list.  And the president wanted to put "union solidarity" instead, but I don't think most people would think of that as political activity.

And then someone said they didn't think it was the union's job to get out the vote, and I said that's traditionally been a big part of union activities in the US.

So, I got them to put a political activity check thing on the paper.

The president wanted to put together a folder thing, with the logo and such, so that we could hand it out to people.  The problem is, what we do with folders is stick them somewhere and forget about them, or throw them out.  And they're really expensive.  So we could spend a lot of money to produce future recycling paper stuffs.  Ugh.

And everything has the university branding thing, which the university paid lots of money for a few years ago, and which has been pretty much universally mocked by everyone across campus.  Using the branding makes us look 1) co-opted, and 2) naïve,  It would also take one person who didn't like the things we're saying/doing to get the university to have its lawyer send us a letter to get us to stop using the logo.  So far, the university administration has been pretty reasonable about the union, but one loud complaint could easily change that.

I really need something that feels like my actions matter in a positive way.  But for now, I need to go push snow around and then grade.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another Meeting, Another Depressing End to the School Week

This week's meeting wasn't quite as bad as last week's, but was frustrating.

We talked about assessment.  What do you know, most of our majors are doing okay or better.  Wheee.  At one point we were told that we shouldn't have too many of our majors doing better than okay, because then we'd have to change what okay means.  And you could tell some folks obeyed, and so their part of the major had students who were mostly okay, and a few better.  And some folks resisted, and their part of the major had students who were mostly better and a few okay.

And we all acknowledged that this is pretty useless and meaningless, and we're just checking boxes.  But we still have to do it.  And then we talked about whether there's a way to make it at least minimally useful to us without adding a lot of work, and we basically came down to: we need to have time to talk about what we're doing in the classroom, what we're seeing students do, and what we're looking for.  That's probably another meeting, but at least it has the potential to be useful.

It won't be useful to the administration, though, unless we put numbers somewhere.

Some people want to know how students perceive, say, their ability to do research.  In my experience, most of our students think they're brilliant researchers because they know how to search googlebooks, even if they don't read carefully or deeply enough in the 1950s book they found to realize that it's incredibly racist in its assumptions about, say, Othello.

Then there was another meeting at which we talked about colleagues, and that was good, because our colleagues are stellar.  My little part in this was praised, as were other peoples', and rightly so all around.

And then we talked about what search we'd like to do on the off chance that anyone gets to put in a request to do a search, and that was long and frustrating because it's unlikely we'll get to do a search, and we really need two positions at least.  But pretty much every department across the university is in the same boat.  And the dean's criteria (at least he gave us some for this) are basically, "shiny, new, not just replacing people to be able to teach your curriculum."  So if you lost a historian of antiquity, you can't say, well, we really need someone to teach ancient history because it's important in our curriculum.  Instead, you need to find some shiny, new thing to ask for, and hope the eventual hire can also teach ancient history as well as digital histories or whatever.  Because shiny!  new!

At least my colleagues are generally good people to work with.  We disagree about some things, but we were able to do so productively and decently, and that counts for a lot.

By the time we finished, it was 5pm, and I had dinner plans at 6, so I didn't bother to go home, but just graded, recorded grades and stuff, and now I have only one thing to grade for the weekend, and it shouldn't be onerous.

And I get to read and prep Gawain, and that makes life good.

In way better news, I had a really good violin lesson this week.  I'm working on the first Seitz concerto in Suzuki Book 4, and it's quite hard at my level.  I think Suzuki does a really good job of putting pieces in that make me work hard, but not impossibly hard to play them.  Part of this piece has a section of slurs that cross strings with fairly fast fingerings.  And practicing them, in order to play them all on one bow, I move the bow fairly slowly.  And on the violin, if you move the bow too slowly, you sound scratchy.  So all week practicing, working on the slurs, I've been sounding scratchy.  But I knew why, and so knew I just had to work to the point where I could play the slurs all on one bow more quickly.  But I wasn't there in practice.  I also realized that I could move the bow a little faster, and thus less scratchier, if I consciously used the whole bow.

When my lesson started, I pulled out my music and said I'd really been focusing my practice on these two difficult areas.  And I played one, and Strings helped me with it.  And then I played the slurred parts, and amazingly, and for the first time EVER, I sounded better in my lesson than I had in practice!  I shocked myself!  So Strings was able to give me some more help, and then we worked on some of the things I hadn't done so much work with, and Strings gave me some help on those, too.

And I got this new scale thing, almost more of a key thing than a scale thing.  It's called a one position scale.  The idea is that working within the notes of a scale, you play every note that you can within one position.  So, for example, if I start with the C scale on the violin.  I can start with G, then A, B, C, and so on, all the way up.  So unlike a regular scale, you don't start and end on C, but start and end where you can in that position, with any note in the scale.  It's weird, and sort of hard, but I'm starting on C.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Taking Notes

The tenured folks in my department had a big meeting on Friday about our Review After Tenure (RAT) process with one of the semi-big-wigs over in the Fort, the big administration building that looks like, yes, a Fort.

Basically, RAT feels like you're going through tenure again.  There are three possible outcomes, though, instead of just one.  1.  You exceed expectations and get a bump or raise (associates get a one-time bump, fulls get a raise.  For associates, RAT comes the year before you can go up for full.  So you get to do a big review process again the next year.  Yay.)   2.  You meet expectations and get a tiny one time bump or little raise.  3.  You get does not meet expectations and get "remediation."  If there's a problem with remediation, you can get fired.

A bunch of us were reviewed this year for RAT, and since we all put in basically a new tenure file, our colleagues working on the post-tenure committee had to do pretty much full tenure reviews on about a third of us.  (It was the biggest cohort.)

The reviews use criteria laid out in an official document which has been approved by the Dean and Provost's office.  So it should be meaningful, right?

The department, so far as I know (I was away last semester) gave us all "exceeds expectations" letters and votes.  The chair weighed in, and gave us (so far as I know) all "exceeds expectations" reviews.

And the Dean knocked all but one of us down to "meets" and sent a little note saying that not everyone can exceed expectations.  He didn't provide any criteria.

The common belief is that there's a designated and limited "pot of money" for these bumps and raises, and the administration has to limit the "exceeds" numbers to fit the pot.  The semi-big-wig denied this, and said that there's no pot of money for these bumps and raises, but they come out of this pot of money for salaries and such... so, there's no pot of money, except there is.

So basically, we have a new big review every five years, which can result in losing one's job or not, and yes, it feels like tenure is dead.

I made this mistake of offering to take notes when the committee secretary who was chairing the committee in the absence of the usual chair asked if someone would.  The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and it wasn't the sort of thing where the notes could say "discussion ensued" so it took a fair bit of time to type them up.  (I did it right after the meeting so that things would be as fresh in memory as possible.)  My notes ran 5 pages.  Ugh.

So, my morale about my job is quite low, and I'm not the only one.  As I was typing my notes (with my door open, and my computer screen placement has me facing the open door), several colleagues stopped on their way out to commiserate and share their own sense of unhappiness and low morale.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Keeping Books

As I noted before, I've become the treasurer for the union local at NWU.  We had a session where we went through things:  the state union draws money from peoples' accounts or credit card, and then sends us a check, and then we send the state union dues and then the national union sends us bills and we send them dues, and so on.  It's a bit complicated, but not impossibly complicated.

So yesterday, I had a block of time and started trying to figure things out.  After two or three hours, I was sort of at an impasse, and needed to get email information from people who had already gone home (quite reasonably), so I started back on it this morning.

In the process, I learned that the previous treasurer was, well, less well-organized than one might wish.  I found a check from 2016 that he hadn't cashed.  I can't find where he wrote a record of a check he wrote just before handing things over to me.  He didn't pay the state dues for November or December.

I'm pretty sure he didn't embezzle any money (there's not that much even if he'd wanted to), but things are a mess.

So today, I wrote a couple checks, sent some emails, and generally got things mostly organized.  The unrecorded check will show up soon in the on-line banking system, so I can get a record from there.

The on line banking at this local bank is a mess.  It took me far too long to be able to get into the account, and then it wanted a security question answer about what the previous person's favorite author is.  And, of course, the previous person didn't remember.  And then I somehow got around that and reset things.  (So I emailed the president, who also has banking access, the information in case I'm not available at some point.)

My goals for being treasurer are: not to mess things up, and to leave things so that the next person doesn't have to do any extra work to figure things out.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Student Research Assistants?

We have a small MA program, and one of the ways the department tries to help these folks financially is with research assistantships.  Faculty apply for help, and get a student assigned for so many hours.

I've tried in the past, but I don't really know how to use student time well.  When I was a grad student, I had a research assistantship, and my task was to independently find everything written on a given text (which I also read), make photocopies, read and annotate/summarize them, and then prioritize them for my supervisor so that he'd know which I thought were most important or interesting for his work.  Then I'd hand over the hard copies.  I also read his works in progress and gave feedback.  I learned a TON doing the research, because it was in my field and his work is really interesting.

I tried to have past students do that sort of work, but it didn't really work out.  They had a harder time finding appropriate resources, and they don't want to take time to read original texts, aren't interested in the field, so don't really feel a benefit to themselves.

I'm thinking of applying for a research assistant this year, and hoping you folks can give me ideas for using their time wisely and well.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Back to Beginning Book Four

Before I left last summer, I had my Suzuki Book 3 test, and started working on the first piece of Book 4.  But then I didn't practice while I was away, so since I've been back, I've been relearning, starting with Book 1, and then my Bowing book, and now my shifting book.  I still have to get my double stop book and fingering book into my practice routine.

Today I had a lesson, my second since coming back, since Strings was away for a bit, and I played the last piece in Book 3, got plenty of help, and then Strings said I could start back on Book 4!  So I'm almost caught up!

There's so much to work on, but I'm excited to start working on this new piece.

Tomorrow is Friday, and that will be one week of classes done.  I feel like things have been going well so far.