Thursday, January 23, 2020

Third Hand

On effbee, one of my colleagues posted a link to a student blog where a student at NWU says she was sexually harassed by a male prof at NWU, a prof who teaches in her major; she says she reported it a trusted professor who reported it to the department chair, who had a chat with said prof.  And said prof made it about his sad situation.

So this is, at best, third hand information.  What does one do?

Not my department?  Not my monkeys, not my circus?

Or is there still some responsibility?

I emailed the campus Title IX officer/legal eagle with the link and asked.  They've contacted me and are aware of the situation and reaching out to the student.  The fact that they're reaching out now makes me think they heard it from either effbee or someone who saw it on effbee or me...  and it seems like one of the campus publicity and marketing folks contacted them;   I'm guessing one of the people who's responsible for monitoring those web search things that aggregate anything and everything that mentions specific words you target.  Good on them!

And now the student has filed a more official report.  Good for her!


I think what I find frustrating at this point, separate from being pissed off at that stupid professor hanging out at a student bar bugging young women (bugging any women is inappropriate), is that the female faculty who are responding feel ineffectual and seem to actually BE ineffectual.

It reminds me of the sexual harasser who was grad program chair in my graduate department; reportedly, numerous women talked to a female professor (untenured), who supposedly told them that they needed to talk to the department chair.  But everyone was too afraid.  (Including me.)  It felt like it would be the end of any graduate funding, any support from any of the male faculty (who we all felt had to already be aware of the grad director's behavior, since he did it at every gathering where there were faculty and grad students).

And so, nothing happened.  For years.

The woman whose post I originally saw asked in general if other colleges have policies, seemingly unaware of ours.  Then someone posted ours (which I went and read), which covers the situation reasonably well.  Then someone posted more about the current policy, and how it didn't seem to actually work, given what had happened.

But none of them said, hey, I'm reaching out to our Title IX person.  (And I didn't post on the threads at all, just reached out to the Title IX person.)  And they all KNOW the Title IX person.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is the Shine off Comp/Rhet (Job-wise)?

I'm reading applications for a position that's not Composition and/or Rhetoric, but about 15 percent of the applications are from folks in Comp/Rhet.

Since I don't teach at super famous R1 in a fabulous place to live, that leads me to believe that the shine is really off the Comp/Rhet marketability.

It seems like there are a lot more Comp/Rhet PhD programs out there, graduating a lot more Comp/Rhet PhDs, but there's not a great tenure track market, certainly not what there was?  (Maybe it's the ratio: it seems like there used to be fewer candidates for each job, so a greater likelihood of graduates finding something, as opposed to say, 20th century American Lit.)

It used to be that when I had a promising undergrad who wanted to get a PhD in an English Studies field, I'd recommend they think about Comp/Rhet.  But I'm thinking that's outdated thinking now.

On the other hand, my suspicions are 100% based on an anecdote, and data isn't the plural of anecdote...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Reading Ibsen

NWU is doing a production of Ibsen's The Doll's House next semester, and since I'm teaching an Intro to Lit, I thought I'd teach it.  And it's in the anthology.  So I started to read it so that it wouldn't be totally new when I taught it.  (I don't remember reading it before.)

I'm just in far enough that one of the characters is basically blackmailing another about the way she handled signing for a debt.  And I feel totally stressed out and tense.

I don't have any big financial stresses, and my only real debt is my mortgage.  But just thinking about the legal stuffs and financial problems makes me stressed out and tense.

I don't have a problem reading about a character in a play deciding to kill their king, perhaps because it's quite clear to me that 1) I'm not going to go out and kill anybody on purpose, and certainly not a national leader, and 2) in part that's because it's clear to me that killing someone, except under extreme duress (like actual, real, self-defense) never makes anything better.  So it doesn't stress me out that Macbeth wants to kill Duncan, or that Henry Tudor wants to kill Richard III.  Nope, not the least.

But the debt thing?  For some reason, that was so unpleasant that I just put the play down and went and did some cleaning. 

I may not actually teach it after all.  It will depend if I can make myself get through it.  But there's a certain point at which I really don't see the need to read lit to teach that makes me unhappy.

I really don't understand the theater folks wanting to put this on...

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Applications

I've been reading applications, and I've noticed a couple things. 

First, a number of the letters of recommendation are targeted, at least by an address and salutation, specifically at our search.  I've never noticed that before.  It means letter writers are reworking letters (at least minimally) specifically for each institution the applicant is applying to.  Maybe that's not many, but holy cow, it's a whole lot of work.  And it really doesn't seem necessary or even really helpful.  It's not like the faculty at Prestigious R1 are actually likely to know enough about a regional comprehensive such as NorthWoods U to really make the strategy effective.  And it's got to make things MUCH more complicated for submitting letters on time.  (Whose letter writers weren't always pushing the deadline?  Anyone not have that issue?  So it's got to add stress.)

The second thing is how few of the application letters clearly address some of the stuff in our ad.  If we put in our ad that, say, speaking a foreign language is vital, then the letter should tell us about the foreign language the applicant speaks and how well.

In my role as future chair, I've talked to some folks who are on the market in different fields, and at least one has told me that doing an invited talk is a real CV booster.  From my point of view, it's so not.  A conference or three is great, but an invited talk doesn't really catch my eye.  And given that a lot of candidates have multiple conference presentations, an invited talk basically disappears into the background.  It's certainly not the make or break thing that my colleague seemed to think.  For others?

What do folks see as make or break?

For me, a well written letter that addresses our job ad requirements.  Research that sounds interesting.

A clear CV that shows growth and ... exploration, experience, interesting work.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Academic Anxiety Dreams and a Question for Medievalists

Last night, I had my second anxiety dream about teaching Chaucer.  The first one, I was without any syllabi on the first day of classes, and then for some reason, went home instead of going to my first class (intro to the major) and then was trying to get back for the Chaucer class, but still didn't have any syllabus or calendar for any

The next day, I wrote up the basic academic calendar template for next semester.  That was three weeks ago, I think, soon after the previous semester finished.

Last night, my dream was more focused on not having the Chaucer calendar ready.  And when I woke up, I was thinking, but that's three weeks away, almost.  And it is, but there's no telling the dreaming that.  So today I'll start rereading the Canterbury Tales and thinking about the calendar.

I was looking at the Harvard Metro site the other day, and on one of the teaching pages, they suggested starting with the Shipman's Tale, as easier to read (in part because it's short and has a really basic plot-line) than the General Prologue.  So I'm thinking of doing that...  are there medievalists out there with thoughts?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Visit from a Former Student

I was in my campus office yesterday, having gone to get my computer back, and then trying to delete some emails and do some little chores. 

And a youngish person stood in my doorway and said hello.  I didn't recognize them at first, but then they reminded me: a former student.  This one had gone on to grad school in Practical Basketweaving.  They'd stopped by because they'd learned from a faculty member in the department that there was going to be a new chair, and had dropped by the department to find out who it was, and then came to my office.  They lamented the difficulty of finding an academic job, and the earnest wish to come back to our department.  They mentioned that they'd made it to the interview stage for a job we had a while back.  And they hadn't even gotten a phone interview for the short term hires made by the chair.

It was awkward.  I'd better get used to that, I suppose.

They kept sort of asking why they weren't getting a job.  And probably the real answer is that the job market sucks, and they aren't quite competitive, given the absolutely stellar people that are out there in Practical Basketweaving.  Which I didn't quite say, though I mentioned the incredibly bad market.

They revealed that they'd had a TT job at a strong regional comprehensive, but had left to follow a now-ex-spouse.  I didn't ask more, but I did silently realize that a friend of mine also teaches at the former school.

I finally told them I needed to get going, and wished them well, and they left.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility for a graduate of ours who goes on and doesn't get a job, though I can say with absolute certainty that if they talked to me about graduate school, I would have told them the bad news about the market.  But the person they were closest to, I think, wouldn't see that as their responsibility at all.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Running in Place

On Friday, I went to the office, turned on the computer... and waited.  So I started cleaning up my office, which was pretty messy, as happens towards the end of the semester.  It took about half an hour for the computer to get to the log in stage.  So I logged in... and waited.  And reshelved my books, put away files, the usual.

I tried to do computer stuff, the things I'd come to campus to take care of, but every time I tried to open a program or something, I got the "(not responding)" thing, and it hung up.

Finally, I called the nice people at campus tech support.  The person who answered was, well, hesitant.  I said I needed help because my computer was so slow, and they suggested I could wait until next week.  I said I needed the computer sooner to do my work, and finally they agreed to send out a tech.  So I started reading.  And the tech came, and started doing stuff on the computer.  And waited...  because it hung up every time.

So at least it wasn't just me.

The upshot was that the tech took away my computer for re-imaging, and I'm supposed to meet with someone this afternoon who will bring it over and set it up for me.  So, YAY!  That should be good.

I have so much to do before classes start:

Chairing a search committee: our application deadline is soon, and we have to read everything before our first meeting.

Rereading the Canterbury Tales, because I haven't taught Chaucer in about 5 years.

Reading The Dolls' House, because I'm teaching intro to lit and the theater department is putting it on.  I don't think I've ever read it before...

Reading a couple of books.

Trying to exercise.

Practicing the violin...

Friday, January 03, 2020

A New Year Begins

Happy New Years.  Let's hope 2020 gets better.

(Though I saw that the US military basically committed an act of war...)

I spent much of the break so far with my Mom, helping her travel to visit my brother's family for Christmas, and then at her retirement community, trying to help make things work. Her short term memory has really failed over the past several months.

A medicine she was taking may be at least partially responsible.  So she's off that medicine for almost a month now, and seems slightly less confused, but she's not at all where she was 6 months ago.  (She began taking the medicine about May, and it was stopped in late November, I think.)  I don't know if things will get better or not.

It was a hard year for her: she had to move from a retirement community she loved that closed (because the fire department said it couldn't be made reasonably fire safe or accessible for firefighting) to a much smaller one.  And she got a cancer diagnosis (very early stage).  And her last sibling died.  These are all very hard things, and there's a lot of uncertainty, and it's all taxing for her.

Fortunately, my brother has stepped up wonderfully, as have two of my aunts (my Dad's sisters), so I'm very grateful.  Still, it's hard when you can't make things any better, not really.

I got home last night and slept in my own, comfy bed.  I'm happy to be home, and have a lot of work to prepare for the coming semester and for taking over as chair.

There may be big changes in our department.  We may drop our tiny and weak MA program.  That would mean that we'd lose four grad courses a year and a two course faculty reassignment, so basically 1.5 FTE in support for graduate students.  (We'll have to continue at least some grad courses for at least a year so the folks in the program now can finish.)  I'm imagining we can teach a couple more general education type courses, which would be helpful for the university. 

At least some folks in the administration want us to continue our grad program: grad students pay much more tuition.  At least one administrator wants us to go all on-line, and promises massive help recruiting people in business.  However, we've never been able to support or compensate faculty for working with thesis (or whatever project) students.  And we're very much a regional university, and have served students in our region.  If we go all on-line, then the regional students might as well do an MA at a much stronger program (there are many).  (Our program's strongest days were in the 80s or so, when local schools gave teachers who earned an MA a raise; then the education program started doing an MA in teaching program that was pretty... weak and easy.  Once we lost that cohort of teachers, our program got even smaller and weaker.  And then the raise went away...)

I'm hoping as chair I can help be creative and get a course reassignment for one of our writing non-tenure track folks to work deeply with our Writing Center and Writing Program folks to develop and support a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative.  Currently, the upper admin in charge provides some financial support for a couple of MA students, but they don't have the education or experience to really do the higher level work we need done.  And once they're all on-line, they won't be on campus to do that work.  On the other hand, if we can provide a course reassignment for a PhD in writing stuffs to work on it, I think we'd make better progress.

The other thing, though, is that with another 1.5 FTE to put into work with undergrads, we'll have a hard time justifying any new hires unless something really specific comes up.  (It's been more than a decade since anyone around here has been able to do an old-fashioned line replacement, the thing where a Victorianist retired and a department got to hire a new Victorianist.  That's a thing of the past, and it's not coming back.)

So there's lots to think about.

Two questions: for anyone who's been chair of a department: please suggest stuff I should read/learn.

And two: I'm teaching Chaucer again, for the first time in maybe 5 years.  I'm looking forward to it, but I'd love some suggestions of the most useful and important books or articles to read before the semester starts!