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!

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