Sunday, July 26, 2020

Uncomfortable Question

Imagine, a fable:

Underwater Basketweaving hired a new non-teaching person recently to do reed and materials work and preparation. 

There were a surprising number of candidates, and some from our campus with similar jobs; someone in the regular basketweaving department, someone in underwater studies, another from agriculture and turf studies.  They'd surely be able to do the job.  Other campus candidates were less qualified.

UB hired someone from off campus, from another underwater basketweaving field, with good experience, a great attitude, and super references.

So, the search chair sent out an email to the candidates who didn't get the job, the usual regrets, many fine candidates, and so forth.  All of it true.

And then one of the on campus people, one of the less-qualified on campus people, someone who'd worked in raising frogs for the biology department, emailed to ask who'd gotten the job.

What do you do with that?  It seems wrong to ask, doesn't it?  And yet, once the person starts, it's not like it's going to be a secret who they are.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Throwing Spaghetti at a Wall . . .

You know the saying, probably, when you're just trying everything you can think of to see if something, anything, works: Throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks.  (Yes, I've heard it with a different word other than "spaghetti.")

That's sometimes what our (collective) Covid responses feel like.

A couple weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to participate in a Q&A session with newly enrolled English students, on line, synchronously.  I said sure.

And today was the day, so I logged in (early, as requested), navigated a bit of difficulty with the student worker who's trying to make this all happen, and waited.  I asked her how many students have been showing up for these programs, and she said anywhere from zero to ten.  I waited around for the hour, and had zero.  Alas.

You know, it's a good idea, but this time, for our students, it wasn't appealing.  I don't know why, but I know folks are trying to find just whatever ways they can to make new students feel welcome.  Since we're worried about first year student enrollments (as are a lot of schools), it's especially important right now.  But, we're also in a totally new mode of interaction, and not quite sure what's going to work, and what's not, and why, and for whom.  If another department got ten students, then that was probably really valuable for those students.


In other news, I had a student sort of disappear into depression during the Covid closure.  And then he sort of reappeared, and asked for an incomplete.  I said yes, and not only because he'd been a really stellar student up to that point.  I also asked him for a schedule for turning stuff in, and the first things on that schedule were due last week.  And nothing.  I've emailed him, with a warning that once the faculty are back under contract, I simply won't have time, and he must turn things in before that.  Fingers crossed!


Between our administrative assistant retiring, hiring a new one, and doing this on line Q&A (which I did some prep for), I'm suddenly feeling a bit freer and more relaxed.

Or maybe it's that I reserved a camping place for a couple nights in the middle of next week at a county park I've heard is great (but haven't been to).  I'm really looking forward to it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Fingers Crossed

So much depends, sometimes.

When I first came to NWU, the Underwater Basketweaving department had a administrative assistant who was less than friendly and less than efficient.  I had to wait for my travel reimbursement forever, because they hadn't sent it in for a long time.  The also took the office furniture and arranged it as a sort of fort so that they were sort of hidden from students.

Then that person retired, and we got the most wonderful person; they were friendly and efficient, helpful, kind, just great. 

And the feel of the department changed totally.  People wanted to drop by the office, to say hello, to get a smile in return.  Things got done and done well, and if you asked for help, you got it, and it was done kindly.

So, one of my first acts as chair is hiring a new administrative assistant.  I had help, thank goodness, from a couple of really smart, good colleagues.  And we've hired someone, and are waiting on paperwork to finish things up.

In the meanwhile, I'm hopeful and worried.  I have good reason to believe the new person is both friendly and effective as a worker.  But if they aren't, then it's on me, and the whole department's going to have a hard time of it.

I've never really been the final say on hiring anyone before.  I've served on plenty of committees, but there's always been a lot of input from others, and I wasn't the final say.  But this time, I am.  And it's scary.

I hope I quit being scared about my job.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

So Many Acronyms!

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time filling in forms lately.  Each form has it's own acronym, which is what everyone calls it, but isn't what it's always called in the form-filling-out thingy.  And, as I've now learned after having problems twice, the forms you need to fill out only work well using Internet Explorer.  Not Edge, Firefox, Chrome... just the old Explorer.  So now I need to remember that.

A few years ago, I prepared a "cheat sheet" or acronyms for our new faculty folks, but this is a whole new level of obfuscation!

And then, of course, a new administrator comes in and renames committees and such, and gives them all new acronyms, to put his mark on things.  (It's always a he doing that here.  In part because our administrators are almost always he.)

I'm breathing a big sigh of relief now because I just submitted a thing I needed to do, and I'm happy with the result.  I hope I'm still happy in six months time.

Can I say, some of the admin assistants over in the main building are saving me so much heartbreak and frustration!  They're just so smart and helpful!

Friday, July 03, 2020


Mine has taken a hit with the new chair stuff.  Working on it.

Early last week, I got a desperate email from a transfer student's core advisor telling me that the student needs Underwater Basketweaving 101 (the intro to UWBW) for an early ed program.  At this point, any UWBW 101 course slots are reserved for new first year students.  But I relented, because it seems to me more important not to hold back this transfer student's progress than for a first year student to get that specific course.

And then I got an email from the Deanling about it.  And I explained, and it was okay, but obviously not something that made him happy.

And then I got another request from a core advisor about a different student with the same problem.  So this time I emailed the Deanling.  And he requested a meeting (on line), and so we met.  I was prepared to get chewed out for wasting his time when I should have known what to do.  And that expectation says something about my confidence issues right now.

But nope.  We talked about other possible courses, and the Deanling emailed another Deanling over in the early ed program, and that Deanling said yes about that student, but not the sort of general yes we were looking for (to let transfer students with a lot of credits already take a different course).

And so it worked out okay, and I wasn't chewed out, which is very good.

I've picked up the balls I dropped before, and was pretty successful at not dropping any this week.

My workspace is filled with notepads with notes of various levels of urgency.  Some can be recycled once a specific problem is taken care of.  Some need to be kept.  It would be a lot easier if I were mostly in my school office, where there are good places to put such notes.  Here, I'm not as organized.


Like a lot of places, NWU is planning to be mostly face to face in fall, but also planning to accommodate those with health issues so they can work from home.  That, according to our HR will be processed under the ADA, except people feel uncomfortable because they don't really have disabilities, just need accommodation during Covid times.  Anyway, I knew of three colleagues who asked for and got accommodations and I'm very happy.

We also have a few colleagues who are asking for accommodations for other reasons, a spouse's health, a child's, or something similar.  Those are being handled separately, and I haven't heard about any of them.  I have a bit of a plan, though, that I'm willing to use but hope I don't have to.


I'd be willing to make a small bet (the only bet I could afford) that we'll actually be pretty much all on line in the all, because the pandemic seems to be getting so much worse in the US. 

Either way, it's scary.  I don't want my colleagues or students to get exposed if we can possibly help it.  So I'm hoping we'll be on line.

On the other hand, a lot of administrative folks are very worried that first year students (especially) will decide to take a gap year if they learn that we're going to be on line, and if another 5-10% do, then we'll be devastated.  We're already down about 5% on first year admissions, and it's scary; and we're WAY down on budget allocation from the state because it's expecting FAR less tax revenue AND paying out WAY more in unemployment.


The upshot is that I'm pretty much planning to put my one course (an upper level Shakespeare course) on line, and then if we're meeting in person, will use that time for discussions and projects.