Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Weirdest Change So Far

 The weirdest thing about being chair so far is that people seem to think I know stuff.  Not special, secret information, but stuff no one would have asked me about six months ago.

I've had a long conversation about balancing demands on a colleague's time.  Six months ago, I pretty much knew what I know now, but no one would have bothered to ask me.

And then there was a conversation about how to deal with a split class (we have to put fewer students in a room, due to social distancing, so classes with say, 30 students, meeting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, might have to be split into three groups, one meeting Monday, one Wednesday, and one Friday.  I've thought a lot about how to do this during the summer, but I assume everyone around here has.  I don't have any brilliant insight, but I still got asked.


I had a problem doing the split class thing myself, it just became physically impossible to do because of an accommodation a student needed.  So I asked another chair, and was told that since there are a lot of classes on line now, there are sometimes extra larger rooms, so we might be able to move to a larger room at the same time and not have to do a split class.

I emailed the staff person in charge of that, who is an absolute gem of a staff person, and they said, yes, and were able to change my room.  Then I asked about our first year writing courses, a couple of which were scheduled on a split option.  And they fixed those (I gave the instructor a choice).  Then I asked about lower division courses, and a few could be changed, so I asked the instructors, and most said yes with great enthusiasm.  And then we moved to other upper division courses, and so far, a couple good options.  Overall, I'd say we went from having all but one (non-first year writing) course split, to having about 8 not split, so maybe one fifth?  That's a pretty good change.

The semester begins next week. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020


I got this idea from Dame Eleanor, here, where she looked back over her decades.

Six decades ago, my parents brought me home from the hospital in a large city, to their suburban house on Hamilton Lane.  My Mom purposefully chose to go up to the City to give birth, so that I could tell people where I was from, and everyone would know what that meant.  I don't remember the house on Hamilton Lane, since we moved from there before I was three, though I've driven by it as an adult.  I'm told it looks very different now, with a second story added on.

Five decades ago, I was having summer between my grammar school and my middle school, and rather dreading being with "big kids" in the middle school.  Middle school was a more miserable school experience than grammar school, for sure, but I was eager to start learning oboe, which I'd wanted to learn earlier, but they'd made me start on clarinet.  (This turned out to be a problem, since I basically had to try to teach myself oboe in middle band standing outside the band room until I could play a bit, with none of the basic help that everyone got in the fifth grade beginning band classes, while all the other kids who'd played for a year worked on stuff together.  I didn't know, for example, that you were supposed to start in the middle of the instrument's range, and tried to start with the lowest note on the fingering chart.  That's the B-flat below the staff, on oboe, and not an easy note to play.)  I lived in the house I still think of as home even though no one I know lives there now.

Four decades ago, I was an undergraduate, studying Zoology, and trying to figure out where my life would go.  I spent way more time than I should have playing D&D with friends, but those friends are still friends.  I was lots less "outdoorsy" than most zoology students, though I desperately wanted to be.  It just wasn't something that really interested anyone else in my family.

Three decades ago, I had recently started a PhD program moving from one part of my home state to another.  I was thoroughly intimidated by the educational backgrounds and brilliance of my fellow grad students and working desperately hard to catch up despite having studied already in an MA program at a regional university.  But I was very lucky to have connected with a wonderful mentor and some kind and friendly other graduate students.  I was living in a really big city (instead of a suburb or quite small city) for the first time, and taking a while to figure it out. 

Two decades ago, I had recently moved to the great North Woods, into my very first house, a two bedroom GI Bill starter house in a neighborhood of GI Bill starter houses.  I used to call it the neighborhood of dead presidents and heroes of WWII.  I lived with a big, lovely Lab who took me on walks every day, and would have been happy to take me on two or three walks a day.  My Dad had died about a year before, just before I moved to the great North Woods, and that, with the move to a new place and my Mom needing to talk for a long time pretty much every day made for a hard couple of years.  I was a fairly new assistant professor, at a fairly new job, trying to figure all the things out at my still fairly new job.  I'd moved from my first tenure track job, and was very happy to have moved.

One decade ago, I was living where I live, having earned tenure where I still work.  I was in better shape than I am now, physically, though maybe not emotionally.  My dog had died and I'd started biking and doing a little bit of camping, and gotten back into birding a bit (which I'd learned a bit in college as an undergrad).  I'd started making biking friends, and that has been wonderful.

And now: I like to say I'm one cat away from "crazy cat lady."  (No, I don't have a cat.)  I'm much happier now, and would have to say that since high school, my life has gotten mostly happier with each passing year and experience.  I'm the brand new chair of my department, experiencing a steep learning curve, and looking forward to trying to do a good job and then retiring.  I like my friends, and feel valued and supported in my community.  The Covid and "safer at home stuff" has made my Mom once again much more needy, and she wants to talk pretty much every day.  I still need to work on my patience.  My house is a home, and fixed up and painted in ways that made me happy.  I enjoy the spaces and like being here.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Getting Someone Started

To continue my story about the not real reed prep person:  they started on Monday.

And because they'd come from a sister school's program, HR here at NWU couldn't bring them fully on board until the actual start date.  (You evidently can't work two full time jobs in the same system.)

That meant they couldn't establish an email for the person, let's call them Reed, and without an email, the chair of Underwater Basketweaving couldn't start getting permissions in place for all the different computer systems.

Here's a sample of permissions, most of which are established using an electronic form:

keys.  yes, Reed needs to be able to get into the building, the reed prep rooms, the growing areas, etc.
purchasing.  Reed needs to be able to initiate purchases of equipment and such
payroll.  Reed will be in charge of some student payroll stuff
course scheduling.  Reed will be in charge of scheduling some of the Reed classes, even though not teaching them.
budgeting.  Reed has some reed materials budget responsibilities
and so forth

On Monday, the Underwater Basketweaving Chair, Ona Stool, met Reed (because, of course, Reed couldn't get into the building or reed prep areas otherwise) to get them started.  They checked, and there was no email for Reed.  Uh Oh.

Ona signed Reed in on her account, so Reed could at least see some basics, and went to make a call.  HR said that for sure, there'd be an email on Tuesday, since it couldn't get started, and would have to go through a "batch" that happens over night.  (It seems like all the updates are put through in one big go overnight rather than piecemeal.)

And after a bit, they went on a walk around the area and campus, to get Reed acquainted with things, and stopped into the centralized Employee Corral, where the folks who help employees with everything and anything are now centralized.  The idea is that you call in or walk in, and the person at the front desk can answer any and all questions and help with whatever.  Got a question about changing your 403b contribution, go to the Corral, and they'll help!

(In reality, the people who can actually do anything aren't the ones at the front desk, so when you call or go in, you inevitably get told that the front desk person will ask someone else and get back to you.  And then you just hope you aren't forgotten or put on a back burner because they're incredibly understaffed and overworked, and things get put aside while more important stuff gets taken care of first.)

At the Employee Corral, they met Sierra, and had a short hello chat, asked about the email, and once again received assurances that it would be up and running once the overnight batch  went through.  And then Ona could do all the electronic forms, and they'd go through an overnight batch, and so forth.

Fortunately, Reed could do some preliminary reed prep back in the department, and that was a nice, low stress activity.

Tuesday morning, no email.  So Ona called Sierra and asked, and Sierra said they'd check into it.

And about 3pm, someone from the Corral, one of the people who is usually super knowledgeable and on top of things, and definitely overworked, emailed a short apology for not getting the email done earlier, and said they'd get one made.  And by 4pm, it was made!

But while Ona could use the email, and Reed could log in with it, the system wouldn't recognize it until, yes, you guessed it, the overnight batch.

And so it was Wednesday before Ona was able to begin putting the electronic forms through to get Reed going, and Thursday before things started working.

Still, Ona reports that they're happy at the way Reed's handled things!