Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Joys (or NOT) of Chairing

 I've asked each of the different majors groups in the department to think about the department assessment we've done, talk about it in their groups, and then email me a very short list of a couple of good things, and a couple of things they think need improvement.

Of the several groups in the department, one sent an email.

One handed me this:


And the others have sent nothing.

Seriously, a couple of sticky pages clumped together.  And the people who handed this in are amongst the more prickly about students handing in things in just this or that way.  They'd never accept this from a student for anything.  It's still better than nothing!

***

I just got a very bad email today and am now trying to solve a problem I didn't know about a couple of hours ago.  I have a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Changing Seasons for the Chair

 We're having a gorgeous autumn here, with nice brisk days, with mostly good sunshine.  Not too cold.  The leaves seems slow changing this year.

For me as chair, I'm changing seasons.  The semester is fully in flow and I've now done class observations with all of our new teachers this semester.  Fortunately, they all went well.

I've written some letters of recommendation for folks looking for jobs.  My fingers are firmly crossed.

And now the turn is to writing letters for folks undergoing five year after tenure reviews, for folks going up for promotion, and for folks going up for tenure (and promotion).  The after tenure review letter(s) isn't as important, since there's less at stake (no promotion, no pay raise).  The promotion and tenure and promotion letters are super important, though, and take a good deal of time.

We're also finalizing plans for spring, and figuring out the last bits of filling in first year writing courses left open by the colleagues who left over the summer.  That's good because we're also about to start fall course planning and scheduling.  I never realized how far out those have to be done until I found myself on the schedules committee during my second year here.

And, of course, I'm already a couple days late ordering my books for spring semester... but I'm guessing most of my colleagues are, too.

In my class, a senior seminar, we're moving from introductory readings and short, low stakes writing assignments, to beginning to focus on the final project for the course.

In the garden, things are basically in prep mode for winter.  I need to bring some things in to prevent freezing in lines, and need to mow at least one more time.  Then there's some trimming and cleanup.  It never ends!


Friday, October 15, 2021

Treading Water

 I feel like I'm trying to swim up a swift river, and mostly treading water, barely staying in place rather than moving forward.  And then a wave comes and breaks up the analogy.

I need to do book orders.  I'm teaching Intro to Lit, which is lovely, but the rental system has dropped the textbook I'd been using (because it's so far out of print they can't even get used copies), so I need to use another that they have in stock.  It's also out of print, but our amazing admin assistant found me a used copy and that will do.

***

The other day a senior colleague with about as much teaching experience as I have stopped into my office to get my feedback on an event that happened in their class.  It's like when you sit in the Chair's office, people suddenly think you know a whole lot more than you actually do.  But I don't.  The colleague's handling of the situation seemed really smart and apt, so it should be ok.  Thank goodness.

***

There's one job that several of our contingent faculty folks are applying for, so I've been doing class visits and such, and wrote each a letter of recommendation.  I'm sort of proud of my letters because they're really positive for each of the candidates, and each focuses really well on what makes that candidate strong.  So each of the candidates has a strong, supportive letter from me, but the letters are different and don't feel at all boilerplate.  I don't feel any strong sense that one is better than the others, but that they're really good in different ways.

I've also given those candidates and another in a different department pretty extensive feedback on their application materials.  In one case, I've also looked at the revised materials, and I think the revision is massively better, so I feel good about the time that it took to give feedback.

It seems to me that the job of the letter is to get a candidate into the interview pool, and after that it's pretty much a new start.  A couple of colleagues have offered to help any of the candidates who gets an interview with a practice interview.  

I hate that there are so few jobs that our folks feel like they're competing directly.  But my fingers are crossed tightly that at least one gets the job.

***

There are things that I really should delegate, but the trouble of getting someone else to do the thing feels harder than actually doing the thing itself.  And so this weekend I'll be reading three masters theses (not from my department) and ranking them.

***

As I look at my calendar for next week, I realize that this week has been a relative breeze in comparison.  This basically means that I have to do a really good job prepping this weekend, because the week to come won't give me much free time to read, prep, or grade.  Last weekend I got caught up on grading, but now I have two small things to grade.  That won't take long, the the master's theses will more than make up for that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

What Goes Around...

 I've had a couple of odd conversations recently with some of my younger colleagues.

A couple have told me that they like teaching on line because they can record a lecture and tell students what they need to know.

And I'm thinking, but wait... didn't we all get told by the experts that the teacher-centered, font of wisdom, pouring knowledge into heads models weren't good?

I used the term "sage on the stage" (which is better than the "cock of the walk" that a Lacanian would choose), and the colleague looked at me like I'd spoken classical Greek or something.  They'd never heard of the term.

There's a continuum, right?  on one end, is the old lecture format where the expert instructor tells the students what they need to know and the students dutifully write it down and learn it.  That's actually how I was taught mostly in college, and for some of us, it worked ok.

At the other end of the continuum is a format where students do a lot of self-discovery of stuff and the expert expertly guides them to appropriate conclusions and understanding.  That's a model that works better for skills and stuff.  So if you're learning violin, for example, the instructor shows you something, and you try to reproduce it and get feedback.  It's more the Oxbridge model of tutorials, I gather.  It takes a LOT of work from students to really get at stuff, but, at least the theory goes, the students learn the material at a much deeper level.

On the lecture side, a good lecturer can tell students a LOT about a topic in an hour, but the experts questioned the retention of that information.

On the self-discovery side, students need to put in a lot of work, and can only really discover a small amount of information or learn a small amount of skills in that same hour.

In literature, since I started back to school as a student (after my undergrad of lectures), much of the instruction was a mix of short lecture bits and student discussion which was supposed to lead to self-discovery.  Back and forth.  Tell students about X, point them to a passage, and gosh, they find X.

You could even do the reverse: point them to a passage and they notice Y, and then give a short explanation of Y.

In either case the students are, one hopes, building critical reading and discussion skills and learning how to read independently.

So there's a continuum, but are things swinging back from the discussion end to the lecture end?  Is on line teaching part of that swing?

Is the feeling that students are too overwhelmed right now to put in the work for self-discovery part of it?

Next thing, is this colleague going to want us to go back to teaching Beowulf to Virginia Woolf surveys?

****

In another conversation with a different younger colleague, they claimed that films aren't literature, in part, because films are created by many, many people, and don't reflect the author's intent in the same way that literature does.

And I thought, holy cow, didn't we have this conversation 20 some years ago and all sort of come to concensus that films and other media ARE all texts worthy of critical consideration and yes, can fit into a "literature" course?  

At the same time I thought, are we really back to talking about the author's intent?

And at the same time, I thought, every play is also created by many people, and Shakespeare doesn't seem to have controlled the printing of his plays (certainly not the First Folio, since he was dead), and yet we consider Shakespeare (and other plays) literature.

Then the colleague said that "we've always done things this way," and I thought, you've been here maybe ten years, and we haven't, and I've only been here 20 some years, and I can't tell you how we've "always" done things because there's never been an "always" to most of the things we do.  We're constantly shifting and changing.

Aren't I, the old fogey, supposed to be the one arguing for us to do things the way "we've always done them"?



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Delagar's Mini-Questionnaire Thingy

 Delagar put up an interesting mini-questionnaire thingy:

1. What did your father's father do for a living?

2. What did your father do?

3. What did your mother's mother do?

4. What did your mother do?

5. What do you do?

 

1.  Worked in steel fabrication, eventually owning the business.  (His father or grandfather started the business.)

2.  Worked in the family steel fabrication business, mechanical engineer.

3.  When I knew her, she worked for an insurance company.  I think she did data entry type stuff.

4.  My mom was a stay at home wife/mother, mostly, though she worked as a grammar school special ed classroom assistant for a while, and as a secretary for a while.  Before she married, and when she was first married, she worked for the advertising department of the Emporium department store.

5.  I'm a professor of English.

Anyone else up for it?

Friday, September 10, 2021

A Week that Is

 It's been a short week, thanks to the Labor Day holiday on Monday.  But it feels like a long one.

New problems have popped up.  For example, we teach a themed course here, and one of the instructors chose the theme of food.  Great.  Interesting.  Important.  But one of the students has recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and the readings are just wrong for them.  So they needed to transfer.  Fortunately, the instructor handled the problem with grace, and the student was able to change sections, and did so with apparent grace, and things worked out well.  (I only learned about it because the instructor wasn't quite sure what to do, and then before I had time to do more than begin inquiring and trying to figure out, the student had found another section.)

Other things haven't been so easy.  But I'm happy to say that I think I feel more comfortable in my role as chair this fall than last fall.  Partly that's because I've had a year to learn the job.  And partly that's because we've all gotten a bit better at thinking through Covid stuffs.

The theme of the week is that I'd really like people to come to me with problems or questions early rather than late.  If there aren't file folders in the workroom, then being upset isn't really necessary.  A quick question to me, and I'll ask the department assistant, and they'll happily order them, and within a week or so, the file folders will be there.  If we missed ordering them, it wasn't because we were being mean, but because so few paper supplies were used last year that we haven't been checking things and need to get back in the habit.  And so forth.

The lesson of the week is to try to get a bigger picture of things, and to respect processes, and to delegate.  And then take good notes for myself!

A friend invited me for dinner last night, and it was just so good to go chat about other things, and relax, and so on.  I could feel the stress falling away.  Thank dog for friends!

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

We're Off!

 The semester is now underway, and underway again after the break, so it feels real now.  Students in my class seemed happy to be in class, chatting with each other.  They all wore masks without comment.

My colleagues seem happy as well; a few have medical authorization to teach remotely, but most folks are back in the classroom.  

The big change over classes last year is that there's no social distancing; rooms are packed at their old capacities.  We're all used to wearing masks now, so that's easy.  But with the delta variant, I think we're all a bit worried.  I am, anyway.

I walk by the special high muckety muck parking lot every day, in and out from my further parking area.  Not one day yet in the semester has the provost's car been in their place.  I wonder what's up with that?  But really, it's not the sort of thing I can ask.  I just assume it's special rules for special people, and eff the rest of us who need to be in person.

The headmaster's car is in his special place today, but wasn't most of last week.  And the others are mostly empty.  I dislike the muckety mucks more and more as their exercise of privilege is more and mover visible to me.  (And the dislike is mostly about their insistence that we peons all teach in person, and their deep resistance to allowing people to get medical exemptions this semester.  If they were fine with us choosing how to teach, I'd shrug off their own situations.  But I have colleagues who are at risk and still teaching face to face.)

And now, back to class prep!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Not Quite Abandoned

 What a summer.  I feel like I'm still waiting for it to begin, and here we are on the first day of our fall contract period.

Have folks watched The Chair?  Sandra Oh rocks, as, frankly, does the whole cast.  It gives me anxiety.  

The Bill Dobson character pisses me off.  I'm sick of white men who screw other people's lives up without a second thought, and who just expect everyone to pick up their slack.

The Joan Hambling character seems most recognizable to me, and in some ways is the character I most identify with.  (I identify with the role of the chair, but not with the extra challenges that Ji-Yoon Kim has had as an Asian American woman at that university.)  And she's right, Chaucer IS badass.

As others have said before, the dead white guys aspect of the department is a bit overdone, but maybe that's necessary to make the point.  There is a touching dead white guy moment with the Elliot Rentz character semi-realizing how much his wife gave up, but then sort of taking it out on Yaz, which just pissed me off.

Do wanna-be Ivys not have adjunct armies?  Or does the show not get that part?  There's also the one grad student TA, but there's no sense of a grad program, really.  (And that poor student, OMG.)

***

As I wrote in my last post, I felt like I spent much of the summer trying to get administrators to do their thing and waiting.  I wrote there about two hires.

We ended up making another full time (adjunct) hire, and two part time hires, and asking colleagues to take on big overloads because we're a flustercluck of resignations.  One person retired in January, a TT person resigned in early summer, as did three adjuncts, one just the week before last.  And we have a colleague on leave (one of the hires was to fill in for them).

We lost a number of potential hires because by the time I was allowed to call for an interview they'd found jobs, or after we'd offered a job and they accepted, the contract took so long to get there that they accepted a different job.

I don't at all blame them for that, nor for resigning in favor of a different job.  I'm happy for those folks to move to greener pastures.  But it all got a bit overwhelming.

***

I'm having a meeting with someone over in the administration about our review (see here for previous post).  By January 15th, I'm supposed to hand in a plan of how to stabilize funding for our first year writing program.  Hopefully, the administrator will be able to help me think of how to do that.  I suspect, though, that I was sent on a fool's errand, and my lack of an effective plan will give them someone to blame for our next review.  (By which time, I'll be long retired...)

***

I'd like to be excited for my class this coming semester, but I'm way behind in planning for it.  I really have to make a big dent today!

And that's the news from NWU.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Waiting and Searching

 We're doing two searches right now for short term positions.  One of those searches has a large enough pool or really good people that we should be able to draw on those candidates to hire to fill in, temporarily, for the faculty member who's resigning.

Good news:  The deanling office came up with a legal way to cover the health insurance of the folks who want are resigning so that they can put in their resignation now, but still be covered.  (And that will mean we can hire someone to replace them from the pool I mentioned above.)

The bad news:  the paperwork to do that legal coverage has been waiting on an administrator's desk most of a week.

Good news:  We did interviews and I did the paperwork for the hiring we have permission for last Friday, and the deanling in charge signed off his part on Monday morning, and it went to the campus lawyer for approval.

The bad news:  the lawyer sat on it.  I emailed Thursday to ask if there were a problem, and the lawyer emailed back basically saying "oops" and that they'd get to it.  They got to it later Thursday.  And it went to HR.

Good news:  We did interviews for the other position, and I did the paperwork for the hiring on Monday, and sent it off to the deanling.

The bad news:  the deanling didn't sign off on it until Thursday afternoon.  And then it went to the lawyer.  And just in case, I emailed the lawyer on Friday morning, and they're out of town until next week.

Good news:  HR did the paperwork and sent it back to the lawyer (I don't know why): this was also part of my email on Friday.

The bad news: yeah, the lawyer is out of town until next week.


I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to get administrators to do their administrative thing, or waiting for them.  Yes, I know they're busy.  But if I didn't respond to their request for whatever in a timely manner, they'd be pissed as hell and I'd hear about it from the Dean.

Also: all the tagging of electronic forms through various administrative offices is frustrating.  I'm guessing it's important to have the lawyer look at the forms and make sure they're legal and won't get us sued.  But damn...

The thing is, I can't do the second round of paperwork, the one where I get to say "we want to hire candidate X," until the first round is fully approved.  I've already got the paperwork filled out, waiting in my queue, but I can't do anything with it.

***

A few weeks ago, I borrowed a friend's bike, because I'm thinking of getting a new bike, one I could use for bike camping, and I'm thinking of a Litespeed titanium bike, and my friend has a Litespeed.  So I rode it, and it's a good fit for size.  But her bike has an aggressive geometry, and so feels twitchy compared to mine.

The real revelation was that her saddle is SO much more comfortable than mine.  So now I'm on a quest to find a similar saddle.  The difficulty is that she bought the saddle probably in the 1990s, and that one isn't made any more, and saddles seem different now.

I started by visiting the three local bike shops here in town, and ended up trying two cheap saddles (one from the box of extra saddles that every bike shop ends up with when people change their saddles, the other cheap off the rack).  They weren't an improvement, in different ways.

So then I started searching on line, and found one that might work (from measurements), and looked while I was in California for a shop that carries them to go try them out, without luck.  They just don't seem to be carried.

Then I found a shop a state over, about two hours away, and called, and they said, yes, they had them in stock, and I could come try them out.  So I drove over last weekend, and no, they weren't in stock.  We looked, and I ordered one, and went Thursday to pick it up.  I rode it for 15 miles yesterday (they said I should give it 50 miles to break in), and my sit bones are sore.  There's very little padding, but all the pressure is on my sit bones.  That's good, but...  it's still not close to as comfortable as my friend's saddle.

I think the search continues...

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

It's Never Good to be Asked for a Meeting

That should be rule one of being a chair, perhaps.  Or a corrolary.  Or something.

If someone has something really good to pass along, they give you the basics in an email, even if they want to discuss the next step with you in a meeting.

No colleague says, "I want to have a meeting" and then tells you "I just got this cool publication and I'm super happy."  Nope.  They share the good news and accept everyone's happy congratulations.

No one says, "I want to have a meeting" and then tells you about their wonderful new puppy.  Nope.  They share pictures of the puppy and accept everyone's admiring congratulations.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an email from a colleague asking to meet with me.  I figured, it's one of two things, given the colleague, and neither is great, but neither is beyond horrible either.  And I was right, it was one of the two things, and it means I get to juggle more extra work.  But happily it's not absolutely horrid, either.

***

I have a colleague who seems to be consistently late when asked to turn in anything mildly administrative.  For example, we ask for copies of syllabi each semester to keep on file.  In a worst case scenario, if someone is killed driving in to work, someone else at least has that as a starting point to finish teaching the course.  In a more usual scenario, in five years when a student is trying to transfer a course for some reason, or get it to mean something for a graduate application, they can contact the office and our staff can easily find it in the files and send it off even if the colleague has retired.  (I've gotten at least three requests for such things this year).

But the colleague who's consistently late with such things.  I'm not sure why.  They're late with another important thing now.  

So I sent an email asking how I could help with the problem, asking if they're okay, and such.  I hope that was a useful approach.  It seems better than getting frustrated with the person.

(The problem with the chronic lateness is that it adds extra work to the load of our office staff, who have to keep asking for the work.  Our office staff are plenty busy and do a good job, and we shouldn't burden them just because we don't care.)

***

I have another campus leader thing tomorrow for three hours, this one on preparing future leaders.  This is GREAT in theory, but in practice seems really hard.

So I ask:  what should I be doing as chair to help prepare the next and future chairs?  

I've recommended some committee roles to folks who were interested.  If you want to become chair, you should have a pretty good sense of your department's curriculum and how it fits for majors, for GE and such, and for other department majors.  You should also get to know the folks at the college and university level who work on curricular stuff.  So that's good.

Serving as a university senator is good.

(In some ways, I took on a lot of the preparatory roles without thinking of them in that way, and just happened to be reasonably well prepared for most things.  

But how do you help someone prepare for budget stuff?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

One Year On

 I've been chair for a year now, and things are looking way better these days.

First, and probably most important: our new admin assistant is great.  They're learning what they need to learn, and they're eager to learn more.  They're kind to students and faculty alike, and friendly, and helpful.  

Our previous admin assistant was okay, but this one is just stellar.  If I've done nothing else as chair, I've helped hire a great person.

Second, I'm learning a lot.  I've had three professional development sessions, and one was incredibly helpful.  It was campus specific and led by our HR folks.  It was on how to bring someone on board as a new hire, and I used a ton of what I learned when we brought our new admin assistant into the department.

***

The department is relatively healthy; we have some serious conflicts, as I gather all departments do, but I think we're mostly okay.

We've asked for several searches for fall, and are waiting to hear.  I've learned that other colleges already know about their searches, so I'm guessing the decisions have been made but just haven't been communicated to us yet.  Our college has hired a new dean, so maybe the idea is that the new dean will communicate about searches.

I'm supposed to have a meeting with the new dean this summer.  I've got my fingers crossed that he's sane and reasonable and a good explainer.

***

I'm doing another professional development thing this past week, this week, and next week.  (three hours one morning a week).  It's pretty awful, and totally inappropriate for university contexts.  The only good thing is that I've connected with a colleague.

***

And now the semester's over.  Grades are all turned in.  (Only one faculty member was late, and that was because they were trying to help students.)  Let summer begin!

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Almost There

 We're in the last week of the semester, then a week of finals, and then summer comes.  This semester has sped by in some ways, and crawled in others. 

In the good news, most of my students are loving M. Butterfly for it's complexity and thoughtfulness about gender and race.  They had the usual difficulty at first, but now they're rocking it.  I've really enjoyed that class in all sorts of ways.

But budgeting, well, budgeting sucks.  Trying to figure out budgeting sucks.

I'm supposed to submit a hiring budget for our adjuncts, all of whom have a full time load (ideally), and all of whom have been here at least several years.  For the budget, I have one fund (the first year writing fund) to teach first year writing, and that covers maybe five people.  And then I cobble things together: the next person might be covered partly for a semester by a sabbatical replacement, and partly by this bit of money, and partly by that.  And so on.

Because math: a full time tenured/tenure track faculty member in my department usually teaches 11 credits a semester.  A full time adjunct teaches 15.  And the tenure track person costs more.  So, let's imagine we're paying the tenured person $50,000 a year, and they get half a year sabbatical, so that's $25,000.  Right? And we should be able to pay an adjunct a full load, right?  Wrong.

Nope.  Because math, we can only pay for 11 credits of an adjunct's time, so that's .73 of an adjunct for the semester.  So, if an adjunct is paid $40,000, we can use only $14,600 (40,000 x 0.73 divided by 2).

Where does the other $10,400 go?  Not to us!  (Of course, it doesn't go anywhere, because it's part of a fund for sabbaticals which pays the faculty member 100% of salary for a semester, or 65% of salary for a year, and pays the cost to the department for only the credits that person would have taught.)

For research reassignments, we get paid $1250 per credit, but at $40,000 a year, we pay 1333.33 a credit.  Where does the extra money come from?  I wish the hell I knew.

Some adjuncts here are paid less than the $40,000 number I've given.  In my department, we have a few folks paid more, and a few folks paid less, but it's a fair estimator.  (And our adjuncts get benefits if they're at or above 50%.  So it's a not horrific survival wage in this area because living isn't as expensive as in many areas.  The average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in our community is about $1000.)  (Most of our tenured folks make between $55 and $70k.  A few make more.  Tenure track folks tend to be starting at $55k these days, more or less.  Compression is a real problem.)

 ***

I read an article in The Atlantic "We should all be more afraid of driving."   And in that way that happens, I pretty much felt like the author is a privileged white male, because seriously, I've never felt that powerful or safe in a car, and I'm sure African American people who have to worry about being shot by cops for driving while Black feel even less safe.  That's not to diminish the horrific aftereffects of a bad accident, but to say that a lot of people don't need to be in a bad accident to know that one could happen and kill them all too fast and easily.  

I thought at one time about getting a motorcycle but decided I wasn't nearly a good enough defensive driver to survive on one, and so got a bicycle.  I still feel plenty vulnerable on a bicycle, but at about 15 miles an hour, any crash I get into with a non-moving object is likely to be survivable.  But if I get in a crash with a car, all bets are off.  And I ride on roads anyway.  But I sure think about it, just as I think about it when I'm driving, especially if I see someone else driving in ways that seem iffy.  

 ***

And now, back to budgeting.

 


Friday, April 09, 2021

On the Rivet

 Old bike saddles used to be made of leather riveted on to a frame. Here's a picture:


When a biker is really working, really at the utmost of their abilities, they tend to sit really forward, right on that front rivet.  So in the biking world, being "on the rivet" means you're working really hard, and you can't do much more than you're doing.  And the rivet isn't especially comfortable.

Here's a picture of Jens Voigt on the rivet:


That's how I feel these days, though he looks much better at it than I ever will.

You might remember the mandated training sessions that I told you I was supposed to sign up for.  As I mentioned then, I dutifully signed up.  And the first session was surprisingly helpful and good.  I have another session coming up for three hours each over the next three Wednesday afternoons, and it's the seven habits one. 

On Wednesday afternoon, I got a message with "high importance" (the stupid red exclamation mark) telling me to go do something in preparation for the course.  And I thought, it's next week, I'll take a look over the weekend.

Then this morning, I got another rather panicky looking one.  And so, this afternoon, after my meeting, I opened it up to see what I was supposed to do.  And there was this message that I was supposed to do this thing because they were due this past Wednesday.

Like an obedient so and so, I opened it up, and there were instructions: sign in here, fill out this form.  So I did.  And then the next instruction: send this email out to at least ten people (and as many as 30) who are either your supervisors or who you supervise, and ask them to spend 15 minutes filling out the form.  And I'm already late.  And the person has asked that I email TODAY to confirm that I'd sent out the survey things.

I admit, I sort of lost it.  Right there in my office.  It's been that week.  The latest stuff: the headmaster decided, under pressure from students, to cancel two days of classes over the next two weeks to give students a break (which they need because he decided we wouldn't have a spring break this semester to prevent students from traveling).  Note that faculty folks had asked and begged for him to put in a few scattered days if he didn't want students to have a whole week, and let us plan for those.  But no, he'd said.  (It's worth noting that "travel over spring break" for most of our students involves going home, which they've been doing on weekends anyway a lot, picking up extra shifts at their job, and yes, getting some extra rest and catching up.  Few of our students have the finances to go party in Florida.)

Most students are really happy about the two days.  Faculty are less sanguine.  For one, it means most of us have to rethink at least one hour each for three or four courses (our typical load) and work around.  And many of us had built in some flexibility and already given students a day or two off our courses.  (Because that's what the headmaster had said we should do.)  

Grading isn't going to stop, nor are committee responsibilities, etc.  It's yet another half-assed adding to instructor workloads.  It's like the headmaster has never actually taught a college course.  (Because, it's true, I think.  This is why people with degrees in "higher ed management" shouldn't generally be in positions of power in universities and colleges.)

And about two days before that, we got the announcement that because they've opened up a vaccination clinic on campus, they're using one of the faculty parking lots for vaccination parking, so we have to park at a further lot.  Yes, it's a great thing they're doing vaccination clinics.  Yes!  And it's a small enough thing.  But it means a longer walk for most of us.  It adds up.

And no, thank dog it won't interfere with the special marked places where the administrators have reserved places:

Except that the reserved and numbered spaces (the one to the left of the loading dock is where the highest academic official parks) are pretty much empty every time I walk through the lot on the way to and from my office.  (I guess they're all working from home even though they've insisted that all of us teach face to face unless we have a specific medical issue.  That's leadership, right?)

Yep, today I'm a bit on the rivet.  It feels like most of us are these days.

 I emailed the two people who mostly supervise me, and asked them to fill out the thing, noting that I'd dutifully signed up for the training.  But I didn't ask any of my department colleagues.  If I'd asked ten of them, and it took 15 minutes each, that would be two and a half hours of peoples' time.  There's no way.

And then I wrote an email to the "training person" on campus (the one who'd sent me two urgent emails and who I was supposed to email TODAY) saying that I had sent the survey to my supervisors, who were part of the management structure that mandated this training, but that I wasn't adding to the work of anyone else so wasn't sending it out further.  And then I suggested that the description of the program had given specific dates, and I'd planned out to spend that time working on the program, and if they were going to require people to do stuff ahead, they should put that in the description of the program so we'd know.

And THAT is how you confirm the label of trouble-maker, no doubt.





Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"Onboarding"

 I think it's an incredibly clunky term, but it's the term HR folks seem to use.  It's the big picture practice of bringing someone new to work in your area.

For us, we're replacing our administration staff person.  As I mentioned here and here, our former administrative staff person, the person we hired over the summer, left in December.

Our new person is starting today.  I'm very hopeful.  They've worked elsewhere on campus, and has a stellar reputation, the sort of reputation where, when someone hears about our hire, they immediately say how lucky we are, and what a great person they are. 

Part of the reason I'm hopeful, and even know about "onboarding" is that one of the programs I signed up for after I got the mandate to sign up for "leadership training" was a campus-specific program on hiring.  Part of it wasn't that new to me, but part was about "onboarding," and that was super helpful.  (I was pretty cynical about this programming going in, but now I'm quite hopeful about the campus specific programs.  If they're half as helpful as this one was, I'll be pretty darned happy with them.)

Not only was the program helpful, but at the end, the HR person in charge sent us an "onboarding toolkit for managers" with lists of things to take are of on my end, things to talk about with the new person (like asking what training they need for various duties), and things to put together to ask them to do early on that will give them a sense of success.

So, I put together a couple of folders yesterday: one has several documents that might be helpful, the recently retired administrative staffer's to do list for the year, the chair's duty list and calendar, lists of department members by rank, area, and offices and such.  Another has copies of all the stuff our new person will need for scheduling (a major part of this person's duties has to do with scheduling).  And the third has a list of relatively easy tasks that they can take care of fairly soon.  There was a little bit of filing, and then signing up for a procurement card, and stuff.

Some of all this is easier because the new person has been a campus employee already.  So I didn't need to arrange for a campus ID or anything.  

***

What with the hiring, and all the reappointment letters for tenure track colleagues, and so forth, I've been incredibly busy these past few weeks.

Now, I'm a bit behind on grading, but might be able to catch up on that today.  And if so, then I'm almost caught up with all the things I should be caught up with.

With no spring break this semester (the administration effort to keep students from traveling to party destinations even though most of our students usually spend spring break pulling extra shifts at their workplace to try to make money, or visiting family, because most of them can't afford a trip to some sunny beach to party), we're all running on empty, on the rivet, or whatever other metaphor you can think of.

I'm hoping to be able to catch my breath a bit on Thursday...



Saturday, March 13, 2021

Reading Evaluations of Teaching - Time Spent Doing Homework?

 I've spent much of the day reading evaluations so that I can do yearly reviews for my departmental colleagues, and I'm weirdly fascinated by one of the questions and the responses.

The question asks students to estimate how many hours per week they spend outside of class on the course.  And it gives them several options, ranging from under one hour to two hours or more.

By way of background, we teach three and five credit hour courses in my department, mostly (where each hour in class is one credit, and .  When I was in college, I was told I should plan to work outside of class about 3 hours for each hour inside of class, except for labs, where you'd work about an hour or an hour and a half outside for each hour in lab.  Or so we were told.  (I'm not sure I ever did; I wasn't the best undergrad student.  But by the time I went back to school, I did at least that.  And my grades reflected the change.)

Most students choose the fewer than two hours a week option.  (Though in my one course last semester, 8/10 students who responded said more than two hours a week.)

Does this mean our students are smarter than before?  

That we aren't demanding as much work as when I was a student? 

That we may be assigning work, but it's not getting done?

Are they responding to more honest expectations?  (ie.  maybe the people who told me to study 3 hours outside for every hour inside were wishful thinking?)

That students work more efficiently than we did?  (This HAS to be part of it.  Just being able to type things up on a computer and make changes easily is SO much faster than painstakingly typing on a typewriter and having to make corrections with wite-out or whatever.  Also looking stuff up is MUCH faster now.)

***

How should I think about those responses?  I tend to think that students spending more time working outside of class reflects the course's rigor.  But maybe that's wrong?

In the end, it's an interesting, but sort of useless question for me, I guess, in reviewing colleagues.

 



Tuesday, March 02, 2021

And Now What?

 We requested for three people to have fully on line schedules for fall, and were turned down on all fronts.

The good: the dean just told the registrar's office to make the change, rather than telling me to make the change.

The bad: my colleagues will be at greater risk.

My question: Part of me really wants to resign as chair and retire and let someone else deal with this crap.  But...  I'd feel really awful doing so in some ways.  And really good in others.

***

And still, our administrators are working remotely, for the most part.  Of the ten special parking spaces, two are usually filled on any given day.  Now, maybe there aren't fully 10 people with slots.  But there are more than two.

Leading firmly from the very back, miles behind whatever trenches we imagine ourselves in.

***

There was an article in Forbes recently saying that more than half of tenured university faculty have considered leaving the field or retiring early.  I posted it on my effbee page, and bunches of people have said that yes, they're doing one or the other.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Add This to Your Plate

 I got a couple of emails yesterday, one from HR, and one from the Dean, which I actually read.  The upshot is that all of the chairs and other campus "leaders" are supposed to participate in a number of leadership courses, each lasting from three to nine hours, it looks like.

I'd like to bitch and moan about the added work, which is, at minimum, four three hour classes, so 12 hours, but two nine hour classes are also strongly recommended.

It's not like we have to do them all today or anything, they're spread over the year.  But the ones for this spring (four of them, I think) are mostly scheduled for when I have class to teach.  That pushes me into summer to take most of them.  

I dutifully signed up.  I don't want to get a reputation as a whiner, but still I'm irritated.  

Some of the classes look super helpful, and I wish I'd been able to do them this past summer: there's one on campus specific budgeting, and campus specific roles for chairs, and another on hiring practices that's campus specific.  

Others seem, well, potentially irritating.  Or not.  They seem to be really into the "seven habits" thing.  I don't really know.  According to Dr. Google, the seven habits are:

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive® ...
  • Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind® ...
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First® ...
  • Habit 4: Think Win-Win® ...
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® ...
  • Habit 6: Synergize® ...
  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw®

I'm not sure I need 9 hours to learn about these.  I mean, duh.  And I'm unconvinced by the trademarks.  Seriously, "be proactive" is trademarked?  Didn't Ben Franklin have something to say like that?

I may need an attitude adjustment.  I need to try to make it useful, at any rate, because I'm supposed to do it.  But it does feel a bit cultish, doesn't it?

I can't help thinking how much more useful such things would be to colleagues at the beginnings of their careers rather than nearing the end.

I didn't sign up for the week long workshop in the middle of summer.  I'm hoping to actually get to have more of a summer this year.  I'm paid to work 60% during the summer, supposedly, and I mostly worked a lot more than that last summer.  (A lot of that was learning curve.)

Finally, I sometimes get the sense that people whose main jobs have to do with having meetings tend to think that the point of work is to schedule meetings, and everyone can schedule meetings at their convenience.  And, of course, that's not the way it works for most faculty and instructors on a college campus.

In better news, the department schedules committee did great work yesterday, and things are coming together for spring of 2022!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Chaos and Nothingness

There is everything to write.  And nothing.

Things are constantly changing, constantly demanding adjustments.  And things are endlessly boring and unchanging.

A month ago, we were all working under the assumption that fall semester would be much like the current semester, with significant numbers of colleagues working from home for medical or other reasons (they've been pretty good here about allowing folks with small children to work from home to be able to care for children whose daycare or schools are or may be closed at any time).  And a further significant number of classes are in weird hybrid or cohort models that no one likes (where, for example, on third of students can fit in a MWF classroom with a Covid Cap) and the rest can't, so the class is split in thirds and students actually meet in class once a week, with the instructor figuring out something for the rest of the week.  People have been creative in making courses work that way, but they're far from ideal.

Given that expectation, we had scheduled courses on line with no meeting times, or on line with meeting times for livestreaming, in cohort models, and in regular old face to face models with small numbers socially distanced in large rooms.  That left, of course, many regular rooms unused in any formal sense, since many rooms are designed to fit 20-30 students, but almost no courses run with 10 or fewer students.

And then on Monday, everything changed, and the administration announced that we would all be in person, even those with medical reasons linked to Covid.  The Dean said that the only reason a class could be on line was to meet a pedagogical need.

So we started replanning to put courses face to face in regularly capped rooms, without social distancing.

Except some people really have health problems and worry that even in fall we won't have sufficient herd immunity.  Nor will we require students to have vaccines, and we, of course, won't know their vaccination status, and won't be allowed to ask.

Immediately, requests came in from folks who want to remain teaching on line.  And they're still coming in.  Some are from folks with medical reasons, some are from folks who've moved elsewhere, at least partly, to be with loved ones while they teach on line.  (Here's work/life balance questions for real.)

I've been tending to say that so long as they have good pedagogical reasons...and I hope the Dean and higher ups will accept those pedagogical reasons.

The thing is: I walk by the special parking lot where higher level administrators (not the Dean, but above the Dean) have specified parking places.  #9 is the Provost's place, for example.  And none of those spaces tend to have cars parked in them when I come to work, at whatever time I come to work.  Nor when I walk to class.  Nor when I go home in the afternoon.

And when I'm in meetings on line with higher ups, it's easy to tell when they turn their cameras on that they're not in an office.  (The Dean almost always is, as is one associate Dean.)

If they don't feel safe working in their little fort building with separated offices and going to meetings in empty rooms on campus (there are a LOT of empty rooms that could fit a meeting of ten, say), then it irks me that they expect my colleagues with documented medical problems to meet with students several days a week in fall with no social distancing.  (NO one can say if there will be a mask requirement.)

I'm less sanguine about the folks who want to live elsewhere while they teach on line here.  It's not just that I think face to face generally makes better educational opportunities, but also that we do a lot of service work on committees, and they shouldn't expect everyone to accommodate their desires when it really is a lot better to meet in person normally.  On the other hand, we all make noises about work/life balance.  

In any department, there's likely a small percentage of people who are "checked out" to some extent from departmental life.  Often, these folks do a great job teaching, but shirk committee work.  Or they do great research and teaching, but shirk committee work.  And yet we all know that committee work keeps the gears moving and gets things done.  You want classes to teach?  There's a committee that works to make sure the curriculum makes sense.  And so forth.

It seems like teaching on line makes checking out easier to do, and harder to discourage.

***

I'm teaching a small class, all in person, and trying to make it as much like a regular course as possible.  And mostly, it's great.  They're discussing and it's lovely.

One person had to quarantine, and so I livestreamed the class.  And now some people seem to have decided that this means they can go somewhere and just tell me they'll join the livestream.  I'm frustrated by this behavior, but don't know quite what to do.    I don't want students to feel forced to come to class if they're unwell or should be quarantining.  But I also don't want to livestream so that a student can go visit a grandparent.  On the other hand, better that they join the livestream?  It's frustrating and hard.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Into the Abyss

 As I mentioned last time, our office staff person has left.  So we're working on hiring someone new.  And that involves paperwork.  Except, of course, nothing's actually ON paper.  What do we call it now?

We have permission to go back to the old search and call the next person down the list.  And between the folks on the search, we've dug out our notes and have the next folks' names.  What I don't have is their phone numbers.  So, I thought, I'll go into the computer documents about the last search and pick them up easily, and... I was wrong.

Between the time we did that search and now, the computer interface has been changed, so nothing I'm doing works to get me in.  At least nothing I can figure out.

I emailed the HR person who's mostly in charge of hiring stuffs, and who, I assume, is super busy.  Then I called the Question Center to get help from them.  That's our centralized "one stop shopping" administrative unit that's supposed to be able to help us with all sorts of administrative stuff.  No answer.  

I tried calling the administrative staff person at the Dean's office, who I thought might know.  No answer.

Then I got an email from the Question Center asking what my question was, sorry to miss my call, etc.  So I emailed them, and the response was to send another email to the HR person I'd already emailed.

I decided to work on other stuff.  And after a while, I got a call from one of the staff people at the Dean's office, to try to help.  But they didn't know.  So they asked the Dean, who, it sounds like, basically threw up his hands and said he always has to ask for help to get into the hiring system.  So then she called the Deanling, and we talked across phone lines, and decided to do an internet call.  

We did the internet call, and the Deanling realized that the directions page he was going to point me to (which I'd used already) didn't work any better for him than for me.  So HE put in a call to the HR person.

And now the HR person sent me new instructions, so I can get into the system.  But I can't seem to find my search in there.

I've now spent two or more hours on just this problem, and I've got 6 other problems to try to take care of, or tasks to do.