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.