Sunday, September 14, 2014

Signing off.

College Misery is up and running again.  I will be there.  You should be there too.

Since AWC will be put back on the shelf, I suppose I should say something that's like a farewell.  It feels odd since I'll probably see you at CM now anyway.

I want to sincerely thank everybody who contributed to AWC, especially the new authors who never contributed to RYS or CM before.  Please, keep doing that at the new College Misery site.

We were running on fumes here for a while and I'm sorry that I couldn't build up the community as much as I wanted.  We did end with a great post from Wombat that itself had a happy ending. Even though the site didn't set any pageview records, I know from your emails that many of you enjoyed it and some of you needed it.  Some days, I needed it.  You'll never realize how good I felt knowing that I was helping scholars and educators get through their day.

Thank you all for participating and reading here at AWC.  I'm going to finish the last bit of bourbon in the water cooler and pack it away.  See you at College Misery!

I am,

Your former moderator,

Beaker Ben

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wombat gets some backup

I have a new favorite student.  There's a middle aged guy, burned out, braids his beard into something that looks like a pig's tail (not pigtails - literally like a pig's tail - tiny and dirty and twirly and without any clear purpose).  He shuffles in late every day - eyes glued to phone - his phone rings repeatedly - I've asked him to turn it off - he seems to actually try - his classmates have asked him - one looked like they'd throw it out the window.  The phone still rings.  He texts constantly - or at least the whole time he's in class.  Not only does he have the gall to rudely ask questions in a way that indicates I've not bothered to explain something, despite being 20 minutes late - he frequently asks questions about things I've said since he bothered to join us.  Sometimes I'll re-explain something because I assume others would benefit anyway so why not?  And then he'll say "Well see you should say that - just writing down [what is on the board now] instead of first telling us [what was just on the board and had to be erased so I could write what is on the board now] isn't really teaching" - the class is going nuts.  I've tried real hard to get him to shut the fuck up - but I'm failing.

He sits in the front row next to the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.  She's mesmerizing - she's stunning - she has never said a word. 

Today he made a "you're a useless professor" gesture at me, and leaned over to ask the Goddess a question.  And this is when she became my favorite student EVER.

She never took her eyes off me.  She put up a palm in his direction.  She sat calmly and quietly, but clearly, said:
This is how it's going to be.  If you ask me a question and I can help you I will.  But if you ask me something the professor just said, I can't help you.  Nobody can help you, except for you. And if you want to help you this is how you're going to do it.  You're going to stop coming in whenever you damn well please and you're going to stop shuffling along with your face in that phone looking like a damn fool.  You're going to listen and take notes and then if you're still confused you can at least ask a question that has value instead of just starting again at the beginning every day like someone stole something from you.  The only one stealing from your education is you.  Now do you still want to ask me a question or do you think it would be better to turn yourself around and be looking back at the lesson the professor is trying to teach you, so that you, and I, and everyone else in this room can get back to what we paid for:  The professor's lesson?

-- Wombat of the Copier

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Lynx

We bust students' chops around here a lot but Saturday news is usually reserved for faculty misbehaving.  August was a slow month but some of our colleagues are now giving us law-abiding types a bad name.  Maybe their dean should have scheduled another class for them, just to keep them out of trouble.

Let's start with Professor David Pitts, chair of the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University.  He tried to set a shopping mall on fire and broke into a pharmacy. 

This next story is embarrassing to me.  "Chemistry professor Byron Bennett shoots his own foot with concealed gun in class."  I'm also disappointed in his students because they haven't made any funny comments on RMP about this.

His class should come with a trigger warning: "Duck!"
Shows the most unusual classroom demonstrations I've ever seen.

Always talk to him face-to-face.  Don't ask him to shoot you an email.

Often confuses the 2nd Amendment with 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

It's a gun in his pocket.  He's not happy to see you.

 So many possibilities.

Have a safe weekend!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Worse than Syllabus Week

A student emailed me Sunday afternoon.  This is the entire message.


We've been in class for two weeks.  Two fucking weeks.  We have our first exam this week and there's been two homework assignments and two lab sessions completed by students who either give a shit or just pretend to do so.

I responded politely that all course material is posted on the LMS.  Good luck, dIPSHIT.

--  Bob from Bennington

Friday, August 29, 2014

Abolish College Football: A Rant by Old Fart Prof

It’s time we all admit it: football should not be a college-level sport. Institutions of higher education should not be profiting from the brain and body damage inflicted on unpaid “student-athletes” for the entertainment of the public. If universities want to allow their names to be used by professionals, fine. Otherwise, let’s stop enriching coaches, sneaker companies, TV networks, athletic administrators and a (very) few big-time universities while exploiting thousands of players.

Recent developments have not been good to Big College Football, except to the extent that the 52 largest football schools have been able to proclaim their quasi-independence from those pesky NCAA restrictions of how little to reimburse players. If players are allowed to form unions, can collect royalties on their images used in videogames, and are given the right to leave the program they signed up to join a different college’s team without penalty, what’s next? The right to sue for damages if training staff misdiagnose an injury, or if coaches force playing time and compound the injury? The right to keep a scholarship even after a career-ending injury? The NCAA’s legal loophole of “student-athlete” will not stand forever, nor will the legal releases/waivers of rights players are forced to sign.

Research on the devastating results of multiple concussions forced the NFL to settle the lawsuit of former players for $765 million. Experts say $765 million will be not nearly enough money, and some of the plaintiffs are demanding far more from the NFL. So what is the potential liability of all the NCAA schools?

When even Notre Dame’s football team has to suffer the ignominy of an academic fraud scandal, and football is at the heart of scandals at moneymaking powerhouses like North Carolina, Miami, and Penn State, maybe it is finally time to admit that football corrupts the educational mission? The faculty-based Drake Group has been banging the academic integrity drum since 1999, and has provided a haven for some embattled whistle-blowers. But the economic forces behind keeping well over 100 football players academically eligible and the quasi-religious fervor of each school’s fan base make it too likely that football-friendly faculty provide “help.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning civil-rights historian Taylor Branch summed it best in his must-read 2011 Atlantic article, “The Shame of College Sports.” The numerous parallels to slavery Branch raises cannot be easily ignored. Tellingly, Branch’s money quote cites the memoir of Walter Byers, the founder of the NCAA:
The college player cannot sell his own feet (the coach does that) nor can he sell his own name (the college will do that). This is the plantation mentality resurrected and blessed by today’s campus executives. 
The recent death from heatstroke at practice of Morgan State’s Marquese Meadow is just one more sad data point. How many more cases of paralysis like Rutgers’ Eric LeGrand do we need before we call a halt? Collegiate boxing was once a big NCAA sport until Wisconsin’s Charlie Mohr died of a brain hemorrhage after a bout in 1960. Will it take a death live on TV at the College Football Playoff Championship?

It’s time to say “No mas!” to college football.

-- Old Fart Prof

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A "helpful" Big Thirsty

The beginning of the academic year brings with it articles exposing the secrets of college success - don't be a douche, show up the class - you know, the little-known techniques that those with at least marginal intelligence figure out on their own.  Some are written by students themselves, faculty or non-academics.  The articles offer good advice but they are still written for students who see themselves as consumers of education and the center of their professors' lives.  Most gloss over the problems of academia.*

What would you say to incoming freshmen that is true, though not necessarily helpful to them?

This is an exception.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First caption of the year

Picture caption time!  What is this photo saying to you?

Give it to me in the comments.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Early Thirsty from Wombat of the Copier

What's that - a cry for help?  Quick, to the dictionary!

I need a word for a person who is the makings of a great toady, but works in an environment that is so devoid of structure, he is, after 8 months with the institution, unable to latch onto an apposite target. I feel like there must be an AWC reader who knows one, or can make one up. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


Students are polluting Twitter with claims that something exists known as "Syllabus Week."  Based on their accounts, faculty merely pass out a syllabus, chat for fifteen minutes then end class.  The next class session is spent playing ice breaker games.  Their next class meets on Friday and you can't do any learning on Friday...

Somebody tell me this isn't happening, please.  There must be some movie, seen by these students when they were eleven years old, that warped their view of college and now they are expressing their expectation of how faculty teach.  Maybe one professor handed out a syllabus, had a heart attack, slumped behind the lecture podium and the students figured class was over.  This story morphed into the belief that any real learning (which students will aggressively avoid) doesn't begin until week two.

Although this is idea of a media-generated Syllabus Week is comforting, there are many, many students indicating that this happened to them.  There's the strong possibility that students are just making this up.  I'm pretty sure they lie to people besides instructors.  While I can't discount that, I have a deep suspicion of some colleagues.  If you bake students cookies and want to be their BFF, Syllabus Week wouldn't seem out of line.

This type of behavior by faculty is not deserving of any abbreviated cursing.  What The Fuck, people?  Are you out of your damn minds?  Do you know what college costs your students?  Are you aware that you even work at a college?  (Granted, the amenities students receive does make campus look like a resort community.)  This isn't fucking day camp.  I do my job.  Every single day.  And it's harder thanks to these dirtbag professors letting kids out early "because they can't concentrate with so many butterflies in bloom" or whatever the hell dumb ideas float in and out of their minds.

I know one thing: it's not a humanities vs. science thing.  Lots of departments don't offer labs during the first week of classes.

Christ, I hope that kid fails out.

I'm sure there's a hundred good, practical reasons to gather students together in a classroom so they can pick their noses for a few minutes while you ask, "what did you do this summer?"  (I secretly hope one student answers, "I worked so that I can pay your salary, motherfucker.  Now TEACH!")  Regardless, it's all bullshit.  Teaching starts on day one.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Late, late, late Saturday night news

I teach a week of professional ethics to freshmen as part of an honors college course.  It's interesting to
hear them debate how to deal with research ethics and plagiarism.  I use news stories as a starting point for topics.  There's no shortage of misbehaving scientists. Case in point: UNLV English professor Mustapha Marrouchi has a long history of plagiarism, as chronicled in the, uh, Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here's my problem: I want to scare students straight about this.  They shouldn't plagiarize just because they'll get an F on an essay.  Plagiarizing can ruin a career.  But, it turns out, Marrouchi has a very respectable career and his plagiarizing ways seem to be well-known (according to CHE).  This is the WORST example I can give the students.  "Don't plagiarize because, after gaining respect of your peers and notoriety as an expert in your field, at the end of your career you'll be asked to quietly retire after people find out you've cheated for many years."  Not exactly the message I want to send.

The Cabinet of Plagiarism has an even more depressing take on this affair.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Another vidshizzle from Cal

Once again, I'll say that I love these.  The students are so sweet and honest.  Especially the look on the guy's face when he says he shares his bathroom with other guys.  It hope it worked out well for him.

We're in the fall semester now.  Even though your students probably like you since it's early, there's got to be something bothering you, right?  Let me know by clicking on the mail link to your right.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Students and faculty miss summer but for different reasons

Dr. Jekyll:  Never have I had such a sense of foreboding.

Prof. Hyde:  You must be referring to the impending start of the new semester.

Dr. Jekyll:  Yes.  I fear all of the wonderful momentum I have going regarding my research is about to end in ignominious fashion.

Prof. Hyde: Ah, but teaching is why you got into the profession.

Dr. Jekyll:  Only to learn that teaching matters not a whit at most institutions.

Prof. Hyde:  But the university is forever expounding on the excellence of its teachers…

Dr. Jekyll: …while only rewarding research.

Prof Hyde:  So the university says one thing to the public--

Dr. Jekyll:  --but in private conducts its business in a much different manner.

Prof. Hyde:  It’s almost as if the university presents a friendly face to the public, but behind closed doors it becomes a different monster altogether. 

Dr. Jekyll:  Perhaps I could create a metaphor to describe this two-faced situation.

Prof. Hyde: Perhaps.

-- Dr. Jekyll and Prof. Hyde

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The return of Academic Water Cooler Theater

As the Fall begins and so many new students are getting their first experience of college, the following scenario has been played out over the last few months.

The scene: A fresh-faced National Merit Scholar (NMS) meets with an advisor to set her fall schedule. 

Well Meaning Advisor (WMA): "You've got some good courses picked out but you need to go ahead and take the ONE, and ONLY, Math course required for your major.  Take it now. The longer you wait the more you'll regret it later.  Math isn't something like riding a bicycle.  You don't use those skills 'every day' so the longer you put it off, the more you'll forget. [Aside through the fourth wall: "...of what little you actually gleaned from high school."]

National Merit Scholar (NMS): "But like, I don't like Math.  Do I have to?  I just want, like, a break from it."

WMA: "I'm telling you; the longer you wait the tougher it's going to be."

NMS: "Hmm.  I don't think any of the Math courses will fit into my schedule because I really need to take 'Intro to This' with Kimberly this semester.  We went to high school together, you know?"

WMA: "There's other times available for Math.  Look.  Here's one that fits right between 'Intro to This' and 'General That.'"

NMS: "Umm.  That won't work.  I have something else to do then.  I'll take Math next semester.  Really. I promise."

WMA: "I can't make you take Math this semester, but you need to know you'll have to have it.  I strongly recommend getting it out of the way."

NMS:  "Nah.  This being my first semester, I don't want anything too hard."

WMA: "Just know that you'll have to have it eventually."

NMS:  "Oh, I know.  I also know I can do Math but I just don't want to this semester."

WMA:  "Don't wait until you're about to graduate to take Math.  I've seen it happen too often that a
NMS such as yourself will put off Math until their last semester and end up struggling in it or even failing it."

NMS:  "I won't wait.  I'll do it just as soon as I can fit into my schedule."

Time passes. It is now the registration period before her last semester.  NMS is going over her degree plan with a Faculty Advisor.
FA:  "Everything seems to be in order, Former National Merit Scholar now Fair-to-Middling College Student, except you need a Math course to complete all your degree requirements."

FNMSnFMCS: "Math?!  No one told me I needed Math!  I haven't done in Math since high school.  At least it's a freshman level course so it'll be a blow-off since I hate Math anyway."

FNMSnFMCS leaves.

FA: "Those dirty, well-meaning advisors.  Why don't they tell students they need Math their first semester? They sure aren't doing them or us any favors over there."
Apply.  Rinse.  Repeat.

-- Sawyer in Student Services

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I like vidshizzles but they raise a disturbing question.

Why, in God's green Earth, would a faculty member want to date a student?  If this is what they are really like, then the sex can't be that good.

Tuesday with Twitter

Monday, August 18, 2014

Student videos

I should really come up with a new name for student videos.  RYS had the vidiz-eo and College Misery gave us the much-loved vidshizzle.  The students warmed my cold cynical heart like nothing else could.  For once, I couldn't dislike them.  Besides, none of those students enrolled in a school at which I've studied or worked so they didn't embarrass me.

This week, I'll feature some of the vidshizzles that Cal and others prepared for College Misery.  Students provide no shortage of reasons for us to dislike them but for a few minutes, relax and enjoy the videos.  And be thankful that nobody had a video camera to record your thoughts when you were a student.

Dr. Amelia takes a campus tour. How was the rock climbing wall?

This week, we'll intersperse new and old content as everybody gets back to work with our wonderful students and colleagues.  I hope you enjoyed your summer vacation.

Here's our very own Dr. A!

Beaker Ben


Amelia Jr. is getting to the age where college is looming in the future. So while we were on summer vacation, we were near a university that has a program in her interest area and so we booked a campus tour.

Very interesting to see it from the other side.

High school students with tours booked were named on a sign board graphic thingie, like they are movie stars. Um... The visitor center had a photo book like they have in the mall, where you could put on a mascot costume and take 4 little pictures. Yeah.

Then the formal part started. There was a 15 minute video. In the video, we learned that the school a) had great athletic teams b) had FUN student activities c) had students who made friends with each other. They didn't mention academics or classes. At all. Huh?

That was the tour.

Junior is pretty good at the whole math and science thing, and we were there mostly because of an engineering program we have. The tour went by some dorms, a cafeteria, the big gym (we learned that girls do cardio, boys do weights and they put the girls on the top level so the boys can ogle them - thanks, tour guide!).

Then we went to an academic building. We sat in a classroom, where the tour guide told us professors are not allowed to erase the board during class so that students can just take a picture of the board at the end and, nifty! Notes!

We also learned that the big, mean school makes the students take both a math class and two science classes. "Everyone has to take math, and two science classes," he said. At this point Amelia leaned over and said "Doesn't he mean everyone GETS to take math and at least two science classes?"

I don't think she was impressed.

I wonder what they say at the tours at my school.

-- Dr. Amelia

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday morning news

Good morning, AWC readers.

Our first article is about a way students try to avoid plagiarism by using a thesaurus to change words around.  I see this a lot in the lab reports I grade.  Students with a poor grasp of English make some amusing substitutions.

Those professors at MIT think they are so smart.  Now, a couple of them have a lot of time to think because they are going to jail.  The dean ran a hedge fund scam.  How nice.

Possess the stupendous first day of the weekend!

Friday, August 15, 2014

I'm feeling feisty today. Who wants a piece of me?

This is a favorite post of mine, mostly because I, a Scientist, get to chuckle at humanity faculty.  I know that's wrong.  Chemistry conferences are just as bad.  We're such cheap bastards that cities don't like to host our conferences.  Las Vegas no longer wants us.  Isn't that pathetic?

I like this post so much that I'm editing it.  The original post at RYS has the time of each event in reverse order.  It doesn't make sense, unless this is some kind of unspoken but obvious postmodern critique of the subjugation of workers in a capitalist-academic system.  I don't know. 

So here it is, with sections in chronological order.  Yes, I went and changed a post from Rate Your Students.  How about that?  This might piss some people off that I messed with the original post.  I don't care.  It's better now.  I feel better now.

From Rate Your Students (modified but with the best of intentions and apologies in advance from Beaker Ben, who is only trying to help and not bother anybody), December 27, 2006

Live Blogging from the MLA in Philadelphia - ONLINE NOW

Hungover Horst, a German scholar at a small Liberal Arts College in the northeast, has sent us a flurry of emails this afternoon from in and around the main convention hotel in Philadelphia at this year's Modern Language Association convention, the biggest gathering of English and Foreign Language faculty in the country. We think Horst might need a big pill of some kind, or a mug of his favorite brew. But, we thought we'd share his ... uh ... er ... energy with all of you:

13:45 - Philadelphia Marriott (check-in)
My cab driver has left me. And we were having such a nice time. I'd rather drive around with him all day than get out into this mess of people. I hate the MLA. I hate the never-ending line of academic drones. Every one looks like they stepped out of that Sprockets sketch Mike Myers used to do on SNL. Black turtlenecks. Product in the hair. GOT TO HAVE MY PRODUCT. They suck. I'm tapping this while I'm standing in the check-in line, but a sweetie with red hair should be waving me forward any minute.

13:51 - Philadelphia Marriott (lobby)
There are no rooms ready. I didn't call for an early check-in. What kind of a goon am I? Who'd ever want to check in before 4 pm? What kind of a crazy world am I living in that I might actually want to use my room for a bit in exchange for the $185 I'm paying for it. Hmmm, check-in is at 4 pm, but check-out is 11 am. So where do those 5 hours go? Do they ever come back to me? Do I get a rebate? Why wouldn't "Red" just cut me some slack and send me up to some primo suite that they hold in case Johnny Movie Star comes to town?

14:02 - Some Sports Bar
I don't even know the name of this place, but it looks like the last place in America where you can smoke. So I've got my American Spirits and I'm sucking them down along with some fried cheese that is so yummy that I'm thinking of sending some to the front desk for "Red."

14:45 - The Room
Okay, okay. So "Red" is off the shit-list. I got my room and it's palatial. I've spent nights in holding cells that are bigger. Ba-DUM-dum.

15:04 - The Bar
My colleague and I are back in the sports bar playing interactive trivia and drinking some Pennsylvania light lager. Is it a rule that every state has to make their own thin beer? Can't they just serve up Bud and Coors and whatever and leave the design of beverages alone?

16:10 - Lobby
You have to see the MLA to believe it. It's a yearly convention where thousands of faculty members from around the country gather to give and hear presentations and papers. Oh, that's what they say. But mostly it's a big job-fest. Almost everyone here is on the job market. There are a tremendous number of almost-minted PhDs who are looking for their first post someplace. But there's also a lot of mid-career folks - like myself - who are seeking a better job or a better school. Their departments don't know it, perhaps, but that's why they come. Oh, and for the light lager.

17:12 - Sports Bar
Yeah, so I'm not attending any of the excellent presentations this evening on postmodern linguistics and its impact on teaching the 21st century dialectic. But here in the sports bar, it's just as enriching. Just a moment ago, a woman with tiny horned-rim glasses sent back a glass of some house pinot noir. It's a sports bar, honey. They have a giant box of wine back there and you're going to get another glass from the same freaking box. When it came back, she gave a big nod of her head and told her partner, "This is really good." Yeah.

18:40 - Room
My colleague arrived and called me on the phone. Asked me what seminars I've attended. I flipped open the 40 pound convention guide and picked out one. That seemed to satisfy him. We're here to interview 9 applicants for our Spanish position. It starts tomorrow. As I was surfing the web on the lightning fast internet connection ($10 a day; thanks to my college for paying), my colleague nattered on about plans in the morning for a "conclave" with him and a grad school colleague who is also here. What my colleague doesn't know is that I have my own 10 am interview across town at the Embassy Suites. Pass.

There's two sides to the misery of a job search

We hear a lot about how crappy the job market is and that's understandable.  I like this post because it reminds us that there's another, behind-the-scenes crappy part to this whole process.

FYI: we'll start posting new material soon.  I've got a few pieces but I'll need some more before we can dive into the new semester at AWC.  The series finale of the summer reruns is next week.  It's fantastic.

From Rate Your Students, December 30, 2008

Does Anyone Know How to Interview? Ten Mistakes from Yesterday's MLA.

We had ten interviews yesterday for our asst. prof position in English/Creative Writing. The job ad says the teaching duties are 2 comps, one 400-level seminar in the candidate's field of specialty, and one intro CW class. We had more than 150 applications, from which we've set 20 interviews for MLA (although two opted for phone interviews instead because of costs.)

This is my second time on a search committee, and I was baffled by some of the things that happened. Back when I was in grad school (in the wayback of 2002!) my grad mentors gave me some hints and tips about the interview process, something our group apparently never got.

I could do pages of mistakes, but here are my favorites:

Candidate 1: Admitted that teaching was relatively low on his priorities. "I really don't want to lose the momentum I have in my own work." Also apologized for arriving at the wrong time becaue he assumed the time we set for the interview was his local time, not the time in San Francisco.

Candidate 2: Said he didn't read much contemporary fiction because the major presses only published "populist fops." Our search chair (and MFA chair) has published 12 novels with major presses.

Candidate 3: When asked about working on our magazine (which is nationally distributed and mentioned as a duty in our ad), said, "I think there are too many literary magazines already."

Candidate 4: When asked if she had any questions for us, asked, "What time zone are you in?"

Candidate 5: Admitted that although his vita lists CW teaching over the past year, neither class actually made, but he did have syllabi if we wanted them.

Candidate 6: Asked the chair how close he was to retirement.

Candidate 7: When asked about his most current writings, said, "I have an idea for a new sort of short fiction, but I'm waiting to find out about patenting the forms before sharing it with anyone."

Candidate 8: Brought out a banana and a yogurt (with metal spoon!) mid-interview, and said, "I have an interview right after this and no time to eat. Do you mind?"

Candidate 9: Told us that one of the reasons he was so interested in our job was because of how close we are to [Big City], which I later Googled and found was only 490 miles away from our city.

Candidate 10: Came one hour early, explaining that he'd never been out of "NYC," and couldn't find a clock in the hotel showing local time. Also asked if he could substitute his comp teaching for graduate courses in fiction.

Can't wait for tomorrow!! To be fair, candidates 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 had pretty good interviews, otherwise. 

Something to look forward to at the end of the semester

I think it's a fine idea to allow students to complete Likert-style evaluation forms to assess faculty teaching.  Students should provide a numerical score for our teaching and other related abilities.  I just want to label the scale after I get class's evaluation average score.  If I get a 3.2/5 that means I'm doing great because:
1 = terrible
2 = average
3 = outstanding
4 = good and
5 = average
This scale varies from class to class because each class is unique and my evaluation form should reflect that specialness.

Anyway, it's just an idea.

Here's more from the best of RYS:

From Rate Your Student, November 28, 2006

On Student Evaluations

Let me start by saying that I love my job. I love teaching. I love the research component because it's all mine, but I mostly love the classroom and the never-ending supply of young people. I've been in the game for 26 years and think I'm pretty sure I will teach until I retire several years from now.

It's been the greatest career, with dozens upon dozens of amazing experiences. Students continue to engage me and interest me, and watching find their own feet is always a tremendous pleasure.

But today I woke up with a knot in my stomach, and I was out of sorts all day. I was giving my students the evaluation instrument my college uses. As soon as the large white envelope came out of my bag the students started their energetic twittering. I even heard the same comments I always hear: "Yeah, now we get to give the grades," etc.

I always read the preamble that my college gives me to read, about anonymity, about how grateful we all are to gather comments. How we're eager to find ways in which to teach the courses better. There's even a line that reads, "Your instructor welcomes your criticism."

And of course it's all complete bullshit.

My students, for all of their sweetness and energy, don't have any idea whatsoever about my worth as a professor. They won't know what they've learned from me for many years. They certainly don't have the wherewithal or the experience to evaluate my performance in any meaningful way.

I have tenure now, but the evaluations end up in my Dean's file. I still see them each new term. I have to read things like, "She should wax her lip better," and "She should take better care of herself, so she could get another husband," and, "She should get a life and quit caring if I get my lab projects done in time. Lighten up, bitch."

And any goodwill my students earn is gone again after that. My numericals are always above my department average, and I have many wonderful comments each term. But it only takes a handful of comments or ratings to make me just want to puke my guts out and find a job consulting for one of the biotech firms where most of my former students find themselves down the road.

I've never understood why we do it? Why do we ask them the questions at all? Are we too lazy to evaluate ourselves? When I first started teaching, a mentor or colleague would visit every term, and I'd present a teaching portfolio (assignments, worksheets, and student work). My peers would meet with me to discuss my progress, and once a year I'd sit with my department chair or Dean and talk about things I could do to make myself a better instructor in future semesters.

But once I'd been in the game for a few years, Scantron evaluations seemed to overwhelm everything. Because they came out in digits, fractions, decimal points, they seemed to be real, to have weight. My 3.24 was worse than so-and-so's 3.50 for "shows respect to students," and so this information became something that was used against me, for me, whatever applied.

And ever since then I've felt horrible when student evaluations loomed. I thought more and more about them. I worried that I might be unkind when I would not allow a late presentation. Would a petulant and half-stoned student hang on to this imagined slight and blast me on evaluation day? They all seem to know it's coming. They all seem to light up. They continue to think that they're only doing what I do when I grade their work. And it's all wrong. It's so wrong-headed I can't even believe we fall for it.

When I talk about it in class - which I've not done for years - someone always says, "You must get bad evaluations." I've had colleagues say the same thing. That's not the point. I worry even more for young faculty. I see our newest colleagues here jump through hoops to please students, inviting whole lab sections out to coffee, bringing in donuts, allowing endless test and quiz retakes in the hallways of every classroom building for fear of what Missy and Michael Student might check off when evaluation season comes around.

I'm done for this term at least. But I just hated myself and my profession today, and were I a little wiser, I'd go about finding away to banish this useless practice.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Are you thirsty? I am.

It's been so long since we had a Big Thirsty that I forgot to ask the writer to suggest a name for herself.  Let's go with Hanna from Hoboken for now.  Here it is.

I am a very junior-level academic, fresh from my PhD in the humanities and with one published article to my name.  I'm new to interviewing for jobs and I wanted to gauge whether what I experienced was normal or not.

I had a campus interview very recently in which I was interviewed by the president of the university. The president told me that starting from this year, he would interview all the university's faculty job candidates to make sure that they were supportive of his mission. However, he didn't even explain what his mission was.  This is a university that is remodeling itself and has had faculty protest against previous presidents in the past.

When I applied for the job, the advertisement was for a tenure-track 4/4, but when I interviewed with the search committee over the phone and in person at the campus interview, it was a 5/5 with some service. Then, when I interviewed with the dean, the job entailed a much heavier research load and establishing a cultural center. When I got to the president, however, he wanted a researcher who could establish international exchanges with other universities. I'm not sure about the position because they want me to help them establish a cultural center, start a major, and do international outreach.  I don't have the connections or skills necessary to do the kind of outreach they wish to accomplish. 

Needless, to say, I left that campus interview a bit confused, especially since the department made me understand that I would be an emergency hire to fill their open classes and create new ones for a major.

Do you have any advice about what is going on here and what I might do if I get an offer for this job?

Also, if I get an offer, I have until September to move there and start teaching. I'm waiting to see if I get an offer to know what this job is really all about.

-- Hanna from Hoboken

This is all you need for your syllabus

I think this pretty much covers everything.

BTW, we'll have a real, honest-to-God new Thirsty from a job seeker.

From Rate Your Students, December 25, 2005

A Mini Manifesto From Maine.

A tenured professor in the arts at a public college in Maine sends this along:

Okay, if we're going to be all feel-goody for next year, here are some rules I want the students to play by:

If I ask you to read a book, or go to a gallery, or watch a video, I really mean it. It's not just some random thought I've had. My assignments are designed to raise your level of knowledge. If I assign it, it's a real thing. It's not just being all ‘teacherly.’

When someone else is talking in class, addressing class - even if it's me - that means you are to shut your pie hole and listen in. When I ask you a question, I'm asking a serious question, one that has to do with your ability to pass the class. It's not optional. It's not as if I said, ‘Uh, Marcella, if you don't want to I'll understand, but would you care to tell me what you know about cubism?’ I mean, ‘Tell me what you know about cubism from my handouts, the textbook, the film I showed, and the gallery we walked through for 2 hours last week.

Your life in this class hangs in the balance.’ I think my field, my class, and my life work is important. When you make fun of it, or tell me that you just took this class for fun because it's so much easier than your major, it makes me think you're an idiot. And that's not really what you want out of this relationship.”

Our classes end at 50 or 30 minutes past the hour, depending on the class and the day. I can keep you in your desks until that time if I choose. When it's 9:45, and you're hungry, or Mitch is waiting at the Commons, I really don't want to hear you start shuffling around and slamming stuff into your bookbag. If I cheated you out of 30 seconds on a test, you'd likely call the Dean's office.

I won't know your final grade for the semester until nearly the end of the semester. Your grade up until that point - you should imagine - is an F. You have to WORK to earn a grade. You have NOTHING at the beginning, and you have you do work in here to EARN points and EARN a grade. If you ask me in week three what your grade is, it's going to be an F. It'll be an F until about the 13th week. There's no way in the world I'm going to GUESS a grade for you so that you can relax and concentrate on Economics or something.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

War stories

This post is pretty typical of all faculty with the bonus of sexual harassment by students thrown in for added measure.  It's good that she saw her way through it.

From Rate Your Students, January 28, 2006

A Newbie From Arizona.

A college professor at a large public institution in Arizona writes to us from the second semester of her first year on the job:

I did my Ph.D. work in the Pacific Northwest and earned most of my fellowships through editing and publishing, so my work in the classroom was very light before I started my first year on the tenure-track.

I wore a nice charcoal pantsuit to my first class last September and sweated through the jacket before I even got to class. I took it off in the hallway in front of my classroom before going in - I was wearing a perfectly normal camisole top that is quite modest - and two young men walked past me, one of them saying, "Pass me the JUGS, man."

I was caught up by that, but also just the nerves of this first day of all first days. When I walked into the classroom and went to the front, the two young guys I saw outside were in the front row. One was sheepish - thanks to something I imagine his parents might have given him while growing up - but the other just fixed me with a big grin.

I felt like I was in some sort of bad TV movie called "Teacher's First Day," and all I wanted to do was crawl back into the comfort of grad school, of my safe apartment in Seattle, my coffee, my friends, my sweatpants, my bookbag, and a dream that I was entering into the life of the mind.

I made it through the semester. I'm still on the job. But that first semester wiped clean any idea I ever had that teaching in a college is anything but babysitting. My students complained if I asked them to write 500 words. They would lie to my face about any and everything. One girl told me that the college's computer lab (there are 4, 3 of them open 24 hours a day), closed unexpectedly at 6 pm and she couldn't print her paper in time. I asked her about the other labs on campus and she whined, "They're ALL the way on other side."

I fielded an endless array of stories about dead family members. I heard about car crashes on every highway in and around the city. Nobody could make it to class when it rained. The heat index was 120 and when they were in high school they didn't have to go to class. They knew I'd understand.

I sat in my new and clean office and felt like a failure most days.

I went for help from my mentor, a woman about 25 years my senior, and told her everything. She nodded her head, took it all in, and said, "They're kids, honey. They don't know any better."

She hoisted me up, boosted my confidence a bit and told me to get tough. I wear dress shirts to class. I don't take any shit. I have policies on my syllabus about being in class - regardless of temperature. I have deadlines and there are consequences if they're not met. The students started this semester in the same way, complaining, whining, but I'm a new woman.

I wear my iPod - see, I have one, too! - and don't let their innocence and ignorance bother me. I teach what I know. I help when they want it - and more and more do. And when they act like they need sitters, I refuse to be one.

But this is not the life I thought was coming.

Mid-Career Mike has a really tasty patty melt

Like many of you, I am a big fan of RYS and read each and every post.  I remember a few specific one and fragments of a few others.  "Death and oatmeal" is a line that brought back a bunch of memories.  Christ, that's the funniest thing I'll read all week but then, I'm a sucker for any jokes about oatmeal.

From Rate Your Students, January 19, 2009

"The Regulars." Mid-Career Mike LiveBlogs From a Campus in Reamed Ass County.

8:02 AM: Efficient Ella from Human Resources picks me up at the Reamed Ass Inn for breakfast. She tells me there are three choices: Denny's, where I've already had coffee and toast at 6 am; McDonald's, which is on the way; or the college cafeteria. I stare at her for a second and pick Mickey D's. I can see the arches as I get into the car. Ella has a Michael Buble CD playing at arena volume.

8:06 AM: We're through the drive thru and headed to Reamed Ass College. Michael Buble starts into "Me and Mrs. Jones." I eat my #8 with orange juice and Ella sings along. It's about nine degrees outside, snow is falling, and Ella has her left tires on the dotted line of Reamed Ass's Main Street.

8:17 AM: Ella drops me in front of a dour building with directions to a labyrinthine staircase that will take me to the 3rd floor to meet with the search committee chair, Dr. Timmy. (Two weeks ago I had a very nice phone interview with Drs. Timmy, Tommy, and Sandi with an "i.")

8:28 AM: I'm sitting in a student desk outside Dr. Timmy's office when I see what looks like a middle school student in a suit approaching me. "You must be Mike," the tiny voice says. "I'm Dr. Timmy." (Oh, I've made up names for these folks, but Timmy is an effective corollary for his own.)

8:45 AM: Dr. Timmy and I are in a classroom when Drs. Tommy and Sandi with an "i" walk in. They look like kids you'd see on a new Disney channel show, or the road company of a regional theater performance of High School Musical.

9:30 AM: I've finished the get acquainted chat with the kids, now I get to teach a class.

9:40 AM: No students have arrived at this optional event, but Timmy, Tommy, and Sandi with an "i" are joined by Dr. Scotty, another middle schooler who is wearing Cons, jeans, a wool pullover with deer on it, and a rakish scarf around his neck. Scotty and Tommy give each other a low five.

10:20 AM: I've finished teaching a class to the search committee kids. I swear that Dr. Timmy's feet don't even reach the floor while he's sitting in his desk. They all seem happy with what I've done. They fill in some of their own strategies on my topic, and there seems to be no rush to go anywhere else.

10:45 AM: I finally say, "Do I have to meet the Dean?" Sandi with an "i" jumps up, checks her watch and motions for me to follow. I'm carrying a briefcase, a winter coat, and a hat, and I ask: "Are we going outside? Should I put this stuff on?" Sandi with an "i" says, "Well you can, but the Dean's office is just across the quad." She squints at me like I'm crazy, and we race down the stairs and out into the snow with Sandi with an "i" just wearing her big-girl skirt and blouse.

11:05 AM: I'm alone now, sitting outside the Dean Ezekiel's office. A skeleton of a man, clearly 900 years old, comes out, grins at me with about 21 teeth, and waves me in. His office smells like death and oatmeal. We sit and he spends the next 75 minutes telling me about the college, about his time as a boy in Reamed Ass County, a pony that he won a blue ribbon with at the Reamed Ass County fair in 1816 (okay, I made that date up), his wife Esther, the new cafeteria, the person who left the job I'm applying for (and his wife and his kids), a FedEx box that he's been waiting for with some lampshades in it, and how hard it was to get his bookshelves just the way he likes them. It's 94 degrees in the office and I'm sweating when he finally asks me what brings me to Reamed Ass College. I talk a bit about my desire to relocate to a small college and then the door opens. Dr. Timmy has come for me. "Thanks, boss," Timmy says to Dean Ezekiel, and out we go.

12:45 PM: Timmy takes me to the new cafeteria. We get submarine sandwiches and sit among a group of students who don't seem to know Timmy. He calls them all "Sport" and "Missy." One of the "Missys" looks perturbed, grabs her salad and moves two tables over. Timmy asks me some leftover questions from the morning and then tells me that Ella will come and fetch me from the cafeteria when she's done her own lunch. He polishes off his sandwich, extends his hand to me, and leaves me there.

1:30 PM: Ella walks me downstairs to the human resources where Rolf comes in and gives me an entirely inappropriate 45 minute introduction to the health plans and retirement benefits. These are detailed far beyond what I need at this point. It's a canned presentation for new faculty, people who've already signed up. I sit through it all quietly because Rolf never breathes. He stands over me in a tiny seminar room and peels forms and papers off of a stack for me to review. He smiles at the end, tells me Sandi with an "i" will come and get me in a moment. I wait 30 minutes.

2:50 PM: Sandi with an "i" breaks the news that because of the snow and the weather dinner is off. "You can have some nice room service," she says. "Our treat." She's leading me back outside while I wrestle with my hat and coat. Ella is outside the building waiting, her car running. Sandi with an "i" opens the door and lets me in. She holds the door open, shakes my hand and says, "Any other questions?" I can't think of any, so we shake again, she winks at Ella, and the door closes. Ella slides out of the parking lot headed back to the Reamed Ass Inn. Michael Buble is roaring now, "So call me, unpredictable, tell me I'm impractical, rainbows, I'm inclined to pursue." Snow is falling like we're in a globe, but Ella murders us through the narrow campus streets to the main drag. We are hugging the center line and she turns Buble down for a second. "Fun, huh? Did you learn what you needed about us?" And I nod.

4:15 PM: No room service. I'm at the Denny's having a patty melt. It's fucking great!

Seeking greener, gumdroppier pastures? Read on.

My department has shed some faculty.  They were losers but it was a huge pain in the ass even though we were happy they were gone.  That hassle along with the disappointment of losing a good colleague would be even worse.

From Rate Your Students, October 31, 2007

POW: "Bright Gumdrop Unicorns in the Center of the Universe." Junior Faculty On the Move.

While I admit RYS is my favorite blog, I do read a number of other academic blogs, and had occasion to let loose on some selfishness I saw among a group of junior faculty who were spending a good deal of time congratulating one another on working in tenure track jobs while slaving like mules to get better jobs in more attractive situations - close to Mommy, warmer weather, a place where their own peculiar preciousness will be admired by all.

Nobody seemed to understand what happens to a department when a junior faculty announces his/her departure, almost always late in the Spring semester, when suddenly the department must engage in high-speed job searches for another junior faculty member probably also looking elsewhere.

They also were unapologetic about being eager to go to what they imagine will be a "better situation," saying among other things that they while they understood that their institutions would be saddled with the difficulty of replacing them (the funding, the job search, the interviews, the entire new dynamic of the department and the college), that it just "wasn't their fault."

Most of the writers also wanted to make it clear that their teaching job was really "just a job," and not their whole life. There was a certain haughtiness to this, as if they themselves were the first group to discover joy in family, friends, and pinochle. I wonder if they're comfortable with their students seeing them as "just some guy who taught me Math"? Or would they be satisfied if their colleagues saw them as "just the lady who worked on the budget"? I hope not. Of course if they're only staying in their jobs for a couple of years, maybe that's all they are. Maybe they are easily replaceable. I know it's not true in my own department, where we do everything we can to nurture the life and work of our junior colleagues.

On this other blog - which has the requisite pictures of a mangy cat, as referenced so beautifully earlier by one of your readers - I said, in part:

I can't believe not a one of you has been a senior enough member of a faculty to know the damage that this "casting around for a better gig" does to a department.The junior faculty of present day academe is made up of people like you, uncaring and selfish, not giving a shit about the students and colleagues you leave in the lurch with your pretty "look at me, love me, and miss me" announcement of departure in April of each year.

I've even offered support in the past to jumpy and nervous junior faculty so sure that there's a world of demand out there for their particular preciousness, because what else can we do? We have an endowment, trustees, the work of the university, the rest of the department, the students.
These all remain once you put your shit in boxes and go off to be unfulfilled in another institution that just will never love you as much as Mommy and Daddy. Oh, yes, it's "just" a job to us, too, but we're adults and we take it seriously. We're not children with overblown egos; we've long ago recognized that we're pieces of a larger puzzle, not a big bright gumdrop unicorn that rests in the center of the universe.
I wanted to check in with the readers and writers of RYS - because you all have saved my sanity with your own posts over the past year - to see if I'm right on this. Or, if maybe the years of sniffing whiteboard markers has turned my brain into mush.

"In short, you do not want to be educated" - the source of a career's worth of complaints

There are so many good lines here.  "... a book you'll never read, ..." is such a great put-down.  The whole thing is a gem.

From Rate Your Students, May 21, 2007

"May Your Perfidy Ramify Through Your Life." If We Only Had a Dime For Every Time We Said That.

Dear Students:

The collective attitude you have shown toward reading and writing during the past semester is neither new nor surprising. You are not well-suited to do either. To your credit, you hate ignorance, as I do. To your discredit, you really only hate being shown that you are ignorant, through encountering words and ideas that are foreign to you and your immediate experience. Rather than look them up and learn about them, as is moronically simple these days, you disdain them, and then complain that you do not understand them. This complaint is disingenuous because you show no interest in having them explained.

Rather, you want to be relieved of responsibility for knowing them, and for reading the works that contain them. In short, you do not want to be educated, or even to go through the motions of education. What you want is a degree, and if there existed a system of academic indulgences, you would gladly fork over four years tuition to receive one without having to waste time going to classes. For a little extra, you could get someone like me to drop by and, for about a half-hour, confirm your base prejudices, the ones you've gotten from television and the movies and video games and life in general. You have written about these prejudices incessantly: why brute force is an answer for everything, why the whole world, with its little invisible workers everywhere, has come together for your material and personal happiness, why you live in the greatest country in the history of the world, led by its greatest leader, why your ethnic group has undergone suffering that leaves you preeminent over us, who are all racists... I will not go on.

I have read your stories about anime characters, complete with super-deformed doodles, your tales of extraterrestrials and werewolves and vampires. It is interesting that your eyes turn to the supernatural world so often, since you have such an impoverished notion of this one.

Randall Jarrell, in Pictures From An Institution, a book you'll never read, anticipated a world in which people could do without culture. He likened it to a kingdom, where the king and queen have always observed the rituals of piety. Then, a man - an advertising man - tells them that they need do no such thing. They are surprised, but, newly liberated, they go to Mass - real fast - and then have a swift one at the club afterwards. You are just as enlightened as they are; your only problem is that the term does not pass swiftly enough to suit you.

From your perspective, ignorance is not a curse, and so I cannot curse you with ignorance. Nonetheless, I curse you. May your mergers not merge and may your acquisitions not be acquired. May your perfidy ramify through your life, so that all your dealings are as twisted as you are. May your lack of concentration result in an accident that kills you. May your illiteracy prevent you from reading some crucial document. And may you be transferred to Europe, where your lack of foreign languages renders you deaf and mute, and where your lack of culture will be seen for what it is - barbarism.

Oh, and don't worry about the evaluations. What you have to say is irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday with Twitter

Another great reason to get on Twitter: LegoAcademics.  Add that to the long, looooooong list of great, simple ideas that I didn't think of.

Another is J Univ Rejection.  That's just flat out mean.

In 2005, somebody decided to stop grading students on their potential

Not that I'm knocking the old RYS mods but you can tell by the appearance of graphics when Cal got on board.

From College Misery, November 26, 2005

Bursting with Love - or Maybe Turkey - Someone from Minnesota Finishes a Set of Essays.

A tenure-track asst. prof of English in Minnesota sends this along:

Dear Students,

I've just spent half of yesterday and all of this morning going through your latest essays. They're horrid. Each one of you has disappointed me in some essential way. I hold each early draft and finished draft next to each other, remember the conversations we had about working on the paper, developing it, and then I read the final draft and see NONE of those changes, none of those revisions. It's as if I gave 2 conference days to you for no reason other than to give myself a chance to make my cold worse. Why do you think I offer suggestions? Why do I ask questions about your work? Why do I care more for your essays than you do?

I'm through with that. From now on, starting with this set - where the grades are nearly all failing - I'm going to grade you on your performance. I have been lax with all of you. I grade based on the fuzzy potential you bring to the class. I grade based on the feel-good messages I get from our admissions committee about what great kids we have. But that's all been a lie.

As a group, you're lazy, unmotivated, and you are eager to lie to my face about the most minor of matters. You treat me with such casual disrespect - tardiness, phony stories about missing class, casual plagiarism - and yet you - and your parents - expect me to treat you like rare geniuses in my care.

Fuck that. You work hard or you suffer the consequences. I've been a fool for letting it go on this long, playing the game, acting like my colleagues who think passing everyone means they've chosen the right profession. But I'm through. Work hard or suffer. And it starts today. I'll give these papers back Monday and you'll have a chance to fix them, to spend some actual time on them. I'll want real revisions, not a handful of corrections.

This is not a warning. This is the start of something real.

(Another) Call to arms

With some of these posts from RYS being almost ten years old, I wonder how things turned out for the authors.  Maybe in their own little corner of academia, they figured it out but the problems are evergreen.

From Rate Your Students, December 18, 2006

A Call to Action: Not in My Class

Lately, idealistic professor of the humanities that I am, I have felt beset on all sides. On one side is an administration that sees students as a clientele, programs as products to be marketed, and academic standards subject to modification if students find them too difficult.

On another side are students who refuse to take their work seriously. At present, those students count for about two thirds of the students in my courses, and the trend does not look promising. On still another side is my own faculty association which cares only about how much faculty are paid, all the while fighting for the rights of the underqualified instructor and the abusive full professor alike.

And so I have made a resolution, a statement of non-compromise. A line in the sand, if you will excuse the cliche. Simply, it is this: Not in my class.

I have tenure and I'm going to use it. I will not lower my standards no matter how much my colleagues do. I will not compromise what I know to be fair and reasonable expectations because students complain. I will not turn my back on the grand tradition of university education to embrace petty division and adversarial politics. If my class is the last real university class in the English-speaking world, so be it. I will go down with this ship if I have to.

So, Deans and Vice Presidents take note. Say all you want about niche markets and the need to make things easier for our recruiters. That's fine. Do what you have to do. But not in my class.

Students, there is no one who will spend more time helping you learn to be a broad-minded, educated person than me. I know some of you want to work hard, and I have faith that the power of literature and the pleasure of honest, hard, intellectual effort will continue to attract at least a few of you every year. But if you want something for nothing, if you want less reading because you don't have time to do it, if you want a different kind of course because you think it's more relevant to your chosen career, I have to tell you, it's not going to happen. Not in my class.

Union bosses, take note too. I'll cash my paycheck because I need to live, but I'm not here for the money, and I will gladly give up a raise if it means higher standards, better access to research materials, and money to fix the crumbling plaster on the walls. I am not a worker; I am a scholar. And if you want me to be anything else, you've got the wrong guy. That's not how I do things. Not in my class.

And the thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. I'm pretty sure there are lots of others out there, idealists just like me who are tired of constant concession and are ready to say enough is enough. To all of you I say this: you can't change them, but you can decide not to change.

So say it with me: Not in my class.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not that we have a choice about who we work with but if you give me the option...

I strongly relate to the sentiment of this post.  Stupid isn't good and it's not even normal for my classes but stupid doesn't cause me too many problems.  That doesn't make them good - they are still bad students.  However, bad students rate higher than pain in the ass students, a growing population.

From Rate Your Students, March 24, 2010

A Welcome Blast From the Beloved Dana From Decatur. "I Can Work With Stupid."

You know, guys, I can work with stupid. I really can. You see Dull Deborah over there? Well, let's just say, she's not the sharpest pin in the pack. But goddamn, she's got a good attitude, she asks for help, and she takes her lumps and improves. I answer her emails, I meet with her in office hours, and I have absolutely no issue with Dull, Dull Deborah.

And let me just say, for the record, that I don't have any real beef with people who don't try, either. I mean, Mellow Mark over there? I'm pretty sure he spends most of his days in a pleasant haze of hash. He doesn't try. But he doesn't care, either. So when he gets a D, he puts his paper in his bag, nods, smiles, and lopes right on out of the room, telling me to have a nice weekend. Me and Mark. We're cool.

It's you fuckers I have the real problem with. First off, I have absolutely no idea whether you're functionally retarded or the next Einstein. I don't think you know either. Why? Because you have never tried on anything in your goddamned lives. AND you want a grade that has no reflection on that. And that's when I start to get pissed.

For example, you Dumb Dick. You actually seem to have ideas in class discussions. Ideas that, you know, you might try putting in your papers. But no. Your papers are incomprehensible, inane, and about a page long. Because you don't try. And unlike some of these poor saps, who give me stories about child support, welfare, and taking the bus to three jobs, you tell me about how "totally wasted" you were over Spring Break, and I hear from other students that you have a "no note-taking" policy. And yet. When you get the D, you stand there, as if someone is playing a horrible joke on you. "How could this be?" your eyes cry. "How is it that you are giving me the grade that my non-work actually deserves? How utterly unfair!" Yeah. You and me, Dumb Dick? We are so NOT cool.

And you, Princess Pea. You with your combative attitude, and your constant challenge to my authority. Oh, yes, it's MY fault. For example, you wonder, how can I ever ask students to do such a thing as come up with an IDEA? Well, it's nothing short of cruel and unusual, is it? To have to think and show evidence of thought--surely I jest. But see, I know your game. You lob out a paper you know is crap, hoping--you once told me--thinking "that it would scrape by with a B or something." But see, again, I call crap like I see it. So when you get the D+, you're shocked. Baffled. Angered, suddenly, that what you before called an interesting class is actually asking you to have interesting and well-supported thoughts! Well, Princess, what can I say. Believing yourself to be royalty just doesn't get you very far in here.

If you're dumb, fine. We'll work on it. If you don't care, fine. We won't work on it. But you don't get to care AND be a lazy, whining motherfucker. Either go light up with Mark, or actually give this "thinking" thing a try for a fucking change.

Student strikes back

I'll say this.  The student who wrote the post below is correct that we (I mean, our colleagues, not us) have their faults, some severe.  We share her disdain for some professors.  My only hesitation in posting this is that it consumes some of my sympathy for students at the beginning of the semester and that's already in short supply.

[This post appeared out of order from the rest.  I'm reposting it.]

From Rate Your Students, December 27, 2005

A Junior From Jersey.

A junior Business major at a public college in New Jersey sends this along this evening. I think it's a fantastic post, maybe the best one I've received since starting this project. She makes several excellent points, and her statements all bring echoes to me of other students I've had in the past, young men and women who truly don't deserve to be judged so harshly. Her post makes me think a lot about what we're doing here at RYS. Let me know what you think by writing me: rateyourstudents AT hotmail DOT com:

Listen, THE PROFESSOR, if you really want to understand what it's like to have professors like you grade us, rate us, poke us and prod us every day, take a walk in my shoes.

My Bio teacher tells us on every test that there are at least 2 right answers for every question, and that one is "better." Does that seem fair to you? Not me either.

My major field advisor is a stinking drunk, and I mean stinking. I can smell his scotch or whatever every time I walk in to his office. I have to smile so he fills out my forms even though he makes me sick to my stomach.

My Psychology professor tries to look up my skirt when I wear one. He hardly even pretends to do it casually. He's a married man, and old enough to be my dad. And because I can't possibly say anything against him - I'll flunk - I have to act like it doesn't bother me. I am physically ill every day before that class, and I'm glad I'll never have to see him again. But I bet there's another one like him waiting for me next semester.

I sleep in a dorm room with a girl who barfs three times a day, and who I can't report because I'm afraid she'll kill herself. I have a suitemate who screws her boyfriend after dorm hours and I can't say anything about that because her dad gave the college a ton of money and I don't need to be any more of an outsider than I am.

I can only schedule classes at weird times because of the incredibly clogged network. So on MWF I have a class at 8 am, noon, and 4 pm. How am I supposed to get a work schedule at the Kohl's if I can't get away from campus for a few hours in a row. Yes, I pay for a lot of my school myself, and I have to work in order to come here.

So, while you're all getting your jollies picking on students, please realize we're not all the same, and not all of us deserve your scorn.

Everybody has their time.

Most of the Rate Your Students and College Misery posts were funny or made you cringe because they describe student, administrator or colleague behavior that you've dealt with too.  A few of them are poignant, like this one.

Oh, and, um, happy school year.

From Rate Your Students, May 17, 2006


I cleaned out my office over the past two days. No more teaching. Today's the first day that I'm not a college professor. I've been teaching a dozen years, the last 6 at a medium sized state university in the northeast.

I tell my friends outside the academy that I just got tired of babysitting, and that's as close as I can come to explaining it to anyone.

When I was in college, it never occurred to me that I was there to be placated and entertained. I wasn't brought up in a time when every spelling bee contestant got a ribbon, and where every soccer team went home at the end of the year with a 4 foot high trophy. College was tough, and it was worth something.

But something happened - or so it seems - between the end of college and the end of grad school. As soon as I started teaching I was pressured in minor and major ways to ease the students through the big educational machine. Low student evaluations - always a result of tough classes or "honest" grading - resulted in ominous visits to the chair's office or the Dean's office.

And so I slacked off like my colleagues had done, became popular, and taught less and less. I won a teaching award 2 years ago. We have 350 faculty members and I was chosen professor of the year. I'm glad I didn't have to make a speech because I would have choked. I knew I wasn't a good teacher. I had become an entertaining facilitator and that was all. That I was good at that brings me nothing but unhappiness.

And so I got sicker and sicker of it. Sicker of the entitlement and the low expectations of everyone around me. My colleagues have drunk up the Kool-Aid and they look at me like I have two heads when I say I can't do it anymore.

I don't have a job, but thankfully my wife has worked a long time in the bio-tech world and I can probably have a year to figure out a new career. But it won't be teaching. At least not in a traditional college or university. Those places are now - by and large - jokes. So little is expected that drunk and horny students make the Dean's list, and we all smile and pat ourselves on the back for making it so.

I guess I shouldn't say "we" anymore. It's your problem now. I quit.