Monday, March 31, 2014

Welcome to higher education

Tenure track positions might be less common now but there will always be a need for professors.

Is this what you signed up for?

Dr. Amelia married another proffie

Mr. Dr. Mr. Amelia (MDMA) declined to participate, but fortunately, I am also married to an academic. MDMA and I are living about as close to the dream as one can get, with two academic jobs that are within 100 miles of each other and a neat town with good schools halfway between in which we live. Neither of us is working at a job that maxes our potential. But we're not complaining at all.

Our lives during the school year are pretty crazy, and we both talk about work all the time. I think my kids know a lot more about how colleges work than most people, and my oldest can sometimes help with key-based grading or finding grammatical errors in student lab reports. We work kind of ridiculous hours during the year. MDMA regularly gets up at 5 to get a few hours in before the day starts, and I am often working from the time the kids hit the sack to 10 or 11. But we're not complaining at all.

We don't teach in the summer, and try to keep other summer work to a minimum, too, hence the long hours during the year. So we don't get paid in the summer, either. So we eat a lot of beans, and get many of our clothes from thrift shops. We buy a car about every 14 years. But the summers are great. We put in maybe 2 hours of work a day and enjoy the rest of the time with museums, hiking and camping, visiting the park and other family time. So my kids know by example what it is to work hard, but also have some solid family memories.

We're not complaining at all.

-- Dr. Amelia


Sorry about missing the Sunday comics post.  Stuff is coming on Monday.  Don't despair.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Last of the Links from Frankie Bow

Frankie Bow sent in this article that is almost funny enough to make it into the Sunday Funnies post tomorrow. 

Apparently, a professor taught the regular version of general chemistry to a class of students enrolled in the remedial/introductory version of the course.  KHOU I-Team investigates!


Frankie writes,
My theory: Nguyen taught the correct class. The students found it too hard. Straight-A Snowflake complained to the science chair, who realized that the pass rates in the class were going to be abysmal. Science chair had a little chat with instructor Nguyen, who realized what she needed to do if she wanted to get rehired the following semester.

Other theories?

Links worth reading, in small groups or large, from Contingent Cassandra

I came across this one this week, and had to take a close look to make sure it wasn't satire (much the same reaction I had to the Disney offer). An instructional designer (and apparently a magazine entitled University Business as well) are touting the benefits of SPOCs: Small Private Online Classes (in other words, the kind of online classes a lot of us created a decade or more ago, without benefit of instructional designers).

Here's the first article I ran across from Inside Online Learning.  This is a related article from University Business.   Jonathan Rees commenting on same, and a few other developments in the MOOC/anti-MOOC world.

-- Contingent Cassandra

Saturday Links

Happy Saturday, everybody.

Here's a video from ESPN about the athletic cheating scandal at UNC.

This is a brief news story that features one of the grade A essays.

Our next academic scandal is from the University of Chicago, where they wanted to hire the convicted inside trader Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre to teach an undergraduate class.  After receiving some bad press, they let him teach a graduate course instead.  There's somebody destined for administration.

Contingent Cassandra and Frankie Bow sent in some other links that will appear later.  All are worth commenting on so I don't want to put too much in one post.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

More mail!

Dr. Beowulf wasn't the only person receiving email from the enemies of higher education.  I got this:

My first thought was, how the hell did they get my email address?  Then I remembered that I had contacted them to complain that students had rated me for a class I didn't teach.  They took down the incorrect student comments but were kind enough to save my email for their mass marketing.

Perhaps we should modify this to say, "Give yourself the ratings you deserve!"  I think it's only fair.  After all, I was in that class too and I think I did a marvelous job.

-- Bob from Bennington

With REAL nightmares, at least you eventually WAKE UP

I sometimes have these awful visions of my former students, now college graduates, working in the “real world”:

- skateboarding from office to office; running down anyone in their way.

- when chastised for wearing T-shirts with snarky/offensive/obscene messages/pictures, saying, “hey, I have free speech rights, you know!”

- asking their supervisors, “can you reschedule that important meeting with our clients? I already bought tickets to the Coachella Music Festival for that day.”

- after they have caused some technical disaster, or medical tragedy, saying, “but the number was right; I just confused ‘milligram’ with ‘microgram’ so I really had it mostly right!”

- telling their bosses, “that’s a STUPID assignment, you are TOTALLY unreasonable!”

- complaining to the supervisor of their immediate boss that their boss is “mean and expects too much of me – don’t even let that person ever be a boss of people like me ever again!”

- instead of completing their assigned work, copying something vaguely relevant from the internet and saying, “but you never said we couldn’t use outside resources!” and “it’s YOUR fault for giving me such an impossibly hard task!” when caught.

- playing video games on their desktop all day, then complaining to their boss how hard they work, and bragging to their friends how they have their boss totally snowed. On Twitter. Using their real name.

It IS gratifying how all of these visions have the very satisfying ending of their obnoxious little asses getting canned.

-- Horrible Meanie Prof

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You must be taller than Mickey's hand to enroll. . .

So the following turned up in the ol' Inbox today. . .

Disney for Higher Ed: Customer Service that Attracts & Keeps Students - 4/21 Webinar

Colleges that have made customer service priority one on their campus are not only boosting retention rates, but attracting more students. Learn to apply Disney's proven customer-centric service principles to attract students and build retention rates at your university. Join us for a live, 60-minute webinar where you and your colleagues will discover:

"Disney for Higher Ed: Customer Service that Attracts & Keeps Students"

Program Highlights:

Disney's Customer Service Model for Higher Ed – Tips for Your College

** How to turn your front-line staff into a top-notch service team
** Ways to apply Disney's service philosophy to boost student success
** Strategies to make service excellence part of everyday operations
** Keys to build a service model to improve your school's image & brand

There was more, but that gives you the flavor. I think reading it made my soul throw up.

 -- Dr. Beowulf

Here's to you, Research Essay Randy!

Dear Randy,

When I gave you your research essay assignment, I offered four, count them, FOUR suggested prompts. That's because I, old, jaded, 40 something prof that I am, have long given up on the idea that you kids can generate your OWN topics. And yet, yes, something still calls to me about inquiry based learning. I love the idea. I recognize its merits. I want to teach students like that. So I spend a whole class discussing ways you could generate your own topic. I did make it very clear, though, Randy, that you needed to clear it with me prior to spending any actual TIME on your own topics prior to getting them cleared with me.

That, my friend, is on account of personal experience with the myriad ways in which you kids FUCK with the topic, and with me.

So when I STOOPIDLY checked my e-mail this afternoon, the last Sunday afternoon of our Spring Break, I was just a tiny bit surprised by your missive in which you told me you had "put together" an entire research essay on the ways that Creon fucked up in Antigone. Oh, you did not word it that way. You worded it just exactly the way I might expect someone on, oh, say Bookrags to have worded a summary of their research essay on the play "Antigone."

Now, for the record, I never suggested you write about that play. My research essay is not exactly the same, but is somewhat similar to the one described in a College Misery rant. You have to look at the way a social issue is discussed in the work you are writing about. So, my dear Randy, examining the ways in which Creon made bad decisions is just not going to fit the bill.

And you noticed that, when you actually looked at the assignment. That's why you e-mailed me today. You asked me why I wanted you to consider such specific points, when I also told you that you could choose your own topic. Never mind that we spent 80 minutes going over the types of things you might be spurred to investigate on your own. No, now you are simply outraged that I would allow you to spend countless hours downloading an essay from....say,

OK, dammit. I found your entire essay on Bookrags! You SUCK Randy! I cannot believe you find the tenacity to look at your own reflection in the mirror!

I find myself more and more disillusioned each semester. Where is society headed?

-- Professor Bella

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Captivate me with your caption

You know what to do.

There's always something relevant at xkcd

Do you ever use lingo from your field of study when talking to you spouse about ordinary stuff?

A new contribution to our continuing series on academics as significant others

Spouse and I were both academics.

Her: PhD, Research

Me: M.S. Teaching

Both in relatively related fields.

We have been with each other through the development of our academic careers, and for a brief time dabbled in each others playground (and found that it wasn't for us ). Having had that shared history was important. It made us better appreciate the other's stuggle. Given the Venn diagram of our experiences, the intersection is comfortable large, and for us, that works. We can vent to each because we know that the other gets it. And because we know that the other is going through it too, we don't abuse it by heaping extra stress on the one we love. I feel like we are a successful Hollywood couple where both spouses are actors, albeit one in movies, and the other on TV.

The dramas that our workplace worlds generated were slightly different.  Her world was more like Downton Abbey, while mine was more like Jerry Springer. Both full of intrigue, I know, but just a wee bit different.

We each have friends and colleagues at our respective places to whom we vent about specific things, that as SO's we can only empathize with to a point.

It is healthy, necessary, and no emotional intimacies are betrayed. It is a good thing to have good people in your circle. People who 'watch the same dramas' as you.

(Besides, I've vented to my mirror when no one is available, and it truly is disconcerting when your reflection rolls his eyes, and you haven't.)  My spouse loves what she does, despite the drama.and is still doing it.  She is the brains of this outfit, and her career is important to her, and she to me.

I no longer loved what I was doing, and am no longer doing it.

We still vent to each other, and the venting may be a bit different, but it is still all good.
Bottom line though, it doesn't work for everyone, but it worked for us. But I attribute that to who we both are, and not what we both do.

For ultimately, that is what counts.

-- MathEmperor Mobius

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

OK, you know about the Twitter feed in the sidebar.  That's mostly just retweeting stupid stuff that students say.  The Tuesday Twitter post will now be devoted to my favorite recent Tweets from other academics that I follow.  They are fantastic.  Here are some more.

Early Thirsty for Frenna

I received this message from Frenna last night:

Well, I am headed off to my first true on campus interview.  I would love any fresh advice anyone has or recent horror stories from this latest batch of interviews.

I have my lectures ready and no itinerary, which means outside of the department, I am quite unclear who I am meeting with all day.  They didn't send me an itinerary, but hell why would I care whom I am meeting?  I do know it is a day long marathon!

OK folks, let's help Frenna out. What advice do you have for candidates on their campus interview visits?

By the way, on the off chance that you are conducting an interview today, it might be Frenna.  Be pleasant.  Here's the secret code so that you know who you are dealing with:

One of you asks, "Where is the bourbon?"

The other replies, "The bourbon is in the water cooler."

Wombat of the Copier gives advice for those who like to dilute the hate on RMP

If you're going to go to the site that shan't be named to say good stuff about yourself "anonymously", make sure you don't use any of your catch-phrases.  If you are going to do this in your second language, you have pretty much no chance of pulling it off.  If you landed the TT because you know someone, and now you're in the position of heading the department otherwise fully covered by adjuncts, all of whom have more experience than yourself, and you are so intimidated that you think lofting your RMP score ahead of everyone else's is what you need to do to gain our respect, you are an even bigger idiot than I thought you were when you put "taking attendance" on your resume.  The only pathetic act from which you refrained was giving yourself a chili pepper.  I'm pretty sure if you'd given yourself a chili pepper, I would quit. 

-- Wombat of the Copier

Monday, March 24, 2014

MathEmperor Mobius provides advice for the new and naive, part 2

This is part 2 (obviously) of a post by MathEmperor Mobius which began this morning.

Set your boundaries and do it early in your career if you can. It is damn near impossible to do it midway through. Condition your coworkers to respect those boundaries. Reduce those pesky in-person hallway ambushes, by being the person that only handles requests if they are submitted by email. When someone sticks you with an ambush request, act as if they sent you an email when you know they didn't. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must have missed your request for that document when I was sorting through my email inbox." People can't be changed, but they can be trained a little bit. Every afternoon, frantically play with your phone in front of your coworkers, after all, you do important volunteer work racing iguanas for charity. Over time, people will ingrain that into memory. The next time you have an afternoon faculty meeting that runs late, frantically play with your phone. "Whoops, iguana go, gotta go". The association will be automatic and nobody will bat an eye. Deadweight coworkers are masters at boundary setting. They do a job poorly so they will never be asked again, and their task goes to someone else, new and naive, like you.  Their boundary has been set. Set yours. Just remember to use your powers for good instead of evil.

Don't make extra work for yourself. If you are going to go the extra mile for something, then at least make it a downhill mile.  Make exams and projects that are easy for you to grade. You can do it without sacrificing content or quality.

Stick to your classroom/course policies. For every student who appreciated and genuinely took benefit from my leniency, ten others would abuse it and would look for every way to play me and the system.  You know the type, the budding young 'lawyers' who look for every loophole in your syllabus, yet can't read or analyze an article.  Make-up work? Oh, you are just asking for your own private hell.  Don't be a softee, It is simply not worth it.

Don't make your home an extension of your office at work.  If you must, designate one tiny little corner (and only one tiny little corner)  exclusively for work stuff. You can always throw laundry over it.

It's already one of those weeks.

MathEmperor Mobius provides advice for the new and naive, part 1

If I could turn back time...

Yeah, Cher. You and me both.

Actually, if I could travel back in time, say ten years ago, I would have one serious sit-down conversation with my younger self.

Ten years ago, I was young(er), newly established in a FT teaching position, and was excited to be in the academic environment.
(Oh, you poor naive young lad.)
I finally achieved the career that I had always envisioned for myself.

But then it all changed.
This once peaceful work environment began to transform into one of nightmarish despair and hopelessness.

Circumstances and events in the college's history during that period brought out the worst in people. Our work family irrevocably went from happy to dysfunctional in the blink of an eye. I couldn't have imagined that these colleagues, these professionals, could act and behave like children. The people politics became so toxic, and the scheming and back-stabbing so sinister, that even Machiavelli would have cringed. There was so much Kool-aid on tap, that I thought the area that housed the administrative offices was going to be renamed the Jim Jones wing. The Kool-aid pitcher was even made a Dean. Oh yeah.

I stuck it out for a while thinking it would get better. I mean, it couldn't really get worse, could it? (Oh, you poor naive young lad.) Well, it did, with each year being progressively more vile than the last, and I let it churn me up until I quit.

I imagine that the conversation with my younger self would be very one-sided, as I impart my experiences and wisdom to him.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday comics

How might you warn students to avoid majoring in liberal arts?  Maybe this will work.

We often complain about students relying on the latest technology.  This guy seems to agree with us but still gets in trouble.

There are eight types of professors.  Which one are you?

Last for today is a comic strip about grading.  Here's Something Positive.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday links (updated)

We, and by that, I mean "I", like to talk a lot about the apparent shortage of students studying science and engineering.  I've never understood how a pile of CVs for a research faculty position can show a dozen talented candidates each with six years of postdoctoral research experience while we have too few scientists.  This article casts more doubt on that.  So there.  I was right all along.

Next up, a new academic journal: Porn StudiesThis article makes a good case for it's value to academic discourse which I don't doubt.  I know some of you might scoff at the idea that this blog should consider something so serious and boring as academic journals but I assure you that I only looked at the pictures.

Last for today's links is the story of UCSB professor Mireille Miller-Young and the bizarre kerfuffle over her taking a protest sign from a pro-life protester on campus.  Here's the story from a local paper and a blog post that quotes extensively from the police report.  Nothing worse than The Man shutting down a campus protest.  Makes you want to play a Peter, Paul and Mary album.

How could I forget this one?  Nazareth College rescinds a tenure-track job offer when the candidate tries to negotiate.  Online shit storm of outrage ensues.  I'll only add this link for some perspective which you may not have seen.

Have a good Saturday!

Friday, March 21, 2014

On "Mixed" Marriages

My dear spouse is a non-academic. (I am too now, after finally bailing from The Vocation a few years back.) I've always had a seething envy of the perks of academic couples. -- they can always weedle their schools into hiring their spouses (or get hired at their spouse's schools themselves, regardless of their qualifications), and everyone thinks their marriages are deeper and richer than mine (I call bullshit). I even had a rant on this matter posted on RYS!

But the thing that pisses me off most is they can always get their spouses funding through their own research projects, regardless of how irrelevant the spouse's discipline is. It's called being innovative and interdisciplinary!

One incident in particular stands in mind. I was part of a team that went to a VERY undeveloped part of the Third World for a summer project. My official collaborator decided to bring his wife (in a completely unrelated field) to "help." She brought a friend from home because she wanted company and thought it would be fun.

Well, neither of these two deadweights had ever (1) been in a tropical country during the summer, (2) spoke the language used there, or (3) ever eaten anything not available at Whole Foods or stayed in a hotel that didn't have cable and wireless internet and room service. Both freaked out and demanded to move into fancier digs in the nearest big city, about an hour's drive away.

Meanwhile, my dear spouse, who has professional experience in audio-visual stuff (which would have been useful for our data collection) as well as camping and peeing-outdoors experience, couldn't possibly come, except on his own dime, (And even if he did, it still would have made me look unprofessional to my department.) GRRR.

-- Sent in anonymously by Totally Unfair

Frenna on having a non-academic spouse

I have a non-academic spouse. He does not even have a college degree.  We met as undergraduates and he was one of those students that got lost in the large state university.  I don't think (he and his parents would agree) he was ready for college.  I think if he went back now, he would excel.  I do not push him to go to school, because it does not bother me that he lacks a degree.  I wish we would go back, even to a community college, for some sort of degree.  Hell he took four years of classes, but kept changing majors!!!   I think a degree would be a nice landing pad in case something were to happen with his great job.

I think his lack of a degree bothers him when he has to go to some mixer thing of mine, filled with stuffy academics.  He hated going to the parties that my PhD prof would hold, because everyone talked "shop."  I am sure there are academics out there that would not "approve" of an academic having a spouse without any college degree.  I find it depressing that he makes more than me without a degree.   As an adjunct I often find myself wondering why I went through all the torture for the peanuts that I get!!!

I love that he can stay home with our offspring when needed and knows sometimes I need to abandon him with said offspring to grade at a coffee shop during the weekend.  Damn I miss having my own office on campus.

I think he has a hard time understanding why I would rather teach than get a high paying industry job.  I would miss the atmosphere of a school.  The shuffling of people around campus and the one or two students that remind me WHY I got a PhD.

-- Frenna

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Big Thirsty: Think small

There's no background to this question.  I'm just curious:

What is the smallest, most inconsequential action or inaction that a student might perform that drives you up the walls?

Professor Peregrine flies solo

What's it like for your significant other to deal with an academic?

I was just thinking last night about this topic.  You see, I’m a single female academic, so I live alone.  I don’t even have a cat.  That means that I have no one to vent to.  Sure, I could vent to Facebook, but no one wants that (to say nothing of the fact that I am “friends” with all of my colleagues.)  I could call some friends, but they probably just finished listening to their significant other vent to them about their work, or are in the midst of venting themselves.

This leaves me with two options: 1. Suck it up and 2. Talk out loud to myself and admit I’m a crazy person and THEN suck it up.

So, how do I manage?  Obviously, I suck it up.  I’m “lucky” in that there is another professor here who, while not single, is living alone and we vent to each other.  This is risky though, because of the politics involved, but it is the best solution for those times when I absolutely have to vent.

Also? This website helps.  Just reading about others’ experiences, knowing I’m not alone….that helps me suck it up.

-- Professor Peregrine

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Life as an academic couple

I have no idea what a normal couple looks like, since I only know other academic couples.

Apparently there are people who aren’t up at midnight writing lectures or marking midterms, but I do not know these people to speak to. 

Being an academic couple means spending, and needing, a lot of time alone, because how else can you concentrate on your work?  We take turns taking care of the children, being home, running errands, and so on, to give the other person a chance to work.  We meet at dinner. We talk about groceries, the children’s schedules, where we can afford to go on holiday, anything but work.

Being an academic couple means that we are agreed on one essential principle: that we’re not in this for the money.  I like that.  I really like that.

-- Mildred from Medicine Hat

Hearts? WTF?

Around here, we're all about the misery and the suffering and the living hell caused by our students, colleagues and administrators in higher education.  It says just that in the sidebar.

There's more to being an academic than what happens in class, the lab and meetings.  What happens on campus, we bring home.  This ain't Vegas, baby.  There might be somebody special who has to deal with us.  I've observed that we are not the easiest people to deal with, because of despite all of our degrees and big brains.

What's it like for your significant other to deal with an academic?  


How do you deal with an SO who isn't an academic?  


If you're both academics, God help you, how do you manage?  

These can be happy (gasp!) descriptions of how you make it work which can guide others in the same situation.  You can write about how academia destroyed a good relationship.  Be creative.

This isn't a Thirsty.  This is bigger.  I'm asking you or your SO to send me answers to any of these questions.  I'll post them as part of an ongoing series.  Our first entry will appear soon.

Thanks to Contemplative Cynic for the idea!

Best and worst parts of being a graduate student

I distinctly remember this during my last semester of teaching while in grad school.  I didn't take it out on the students but this did cross my mind.

 and the part that sucks.  Unless you're the one holding the strings.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Caption time

Time for a photo caption.


Give it to me in the comments.

Letters from my adorbs freshies

Dear Dr. Amelia...

Q. I have an early flight to go away for spring break. So how do I make up the midterm?

A. You don't. How lucky is that?

Q. I heard from Susie that we have a midterm tomorrow (in 6 hours). Can I you tell me where on the LMS the study guide is? I want to be prepared to do my best.

A. It is right there, the first item. It's called "Midterm Study Guide."  But don't bother yourself. It won't help at this point. You might have better luck with a good night's sleep and a robust round of hoping for the best. Nighty nite!

Q. Is the hamster fur something or other that we spent two weeks on in class going to be on the test?

A. It is now. Thanks for the suggestion!

Q. I hope you don't think I'm scatterbrained, but how do I know what I am supposed to have read at this point in the semester?

A. ... ... ... ...   There's a copy of the syllabus I gave you in class on the LMS. The file is called "Syllabus"  That's "Syllabus" with a U. Good luck!

You guys rock!

Dr. A.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Audition for college - We have a winner(s)

Thank you all for Choosing Random Answers in a Poll.  We got a lot of responses, making a big pile of CRAP. 

Two responses earned the most votes.

"Please explain in your own words why grades are earned, not given." by EC1

"Students will read aloud a moderately difficult passage. Those who can do so with the proper inflection, and then answer questions about what they have read, will be admitted. Those who look up a word they don't know will be admitted to graduate school." by Professor Chiltepin

We have a tie!

I hate ties.  They are like screwing your own sister: not necessarily bad but nothing you want to brag about.

Both are worthy entries for recognition as the best POOPer.  However, Professor Chiltepin deviated from the 25-words-or-less rule.  While not a serious offense, it move EC1's entry a slight edge.

Congratulations to EC1, our new big POOPer!  Thank you all for POOPing and I hope we can play the POOP game again soon.

A PhD Candidate Horror Story

This sad tale comes from the mid 1970's, when Old Fart Prof was a mediocre gradflake about midpoint in the hazing process that for some, leads to the PhD, and for others, does not.

The Star Grad Student was in the writing phase of her PhD dissertation. Next step: the lunchtime pre-defense "brown bag" presentation for hamster social sciences faculty and grad students. Star Grad Student's topic involved federal funding programs for hamster habitats, and while not exciting to many attending, was squarely in the ballpark of everyone's interests.

Star Grad Student was already teaching undergrads as a full-time instructor, had several solid publications either in press or under consideration, and was well-liked and respected by faculty and fellow students. Not yet on the market, she was clearly on the fast track to a TT post somewhere in the Big Time, at least at an R1.

The presentation was just about two-thirds done, with data sets explained and the board filled with graphs, when Star Grad Student started to transition into her conclusions. Newly hired Hamster Theory Assistant Professor (with brand new Ivy League PhD) raised his hand and asked: "Since you haven't developed a theoretical basis for any substantive hypothesis, aren't any of your conclusions therefore trivial?"

Dead silence for what seemed minutes from Star Grad Student. A feeble attempt to recover and pivot to her conclusions was followed by an equally feeble response from Star Grad Student's advisor, a very senior prof in Hamster Theory who had championed hiring Hamster Theory Assistant Professor.

Over the next weekend, Star Grad Student cleaned out her office, left all her dissertation materials in boxes outside the office door of her advisor, and never came back, not even to finish her semester's teaching.

Postscript:   Hamster Theory Assistant Professor got tenure and later left to become a Department Chair in the Big Ten.  Hamster Theory Senior Professor later left to a Named Professorship at Yale.  Star Grad Student moved back to her hometown, and after coming out of a deep depression, started a highly successful career in the gaming industry.  She died a few years ago in her early 60's.

Sociological footnote: Hamster Theory Assistant Professor is white and male. Hamster Theory Senior Professor is white and female. Star Grad Student was black and female.  Old Fart Prof draws no conclusions from these facts; just thought they may provide readers with additional detail.

- Old Fart Prof

Tuesdays with Twitter

Today on Tuesdays with Twitter, we'll highlight some of the best tweets I received from academics I follow.  Not only will these messages be funny and entertaining, they will also contain proper grammar and spelling.  In other words, nothing like the student tweets I usually mock.

OK, that's enough.  There's tons of really good stuff to check out.  I'll have a second part to this next week.

College collapses on itself

An unused nursing building of a college that is no longer open implodes in a controlled demolition.

We don't usually do links on Monday but this different.  It's like a metaphor for higher education.

Wait.  Like a metaphor?  Does that make it a simile?  A simile of a metaphor?  Things like this are so much easier after coffee.

Good morning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Comics

Good morning!

As always, these wonderful bits of comedy are supplied by you, our wonderful readers.

Your students know their memes.  They have the attention span of eight seconds or less.  Use these helpful video clips to communicate with them.

We love Twitter, right?  Can I get an AMEN for Twitter?  We love reading students' tweets.  How about reading the tweets that students write about you?

Hollywood never portrays the academic life of a grad student accurately, right?  PhD Comics comes pretty close.

Here's the PhD Comics Movie page.  If you've seen it, give us a review in the comments.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Links for LINKs

Get it?
LINK: low income, no kids, an appropriate category for many academics

OK, on with the links.  As always, these are provided by you, the reader.

Here's the latest installment of why women don't study science and engineering.  As a chemist myself, this is a problem that interests me.  This article is noteworthy in that it doesn't blame anybody.

Here's your article about shooting students.  Numerous people asked me to post this last week.  I didn't want to because

  1. I don't like the quality of discourse in most gun control discussions and I didn't want to see that at the Water Cooler.
  2. For all the academics we have around here (and CM & RYS before), it's almost entirely free of politics.  That's refreshing.
  3. This editorial, in particular, is poorly reasoned, even for an attempt at satire.  In fact, it's closer to a what an NRA hack might write if he wanted to make fun of the way gun control advocates frame the issue.

OK, OK.  I relent.  I hope you're happy.

Our final link is to an essay writing website. Yes, yes, this is awful.  Let's get that out of the way.  What I find so interesting is the angle they use to sell their product.  The educational system is broken.  PhDs have no jobs.  College is a meat grinder.  Why not compensate for those injustices with just one more?  Instead of saying, "Your prof is an asshole for assigning this paper" they actually suggest that their service helps professors too.

The other amusing aspect is the irreverent way they talk to students.  I guess you can do that if your customers understand that you're doing it ironically.  Here's a sample from their FAQ page:
... If you seriously think that a CUSTOM-WRITTEN essay can be caught by plagiarism software, you probably shouldn't be in college. The whole reason why you're using this services is so that your lazy ass doesn't itself have to plagiarize. Long answer? We source and cite everything we write on the basis of our long experience of non-plagiarizing. Short answer? No, you're not going to get caught unless you do something stupid like tell everyone that you bought an essay.
Overall, the site is cleverly written.  I wonder if how much they would charge to write that report I owe to the college accreditation committee?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bob from Bennington, who is a great teacher, brings us an AWC Playlet double feature

This wouldn't be much of a scene in a real play because the conversation was conducted entirely by email (everything sent Reply All) between Bob (that's me) and two students (#1 and #2) working on a project in my class.

Bob: We need to meet to discuss your progress on the project.  I can meet any time between 8 am and 2 pm, any day next week.  Let me know what fits your schedules.

Student #1: I can meet Friday at 4 pm.

Bob:  I am not available at 4 pm on Friday.  Can we meet at a time that is within the range I provided you in my previous email?

Student #1: Sorry, my mistake.  I can meet you Thursday.

Bob: What time on Thursday?

Student #1: I can meet at 2 pm.

Bob: I am not available at 2 pm.  I am available beginning at 8 am and ending at 2 pm.  I am not available after 2 pm.  We could meet at 1 pm and finish our meeting by 2 pm.

Student #1: OK, I can meet then.

Student #2, having received eight emails by now: Fine.

Odds are, one of them will forget to attend the meeting and the other will show up without the materials they are developing for the project.  We'll definitely be done by 2 pm.

Thoughts on Duke's student-porn actress

References to the Duke student who has been making porn films under the name Belle Knox (and who was outed by a fraternity brother who recognized her from watching the films, and initially promised to keep her secret) keep popping up in my news feed.  Honestly, I'm not sure what to think, but here's a start:

--Although she has vehemently objected to being called naive, I think she was pretty naive, about everything from the nature of the porn industry to her ability to keep her real-life and porn identities separate to how everyone from her classmates to her parents would react.  She also seems a bit confused about whether the main purpose of her acting career was to make money, or advance the cause of sex-positivity, or a bit of both (I'm all for sex-positivity, but I'm not sure making mainstream porn is the best means to that end.  On the other hand, porn is pretty much a fact of life, so there's probably an argument for making better porn, or at least porn that avoids some of the exploitative pitfalls of mainstream porn. There were some female filmmakers trying to do that when I was in grad school, and I remember attending at least one lecture/film showing at the time, but, being a scholar of a another era -- and being the stereotypical female who's more into words than images -- I haven't kept up with developments in that realm).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Big Thirsty

You have likely heard about the Duke student who is doing porn.  If not, some information is here and here.  I've done some extensive, ahem, background research about this subject but the Blogger terms and conditions prevent me from sharing that.  Anyway, one of our frequent commenters has a post coming tomorrow about that story so stay tuned. 

Today's Big Thirsty is loosely related to the Duke story.

What's the strangest job you or one of your students has held? 

"Being a professor" is not an acceptable answer.

Faculty players to get commuppance?

First our Dean asked us hamster studies faculty to create an academic staff position for a "trailing spouse" of a hotshot assistant prof over in the English Department.  The money came from the Provost's slush fund for
such purposes, so we did it, and she even got a very large and sought-after office to boot. Not sure what she was doing or teaching - something called "digital hamster humanities."  But the Dean was happy he
made the Provost happy, so we were not unhappy.

Next we were asked to create a tenure-track position for her.  We were told she and Hubby were considering joint TT positions in some good southern State Uni and we needed to "step up to the plate." This time the free money would last two years. Our Dean still wanted a happy Provost, so he was on board.  To meet the challenge from state uni Down South, we were instructed that we needed to decide immediately. We felt we were being played.

Before we could even meet to discuss the issue, word came down that we didn't act fast enough: the couple was leaving.  They were taking TT jobs at a mediocre eastern state uni's satellite campus in one of the poorest cities with one of the highest crime rates in the US. Comeuppance?

We wished them luck and godspeed, and now the plan is to put two staffers in her office when it becomes vacant in July.  I only hope they don't visit their new campus before then and back out.

Old Fart Prof

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cap Con

You're busy so I don't want to waste your time by making you read a title containing complete words.  "Cap Con" will save you only a fraction of a second but over time that will really add up.  If you use that extra moment to save yourself more time, it's like compound interest savings.  (Then we can make a fortune by commoditizing your free time, lending it to other people who have no way of creating their own free time then sell our shares right before the whole leisure market collapses.)  What the hell was I talking about?

Oh, right.  Give me a caption.

See you in the comments.

Really? [A Mini-Rant]

I find myself channeling Seth Meyers "Really?" segments from his days on SNL. Case in point:

How long have my students had to read the first 80 pages (10 chapters) of the book? Assigned in chunks starting 2/24. Class canceled last Wednesday (spouse was ill and unable to take care of puppy and 5-year old son) and I emailed instructions to keep reading and be prepared for class today (they also had an essay to finish and upload by 11:00 pm Sunday night).

Today in the first class, 12/24 (50%) were present and prepared for the small group work on analyzing pairs of chapters. In the second class, 14/23 (60%). Between the two sections, I sent 13 students on their way to read and complete the day's group worksheet on their own (I'll give them half credit if they show up next class with it done).


They had 2 weeks to read 80 pages, and the paper (4 pages) has been done in stages over the last 3 weeks, including a full rough draft due a week ago for peer workshop. Eight students were absent, and 5 showed up with 2 pages.


I know I'm at an open access institution, but how much more am I supposed to dumb this down?

Do they really expect to get through 4 years of college doing nothing?

Seven of the DNRs (Did Not Reads) are currently failing and three more are in the D range. Only three of the DNRs are currently earning a passing grade, and they're all in the C range.


I have a bunch of low-stakes assessments designed to help them get their feet under them at the start of the semester, because once we get to this point, we're shifting toward all-out sprint. They have another paper coming, plus a major research project with many moving parts (and that comprises about a third of their final grades). They're not doing the low-stakes assessments, the ones recommended by current pedagogy and designed to help them find and catch their mistakes before they turn in the high-stakes stuff. The ones that, taken together, as stated on the syllabus, equal a paper grade.


What else am I supposed to do? Everyone at my institution is screaming about retention rates, and I'm sitting here in my office going, Why would we want to retain these people?




Burnt Chrome


AWC: Now with anonymous email

I've set up a form on this page (link also in the right sidebar) that allows anybody to send me stuff to post without getting an anonymous email account.  If you've wanted to write something for AWC but worried about giving out your email address, this is your lucky day.

Don't forget to keep voting for your favorite choice for a new way to audition students for college.  We had a lot of good entries so it's a long poll (that joke never gets old).  Voting ends Friday evening, or Saturday morning, depending on whether I can use the mouse responsibly after drinking.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

Today on a very special edition of Tuesdays with Twitter, it's the heartwarming story of

Read the Fucking Syllabus

I couldn't let this one pass by without pointing out the obvious.

File these under W for "We just can't win."

Look out, I think somebody has figured us out.

I like the cut of this man's jib.

You might think that we're losing this battle.  Only faculty ever care about this.  Certainly, a country/rap* artist would never show us any support, right?


*  They call it "hick-hop."  I shit you not.  Here's a sample Cowboy Troy video.

Contemplative Cynic melts my cruel, frozen heart with a top 5 list

Beaker Ben held "grammar" hostage until we came up with new material to post. I am happy with having things up on the blog for longer than a day, but here is my contribution to getting our banner back to being spelled correctly... I channel our students as I craft a few reasons I cannot send new material in to my favorite blog:

5. Our school is on the quarter system. If this makes no sense to you, it makes no sense to me, either. This explanation to not get anything changed seems to work for our Administrators. Any time someone suggests doing something new, the response is, "Sorry, we're on the quarter system."

4. I have 17 of 50 essays left to grade by the end of today.Why did I promise to do this? So I could force myself to grade them. Their portfolios are due on Wednesday, so technically, I could wait until tomorrow at midnight to return essays because no one is going to start working on them until then. So this is the "something else is more important than you" excuse.

3. I have final exams to craft. It's my own fault for switching textbooks this year because I was bored with the last one. This is the "I was an idiot for doing this so I'm now going to use it as an excuse" excuse.

2. Our most diligent half-time employee just handed me her resignation letter. I have a week to find a replacement. This is a non-relevant excuse. Finding a replacement takes none of my time: I simply email HR to have them put out an announcement and that took all of 8 seconds. But in the world of student excuses, anything I have to do should be brought up as an excuse for why I cannot do something else.

1. I am beyond misery this week because I'm too tired to even remember where I parked. I have moved into the realm of abstract thought where I can smell consonants! Why is it that being tired is a legitimate excuse for students?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dr. Amelia and our Early Thirsty - do we do it to ourselves?

A friend sent this article on an increase in mental illness in academia.

Much of what the article discusses seems to be balance and workload related, and reminds me of something I hear quite a bit - the university itself is changing. A lot of the pressures on faculty come from our increasing our own expectations to unreasonable levels that senior faculty who went through years ago haven't even come close to. Faculty with little research of their own are rejecting other faculty with some research because it's not the right number of publications in the "right" journals. Credential creep, perhaps the faculty analog of grade inflation, means that friends of mine at very medium-quality regional institutions with a 4-4 load are expected to publish 10 things in top journals to get tenure. Natural scientists are expected to bring in large amounts of grant money to stay around, even as agency budgets shrink and grants become harder to get.

Who says it has to be this way? Why was it decided that faculty at Middling Midwestern U today have to meet the standards that Ivy League faculty had to meet 10 years ago? And can anyone get tenure at an Ivy League school any more?

Should we blame US News, clueless legislators, or did we do this to ourselves?

Good morning!

The start of another work week.

Go get 'em, tiger!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

CRAP! Beaker Ben wants us to answer another poll.

That's right.  It's time to CRAP (Choose Random Answers in a Poll).  That's what happens when you POOP (Play Online with Other Professors).  You get CRAP.

Here is the poll.  You can vote as often as you like.  I'll collect the results in a few days.  Enjoy!

Sunay comics

We have a short Sunday comics section today.  We're not getting lazy looking for material, we're just getting selective.

Do you ever thing that your students don't read anything?  You might be wrong.

Although it's not Valentine's Day, we're always looking for a little bit of love.  Here are some academic valentine's Day poems

A poll for you to choose your favorite admissions test will appear later today.

Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Links

A happy Saturday to all.  When you've finished your sugary cereal and watched your favorite cartoons (they still have Saturday morning cartoons, don't they?), here are some links for your perusal.

How can faculty avoid giving boring PowerPoint presentations to their students?  This boring PowerPoint presentation will show you.

Trigger warning:  This article about trigger warnings in higher education contains no information about Roy Roger's horse.

By coincidence, we were just talking about students changing a professor's grades.  This is another approach to take.

Friday, March 7, 2014

This is how we communicate on Friday

This has been a particularly bothersome week in my department due to some unpleasant but necessary personal interactions among faculty.  Things would have been worse had we all been sober.  Much worse.

Thanks, alcohol!

Relax, everybody.  Get drunk.

Don't forget to POOP!

That's right!  We've got another round of POOP (Play Online with Other Professors) going on now. 

Contemplative Cynic wanted to know our ideas for new ways to select students.  Consider it an audition for college.  Go read it and answer in the comments there.  (POOP over there, not here.) 

Now's your chance to add your entry.  Sunday morning, I'll collect all the entries and you can vote for the winner (I suppose some of you will vote for the loser also but let's not think about that).  I will list every entry in a poll.  You get to Choose Random Answers from a Poll (CRAP).  Get it - when you POOP, you get CRAP. 

Remember that this is our second game of POOP.  In the first episode, you suggested winter Olympics sports for our students.  The competition was fierce but Nancy from Niles received the most votes for Grade Curling.  She was the top POOPer based on your CRAP.

Do you have what it takes to knock her off the throne?

CSI: My Office

I hope.
I read Rate Your Students for a while before writing to the moderators with a story.  But what a story it was.  Go here to read it.  The rest won't make sense unless you read that before continuing.

Yeah, this kid broke into my office.  That little shit.  My colleagues still joke about it.  A student once told me that she had heard that it happened but didn't believe such a legend.  That little shit and I are part of college lore. 

I knew that the kid lost his scholarship so he didn't come back to college.  Our administration couldn't bring itself to actually ban a student from campus.  When we say everybody gets to go to college, we mean everybody.  I was told it was no big deal since the guy didn't have enough money to attend.  Don't worry about it, OK?

Nobody considered that our financial aid office would give him another scholarship for his PhD.

How do I know this?  Because that little shit came to visit me.  This time it was different.  I was in my office and he entered through the door.  He apologized in person.  He gave me a letter he wrote with grammar and everything.  Now, in case the statute of limitations had not expired yet, the letter didn't give any specifics.  It just said that he was sorry for whatever it is that he did, which he admits was very, very bad.  I thanked him for having the stones to come see me and I accepted his apology.  He graduated a few days later.

At the time, I didn't know what to say to him, it was so unexpected.  I still don't quite know how I feel.  The break-in is a really old story (it happened a few years before I wrote to RYS in '08) so it doesn't really bother me.  On the other hand, just thinking about it...

That little shit actually broke into my office.  I spend more time there than I do at home.  He snooped through my computer.  Every single idea and fact that I have ever thought about (and a few pictures I hope nobody ever sees) is on that computer.  He changed grades.  However flawed of a rating system they might be, grades are at the heart of teaching college.

That little shit.

He got me my first post at RYS, so there is that.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Class project

Anonymous Academic Adjunct posted some vocabulary that translate the bullshit we hear at faculty meetings and professional development workshops into actual real words.

I like that idea.  I like it so much that I want everybody to pitch in to create:

The AWC Big Book of Bullshit

Think of a word or phrase that you hear at work then explain what it really means.  Write it in the comments or send it to me.  I'll create a separate page for the blog with all of our entries.  Kinda like the old CM glossary but with words that faculty and staff hear at work.

Multiple entries allowed.  I'll link to your comment so you get credit (I know you put this stuff in your T&P application).

This will be an ongoing project that may never end, like the typical faculty meeting where we hear these words.