Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Caption time!

Have at it.

Early Thirsty: The meaning of tenure

Get ready people. We've got one Thirsty per day until we hit the weekend. Get your 'splaining on. Here's the Early Thirsty for today.

-- Ben

On Tuesday, Beaker Ben treated us to a sweet Tweet from "Shit Academics Say" (@AcademicsSay):

I've always told people that tenure was the ability to use two magic words when asked to attend or do something useless: "Fuck it!"

But there are other words that that have magic powers when one has tenure.  These words have the power to make me not appear when featured in a meeting agenda or immediately disappear when uttered seriously at a meeting I am attending.

The current list of Magic Words That Make Me Disappear include things like Strategic Plan, Mission Statement and Branding.

What magic words make you disappear, or, if not yet tenured, wish you could (have tenure and disappear)?

- Old Fart Prof

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another batch of twitter

I think this one is my favorite.  It's simply the perfect response to students.

Tuesdays with Twitter, part 1

I don't know what's up this week but faculty twitter feeds have been even more entertaining than normal.  We'll have two batches of fresh tweets today.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Accurate except that the students are never that polite.

Fresh, hot, and Adminiflakey!

April of last year I put in a request to my program adminiflakes for stuff to modernize and vastly improve some courses. These courses have extra fees for the students, accumulating maybe $12,000 for the AY. Supposedly, the students pay the extra funds to help make these kinds of (expensive) improvements.

I had sent the request to the under-adminiflake (UAF), summarizing the request, the justification, the background work I had done (about 40 hours total of webinars, online research and talking to vendors, along with some student piloting). I had also done some student polling: students were panting for the opportunity to use said expensive new improvements. All this info goes to UAF. Me to UAF: “Let me know what else you need from me and in what form.” UAF to me: “Oh, this is GREAT, I am SURE Senior Adminiflake (SAF) will get right on it.

April – September: [crickets]

Approximately every two weeks, then every week, from Septmember to mid-December – me to UAF: “what’s going on, UAF?” UAF to me: “Oh, it’s still under consideration - SAF and I will talk about it early next week!” after week… after week…

December 31st rolls around. I want to finish writing my Spring syllabus. I can’t until I know if expensive improvements will be in place. Me: “Dammit, can you just give me an ANSWER?? YES or NO???” UAF: “Oh, well SAF thinks it’s awfully expensive, and we don’t know anything about these new improvements, and why can’t the students fund it themselves, and maybe you could pilot it first, because maybe the students won’t like it and that would be an awfully expensive mistake.” Apparently UAF had lost all the info I had originally submitted. I did NOT have a stroke, surprisingly, even when SAF pouted and said I was “unfair” after reading my scathing criticism of the whole process.

Fast forward to a month ago: I resubmitted the request, this time with pages and pages and pages of background and justification and numbers and adminiflakey bureaucraticandy crap. I had endured by then most of a semester of student pouting about not having the new improvements (they had heard about the request from last years’ kids).

Fast forward to last week: notification from UAF that our external advisory board is coming to review us, and that the visitors want a tour through the (woefully awful) facilities SAF has refused to upgrade, and would I handle it? Oh, and by the way, my NEW upgrade request was being viewed “very favorably” by SAF. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

Oh me, oh my, the temptations faced by a seriously annoyed tenured proffie who is close enough to retirement to seriously not give a rat’s posterior about keeping adminiflakes happy ….

-- Horrible Meanie Prof

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday funnies

You've probably seen the funny student responses to exam questions, like "Find x" for an algebra exam and the student draws an arrow to the "x" written in the question and says, "here it is!"  Those are funny but I often wonder whether they are actually written by students.  Who knows?

This is a relatively new one from Reddit that is making the rounds and was reported by Jezebel.  While neither of these sources are especially trustworthy, taken together I believe they constitute a reliable source.

Image from Reddit.
Have a good weekend.

Oh, I forgot. there's this from the onion:
Professor Deeply Hurt by Student's Evaluation

OK, now go have a good weekend.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More links

Here are a couple of serious news items. I'll let AWC contributor Frankie Bow introduce the first:

Maybe there will turn out to be more to this story, but the difference between this and my own experience is a matter of degree, not kind. In my experience, it's not just individual nutjob students. It's individual nutjobs in a culture of student entitlement and customer service. Judging from the public comments coming out of our own Student Retention Office, I wonder if they wouldn't put a legbreaker or two on their payroll, if they could get away with it. Anything to raise the pass rate.

MDC professor beaten — was it a ‘hit’ over a grade?

Read more here:

Now my comments.  Who would enact such terrible violence against a professor?  The article implies that a possible suspect is a student who gave the professor a bad review but the story glosses over the real clue:
Several students who posted reviews of Magellan on praised him as a wonderful instructor.
“This professor inspired me to change my major to Art History,” wrote another. 
I hate to be mean but if somebody had inspired me to major in Art History, knowing that job market, I'd want to kill somebody too.

Needs Improvement: Student evaluations of professors aren’t just biased and absurd—they don’t even work.
It is that time of year again when the little shits tell us how to do our jobs.  This article sets the record straight.  Preach it, sister!

Finally, something a little more light hearted, even though it does involve the possibility of somebody dying and a flowchart.
does this task count for tenure (with helpful flow chart) 
It's a brilliant way to manage your time while on the tenure clock.  My only quibble is that "helpful flow chart" is redundant.  What other kind of flowchart is there?

Read more here:

Saturday's post is the Mercury version of the Ford Escort

Crappity-crap, you people sent me a lot of news links this week.  I don't know if there's enough pixels to hold them all.

U. of Tennessee at Martin Encourages Helicopter Parents to Hover
This actually seems to me like a good plan.  It gives parents all the info that they would normally call a professor to find out.  I don't give a shit if they are bad parents as long as they stay out of my hair.

Chicago's Nifty Pilot Program To Fix Our Student-Loan Mess
I don't know if this will pan out but I doubt it will be any worse than our current efforts to reign in student debt.  It does seem to target the students majoring in fields that would most likely allow them to repay their loans anyway.

New Illinois pension law threatens wave of retirements at U of I
There's a bunch of accounting stuff in here that's not really interesting.  What caught my eye was:
1.  Poor writing is now called a "drafting error."  No, selecting Ryan Leaf is a drafting error.  You just fucked up.
2.  “Unless the language in the bill is corrected, faculty and staff have an incentive to retire on June 30, whether they want to or not,” he said. 
Dude, our students give us an incentive to retire every single day.

Teachers cyberbullied by students and their parents
Sorry but I can't get worked up about teachers "reported being the target of nasty comments posted on social media sites."  Am I too mean if I recommend that they get over it?

I've got several more that will appear in a post later today.

Have a good Saturday!

Friday, April 25, 2014

BAD DEAN (Third installment of a potentially infinite series)

Today’s Bad Dean became a dean through careful participation in campus politics. He read the power structure of university governance like the Cold War CIA analyzed photos of Kremlin officials watching the May Day parade. He golfed regularly with vice presidents, vice provosts, and senior special assistants. He was appointed to several important committees that created Strategic Plans to reorganize units that needed no reorganization. Bad Dean had plenty of time for this since he had no research program and a meager teaching load; his Medieval Germanic Hamsterology courses usually cancelled for lack of enrollment.

When one of these Strategic Plans was used to provide a rationale to consolidate a half-dozen quasi-independent departments and service operations, Bad Dean was seen by Administration as the perfect person to bring them under centralized control and manage the new entity. Never mind that the only thing Bad Dean had ever managed was a suburban youth tennis league. He had never been a Department Chair because his colleagues, who knew him well, would never entrust him with such important responsibilities. Thus a new Dean was created.

Bad Dean turned out to be a real central control freak and a reliable “yes man” for Administration. Within two years, he had amalgamated four more loose units into his domain, which insiders called the “School of Everything Else.” His mismanagement of the many functions of these units was too prolific and destructive to chronicle here. It is enough to relate that Bad Dean kept his focus on things Administration cared about: Mission Statements, Strategic Plans, inter-campus Task Forces, and, of course, participation in several appropriate national organizations that met quarterly in resort locations.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Big Thirsty: Dr. Amelia has a Fred and doesn't know what to do with him

It's been a couple of years, but once again I have a Fred this semester. Fred comes to the first day or two of class and your like "Wow, that's a smart kid." And you're a little excited to have him in your class.

But then you realize that he's one of those students, almost always male for some reason, who are just hell-bent on self-sabotage.

Fred's biggest issues are coming to class and turning in work. He'll sometimes cobble together excuses, but mostly not. He takes the "no late work" policy seriously and doesn't ask for extensions. A gentle "you're missing quite a bit Fred" is met with a sigh of inevitability

Some days, when Fred makes it, he really brings it. He's pretty much always not only done the reading, but thought deeply about it and how it relates to other things he's learned before. The kid's got depth.

But it's just not enough, and Fred either ends up with a last-minute medical withdrawal or just flunks.

I have a belief that the Freds of my class have mental issues they are dealing with - usually depression. Or perhaps they just need to grow up. But in any case, coming to university and flunking class after class seems like a very expensive way to deal with these issues.

Do you have Freds? Have you figured out any way to help them?

Dr. A.

Update:  Well, shit.  It's Thursday (who knew?) and this post does end in a question.  I'd hate to miss a Big Thirsty. -- Ben

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's closed for a reason

My students do not understand my office door.  They (probably) are conscious of it - they don’t smack their nose by trying to walk through the door, as entertaining as that would be.  No, they don’t understand basic decorum: when a door is closed, you knock as a means to ask for an invitation to enter.  Of all the surprising and disappointing trends in student behavior, this is the saddest (so far) and it gets worse every year.

Some do knock but only as a warning before they barge in.  I’m sure they never consider that I’m busy.  Doing what?  I’m not teaching, after all.  They look surprised and annoyed to see that I’m on the phone or already talking with another person.  The oaf will stand inside my office, waiting for me to drop everything to help him or her.  Speaking of which, it’s an offense independent of gender but most often committed by non-Western foreign students and those who are generally unable to interpret social cues.  My trusted colleagues who know about such things tell me that the cultures of these international students place a greater emphasis on hierarchy and respect for authority than we Americans do so I really don’t get it.  I’m inclined to excuse the latter group of students for simply being unable to navigate aspects personal relationships like this but I can’t get my head around the fact that students who can learn electrical engineering can’t follow a simple rule to knock.

Maybe I should tell knock-knock jokes in class as a way to drop subtle hints.  I’m thinking of designing a flow chart to help them figure out the proper etiquette, though that would require them to read and think.  The easiest solution is to work from home.

-- Bob from Bennington

Tuesdays with Twitter


Monday, April 21, 2014

Evaluation time

According to Twitter, students are starting to fill out their evaluation forms now.  Are you ready to read their comments which contain the same insightful wisdom that they've shared with you all semester?

No?  Then try this instead.

Happy Monday.

How NOT to award an Award

Here at Big Time R1 we have annual teaching awards that are peer-nominated. They entail a mid 4-figure check, a $1K base salary bump, a nice plaque and the public praise of Administration at a catered event.
I've had good success at nominating colleagues; all three I've initiated in the last five years won. The package is extensive and takes a good deal of time, so I'm happy to work on it when my colleagues win. Not sure how I'll feel when/if they lose.

This year's nomination was met with silence for a full month after the time the awards are usually announced. Finally, we found out that this year's nominee won because our payroll person got a memo to increase the nominee's base salary by $1K. Three days later, the nominee got an email that simply said: "Please read the attachment in regard to your selection as a Teaching Award recipient." The attachment was a pdf of the official award letter from on high, with all details about the ceremony. Said letter came in hard copy on letterhead three additional days later by interdepartment mail.

What a hamhanded way to let people know they had won a major award. How hard would it have been for someone to telephone the winners right away? There are ten of them, but still... The Administration office that handles the awards has an interim head, and is somewhat short staffed, but still... The payroll office asks the department chair about an unusual raise and the chair then asks the recipient if she heard anything and she hasn't, so we all wait three more days until a cryptic email gets sent with an official letter attached?

When such things happen, all I can do is sing our unofficial Big Time R1 song:

M I C...K E Y...M O U S E! (You know the tune.)

-- Old Fart Prof

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday comics

We actually have a couple of links to real comic strips today.

First, The Academia Waltz by Berkeley Breathed, the guy who wrote Bloom County.  I've read it for a few days and, to be honest, the strip isn't that funny especially given the level of absurdity that we experience every day at your jobs.

Something Positive has some good comics about teaching evals this week.  Start here and move forward.

Have a relaxing Sunday!

Happy Easter

Eating a chocolate rabbit for breakfast isn't even a sin so you have nothing to worry about.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday is for short-tailed, medium sized wild cats

I think I found a use for students (besides paying our salaries).  Since they spend their time soaking up popular culture instead of learning anything we teach them, students could help administrators not do stupid things.  Like, suspend a faculty member because his son wore a Game of Thrones t-shirt.  The lesson from this episode is not "Be careful what you post on social media."  The lesson is "Why the fuck is your dean part of your social network?"  The dean was notified of the offending picture, which set off the investigation.  This is part of a larger story.

By coincidence, here's another Game of Thrones story.  Again, we can use their love of popular culture to our benefit.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A caption post to carry us through to the weekend

Let's bring it on home, gang.  We had so many people sending in posts this week that I didn't have a chance to ask you for a caption.

Here's one to round out the week.

Have a good weekend and keep sending me your posts.

You Do Not Have to be Good

For a bit of background: This is a poem a dear friend sent to me in my first years of teaching.

I was despondent.

I was a wreck.

I felt like I had failed in everything I had ever wanted to do. This is what had happened: I had won the lottery, and secured a full time job. I was working, full time. I was teaching four classes a semester. I was feeling like the ultimate failure. My students would not listen, would not learn, would not hear. Or was it that I could not communicate? Was it that I was simply inadequate? I had won this incredible bounty, but I was unworthy? I was truly overwrought. I could not sleep. I needed meds, but did not have the wherewithal to even ask for them. This poem.....this poem helped me. This poem gave me solace in that dark place. I was reading it again, this month, which is National Poetry month, and as it helped me so much in the dark places I found myself in my early days of trying to teach writing, I thought I would share it here. Long live Mary Oliver, the author of this poem!

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Colleague Smackdown

Seriously, people??? We have an in-service workshop on a topic you all enthusiastically endorsed and requested, and you all behave like untrained chimps at a buffet.

Water-logged Walter: Do you have a bladder infection, or does the siren song of the bathroom just lure you every 15 minutes when we have special invited guests?

Texting Tania: We know that no one within a five-foot radius is as important as whoever is texting you throughout a two-hour meeting. My, how important you must feel.

Sick Sarah: Thanks for coughing and sneezing all over our snacks. And for being the first one to go near them. You effectively put a kibosh on anyone else who wanted home-baked lemon scones and Snicker-doodles. Thankfully, the mandarin oranges were washable.

Doodling Daria: Given that you were sitting right next to the presenter, I am really curious why it seemed especially important to you to not raise your head ONCE to look up at the screen or at the handout in front of you, or to acknowledge that you were at a presentation and to instead fill in all of the holes in the vowels on the student paper you were studiously NOT grading. When the presenter commented on this, you were so engrossed in filling in that "e" that you didn't even get his less-than-subtle joke about OCD.

Grading Garry: Really? The "stack" of 18 quizzes that just HAD TO be graded at top speed in a rustling fashion at the beginning of the presentation was more important than learning how to cut your work load in half? Missing the irony here?

Perfect-Posture Perry: Your posture creeps me and the students out. You behaved admirably during the presentation by still managing to look down on the presenter who was standing above you.

Participating Patty: I'm sure the presenter did not want you to emphatically agree with and applaud absolutely every single word he shared. Nodding is one thing, but repeating what he said and adding, "That's what I'm talkin' about!" was a little much. Just a little. My favorite moment of yours was when he said, "According to the most recent studies..." and you interrupted him to gush, "OH, yes, recent studies!!"

Insecure Inez: Thank you for confirming for everyone how very insecure you are by challenging the presenter on every single item he presented on a topic about which you know next to nothing. I'm sure he thought you were most persuasive when you said in your condescending tone: "Well, in MY teaching experience..." and then proceeded to tell him why his life's work is less credible than your two years of teaching experience. You'll likely feel right at home at MLA.

Not everyone behaved so abominably. otherwise I might quit my job today. How in the world have I gone so long without detesting these people? They're usually pleasant, rational, thoughtful colleagues. And yet this past week, I was embarrassed to be one of them. It didn't stop me from eating all the mandarin oranges. I'm sure someone somewhere is posting a complaint about Greedy Cynic who hoarded the oranges... In my defense, they're good luck to my people, and given that I might now want to leave this department, I need all the luck I can get.

-- Contemplative Cynic


Big Thirsty: The conference (re)shuffle

I've found a way to schedule one-on-one conferences with my students that more or less works (at least as well as anything else does): they sign up for a conference; the draft is due the night before (or at least early the morning of) the conference; we talk about the paper for 20-30 minutes, and then I take 15 minutes on my own to summarize our conversation and assign a preliminary grade if the draft is complete, and to post the results back to the LMS. It's time-consuming and exhausting, but it seems to be more efficient than my pre-reading the drafts without the student present, and I do a better job of actually keeping up (the perennial problem, at least for me, with a 4/4, usually all-writing-intensive, load). I've been using this approach for a year or two now, and am happy with it.

But (you knew that was coming), this semester, about half of the students who had conferences scheduled on the earlier days have emailed, often quite close to the conference time, to ask whether they can reschedule (or, in some cases, to simply announce that they need to reschedule), even though it's clear from the posted schedule that there are no more open slots. So far, I've been accommodating them as best I can, but I'm going to have to stop soon, since there really isn't any more time available (at least not if I'm going to eat and sleep and observe Holy Week and pay attention to the one non-comp class I have this semester). I'm not quite sure what to say. I could start scheduling shorter make-up conferences, but those are going to run over, and probably lead to my writing more comments without the student there (thus getting back to the old pattern of always having drafts to comment hanging over my head). I can say what I said when I handed out the conference schedule: there really isn't room to reschedule, so just bring whatever you have, even if it's only an outline (that was due 2-3 weeks ago, and already received some feedback). But that doesn't work for the students who simply announce they aren't coming, but/and expect to be accommodated later. And, of course, evaluations are coming up, and my contract is up for renewal (again), and there was already one class last semester that wasn't too happy (for some reasons with which I agree, and can address next time 'round, and some which were beyond my control. The weather this semester, which was quite disruptive, and may partially explain the especially high reschedule-request rate, was also, of course, beyond my control).

So, any advice, especially from those who teach classes that incorporate one-on-one conferences on a big project at the end of the term? What do you do when students ask to reschedule? Are you tough? Accommodating? Somewhere in between? Do you make distinctions between the kid who didn't consult the travel plans her parents had made for Easter before signing up and the one who needs to accompany his parents to what I suspect is a truly crucial immigration hearing

-- Contingent Cassandra

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You all are wonderful. It doesn't matter what the question is.

Contingent Cassandra sent me a short question several weeks ago, when parts of the US had yet to thaw.  I never found a good time to post it.  Then Bella Dr. Amelia sent in the post that began, "Does it make me a bad person if..." and it clicked for me.  We all have these thoughts about people we encounter at our jobs.  We need to share them.  Here's the first entry by Contingent Cassandra.
Am I terrible person if I am secretly a bit pleased by the fact that the Greek letter societies' annual spring homelessness-awareness campout-on-the-college-green is taking place this year in actual hypothermia weather? 
How do you finish the statement, "Am I a bad person if..."?  Of course, the answer to the question is a resounding "NO!" 

Share how awful you are in the comments.

-- Ben

Everyone knows it sucks to be an adjunct - but this really puts it all in a nutshell.

I'm going nuts waiting for summer/fall assignments. Better departments made assignments a month ago, worse departments will keep stringing us along until after graduation. Seriously. I have tried to feel around and been totally ignored so I fished around that I might quit and take a pharmaceutical job, which got an IMMEDIATE, but useless response of "But as of now, you're available, right?" I guess the urgency depends on whether it is the adjunct or the chair who will be inconvenienced.

But as bad as I thought I had it, nothing beats this conversation overheard in the lunch room between... let's anonymize this shit... A Transylvanian professor of Hamster Weaving, and her department chair.

TpoHW: But I told HR I needed to know by April 1st 2014 when I started here 3 semesters back and they said this wouldn't be a problem.

Chair of HW: Well these things take time.

TpoHW: Why?

Chair: We have procedure we have to follow.

TpoHW: What are they?

Chair: It could take a couple more weeks.

TpoHW: I know your deadline is in a couple of weeks, but the faculty contract stipulates that these cases be expedited. I reconfirmed this with HR at the beginning of the term and they said they notified you and it wouldn't be a problem.

Chair: I know, it will be soon. It just takes time because of the procedures.

TpoHW: What are the procedures?

Chair: My class is starting, e-mail me and I will get back to you. [attempts to run away]

TpoHW: Tuesday morning I'm getting kicked out of the country because you won't verify I can work here over the summer. What procedure gets you to make the damned assignments and how long does it take compared to the procedure for finding my replacement 10 weeks into the semester?
Chair: I don't think your tone is necessary.

TpoHW: [Something in Transylvanian that ostensibly means "fuck yourself"]

-- Wombat of the Copier

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Katie

Kalamazoo Meetup

Hi all. As we did last year, we will have a meetup during the May Medieval Conference in Kalamazoo. Snarky Writer is already on. If you think you would like to join us, please send me a message to to arrange a meeting. Alcohol will flow, songs will be sung, jaded things about the administration will be said.

Le French Professeur

"Bad Dean" by Old Fart Prof (next installment of a potentially infinite series)

Bad Deans come in all disciplines.  This tale from the early 70’s features a Philosopher from the Ivy League brought in to provide “adult supervision” to an experimental urban college within a state R1.  Founding Dean had left after five years to go start another experimental urban college within a different state R1.

Bad Dean had several issues from the start: he was authoritarian, a micro-manager, and had spent ten Cold War years at a Pentagon-funded think tank.  Founding Dean was the polar opposite, and the faculty and students had gotten used to a high degree of self-governance and an atmosphere of liberal political activism.

Bad Dean immediately took charge by reallocating lines between departments, forcing departments to accept Chairs of his choosing, eliminating student control of campus organizations, and tightening
courses offered to only those he approved.  All of these actions were in fact within his legal power, but such powers had not been exercised directly by Founding Dean. Within months, faculty were petitioning for his ouster, and Bad Dean’s office had been occupied by students, who he then had arrested.

By the end of a year, Bad Dean was meeting with university administration and questioning the college’s future viability. Faculty were leaving, either to take better jobs or because they were denied tenure by
university administration. The atmosphere on campus had been poisoned; applications went way down as the college’s troubles become public knowledge.

After three years Bad Dean was given a senior professorship in a graduate program on another campus, with a hefty travel and research budget and minimal teaching load. An original Founding Faculty member became Dean, and presided over the college’s eventual dissolution.  Within four years, the college became merely a group of dorms and academic buildings with the same name as before but no faculty, curriculum, or degrees.

To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”

-- Old Fart Prof

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

Some of the academics on Twitter were insulting manuscripts they've reviewed in the spirit of "yo' mamma" jokes.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Chicago Charlie: Reflections on part of a first semester on the Tenure Track

It was a dark and stormy night – literally, it was January in the tundra during that whole polar vortex thing – when I arrived on campus to start what Dante would called my vita nuova, the new life, as a TT faculty. Needless to say, it was a much much much different experience than arriving for the first time on other campuses as an adjunct. Arriving as an adjunct, (a) no one gave a shit and (b) no one knew and (c) even if they knew, they woudn’t have given a shit. I mentioned the polar vortex? My new colleagues asked when the moving van arrived so they could help me unload. As an adjunct, not so much.

I arrived on campus; I had to meet with HR about benefits and a parking spot. Adjuncts park on the street if they can (and again, we’re talking cold enough that even walking from the faculty lot is too cold. I pity those poor bastards walking from wherever they can park. I didn’t worry about frostbite so much, since, well, at that HR meeting I found out I had health benefits, another perk denied me as an adjunct. Then to my new office, which I don’t have to share, supplied with the latest technological wiz-bangs from my faculty start-up package. I thought back to my adjunct days, when, yes, as recently as three years ago, I had to peel the perforated edges of the old dot matrix printer I shared with 30 other adjuncts in the office. And we had these support staff whom we lovingly referred to as the hellhounds, because they were fire breathing bitches who would stand over our shoulder as we made photocopies, so that we didn’t go over our 30 page/day limit (in a cl ass of 40 students… tough…). Now I have a copy code! And the support staff treat me with respect, not because I’m any different, but because of the title I bring in there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Does it make me a bad person if...

I have a student who is in a program I advise and has been a giant issue all year long. Duplicitous. Stirring up the other students so as to be the star of her own little reality TV drama with her as the heroine. Extremely, um, confident about how great she is and how she's going to get such a great job once she suffers through "this BS of a program" and gets her credential at the end. (She's also quite loud)

She's now applying for these great jobs, and happened to leave her resume on the copier that the students share. And there is a big, giant, dumb-looking spelling mistake right there in the big type.

Our field is extremely competitive, and details matter.

And I'm thinking that since I lead all the BS, and didn't ask me, I'm not going to point it out.

-- Dr. Amelia

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Comics

We actually have a real honest-to-goodness comic.  I'd post it but they are all good.  I especially like this one.  One of these days, when I get around to adding a list of favorites to the side bar, Academic Avenger will be there.

It's bad enough that students rate their professors.  Now they draw us too.  I can see how this site could benefit us in two ways.  First, it's a repository of artwork of suitably bad quality to qualify as graphics for AWC.  Dr. Amelia, who provided this link, suggests that we could draw students.  That's a good idea, though I personally spend all my creative talents making voodoo dolls of them.

Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One more link from Trish from Texarkana: If I only had a staff of 100...

then maybe I too could be featured in the NY Times.

The problem with this is the misguided idea that teaching involves entertaining students, when real teaching is dealing with students who don't have the skills to learn. The hard back breaking work of teaching is convincing these students to work on getting basic skills. And grading. And preparing classes. And working overloads to afford research trips and conference trips. And books.

I'd like to see the same coverage of the community college professor teaching in bare bones room, with no staff, broken window blinds, and tables that collapse under the weight of a hand.

Check out this article on the 10 Courses With a Twist.  Some flava:

Some professors can make a subject sing, and their courses are not just a credit but an event...


Professor: David J. Malan

Class size: With 700 students, CS50 is nipping at the heels of Harvard’s biggest class, N. Gregory Mankiw’s Econ 10.

CS50 includes pizza-fueled hackathons and final projects displayed at a balloon-festooned fair.
Class experience: Dr. Malan says that he (and a staff of 102) “are really setting out to create not a course for students, but a college experience.

 -- Trish from Texarkana

Saturday links

A student builds a Lego figure as part of her resume.  Clever but I'm not impressed with the Lego figure itself.  I built stuff better than that when I was eight.

Miley 101: 10 celeb-inspired college courses
Because you can't get enough Miley.

Friday, April 11, 2014

You're IT: A Friday Thirsty

Proffie Galore sends in this Friday Thirsty about operating systems.  An IT Thirsty might be a first and I'm hesitant to try it.  But, how can I resist Proffie Galore?  Why would I want to? 

-- Beaker Ben

You probably heard that Microsoft this week stopped supporting (i.e., sending patches and security updates for) both Windows XP and Office 2003. Seems these programs were poorly designed with regard to planned obsolescence. Way too stable, with way too many satisfied customers. I was one of them.

I dislike the newer versions my college has forced on me at work. And even if I wanted to upgrade at home, my present computer wouldn't have the capacity required; I'd have to buy a new computer and add perfectly functional e-waste to the unconscionable stream produced by my first-world culture.

So I have decided to switch to Linux Mint Petra with Cinnamon Desktop and LibreOffice, even though until two hours ago, the only word I understood in that phrase was Linux. Apparently this current version of Linux is very user-friendly and will run just fine on an older PC that ran Windows XP. You can even set up a dual boot with Windows XP so you can keep your old programs for a while and ease the transition to Linux-based software. And it comes pre-loaded with LibreOffice, the successor to Open Office. All free and nearly malware-immune.

Here's the Thirsty:

What's your operating system? If you use XP, what are your plans? If you use Linux and LibreOffice, have you had any problems with compatibility trading documents with colleagues or deanfolk?  Any tips about making the transition from Gatesware?

If you're a smug Apple user, feel free to smirk.

Stacey from Sturgis: Smackety Smackety

Busy Business-major Bob: Your busy-ness does not make you seem important, just disorganized. When your third mid-exam request was to leave the classroom in order to feed a parking meter, and then you got all huffy when I said no, I thought: it would have been a good strategy to bring a pencil and eraser to a scheduled midterm. Or maybe you were too busy to check the syllabus, so when you swaggered as usual into the classroom and saw the Scantron forms, your unwarranted confidence gave way to a panicky nausea. Good! Do I have an ounce of compassion for you? No, but I do have some advice: if you're going to copy someone's homework, maybe make sure that person actually DID the homework instead of copying something irrelevant off the web.

Deja Stu: You don't know this, but I get you every semester, and the cumulative experience makes me cringe when you darken my door. You will arrive and wait in the hallway fifteen minutes before the office hour is scheduled to begin. You will smile a lot and call me "Professor" every chance you get. You will ask for feedback on "essays" that are really just handwritten lists of words, not even outlines, even though I ask for hard copies of actual paragraphs. You will try to make awkward conversation for the rest of the office hour if no other students show up. Then you will ask for a favor as if you have earned it. When I say no, you will ask again, as if we have a special relationship. And even though I will say no again, you will repeat all of the above next week.

Hippie Dippie Darla: My vibe makes it hard for you to learn? You speak for other students that everyone is scared of me? Because I made a facial expression when a student asked a question that was the very same question I had just finished answering? And this facial expression caused you to fail two quizzes and an exam? And to write a homework assignment so sloppily that I couldn't read it? Whose vibe is at fault here?

--  Stacey from Sturgis

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Have an education and a smile!

My university has an exclusive contract with a major soda company and we have been reminded more than once that only certain cola products may be served at official events!  Even if the prof pays out of his/her own pocket.  This is an imagined official memo describing the policy.

-- Middle Aged and Morose

A reminder to all faculty and staff that Stuffy University has an exclusive contract with the Big Cola Company to supply all beverages for official events sponsored by the university. Accordingly, faculty are reminded that classes and office hours are both “official” university activities and so beverages produced by companies other than Big Cola are not to be consumed during class or office hours. This includes beverages brought from home such as coffee or tea.  Faculty and staff may consume non-Big Cola products in their private vehicles while arriving or departing from campus, but are requested to keep all containers below window-level so that they may not be observed from those outside the vehicle. When driving between campuses only Big Cola products may be consumed.

In order to further cement the university’s relationship with Big Cola, some additional measures will be implemented.

Faculty and staff coffee machines will be removed immediately.

Faculty are required to bring a full bottle of a Big Cola product to every class. The bottle must be displayed prominently so that the entire class will see it for the entire duration of the class session. The choice of container size and the specific brand to be displayed are up to the discretion of the individual instructor, but the 20 oz. size is recommended as being both easy to transport while still being large enough for students throughout the classroom to see.  The instructor need not consume the product in class, although this is encouraged.

Reimbursement for work-related expenses will no longer be paid in cash, but will be reimbursed with Big Cola products. Reimbursement forms will be updated to allow faculty and staff to request a specific product.  Only one product will be distributed per request, however, when submitting multiple reimbursement requests, you may request a different Big Cola product for each individual form.

The university mascot will be replaced by the Big Cola Penguin, and the school colors will be changed to the Big Cola Company colors-- green, black and teal.

While we at Stuffy honor academic freedom, all professors are strongly encouraged to incorporate Big Cola products into their lessons. For example, a chemistry class might include the famous “dropping a Mentos into a bottle of Big Cola” experiment. Philosophy and Theology classes might discuss the morality of serving guests a product made by a company other than Big Cola, which by definition would be inferior. History classes might discuss the history of the Big Cola Company as a prime example of the international success of an iconic American company. Classes designed for our student athletes might consider scheduling burping contests using Big Cola products. The provost will be examining a random selection of syllabi to monitor instructors’ conformance with this request.

Finally, we regret that after last month’s regrettable counterfeit label incident, the administration has authorized campus security to examine the contents of bottles and cans at random to ensure that only genuine Big Cola products are being consumed on campus. Also, faculty and staff are now required to consume beverages from their original container. Individual glasses, mugs, cups, etc. may not be used to consume liquids. They may be retained to store pencils, paper clips, and such items.

We thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Working together with Big Cola we are certain that Stuffy University will continue its march into the future as an example to educational facilities worldwide.

Mr. Pibb, Campus Cola Councilor

Big Thirsty:

When I returned to school a few years ago I decided to pursue Hamsters in Togas Thinking Thoughts.  One of those classes dealt with the very foundations of the discipline - Toga Hamsters Thinking Thoughts in the Ancient World.  The professor used two books written by two of the Founding Fathers: Hamster-o and Hamster-otle.  We started out the term with 1 1/2 classes being devoted to Hamstero's book and the rest of the semester was given over to Hamster-otle. 

I was a good note taker, paid attention, and did the assigned readings on time.  I organized study groups for any other interested students in the class and meet with professors during office hours.  I'm not a complete feckin' eejit.

Then we come to finals week.  I spent extra time studying the material, as it was a LOT of material and I had done more poorly than I'd expected at mid-term (the only two grades in the class were the two exams).  As the class had focused almost solely on one of the two books, I put the vast majority of my time into studying the notes and reading from THAT book.  I did go over notes on the book we'd started with as well, but to a lesser degree.

Imagine my surprise - and utter, gut-wrenching disgust - then to sit down to exam that contained seven essay prompts but only the dealt with the book we'd spent about 93% of the class on.  I could barely answer one of the other five questions.

Fighting the equal urge to throw up and/or cry, I walked up to the professor, placed my exam sheet on the desk and quietly apologized to hir and said I could not take the exam.  I explained that I had devoted almost all my prep time to the book we'd focused so much of the semester on.  The professor offered to let me resit the exam, in one hour's time. I did, and passed with a high B.  Without that kindness, I don't know for certain that I'd have graduated on time.  To say I appreciate it would be a gross understatement.

I bore the professor no ill will and it was MY fault but I've always wondered if other professors would organize an exam in the same way, especially given the weight it carried in terms of the final grade.

Was I a complete flake for studying this way or what?


The Leprrkan

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words...

but your caption should be less than fifty.  Otherwise, nobody will bother to read it.

If you've got something to say, do it in the comments section.

Caregiver Carrie

Carrie, your story is not at all uncommon. And, contrary to what you might be thinking, I am not an unfeeling witch who does not know the meaning of family, of love, of responsibility. Au contraire, my young friend.

And yet.....NO. N.O.

NO, I won't excuse the three weeks’ worth of work you have just missed, including your exam and first essay.

NO, I won't let you make them up now.

YES, I heard you when you said your mom, sick in the hospital, needs you with her 24 hours a day.

YES, I also heard you when you said that under no circumstances will you fail this course, or accept any other outcome than my either accepting late work, or (your preference), excusing the work.

See, here's the thing, Carrie. When people get sick, even parents, even children, you still have to take care of your responsibilities. I am curious why you did not inform your professors that you'd be missing class and not able to hand in work. I am curious why you have not attempted to keep up by sending me your essay via e-mail. I am curious why this is the first I am hearing from you.

Look, I don't know what your mother has that requires you with her all the time. I mean, I know you are not a nurse, and she is in the hospital where there are paid caregivers. I have had family members, close ones, get sick, and I managed to come to work (for the most part) and to be in touch on those occasions when I could not be there. And yet, far be it for me to decide for you how to live your life.

If you need to be there with your mother, and you cannot spend even one minute doing class work, then that is a decision that may well be both worth it and necessary. But it is also a decision that has consequences. One of them is that I cannot allow you to make up your exam, or to hand in your essay, or to make up any of the homework that you have missed. That is all spelled out in your class syllabus. I hope you are able to pick up from where we left off, and if not, I will certainly grant you a late withdrawal due to your extenuating circumstances.

That's my final answer, and I am sticking to it.

-- Professor Bella


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

Fear & Trembling is less so

Fear and Trembling sent us a Friday Thirsty about having a baby while ABD.  Here is her reply.

I'd like to thank everyone very much for sharing stories about having children! It's a big relief to hear confirmation that choosing to have one while ABD is sensible.

To address a couple of points or questions that folks raised: yes, my husband has a non-academic career, and he's generously ready to defer to mine because he cares a little less and it seems I'm actually on a good trajectory. I do have that steel willpower as well as the good fortune of having lived in our city long enough to imbricate myself into its relevant art institutions. I'm also attuned to Ogre's and others' note about how important it is to honor my husband's time and to model the habits we hope to pass on--perhaps especially harmonizing work and family. On that note, a big part of why we chose to have children now is so they and our parents could enjoy each other, and we have a few local grandparents (and aunts/uncles)-to-be who can't wait to spend time with our son.

I hope that we'll be able to raise our kids to be better than we are. For now I'm trying to demonstrate commitment to my department. It'll be a long long time before I'll in a position to "lean in." Instead, one of you once mentioned your mantra "f*** or pull out," which I've secretly adopted and which has proven its power time and again! You all have my sincere gratitude.

-- Fear and Trembling

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bad Dean, part 1 of a potentially infinite series by Old Fart Prof

Bad Dean never talked to a department Chair without a lecture on the ugly parts of “your budget.”  Enrollments were too low; expenses were too high.  Faculty salaries and travel needed tighter control, and office costs were unreasonable. Specific examples Bad Dean gave were always wrong, either as
to the facts or to the math involved or both. When a Chair replied with specific responses, they were ignored or referred to the Associate Dean for Administration, a classic MBA bean-counter with no teaching or research experience.  Those of us who knew Bad Dean when he was a mere tenured professor knew he was a numerical illiterate.  (Bad Dean’s field was Medieval Slavic Languages.)

In my four-year stint as Chair, I had many such conversations with Bad Dean.  I inherited a six figure deficit, which I was told would prohibit any hiring and was enough to trigger layoffs. Several fights with the Associate Dean over accounting issues later, layoffs were off the table.  By year three, our deficit was eliminated, and we had begun hiring again.  My last year as Chair ended with a surplus that reached six figures.  It took no small effort. Bad Dean’s reaction was not to congratulate me: “Next year, your budget is going to be very tight,” he scolded.

When Bad Dean then asked me to consider standing for Chair again, I declined, having ascertained beforehand that Bad Dean had no intentions of retiring any time soon.  My successor lasted 18 months.

- Old Fart Prof

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday links

Sorry this is so late. I'm sure it threw you off your game for the whole day.

We have quite a few links, thanks to Burnt Chrome:

Three white college students file racial discrimination complaint against professor over lesson on structural racism
Perhaps they were just demonstrating structural racism as part of a class project.

University discriminated against medical student with 'extreme' fear of exams
That's what grades do.  They discriminate.

York U student’s request to abstain from interacting with women sparks debate
Son, what are you doing at college if not to interact with women?

Warning: College students, this editorial may upset you
More on trigger warnings being applied to college classes.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Thirsty: ABD, with a baby on the way

My advice: Leave this part to your husband.
Would anyone be willing to share her/his experience with having a baby while ABD?

My husband and I are joyfully expecting a son next month! In terms of family, savings, fellowships, publications, networking, and a supportive advisor, I'm also about as well situated as possible for a pregnant Art History Ph.D. candidate. Even so, none of my peers has had a baby since I've been in the department, and I'm curious about what's to come once ours is here. Insights about balancing work and family as well as the etiquette of being a parent would be extremely helpful.

Thanks so much!

-- Fear & Trembling

OK, Mommies and Daddies, let her know how to handle this, keeping in mind the Surgeon General's recommendations about not drinking during pregnancy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Atua Bear and disillusionment with a discipline

Since starting graduate school, I’ve become so disenchanted with academia. Numerous issues have led me to be disillusioned: spending too much time alone (working); reading articles about the job market; dealing with certain professors, colleagues, and students; living in the for-profit higher education industry; not finding mentors like I had as an undergraduate student; never feeling successful; and, of course, never finishing the to-do list. 

There are some discipline-specific issues that have also contributed to my resentment.  My field has a naturalist versus anti-naturalist debate in which the naturalist folks dominate: if you want a dissertation and if you want to publish in the top tier journals, then you need data.

Admittedly, I bought into the naturalist world: I use data, I predict, and I generalize. I was trained to do so as my coursework entailed extensive methods training in both quantitative and qualitative methods. I’ve even become a “great” critic—that is, in part, what we’re taught to do in grad school. But, because of all of this, I’ve become disinterested; I’ve forgotten why I wanted to earn a PhD in my field.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

Some of my recent favorite tweets by faculty and grad students.