Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Links

The federal government wants to rate colleges and universities.  Here are the highlights of this New York Times article, at least for me.  When they travel to Washington, this is the reception they get.

"“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November."
 First, I imagine these school presidents are used to being around the rich and powerful of their communities. In DC they get to talk with the employee one level above intern of a cabinet agency that nobody gives a shit about.  Then, they're insulted by that former intern.  HA!

I also like the protests about how nobody can distill all the intricate and complex aspects of education into a single rating.  I don't know why the are complaining.  It works so well for judging faculty teaching.  Maybe the Education Department could start a website like  (Actually, that's already taken but it redirects to another site.)

OK, enough ranting.  Let's get serious and address some important news.

College just got a lot less funny for some students.  Kinki University changed its name.  This isn't the first time that a school has changed its name to avoid smirks and giggles.  What's up with you, Ball State?

As you probably know, Dr. Maya Angelou passed away this week.  Here are a few things you may not know about her. 

1.  She does not have a doctorate but uses the title "Doctor" based on honorary degrees.  (Apparently, there is a bipartisan annoyance with honorary titles.)

2.  Although lacking a doctorate, she was a professor at Wake Forest University.  Can you imagine getting to listen to Maya Angelou speak for three hours a week?  As somebody said in the American Conservative article linked above, she could read a grocery list and make it sound beautiful.  Anyway, think of how her students must have loved it.  Er, they didn't.

Finally, here's one for our friends up in the Great White North.  You would think that the cold climate would give university presidents tougher skin.  Poor guy!  I wonder how he would react if some low level government official compared his university to a blender.

Have a good weekend!

There was lots of academic-related news this week.  Tomorrow, we'll cover faculty crimes.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dr. Jekyll and Prof. Hyde present: You make the call!

Dr. Jekyll:  Hyde, you are a sweaty sort, perhaps you can explain something to me.

Prof. Hyde:  Go on, my officious friend.

Dr. Jekyll:  Our college has an associate dean that seems insistent on personally re-arranging offices this time of year.

Prof. Hyde:  Why so troubled?  That seems perfectly normal.

Dr. Jekyll:  Alas, I shall have to explain more.  As proffies leave for fairer ports once spring term is over, the associate dean helps to clean, refurbish and repair the vacated offices for the new hires who will be occupying them during the coming fall.

Prof. Hyde:  You mean he does the grunt work?  Isn't there a facilities staff for that?

Dr. Jekyll:  Yes and yes.  Further the facilities staff has a pay rate much lower than that of the associate dean.  The sight of him sweating away is, well, I'm not sure.

Prof Hyde:  Perhaps you should send this story to Academic Water Cooler and see if they can provide an appropriate finish to that last sentence.

--  Dr. Jekyll & Prof. Hyde

OK, boys and girls.  What comes to mind when you think about your dean performing manual labor to clean up a new faculty member's office?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

OFP brings the Big Thirsty about the real power players In academia

Forget about Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Chairs, or tenured faculty.  Anyone who’s been in academia for a while knows the real powers-that-be are the administrative assistants.  Even way back when we used to call them “secretaries,” everyone knew that all business, the routine and the unusual, needed to go though the gatekeeper to the official, who prepared the daily folder of forms to be signed by said official.  If the administrative assistant (let’s call them “AA” for short) liked you, you were more than halfway home with your request for whatever: reimbursement, waiver of deadline, new lab toy, TA support, or schedule change.  If the AA hated you, you were screwed. Even if the dean or department chair favored your request, the signed approval form may never get sent. Jane Smiley had fun with the concept in her 1995 academic comedy fiction Moo, with longtime secretaries to key administrators in a conspiracy that really ran the university.

In my 45+ years as a student, TA, faculty, and department chair, I’ve seen all variety of AA, from saint to spawn of Satan, and everything in between.  For example, “Vera” was a motherly sort who handled all students and faculty issues with calm competence, and if a student had a financial or family crisis, they wound up at Vera’s house for dinner and comfort. “Eunice,” on the other hand, couldn’t care less about anyone: “You’ve confused me with someone who gives a shit,” was her inevitable response to any request that interrupted her romance novel.

I’ve worked with “Elaine,” a great AA who was so smart she became a CPA by taking courses part-time while running an entire department and being an uber-volunteer for community events.  I’ve been burdened with “Marcy,” an AA so dim that we were forced to limit her work to collation, photocopying, and managing office supplies.  Then there was “Clara,” who spent her entire workday managing her son’s hockey league and her daughter’s traveling soccer team.

So what about y’all? Any AA horror stories to share with us? Or an AA you want to beatify?  

Just don’t use real names except for proposed saints.

(And go read Moo, even if you already have done so.  It’s funnier the second time through.)

- Old Fart Prof

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Caption time!

Here's your picture for captioning.  It's a classic.

Burnt Chrome brings the smack

I am in WTF mode right now. End-of-semester grading in huge [electronic] piles. Last big essay for two sections came in on Sunday night, and planning to start them tomorrow with a goal of 10 per day til they're done. Then exams and

The backstory:
Johnny is reasonably bright but hasn't worked very hard in my class and has blown off the peer workshop sessions (which are worth points). He came to see me for the mandatory conference for the last essay with a story about girlfriend/job problems, 19 credits, blah blah, and no draft. His 15 source annotated bibliography had 8 short annotations, so that was an F. He submitted his essay in the LMS at 10:25 pm the night it was due (by 11:00 pm), which makes him 3rd from last to be graded (I grade in the order students turn things in, so the keeners get their feedback first and they stay happy).

As I was working my way through the last execrable lit essays today , this pops into my inbox:

portfolios for two other courses.
Hi, Johnny Snowflake from HAM 102, was curious if I'm going to end up passing your class or not. If you could grade my stuff soon so I know whether or not I'm going to have to take it again in the summer to graduate it would be appreciated. Thanks, Johnny

And because I have tenure, I was able to send this in response:

Johnny: I do not know whether or not you will pass. You currently have ***/***points, which is 66%. A passing C out of *** points is ***.**

I understand that you are worried because your circumstances led you to make poor choices, but please also understand that asking me to put you ahead of the rest of your classmates is a bit rude. Your work will be graded in the order it was received, and your final grade will be turned in before the May 27th deadline, and that’s all I can promise.


Does this happen to anyone else?

When I think back to my undergrad days, I simply cannot imagine sending a missive like this--even if I could have (email wasn't a thing in the Dark Ages). Nor can I imagine the equivalent--going to a prof's office to ask to be graded first.

Not only that--the idea that his bad choices somehow are now my emergency--just boggles my mind. I have been wading through poorly written prose all day, and that was just the last goddamned straw.

Burnt Chrome is fucking burnt.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday with Twitter

Classes might be over but you can't stop the Twitter because the Twitter just won't stop.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Folks, there's no such thing as a "Happy Memorial Day."  Just remember and reflect upon its meaning.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Comics

An anonymous AWC reader sent this in for our enjoyment.  There's grammar, smackdown and Twitter.  What's not to love?  (Originally found here.)

Here's another Xtranormal cartoon.  Enjoy.

Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Lynx

A faculty position in the business school at Polk State College is opening up.  You'll probably need to submit official transcripts since the guy who was fired had a fake diploma.  He was arrested for grand theft based on earning a salary under false pretenses.

Rebecca Shuman at Slate does a good job explaining why liberal academics (sorry for the redundancy) should be happy that a conservative professor fought and won a court case to be promoted.

I guess there's so few English PhDs available that schools have to hire criminals to teach their classes.

Faculty strike back!  Professor sues a student over online comments about his teaching.  He could have just come here and griped with us.

Geology professors sometimes dig up rocks.  This guy had to dig himself out of a 70 foot deep hole in Nepal.  This is why I don't go on vacation.

WDRB 41 Louisville News

 Have a good Saturday!  More smackdown coming on Monday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Blood Smackdown

I've decided to try my hand at some smackdown. I've read some top-shelf smack here and in the pages of CM and RYS so I know that I am but a novice in the shadow of some great smackmeisters. But I've always wanted to try it so here goes. In this case I'm spanning the past four years, digging deep into my spleen with a fondue fork while shamelessly letting the schadenfreude pour over me like a bucket of ice-cold water at a wet t-shirt contest. I have felt the pain, but also the pleasure. Sometimes at the same time. I relived it all as I wrote this. It was exquisite.

H - I remember when you took my class for the first time, the first of several we would share together. When you came to my office asking what you could do to improve your grade I said, "One thing….leave your phone in your backpack. You sit every day with your earbuds in and text continuously. If you just leave the phone out of the equation your grade will go up." Remember how you thanked me and told me how much you appreciated the advice because a couple of years ago you had had "a serious problem with phone addiction?" Then continued to do the same thing for the rest of the semester and failed the course? Glad I could help. If there's any other sage advice you would like to promptly ignore, let me know. That's what I'm here for. BTW, you still have a serious problem with phone addiction.

A - Yes, on your second instance of plagiarism you fail the course, you putz. This is bold printed in the syllabus and was reiterated at certain apropos times during the semester. You were warned the first time you did it and two of your friends have already met this fate. Your loud and falsetto position that this policy is "totally unfair and too harsh" does not persuade. What's that now? You want to know who you can talk to about this? Well, maybe you could write a letter to Dear Abby. I think someone's still doing that column, right? Other than that I got nothing.

N - It is great that you have found a solution to your problem after failing (for the second time) my class which, according to you, is "impossible to pass." Your idea? You are going to take it at a Juco and transfer the credit here? That won't work as this is an upper division course in the major and the Jucos have nothing higher than sophomore level classes in our discipline. I especially enjoyed your demand that I supply you with a list of Jucos that offer the course next semester and give you my opinion of each instructor (ASAP!). I think you have me confused with the guy in the little hat that you order your burgers from. You should get to know that guy. He's your future boss.

N2 - You applied for graduation two weeks past the deadline during the second semester of your fourth year here. They got such a chuckle from that in the office as you had only 70 credits. Your flabber was truly gasted when you said, "But I've been here for four years. That means I'm a second semester senior. I'm graduating and my whole family is coming to see me!" Well here's a news flash for you, my little popsicle. You have to actually pass the courses you take to get credit. Failing grades and withdrawals don't count. It's not the penitentiary. It's not time served. Further, I can't pull rank and tell the assistant professor teaching your other class to pass you because I am "a real professor and not just an assistant". It's also not the military.

A2 - No. You can't reschedule the final exam because you promised your friend that you would help with the English Department's Renaissance Faire. The exam is over at noon and that's when the Faire begins. Oh, but you have to get there early to help prepare the food before it's served? Well I guess you have a decision to make. You can either skip the exam and get an F, or sit for it and get the F you're already guaranteed for producing little work and earning a stellar 28% so far this semester. (Why are we even having this conversation, you friggin' moron?) Either way I'm coming to the Faire just so I can make you run your ass off getting me some beers and those gigantic turkey legs I love so well. Who knows? There might be a future in it for you.

H2 - I think it's so nice that [someone] has been willing to pay all of this money year after year so that you have a place to hang around with your friends and show off the latest fashions. ("I can't believe I'm about to go spend $2100 on SHOES!", you exclaimed at the end of class one day.) Granted, you really are quite pretty with all the right parts in the right places. However, your tastes run from Saturday night hooker to nearly naked. Remember when you volunteered to work our department's "Jr./Sr. High Visitation Day" and wore an outfit with the least amount of cloth I've ever seen that was still classified as clothes? Was that an accident or did you just enjoy the little boys staring at you all day with their legs crossed? I thought so. My advice to you is to marry well before the bloom falls off the rose. Left to your own abilities, you'll walk BAREFOOT and starve.

Well there it is. Please don't judge these too harshly because they came from the heart. I don't really have that many smack-worthy students. Actually these all refer to the same person. To top it all off, I saw her [new] name on some other poor bastard's roster for the Fall. She's recently gotten married (solved H2 above) and is already using her new hyphenated name (think: Schiesse-Ferbranes). Pain and pleasure, people. Pain and pleasure.

-- Fiddlebright

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Big Thirsty: Academic honesty policies for cyborgs

What are we going to do when wearable computers (such as Google Glass) arrive?

Come on, kids, let's not pretend it isn't happening. An old friend from 9th grade who wasn't interested in school and kept telling me he'd be a truck driver when he grew up isn't handling they imminent arrival of driverless cars well. We academics are supare we going to do when wearable computers (such as Google Glass) arrive?
posed to be smarter than that, so we need to face it, preferably before it happens: what

At first they may be recognizable and hence we might be able to ban them from even large lecture classes, but once they are available as contact lenses (or eventually internal implants, too small to require surgery), that will be the end of that. These will certainly make traditional sit-down, in-class exams that largely test memorization obsolete, since it will become impossible to stop students from cheating on them by connecting to the Internet.

Come to think of it, this won't much change my physics classes, since even the large ones are examined by open-ended problem solving, and I allow students to use formula lists (you know, "cheat sheets") on those. It will change my large, general-ed intro-astronomy course for non-majors. I should perhaps have exams by one-page, in-class writing exercises, since we have several of those during the semester as homework.

These can actually be interesting, since there are many questions that lend themselves well to it. (For example, in 1-3 sentences that most 9-year-olds could understand, explain: Why is the sky blue? Don't just write "Rayleigh scattering," since most 9-year-olds couldn't understand that, aside from being two big, funny words. What do the big, funny words mean? Other examples are: How do we know that Earth is round? How do we know that atoms and molecules exist?)

On the other hand, there will be much more time-consuming to grade. Fucking great.

So, what are we going to do when wearable computers (such as Google Glass) arrive? Like it or not, they are coming.

Love and kisses (especially for Greta),
Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Caption time

Here you go...

The Five Stages of Grade-Grubbing

Aloha AWC,

I attempted to outline the Five Stages of Grade-Grubbing on my own blog but I know that AWC's distinguished readership can suggest improvements.

There's Denial ("but I'm an A student!"), Anger ("You've singlehandedly crushed my dreams of medical school with your totally unfair grading!"), Bargaining, Bargaining, Bargaining...

Come to think of it, maybe it veers away from the Kubler-Ross model when the "Bargaining" stage escalates to the "threats, grievances, and parents going full Boeing Apache on the dean" stage?

-- Farnkie Bow

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Early Thirsty: Contemplative Cynic gets capped(stoned)

Like many departments, our department requires our seniors to do a capstone project that encapsulates the skills for their emphasis in the major. The students pick an adviser, who guides their project. This entails meeting once a week (one-on-one) with the seniors to guide them through their process and to give feedback on the product. Then before students can graduate, they do a big presentation of their project to the department.

Often, the projects are evenly distributed among the faculty, but this year, due to the students' emphases and choice of topics, I ended up being the default adviser for 75% of the students. This was a huge extra burden to me. While I enjoyed directing these independent works, it was also really taxing to keep up with my teaching load while helping these seniors.

Advisers of projects are not paid extra, nor do they get load credit; it's just a part of our jobs. And usually, when I only have one or two to direct, I am fine. But having the bulk of the responsibility for these creative projects this year was tough for me.

Not only that, but one of my colleagues seemed 'put out' that so many of the students had chosen me as their adviser rather than her; however, given that I am the only one in the department who could have advised them based on my area, it made sense for me to agree to direct their projects.

...And now I'm left having to grade all of these, as well.

How does your department deal with such duties? Do you get anything extra for directing an undergrad project (i.e. a reduction in load?)? Any advice on how to do this BETTER?


Tuesday with Twitter

Monday, May 19, 2014

Early Thirsty: I thought we liked each other. Why haven't you called?

Frenna asked us for advice about her campus interview a few months ago.   Here's a follow-up.

[ + ]

I had an excellent on campus interview way back on March 28th. If they do not pick me it is because
another candidate's strengths/research better met their needs. I left there feeling quite hopeful for a positive outcome and that I would be leaving the adjunct grind.

Well it has been over six weeks without a peep from the search committee chair (SCC). I sent a thank you card via snail mail the week after my visit and I emailed the SCC after four weeks asking about the status of the search and offering to provide any more necessary information, etc. Still just crickets chirping...

Recently there was a thirsty about search committees and I am wondering how common is it to just not tell the candidate that "person A fit our needs better." Then today in the weekly-briefing from the Chronicle there was a link to a blog about silent search committees and how someone made Academic Rejection Letter Generator.

How common is it really to NOT inform a candidate, that visited campus, that they were not the chosen one? 

All I know if I feel greatly disrespected if they are just truly ignoring me...



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday comics

For those of your who couldn't get the song from Frozen out of your heads because of last week's song parody, I hope this helps.  PhD Comics compares academia to Frozen.

CronkNews is a good source for Onion-like humor about our profession.  At graduation time, this seems almost beyond parody: With Torture Banned, CIA Tries Graduation Ceremonies.

The only thing that makes me roll my eyes more than the graduation speeches full of platitudes given to their captive audience is the controversies regarding inviting then disinviting commencement speakers.  Stephen Carter makes some humorous points about this in his mock graduation address.

This video points out the many silly but seemingly effective ways that we are manipulated through commercials.

Why hasn't somebody made a similar video about university commercials or recruitment brochures?

Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday (late night) links

Good evening everybody.  Here are your long-awaited news stories.  I appreciate your patience.

Rebecca Shuman is the Slate education writer.  She's very active on Twitter and has her own blog,  Her writing is consistently interesting.  CrayonEater suggests her latest piece on Slate about grade inflation.  I agree, very worth your time.

Dear students, don't cheat in order to improve your grades.  Learn something instead.  You're in college, for God's sake.  For instance, figure out how to pick locks and install keystroke loggers.  In other words, hack your professor's computer and change your grades.

Good night,


Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Thirsty: Hey proffie, how drunk can I be during the final?

GAD, I hate this frelling question! From a student email.

"What grade do I have now? I don't know what grade I should try to get on the final exam."

It never occurred to me, when I was a student, to shoot for anything less than an A. I often fell short, especially in science classes, but I never went into a test thinking "I just need to study enough to get a B on this test."

What answer, snarky and non-snarky, would you give to this question? I told the student to work for an A.

-- Middle Aged and Morose

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Big Thirsty: Wombat wants to know the curriculum for student success

As far as any of us recall, have any of the AWC/CM/RYS discussions ever covered one of these "success" oriented seminars? I was curious and asked about teaching one, thinking I'd get a run-around, but instead I got a teaching assignment. I'm excited, but... what the hell did I get myself into? I have no idea what I'm going to teach.

I was just e-mailed a request for a textbook order and the reality hit me. Thank god they gave me two choices, or I'd be ordering Brown, LeMay and Bursten and hoping no one noticed. Should I research the options, i.e. model the behaviors the class is supposed to encourage, or just flip a coin and teach it with the same level of commitment with which they're going to learn it?

All kidding aside (should I do a unit on "People who make lots of jokes are trying to cover up that they feel inadequate for a particular situation"?), I'm more excited than scared, and I was just wondering ...

What kinds of ideas other readers might have used in this type of class? 

Or better yet, what pearls of wisdom should I share with my class that none of your colleagues with similar teaching assignments seem to cover?

--Wombat of the Copier

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Caption time

It's everybody's favorite time:  give me a caption.

Bad Dean (Fourth installment of a potentially infinite series)

This Bad Dean was just a pompous asshole.  He was a pompous asshole way before he became a dean, probably since childhood. I first knew him as a newly hired assistant professor, complete with a shiny Ph.D. from Robber Baron University. He was certainly a pompous asshole by then.

He got tenure at the flagship of our second-level state university by a combination of upwards ass-kissing, prolific and non-selective publication, and avoiding service obligations as much as possible. He convinced the Big Committee of Administrators that he was on the make as a National Star.

He targeted his teaching only to the most literate students.  He kept his classes small by scaring off the unwashed masses with arcane readings, difficult assignments, tough grading, and, of course, his overbearing personality. When minority students complained to the dean that he treated them with contempt, his successful defense was that was how he treated all students.

One year after he got tenure, he became Department Chair. The rest of the senior faculty thought it was time he did some service work and thought being Chair would be a good way to even the score. Five years later he was still Chair, and was turned down for promotion to full professor because his colleagues didn’t support him; they argued his research and publications had stalled. 

After unsuccessfully trying to manage a transfer to a different department, he took a job across the country as Founding Dean of a School at a commuter college with big plans.  He lasted two years before the faculty forced the administration to fire him.  I wasn’t there, so I can only assume his personality won him no friends.

He wound up as a named professor (named for a local used car mogul) at a minor campus of a third-level state university system in the South. He’s been there for nearly 30 years. He’s essentially his own department, and publishes occasionally on topics related to the key interest of the used car mogul: The Civil War of Northern Aggression.

- Old Fart Prof

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When I have tenure, I will

...not take your paper if it is not stapled. (Pro-tip - if the classroom didn't have a stapler when the first paper was due, it is unlikely that the stapler elves have since provisioned us with one)

...speak up at faculty meetings when your idea is asinine

...grade fairly and fail people who deserve it

...not be grading papers at 1 a.m. on a Saturday

...not take any lame-o excuse offered me. "What, Johnny, you couldn't wake up for our 12:30 p.m. class? I understand. Just get me the work when you can (omg please remember me at evaluation time)

...say no to stupid meeting where you are just giving announcements. I hate when you read paper to me

...Not go to every honor society induction (3rd one in 2 weeks coming up - many of the same faces0

...use my personal social media accounts to shill for the Uni

...research important questions instead of just stuff that's easy to shove out the door in a hurry

...not answer e-mail outside of business hours against the dean's or provost's ideas when they are dumb

...Work more with junior faculty and with students so then can succeed, too.

...Maybe blog under my own name. Maybe.

-- Dr. Amelia

Play along in the comments!

Tuesday with Twitter

It's final exam grading season so Twitter was lit up with complaints and commiseration. Here's some of the best:

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Real Sunday Comics

OK, let's try our Sunday Comics again.  Things got a little sideways this weekend but we're ready to go now.

Here's a nice parody of Do You Want to Build a Snowman for faculty:

A professor on Twitter reminded me of all the Xtranormal cartoon videos about students and faculty.  We used to see some of these on College Misery but I don't remember if this particular one appeared there or not.  It's a classic.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Last graduate class

I'm getting drunk right now on Saturday evening so it's a good time to schedule a post for AWC.  This came through on the telegraph today and I don't quite know what to think about it.  On the one hand, it's an expression of misery that academia inspires in all of us.  Or, it's bullshit.  Maybe both.  Honestly, I can't figure it out.  It's like some Andy Kaufman routine that you don't know when to laugh. Well, that's what happens when you read a blog moderated by somebody who has drank 10 beers already.  I leave it to you, my presumably more sober readers, to figure this out.  Let's have it out in the comments.

From Living in the Real World:

I am a full tenured professor. I have been told that I can have high standards in my classes. LOL Most of the folks in my graduate class are unemployable undergraduates from our school. But they can get federal money so... The majority are functionally illiterate and have never written a paper.

I have been to this rodeo before. The survival mode I have followed is to show up happy for my weekly three hour class and do nothing to indicate that they are stupid and unmotivated. I required a cut and paste 10 page paper that they presented to the class. Of course, all my requirements are mere suggestions. The 30 minute presentation was usually 20 minutes (including a Youtube video). The lowest grade I gave was a B for the course and had fantastic evaluations. I have one colleague that requires performance from students. The police arrested one of his students that threatened to kill him, etc. etc. I guess he is not with the program.

Some interesting facts: my university will hire some of those getting a master's degree in my area to teach our undergraduates; many of the students have severe psychological problems that are untreated; we only had two qualified applicants apply for one position and both turned us down.

I am two years away from a state retirement but will not be coming back for Fall semester. It just isn't worth it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday links

Good morning to all.

We have but a single news story for you today, albeit with two links.  This one is from Wombat of the Copier.

A law school textbook publisher takes the next step in their fight for financial survival.  Not only do students not actually own an electronic version of a book, they don't even own a physical book itself.  I read here that some professors aren't happy about this arrangement but starting a petition doesn't seem like strong action to me.

What's the penalty for not returning the book?  I don't see how the publisher has any means of penalizing a customer, even if the publisher has the right to do so.

No, we're not wading into the story about the Princeton student who wrote the editorial about white privilege.  Nor do I want to get into the meta-story about the response to the story and so forth.  It's everywhere if you read any academic blogs or news.  Consider yourself privileged to be able to avoid it here.

Have a good Saturday!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Compiled moments of dismay and disgust from the semester that is (almost, thank goodness!) over

--The big gen-ed literature class: I think you’re (mostly) doing the reading; I really do. At least many of you have worthwhile things to say in class that don’t seem to derive from SparkNotes et al. But I can’t seem to write a multiple-choice test that >50% of you can pass. Maybe my freelance test-writing experience for Evil Testing Syndicate is serving me too well (apparently I’m pretty good at writing truly distracting distracters)? Or maybe multiple-choice really isn’t the best way to measure learning in a lit. class? But that’s the main option the powers that be offered us for keeping the work load under control when they nearly doubled the size of the classes that represent our one chance to teach lit at all (plus, of course, the usual 3 composition classes to round off the 4/4 load). And I must admit that, though writing the tests takes some time and thought, I really like the ease of zipping those scantron sheets through the machines. I just don’t like the results, any more than you do (and I do think that you should be able to answer those questions after doing the reading, or even just participating in class discussion, but, somehow, a significant number of you, despite your much-discussed lifelong familiarity with standardized tests, can’t).

--Smelly Sam: I’m on the record as strongly preferring B.O. to Axe (and its more exotic kin), and I’m sticking by that stance. But the particular funk you brought into my office last week had an extra note that I found hard to ignore: long-marinated woodsmoke, maybe (you’re in a discipline that does a lot of field study)? Or chewing tobacco? Or especially raw-smelling smoking tobacco? (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t pot; not sweet enough). Whatever it was, it was a bit distracting, which is too bad, since your draft was promising, and you had some good questions. I hope I answered them coherently; I’m afraid I was sort of distracted.

And the (somewhat) bright note:

--Distressed Doreen, Dan, and David: things seem to be going quite badly for you right now; family health and/or financial issues are feeding personal health and/or financial issues, and vice versa, and, as you have either identified for yourself or conceded when I pointed it out, you really have no chance of finishing the work of the class before the end of the semester. But you’re handling it much better than most students, in my experience, do. For one thing, you got in touch with me rather than just disappearing (and then reappearing to complain when the F appeared on your transcript). And you’re apparently willing to take responsibility: for talking to the appropriate people, for making a decision, etc. I’m worried about both of you, of course, but I also suspect that you’ll do okay in the long run, whether or not you flunk my course this semester. Is there any hope that nearly a decade and a half of financial meltdown and war has helped to shape a more responsible, resilient generation of young people? If so, it’s a hell of a price to pay, but I welcome the results.

--Contingent Cassandra

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Caption time

An ordinary picture.  Give me an extraordinary caption.

A Big Thirsty Plagiarism Smack from Professor Chiltepin

This was a banner year for the cheaters.

Klepto Kyle: You emailed me the night before the paper is due. "I had a breakthrough and I'm very proud of my revision!" you wrote. Oh, goody, I thought. Cause the last one -- not so great. And you're right! This paper is much better. Of course, it also pops a nice round 90% on Students Are Lying Shits Dot Com, and tells me that it was submitted a month ago at South Chickenneck Community College. When I asked if you could explain this odd fact, you admitted that your friend from high school wrote a similar paper, but you just used some of his research. "I changed the thesis," you said.

Cheaty Sue: is not a source you want to cut and paste answers from. I also have access to the internet, and I know how to use it.

Sociopathic Sam: You got away with it. I cannot prove that you didn't write this paper, but it's obvious to anyone with a modicum of understanding of English grammar that you didn't. One does not go from a string of simple sentences to a parallel sequence of compound-complex sentences in the matter of a page. But fine, you get away with it. Good luck on that.

Here's the deal: these stories aren't very funny. There's nothing amusing about Kyle, nothing funny about Sue. These are ordinary, rather generic stories, like every one else on this site has experienced dozens of time. But that's what gets me: why aren't these unusual? Why are they generic? Because we do this all the time.

Part of our job is trying to stop people from pretending to knowledge they don't have. And every time I succeed at that part of my job, I feel like shit. I feel betrayed, deeply disrespected, and insulted. It's all I can do to make eye contact with the cheaters after I catch them. And often, while explaining the sanctions, I'll catch myself shaking because I'm on the edge of shouting at them. Which, sadly, I have done a couple times. I'm not proud of that, but how *dare* they! They had a chance to tell me something cool they had learned, or show me something neat about the way their minds worked, and we could have a conversation about ideas which is one of the two or three things that really matter to me. And they pissed on it.

I find that a bit demoralizing. Some places online will tell us that the solution to plagiarism rests with us, that we need to create "cheat-proof" assignments, or "instill integrity," whatever that means. Other professors have come out against the whole idea of being a cop. They just let the cheaters go, and don't give a shit. I'm actually a little sympathetic to that approach, but I won't do it.

What do you do? How do you prevent, or failing that, deal with, plagiarism? And more importantly, how do you deal with the emotional toll that plagiarism exerts on you?

(And yes, the obvious answer is obvious: drink. But what else?)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

You were sick with what?

Charlie was in my office, pretty much in tears. He had failed Underwater Basket Weaving three times, and we won't let people who fail three times continue, no matter how much they cry or how much money they offer.

But he had an excuse. He had just gotten out of the hospital before he took the last exam. I was offered the hospital report in order to see that it was true. On the release form it stated:

Treatment for Tuberculosis. No longer infectious.

WTF? Charlie, I saw you in class every week. I heard you coughing. Wazzup?

"Oh, I was in and picked up some sort of an infection. But they gave me medicine and I'm fine now, even if I had quite a cough. But I had to go to the hospital for a checkup, the University Medical Center said, even though it was just before finals. I was exhausted by all the tests they ran and couldn't concentrate on my studies."

I managed to get him out of my office and felt the drastic need to shower in disinfectant. Who knew that this kid was on TBC medication and let him still attend classes? Put him on sick leave, refund his tuition, but don't let him breathe on everyone else! On the other hand, maybe I should have sent him to Evil Administration Office for a cough or three....

-- Suzy from Square State 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesdays with Twitter

This is why we shouldn't check our email on Friday evenings...

Mr. Nephilim

I came to today's class about (half an hour late) upon which you had already dismissed the class for lab time (our location was written on the board with the assignment) on the assignment (sic). (Except for the 4 students who were in the room, working on the assignment on their laptops) I returned to class (after I had dismissed the students who did attend on time) and missed you again so I'll leave the paper with you in your office. (Faculty vacate as soon as humanly possible on Friday. We have lives too dear, though I did check the room on two occasions only to find it empty, just like the halls.)
Thanks so much, “

Day Dampening Deidra

Well, at least she did the damn thing. Oh wait, she sent another email claiming she was unable to get into the office (naturally) and sent it to the digital drop-box. Which is empty. The incredible, assignment eating drop-box has struck again.

Monday, May 5, 2014

If I smack them, do they not bleed?

Laid-back Lester: Actually, I am tempted to give you an award for consistency. Everything you turned in this semester was late. And each time, by 10-15 minutes, whether due in class or due at my office. Every. Single. Thing. I swear I once saw you wait in the hall until ten minutes after class started and THEN come into class to turn in your work. Is it passive aggression? Does it give you a masochistic frisson of pleasure to get that 20% hit on each item? Or is it just too much trouble to set your fucking watch?

Giggly Gladys: You giggled as you asked if I would have the exam reworks graded before the final. Would it make a difference in your preparation if you knew your grade, I asked? Oh yes, you giggled, if I failed the exam rework (failed? an open book, open-notes rework?) then I’ll fail the course so I won't bother about the final exam, ha, ha. Really? You’d choose to take this course with me AGAIN? I am SO tempted to pass you just so I DON’T have to take you again. And stop with the laughing gas, already.

Snarky Simon: Although you were funny, and apparently praising (sucking up to) me; at the same time you were also dissing my colleagues. And as much as that makes me secretly pleased, as much as I believe that they are worthy of moderate contempt compared to my shining brilliance, still I would guess that you do the same to all of us – dissing the other faculty while sucking up to the one you’re talking to. Yes I laughed, but I won't increase your grade.

To all my precious snowflakes: Don't take it personally you all (ok, yes, take it personally), but I be making a not-so-subtle snark when handing out little treats at the end of final exam tomorrow: here, everyone, have some Dum-Dums. Yes, we will have our little jokes.

-- Horrible Meanie Prof


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday comics

First up, a student's YouTube video sent in by Contemplative Cynic. I don't even know where to begin with this one. I don't care if you went to church today or not. Watch this and you'll stand up and say, "Preach it!"

Horrible Meanie Prof send us a link to post from Shit My Students Write. "The most fun while grading EVERRRRR! Well, maybe not as fun as playing grading drinking games (every time they write "based off of" take drink), but check out the grading bingo."

The whole Shit My Students Write website is pretty funny. And who says you can't play grading bingo AND drink?

An anonymous reader sent this link about computers grading computer-generated essays. from Happy Nice Time People. I think we are progressing faster towards making people as dumb as computers, rather than making computers are smart as people.

For those of you who noticed that College Misery's old website was offline last week, rejoice!  It is now back.  This has happened once or twice before.  I don't know why but they keep coming back.

Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday links

Contingent Cassandra sends in a link to the Priceonomics article PhD Deluge, which describes the gap between skills learned as grad students in science & engineering and skills needed by scientists and engineers in industry.  Apparently, working long hours for very little money as a grad student aren't the only skills you need.

The NY Times had a recent editorial about college legacy preferences at the ivies.  At my school, we let in anybody whose tuition check clears so we don't have this problem.  Lucky us.

Honest to God, I accidentally stumbled upon this article while doing a legitimate literature search for another topic.  No, I was not googling "hot easy professor."  (I would never do that at work.)  Anyway, the article describes a study of RMP comments by students.  Spoiler: students like professors who don't make them think.

Crayon Eater brought this article about adjunct labor organization to my attention.  If adjuncts played sports, it would be easier to unionize at a university.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hi everybody!

Welcome to any new visitors.

I'm Beaker Ben.  This is by blog.  It is awesome, but only because we have some dedicated readers who send me lots of funny and infuriating (in a funny kind of way) stuff to post.

If you want to comment on stuff, go right ahead.  You'll need to use a gmail or other type of login.  You can send stuff to post by email ( or send it anonymously by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. 

We meander among different topics, most recently focusing on badministrators.  I'm bet you've got some good smackdowns to be shared, right?  Send me your best from the semester.

It's 2 o'clock.  Grab a cup and get in line.  Let's get started.

As always,
I remain,
Your humble moderator,

Beaker Ben

P.S.  I know what some of you are thinking.  Don't worry.  Everything is great.  Just welcoming new readers from Twitter who find this place.

Dr. Amelia rounds out our week with a Friday Thirsty

When we were in grad school, Mr. Dr. Amelia's advisor had a wife who had a doctorate, and a theory. Her theory: That academics have a particular deficit in administrative ability. I don't mean the moderate evil characterizing bad dean and other adminiflakes we write about here. I mean the administrative stuff that is the legitimate responsibility of the faculty.

Case in point: search committees. I have yet to be on a search committee where we treated candidates with anything resembling humane consideration. We'd eliminate folks in the first round who were CLEARLY unqualified for the position in the ad, but not tell them until after the job was accepted by someone else, not because we were evil, but because of some vague concern over legality and keeping options open and the paperwork in not batch-sending responses. It's not because we're evil, I don't think. It's something else.

Case in point: any other committee. When have you been on a committee when the people on it did anything without constant reminders and support from the chair? Read important materials in advance. Remember where the meeting is. Etc. this a deficit? Or learned helplessness? Or something else? Or is the theory unsupportable?

Dr. A

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Big Thirsty - questions don't get much bigger than this

First, a link to a news story that relates directly to this Big Thirsty:
Of Motherhood and Tenure

 Now, here's the Big Thirsty sent in by an anonymous reader.

Three out of four tenure applications at my SLAC were initially denied.  Now we learn that all three appeals were denied by The Big Committee.  This has never happened before.

So, what's the weakest reason you were given for not receiving tenure?