Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The honeymoon's over.

Realism is setting in.

Great Recession, Part II?

Or merely fewer of our tax dollars going to McUniversity?

New CM Prodo.

Measuring Misery (Last Call)

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce's Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors is scheduled to close today. I finally got around to taking it yesterday, and it struck me as well-designed and efficient, gathering key information about work loads, salaries, contract lengths and the like quickly, then allowing room for longer comments with a couple of text boxes at the end. The results, particularly if a number of us participate, should be well worth having. If you haven't filled out the survey yet, and belong to the target audience -- "all instructional and research staff members employed off the tenure track, including faculty members employed either full- or part-time, graduate students remunerated as teaching assistants or employed in other roles, and researchers and post-doctoral fellows" -- please consider taking a few minutes (filling the check boxes took me under 10) to complete it. If you're on the tenure track, and have a way to communicate with contingent faculty members in your department, please consider reminding them about the survey and encouraging them to fill it out by the end of the day today.

Apologies for an entirely serious/practical post. You may now resume discussing the more entertaining aspects of our collective misery.

What's with the myth?

I don't understand it. Why do teachers, especially in the humanities, continue to perpetuate the myth that teaching is always wonderful?

I'm especially talking about the comments to Fenton, who wrote that article about enjoying seeing students fail that either didn't do the work, or were exceedingly rude and didn't do the work, and so on. Many comments seem to suggest that she doesn't deserve to be an instructor at all because she's not doing her job. One of the very first commenters gives her as an example of why the humanities deserve less funding--look! they don't even enjoy it! There were nowhere near as many negative comments here when we discussed students we hate, but there were still some people who said that hate was too strong a word for it, or that it wasn't fair to let people get to us, etc.

Right, let's get one thing straight: for the most part, I am one of those crazy people that genuinely enjoys my class and students. However, there are exceptions to the rule. I too have been frustrated by people that just won't do what it is that most college students are there to do (which is get a degree--grades and learning being secondary to that).

If anybody really truly loves all their students, I want to work at their school. In order to really appreciate your students, you must have fairly good administrative support that allows you to deal with problems quickly and quietly. Alternatively, you must have really awesome students.

The students I deal with on a daily basis came from some of the poorest school districts in the country scattered over the past 30 years. They aren't very prepared, but many of them are very bright and catch up very quickly. This is amazing and why I genuinely love my job.

But then, we do get the occasional person who is so packed with entitlement that they think the world needs to bend over backwards and bow down to their almighty power. I have no idea where they get it, and I've seen it equally scattered among students and faculty.

When I have new faculty members that come to me in tears because they have encountered one of these jerkwads for the first time, do you really think I tell them that they should love all their students equally and that if they don't, they don't deserve their job or funding for their research?

Um, no.

Out there, right now, there's some poor grad student or contingent faculty member who has their first hard case. Articles like Fenton's (as well as the I hate this student article here) let them know they aren't alone. Guess what? Problems happen and they suck. Pretending otherwise is absurd.

What I actually do in such situations is that I comfort them, share some of my own stories, and let them know that they aren't alone. I also let them know what other administrative support they can reach out to if they need it, and be sure they know the proper procedure for reporting whatever issue (behavioral or academic) is currently cropping up. I let them know I'll come to their class if they need me to observe the behavior. I bend over backwards to make sure they know they have my support to do what they need to for that student.

Teaching college can be great fun, but it isn't sunshine and unicorns all the time. Why would anybody continue to perpetuate the myth that it is? Not all problem students are savable. Sometimes you reach out and it helps. One of my least favorite students when she started here became the girl I hugged and took pictures of on graduation day. She hangs on my office door, along with our other success stories.

But I'll begin to wrap up with a story. Guess what? Reaching out to students doesn't always work. Gasp. I know, I'm probably preaching to the choir here. In my fourth or so year of teaching I had a guy in class that wouldn't stop doing chewing tobacco in class. He was breaking two of the school's rules: 1. no eating or drinking anything but water in class (gum included), and 2. no tobacco except in authorized locations. Also, this was freaking gross.

Fine. I confronted him, explained the policy, and he swore at me, refused to stop, and started to break even more rules. He cheated on an exam and then laughed in my face when I caught him and failed him for it. I talked to him after class, confronting him about why he was behaving this way. He plagiarized his essay. Then I ended up mentioning the chewing tobacco to my supervisor (then the Dean, now there's a Department Chair) and Security overheard. They watched on the in classroom camera (fancy computer lab) and nailed him for it.

From what I understand, his excuse was that he didn't want to be in college at all. His parents were forcing him to go. We talked to him about wasting their money and the government's and he didn't care. He just plain didn't want to be in college and he misbehaved till he was expelled.

Without the support of other instructors who had been through really bad situations (complete with the cheating and plagiarism) I would have felt completely alone through the entire insane situation. I don't think that any teacher deserves to feel alone that way.

Having a rough term? Teach a hard class? More and more students being recruited at lower levels? It's okay. Why would we ever say this is anything but normal?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hark, the Harried Students Sing

Hark, the harried students sing:
It's time for... plagiarizing!
Final paper isn't done;
Guess I'll have to "borrow" one.
Topic: "broadcast media"?
Thank you, Wikipedia!
Hark, the harried students sing:
It's time for plagiarizing!
Hark, the harried students sing:
Easy, peasy, copying!


Hark, the harried proffies sing:
Who'd believe this spurious thing?
When I fail him, there's no doubt
That he'll curse, and shout, and pout.
Once it's back from Turnitin,
He'll tell lies to save his skin.
Hark, the harried proffies sing:
Students, stop plagiarizing!
Hark, the harried proffies sing:
Easy, to catch copying!

Beryl from Bentonville Sends in an Early Thirsty: How Much Do You Work?

One of my favorite series of posts on RYS concerned the amount of hours faculty work, and appeared in August and September of 2007.

It started with a Biology proffie from a community college who tracked his hours over the course of a school year and figured he was in the 2800 hour range. (52 weeks at 40 hours, would of course be 2080 hours.)

That was followed by someone who was called "Mr. Bullshit," who himself called "bullshit" on the Biology prof. Mr. Bullshit figured his work for the year at more like 400 hours, a remarkably different number.

They then published 8 replies that came in from other RYS folks, some of whom who called "bullshit" on Mr. Bullshit, but some who expressed that perhaps the lower number wasn't as insane as it first appeared.

Mr. Bullshit then weighed in once more, fessing up that he hadn't spent much time figuring in research and grading. Even then his schedule sounded light to me.

I know faculty jobs vary widely, and it's not just rank and discipline, but a variety of other forces, that keep us "at work" for longer or shorter periods of time. But I'd love to know how much you work.

Sandy from Sanibel Island Wonders Why Whipped Lightning Had to Be Invented AFTER She Finished College.

Dear Fab (are u still there?)

Could you post this news story about "Whipped Lightning"? What I wouldn't have given back in my college days for something like this, whipped cream with alcohol in it. It has three times the alcohol than a beer. And it tastes great on pudding!

Apparently it is selling out at stores all around Florida campuses, and I'd suppose beyond.



Alcoholic Whipped Cream Causes Buzz On Campus

It might look like a regular can of whipped cream, but if you take a closer look at the label, you'll see why some university students are really buzzing about whipped lightning.
"I think it's awesome, you can throw it on some Jell-O shots. It'd be fantastic," UCF student Bo Frisby said.
The whipped treat comes in different flavors, and it's infused with alcohol. The alcohol content is fairly high, 18 percent by volume, that's more than three times the amount found in most beers.
Liquor stores around the UCF area said the new form of booze is flying off the shelves.
"I'm not surprised, it's college. I'm not surprised at all actually. I'm actually shocked they didn't come up with it sooner," UCF student John Washington said.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bad Sunday Haiku

email thanksgiving
day. "what did i miss? homework?"

monday following
thanksgiving, you suck as much
as the snowflakes do.

annotated bib:
snowflakes cite their new best friend,

four wretched weeks left
before the tiniest break--
liquid relief...soon...

How Writing Skills Screw Us All

No matter your discipline, you assign papers. Student papers have a spectrum of success for both content and basic grammar/organization. We all know how this plays out: a handful of well-written pieces, a handful of woefully-written diarrhea, and then a big bulk of passable, boring, bare-minimum papers.

We are failing the low-end students by letting them go to University. I'm sure all of us here can agree to that. But it's now a customer service industry (The Dean's Thanksgiving message literally called it that, to my despair) and not a merit-based institution. So what to do with these people who cannot write to save their lives, who do not answer the question, who go on endless tangents?

If I follow my own rules, I send these awful writers to the writing center. But that doesn't really help. There is basically nothing tutors can do in the allotted 30 minutes to fix the endless problems posed by these students' godawful writing skills. So they send the student back to the professor.

Sometimes I break my own rules and I tutor the hell out of a student. I raise the level of competency; I show them how to write a clear introduction, use evidence wisely, check for common grammatical mistakes, etc. I analyze claims that make no sense. At the end of this tutoring session, which is usually many discussions over the course of a month or semester, I am exhausted and one student goes forth armed with the basic skills of communication that all college students are supposed to have in order to get into college in the first place.

But I can only do that for one student at a time. Because it's a little bit rewarding, a lot discouraging, and totally not my job. If I did it for all of them, I would not have time to teach my discipline.

So the circle goes on: I send the poor writers (so, 60% of students) to the Writing Center. A dozen might take my advice. Tutors teach students one or two golden rules (comma use, thesis statements) and send them back. The writing tutor does not have the time it takes to revamp their myriad mistakes.

Neither do I. So we screw them over, they screw us over, and we all sit in this pile of shit pretending that what we're doing is "higher learning."

How can I pass this class?

Tomorrow we will return to campus for the last week of classes. Finals are only a week away, and today, I already received emails asking the question that I answered at the beginning of the semester; "How can I pass this class?"

It's a little late for that, but instead of growing frustrated or angry, as I have done in previous semesters, this term, I'm just going to ignore those emails. Perhaps my silence will speak louder than any of the words I spoke this semester. If they ask me in person, I will just shrug, and say, "I don't know," and pretend I have an important meeting or appointment that requires me to leave immediately.

This time, I will not allow them to sucker me into pointless discussions about their grades, or listen to their whining about how they just have to pass this class.

This time, they can determine for themselves that they just can't pass this class now. Some of them may eventually understand why, and most of them will assume I'm just a callous bitch who didn't like them. In either case, it won't matter to me once I've submitted those grades.

Short, Brave Life of Rate Your Studen. From The Chronicle.

by Enrico Varrasso for The Chronicle
by W.T. Pfefferle

In November of 2005, spurred by a distaste for the anonymous ratings on RateMyProfessors.com, a liberal-arts professor from somewhere in the American South started a blog called Rate Your Students. The first post read: "We will rate our students here. And we will do it without compunction. Then we'll just see where we're at. We'll still be poor academics. But at least those callous and ignorant 'customers' of ours will know what it's like."

Slowly, faculty members from around the country began to find the page, and the founder—"the Professor"—started posting their e-mails. Professors shared student excuses, from the banal "dead Grandma" to the exotic "I left my homework inside my mascot costume." No students were named. Professors, colleges, and identifying details were changed. Right from the beginning the site was raw and shocking. Someone wrote about a student-athlete: "He's never prepared for class, and he mostly shows up so he can run his mouth into the sweet ear of that sorority candy who sits next to him. I'd just like him to write his own paper once. Or at least crack the spine of that $40 textbook. I'd like to smack his smug face." Others saw students' misbehavior as evidence of a system that was in trouble: "All I want students to do is try. It's all I ask. I just want to see that they give a damn, and that they're willing to be a part of their own educational process."

A flurry of national press helped the blog reach thousands of page views per day. Each day the site published a new set of complaints. Professors went on the attack, releasing the day's frustrations or, in some cases, years of pent-up rage. Parents who found the page demanded to know where various posters taught so that their sons and daughters would never have to take a class with someone so angry.

Some students wrote to complain. They were misunderstood, they said, and the site was unfair: "Why rate us? You already give us grades." One such note had a profound impact on the site's readers. The student wrote: "If you really want to understand what it's like to have professors like you grade us, rate us, poke us, and prod us every day, take a walk in my shoes. My major field adviser is a stinking drunk. I can smell his scotch or whatever every time I walk in to his office. I have to smile so he fills out my forms, even though he makes me sick to my stomach. My psychology professor tries to look up my skirt when I wear one. He hardly even pretends to do it casually. ... While you're all getting your jollies picking on students, please realize we're not all the same, and not all of us deserve your scorn."

The post reminded many Rate Your Students readers that the students being rated were real, not just anonymous punching bags. The idea of simply skewering them was limiting.

The tenor of the page began to evolve. A reader who expressed mixed emotions about the site gave this advice: "Bitch, moan, vent, shake fist at heavens. Please do. Because teaching is a human interaction and it affects us just like any other human interaction. But then get on with it, stay open to them. ... The ones with talent, dedication, and drive, they need and want our guidance, advice, and tutelage."

In June 2006, the Professor wrote in Times Higher Education about the change that the page was undergoing: "Academics who had reacted earlier from frustration by calling their students 'dimwits' were now writing about ways to fix things."

A professor in New England wrote a manifesto to his future students: "If I ask you to read a book, or go to a gallery, or watch a video, I really mean it. It's not just some random thought I've had. When someone else is talking in class, that means you are to shut your pie hole and listen in. When I ask you a question, I'm asking a serious question, one that has to do with your ability to pass the class. It's not optional. It's not as if I said, 'Uh, Marcella, if you don't want to I'll understand, but would you care to tell me what you know about cubism?' I mean, 'Tell me what you know about cubism from my handouts, the textbook, the film I showed, and the gallery we walked through for two hours last week. Your life in this class hangs in the balance.'"

When the Professor stepped down, three moderators took the site over and began putting up 30 to 40 essays a month, chosen from hundreds. Students remained the focus. The site called those precious creatures that were at the center of academic vexation snowflakes because so many of them had been told by parents and feel-good teachers that they were special and unique. But the students featured on the blog seemed to have a lot in common. They copied chunks of Wikipedia and turned them in as essays. They cheated on tests in a dizzying variety of ways (notes on cap brims, formulae saved in cellphones). They wanted extensions, they wanted class to meet outside on the lawn, and they really wanted to know if they "had" to do the reading. They drank all night and slept late, and when they did get to class (in pajama bottoms) they were too busy texting and listening to their iPods to get much out of it.

Writers griped about all manner of academic hindrances besides their students: draconian deans, ego-blind department chairs, and colleagues who coveted our office, our publications, or just our parking space. Adjuncts wrote about their miserable salaries and heavy workloads. Fresh Ph.D.'s wrote about their job searches and ponderous interviews with old-fashioned committee members. And committee members complained about the young candidates' rudeness, inattention to detail, and impossibly tiny eyeglasses.

The posts were satirical, profane, irreverent, scandalous, and always interesting—and all anonymous. Rate Your Students had become an academic water cooler where professors could vent, share their misery, and offer tips.

The first time a piece of mine appeared on the page, I felt electrified. I had written things I could not say in my own faculty lounge. The next day, when a number of other readers responded to my post, I felt that I was a part of a new community of professors who, like me, loved teaching but were confused and helpless. I was asked to join Rate Your Students as a moderator several weeks later. Each day I read a hundred e-mails or more and posted a few representative samples. I realized early on that I was getting a rare and unfiltered look into my profession. These people were my colleagues in a very real sense, but their e-mails often closed with, "I can't say this to anyone I teach with."

In our last full month of service, we received almost 400,000 page views. That's nothing compared with mainstream blogs or blogs about Lady Gaga. But for an often-vulgar set of essays full of inside jokes about academe, it was a big, angry crowd, a secret society—and the secrets were sometimes chilling.

I began to have doubts that the page was helping everyone who trafficked it. "Dale from Denver" sent me this: "My students don't want to be there. Does anyone else see that? Why am I beating my head against the wall for them? 'My boyfriend has a split toe.' 'My mother can't find a babysitter for MY BABY.' 'I didn't know we had class today because it was snowing everywhere.' 'Do we have to staple our essays?' 'Do we have to stay all class today?'

"I smoke more than I used to. I drink more. I sit in front of American Idol and just stare at the flashing images instead of prepping class, because I get a knot in my stomach otherwise. I walk the dog at midnight because I can't sleep. I stand under the stars and just wish that a fire would break out on campus and burn down my office and my classrooms.

"I spent half my life in school. I devoted time and energy and passed up countless other opportunities of love and business and money and location so that I could teach what I loved. And now I just want out."

The profession had gotten to Dale, and I worried that the blog was getting to me. I still got jolts of excitement from its humor and crude, inventive, abusive prose. But I started to carry others' pain and anger into my own life and my own classrooms. My students morphed into the students I read about in the mail each morning. I suspected that each would try to fool me, each would do something blogworthy.

I needed to distance myself from Rate Your Students. When I was the last moderator running the page, I tried to recruit new folks I could trust to take it over, but after a few months of trying I could not. So I killed the site.

The mail poured in. "Thank you so very much for being there when I needed you," wrote one longtime reader. Another wrote, "Perhaps in the future, academics won't be dismissed (in more ways than one) for speaking honestly about what's really going on in our institutions of higher learning." Others grieved the loss of the page: "It's like I've been sucker-punched in the stomach. And all I can do to somehow resolve the cognitive dissonance is to say, 'I hate you.' Please don't leave me. I'll go insane."

I don't miss the hours of sorting through e-mails or the feeling I got after reading a hundred depressing messages from people teetering on the edge of a career. But I do miss seeing into the heart of my profession. Rate Your Students taught me that I was not alone and that my anxieties were shared by many others. It made me braver.

The academy is full of well-intentioned, wonderful teachers who are afraid, lost, and in need of support. Teaching has many pleasures, but it does not resemble what many of us imagined our academic career would be. If we want to save the profession, we need a place—like Rate Your Students—where we can talk about that.

A Sunday Waaaaaaaaaaaah

1. I do not celebrate Thanksgiving. If I could get out of celebrating Christmas, I would do that, too. Frankly, the old-school pagan harvest and solstice festivals do a bit more for me, because they appeal to my reptile brain. (Food = good, sleep when it is dark = good, cold = bad.)
*Full disclosure: I attend midnight Christmas mass in the Catholic parish where most of my relatives are buried. I think of this as respect of the ancestors and I like the trappings of the mass (Popery! Popery!).

2. I dislike the feeling that one is supposed to Be Grateful. Something about working in Starvistan makes me pretty damn grateful on a regular basis. I don't particularly need or want a Special Day of Grateful. Something about being a suicide survivor also makes me pretty damn grateful on a regular basis. I PARTICULARLY dislike people who act like I am UNGRATEFUL because I do not share their Day of Grateful with them.

For instance, our department has a wretched tradition of holding an "Orphan Thanksgiving" for those of us who do not travel during the holidays. It is politic to go -- we are small enough department that people know what you are doing. They also see you when you're sleeping, and they know when you're awake. I was really horrified when we had to go around the table and talk about what we were grateful for IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. Four people were thankful for tenure. As an adjunct who tries really hard not be bitter about being an adjunct, and as an adjunct who works pretty damn hard toward being tenure track, I had to excuse myself to go throw up the wassail punch I'd already consumed. I was asked to "share my thanks" on my return. I smiled and said "I am thankful that we don't pay the true cost of food in this country, because if we did, we'd be pretty screwed."

For second instance, my stupid nia class had to bring up this "gratitude" business and I was like "Okay, normally I can handle the hippy-dippy parts of this because it does make me feel physically better...but...right now? Not so much. Let's turn on the freaky music and dance and shut the hell up."

3. Tomorrow I face the hordes. That is the true source of waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

4. My textbook rep is calling me at home. No. I don't know how she got my number, but I am afraid.

5. My slumlord has decided that since "no one is here" in my apartment building, it's a good plan to turn our heat down. Normally I'm in the heat-down groove, because I'd rather have it be 65 than 75. But...um...it's 60 in my apartment right now. I have southern exposure and it is STILL sixty. I dug out my long undies and skullcap from Starvistan's brutal winter nights and am wearing them...my whippet-y dog is actually buried UNDER all of the bedcovers with just the tip of her nose sticking out.


*ahem* Thank you.

I'm serious about the underoos.

bling beaker
Recently, we were introduced to our new moderator, Leslie K. I want to take this opportunity to not only welcome you aboard but to share some advice which I am sure you’ll find useful. Feel free to bookmark this page for later reference.

The top ten terrible ways to ruin CM

10. Updating terms like “vidshizzle” to slang that was hip within the past three years.
9. Commenters must raise their hand before they are allowed to type.
8. Selling the secrets of miserable faculty to the Chinese so they can close the misery gap.
7. No chewing gum.
6. Requiring blog posts to cite all facts in MLA style (at least this would prevent most of our students from posting here).
5. Getting involved in a land war in Asia.
4. Cancelling “College Misery: The Musical,” currently being shopped around to campus activity directors.
3. Increasing the institutional subscription rate of CM by 40%.
2. Moving the whole site into Second Life.
1. Newest prodo: Beaker Ben underoos.

Now go forth and use this knowledge for good and not evil.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Things I am grateful for, in no particular order, from the Bitchy Bear

1. I am grateful that I got tenure.

2. I am grateful that I finally seem to have gotten out of my post-tenure slump.

3. I am grateful that my colleague is going to return from sabbatical, and thus, I will no longer have to replace her on this dumbass time-waster of a committee I took on for her.

4. I am grateful for this colleague in general, as she is pleasant, professional, and is willing to sit on dumbass university committees so that I don't have usually have to.

5. I am grateful that the sociopath who is the president of my university is too busy with his own career and thinking about himself to fuck with the faculty.

6. I am grateful for the departmental secretary, who is 75 if she is a day, in all her sweetness, decency, and organization.  She can not hide the fact that she thinks we're all nuts; but then, a goodly portion of us are nuts, so what the hell.

7. I am grateful that I only want to murder three out of close to 60 colleagues, and those three I can avoid.

8. I am grateful that by some concatenation of circumstances, I am pretty sure that I will never ever  become a narcissistic and  insecure boob like those three colleagues when I am in my 50s and 60s.  To be a rampaging case of ego-needs-stroking when you are in your 60s? Unattractive. Just saying.

9. I am grateful for the roughly 10 students out of 90 this semester who read the fucking syllabus and didn't have to write me one dumbshit email after another to get me to explain to them what's already on the fucking syllabus.

10. I am grateful for this PhD student of mine,  who is a total headcase, very bright, wonderfully gifted, and a total pain in the ass.  Sometimes the best ones aren't the easiest ones.

11. I am grateful for my advisor, who has been the closest thing I have ever had in my life to a dad. A psycho dad not unlike Red from that 70s Show, but a dad nonetheless.  It makes me happy that he takes endless delight in my successes, large and small.

12. I am grateful for pie.  Yum.

13. I am grateful that I have a job where I get to read and write for a living--AND eat AND have health insurance.

And we wonder why everything is such a mess...

So, the business model of education doesn't work...

...yet this seemed like a good idea to Michael Bloomberg.

We are, as a nation, well and truly fucked.

No, they usually write 1.25 pages

From GraphJam

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oh, I'm not listening!

I suppose that I should be grateful that Mr. I-skip-lessons-I-don't-like has decided to attend my lectures. Specifically, Wednesday lectures, although the class meets on Mondays as well.

Or at least, I'm assuming it is him. He sat in the back last week and spoke constantly with his neighbor. I interrupted the lecture to ask for his question, he assured me that he had none and I explained that it was difficult for me to think if he is talking so much in the back.

So this week he's sitting in the back, laptop open, and typing away without looking up. Annoying. I asked him a direct question about the stuff I had just put on the board. He didn't hear me asking. Heads turned to see who was the object of my intense attention. Someone near the back alerted him to the fact that he was being asked something. I repeated the question.

"Oh, I'm doing other work, I'm not listening."

I pointed out that the point of coming to class must surely be to glean something from the lecture, and there were quieter places to sit if you had other things to do. He just went back to typing.

Does anyone have a good idea for something (legal) I can do with him next week? I must admit to being rather flabbergasted, and that does not happen often.


Thankful for Beaker Ben...

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!

And here's a shoutout to one of the all time RYS/CM blog heroes: Beaker Ben, and a superlative offering from last year.


What can I say? I get sentimental around the holidays. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the...

  • excellent, friendly secretaries and support staff who have saved my ass several times (who knew that my exam doesn’t print and staple itself on its own?)
  • look on my colleagues’ faces when they realize that, although they got straight A’s at elite schools and I got more modest grades at big ol’ State U., we still work at the same place and I have more research funding to boot
  • relief and gratitude expressed by a student who claims that he overslept the exam (more likely spent all day studying) but I’ll let take the exam that afternoon anyway
  • confusion and fear expressed by same student when I mention offhand that any extra studying he did won’t help him much
  • nation of China for purchasing US bonds that allow the federal government to spend money that pays for my research
  • underfunded IT department, which is so busy that it could never have time to check all the websites that I peruse at work
  • student research assistants who are less stoned and more hard working than I ever was in college
  • parents of students for continuing to pay tuition even after all hope of graduating has been lost
  • humanities faculty for coming up with such batshit-crazy research topics that it makes our goofy science experiments sound sane
  • political naiveté of my coworkers and administrators, which allows someone like me, with just a modicum of common sense and a healthy lust for power, to have far more influence than he deserves
  • public school system for doing such a poor job of educating children that none of these young whippersnappers will ever be qualified to replace me.

Giving Thanks, CM Style

In honor of Thanksgiving Day here in the States, I offer the following.

I give thanks for all of my online students that read all relevant information about the class before asking an inane question that is easily answered in the class documentation, especially when expecting a response in under an hour at 2AM. Questions such as, “When is the homework due?” (clearly listed on the schedule), “What material will be covered on the exam?” (also listed on the schedule), and my favorite “What should I concentrate on for the final exam? (everything, as stated in the syllabus). I also give thanks for the nastygrams sent to my Dean about my reticence to respond to such questions, especially when I stated in three separate announcements this term (as well as in the syllabus) that I would not answer such questions if the answers are readily available in the class documentation.

I give thanks to the students in my traditional classes, especially those that begged to be added to my classes at the beginning of the term, insisting that my class will be your first priority due to the necessity of completing the class in order to graduate/transfer/keep your scholarship/whatever other excuse you use. I also give thanks for the lack of effort you put into the class, despite above protestations, leading you to perform poorly on the exams, complain in front of the entire class that I must be a horrible professor, and ultimately drop prior to sending a nastygram to my Dean about how terrible I am and how I should have my tenure revoked.

I give thanks for my college’s administration, especially our Vice President of Academic Affairs, who has made it his mission this year to undermine my credibility by going behind my back to try to convince my colleagues and my Dean that I’m trying to ruin my program by outing his (the VP’s) plan to streamline our program’s remediation without any input from my program’s faculty. I also give thanks to how you, Mr. VP, ignored all statements by my colleagues that your project was outed as the result of a direct question from a colleague during a meeting about our Spring schedule, which I constructed to contain your project on the instructions of my Dean, as I’m supposed to do.

All facetiousness aside, I give thanks for many things. I give thanks for my Dean, who, despite our differences, has backed me to the hilt in the above proceedings, as a true professional. I give thanks for my colleagues, who saw through the VP’s idiocy and are now preparing to go to the President in protest. I give thanks to the few students in my classes that actually give a crap, come to class prepared, do their work, and accept their grades (even if they are lower than expected) as intended, a measure of their understanding instead of as a rebuke.

Most importantly, I give thanks for my family and friends (including my newest friends here at CM) for putting up with all of the nonsense, both serious and not-so-serious. This job would be beyond miserable without you as an outlet.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, including those that either don’t observe it or have already observed it this year.

Now, I’m off to enjoy some Johnnie Walker and some wild turkey (as well as stuffing and pumpkin pie) with my football.

Big Thirsty from Alex from Arizona: How Do You Keep It in Balance?

I am finishing my first semester at a decent t-t job. I feel as though I worked hard to get here, had a fairly rigorous grad school slog, but I was unprepared for how much my full time job sticks with me.

I go home every day consumed by my work. I'm newly married as well, but I feel as though I've been inattentive at home.

I think about my students, my colleagues, my work, the college, and so on, constantly. Some grad school friends report similar troubles?

Q: How do those of you who are veterans keep life in balance? Do you have to "turn off" your work self in order to enjoy the real world? Does this lessen over time? If my attention to my career "lessens," will it mean I don't care about it as much? I want my career; I love my work. But I don't want it to overtake the rest of my life. How do you do it?

A: Post replies below.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

contingent faculty of a different kind

I learnt an Interesting Fact today, at a departmental staff meeting of all places (yes, it was a surprise to me, too).

Apparently in my Faculty, which has about 8 departments, only one person at department head level or higher is actually appointed to the role. Everyone else is 'temporary, acting'. Even the Dean. The Powers That Be, the Senior Management, haven't managed to recruit anyone from the current academic faculty to take on the role... I guess this says something about leadership in my University. As in, no one wants to actually stick their head up above the parapet and lead.

No, I have NO intention of ever doing one of those jobs myself. And clearly everyone else agrees with me...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Early Thirsty: Evaluations

I know that we've talked about evaluations before, but my question is a little different.

As the end of term approaches, I'm getting emails reminding me that course evaluations are now available (my university does it all online, which I like) and this also means that the students are getting them as well. Because they are online, instead of in class, I usually only get anywhere from 5 to 10 per class (10 being on the very high, not often side). I've actually gotten some helpful feedback from these in the past (mixed in, and typically outnumbered by stupid complaints, of course) and am wrestling with how to approach them this term. I usually don't address the evaluations in class (honestly, usually I just delete the emails and forget about them since this is such a busy time in the semester) but because I've gotten helpful stuff I really would like some feedback.

I've also considered doing my own, still anonymous survey that asks specific questions about my courses (the university's are, as predictable, very generic) through one of those free, online survery sites.

So, my questions are:

1. Do you encourage students to fill out your evaluations? (This assumes that they are optional, of course). If so, how?

2. Have you ever done your own personalized evaluations? Were they worth the time?

This Guy Makes the Rest of Us Look Reasonable.

Have you all seen this Cornell Prof going postal at someone for yawning? It is fabulous, although I think he maybe needs some blood pressure medication.

Have you ever done a rant like this? Confess your crimes!

24/7 Proffie.

The professor is in, 24/7
Life in a UH dorm means full immersion in campus life

In retrospect, Raul Ramos says his first eight years at the University of Houston were spent in "blissful ignorance."

"I didn't know how parking works, how the dining halls work, how financial aid works," said the associate professor of history. "Now I do."

Ramos, 43, is fully immersed in campus life, living in a dorm for the first time in more than two decades, along with his wife, Elizabeth Chiao, and their sons, Noe and Joaquin Ramos Chiao.

Even their dogs are there.

"It's not like we really need more on our plate right now," said Chiao, an infectious disease doctor at Baylor College of Medicine. "But it's a neat opportunity."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sticker Shock. Alison from Alexandria Won't Be Applying to This Job.

English: Full-time Professor, University in St. Louis, Missouri area is looking for a professor. Must have Ph.D. in English Language or Linguistics. Job duties include teaching English on college level and teaching English for graduate students in M.A program for Teaching English as a Second Language. 

Annual salary offered: $27,960. Send resume to: Dr. James Song, Midwest University, 851 Parr Road, Wentzville, Missouri 63385.
Ph.D. and grad level teaching for under $28k?

Where were you?

It was the end of the summer term. The weather was hot and stuffy, and the A/C was not working too well, so by all logic the snowflakes should have melted. Alas, they did not. Now I am easygoing in general, but as I was helping them review for the final the next day....

Student, interrupting in a whining, plaintive voice: These questions are too hard....

I blinked. Stared for a moment, open-jawed. I could not believe it.

WHERE WERE YOU? When I was sitting in my office every day, waiting for any of you to come by asking for help, where were you? When the [Subject Instruction Center] was open to answer your questions, where were you? When the [General Help Center] was open to answer your questions, where were you? When Mr. Lecturer, the actual instructor of the course, was teaching these things in lecture, where were you? When he had his office hours, where were you? You didn't put any effort into this course, none at all. Now you have the barefaced, unmitigated gall to tell me that the questions are too hard? THEY ARE NOT!

And no....this was not an interior monologue. This was the rant I gave them, and they stared, shell-shocked at me. It was also the day that they were to give student evaluations. Afterwards, they said they understood where I was coming from.

An Open Letter on Grade Inflation

Dear Students,

As you ponder your mid-term revisions, your research papers, and your finals, you are no doubt wondering about your final grades. Indeed, some of you care so much about your final grades that you made revisions to exams on which you scored a NINETY FIVE. Your revision will add two points to that grade. Congratulations, your mummy will be so happy.

I suggest we end the suspense now. I suggest that I do what apparently everyone else in my department does and I inflate the shit out of your grades.

How do I know they are doing this inflation? I know because when I was a wee lass, I graded for them. I know how easily they graded and how much you cheated and how bizarre some of your answers were. I know that you went over my head to the professor so many times that your Crocks and Sperry Docksiders and whatever other ugly shoes you were wearing imprinted themselves firmly on my scalp. And I know the professors caved. My minions (aka: my teaching mentorees) are out there now, doing those same teaching assistant jobs. They have the prints of your Manolo Blahniks and Uggs and Converse All-Stars on their heads. And their grades are erased, too, to be replaced with the higher marks of the tenured profs.

Let's cut the crap. I'll take your present grades and shift them all so that my class average is the "norm" for our department -- a high B. You won't particularly have demonstrated much learning, but that's apparently not the point in our department. In our department we are nice, as one recently tenured faculty member put it, and nice is a good thing.

You know what's interesting? My students over at Second String State U take their low Bs and are happy with them. Ninety percent of them are NOT convinced that they are precious and unique snowflakes. You guys are different. In a bad way.

Yes, indeed, let's cut the crap. I'll give you the grade you want, you'll give me the high evaluations I need, and I'll spend finals week ensconced on my sofa with Season Five of The Wire and a bottle of gin.

The Disheartened Dog

Misery Moderation Monday Thirsty


OK, I get it. We want to play nice. We don't want to offend each other. And I don't think I've posted anything unforgivable myself.

That said, it's not so simple, is it? Sometimes, it is most appropriate to say, "That is fucktarded!" Remember somebody's suggestion that we "masturbate while watching Maury"? Aren't there some of us who bristle every time we see the word "sh*t" on this page, because it reminds us of that stuff in the toilet? At my school, the most offensive thing is probably that adjuncts get paid easily less than 20% of the f-t proffies for doing the same work, and yet the mindset (which is replicated on this page sometimes) that allows that corruption* is often politely encouraged in spite of its offensiveness. Maybe you're offended by the rabid, irrational anti-creationism rants. Personally, I'm more offended when my colleagues are unable to precisely define plagiarism and articulate why it's wrong than when my snowflakes actually plagiarize.

So here's a tough thirsty that seems self-contradictory, but actually is not (I hope**):

Q. Honestly, what is the most offensive thing you've ever seen on CM (something you wish you never had to see here ever again)?

A. Feel free to censor yourself in creative ways, use codewords and circumlocution, bleep things (e.g., "sh*t"), and so on.

*I don't know if this is the appropriate word. So what.

**Fab, please don't kill me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Adminiflakes Are People, Too!

Dear Dr. Dipstick,

How nice it was to see you Wednesday! Even though you are head of Student Comfort Levels at LD3C and this ongoing committee is dedicated to the improvement of Student Comfort Levels at LD3C, it sure was nice of you to attend the meeting for the first time this semester–for the first time, in fact, since our little endeavor began last March–especially since we've been meeting weekly to improve your specific area since the third week of the semester.

It was especially nice of you to display your adminiflake credentials so openly. I think one of the very best parts of Wednesday's meeting–which was lengthened by a good 45 minutes because of your attendance–was when you said, without any sense of shame, "Can we go over this new widget numbering system, because I've missed a few meetings."

Why, yes! Yes we can go over the new widget numbering system! And, why, yes – you have missed a few meetings, somewhere in the realm of 15 meetings! And, why, yes, yes, of course we're happy to accommodate you, to teach you everything we've been teaching each other since last March! How considerate of you to model flake behavior, as befitting the area of campus over which you flakely lord!

Another really special moment in the meeting was the discussion of writing classes, an area that I and a few of my colleagues in attendance know something about. It was really special, for example, to hear your derisive snort when the faculty in the meeting–faculty from all disciplines, including the sciences and maths–insisted that a certain level of writing proficiency is necessary for success in every college class.

Even more special was your comment about the "writing" classes that are offered in your branch o' campus, under the guise of student preparation rather than writing: "Writing is just editing anyway." Your satisfied smile after uttering this special and insightful observation was the extra-special icing on the extra-special cake! That you mistook our collective stunned silence for approval was what made my Wednesday complete.

Thank you, too, for suggesting that we meet next Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving! It was kind of you to share that you are free that afternoon as your wife does all of the preparation for your big holiday family gathering. The rest of us who are not so lucky to be married to Mrs. Dr. Dipstick really appreciate what will undoubtedly be an extra two hours tacked on to the end of our day, the day before a major holiday and the only one we get off between Labor Day and Christmas–two hours because you'll be attending. Allegedly.

O, Dr. Dipstick! Thank you so very, very, very much!

Hugs and kisses,

Moderation Update.

Hi. Moderation of the comments has been underway for about a week. I've been taking down material that breaks the "Rules of Misery," found in the sidebar on the right and printed below in this post for the first time. It's not an exact science, of course, but I've been encouraged by the emails I've received from many readers who tell me, for example: "I feel a lot more free to post my comments now that I don't simply assume someone will attack me for being a "bitch," a "pussy," a "fucktard," and so on."

I've attempted to use good judgment, and I hold absolutely no personal malice against folks who've been impacted. I'm just doing what I think is right for the health of the page. (And, it's involved very few citizens of CM.)

Leslie K., who will take over the site entirely on December 1st, has told me that she plans no changes to the "Rules of Misery," and that her plan is to stay in the background as much as possible, making her entrance with a posting on December 1st, but merely keeping CM's four wheels on the road as quietly as possible.

Best wishes,


College Misery is moderated.

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