Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Happens When We Stand Up. What Happens If We Don't.

Many times on these pages,
and on the page that came before,
proffies write what we would have said,
what we would have done.

Swatted away students and their inanities,
their vile and contemptible lies and bullshit.

On these pages, under clever monikers,
we play out revenge fantasies...

It's delicious...

They often make me smile...

But how many of us do it for realz - as is said?

What happens when I holler BULLSHIT
in class when a student says, "I had a flat
tire, although clearly you can see my
hands are clean"?

What happens when we stand up?

Do students truly run to the Dean's office,
make appointments with Trustees, the chair?
Do adjunct lose their jobs? Do full timers
get a dose of bad medicine from a higher up?
Are we really at the mercy of a student complaint?

Has anyone ever stood in front of a Dean
and had their livelihood taken away because
we gave Missy an F in accordance
with the 42 she earned on the final?

Or do we cave?

Do we exorcise our bad mojo on this page,
and the page that came before,
because we're afraid to be the way we should be
in real life?

Are we, actually, chickenshit all along?


  1. If I had tenure, I'd really give you a piece of my mind for calling me chickenshit.

  2. I meant it when I said I'm saying no from now on. I don't have tenure and right now I don't care. I'm sick of the excuses. Let them run to the dean for all I care. These kids need to learn some responsibility.

  3. I hope the Cynical Optimist's goal becomes my goal, too, and others. I admit that I sometimes bite my lip and eat shit over some of these things, lest I disturb the much beloved customers...

  4. I stand up. I have firm lines and I don't cave, BUT, I am a lot nicer linguistically in person than here and on my blog. I don't even swear in class, for example.

    Oh, also, in person, I have an accent and a girly voice which (I am reliably informed) make me sound like Glinda the Good Witch, so even when I say hard-line stuff, it sounds nicer.

  5. I admit I'm tougher in my head than I am in person, and I have had a come-to-Jesus meeting with a Dean because a student flat out lied about something that happened in class.

    I can still remember the Dean saying, "But I don't see why any student would lie!"

    I just shook my head. I knew there was no getting through that wall.

  6. Remember??? I do!

    Read, please.


  7. As I've said before (I think it was here, but it might have been RYS), I'm the Bad Guy in my area.

    I say No. No, you can't take a class if you don't have the pre-req. No, full means full and closed means closed; I'm not going to override it.

    I've built myself quite the niche, too. If my fellow student servers (bleh) don't want to say No, they refer the student to me. If they want something from faculty (with whom they've burned too many bridges by not telling students No) they get me to ask because I have the respect of the faculty (some of whom would say No just because of who is asking, not because the request warrants a No.)

    I've had students bring their friends to me because I tell 'em like it is without beating around the bush.

    I've also had a student complain about me because I wouldn't tell her what time to take General This-n-That. To clarify: Dr. Niceperson teaches Gen TnT at 10:00 and 11:00. The flake couldn't decide which time she wanted and I wouldn't pick for her. Take some ownership! When the boss confronted me about it I asked him if he chose for her. He said he didn't, but his body language and the pause to consider his answer told me he did. I wonder who she'll blame when her "assigned" timeslot conflicts with Likely to Interfere Event (LIE).

  8. Thanks for the link, Katharine.

    I've had a chair say to me:

    "Bernice, it MUST be something you're doing! I've had two of your students complain!!!!"

  9. I've stood firm on a consistent basis--with students, with colleagues, with the administration. I did it when I didn't have tenure, and I sure as shit do it now. I've thrown students out of class for acting like shitheads, I've never changed a grade, and I flunk all the plagiarists, make them sign a confession, and drop it on the dean's desk. If you want to know how I do it, just watch Frank Pemberton in action on Homicide. I'm a fucking hardass, and the students know it. It even says so on that other site that shall not be named.

    And I've only ever faced "consequences" one time in my entire career: when I hammered a student who turned out to be the president of the university's personal pet. I didn't have tenure at the time, and he really lit into me, saying that he knew that Stevie Snowflake, son of Big Donor Daddy, couldn't possibly have done what I said he had done, because Stevie was such an upright guy. I brandished the confession. He frowned. We agreed to disagree, and that was the end of it. I still got tenure.

    Oh yeah, there was one other time, when I threw a kid out of class for disruptive behavior, he tried to shoulder nudge me as we walked passed the lectern. That one made me laugh long and hard.

    Is this for everyone? I think you have to be true to your own personality. I'm pretty good at showing a tough-love version of concern in one on one situations, but I am total crap at being nice and fuzzy with them as a group. If I tried to be, I'm sure they would sniff it out as bullshit quicker than you could say "I really want you to succeed." I'm sure there are lots of people for whom the opposite is true. If that's you, you need to figure out a way to handle it that doesn't force you to play-act.

    But to be fair, I've never taught at a place where the customer-service paradigm dominates on the institutional side of things. The deans at my schools still talk the standards talk, even if their walk may sometimes leave a little to be desired. So I have no idea what I would have done if I'd been at a place with a different ethos.

  10. 2002, a community college in LA county. My third year there.

    I had a 24 student class that refused to work. Lazy fuckers. Terrible kids. Wouldn't work under threat of punishment. They started dropping midterm, and by the finals week I had 12 left. 6 of those kids put up the most dismal finals I've ever seen.

    6 passed out of 24, and I felt good about it, because those were the ONLY 6 worth a shit.

    One week after grades, get called in to the chair's office. My dismal class lowered my overall perecentage of passing students below an unpublicized 60% "retain and advance" number that the Dean showed me on a graph.

    I and one other instructor were not renewed on our yearly contracts, although the other guy moved to a different branch. I can assure you, he passed 60% or higher from then on.

  11. Believe it or not, I'm vaguely offended by this post. But it's not the poster's fault. He doesn't teach at the school I do.

    I am literally not allowed to be the professor I think I ought to be. My teaching evaluations in graduate school - when I WAS the teacher I thought I ought to be - were stellar. But as soon as I got my job at this spoiled little college, my evals hit the floor and shattered. I was too hard. I didn't grade things quickly enough (I STILL can't grade things quickly enough for my students, no matter HOW soon I get them back. The one semester I actually got EVERY SINGLE ASSIGNMENT back by the following class - a feat I've never since been able to replicated - I got low scores in this category and one student commented that I might try "putting the grades online immediately" rather than waiting to pass them back the next class). I don't give study guides. I was unable to convince my chair or the dean (both of whom called me into the office my first year for my abysmal evals) that I actually *was* a good teacher and that it must be an adjustment to these students. All they wanted to hear was that I had a lot to learn, and wasn't that good, but that one day - if I followed their brilliant advice - I might be okay.

    I learned my lesson. I got easier. I posted powerpoint slides. I gave study guides. I accepted late assignments. I curved. I ignored people on their cellphones. And my evals went up. The students have shaped me into the professor they want me to be. No - the *University* has empowered the students to do so.

    Yes, students have gone directly to the chair to complain about me.

    Yes, students have gone directly to the dean to complain about me.

    Yes, students have written the provost to complain about me.

    I don't stand up anymore. I need my job. You'd think I'm a lousy professor or something, with all these students complaining, but I know I'm not. I go back and look at my old evals from grad school, the ones that say I'm the best prof they ever had, or that I'm so patient, or that I taught them to be mature people and not just good students... I know it's not me. It's them.

    I can't discuss the details, as I fear it would out me, but let's just say that I'm looking for other jobs right now. But there isn't much out there for someone who's tied to a few states and who is in a semi-obscure area of my discipline. I'm lucky to have any job at all. I'm grateful for a monthly salary in which I'm allowed to use my PhD to teach what I learned about in grad school. Even if I give a watered-down version of it and smile through gritted teeth at my students when they *tell* me they're turning their papers in late.

    So no. I don't stand up. And yeah. Professors do get hurt when they try. Big time.

    If anyone's looking for a good psychology professor who's dying to really be her best - really be the professor she thinks she ought to be - please send me a job application. Otherwise I'll just give my students some more "A"s and try and grade their papers as instantaneously as possible.

    Bitter Betty

  12. Today in class:

    "Race is a social fact. When Barack Obama was elected, some people said that meant that America was now a post-racial society. Let me just say that this is bullshit. We are not post-racial. I know that I encourage all of you to take a culturally relative perspective on things, but let me be clear on this right now. The notion. that we. are somehow. past race. is complete. bullshit."

    Eventually this behavior is going to bite me in the ass. It hasn't yet, but its menacing presence is out there...

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I have never been called up in front of a dean. This is amazing, since I've done plenty of being yelled at by department chairs.

    I just posted one of my worst war stories, that class of education majors and the incompetent department chair, to the thread, "Literal College Dreams (and Nightmares)." It happened when I was on the tenure track, and it nearly cost me tenure. Because of it and a number of other incidents, my tenure committee voted 2-2. It was only because of the Provost, who liked my how my research was bringing in external funding as well as involving both grad students and undergraduates, that I got tenure.

    At the previous university, where I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, a different incompetent department chair yelled at me, "We've had more complaints about you than anyone else!" He then read every one of my student evaluations to me, ignoring the good ones and yelling at me for every bad one. Shortly after that, during a faculty meeting, he tried to start a discussion about how to improve student quality. He seemed sincerely perplexed: he clearly didn't make the connection between academic standards and quality of the students. He was getting ready to retire, though, and was having problems with his best faculty finding better jobs at other universities, so all he did to me was yell.

    Since getting tenure and serving as department chair, things have been much better—until one day, when I was yelled at by my present department chair, because I’d told a kid to “do your own homework.” This quickly calmed down when I suddenly found reason to resign from the Curriculum Committee, meaning someone else in the department had to do it. (I had another, sufficient reason to do this: the committee had decided to meet at 8 a.m., a bad time for an astronomer.) Don’t worry, I have plenty of other tentacles, to help keep me out of trouble.

    The biggest problem for me now is our Incompetent Dean of Students, who has the nasty habit of doing nothing whatsoever whenever I send him copies of plagiarized papers, together with copies of the works from which they are plagiarized. So far, I have given these students Fs, and have made every one of them stick. Only one of them was foolish enough to try to contest it: this is where yelling like a drill sergeant, which I’d seen done when I served in the U.S. Navy, came in handy.

    (You’d think that when I served as department chair, I’d have done lots of yelling. I didn’t do much at all: I found that I could get what I wanted much more easily and agreeably by being nice to people. And don’t worry, the few cases where I did let them have it richly deserved it.)

  15. Bitter Betty,

    I did not mean to offend.
    I am sympathetic to what you
    describe, and know it in part
    myself. I seriously ask the
    questions, do we vent here
    because our situations
    are untenable where we are.

    Will our courage here
    ever spill over into our careers?

    I hope so. I've been grateful
    for the insight you and
    others have shared on the comments.

    I WANT to be brave like Archie, etc.,
    but my situation is not quite as
    solid - I don't think.

    I hate that I am afraid.

  16. Oh glory, they do, occasionally, write the dean. On letters with wrong dates and without their address or even an email so I have to send my secretary to beg at the altar of the Registrar to get the data.

    I request a letter from the accused Profs so I have something to file, then write a letter to the student they probably don't understand and file it in case they decide to sue. They don't.

    I only get on professor's cases for real nastiness: touchy-feelies, not getting grades in on time, screaming at my staff.

    Dean Suzy

  17. I'm like Archie. I stand up to them all. Students don't scare me. My colleagues don't scare me. I choose to be great.

    The others can eat 'em and smile.

  18. I had one student write a lengthy irate email to my chair about me, in which he said he would have written to the Dean too but he couldn't find the Dean's email address. I thought, this is one kid who won't be submitting any papers-by-Google - the Dean's email address is right there on the front page of the faculty website, and he couldn't find it?

    My chair's email in response was a masterpiece of diplomatically cutting someone to shreds, I should add. I should save it as a model.

  19. I had one student write a lengthy irate email to my chair about me, in which he said he would have written to the Dean too but he couldn't find the Dean's email address. I thought, this is one kid who won't be submitting any papers-by-Google - the Dean's email address is right there on the front page of the faculty website, and he couldn't find it?

    My chair's email in response was a masterpiece of diplomatically cutting someone to shreds, I should add. I should save it as a model.

  20. The more thing change...

  21. After my one cave-in (which I documented here earlier), I vowed never again. I will grant you I've had situations in which I appeared to cave, but generally it was a strategic move on my part. For all her faults, my current chair will usually stand up for faculty in student disputes. She knows me well enough now to know that if I say Stella Snowflake was cheating or behaving poorly, I have documented out the wazoo and will not hesitate to bury any and all administrators up the chain in a mountain of evidence.

  22. The big elephant in the room here is that some older colleagues and adminstrators love any chance to yank the chain of someone new, especially if that someone new has accomplished far more in five years than the older colleague has in 25.

    No one ever bothers me, but I'm a full professor, and they know they don't pay me enough to give me shit.

    As for dealing with students that want their papers graded immediately, offer to grade their paper immediately. With them in your office, watching you. "I can have it back for you in ten minutes!" If the student wants to leave, you say, "Oh, no...the good part of grading it while you're here is we get to discuss it TOGETHER!"

    THey run away and don't come back.

  23. Man who stands up to students: tough, hard-ass, respected.

    Woman who stands up to students: shrill, bitchy, vindictive [see: WhatLadder's compensatory girly voice].

    The amount of mommying students expect from younger female professors makes me ill. I've developed a few tricks and phrases to make them think I am on their side while holding up standards, but it took me years and a lot of grey hair to be respected *automatically,* from the beginning, as the default, by all but the one or two nightmare students I have every few years.

    I've never been undermined by the administration, though. That would truly suck.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.