Thursday, March 31, 2011

Remembering Why I Teach

One of my students defended her Senior Thesis today. Here’s what I told her beforehand…

The defense can be a bit intimidating, but don’t forget, while the panel is there to push you and to make you think about the material in new ways, they are NOT there to trip you up or to make you fail. At this point if you fail then it makes (me and another person) look like fools for letting you get this far unprepared. Just remember the first question I got when I defended my Master’s thesis: “Upon reading your thesis Mr. Morose, the question that comes to mind is, ‘So what?’!” EEP!!!!! Dr. X asked me that and he wasn’t trying to fail me, he was trying to make me think more about my weakest area---explaining the significance of the events I described beyond “Isn’t this interesting!?” I won’t ask you “so what” but we will be trying to make you think more about the work you’ve done, to make you push the envelope of your thinking a bit.
To prepare, do a few dry runs with friends. Have them drill you. A few jabs from grinning friends trying to trip you will make the professors’ questions seem reasonable.
Get a good night’s sleep beforehand and have friends, significant other, etc, waiting to high five you when it’s done.

My student was all dressed up (something I rarely see on campus) and, although clearly nervous, remained poised and answered the questions put to her with intelligent, thoughtful comments. She passed with some changes (which, to be honest, I should have suggested to her beforehand) but the committee complimented her work with well-deserved praise.

It’s time like this, watching a student blossom, that I remember why I love being a teacher. Hopefully the feeling will last through my next class….

"Tell Me I'm Not Set Up to Fail." Poppy from Portland Needs Assurance.

Yesterday I read a first person account of a woman in academe; it went like this
I'm a new, young assistant professor in a department of older, mostly male, tenured faculty members—and I have a reverse superpower. In meetings, I somehow become invisible and inaudible. I do make a point of speaking, but nothing in the minutes except the attendance ever verifies that I was there. Just now, in a meeting with a campus visitor, one senior colleague pointed to the full professor next to me and said, "Oh, and Professor Mighty is on that committee as well"—ignoring me. Later, I said—with much ingenue-like shrugging and laughing so as not to be seen as difficult—"Say, you know, I'm on that committee, too." "Oh, yes!" he said. "You are! And you're very important to the committee because you take such good notes!"
I'm in my second year of a okay t-t job, and in a department of 8 women and 2 men.. I haven't been a party to anything like the woman above reports, nor have I seen any of the casual misogyny that gets reported on this and other academic blogs. Admittedly I teach in a very small department, but I've been interviewing elsewhere over the last 2 years, and suspect I will leave this place one day for a new institution. 

Everyone tells me I'm lucky now, that the male/female dynamic at other schools is way worse than what I experience here.

Q: Is it? Can the women of CM tell me if I should expect to face worse than I've seen? I'm at the start of a career, and I need someone to tell me that I'm not set up to fail just because I'm a woman. Oh, and a lesbian, too. Or is that another thirsty?

A: Post replies below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dean Suzy's Day

Here we are, folks, another installment of Dean Suzy's Day, written to make you happy you don't have to deal with this stuff as well!
  • The early morning oral exam was interrupted by the crew wanting to finally install the data projector that was ordered 6 months ago. My secretary is off sick, so when they called to say they'd be coming by no one answered, so they just came anyway. Oh, and after I threw them out, they sent a nasty email in the afternoon announcing that they will be charging me 2 work hours for this.
  • We've just moved two departments, and they are back on telephone service and internet. One silverback used his CCing-talents to widely complain that the snail mail wasn't being sorted properly and all of it was in a box in the hallway. Upon investigation it turned out to be a box of advertising, and he just didn't have a key to the real mail room. He included a student in his rant email who had just handed in his thesis 2 days ago. The student called in panic that we have surely lost his thesis if it was just in a box on the hallway. I suggested he calm down, take a sedative if necessary, and let us sort it out.
  • A student sent an email at 9:13 am, another one at 11:12 am and a third one at 1:42 pm to ask if this was the correct email because he had handed in his work due yesterday at midnight and I hadn't graded it yet.
  • We have a number of search committees running, and applicant flakes who didn't read far enough down on the ad to see that we want their materials in writing on paper sent me emails with 10 attachments clocking in at about 5 MB each and effectively killing my mailbox.
  • The IT department declares it is not responsible for all the printers and all the copiers being offline and the old copy cards being unusable. There was an error in the new copy cards and this is the fault of the copier company and not their responsibility, although they took out all the old copiers. I have a printer/copier I operate illegally, i.e. outside of the reach of the IT department. It works. I have a long line of people needing to use it. Die, IT department, die! I called the IT boss to complain, but he's at a conference. I guess they go to conferences to trade stories on how to make our lives miserable.
  • I went for lunch today and sat down with one department head. As we were talking, a second department head came and sat down on my other side and started asking me a pressing question while I was in the middle of a sentence to the first DH. Two tables down a third department head saw me and rushed over, asking *his* Important Question as he approached. My multi-processing unit overloaded and I appear to have growled. They ran for cover.
  • DH 3 caught me on the trip back from lunch to rant about how useless the administration is and no one listens to him and he needs all this stuff right now and he's going to go pout in a corner and make everyone in his department pout with him if I don't give him what he wants. Need I note that what he wants is not in my power to give? As my sainted aunt used to say: Let's have a pity party, one, two, three, ohhhhhhhh.
  • I tried to explain to a search committee chair why I would not be hiring the one candidate they want me to hire. The candidate submitted two letters of reference from two different people in two different cities that were identical. This does not make me happy. That's all I need, a plagiarizing proffie.
  • And on the bright side, we had open house in the afternoon, and a Dad came up to me to ask if I was that woman he had seen on TV recently. Yes, I was, oh my, someone saw it and remembered! Seems to have been good advertising. Now send us your money child in the fall!

I'm not Dropping!

So, as I sit here tonight, alone in the dark with my misery...

I could not fight the urge to check my emails. 

I open my mailbox and see the following:

Dear Crazyprof,

I will be remaining in the course based on the advice of several sources.

Huh? ...

Okay, so let's back up.  About 2 days ago, we had our midterm.  The grading policy in the syllabus stipulates that there is a minimum cut-off score.  Students who score less than that minimum score will automatically flunk the course.

Well, Crazystudent's parents fell victim to the midterm.  As a result, he missed the exam and then asked for a make-up.  I let him take a make-up right after class and he royally bombs the exam. 

Naturally enough, his next question is "So, what do I need to do on the final in order to pass the class?"

Me:  You can't pass the class now.  It's impossible.  It's all explained in the syllabus.

Crazystudent:  I didn't read the syllabus.

Me:  And why are you telling me that?  It still applies to you!

Crazystudent:  But my financial aid!  What am I going to do about my financial aid?! 

Me:  There are some things I just can't help. 

Crazystudent:  So are you saying I should just drop out?

Me:  Unfortunately, yes.  It is not possible to pass this class.

So I get that email from the student saying that he is here to stay.  What does one do?  Two shots of Bourbon or three before class?

Or should I just smoke a bowl and get it over with?

Stumped Stevo Poses an Early Thirsty. "What Do I Say?"

Okay, I'm revealing my complete newbie-ness as a college proffie.

I teach at neat little college in the middle of nowhere - seriously. We have ALL kinds of students, traditional and returning. But the returning students always sap me. They miss class, but they have great excuses. They come late, but they have sick kids. They hold down 2 part-time jobs and take care of ailing parents.

It's heartbreaking how much they want to pass, how much they need to pass, and I find myself weak in front of them. (They're all older than me.)

The kids? I can handle the kids. They give such lame excuses all the time that I see right through them.

But what do I say to a 55 year old woman who has MS who wants to retake a test because she missed it taking her mother 200 miles for an MRI that had been scheduled and reschedules too many times to cancel?

I suspect I should say that the class must be fair, and all of that, but I swear, in the face of some of these folks, I feel like I can't trot that excuse out on them.

Q: Do I bend? How far? Who should I be fair to?

A: Post replies below.

Frannie in Florida Sounds an Alarum.

Please make everyone aware of what is going on in the Florida House regarding community college faculty and tenure.
If it passes, House Bill 7193 (also known as PCB KCOS 11-03), which has cleared committee, will effectively do away with continuing contracts/tenure - unilaterally - at Florida colleges.  I hope that it doesn't pass.  But given what has already occurred in Florida since the recently-elected governor (elected by the smallest margin ever in the history of our state) has taken office and seeing what is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. I honestly don't have much hope that it won't pass.  And if it happens, then other states may well use Florida as a precedent. 


Bill Ending Tenure at State College System Clears House Subcommittee

Measure faces little problem in the House, fate in the Senate remains unclear
from the Sunshine state news
A proposal that would pull the plug on multiyear contracts for new state college and community college faculty members and administrators advanced through the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee Tuesday on a party-lines vote.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the chairman of the subcommittee, relinquished the gavel to present the bill to the committee. He insisted that only employees at the 28 schools in the State College System -- and not universities -- would be impacted by the proposal.

The measure would impact all new hires -- save college presidents -- after July 1, moving them to one-year contracts as opposed to multiyear contracts.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grade Grubbing Scientists (rant/early thirsy)

I'm teaching a "writing for scientists" course this term, my first in some time. On one level, I enjoy it; I've always liked science myself, and my students are lively, genuinely interested in their chosen fields of study, and idealistic, dedicated to helping everything from people to animals to the environment. They get to pick most of their own topics and sources, and I'm happy to learn more about the ones they choose.

But I'm also reminded of why I stopped taking science courses in college: they are so, so grade-focused, interrogating every decision on a rubric that adds up to a grade worth less than 10% of the final. Of course, there's a reason for that: many of them want to pursue medical careers of one kind or another (nurse, veterinarian, doctor to humans), and they're keenly aware of the competition for the slots in the relevant graduate (and, in the case of nursing, undergraduate) programs, and the minimum GPAs necessary to have even a shot at admission. But they don't seem to understand that if I and other undergrad proffies were to set up a system where everyone could get an A if (s)he worked hard enough (the approach one of my students suggested today would be "fair") , then the medical/nursing/vet schools would have to come up with some other weeding mechanism, most likely a very-high-stakes one-day test.

I tried explaining that, when initiating a conversation with a professor in whose class you hope to raise your grade, it's best not to lead with "why did I lose points on this, and this, and this?," but they honestly didn't understand the difference between that and asking "how could I improve this when I rewrite it?" And they have a lot of trouble with the idea that fully satisfactory work earns a B, with As going to work that goes above and beyond in ways that I can't necessarily define until I see it.

Q Has anyone found a good way to explain why everybody shouldn't get an A to students facing stringent admissions requirements, or to students, period? Should I even try? Should I just give all the complainers As (or A-s, or B+s) lest they torpedo me on the end-of-term evaluations?

Hookup Update.

UChicago Hookups Expands, Changes Name

Who knew there was a lucrative market in helping college students get laid? UChicago Hookupshas expanded past Hyde Park, changing the website name to eduHookups and widening its reach to Northwestern and Columbia College Chicago. eduHookups is also set to make an Ivy League invasion by launching for Brown University April 4.
eduHookups have also expanded their ads to now incorporate students looking for serious and platonic relationships. But the booming business is still in the casual encounters section. With ads such as "Let Me Fuck the Nerd Out of You," "Will Screw Anyone Before 2 a.m.," "Kill my time (but not me, please)," and some guy who's looking for three women of "Asian decent" [sic] so he can blow their minds with a box of doughnut holes and four feet of fishing line.

That's a college education put to good use.
Contact the author of this article or email with further questions, comments or tips.

The First Drop Date

Allow me just a few brief hours to revel in the passing of the first drop date. Today (well, yesterday now technically) is the day when all students who haven't logged in and completed the first set of course requirements get the boot. My class size becomes manageable, I have a set of students who are more likely to do OK since they've shown basic commitment, and I get about 24 hours with a minimum of stupid questions.

Now that my momentary high is over, we can start taking bets on which dropped student will harass me first:

1. Overextended Oliver--He took part of the orientation, missed the deadline for doing work in the course, and put up two half-assed posts 12 hours late so he could say he "did something" for the class. He claims to be taking 27 hours this term so he can graduate in May. I checked and discovered he is indeed taking 19 of them with my college, so the rest must be through some online school or one of the local private schools. Our state schools cross-check registration for tuition purposes, so no one would let him take that many at once.

2. Probationary Patty, Paul, Peggy, and/or Patrick--All these students were either on "enforced withdrawal" (meaning their grades were so abysmal that even our CC said they should take a break from studies) or "progress probation" (meaning they'd dropped too many classes). Every single one of these people visited our lovely counseling department and got waivers to take an accelerated online class.

3. "But I did the introduction!" Betty and Bob--These two did complete the orientation requirements and did the fun "Tell us about yourself" posts but then turned in no assignments. In an online class, no assignments = no participation = no attendance = being dropped. I tell them this repeatedly.

4. Never Logged In Nancy, Ned, Norbert, Nelly, and Natalie--I never heard a peep from any of these people. They may have popped into the course shell for 10 or 15 minutes, or they may have never even come near it. They didn't respond to my emails telling them what to do after they registered, offering them help if they needed it, or warning them that they had to do something or else they'd be dropped.

I can guarantee you that someone from among these four categories will be complaining with 48 hours. So who do you think will be first? My money is on Oliver, but I could be surprised!

The Small and the Miserable

Scenes from an ordinary Monday at LD3C:

Sullen Student: "I took Literature of the Basket Weavers because I thought it would be an easy grade!"

Snarky Student: "I know, right? It's like a real course...and it's a fucking elective!"

Sullen Student: "She grades like this is a real college or something."

Snarky Student: "And she takes off points for grammar...and it's a fucking lit class!"


Perennially Late Student: "Mrs. Greta, I left my homework home. Can I turn it in Wednesday?"

Me at my desk in my office: Silence.

Perennially Late Student: "Mrs. Greta? Mrs. Greta? Did you hear what I said?"

Me: Silence.

Perennially Late Student, louder: "Professor Greta, did you hear me?"

Me, cheerily: "Hello, Mr. Student: What can I do for you?"

Perennially Late Student, annoyed now: "I just asked you if I could turn in my homework Wednesday."

Me: "Oh! Were you talking to me? I thought I heard you addressing Mrs. Someoneorother."

Perennially Late Student: "What?"

Me, evenly and politely: "I've told the class to address me as Ms. Greta or Professor Greta. It's even in the syllabus. I don't answer to Mrs. Greta."

Perennially Late Student, disbelieving: "What is your problem?"

Me, evenly and politely: "I don't have a problem, Miss Student, do you?"

Perennially Late Student: "I ain't no Miss -- Oooooh!"

Me: "You may turn in Wednesday's homework Wednesday. I don't take late work. You know that, Mr. Student."

Perennially Late Student, smiling broadly now: "I get it. Okay, Ms. Greta. See you Wednesday!"


Needy Student, in the middle of the hallway, catching me before I go into the bathroom: "Um, what's my grade?"

Me, with one hand on the bathroom door: "Hi, Ms. Student. You should be keeping track of your grade yourself. It's also posted on Blackboard."

Needy Student: "But my computer's really slow and I have trouble with Blackboard and--"

Me: "Can this wait, please?" Into the bathroom I go.

Six minutes later, as I'm heading back to my office...

Dr. Chair: "Greta, can I see you for a minute?"

Me: "Sure."

Dr. Chair: "A student of yours just came into my office to say that you'd been rude to her."

Me: "Was it [description of Needy Student]?"

Dr. Chair: "Yes, yes it was."

Me: "Did she tell you that she stopped me on the way into the bathroom?"

Dr. Chair: "Ah, no. No she didn't."

Me: "So..."

Dr. Chair: "We're done here. And, hey, at least she didn't follow you into the bathroom."


Email from student:

Dear Prof. Greta,

I am profoundly sad to report to you that I will be unable to attend the last week of classes because of a family reunion in Shreveport. It happens every year, and I cannot miss it.

Sally Student

My response:

Dear Ms. Student,

You have a take-home final due the last week and I will not administer it early. Your final presentation will also be given in the last week. Failing those two assignments is a decision only you can make.

Prof. Greta

A near-immediate response:

Dear Prof. Greta,

I will talk to my mother about scheduling.

Sally Student

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dragon Ate My Mojo

I dismissed a class early today. I regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth, but there they were, and Silent Sam and Sullen Sheila were out the door before I could even finish the sentence. While Quizzical Quentin and Querying Qwenda came forward to ask, all sorry-eyed, if we would ever discuss the reading we skipped.

My righteous anger faded, replaced by guilt, even though I remain suspicious of whether or not they actually did the damn readings. If they had done the readings, why did they spend the first hour and a half of lecture with their heads down, scribbling abstract art in their notebooks as I tried with flagging spirits to get a reaction from them? Any kind of reaction. Some flicker of engagement!

But regardless of how dull the class was, regardless of how disengaged and bored they seemed, it's my job to teach. And I didn't. I feel like I reached the bottom of my bag of tricks, and threw in the towel. That's it. I'm done.

I have seen the dark side.

I recently went to visit a friend, who after a lengthy period in their presence have determined that they are a snowflake who has developed into a snow storm. Said friend is well into adulthood yet appears to be incapable of the most basic life skills because no one is there to do them, or tell them to do them. I am not talking about a skill such as bill paying, I am talking about life skills such as bathing daily, brushing your teeth, not licking hour plate in a restaurant, and sweeping the god damns monster size hairballs off the bathroom floor. Seriously, did I come to visit my adult friend or the Animal House? At first I would say said friend does not care, however there appears to be a concern for the inability to form a long term romantic relationship or new friendships with adults who have not known them since childhood (such as myself).

If this person was a student I know what I would say, "get a haircut and get a real job" as the song says. How does one approach this extended snowflake stage in a friend or family member? Do you ignore it and just not enter "their world" if it grosses you out?

Loreen from Los Alamos On Tonic.

So, is this place a tonic?

Do we dip our toe into the misery ever once in a while, and then run back to our students to rev them up?

Or do we wallow in the misery of others, inflate our own, and learn to hate our profession in a wholly new way?

Using "Erudite" Almost Always Means You're Making Fun of Someone. Five Years Ago on RYS.

Dear erudite undergraduate,

Thank you for your thorough assessment of this website. I can't imagine how we went so long without hearing your learned sentiments. However, let me mention a few things:

  1. "Sucky" is not a word according to 3 different dictionaries that I have on my shelf as well as But you, like so many undergraduates, believe that what you have to say and the way you say it is devilishly clever and important. I'm here to tell you it's not. I'm pretty sure I could make it through the rest of my life without additional commentary from you.
  2. I am posting something on this site, and I am not a "sucky" professor. I have won two different teaching awards as well as numerous research grants. My teaching evaluations consistently suggest that I am a good teacher without being an easy "A." I am also a woman. You seem genuinely surprised that of your three good professors that one is a woman. Welcome to the world, junior. There are a lot of great female professors out there. I hope to God that someday you wind up working for a female boss so that you can open your big, fat mouth at an inopportune time and tell her that you're amazed she got this far given that she's a woman. I might even pay to see her kick you in the teeth.
  3. You state that you can verify that two of your current professors don't know their material because "all they do is put Powerpoint slides up that come right out of the book." Do you honestly think that is the marker of how much your professors know about an area? Do you know that we have ridiculous publishing requirements, that we have to sit on countless college/university committees that take up valuable time, and that we often have to give up other time to things like advising, grading, etc.? Do you know that sometimes we get hammered in our student evaluations if we try to give them material that's outside the text? Oh yes, that's right; students have complained to me in the past that by using the majority of class time to cover things related to but outside of the required reading that they couldn't study it all. Plus, I've been told that any number of my students don't buy the books at all and just plan on getting by with the class notes. When they can't, they blame you, the professor, for asking too much of them.
  4. Lastly, you mention in your note that you couldn't drop your 2 sucky classes because of your scholarship, and then in the last paragraph, you state that as soon as you finish school you'll never think about college again. Let me tell you that we're all so glad they wasted money on putting you through school. Nothing like the distaste of lifelong learning to make all of us educators believe that we're fighting the good fight.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Thirsty—On Unexpected Hilarity

Howdy y'alls, this is Aethelfrith of Annapolis, soon-to-be-licensed Bullshit Artist, and we're here to rock your world.

Unlike most people studying Anglo-Saxon Bovine Excrement Aesthetics, we actually have friends in other fields (we know, we know, we're a traitor to The One True Field—sue us later, mmkay?), like Aethelstan the slime mold wrangler. Stan told us a little story from his time TA'ing Introduction to Field Mycology Class, in which one of his fellow herdsmen was busy displaying a slime mold in full mating plumage, with a few spores leaking out of the fruiting bodies.

Now, slime molds don't just leak most of the time; since it may be a looooong time before a lady slime mold comes along, they have to spread their seed far and wide. Thus, this bit of dog barf was pretty full, and needed just a touch to go off in just the wrong way.

Stan's buddy somehow found the slime's no-no zone.

Normally, this would have been bad enough, except that, well, there was a rather prissy girl in the target area—one who didn't get the message that makeup and low-cut tops weren't appropriate for work in the open range. The spores went all over her—her face, chest, in her hair, everywhere. And slime molds spore fluid . . . well, let's just say that anyone who's ever spent any time on the Internet knew what they were looking at.

What do you do when the slime mold lands a money shot—or when any other unintentionally hilarious situation breaks loose? After all, you can't laugh, much as you might want/need to—and the poor Young Charge, you can't let her be shamed by a protozoa! We are mightily curious; please, Gentle Readers (and anonymous), enlighten us.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

How do you fight sexists who are anti-sexism?

On Thursday The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article called For Women Seeking to Advance in Academe: Advice From 4 Who Made It to the Top. The article featured women who serve as college and university presidents, positions that, as we all know, are held by men far more frequently than they are held by women. The backlash displayed in the comments that follow the article is both incredible and disheartening. A number of commenters are even horrified by the title of the article -- and, by extension, appear to be horrified that the article even exists. This is a good example:

I hate this kind of article, man vs. woman garbage. Women as a special group needing to take special "for women" approaches; women entitled to special consideration, etc. Does the obvious, openly stated gender bias of the article bother anybody but me? What if men displayed the same "let's help other men" gender bias? ... Why can women openly favor helping and advancing women, but it would be wrong for men to do that? I am so tired of all this divide-us-into-special-interest-groups garbage. And to you posters who are complimenting this article, shame on you. You would condemn men for showing gender bias in favor of other men.

At my institution, faculty were recently asked to fill out a satisfaction and wellbeing survey that included questions about, among many other things, the treatment of female faculty. The female faculty have been discussing their answers in hushed tones behind closed office doors these past few days. We agree that gender bias exists at our institution. We agree that reporting it felt a bit risky even though we were assured of our anonymity.

We've all noticed that women are routinely shut down during meetings, but it rarely happens to men. We've noticed that when several hands go up at the same time, the men almost always get the floor first. We've noticed that women are more likely than men to back down when pressured by a male colleague. We've noticed that our ideas are less likely to be discussed at length, and even less likely to be implemented. We've noticed that our performance evaluations focus on different issues than those of our male colleagues. And I don't think my institution is a gross anomaly.

I suspect that many of my male colleagues would think my female colleagues and I were crazy or paranoid (or both?) if they heard our conversations. I doubt our male colleagues think they're sexist. I don't think they realize the way they respond to us, treat us, or make us feel. I'm sure they don't consciously write sexist performance evaluations or intentionally ask us to take on tasks that, if gendered, would fall more on the feminine side of the spectrum than the masculine side. My male colleagues no doubt think of themselves as good, unbiased people; I have no doubt that they see sexism as a thing of the past, would be opposed to sexist institutional policies, and have no idea that they are in fact engaging in behaviors that uphold a system that strongly favors men.

The people who have complained about the existence of the "Advice for Women who Want to Get Ahead" article are probably a lot like many of the men at my institution. They don't see the real problem: that women currently have to compete against men in a system designed by men to favor men. Women do need to develop special strategies and resources to succeed in that type of environment. For that reason, women helping women to get ahead -- or men helping women get ahead, for that matter -- is not at all the same as men helping men.

For instance, men don't need to help each other to be heard during a faculty meeting at my institution because the men are already the ones speaking. But a woman (or a man) might need to help a female colleague to be heard because she isn't speaking. And why isn't she speaking? Because she is passed over during the discussion. This can happen for lots of reasons -- maybe the moderator is blatantly sexist and trying to silence women. More likely, though, the woman's voice is not as loud. Or social conditioning has taught her to allow a man to take the floor when they both begin to speak at the same time. Or she has learned that it's not lady-like to interrupt and so she doesn't, even though her male colleagues have no problem interrupting her. The list of possibilities is endless. These are just the ones I have personally experienced.

I would agree that blatant discrimination against women isn't terribly common at my institution, and I hope that's true in other institutions as well. But bias? There's a lot of bias. Most of it is unintentional, and that's precisely what makes it so difficult to deal with. Women are fighting a battle against social norms in academia (and, I'd argue, in just about every other realm). We can't easily undo what generations of conditioning have taught us -- and our male colleagues -- to unconsciously accept, nor can we easily begin behaving in ways that we (and our male colleagues) view as unacceptable because of generations of conditioning.

We're working on it, but it's going to take more than a few decades to change the rules, the system, the behaviors, and the biases that make it essential for women to create strategies that will help themselves to succeed. It's going to take some time before women don't need to help one another to get ahead. And apparently it's going to take some time before some men can see that we aren't just whining but instead are responding to some very real circumstances that we can't overturn just because we and our male colleagues agree that it's time.

Week 2 of 8... an "accelerated" all online section.

--Two drops. But does either Blackboard OR our registrar provide any "push" notification of this to the instructor? Nah. First evidence was when they went missing in the Blackboard grade book, which clued me to the info from our admin site. Good thing I noticed: it would have made the two-person collaborative Dogwalking exercise I had them assigned to this week rather awkward.

-One deer through a husband's car window. Pictures weren't offered...I was tempted to ask. Hubbie is fine. The car and the deer, not so much.

-One 5-day inpatient hospitalization. Documentation was offered in the plea for extensions. With the offer of proof alone, my soft heard melted and I said that was good enough.

That's some high level action at the front end of the session. I feel sorry for some grandparents come the first week of May. At least they are mostly seniors; don't think they'll want to jeopardize their big day.

And, they seem like nice, optimistic people. Or maybe that's just their online persona.

It's a Dry Weekend and I am in Need of Liquid Nourishment (a.k.a. thirsty)

Just curious,

Q:  Have any of you ever busted out your Weingarten Rights on a Deanflake? 

A:  (be honest and specific)

It's official ... get the fork, we're done

The Oxford-English Dictionary Adds '♥' and 'LOL' as Words

Why add ♥ as a word? A spokesperson clarified, “While symbols do become spelt-out words relatively frequently, it is usually only with a mundane meaning as the name of the symbol… It's very unusual for it to happen in such an evocative and tangential way.”

So much for fighting the good fight, eh?
Perhaps we can take solace in one of the early comments to the article:
"They forgot to rename their book. "The Oxford American College Dictionary of Misspelled words and Slang"'

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Importance of Tenure

Bill Cronon, the founder of Environmental Studies, professor of History and Geography, an extremely influential academic, President-Elect of the American Historical Association and repeated winner of dozens of undergraduate teaching awards, has become the target of political retribution for writing and publishing this Op-Ed in the New York Times.

It criticized the recent events in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin GOP struck back by deeming Professors at a state university to be "public officials" and therefore subject to the state's Open Record laws. They requested that his professional email account be turned over for Republican scrutiny. If any email in that account deals with displeasure over the political scene (which threatened the well-being of his students and colleagues) or discussed his Op-Ed piece, Cronon could be guilty of violating his contract with the University.

Will those who have used their professional email accounts ONLY for teaching and nothing else please raise their hands?

I thought not.

This article puts the attack and intimidation into perspective. It's the President-Elect of the AHA. It's high-profile. It tells everyone else to shut up.

And suddenly, all reasonable attempts to abolish tenure seem to threaten free speech and balanced debate. We need tenure. Academics' jobs may seem like babysitting, but ultimately our value to society is observing society. And if we can get fired for such observations, if the PRESIDENT of the AHA can be threatened and attacked for dissenting against some pretty crazy McCarthyist ham-fisted tactics, then suddenly I cannot entertain a single form of compromise. Never before has this issue seemed so crystal clear to me.

Even if it means that 1/3 of us lose our jobs in order to return to the tenure system.

And just like that, I suddenly become an adherent to the vital importance of tenure. After resisting it for so long.

In related news, Stanley Fish suddenly becomes an ardent supporter of academic unions, after decades of finding them worthless. I wonder how he's reacting to the news about Cronon?

Tenure, unions. Job security. It's all related, and the toxic situation in Wisconsin is spreading.

Hiding in the Bathroom

Today is a book rep day. I saw the rep on my way down to a meeting. The rep was still here after I returned. I'm headed to the bathroom to hide. Will someone tell me when the book rep has left?


Tenure Is Itchy?

I never knew that. Did you? What is the ointment for this kind of itch?

Big Step. Waiting for Shoe To Drop.

I had gotten so sick of the tiny, idiotic errors my students make when they turn material in for grades. There are formats for professional work. There are guidelines. If students want to be taken seriously, I think they need to present material in such a way that IT can be taken seriously.

Well, over the years it seems that has become a quaint, old fashioned notion. My colleagues have let those little concerns go. (They brag about it, in fact.)

But after 2 terribly messy sets of assignments so far this semester I said to my students:

You know that handout I give at the start of the semester showing you the accepted format for professional, graded work? Well, you're not all meeting that. Some of you are clearly not even trying to meet it. I've only taken minor points off so far, because I really am focused most on getting your critical thinking improved. But now, as we ease into the home stretch of this semester, I'm making those guidelines a requirement for a grade. I won't grade your next assignments unless you follow - to the letter - the guidelines I passed out in class and published online. In fact, here are the guidelines again. 

And then last week, before they took Spring Break, I had a 30 minute session at the end of class to review those guidelines and again stress that professional work needs to meet certain reader expectations, and THESE were what they were in this class.

When I gathered up the projects this week, I didn't dare even peek. But I laid them on my desk this morning and 75% of them showed that their writers had ignored or misunderstood the most simple and obvious steps as required. I'm not grading those. I'm kicking them back. I'll let them resubmit, but I will kick them back until they're done the right way.

My college is full of feel-good proffies. We're a bunch of "sitting outside, bringing cookie-motherfuckers" here, and students pretty much run the show.

But not next week. Next week they're going to get shook, and I hope I don't get stomped by any shoe that may drop.

The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education.

MARCH 25, 2011, 8:00 AM

The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education

Last week, writing on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, Susan Engel described a small-scale experiment giving high school students greater choice and flexibility over their education. In what was christened the Independent Project, eight students in western Massachusetts designed their own “school within a school,” in which they wrote and then followed their own curriculum.

The project was meant to counter the traditional, highly structured high school experience, which, Ms. Engel argued, “doesn’t just fail to prepare teenagers for graduation or for college academics; it fails to prepare them, in a profound way, for adult life.”
The essay caught my eye because a growing contingent in higher education has begun to worry about just the opposite concern: that college students may have too much choice and flexibility.
So while Ms. Engel suggests that high schools ought to provide more of the freedoms of college, others are suggesting that perhaps colleges ought to provide more of the structure of high school.
Students trying to choose the right courses, for example, may find it prohibitively time-consuming just to acquire all of the relevant information on long-term costs and benefits. Or they may be unsure about what they want to do this semester, let alone the rest of their lives.
Once decisions are made, they may struggle to follow through and may remain doubtful about whether they made the best choice. The result may be that some underprepared college students delay enrollment, select their courses poorly, fail to meet requirements for graduation or a major, or drop out altogether when they encounter an unexpected obstacle.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

(In an Eric Cartman voice:) "How do I reach these kids?!?"

I have a problem-slash-question for y'all. I'm just a lowly TA. Evaluations mean a great deal towards my progress, my funding, etc, as you can imagine. My Writing About Basketweaving 101 class is almost all non-majors - ours is a popular course for science kids who are trying to get a lit credit and/or a writing-intensive credit. I do my best to help my students, but some of them just don't get it. Sometimes from lack of trying, but not necessarily. I get this huge wave of guilt, inadequacy, and fear that it'll reflect badly on me when this happens.

Take one student, for example. I keep meeting with her, I keep responding to her emails, and with every angle I try, she gives me something that's not much better than the last one. It's obvious she's trying and wants to do well in the course, but I just don't know what else to do for her. She's one of 35 students, and when I've got 34 other students, plus my own work to deal with, she becomes a major timesuck.

When is enough enough? How can I accept the fact that some students just won't do well in my class, even if they seem to be putting in the effort? How can I accept the fact that some students just aren't Writers About Basketweaving - and how do I stop myself from feeling guilty about not being able to reach them? (or should I be feeling guilty?) What do I do with these kids now?

Bonnie from Birmingham With This Week's Big Thirsty. "Why Don't I Have a Hard-On For Grading?"

Oh sweet Jesus, am I glad CM exists! I read the thing every morning like morning prayers. It girds me for the struggles to come.

Here's my tale. I'm a newbie proffie (am I using it right?). I love the classroom, I like my colleagues, I even have a Dean who's sort of neat and who had me and my husband to her house for scones and tea. (It was ironic; the scones had M&Ms in them and the tea was filled with booze!)

Anyway, I like everything about my job, EXCEPT grading.

Sure, everyone hates the work of grading.

But I realize I don't give a shit about any part of grading. I actually don't care about assessing my students at the end of the term. I figure, "I put on the show; if you paid attention, you're better off for it." But then I want to just go about my own business.

This has led to some sticky moments, though, students dickering percentage points when I can barely even summon up a whole number. My chair wants a grade sheet and I find myself making up numbers for some of the blanks. (Yeah, I know, I'm an idiot.)

Q: My question is: Why don't I have a hard on for grading? Why don't I care about assessing my students? What kinds of motivation should I be feeling to remedy this? What are the ways a lecturing Social Science-y type can assess student work and ability without making me absolutely fucking crazy?

A: I really need your help. Post any replies in the comments below!!!

I apologize…. A Big Thirsty.

Q. I'm sorry.

A. ____________