Monday, September 12, 2011

Sizzle from Salem. "Time is Elastic."

I made the crucial error last week of taking my freshmen students to task for wandering into class as much as 10-15 minutes late. I get supremely annoyed at that kind of attitude, because I've seen it too often infect other parts of students' work ethic.

I felt good afterwards, and I saw a few timely students nodding their heads. Late coming, loudly-arriving students really do intrude on the class and interrupt whatever it is we're doing.

Then this morning I see the following email from my Dean:

"Dear Prof. Sizzle,

A student of yours sent me the attached email on Friday. While I would never get in the way of how you teach your classes, I think she makes a good point. We are encouraging our students to be active participants in their own education, and perhaps we can agree that this student is truly interested in being involved. That's good news for all of us. Perhaps you might amend your view on lateness in light of her notes, and of our own record of letting them out early."

Dean Dean"

And the student note went like this:

"Dear Dean Dean,

Miss Sizzle is my Xxxxxx instructor. She made fun of class especially me last week for lateness. Even though she has twice she let us out of class several minutes early, time that could have been spent working on our material.

I was late one time to class. But it was only because I was  reading the assignment for class in the library. I wanted to do well, and so I spent the whole hour before Miss Sizzle's class reading because she always tells us to do our reading a head of time.

If she doesn't care about the last minutes of class why does she care so much about the first minute or two when many students might be getting ready for class. One of my other profeesors taught us that time is elastic, like it is in this case.

Sizzle's Student"

And the note to me was cc'd to the student.

So I'm sitting here calmly drinking some tea, wondering if I want to really go to school today, see my student again, wondering if she'll come in with a big grin because she's got the evidentiary letter of rebuke from Dumbass Dean Dean.

Maybe I'll go late, walk in 15 minutes past the hour. Leave 15 minutes early. If time is so elastic, maybe it will work for me, too.

- Sizzle from Salem


  1. This is a trend at my university, too, the intrusion of Deans in day to day activities. I don't know for sure when it started, but it does seem to coincide with the whole student as customer phase of the end of the world.

  2. Deans as managers--not as academic partners. Yuck. Anyway, if time's elastic, take all the time you want returning the work/exams/essays of students who arrive late--if you can of course. I fear you won't be able to do that as it will only mean another note from your dean.

  3. Why the (censored) would the Dean cc the student when replying to you?

  4. Dear Dean Dean,
    Thank you so much for passing along Suzy's concern that class last as long as possible. I'll make sure to lecture right up till the final second henceforth, and I'll make sure Suzy's classmates know that her assiduity is responsible for them getting every second of education to which they are entitled.
    In keeping with the new spirit of reform, I trust Suzy will come to class on time henceforth.

  5. Is your dean really this much of an asshole normally? Or does the student have connections to either organized crime or someone after whom a building is named? (Or both?)


    I think next semester pop quizzes at the beginning of every class would be a great way to demonstrate the elasticity of time.

    If the dean is a perpetual asshole, it wouldn't do any good, but I would totally be in there getting the story straight, in person, in terms of the "making fun of" and "one time one minute late" parts (unless you actually were and she actually was) and even tell the Dean about the students who indicated appreciation that you value their time enough to start on time and end class when they have covered what you planned to cover rather than keeping them sitting there.

    (There's always the "Great job all of you your engagement in today's lecture means we finished a little early, so we can be done for the day and this means if any of you have questions about your upcoming paper I will stay a few minutes to chat with you" approach...)


  6. Don't forget that you have a golden opportunity, here, to kick your student's assholery back in his/her face.

    At the start of the next class, say, "Some of you may remember last week when I let you out five minutes early. I thought I was doing people a favor, but evidently I was wrong, because [NAME OF STUDENT] complained to the Dean about this practice. So, [NAME OF STUDENT], thank you for your vigilance, and I assure the rest of you that we will never end early again."

  7. Wow, ultimate alpha-hole of a dean! Next time you have a meeting with said alpha-hole, I'd show up 10 minutes late and cite "flexibility of time" as your reason. That is the stupidest logic ever! I'm sorry you have such a dud for a dean.

  8. I have nothing but sympathy for you. Your dean is a major asshole!

    Kate's + Ruby's replies = WIN

    Do it! Do it!

  9. I don't think you should mention that the student went to the dean. She might think of this as revealing confidential information, and she would be right. If she reports you for that, expect the dean to come down on you like holy hell, and this time s/he would be right.

    You can of course do the same thing without mentioning the student by name, but do NOT, do NOT cite the student specifically.

    But I wouldn't even do that. I would pretend you never got that letter from the dean. Because what will most infuriate the student is you treating her complaint as totally irrelevant. Then she can go back to your dean, again and again. Keep ignoring her until your dean contacts you privately, and then request a meeting. If you have tenure, rip the dean a new asshole. Do it so nicely that he doesn't realize he has an extra until shit starts leaking out of it.

    And if you don't have a late policy in your syllabus, this is that golden moment when you realize you need one.

  10. Very sorry you have to deal with that ***hole dean. I agree with Stella, though, and would add that you probably don't want to make your class seem like a punishment by announcing a plan of forced time-use.

    Good luck; don't let the bastard get you down.

  11. I'm very sorry. The dean, as everyone else has noted, is a grade-A number-one choice a**hole. The absolute least he owed you, as the professional courtesy due a colleague, was a private email asking for your side of the story before he replied to the student. If that meant she had to wait 24-48 hours, or even longer, for his reply, all the better.

    My inclination would be to say nothing to the student or class for the moment, but instead to make an appointment to talk to the Dean, and to your Chair or any other professor you trust, who might have a read on how to deal with the Dean. I'd also check the university catalog, the faculty handbook, and any other relevant documents for regulations concerning both student lateness and who gets to set classroom policies. And, yes, I'd consider adding explicit policies to your syllabus in the future (and making full use of any leeway in the current one to give quizzes during the first 10-15 minutes of class; devise tests that require the full period to complete, etc.; schedule important announcements and answer questions at the beginning of class, etc., etc.).

    One thing I don't get: have these Deans never heard of the dangers of micromanaging? I've now taken one of those "is your university a good place to work for" surveys in two different years, and was struck both times by how much the survey -- designed much more with non-faculty than faculty employees in mind -- stressed practices which make full use of all employees' input, teamwork, etc., etc. -- all stuff that sounds remarkably like traditional faculty governance, which of course is going out the window with the increase in non-TT faculty. It's like the rest of the corporate world discovered, and at least theoretically embraced, the way universities used to be run, just as universities were jettisoning that approach.

  12. Stella for President
    She'll rip the dean a new asshole!

  13. @J: I've tried the quiz at the beginning of class thing. However, those that were late before the institution of the quizzes at the beginning (they were originally at the end of class) continued to be late. At least they lost points for their lack of responsibility.

  14. I'd scribble Quid Pro Quo in the upper right hand corner of the board, and not say anything about it. Then I'd leave the same number of minutes early as the last student's arrival was late. And not say anything about it. Maybe if someone comes passed the midpoint, the space time continuum is ripped and the dean is annihilated.

  15. This doesn't surprise me, I'm sorry to say. I've had far worse student behaviour condoned by my higher-ups and I've been reprimanded when I tried to limit flakery. Indeed, when there was a recent Big Thirsty asking us to write about our students' worst examples of flakery, I didn't post because every single example I had got backed by my higher-ups and they would therefore recognize me on this site.

  16. My dean once showed off pictures of leather straps similar to those with which his teachers beat students in the '50s and '60s when he was in grammar school. (He's from Scotland, and reminds me a lot of Craig Ferguson, both in looks and manner. No puppets yet, though.) He observed that almost no one was ever late in those days, and that you did learn.

    I have had a couple department chairs who were almost as thoughtless and derelict in their duty as your dean. My condolences to you.

    Since serving as chair myself, I've taken to bolting the door with a large C-clamp to keep latecomers out. It works great!


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