Saturday, November 10, 2012

The New Hire

Kinda different?
I had lunch with the new hire this afternoon. He's starting spring term, for bizarre reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. But hey, I'm up for a sabbatical, and he's offering to take one of my courses, Introduction to Weaving. So I agreed to meet so we could talk about the course.

Now, I'm a Hamster Fur Weaver and he's an Underwater Basket Weaver, or at least that was what the search committee was looking for. I've spent a lot of time developing a course for our weavers that drills the basics into their skulls while making them team players, happy campers, non-dropouts, and encourages women to stick with the course to the upper levels.

After I went through my spiel showing him my syllabus, offering him the labs and the slides and the crib sheets I make for myself for each lecture, he pauses for a moment. And asks if it would be all right if he taught the course "kinda different."

A four-alarm fire bell goes off in my head as I raise an eyebrow.

You see, as an Underwater Basketweaver he is convinced he knows all about all kinds of weaving. And teaching is a snap. You just throw them in the water and they'll learn real quick how to weave.

Um, us Hamster Furriers don't do underwater. And we have modern methods that don't involve a drop of water at all. There's actually a whole research field on how to teach introductory weaving courses. But no, Mr. New doesn't hold any truck with this. He learned how to weave the hard way, and this will be good for the students, too.

I explained the arcane financing system that rewards us if we retain students and get them to graduate. He waved me away, he doesn't want to listen to administrative garbage. Hmm. Well, I'm getting old. Is it worth it to fight him? We are his third university in five years, I suppose he'll be up and out of here in a few years, anyway. But it is sad. If we had set up the search committee to look for another Hamster Fur weaver, we might have found someone with a fundamental understanding of both the specialization and the field of teaching.

Do I need to start a retirement countdown calendar?


  1. Oh, dear. It sounds like there need to be at least two of you who know how to teach this class in a way that works for your students at your institution. And it doesn't sound like a course into which new hires should be thrown (no matter how much they believe in just throwing their students into things). In fact, I've always wondered why we hand the crucial, hard-to-teach foundational courses (English 101/freshman comp in my disciplinary neck of the woods) to the newbies. It's not a smart thing to do.

    If this is the only way to get a sabbatical, I'd say go for it, let him (and, unfortunately, his students) flounder, and come back refreshed and ready to find a better way to pass the baton. It doesn't sound like he's going to glom onto the either the position or the course and refuse to let go, and maybe the value of your efforts will be clearer after a disastrous semester (though the students and your colleagues up the line will have to live with the consequences, which is the hard part).

    Alternatively, is there someone else who might be willing to take over the course -- maybe even an adjunct or non-TT faculty member -- and who would be willing to work with you to develop it further and keep it fresh. And are you in a position to encourage your department to value that person's efforts, and treat hir well? Is there anyone else who could argue for the value of having this course taught well by someone who knows the institution, its goals, its students, etc.? It seems like there might be a win-win here for the department and someone (TT or non) for whom teaching is a high priority here, if you could figure out how to engineer it.

  2. Hi Suzy, it's nice to see you posting again, even if it is from the depths of teaching misery! Here's an optimistic way to look at it: It's only one semester. Underwater Basketweaver Noob may well be as compassion-less and inflexible as he claims to be, in which case the students will be thrilled to have you back, and the ones that failed his course will gratefully retake it from you. On the other hand, his teaching methods may not actually be as bad as they sound and the class might be fine.

    And from his history, your're right; it sounds like he won't be there long in any case.

    Either way, you deserve a sabbatical. Don't let him ruin it for you!

  3. A couple questions: Are you the only person that teaches this particular course that he's taking over? In other words, are there others in your department sympathetic to his view? If you go after this new person you would be picking a fight with them as well.

    Also, is he going to be in any way, shape or form assigned to teach this course again? In other words, is this only a one-semester problem, or are you going to have to face this gauntlet again?

    Lastly, ask yourself honestly: Is his perspective justifiable? Is it the perspective taken by others teaching this course, maybe not at your university, but at others?

    If this is a one-shot, and other people do it like he does, you might reinforce your pov but let him be. You're on sabbatical. Don't give yourself a headache.

    But remember too that you have the power in this situation. You're tenured and he is not. You're a woman and he is not. I've seen this sort of "I'm going to do things my way" guy before. They often have more trouble recognizing and listening to female authority. And sometimes you have to hold their heads under the water until the realize who's boss.

    You only do that if it's worth it to you, and that's your call. Remember this guy did ask if he could teach the course "kinda different". Obviously the asking was all a sham. But he did ask. You could easily say, "You know, you asked me if it was okay for you to teach the course differently. And I have to tell you that no, it's not. I've tried to indicate the benefits of teaching it the way it has been taught, and I understand that you're not convinced, but that doesn't change my answer."

    But again, you have to decide whether the stakes are high enough for you to do this. And whether or not you have the balls to follow up.

  4. Thanks for the great food for thought! We currently have a non-TT who is teaching the course in rotation with me (it is offered every semester). She and I have very similar views on how to teach beginners. She has developed her own twist to the course that still is basically the way I, too, teach it. However, her contract is not being renewed because we now have a completed search for Underwater Basket Weaving, meaning our head count is now not drastically low but just low, so the "extra teachers" are being let go. Did I ever mention our financial woes?

    I suppose I'm mostly irritated that they are letting a fantastic female teacher go and have hired this guy. She didn't apply for the Underwater Basket Weaving TT position, because she is a Hamster Fur Weaver....

    @Cassandra, I agree - it should be the best teachers in the foundation courses. But my colleagues prefer to teach their specialties. I kind of like to teach my specialty, too, but I really like brainwashing freshpersons ;) And @Frankie, I love the idea of them wanting to have me back. Now I just have to make getaway plans so I'm not around to see any of the drama. Australia? Belgium? Canada? I'll find something!

    1. Oh, dear (again). That's a sad but not surprising scenario. I really wish the academy as a whole would find a way to start rewarding the people who teach intro courses well, and stop rewarding those who jump from school to school, half-assing their teaching (or doing it in whatever way boosts their egos/feeds their pet theories) while building research capital that accrues mainly to them (not to the institutions through which they pass). Mind you, I think research is valuable, and I wouldn't mind holding a (more) research-oriented job myself, but I'd settle for simply being rewarded *as much* as the research-oriented folks for doing my current, teaching-oriented job well.

      I hope you're writing the departing non-TT employee a very nice letter of recommendation (whether for another academic job or something more stable and/or lucrative).

  5. With you being the Dean, he should know better than to want to do things against your recommendations. You may have to throw some rank around.

  6. Oh, EMH, I'm not dean anymore. I stepped down in a fit of rage in January. Just a lowly teacher here (who knows how and why the machine is dysfunctional). I'm preparing my sabbatical and ignoring the problem. Helps keep me sane.