Friday, January 11, 2013

It's the Week before Classes...Leave Me Alone!

I remember a time when the week before classes was all but sacrosanct. Sure, there'd be a perfunctory convocation where we all got together, met the new hires, got a state of the college report, and schmoozed a bit, but other than that, the administration pretty much left us alone. I was told my contract began a week before each term's classes started because I was to use that time to prep my classes and handle any last-minute changes to my schedule.  I could work in my office or at home, but the only requirement was that I be easily reachable in case my department needed to change my load or add a student to a class that was already full.

Those days are over.

Now the week before classes has become an excuse to squeeze in anything and everything admins can think of to show them that we are actually "working."  We had done away with spring convocation because it was so unpopular. This year it's back, and I'd damn well better be there. My chairperson has already emailed us about it three times, and that's on top of the two we got from the president's office. The same day, our college's major governing body is meeting, so there's one full day shot to hell.  On another day, I have to attend an all-day, cross-system workshop that has changed locations three times now. In its current incarnation, the function is now downtown, meaning I will have to get up at the butt crack of dawn to fight rush hour. And there's another day gone.  Oh, and now we have mandatory department meetings during that week.  My department has decided on a meeting that will take all morning one day followed by an afternoon workshop, so guess what? Yet another day gone.

Let's not forget the students.  All those students whose classes get canceled are going to need places to go, which means they need advising.  The actual advising department now performs that function for only a small subset of our students. Faculty are expected to do the rest.  This means if I am in my office, I will not get a moment's peace as I'm one of the few who has proven competent at advising.  Instead of making the others learn to do it, it's so much easier to just keep shunting the students off to people who actually do their jobs.  Then there are the gazillion questions that will come in. What books do I need for the class?  When do I need the books? Do I really need those books? Are the books available in the library?  I have never understood why students are so obsessed with books at the beginning of the term. Once they get them, it's not as if they actually read them anyway much of the time. I would be remiss if I didn't include the forty-eleven questions and sad stories I will get from students desperate to get into my online sections, which have been full for months. I wouldn't even mind dealing with the students if that were the only thing I had to handle besides prep, but sadly, that is not the case.

As the workload gets bigger, prepping for classes gets harder and harder each year. My desk will be piled high with busy work. I will make more mistakes on my syllabi because I have less time to review them. I have been planning changes based on last term, but I won't be able to implement them as thoroughly as I would like. I haven't been able to work on much over break because of our IT issues, so I will be just like my students, working on my classes right down to the very last minute.  Add to that the soul-sucking upper respiratory epidemic that has felled everyone in my home for the past week with no signs of going away anytime soon (doc says two weeks plus is the norm), and you can see how the misery just gets compounded.

I so miss my island of time, my unhurried, uninterrupted oasis in the desert of bureaucracy. When did meetings become more important than education?


  1. Have you heard of "administration"? Description can be found here:

    I have just been through what you describe. I had 3 hopeful, hapless students appear in one of my classes. When I called the class to order, I asked anyone not in the class to leave. They said nothing. They remained standing. I addressed them directly... they said they were hoping to get into my (closed) class. I used to take one student from the waiting list. But I no longer do that. A full class is work enough.

    And even though I may be teaching a class I previously taught... I may not have taught it for a while. My point being, I need to revisit my course materials, and update things (URLs change, technology changes, books are out in new editions).

    I will go to some meetings. But I choose. Chances are I'm not missed. No one has ever said anything to me. I do work hard, and take my work seriously. But I will not destroy what semblance of a life I have in order to take on extra students or attend meetings which, as you aptly describe, are so they can convince someone (themselves) that work is being done.

  2. Many years ago, I worked at a government research facility. One joke I heard there was a play on Descartes's famous saying: I meet, therefore I am.

  3. Preach It EC. A sabbatical now simply replaces all the time they take from me.

  4. And in departments lucky enough to have searches this year, faculty are busily scheduling, and in some cases hosting, candidates in between all of the above.

    Even those of us not on the tenure track are experiencing more and more of this (not to mention expectations for more and more elaborate course materials that simply cannot be created in the pre-semester time included in our contracts. Of course TT faculty end up doing research and service during off-contract times, too, so that's not much different; they're just paid more).

    Part of the problem is that, as others have pointed out, for administrators work=meetings, and so they seem to think the same should be true for faculty.

    I wonder what would happen if every administrator above a certain level (let's say anyone with "Dean," however modified, in their title) had to teach at least one course a year (preferably one a semester). It's a reasonable expectation, since most of these people are supposedly qualified (they've got degrees with capital Ds in them, or at least M.A.s). It would keep them in touch with the student body, and with what it takes to teach a class (and they should, of course, be evaluated, and have their students assessed, in exactly the same way as regular faculty). It also might suck up some of the time they would otherwise spend inflicting meetings, workshops, etc. on other people.

    1. The president of my undergrad alma mater teaches one freshman honors seminar each year, a feat that I have always found impressive. And this is at a well-ranked private R1 university, not a SLAC.

    2. Our Provost and Dean teach regularly, too (and the last president did very occasionally, I believe). But they're also both real professors (i.e. still-practicing researchers who started out in teaching/research/service TT jobs, and earned tenure, before moving into administration). They're by no means perfect, but at least they've got some idea of what regular faculty life is like.

      It's probably just as or more important for the mid-level sub-deanish creatures, many of whom seem to have earned "higher ed" Ed.D.s while occupying administrative posts, to be active teachers (and not only of graduate students aspiring to similar posts). If they can't cut it, well, they don't belong in higher ed (and they're probably reasonably well qualified for mid-level management in some other sort of organization).