Monday, May 13, 2013

Lament's Terms

At this point in the academic year, I am usually physically and emotionally exhausted. This is also the point in the year at which the most outlandish attacks on my sanity and patience seem vested upon me.

Young, fresh-faced colleagues (YFFCs) propel themselves into my office, bearing stories from “the front”—that is, an arduous series of committee meetings initiated by the administration created in order to find logical solutions to university problems. These YFFCs are too naive to have yet realized that their endless research and efforts will be for naught, because 99% of committees created by administrators to solve university problems are only initiated so that the administration can appear to be “proactive”.

When the initial solution, which costs money, is rejected, the administration will ask those same YFFCs to “reconfigure another solution” over the summer, off contract. The administration will want the solution to cost nothing, yet solve everything. And the YFFCs will be shocked, shocked, at this turn of events. Just shocked. But they will learn. They will learn.

Congratulations, YFFC. You are now a line on an administrator’s cv, having served on the Committee to Effect Changes that the Vice President Thinks are Vitally Important but Will Eventually Refuse to Fund.

plural, just in case
Worse than the YFFCs are the students. The students that want to pass my classes, but don’t want to work. Or want me to pass them despite the fact that they haven’t worked. They want to know what is going to be on the final. They want to know why they received zeroes on their rough drafts. They want to know this despite the approximately 1,754 announcements and missives I have sent them clearly explaining the answers to such questions (if you don’t turn in your rough draft on time, you get a zero. And I’m not telling you what’s on the final.) They want to know what their course average is when there are four grades, all worth 25% of their final grade.

One student stands sullenly in my office, trying to defend his thesis statement that we ought to be able to euthanize people if they don’t seem to be enjoying their lives. I try to explain delicately that if this were the case I ought to be able to euthanize him, but he still doesn’t get it. He might if I actually attempted to euthanize him, but then I ask myself "What would Jesus do?" And I decide that Jesus would take a Xanax, and I do that instead.

Another student turns in a paper using a PowerPoint presentation created by seventh-graders as a scholarly source. She also refuses to use quotation marks to indicate direct quotes, and consistently repeats “in lament’s terms” instead of “layman’s terms,” which I find so appropriate that I the mistake stand.

In the worst case of all, a student does a happy dance of sheer joy at finding out she earned a perfect score on her final, after which she does a crying shamble of abject sorrow at finding out that she’s getting an F in the course for plagiarizing her final paper.

Lament’s terms, indeed.


  1. Is it too early in the week to nominate a POW?

  2. Ouch, Stella, ouch. I feel your pain.

    In a similar vein, OUR administration regularly wishes to appear to seek our input on major decisions they have already made. Its all I can do to stay silent, while my YFFC email their impassioned comments to each other about how the decision should be altered (and of course they feel a great need to hit REPLY ALL each time so I have to read each and every one of these missives that will achieve nothing), these comments are collated and sent to the Administration, and then in due course, SURPRISE!!! The decision is set into regulatory stone, unchanged. And our YFFC have yet to twig that it matters not a whit what we think, about these decisions that are already made, we just have to figure out how to survive them.

  3. Our institution prides itself on involving all stakeholders in decisions. There are endless calls to serve on committees.

    A summary of the last committee I served on...

    Dean comes to meeting with representatives of all disciplines involved. Blah blah blah, here's what we have to achieve, please go off and come up with your individual proposals and we'll meet again to review them and come to a consensus.

    Next meeting, we're all sitting around the table waiting for the (late) Dean to arrive. Somebody asked me what I came up with. "Nothing", I said. "Anything we did will be ignored. I've learned just to agree with this Dean."

    A few people chuckled and agreed, obviously in the know. A few people sitting with large proposals in front of them looked shocked that I was so negative.

    Dean arrives late. Launches into an explanation of hir idea for the new policy. Leaves for next important appointment. Doesn't ask for anything from committee members.

    "Good work team. It's been a pleasure working with all of you" I said.

    Committee work is easy once you understand your role. The YFFCs just haven't figured that out yet.

    1. That sounds like the place I used to teach at.

      Years ago, the department head once called a meeting of all the instructors to see what subjects we felt should be added. We went through the whole process and there were actually some good ideas as they addressed things that employers would be interested in.

      What became of all that? Absolutely nothing. The meeting ended and it went back to business as normal, which was doing things the way the head wanted them to be.

      The meeting was a complete waste of everybody's time.

  4. Another favourite story...

    We were at a big "in house" conference with some high priced speaker brought in to tell us revolutionary new ideas like "the sun rises in the east for today's student".

    We were broken into smaller working groups where we got to work with folk we didn't know from other parts of the institution. We were tasked with a grandiose task to deliver some epiphany related to the goal of the day.

    My idea was "For today's student, the sun rises in the east". Several of my team mates were incredulous that I didn't appear to be taking it seriously. So we ground though the process to arrive at some silly idea which was submitted as our final product.

    After lunch, the great knowing one took the stage with great excitement about the amount of great ideas that had been generated from our efforts. S/he invited a representative of the most insightful group to come up and present their idea. It was "For today's student, the sun rises in the east". Wow, they really nailed it.

    The person sitting next to me looked at me with a shocked look on their face. They had not exactly agreed with me in the morning.

    "Told you", I said. "That could have been us up there".

    1. That sounds a lot like some of the in-service courses I attended, particularly one on "alternate" learning styles.

      We spent a lot of time verifying the insufferably obvious. ("The sun rises in the east." "Really? We should look into that. Let's break up into workgroups and examine it.") Now, if someone had said that the sun rises in the west, then we would have had something interesting to do.

      Our students often complained that their tuition was so high. Idiocies like that were one reason. Some bright sort at the institution decided that we needed to hold such a session and set out to hire some crap artist "facilitator" to run it. No doubt that person's services didn't come cheap.

  5. Tell her it's either la mente's terms or le ment's terms. She can't make something transgender just because it tickles her fancy.

  6. I want to call the blog College Misery and Lamentations... In lament's terms sounds perfect!

  7. I need to learn to suppress my inner YFFC (must be inner; I certainly don't qualify on the outside), which tends to pop up once I get a decent night's sleep and can see a free week or two on the near horizon and start saying things like "if you pointed out to the department/the dean/the president why over-reliance on contingent faculty isn't working out well for anyone, they just might do something about it!" Yeah, right (says my other, older, more cynical, less idealistic, and decidedly not fresh-faced inner self/voice).

    1. When I was a young rookie with a brand-new B. Sc. in my engineering discipline, I remember seeing something at the place I was working. It went something like this:

      Rule #1. The boss is always right.
      Rule #2. When the boss is wrong, see Rule #1.

      That was one maxim that was true no matter where I worked in industry and was particularly so while I was an instructor. Maybe it was some sort of cosmic law, like Newton's 3 laws of motion or the 3 laws of thermodynamics.