Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections of a Life Mediocrely Lived

TK-421 here reporting from my post in Podunk, Nowhere! Today’s post is brought to you by alcohol! Alcohol: It’s what keeps academics (and administrators) everywhere from tossing themselves off the top of the student union. I should really contact Maker’s Mark and see if they have any interest in adopting that as their new slogan…

But I digress, the summer hiatus appears to be in full swing not only here at CM, but also in my own little slice of hell in this particularly unfashionable arm of the galaxy. The campus is eerily empty of both Jedi faculty and their young Padawan apprentices. So, while I sit in my office overlooking the quad, staring at the tour groups as they go by, I find myself with a bit of time to dwell on some of some of my experiences from the last few months. I have highlighted a few of my favorites…

Committee-member Carl:
You all invited me here to advise how you can design and implement this big assessment for your program. So, please stop second-guessing my knowledge and expertise. When you say things like, “Well, the ONLY way you can ever REALLY learn anything is if you use pre-post data. Anything else is just a waste of effort…” I just want to Force-choke you until your eyeballs pop. This just reveals your level of ignorance regarding assessment design and best practices, so please stop talking and let the grown-ups work. You will thank me later.

Giggly Gidget:
I really appreciate you showing up to help score all these student papers for the big assessment project. Couldn’t do it without you, really! At least that’s what I told you with a big smile. In reality I could do it without you. Frankly, you are replaceable with any other warm body that can follow a rubric. We are here to be professionals and to get this shit done. So please stop giggling and cutting up with your fucking tablemates like some snowflake freshman. You wouldn’t put up with that shit from a student, so why should I put up with it from you, especially when it’s causing you to screw up every third paper you score. This just causes more work for everybody involved. Shut up and follow the rubric, like a good scoring-droid.

Department Chair Debra:
Thank you for your scathing e-mail telling me just what you think of our efforts to conduct this major assessment project that was requested by the Provost. I’m also sorry that you evidently forgot about the message you got from your Dean, which you quoted in your e-mail to me, telling you about it the project. I’m also really sorry that your Department doesn’t actually do the work you are supposed to do and thus has no artifacts to contribute. It’s a shock to me too that when a course is certified as hamster training-enhanced that they ACTULLY expect you to include hamster training in the course material!

Oh, wait… the shock actually came when you told me that the course designation was more an historical artifact and that your department doesn’t actually teach any hamster training. I then blew up a planet when I read that you would be happy to remove the designation from the courses, but that you were worried about the impact on your programs’ students as the hamster-training courses were a FUCKING UNIVERSITY MANDATED GRADUATION REQUIREMENT. Call me crazy, but I’m more worried about the fact that you, as a Department, are failing to instruct these students in a basic skill. What does that say about you as a Department Chair?

And finally…

Lucky Luke:
We have been friends since we were bullseyeing womp-rats back in our crappy MA program, and I’m happy that you struck jackpot with your big fellowship to that prestigious R-1. I also understand that you just don’t “get” how I could come over to the dark side of the force and become an administrator, especially when what I do is assessment. I also understand that you don’t “get” what I do. At all. So until you do please stop accusing me of destroying the fabric of higher education and academic freedom. Believe it or not, Rebels and Empire, we are all on the same side of a much bigger war. Besides, I really don’t have that kind of power…yet…




  1. Oh; my; assessment. On the one hand, I think it's actually a good idea, if done well. On the other hand, the chances of it being done well in the present climate seem vanishingly small (though I really, really appreciate the efforts of those who seek to do it well despite the present climate). I hope they are at least paying you, and all those people gathered around tables in late June, enough to seek oblivion afterward in a really good bottle. . . .

    Also, as someone who teaches core courses (and makes darn sure they do what they're supposed to do, even if I'd really like to be doing something else), I very much resent proffies like Debra. Don't tell me, let me guess; she's all about the department's research mission, and teaching is just an annoying obstacle to her faculty spending all their time on that, right?

    1. Department Chair Debra's excuse was even worse! They argued that the Department had increased their course enrollment's to a point that they were no longer able to address that basic, general education skill. Nor did they have any real interest in finding some way to change the situation. That said, if they owned up to it, and stripped the courses of the designation, how would their students meet the University's graduation requirements?

    2. Wait. Debra says that they have too many students to teach the required skill?

      There's a solution to that! Strip the courses of the designation, form a new basic gen ed department to teach that skill, and make the new classes a graduation requirement.

      Aww, now Debra's department doesn't get to claim that enrollment. And hire more faculty. And receive previous allotment levels in the budget.

      Poor, poor Debra's department.

    3. Ah, I should have read all the comments before writing this. The skill is writing across the curriculum? Fie, fie on Debra's department.

      The solution is the same, minus the new basic gen ed department. Debra's department still gets to lose enrollment, faculty growth, and funding.

      If only we ran the world.

  2. I've never been on the side making people do assessment, only a victim of long forms (usually rubrics) that never accurately characterize what our department is doing because our campus uses the same forms for every department. So asking how we, in the Literature of Hamsterology Dept teach students statistical skills, makes us look like idiots when we leave stuff blank. What's that? NO, we have no artifacts showing student ability to crunch numbers, unless you count changing the font size to make a paper 12 pages long instead of 10. So my problem with assessment is that it never really captures what is being done in the Humanities because it attempts to use a Scientific method to quantify the Humanities. That said...

    Debra should have been left on the dark side of the Death Star.

    1. You mean the Death Star has a lighter side? Sounds like a regular column in Reader's Digest: "The Lighter Side of the Death Star"

    2. The Lighter Side of the Death Star...I like the sound of it!

    3. And CC, I totally agree with you. Nothing frustrates me more that when someone trys to force an assessment onto a discipline that doesn't work. It's terrible for the professors and doesn't provide any good data. In this case the basic skill at hand was writing. The courses carried a Writing Enhanced designation, and had done so for years. Writing enhanced course in my corner of the galaxy are supposed to have 51% or more of the studnet grade based on what ever form of written assignments are appropriate for the discipline. 0% of the student work was in the form of written assignments, and it seems that this had been the case for years. That's scary stuff if you ask me.

    4. But teaching students to write is so hard! And grading writing is impossibly time-consuming! How could you possibly expect them to actually do that?

      Besides, isn't it the English department's job to teach students to write (in one 3-credit course taught by some of the most overworked, underpaid proffies in the institution)?

      (Yes, I'm a composition instructor. And, though I'm happy to do my part, I strongly believe that teaching writing is everybody's job, and certainly the job of those who teaching Writing Enhanced classes -- and usually get some sort of reduction in class size or some other benefit for doing so, though admittedly those benefits are eroding, which might be a partial explanation, but not an excuse, for Debra's behavior.

    5. Well, W-courses are *supposed* to be capped at a reasonable level, but following that cap is at the discression of the Department. This particular department has chosen to ignore those guidelines and increase enrollment in their W-sections over twice the recommended number.

    6. How could a Writing course not have any artifacts? That's just silly. Jettison into space!!!

    7. What a beautiful fantasy that is.