Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Just a Job," From Allan in Akron.

I teach in a ridiculously judge-y department. I'm the youngest person in the department, the most visible, the most recently published, and the one with the largest set of mentees. My classes fill up, is what I'm saying, when those of my colleagues' are always half full.

I know my colleagues think I'm lazy because I'm not standing in the hallways like them all day and night. When I do show up to work - on time and before my class - the "veterans," who are always huddled together talking about how hard their lives all are, swivel their heads, say a begrudinging hello, and turn their noses up as if they caught a whiff of something bad.

For a time I let it bother me and felt a little out of place, but I got over it. I know I'm doing my job well and have the student evaluations to prove it.

And since I've only been in the profession for 3 1/2 years, and I'm stuck in a way-about place, I really don't have much experience with how other departments work.

But I found this website from a link at a friend's blog, and now I'm a lot wiser. You're posts are funny, and I love the way you skewer the "snowflakes." But just like the people in my department, you let it all bother you so much. I spend a lot more days NOT being an assistant professor, and that's really where my life is: my friends, my activities, my family. So when a student acts up or something goes wrong with a Dean, I shrug it off. It's something that will get fixed or worried over by someone else - I know that from experience.

If a crisis occurs in my department, I know the email will fly starting at 5 am, and there will be meetings and ridiculously overwrought machinations by everyone. I skim the email, take the long way around the building to my office, sip coffee, and wait until the "decision" comes through. They've all wasted a day in hand wringing and I've appropriately just had my say when the final news came down. Some of them I can imagine scrambling to their computers to write the latest post for College Misery about the trauma!

What I'm saying is that this is an important profession and we do important work, but it's just a job, people. I think that a lot of you would be a lot happier if you'd just relax a bit. If your student doesn't staple his paper? Staple it. What's the big deal. They take a phone call in class? You mean you're that insecure that you can't just shut them down and keep going. And seriously, what's the deal with being upset when a student asks for next semester's books. You don't have a link to the bookstore you can send them?

Put it all in perspective, is what I'm saying. It's what my own colleagues need. They need to get off campus and go fishing or whatever they like to do, and let the job be the job and the LIFE be the life.

Thus endeth this particular lesson.

47 comments:

  1. Clarissa, I hope you're joking. If that's the case, why would you read this page at all. Allan is part of the problem!!!

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  2. I like your perspective. It's probably healthier than holding a grudge against students and it seems to be working for you so far. (How will your colleagues view your performance and behavior when you go up for tenure?) You're right that this is just a job and stapling isn't a big deal, unless you actually believe that these are adults who should learn, after hearing five times and receiving two sets of written instructions, that they should staple their reports. OTOH, if you think that some students are a waste of space and their parents'/taxpayers' money, then why should I bother bringing my stapler to class, knowing that one of them will walk away with it?

    My attitude drifts to and fro, between "Here's my stapler" and "fuck them" so it's good to read both perspectives.

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  3. Well, those of you who are like Allan—obvious rock-star teaching Gods and publishing seers who know the truth and live it after only seven semesters—please don’t read further. After all, his insights have of course ended the need for the CM community—it’s over, go in peace and enjoy the fishing. It’s just a job, PEOPLE. His lesson has endeth what we do here.

    For those of you who aren’t tenured, permit me to share another lesson: know the “organizational culture” of your campus. My colleagues huddled together in the hall and firing off emails just denied tenure to a junior colleague—with solid teaching evaluations, impressive publications and real and important service—for “fit.” He’s an a-hole, much like the people who are running him off, smug, flippant, sarcastic, etc. But he’s now looking for a new position because of "fit." And the veterans are now huddled to discuss the job ad to replace him.

    I live the life Allan does, for I’m tenured and promoted. Unlike Allan, I do have experience with how departments work, and my lesson is: be careful about when you feel relaxed enough not to fit in.

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    1. That was the same thought I had. Good luck getting tenure, Allan.

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    2. Me too, sadly. At least acting like you fit in pre-tenure is pretty smart...

      Also, good evals prove that students like you enough to give you a good score on the happy sheets NOT that you are a good teacher. Good scores can arise because you are seen as fair, interesting, enthusiastic, organised but can also be because you're easy, one of the lads, on their side, let them get away with things... they mean very little in terms of being a good teacher, they just let certain administrators tick their boxes

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  4. Replies
    1. So, 15 months later, she's still a regular reader? Unless she's Allan from Akron? Because otherwise how would she know this post was here?

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    2. We were circling the drain. We must be dead. Is this like "Lost"?

      Oh man, Clarissa, why ARE you are here. That's the post you think is the best, that you wish you'd written. Great googly moogly. You know there's an off switch, right? You really would be happier with a different blog that took, you know, things so seriously.

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    3. This comment is not about this thread, but in response to BurntChrome's note. I get a fair amount of email from people who say they don't read the page, never would, find it objectionable, yet have detailed complaints about individual posts, the 17th comment in a thread 5 weeks ago, etc.

      Oh, but they all have a crush on Ben. But isn't that everybody? :)

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    4. Chill, people, unless you want to deal with a round ouf "See how the regulars treat a new guy shows up at CM?"

      I mean, except for the hottie professors who like me. Feel free to continue that part of the discussion.

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  5. The "just a job" people exist, and they've been on this site and the one before.

    They always talk about their rich personal lives, which usually means they have a Facebook, Twitte, AND Instagram account.

    Allan, you're the kind of colleague I love. You don't give a shit about the decisions that get made, so I don't ever have to give a shit about getting your point of view. I'll let you know when your tenure meeting is. Hope you can make it. Its going to be great.

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    1. This.

      Your colleagues don't seem to like you Allen. It might be time to figure that mystery out before you go up for tenure.

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  6. I agree, balance in one's life is important (I learned that in therapy, ya know). But you can still have balance while realizing that building widgets is a job; teaching hamsterology is a calling. We are preparing HUMAN BEINGS to accomplish their life goals (as they imagine them right now). That's heavy shit. If I let them slide on being responsible now, they will not walk across a stage and suddenly become responsible employees. So while using a staple/paperclip where indicated may not seem important to you, not giving the right medication in the right dose at the right time, or not calculating the proper exercise intensity for the cardiac rehab patient, or putting the wrong social security number on somebody else's tax return as an accountant will be seen as important details to clients/bosses.

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  7. Like Ben, I think this is a worthwhile perspective. Honestly, in some ways, I aspire to this perspective (except that my department is, thank goodness, mostly pretty low-drama, and I don't have to go to the meetings anyway, since I'm not eligible for tenure. I would gladly go to the meetings if it meant having a voice, and/or a chance at tenure). But I also aspire to do my students some good, and I agree that that includes drawing some lines, at least nudging them toward the sorts of responsible, community-oriented behavior that will make them good future citizens. I've carried staplers (when I still accepted papers in hard copy) and provided links to various services they could have looked up themselves. But I'm not sure I should; I do it mostly because making them do things themselves is often even more work than doing it for them (very close parallel to getting preschoolers dressed), and I need to save the "no, do it again right" energy for things like insisting on something that resembles responsible citation.

    It's also worth keeping in mind that there's a certain water-on-the-rock/last-straw dynamic going on here. For those of us who have been at this for a decade or three, the little frustrations do mount up (as does the feeling that things are getting worse and worse), and what we post about here is often the (current) last straw. It's not that it's such a big thing in itself; it's the accumulated effect of many such events.

    Finally, like others, I'm a bit worried about your future, Alan. You say you're the "most recently published" in your department, but that may not be a particularly high bar, and it sounds like you need to begin a job search (if only because you're unhappy, but, yes, it's worth keeping in mind that your colleagues don't seem particularly happy with you, either, and their opinions will bear weight in your tenure case). So, by all means, go fishing, but spend some time on your research projects first, so your unconscious can be working on it while you're enjoying some downtime (downtime is good, I agree).

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  8. Allan's biggest problem is that he writes like honest_prof trying to write like someone else.

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  9. I sort of weighed if Allan was on the level but a check of his website showed him to be fairly legit. Oh, and his student evaluations are full of "cool professor" stuff. And that's always good!

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    1. Oh dear. Cool professor evals... not a great sign. I always assume I screwed up if I get that from more than one or two out of a hundred.

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  10. Allan sounds like a future administrator, at least at the place where I used to teach. Expecting students to show personal responsibility and take individual initiative was seen as contributing to a "negative learning experience". So, if they forgot to staple their papers, or the handout sheets didn't have holes punched in them, *I* was expected to do it myself and make the learning "easier". After all, telling them to get the lead out and do it themselves was "intimidating" or some such thing.

    No wonder I considered many of my students as still being in kindergarten.

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    1. Future administrator...love it!! As long as he isn't mine!

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  11. I get some of what Allan is saying; my inner peace levels rose when I adopted the Philosophy of Elvis: "I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused." And the stapler thing is not one that bugs me. But as Dr. Python said and others have implied, teaching is not just a job. It's a calling. If I wanted "just a job," I'd go back to the deli.

    If I teach the Little Dears how to cite sources, provide a handout and links, assign scaffolding assignments and provide a rubric, and they STILL include the entire bibliographic citation in mid-paragraph, it's going to bug me. And I'm going to want to commiserate with others who care as much as I do.

    As for getting tenure, Allan, suck it up and hang out in the hallway once in a while. It's always the fucking smiling.

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  12. Allan, as I said, your perspective of this being just a job is healthy. Frankly, it is a job. It can be a calling to some people also but not necessarily. You can be a good professor (actually good, not just student-evaluation-good) while just treating it like a job. That's what I do. I get pissed off at students not because they are interferring with my ability to mold them into the leaders of tomorrow. I get made bacause I've got a lot of shit to do during my day and they prevent me from getting it done.

    To be successful at a job requires that you tune into what your colleagues around you are doing and saying, especially when you are new and especially if you outshine them in research or teaching.

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    1. I agree with most of what you wrote. When I started teaching, I thought it was an honour and a privilege. After enduring the shenanigans of my first students (which included endless whining and, for some, equally endless efforts to cheat or otherwise outsmart me), it became simply another job. I simply adhered to the doctrine of not worrying more about their education than they did.

      I clocked out when I quit working for the day. Often, it was when I left the premises to go home. Sometimes, it was when I finished marking exams or writing notes before I went to sleep. There were, however, certain people at the institution where I used to teach (particularly administrators) who thought I was supposed to be on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any time for my own activities, no matter how trivial or, for that matter, necessary, was considered stealing success from the students.

      I can't say I'm worried that I might have destroyed the careers of any future billionaires or Nobel Prize winners simply because I wanted to have some semblance of a private life.

      However, I didn't particularly care what most of my colleagues did because they retired on the job. It didn't take long for me to figure out whose advice I could trust or who told me balderdash simply because they were too polite or lazy to tell me to get lost.

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  13. I'm waiting for Strelnikov's take on this Allan dude. Strel? Don't leave me hangin' ...

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  14. Wow. So young and has ALL of the answers! *sets stapler to stun*

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  15. Yeah, you know who used to say the same stuff to me? My husband, when he was in grad school and God's Gift to his sub-discipline. Know what he says to me now?

    "oh my god, I'm going to kill him - look at this - look at this" then he flails wildly in front of a spread sheet, at a desk covered with file folders - "look at this - this kid got an A on every test but I have nothing - NOTHING - not one fucking thing turned in - he didn't do a single assignment - what the fuck does he think is going to happen?"

    To which I reply "He thinks you're going to give him an A. PS tomorrow when you're passing out the final, 8 of your students are going to be trying to hand you papers, and all but possibly 2 of them will be complete crap. 2 might be mediocre."

    "No, I told them the last day I would accept them was the 13th."

    "I didn't say you were going to accept them. I told you 8 students were going to be crying and shoving paper at you."


    That said, I hope you're the exception and you still feel this way in 5 years.

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  16. It's fun to mock the snowflakes. It lets off steam. I swear, I've become much kinder and more patient since I found this website and began posting here. I thank all of you for sharing in my group therapy, LOL!

    I remember Stella, god bless her, writing that we would not recognize her IRL because she was NICE! Ha. That made me laugh, and I know what she meant.

    I think what this type, the Alan and Clarissa type, are really getting out of this site is the same damn thing----that's why in spite of themselves they keep coming back. They just are the kind that need to mock what they don't quite understand.

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  17. I have had more than twice Allan's experience in years (tenured and a national teaching award to boot) and I think I come down somewhere between where he marks out his territory and some of the normal CM crowd.

    I would love to take things as calmly as he does, but I believe in teaching too much, know that the policy decisions that get made affect students, and trouble over the apathy of my colleagues.

    I know that CM is very therapeutic (which is why I read it habitually) but I do worry that the process of venting, repetition et al. doesn't make us better but may make us worse by allowing us to reduce students and colleagues to types when--even though they say and do the same stupid shit--they are still individuals. We strip ourselves of the opportunity to have unique experiences and interactions by homogenizing those around us.

    (I know. That was simultaneously snowflakey and pretentious. 6:30 is too early to drink when you have toddlers.)

    And Allan is an ass for asserting his intellectual superiority and publishing prowess.

    But has this community rejected some of his tenor unfairly? What is wrong with a full and active life outside of work?

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    1. There is nothing wrong with a full and active life outside of work. That's a rhetorical question, right?

      What's annoying about the Allan's post, among other things, is that he really seems to believe he is the only one who has a full and active life outside of work. How on earth does coming on here to humorously vent about some of the things that annoy us about our jobs equate to not having that!

      I hear your point about the dangers of the repetitive venting. But I can honestly say that for me, the way it affects me is to make me MORE patient with some of the bullshit that goes on around the hallowed halls of academia. Just knowing others are out there who feel the same way is a comfort.

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    2. Reading about the venting here is a good thing. It has given me an opportunity to learn and to utilize snappy comebacks, syllabus addendums, CYA methods and general all-round tips and tricks.

      It is not until I, personally, am on the actual receiving end of student shenanigans that I come here to vent. Because all of a sudden it's really real.

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    3. I find that having somewhere to vent and to reduce the annoyance of the day to a stereotype, a funny story with recognisability, gives me the perspective I need to go back and treat the individual person and situation as if they were fresh and new.

      And you know what? What bugged me about Allan's post isn't that he has a different view to most of us who come here regularly. It's that the post indulges in stereotyping - either you are a workaholic/corridor-blocking gossiper/pointless-detail-obsessive OR you "have a life". I agree that having a full and busy life (or, if like me you are an introvert with a chronic health condition, a peaceful, bookish and mostly solitary life) outside of work isn't something you only get by not caring, by only working 'regular hours' or by freely handing out staplers. You can do both, either, neither... and you can do any of those things AND still enjoy a bit of job-related hyperbole.

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  18. Regarding staples----I am actually with Alan. I just don't care about the staple. I don't bring a stapler with me----but if they don't staple it, I tell them it is okay. And it really is.

    But this calls to mind my friend the electrical engineer. She would laugh at me when I would sometimes relate stories of other teaching frustrations. She said things about how engineers were doers----only interested in the final product. Not people to get worried over such things as we in the humanities do.

    She has four kids, and a master's degree, and when a job came up at a nearby community college to be a prof, I convinced her to apply. She got the job and has been doing this for about eight years. And BOY does the staple thing get her goat!!!! She's made the freakin' staple worth ten full points on a lab report.

    I don't say anything. We all have our Achilles heel.

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    1. STAPLE! STAPLE! STAPLE!!!! STAPLE!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHH!!!

      As my shaking hand flailed about, for my staple gun...

      Some think that staples are small things, of no major importance. Try telling that to a surgery patient who has been closed up with surgical staples INCORRECTLY. That HURTS.

      But then it's just a job, no big deal. That surgery may have been necessary since the patient drove over a bridge designed and built by an engineer who's been educated in that manner. So might the surgeon, and the nurse. English proffies don't get let off the hook here: the nurse may have injected the patient with something other than what was needed because the nurse's readings skills were formed by canned NCLB exercises, not actual literature or poetry. And the same goes for philosophy and history proffies for critical thinking, too!

      (Music proffies don't even get off, since treating their jobs as just jobs and no big deal results in music that sucks. Just fucking great.)

      Oh, and there IS something that drives me even more batshit loco than STAPLES. (Twitch! Twitch!) It's when students LIE to me when they DON'T EVEN HAVE TO. RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    2. I teach 5 classes. I have over 150 students. Last week as I was walking up the stairs to my office the handle of my bag caught on the banister and papers from all 5 of my classes went spiraling across the stairs and the floor.

      STAPLES ARE IMPORTANT. So very, very important. *sigh*

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    3. There was a point towards the middle of the semester when I stopped caring about staples, or their not writing their section number on the homework. I went on docking points for the latter (I had to sort the papers to give them to the TAs) and it never stopped. They don't care about staples, section numbers or homework grades, and the reason is they don't care about the course, and expect to pass anyway thanks to "curving". They forget I don't "curve" grades...

      The point in time when I stop caring about staples (shortly after the second midterm) is also the point when I subconsciously write off the class. After that it's going through the motions on both sides, with no emotional or intellectual engagement (and they can tell). Never a good thing, but frankly it's hard to stay involved when there is zero reciprocation from the other side.

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    4. @Peter K: Whenever I start feeling that way, I re-read "The Dechronization of Sam Magruder," by George Gaylord Simpson. As he points out, we are all still responsible for ourselves.

      But then, it is difficult to be responsible on behalf of people who utterly refuse to take responsibility for themselves. I therefore remember one ratfink professor I had when I was a student, who wrote me off too soon.

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  19. Re: the staples.

    I think readers like Allan miss the point... it's not REALLY about the staple. The staple (or lack thereof) is a stand-in for a much, MUCH bigger, wider-spread issue, which most of the regular readers of the blog see all too often.

    And I just couldn't take Allan seriously when he propped up his credibility with his glowing student evaluations. I bet he even loves his chili peppers!

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    1. We had someone like Allan in the department I used to teach in, though he had several years of seniority over me. One administrator who had an intense disliking for me always used that chap as a basis for comparison.

      Sure, he was popular with the students, but then he didn't demand much from them and handed out high marks like candy. No wonder he got good evaluations from them. On the other hand, I expected my students to earn their rewards, which didn't make me very popular with many of them.

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  20. Here's where I come down on the staple thing. Sure, I can do it for them. But I can also type their fucking paper based on the texts they send me.

    And I'm not doing that. Is there anything about professionalism we teach them? Does anyone? I think about that. Prepare professional product for me to grade. If you don't give a shit, I'm not going to staple it, format it, or fix shit.

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  21. Since we're still on the staple issue, I'll toss in my history.

    I graded for a 180 student section of basic hamster-cage math. Homework was due every week, sometimes twice, typically 3-8 problems, that took the average student 4 pages to complete. So I'd net a load of almost 800 pages of hand-scrawled math, with over 3/4s on the exact same green graph paper, the rest varying only by shade. I probably could deal with 1 unstapled assignment, but you can't just get 1 in a group that big, and it wouldn't take many more than 1 to make maintaining a semblance of organization a nightmare. I docked 20% off the first assignment for no staples, and 20% off the second as well. By the third, every tea-partying one of them was stapled. One had 14 staples in it, one had 3 and a query if the extra were worth extra points. I laughed victoriously.

    Do I personally believe that following instructions is a very important skill? Certainly, and if I hadn't, the military would have beaten it into me. But I don't require staples for training in following direction, I require it so I don't have to enforce rules like numbered pages and name on every page, and for my own sanity.

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    1. While stapling assignment sheets together is a minor issue, requiring students to do so teaches them to pay attention to such small details, which often say a lot about them as workers.

      I remember watching a presentation by Tom "In Search of Excellence" Peters on TV many years ago. He described how a certain airline made sure that its cleaning staff removed coffee stains from the fold-down tables. The rationale was that if the company didn't do that, passengers might wonder how well it maintains its jet engines.

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  22. About the staple issue, and similar issues.

    I really don't give a rat's ass if learning to staple your work, or follow other directions, will be useful in the workforce. I'm not here to produce useful widgets for the corporate machine. So I don't require staples because "someday your employer will appreciate your attention to anal detail."

    But I do require them to do things that make my job easier. Because they make my job easier. Like stapling things for God's sake. Or the equivalent, save your wretched file with YOUR NAME IN THE TITLE so I won't have 225 files on my desktop all titled "Hamsterology Ass. 1". Not because some future cubicle farm will appreciate this attention. Because *I* do. RIGHT NOW.

    But if it doesn't matter to me, then the hell with it. I had a student email me panick-stricken 2 days after the exam because he had misread the schedule. I hadn't handed in the grades yet and it was no advantage to him to know what was on the exam, if he did, so I let him write it that afternoon. Sure, out in the business world (which is no more real than ours) a missed deadline might be fatal to a deal or project. But this missed deadline, the exam, was not crucial to anything, and no inconvenience to me, so why should I pretend that it was?

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    1. If the students don't learn about such things like attention to small details, they're certainly not going to be taught that in industry. If they don't have that attitude by the time they start working, potential employers will find someone who does. Few companies have time to teach that to their personnel any more.

      Of course, it could be argued that the students will be concerned about such things once they work for a boss. (That was an argument they used to justify sloppy work as well as horsing around in my lectures.) But guess what--in the courses I taught, I was their boss. They had to perform to the standard expected of them as given in the course outline and which I presented to them in the lectures. I was the one who determined whether they met that standard.

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    2. "I had a student email me panick-stricken 2 days after the exam because he had misread the schedule. I hadn't handed in the grades yet and it was no advantage to him to know what was on the exam, if he did, so I let him write it that afternoon."

      In situations like that, I always remember with gratitude the professor who let me do the same in college. Of course, it helps when the student has been conscientious all along.

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  23. Alan would fit right in with my department, where nobody cares about anything: no discussions of curricula, academic or professional policies, U politics outside the department, nothing. Everybody in their little offices or classrooms "doing their job". It is the apathy/indifference/despondency that adminiflakes and studentflakes count on to change the rules of the game and slowly but surely destroy the profession (along with turning higher-ed in the USA into a service industry dedicated to issuing meaningless pieces of paper.)

    A job like any other? Hardly. I wouldn't spend weekends and evenings thinking about problems, reading papers or preparing original lectures (none of which carry the possibility of additional financial reward) if that were the case. What I do is feed a passion with no economic value, trying to solve problems and figuring out ways to explain things out of intellectual curiosity only. And what students should be doing at a university is getting exposed, through example, to the idea that people can pursue something passionately, independently and critically for reasons other than financial reward.

    If you don't show young people that's possible-that if you are really good at something, you can pursue it independently, following your own priorities--then what you're doing is churning out lifelong serfs with diplomas, ignorant and insecure. That a newbie like Alan can't tell the difference between being an academic and "any other job" shows how far along the process is.

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    1. Careful, there's two of us here now. I assume you speak of Allan, the parallel guy, and not myself, the not parallel guy.

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