Friday, September 19, 2014

The Monkey is Back!

Hello CM!

It is wonderfully amazing to be back. Losing College Misery was a personal challenge to me. It coincided with a series of events that almost forced my center to close entirely. Imagine the misery with no outlet for the pain! It was a pretty chaotic time but my institution was saved by a series of financial miracles (including an enormous non-profit granting us an endowment) and a huge re-staffing. I am one of perhaps 30% who survived the whole process. And that makes me almost immediately one of the "olds" of the school -- not so much in age but in tenure.

(I work for a research center in a larger institution but it is funded separately from most of the university. Will say no more for anonymity.)

My status has meant a promotion of sorts, into Administration. And suddenly I am faced with a series of requests from faculty that are just about impossible. They want to be in the same classroom for every single class, and I can only do that realistically for about 50% of them before overlap starts making it impossible. Then all the leftovers begin to complain about favoritism. "Privilege," that dirty word, is thrown at me often. There are tech requests and I have to choose which ones to honor and which ones to chuck in order to get in under budget.

Finally, there is a ton of resentment. As a result, I am almost constantly having to push my own teaching needs aside so that others will stop bitching and bitching. The faculty are sneaky and manipulative. They plan ahead with each other to say similar things and try to force me to spend money I do not have. They all accuse me of favoritism, but then request favoritism as well. I never before realized how much administration can be a choice between doing what is easy but costs all of your good will and doing something difficult that others will not recognize as a sacrifice.

I teach at 8am and a 3:30pm four days a week. It makes for a long day most days.

I do not have any of the same classrooms. One of my classrooms has no meaningful technology. Itried to give it to the new English teacher, and she traded in all of her "new faculty status" good will during the tantrum that followed.

My textbook order was one of the last one to be approved so we could prioritize the bastard complainers.

I suppose in the end it will be worth it: I have a raise and more authority, in theory, even as I am making these sacrifices. Ultimately, I think that this is going to be a year of major transition, as I figure out how to manage whether I care that my faculty hate me or not. I am sure I will step into pitfalls, and I will need your help to figure out which fights are worth my time!!

And in the meantime? I have two senior classes that are among the most delightful I've ever taught. My teaching has a gorgeous flow to it. My chancellor and I are becoming very good friends. So that's nice! Once I get past the complainers, this might all just work out.

It feels so great to be back!!


  1. Hello again, Monkey!

    God, that is so depressing. Recently I've been asked to "help out" with some administrative duties, and in my very short reign of terror, I've seen examples of what you've outlined above. I am instantly the enemy of right action, thought, progress, education, etc. I am holding my colleagues back from goodness and light. I'm the devil.

    And I'm exactly the same person I was, and doing everything I can to be equitable. But, no, I'm giving preferential treatment. (An aside. I've been accused of giving extra consideration to someone on the faculty who is the LAST person I'd ever do anything for. She truly IS evil.)

    Anyway, I respect now more than ever how hard any kind of management is. And, yes, you'll just have to live with it and stop caring if anyone likes you again. That sucks, though.

  2. So glad to have you back, Monkey...what about some unsolicited advice on how to deal with administrators?

    1. May I, too, have some unsolicited advice?
      Baby, you're a firework.
      Come on, let your colors burst.

    2. Cannot wait to start the column up again. So many people need to be given advice!!!

  3. Hi, Monkey! Good to see you back, and interesting to hear how things look from the other side of the administrative fence. To play devil's advocate just a bit (in real life, I tend to be very cooperative with the person who does our course and classroom scheduling; it's a hell of a job, and it's pretty easy to see, as far as I'm concerned, why everybody can't get what they want), it sounds like the whole place has gone through quite a bit of upheaval in the last year or so, which is the sort of situation that makes people feel anxious and grasp at straws as they try to figure out where they fit in the new pecking order (and, most of all, whether they'll still have job next year, or five years from now, and, thus, whether they should be putting energy into doing their best for the new enterprise, or should be thinking about what they need to do to be ready to go on the market). Or maybe, since it doesn't sound like Darla's place has gone through the same upheaval, and people are behaving similarly there, maybe they're just secure in their jobs but self-important assholes. Or maybe they're really, really, exhausted and burnt out after years of uncertainty and no meaningful raises and lacking the energy to figure out how to teach the same class (as another section this semester, or as the last time they taught it) in a different way, because the tech they were strongly encouraged to incorporate as part of the last initiative to support "21st-century student-centered learning" is now unavailable, or available for only one out of two sections, or whatever. (As I said, I try to get along and make do, but when two of my sections landed in a considerably lower-tech classroom last year, the same exercises that worked well in a computer classroom didn't work nearly as well with the students bringing in their laptops, and the evals reflected that. This stuff does matter, and matters more when one feels vulnerable and exhausted and overworked and underpaid.) I dunno. As you can tell, even though I can sort of put myself in the scheduler's shoes, I can also definitely see the faculty perspective.

    Maybe there's something proactive to do, to try to figure out what the various factors and priorities behind the requests are? Individual conversations with the worst whiners (and perhaps some of the quiet ones, like me, who make the best of things, but may be able to identify some of the underlying issues)? An anonymous survey that gets at the issues (hey, there's always your cousin, surveymonkey!) More portable tech? A plea to donors and/or a grant application to upgrade teaching facilities? Is there any way to convince them that you're all on the same "side" (which I realize you may well be doing in real life, while venting here, which of course is what the place is for, so have at it).

    In any case, I'm glad your classes are going well. That sounds like a bright spot (and the fact that you *are* teaching regularly, and not, it seems, an easy schedule (please tell me these are frequently-meeting classes, and you're not doing a 4/4 on top of your admin duties), should earn the respect of the other faculty, and keep you in touch with the issues they face. May that part continue to go well!

    P.S. Why do people care so much about getting the *same* classroom for all of their classes. Suzie mentioned that, too. Maybe I'm spoiled because I'm on a big campus with a lot of more or less identical classrooms, many of them quite high-tech, but I really don't care, as long as all the sections of a particular class have the same level of tech in their classrooms, and back-to-back classes are in the same or an adjacent building. In fact, it's sometimes helpful to me to have classes in different rooms, since it can make remembering names and faces, and what we did the last time we met, easier. But I suspect I'm missing something (and I'm sure others will point it out).

    1. Exactly -- all of the above! What's really funny is that I'm friends with these faculty, both the new and the old, and many of us still go for drinks together or eat lunch together, sit at faculty meetings together. It's only when they need something from me that suddenly I'm the enemy and must be manipulated to death. And I'm always trying to please others so it's something I'm really struggling with.

    2. Ah, the manipulations. Or the outright refusals. These are the things that administrators deal with when they are placed above their colleagues. The new pecking order is not instantly established, and for a while you may be treated as "equal" by those who were your closest colleagues before the re-organisation.

  4. Re: Same room - as one gets older and more confused, finding the right room can get tricky: Is this Monday in 335 or Tuesday in 355? Now Wednesday I'm in 549, that I can deal with. Thursday I'm in 535, which it potentially confusing, but that has my equipment in it, I recognize that I am in the right place.
    Also, one gets familiar with the quirks of a particular room: do the blinds work? Is there airflow that can be regulated? How many boards are there for my non-digitally-enhanced teaching? It does make a difference if I have a wide, one-behind-the-other, three-deep whiteboard, or one small square of fixed whiteboard, or that damn whiteboard-on-wheels that has fold-out wings and I *always* trip over the wheels that protrude out when I am pacing. That does tend to interrupt my spiel. Oh, did I mention being in a room with chalkboard? The mathematicians forced the school to install chalkboards for them, and then the administration moves you there so that some fancy company that is paying for a recruiting fair can use your room and you have a bag full of whiteboard markers and there's no chalk to be found....

    It's so lovely to still have a place to rant. Thanks to Beaker Ben and our new, fearless moderator!

  5. Same classroom for every class? wtf. Tell them they need the exercise (assuming no disabilities, which obviously you would accommodate first.) Good to hear that one of our own is wielding power, authority and a budget!

  6. Do you know who gets to teach in the same classroom all day? Kindergarten teachers. Tell your colleagues to deal with it.