Thursday, June 4, 2015

Musings on Vice-Provost Qualifications (w/ a question at the end -- so it's a Thirsty)

I had reason to look at the web page of a department for which I adjuncted and occasionally visiting-professored*  in the late 1990s for the first time in a long time a few days ago, and noticed that, among other changes, my last department chair there is now vice-Provost.  I also found myself recalling the most memorable conversation I had with that chair, when he told me, sometime in late Nov./Dec., that they would not, as he had assured me 4-6 months or so before would be the case, be able to offer me a second semester of  full-time work that year, only 3 classes on a part-time basis.  He wasn't a bad guy then, and he probably isn't a bad guy now, but somehow it strikes me that being able to deliver such news as if it were par for the course**, with little to no empathy for or recognition of the significant financial consequences for the recipient, is, sadly, not a bad qualification for becoming a provost these days.

*This, of course, is one of the reasons we refer to Visiting Professors as Accursed Visiting Professors around here. I'm not entirely sure of the history of the reference, but I think I've seen Frod, who uses it fairly regularly, credit Walt for its origin.  Maybe someone else can fill in the details. 

**It is, indeed, par for the course, but I wasn't quite experienced enough to realize that at the time.  For any recent Ph.D.s/A.B.D.s reading here: what you can count on is what you have in writing, in a contract, with your own signature and the signature of someone higher up (probably higher up than the chair -- a Dean or Provost) physically present, and associated with a date earlier than or equal to the present date, at the bottom.  Nothing else -- no oral promise, or projection; no advice from your advisor about "getting your foot in the door," nothing else, full stop -- counts.  Even then, you'd better understand all the rules about classes "making," and the ability of/requirement for TT faculty to take over adjunct classes if their own classes don't "make," and so on.  Your (prospective) colleagues can be good, kind, empathetic, honest people, and still be stuck enforcing the rules of a system they consider unjust.  It's nice when they -- unlike the chair I mention above, who I still maintain was/is a pretty decent guy -- at least acknowledge that the system is unjust, but that doesn't change the rules, or the effects on you.  Even if you trust the people, don't trust the system under which you're both/all operating.

And I just noticed it's Thursday, and we don't have a Thirsty, so

Q:  What's the worst news you ever received from a chair, Dean, Provost, President, etc.?  How did (s)he deliver it?  Did the manner of delivery affect your respect for hir? 

[or Q: can anyone enlighten us as to the the history of referring to Visiting Professors as Accursed Visiting Professors on RYS/CM? Are all Visiting Professors, by definition, Accursed?]


  1. Worse, in my mind, is my department head not saying anything about what was going to happen to me. He just let events play out without me understanding ehat was going on.

    1. Indeed. I can't remember, at this remove (and perhaps due to some post-traumatic amnesia), whether he volunteered the information, or whether I finally asked. I may well have asked -- because, you know, I was thinking about how I would pay my bills and such.

  2. Replies
    1. Touche. That can, indeed, be bad news as well.

    2. I was just so damn relieved that any institution would have me that I didn't do my pre-signing homework. Something about gift horses and all that. But perhaps I should have also considered whether I should become part of an institution that would hire someone like me.

      Being hired was a blessing and a curse. It's why I'm not on Perpetual Post-Doc Misery or Industrial Hamster-Wheel Misery, but it is why I'm here. At the same time, I am well aware that others would be more than willing to have my "curse", and I feel blessed every day I can get out of bed and accrue payment for something that does give some personal satisfaction.

      I have some thoughts on qualifications for upper admin, vis-a-vis the vigniette, but I must be off to more committee misery.

  3. Adjuncting years ago on another campus, I was ready to take over a class and teach it the whole semester for a FT colleague who had been out on some long, drawn-out stress leave. I had the syllabus, materials, etc. ready to go. But...she came back, and another colleague called me the morning that the class was due to start and said, "she came back" (translation: you lost the class).

    1. Ugh. All adjunct contracts really need to include "kill fees," or pro-rating of salary over a period that includes the month or so before classes, or something that means such behavior will cost the school at least a little bit of money. It wouldn't be a complete solution by any means, but, given the bean-counting tendencies of administrators, I suspect that it would reduce the occurrence of such situations more than would be expected from a strict cost/benefit accounting. Administrators really, really hate paying for "nothing" (though they don't seem to mind expecting others to work at that rate).

  4. I made up “Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor,” all by myself. I did this when I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor. The inspiration was that I hated being a Visiting Assistant Professor, since I could never see more than a year into the future. The trick was therefore to remove the accursed “Visiting.”

    And I did, but I had to move across a continent to do it. Now, of course, I have a student who had sex with a sheep. I suppose that means the joke’s on me.

    There is no freaking way under any circumstances whatsoever that I am getting into Walter’s ‘77 Camaro, even if he does remove the condoms from the back seat. Eeeeeewwwwwwwwww…

    I have to think about the worst news I ever received from a university administrator, since I’ve had so much, and of such great variety, over the years. One nasty case was the absence of news that I got, when I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor: those coelenterates wouldn’t tell me whether I was hired for one more year to prolong the agony until May 1. No one would take responsibility, being proficient first and foremost in covering their backsides, but it didn’t undermine my respect for them at all, since by then I’d already lost all respect anyway.

  5. OK, I'm back from yesterday's committee misery, which dropped a nice, big dollop of shit on my shit sundae of a week. I desire to produce something cathartic and scathing, but even as I write this comment, I feel my blood pressure rising again, and I worked very hard last night to bring it down so I could sleep. So let me recover some zen by detaching myself and opining on the key qualification for upper admin.

    Inexperience. Nobody who has ever really been in the trenches could treat those in their charge with such glib disregard, like so many interchangeable pieces on a gameboard. Or perhaps psychopathy, dementia, or other condition by which one could have once understood and/or cared but now does not.

    Nope, not detached enough.