Monday, August 31, 2015

How about someone defer to the proffie first?

The flava:

Multiple professors at Washington State University have explicitly told students their grades will suffer if they use terms such as “illegal alien,” "male," and “female,” or if they fail to “defer” to non-white students.

According to the syllabus for Selena Lester Breikss’ “Women & Popular Culture” class, students risk a failing grade if they use any common descriptors that Breikss considers “oppressive and hateful language.”

"Students will come to recognize how white privilege functions in everyday social structures and institutions.”

The punishment for repeatedly using the banned words, Breikss warns, includes “but [is] not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and— in extreme cases— failure for the semester.”

Breikss is not the only WSU faculty member implementing such policies.


Wanna Be Famous, or at Least "CM" Famous?

If you'd like to share your misery with our readers, you can email your angst directly to the office computer here in Oilmont, Montana.

If you're a bit more active and want to have your own posting rights - the freedom - email us for an invite.

“People dancing, people laughing, A man selling ice cream, singing Italian songs.” From the Tuba Playing Prof.

It's Move-In Day, a day that takes three days. I understand that students duped into living on campus are our best customers because on top of the ever-rising tuition they pay (that comes with the ever-rising reliance on “contingency” faculty), they rent living spaces, buy meals, and rent parking spaces. After all, it's more money than the students we now refer to as “just commuters” fork over.

And Move-In Day is the latest “event” planned by the new vice president for.....I forget the title. The “residents” (that group of people we once called students), their parents, siblings, and significant others (many who apparently now stay the entire weekend in the new “conference center,” the latest hotel from a national chain that has “partnered” with the university), enjoy several “start-UP! sessions,” meals, and “funtime” activities. The college president addresses them, a sign of just how important these residents are to our “campus community.” The current president has never attended a department or college meeting, so these residents are clearly important. Across campus, there are welcome banners, “Ask ME! Volunteers,” music playing, free water, information booths, and other festive, joyous, brightly colored, meaningful, freaking awesome, helpful things.

As I jogged by campus today, I was moving faster than a long line of trucks and cars with trailers filled with necessary stuff bought at Best Buy, Target, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, etc, I realized that this particular traffic jam was headed to the Juniors dorms, not the new freshmen dorms across campus and curiously across the street from a collection of dodgy bars. These Juniors dorms are where twenty-year-old college juniors reside. I know that everything is for most of these young people and their parents an event---from graduation from Kindergarten, to school “dances,” to “campus-tour vacations,” to moving into freshmen dorms. Why is moving into one's dorm room for hur junior year an event?

Yet as I jogged on, here's the thing that mostly annoyed me as a “teaching faculty member” (or in words no one will say “just a teacher”): I know that among these students “moving in” at least one will be in one of my MW classes. And as such hur final exam will be scheduled on the very last day of the fall semester, always a Monday (because of Labor Day), the day after mandatory “move out,” the last Sunday of the semester so that the staff can “process” before the semester break—that lasts five weeks.

A few days before December 21st, I will get some form of this email: “Professor, I have to move out by Sunday, and I have no place to stay, so I need to take the final early before my parents come here to move me out.”

Once again I will email the latest newest admin in charge to point out the conflict that residents have between their living spaces and their academic careers; sometime in late January, I'll get once again the terse explanation that the staff needs the time to “process” the dorms for the upcoming Spring Semester.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cynicism or reasonable doubt?

I wonder if anyone can help me get a better perspective on a situation that has arisen in my department?

We have a female student who struggled in first year, failing a few modules (gender matters for this story).  Our system allows such students the chance to resit over the summer so they can continue to progress with the rest of their cohort, assuming that they meet certain requirements (they have to have failed by 'honest effort', which means attended classes, handed in work etc. - if they were absent above a certain threshold and/or didn't submit major pieces of work, we expect them to retake the module in their own best interests).  When Stuette attended for her resit exam, it was very obvious that she was quite heavily pregnant, so (after some traditional shuffling and mumbling) someone sat down with her and asked what her plans were.

Stuette, it turns out, thinks a baby will have no effect on her life (this is her first, and she's not yet 20), and has researched her 'rights' according to the university.  The baby is due the first week of the semester.  Stuette states that she will be back as a full-time student attending all classes, laboratory work and field work from week 5 of the semester.  The university states that we must therefore redo all risk assessments to specifically cover the inclusion of a recently post-partum female AND a very young baby, which means everything from weights lifted to chemicals involved to walking distances to breast-feeding and changing facilities (Stuette has signed up for modules which involve multi-day trips to remote nature sites, where the day-time toilet facilities MIGHT include a primitive wooden spider-infested long-drop or a urine-impregnated concrete monstrosity, but often consist of a few rocks or shrubs).  Where the needs of Stuette cannot be met on the original, the university requires that we develop alternative but equivalent activities (perfectly possible, with sufficient notice, but as a certain number of field and laboratory days are required for accreditation in Stuette's programme, pricey in staff time and sometimes resources too).

I wish Stuette all the best, hoping for an easy on-schedule birth, an easy baby, a rapid recovery and cast-iron child-minding arrangements (which we are not allowed to ask her about and which she will not tell us about, which kinda sends up a red flag to me, but maybe I am being unreasonable?) for her.  Perhaps I am showing my own ignorance, as a childless older female who really Needs Her Sleep living in a legislative system which considers up to a year of parental leave to be appropriate to allow new mothers time to recover and adjust. 

But... Stuette is a weak student who did not give us long enough notice to actually make arrangements (according to the stated due date she was 33-34 weeks pregnant when someone asked her what was up, so well past any reasonable time to begin planning, one would think).  We have a 12 week semester, so she will return in week 5 with four weeks of work to make up on top of a full load in classes with relatively high hours (in the UK contact hours vary according to the subject, and science subjects with field and lab classes have the highest hours on the whole).  I therefore anticipate that appropriate accomodations will also include extensions on course-work, at the least, if not deferral of assessment into the SECOND semester, which just puts more pressure on what is widely agreed by staff and students to be the hardest semester of the degree in Stuette's programme.  Effectively, staff are going to be expected to act as private tutors to get her up to speed on those missing four weeks (university guidelines explicitly state that individual tuition is a reasonable accomodation request for such circumstances).  NO there is no money for a TA to help, or anything like that.

I'm really not convinced that this is in the student's best interests.  Or in the interests of the other 50 students in her programme or 175 students in her overall cohort within the department.  And naturally as a member of staff currently redoing risk assessments and attempting to work out how the HECK I can shoehorn in replacements for the field and lab classes in the first four weeks of the semester into the later weeks in a way that gives Stuette a chance of actually being able to successfully take part in the rest of the module without messing up her group's work or putting unmanageable extra pressures on me and my delicately balanced marking schedule, I may be somewhat biased.

Any comments or opinions, Miserians?  Or just some sympathy would be nice right now...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"Worn Out by Fatigue Training." Sent by Suzy.

I was sitting quietly in our department’s faculty meeting, trying to surreptitiously catch up on some reading while appearing politely attentive. This is academic medicine’s equivalent of “just walking down the street, minding my own business”—when the equivalent of “.and then some dude shot me” jolted me back to the meeting; it was the distantly heard phrase “mandatory training.”

The rest...

Misery Update.

Two rather high profile community members wrote me this past week with nearly identical notes. They each wanted to say they were not going to be on the page regularly, that they have loved their time here, and that they didn't want me to mention their names or make a fuss. I asked each to write a little something on the page, but I haven't heard back.

One of these people I know pretty well because we've been in pretty constant contact via email for most of the life of the blog. The other person I've always been fond of because we're college neighbors more or less.

Added to the departure of Beaker Ben earlier this month, it's given me a real sadness. Our hits have been rising since school re-started in many parts of the country, but it's still remarkably down from even last year.

I've told people who have written me that I'm committed to trying to keep the page alive as long as it's a going concern, and I stand by that.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Proffie Cancellations Continue in the Tweeter.

Kimmie writes: I can't keep up with all the canceled classes on the Twitfeed. Epidemic is not too strong a word. I don't understand the "My professor just canceled all the Thursday classes" thing.

An Open Letter from Sabian in St. Paul To His Bosses. "You Don't Care."

Because of a fairly severe medical crisis, I left the profession for nearly 3 years, so when I came back to it, I had a gap in my vita. It took me another 2 years to find a teaching position, and when I did, it was a 5 section per semester slot at a teaching institution.

I was nervous about it, but needed the work. I attended some "new" faculty orientation, and was told time and again about time management and caring for the students, etc. I kept asking, "How many hours does it take to grade that many exams? (For there are no TAs.) I was told by my chair, "Oh, use holistic grading. Don't worry about 90s or 80s, just give pluses and minuses, or grade on a 3 point scale."

"What about essays?" I asked. "I'd like my students to do one at midterm on a major concept, but can that work with more than 200 students?" "Oh, yes," my bosses said. But don't worry about comments; that can take too long. Grade based on a simplified rubric. 2 for excellent. 1 for good."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rosemary Eye-Roller Update.

One talked to the eye-roller today. One kept him after class very casually.

"I notice you sighing and rolling your eyes a lot. Is there something I'm not doing that you need? Are you sitting too far back? Can you hear me?"

He went red. "Uhhhh, it's just that, uhhhhh, like, I know all this. I'm a good writer and you're talking about essays and articles. I want to write my stories and poems."

"Sure," I said. "But that's not this class. This is straight college writing; I'm getting you ready for academic writing that will help you with advanced paper writing in your major and in upper division classes."

"Oh," he said, brightly, "Well, I'm going to be a film maker. I already won a contest when I was at [Name of impossibly fancy prep school.]"

"Great," I said. "But you're in a freshman writing class. These other 14 people need this stuff and I'm going to teach it. It breaks my spirit to hear you huffing and puffing and to see you rolling your eyes when I'm giving perfectly reasonable instructions about the class."

Red again. "You can see all that?"

"Oh yeah. It's a little room. I see everything."

He was apologetic enough, and one was eager to let it go.

"Keep it cool in here, and I promise I'll challenge you with some of the stuff we do."

One does what one can.

A Two Part Big Thirsty From Albert the Adjunct. Welcome to the Bungle.

I taught math at a local private college as an adjunct professor for the first time last semester. Everyone in my class passed with a majority of A's. I didn't grade on a curve. My class was difficult. I was pleased that everyone was successful and felt I had a successful first semester.

Then reality set in when I read my student evaluations. Most of them were very critical of me. And most of the criticisms were dishonest. But these evaluations were consistent with one another. It was almost as if they had all ganged up together on me, saying the same thing.

I have some questions for those who have more experience in college teaching than me:

Q) I graduated college when none of these students had been born yet. Is my career as an adjunct professor dependent on the anonymous evaluations of these students? If so, why would anyone want to have such a career? How can a teacher do his job properly if he is concerned about what his students will say?

Q2) I noticed that hardly any of the students knew how to write a composition when I gave them a writing assignment. And these were juniors and seniors. I learned how to write a composition in high school. What happened?

Cal, Despite His Generally Lousy Outlook on Life, Has Sent in a New Dorm Dancing VidShizzle. I'm Guessing It Took Up About 10 Minutes of His Day. Fucking Lazy Eye Rolling Fucker. Still It Did Get My Toe Tapping, So...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Eye Rolling Early Thirsty from Rosemary.

One has been blessed with fantastic students. I never quite understood exactly how much better my students would be. It's fantastic. I feel as though I'm teaching people who will really be fun to challenge.

Except for Eye Rolling Emile.

Emile caught my eye early in the first week as I talked a bit about the rigor of the course. Eye roll. Later I asked folks to tell me a bit about themselves as I called the roster the first time. Eye roll.

It's just one student in one class, but now when 10 am comes around I don't even want to go. He sits in my line of vision at the back of the class. Whenever I suggest anything I might think is a cool or interactive way to discuss the material, eye roll. It's only been a couple of days, but he's harshed one's mellow, to use the old vernacular.

Q: When you have a student with a bothersome tic or behavior, what do you do?

Open Minds?

I've seen this story a couple of times this week:
It’s unclear how many of Duke’s 1,750 incoming students skipped Alison Bechdel’s highly-acclaimed 2006 graphic-novel style memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. That anyone admitted to a top university would purposely ignore their first assignment is, first and foremost, sad. These students have denied themselves a great read. The book, beautifully written and illustrated, won numerous literary awards and inspired a Broadway musical that swept the Tonys this spring. It’s a bittersweet story detailing Bechdel’s life growing up with a closeted gay father “who killed himself a few months after I came out to my parents as a lesbian.” Heavy stuff, for sure, but higher education is about examining the heavy stuff. Through her unique lens, Bechdel explores the themes of family, growing up and self-acceptance; themes we all can relate to.
What’s really disappointing, however, are the reasons students have given for refusing to read the book. According to The Chronicle, they think it’s pornographic. When I heard that, I grabbed my copy off the shelf to find the porn I apparently missed the first time around. I’m not sure how one labels a book pornographic without actually reading it, of course. Maybe it’s a new twist on the Stewart test: I know it when I don’t see it? Either way, it represents the antithesis of education, which requires both the opening of books and the opening of minds.

The rest...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Frat House Sign: Old Dominion University.

Trish from Texarkana with Some Conference Misery.

I miss hearing interesting views on literature, or considerations of literatures I don't yet know. So, I thought I would send in an abstract to a conference held by field. After trolling through the offerings, I realized that this is why I no longer wish to attend the large conferences in my area. I am not even going into why the use of auteur here is so incorrectly applied. Let us just say I think I am better off staying home reading the The New York Times Book Review.

Some flava from the call for papers:
"These “showrunners” are developing intellectually complex worlds and landscapes that engage audiences. More and more scholars are dedicating their work to studying series by particular showrunners; a famous example would be Joss Whedon, whose work has become so popular that there are journals and conferences dedicated to his work alone. 
With the advent of social media, fans are able to hear directly from the source on the fandoms that they hold so dear. This amount of access and primary resources can be a great source of information to utilize in the classroom. That’s why I propose a panel that looks to investigate lesson plans and courses that are based on using the work of television auteurs."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

New Book from Karen Kelsky

Admittedly this is a third-hand citation/recommendation (something I'd never let my students get away with), but it's late August, and things are kind of slow, and I trust all the parties involved (though I don't know any of them personally).  Also,  it's the season for everyone from college seniors to new grad students to old grad students determined that this will be the year they turn that ABD into a Ph.D. (a situation I recognize all too well, even well over a decade after finally making the resolution come true one year -- and I'm still not sure why that year was the year) to think about what grad education entails, and should entail, and where it can and should lead.

So I thought I'd point out, via this excerpt from an interview by Rebecca Schuman in Slate, that Karen Kelsky (aka the professor of The Professor is In) has written a book entitled The Professor is In: How to Turn Your Ph.D. Into a Job.  Despite the somewhat hopeful title (hey; it's only useful if it actually sells), it sounds pretty realistic; witness the presence of a chapter entitled "It's Okay to Quit," and this description (from the Schuman interview) of material at the beginning of the book:

Rebecca Schuman: You write about delusion in the early chapters of your book. What do you think is the most pernicious myth about what you call the “Work of the Mind”?
Karen Kelsky: That there is some fantasy space for intellectual work that operates outside of the real economy. Intellectual work has to be supported with actual money. In the Renaissance, it was aristocratic patrons. In the high-growth postwar period in the U.S., the government made this investment, and that is when the current system of graduate training was established. We all forget this history and believe that the option of doing scholarly work is available to anyone with the talent, and that it’s above mundane concerns of money. It is neither. Refusing to foreground the actual monetary costs of academic labor in the current economy is a kind of grad-student gaslighting, and a form of abuse.
Full interview here.  Oh, and my advice to new grad students, and college seniors considering grad school: you should read this sort of book (and also the ones about turning your dissertation into a book or series of scholarly articles) as early in the process of grad education as possible (preferably before you even apply).  It's never too early to think about the big picture (and check for illusions). 

Vanderbilt Study Shows Black Professors Are Expected to Entertain as Well as Educate.

Is this smile big enough
for you dolts?
A new study by Vanderbilt University reveals that even in academia Black people are still struggling with stereotypes and discrimination. According to the Vanderbilt study, Black college professors were expected to be “entertaining,” while they were conducting seminars and academic research papers. The survey interviewed 33 Black faculty members at colleges across the country.

“Interviews with the scholars revealed that an overwhelming majority were advised regularly by white peers to be ‘more entertaining’ when making research presentations, as well as to ‘lighten up’ and ‘tell more jokes,” said Vanderbilt University.

The study also revealed Black female professors were often critiqued on their clothing choices and told to “smile more” during presentations.

More misery.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Frat boys, Amirite?

RYS Flashback: 8 Years Ago.

Someone Works Through Some Semester Beginning Anxiety To Finish With a Hopeful Howdy

As a grad student teacher at my university who (illegally) moonlights as an adjunct faculty member elsewhere (how does my department expect a single mom to live off of $851 per month?) I vote anxiety as the overwhelming emotion that overcomes me every time I glance at the calendar.

My students would like nothing better than to treat me like their bitch, but one does have to establish some modicum of control, even with the slackers. At some point in the semester (about one third of the way through, every semester, without fail) I have to go to my Zen teaching place. After the novelty of the first week wears off, I realize that my students are blowing off the carefully selected readings, ignoring my painstakingly constructed syllabus, and daydreaming through the class sessions I prepare before I work on my own dissertation. I am crushed, angry, resentful. Then I have to take a weekend, drink, eat sushi, and commiserate with my adjunct fiance, and come to the Zen place.

I really like to teach. I really like what I teach. Enthusiasm is contagious (to the students who can be reached). So my attitude for the rest of the semester has to be that I will enjoy each class session because I love my subject. The students who want to learn, be my guest (dare I hope plural?). I'm happy to help them. The ones who don't? Fuck them. They're screwing themselves.

I, however, am going to have a good time, drink fine wine while I grade papers, and not have to take medication because I'm letting the anxiety eat through my stomach. Take heart. It's nearly time for spiced alcoholic cider and roast rack of lamb. Best wishes to the troops entering the trenches.

Dr. Amelia wants to know why assessment is often BS.

The words accreditation and assessment seem to strike serious fear in the hearts of proffies everywhere. I get that It's a giant timesuck, and often seems like meaningless hoop jumping. But what I don't understand is why, at every school I know, smart people who know how to answer questions don't seem to be able to use a technique that will lead to reliable information.

Here's an example: You want to know if students are learning hamster fur fashion history, so you use their test scores in fur weaving technologies class. Here's another: you want to know if a sequence of courses leads to a desired learning outcome of the major, so your sole measurement is asking students at the end of the intro course if they feel well prepared for the rest of their major.

In the words of my students, #srsly.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Because, hey, there's nothing like discussing an uncomfortable topic to bring about some good 'ol College Misery, and since a prior post brought up the topic of, well you know...

Is this image of a peculiar Martian rock formation a fact or opinion?

P.S.:  The original image can be found here on NASA's webpage.

Happy 38th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2

The brightest meteor I observed of the 2015 Perseid meteor shower, taken during the night of August 12-13 in a 25-second exposure at iso 1600 with a Canon 60Da DSLR camera and a Sigma 4.5-mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. The Fresno light dome is at southwest.

Notice the chronology:

August 15, 1977: Just before midnight, the "Wow!" signal was received at Ohio State's Big Ear radio telescope (which was dismantled and turned into a golf course in 1998). The "Wow!" signal is the most famous radio signal ever considered a candidate transmission from extraterrestrial intelligence: you know, aliens. It was named the "Wow!" signal since Jerry Ehman, the undergraduate at the time who was watching the telescope that night, scribbled "Wow!" on the old-style stripchart computer printout.

August 16, 1977: Elvis Presley died.

August 20, 1977: Voyager 2, which became the third spacecraft to fly by the planets Jupiter and Saturn and so far the only spacecraft ever to fly by the planets Uranus and Neptune, was launched.

All are well-documented facts, not "just your opinion." You can look them up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"What is a lecture?" From the Deseret News.

A colleague who's too dumb to be able to lecture anyone on anything other than how to wear his pants too high and how to leave cheese sandwiches in the faculty fridge too long, sent me an article this morning.

Here's some flava:

"I believe this is the most exciting time in all of human history. The fields of teaching, learning and technology are ripe for change. New technologies and learning designs of all sorts will emerge to support the incredible potential of human learning no longer bound down by the traditions of ancient practices such as the lecture."

Here's more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kwikie Kimmie Tweeter Thirsty.

The Misery Tweeter is blowing up with gleeful students reporting on first day proffie cursing. Some are over the moon at all the 'shit' and 'fuck' flying around.

Q: Any problem with casual cursing in a college class? Are there certain parameters where you would or would not approve of a colleague? In your own class?

Monday, August 17, 2015

White Girls, Amirite?

What the Fuck, People.

Kimmie just checking in. I've now logged over 100 tweets (and re-tweeted scores of them) where the professor didn't show up or just cancelled the first day of class at colleges all over the country.

Terry P., who once ran the Misery Tweeter, found the same phenomenon a year or two ago, and it just floored me.

What are you doing on the first day? Why can't proffies make it? Are there really that many emergencies?

The page got backlash when Terry P. posted some of these (even with the pictures and names blurred), but I just wanted to report with this: "WHAT THE FUCK, PEOPLE!"

You can see some of them on Tweeter if you're so inclined. My first class is Thursday, and unless my brain or heart explodes (it's been years, another story), I'm going to be there.

No, It's Not Your Opinion. You're Just Wrong.

Sorry, links appear to be all I'm good for. But here's a good 'un.

Flava: can form an opinion in a bubble, and for the first couple of decades of our lives we all do. However, eventually you are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.

You can be wrong or ignorant. It will happen. Reality does not care about your feelings. Education does not exist to persecute you. The misinformed are not an ethnic minority being oppressed. ... No, it’s not your opinion. You’re just wrong.
Read the whole thing.

What Do You Remember Most About Your First Day in College?

I start back to class today, and have a 40 student first year seminar at 8 am. I am nervous, as I always am about a new semester, but know that I surely must be more ready for my task than my young "charges."

My strongest memory of my own first day of college (at Antioch, I'll reveal), was how smart everyone seemed, the other students. They spoke like little adults, and I felt like a middle schooler among them.

One young lady who sat next to me in a French intro class actually leaned across the aisle of a classroom and picked a piece of cheese off the front of my shirtand dropped it into a tiny tissue in her hand. And she smiled at me.

Eva. I remember her name was Eva.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Flashback. 38 Years Ago. Sent in by Cal.

Take that boy and put him in a mansion
Paint the windows black
Give him all the women that he wants
Put a monkey on his back

All of your so called friends
Take you where the sidewalk ends, that's it
Can't sleep at night, no
Can't sleep at night

Lord please save his soul
He was the king of Rock and Roll

-Robbie Robertson

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Misery From Elsewhere

Home-made Lunar Eclipse Gif To Demonstrate Hopelessness
I swear I was looking for something else entirely when I stumbled across this gem:
College Syllabus Through the Eyes of *That* Student Synopsis: Most college professors, most teachers at any level, can share horror stories of students who fail to pay attention to the dates, times, and policies included in a syllabus. Let us pause for a minute and envision a generic college syllabus through the eyes of the ultimate nightmare college student.
Hard to believe it wasn't written by someone here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Where's the Shame? A Friday Thirsty from Hiram.

Posted left in memory of Ben...
So I love the twits, and I always followed Ben.

But when the tweeter feed came under the Misery banner, I felt a momentary pause. My Twitter handle - and my name here - is part of my real world name. And even though I don't plan on announcing that I'm twitting or reading twits, I had a tiny twinge in my stomach.

Would my colleagues understand? I don't think so. My students? I don't actually care. My Dean? No way.

So I made a new Twizzler handle and now am happily following Kimmie's re-twits.

But, why?

Q: Was it shame I felt? Are we pseudonymous casually, or as a matter of keeping a grim hold on our jobs? What would befall us if we said at the next faculty meeting, "I'm miserable, and here's my evidence, 24 posts on College Misery! Take that, you Kool-Aid drinking bastards"?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Hint to Editors

Hint for editors: 

If you get an email from me that says "thank you for your comments on my submission, but could you please be a bit more specific about what you think I need to add" don't just send your original note back to me. 

I read it already.  It didn't help.

Rosemary of Raleigh With a Big Thirsty.

One doesn't want to feel like the only one rowing the boat, but a few hours of orientation with one's new colleagues has made it easy to take to bed with the fevers.

"On the first day I like to tell them to get their smartphones out and make little movies. They love making little movies."

"What about?" one cautiously queries.

"Oh, whatever, what kind of town they came from, what they want to do. Did they go some place nice in the summer."

One presentation was about keeping the students energized. "I make them get up and clap their hands when I ring a bell," someone presented - on a PowerPoint slide. "They think it's fun and it really keeps us all going."

"I know I'm not supposed to, but I just mother them. I scold them when they do wrong and give them lots of praise so they'll know I want them to do well."

One wondered, but did not say, "They have mothers. Do you want their mothers to grade their work as well?"

I left the orientation and felt blue. A dynamite school, the pick of great students, and all of the training was about pleasing the students, making them welcome, making them feel at ease, AVOIDING TOPICS THAT MIGHT ACT AS A TRIGGER TO A NEGATIVE THOUGHT OR IDEA.

Q: Are we doing it all wrong?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Return of the Misery Tweeter.

Kimmie of the Kensington Kimmies has decided to restart twitting the tweeters on a regular basis. You can follow us @CollegeMisery and she will do her best to showcase the finest miserable twits as she finds them.

A Longtime Reader Sends This In.

A drunk student emails his Professor to request a deadline extension on a paper, but also comments on his baldness and offers to find a partner for him to apparently, regain his hair.

The Professor's response is perfect.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I am on vacation. Leave me the tea party alone.

It's just a mini-rant, in non-haiku form.  I'm taking a couple of months off this summer for the first time in two years, and people will not leave me alone.  I have a vacation responder on my email -- something that should be enough to keep people away -- but, no, LD3C has actually mailed me information that was originally emailed and to which I didn't respond ... while I'm not on the books ... while I'm on vacation.

Requests for meetings.  Requests for information.  Requests for participation in seminars and committees. 

Bugger off.  Bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger off.

So there.

Working in the Doghouse...

Let me preface this by saying I love dogs. I sprawl on what's left of our drought-ridden lawn to tussle with my neighbor's dog as often as I see her (the dog, not the neighbor), and I happily greet dogs who run up for a friendly greeting on the trails of the woods where we hike. My own dogs and I have few arguments outside of the one attempting to trick us into feeding him twice a day and stealing the other one's food when he doesn't inhale it.

But to "steal" from Hiram, I am baffled by why dogs are showing up on my campus where I don't expect them:

I stumbled over a hamster-sized dog that was taking a nap in the doorway of our Student Services office last week. It yipped at me, rightfully so, and I yipped back, equally startled.

I was chastised by the Copy Center clerk for leaving the door open "too long" (thereby resulting in their resident K-9 escapee making a break for it). For clarification "too long" meant just long enough for me to walk through the door. Why is it now my responsibility to police their office dog?

This morning I had to escort a much-too-adorable beagle out of my classroom because it was (obviously) way more interesting than me or the assignment that my summer students were agonizing over. The students and the beagle now hate me. Well, let me be clear: the students hated me long before this incident.

The Student Health Center (!) has a mutt that I am not altogether sure is 100% alive; it seems to be in the same position by the window every time I pass by, its nose twitching, but not much else moving. Surely its dander can't be healthy for anyone allergic (or otherwise).

I was also accosted by an evil, evil spawn of the devil Min-Pin upstairs in my own building. I have no idea who it belongs to (definitely Satan), but it was guarding the top of the stairs, allowing only those of a certain level of evilness to leave the stairwell. No comment on whether I was allowed to pass. Isn't a potential dog bite a lawsuit waiting to happen?

These are but a few of the examples. I think I can count 12 dogs on our campus (it's a small one; it takes a full 7 minutes to traverse it on foot by a height-challenged individual such as myself, so 12 is a disproportionate number for so small a space).

Why are they at my work? WHY?! Do the rest of you have dogs at work? Are we only now catching on to this trend? Have we just been slow to catch up? Should I instead view us as trendsetters?

In the past few years, I'd noticed one or two dogs on campus, but suddenly, they seem to be in almost every staff office, guarding, sleeping, sniffing, causing people to shy away or come forth in greeting, shedding their fur. GROWLING AT ME!

Yes, I have dogs at home, but I don't take them to work where they can wander about into others' offices at will or (knowing mine), chew on someone else's furniture, or get protective of me. I would never presume that everyone at work should be as enamored of my dogs as I am. Some people have legitimate and real fears of dogs, yet here they are, wandering campus, marking their territory, owning the space that I can only imagine the Board thinks the students own.

CM Flashback! 3 Years Ago Today! Chiltepin!

RYS Flashback. 7 Years Ago Today.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Modern College.
Gave up my fingerprints this morning at my bullshit college. Some rough woman with a 50s beehive twisted my hand so hard I thought I might be going to the pokey.

Last year had to sign a document that said I would defend the constitution of the US against enemies.

I have 3 keys and one key card to access my building.

What gives?

I took training sessions last year for: "How to handle toxic materials," "How to recognize sexual harassment," and "How to recognize and report possible terror activities."

Oh, and a year ago they tore down a beautiful Georgian building where my office used to be, and built a shopping mall replica in its place.

Did any of you think college was going to be like this?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Today in Student Success

1) University initiates aggressive student retention plan with ambitious graduation and retention goals

2) Professor goes to commencement, gets a surprise:
“I went to graduation and I saw that several people’s names were on the graduation list that had been in my class,” he said. “I recognized a lot of names, but I also recognized names of some who didn’t do well in my class and I wondered, ‘How did they get MBAs?’” 
3) Professor checks grades, suspicions are confirmed.
One student earned a "D" but it was changed to a "B", another earned a "C" and it was changed to an "A". Another earned a "D" and it was changed to an "A," and one earned a "D" and it was changed to a "B".

4) Professor reports the irregularity. He is immediately transferred out of the business school, where he has taught for 37 years, to the math department. Apparently he is now "not a good fit for the college."

Now, all of these things might be a series of unfortunate coincidences, and maybe this has nothing to do with the fact that you tend to get what you measure.

Still, I can't wait until we start evaluating hospitals the same way. 
We've increased patient longevity 17% by smart-scheduling our determination of death process  

"Everything About College Makes Me Want to Quit." A Link Sent In From Red Shirley in Saskatoon.

A new article for The Atlantic dives into the antiseptic world of college stand-up comedy, where the humor of a joke is measured by how well it avoids giving offense.

The article, “That’s Not Funny!,” chronicles Caitlin Flanagan’s journey to a convention held by the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), where administrators and student government representatives venture to choose potential stand-up comics to book for on-campus performances. And what performers do these students choose? Only the ones who avoid saying anything remotely offensive.

They wanted comedy that was 100 percent risk-free, comedy that could not trigger or upset or mildly trouble a single student,” Flanagan writes. “They wanted comedy so thoroughly scrubbed of barb and aggression that if the most hypersensitive weirdo on campus mistakenly wandered into a performance, the words he would hear would fall on him like a soft rain, producing a gentle chuckle and encouraging him to toddle back to his dorm, tuck himself in, and commence a dreamless sleep—not text Mom and Dad that some monster had upset him with a joke.”

Read more:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Weekend thirsty on "What would you do if you were starting your PhD again, but knowing what you now know about the direction of your field?"

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day:
the full Earth with the Moon in front of it, taken from a million miles out in space.

Dr. Alan Whiting has written an essay on "Advice to new astronomers: on your career." It has so much good advice I really hope my students would read, so I give all of them copies. It discusses several topics I wish my students understood better. These include "It's your career: no one will do it for you," a discussion of the job hunt, and the importance of alternate plans. In particular, it stresses the importance of choosing your field.

In order to improve one's chances of securing permanent employment in astronomy, choosing one's field "is more important than any student I've met realises." A desirable field must be funded, ease of publishing is vital, and the field must also be visible.

Because of this, Dr. Whiting says he has "spent some time at astronomical conferences asking established, knowledgeable people about attractive fields to get into. Even phrasing the question as, 'What would you do if you were starting your PhD again, but knowing what you now know about the science?' got no answers. It's such a difficult question, while being at the same time so important, none of them would commit themselves even informally!"


What would you do if you were starting your PhD again, but knowing what you now know about the direction of your field?

This is a hard question. Ever since I learned constellations at age 8 through the trees in my parents' front yard, I've enjoyed seeing the Universe with my own eyes. And yet, I might have more citations if I did less with small-telescope science, professional-amateur collaboration, and involving undergraduates in research, and instead concentrated on my projects with Hubble Space Telescope and other billion-dollar spacecraft. My Hubble projects did get noticed when I was interviewing, and the funding from it was without question why I got tenure. The irony is that it was precisely the small-telescope science, pro-am collaboration, and especially my ability to involve undergraduates in research that were what got me hired on the tenure track in the first place. During the campus interview, when I was asked how I could use the new $50k observatory on campus to do research, I was hired because I was the only job candidate who didn't laugh.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rosemary FROM Raleigh, Not IN, No, God, No. One Has Long Since Left Raleigh Behind. One Will Always Love It, But, Really, Raleigh, Well, Some Folks Just Won't Understand. Anyway, This is Rachel with an Orientation Update.

I had part one of my new faculty orientation today. (Oh, and one finally did obtain the correct faculty parking sticker...)

Anyway, I sat beside another new professor, much closer to the traditional age. (I perhaps am more "advanced" than most.) This fellow was a brute, not so much his build, but his whole manner, legs spread wide, lots of fidgeting. He coughed a lot, threw his elbows as he pulled from his diet Coke. One needed to rest on the far armrest to avoid his man-spreading exercises.

We didn't speak much, saying hello and exchanging names only, because there was a full set of speakers. The orientation was all right, and though one may not have needed some of the detail about how to spark discussion among first year students, one was made to feel most welcome. (One was reminded a bit too often, perhaps, of how terrific the university is. If one knows it is so, one need not proclaim it so loudly.)

When the inevitable sexual harrassment presentation began, my loutish seatmate gave a kind of scoffing grunt. Frat boy. I thought to myself. He was a frat boy, and always shall be.

On a list on the screen was a list of questionable and inappropriate behaviors for faculty. Now, this is mostly old hat for anyone who'd done the job, but most of my fellow attendees are in 1st or 2nd positions. It's standard, required by law, and done well and briefly.

On the list mentioned above, were these two inappropriate examples:
  • Going out drinking with students.
  • Touching students, even in a friendly way.
At this, my new friend put his diet Coke down, leaned uncomfortably close me, and said, "How can we touch them if we don't get them drunk first?"

One turned red, some embarrassment, but mostly just rage. After the break one took a new position in the auditorium for the remaining presentations.

The Complete Yaro.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

This Week's Big Thirsty.

Who Was Your Worst Student Ever?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

An Early Thirsty From Isaac in Illinois. Worst. Orientation. Ever.

Okay, so I know what I'm doing, ten years in the classroom. And this year we've instituted mandatory orientation for all members of our HUGE department. We have 70 people, and just hired 7 new faculty members, hence the panic of a 2 day session.

The orientation schedule came out today and I'm staring at it in dumb-fuck disbelief. Here are some gems:

  1. A syllabus is the front door to your classroom. Open it wide so that all students may find entry.
  2. When your students achieve you achieve. How to give grades that are transparent, fair, and understandable. Students have a grade they want. Show them the way and everyone will win!
  3. Make your meeting spaces comfortable and welcoming. (Including this: "Make sure your office is always well lit. It should feel like a cafeteria of the mind, not a nightclub.")
Now, I haven't done the orientation yet. That's next week. But I'm already obsessed with hating it.

Q: Have you been through such a basic orientation? Did it happen when you started teaching? Do vets still go through it? What was your worst orientation experience ever?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fun with Links to Old Posts

HEY Miserians! It's time for FLOP!

That's right, because I don't have time to create new content, I'm rehashing old stuff, but hopefully adding just enough to rekindle your interest. I figure if bands can do it with their "digitally remastered box sets with bonus tracks" then I can do it too, but unlike them, I'm not asking you to buy anything.

I start with the bonus. You've had some opportunity to get to know my colleagues Panquehue, Bryndza, Stilton, Feta, Wensleydale, and Limburger, but how well does your idea of them match the real-life counterparts? Let's see if your impression matches mine: use the comments section to rank them by seniority and by age, and indicate male or female. Read the whole collection (links below), or just enough to get your answers. I'll put up my answers in about a week from today.

Bonus bonus: The two posts involving Wensleydale borrowed from two poems you may have encountered. Name the poems.

Or, use the comments for whatever you want, whether it pertains to the "assignment" or not.

Now the boxed set:

Over and out

I'm guessing this isn't what His Fabbiness was thinking about when he asked for readers' contributions this week. This is no joke.  I'm completely sober.

I've been at this for over seven years, starting here.  Reading RYS and CM, not to mention moderating AWC, has been a blast.  Not only are academics like you entertaining but you've changed my mind about several issues facing higher education and society in general.  Thank you for the laughs and your insights.

This is the last thing I'll write as Beaker Ben, here or anywhere else.  Being online is taking me too frequently away from real life.  I am embarrassed to admit the last time I read a book for pleasure.  I'm going cold turkey for here, Twitter, and other blogs I read.  I'm missing out on too many other pleasures.

I know my posts here have ruffled some feathers over the years.  I can't say that I'm particularly sorry for it but I do regret not knowing my audience better.  I always meant to be funny.

I wish everybody at CM, especially Cal and moderators past and present, a most enjoyable time online and off.  Please continue to not care more about their education than they do.


Beaker Ben

PS: I'm leaving my posts here and all of AWC up.  Whether they serve as a guiding lighthouse or the warning signaled by a ship half-sunk on the rocks, at least somebody might find them useful.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday Thirsty: I am too lazy to look for the rules, after all, it is still summer

It is officially still summer, even if the weather disagrees, or is overdoing things, but the start of August is definitely the beginning of the end for most academics.  Around this time of year, I notice a very clear split among my colleagues between those who are beginning to prepare for the new semester even though (for us in the UK) it's still over a month away, and those who are still totally ignoring the existence of classes this autumn.  I never know which strategy is 'best' - I really like the feeling of NOT being in a panic in freshers' week that comes from doing prep now, but I also find that as soon as I start doing prep my stress levels rise and ability to prioritise my research writing slides.  So, Miserians, advice:

Would you advise putting off preparing for classes until the last minute, or is preparing in the summer the best option?