Monday, February 8, 2016

Short Stories With Conan the Grammarian

Awkwardness Misery

I just started a "progressive" course. "Progressive" in this context does not have anything to do with politics or progress. It's a new-age way of saying "You've got four weeks to learn all of this material. Take it or leave it. #420blazeit."

"This is an accounting class. We are going to study Hamster Managerial Accounting, which is different from Hamster Financial Accounting, because you don't really care what people outside the organization are going to think about it, because it's not for them."

Heads nod. All the while she is clicking us through a power point that is reinforcing what she is saying

"And we are only going to be studying for-profit firms, not non-profit firms. Because we know their goals. They want to make money. But we do not know the goal of non-profit firms. They could want to save the world."

She clicks and up pops a little chart with for profit firms on one side and non-profit firms on the other. Under the former it says "Want to make money $$$". Under the latter there are two items, "Want to save the world" and, below that, "?????". I remember this very clearly.

The professor continued, "Or maybe they want to destroy the world." In a completely flat, monotone voice. Click. Up pops "Want to destroy the world" under Non-Profits. Now, this was obviously a joke and I thought it was really quite funny, so I laughed quite loudly. The professor saw that someone got her joke and smiled. The problem was, I was the only one who got it. It was just me laughing.

Then the professor laughed. And then I laughed again. It was maybe a straight fifteen seconds of only us laughing while everyone else in the room was completely silent. Fantastic.

§ § § §

Cents and Sensibility: Economic Confusion

I was in one of my Large Lecture Classes trying to simultaneously ignore my phone as well as the heterosexual girl who sat next to me and was making a spirited attempt at flirting with me. We were studying economics. At least, everyone in the course would allege that they were studying economics.

The professor was more or less telling a story about something that happened to him that did relate to the class (something to do with buying an airline ticket, probably price discrimination) and a student in the very back of that class emitted one of those drawn out "Oooohhhh!"'s that is basically a modern "Eureka".

The professor was visibly trying to figure out what he said to cause the student to suddenly understand the material.

§ § § §

Syllabus Misery Playlet

We're several weeks into our Respecting Non-Binary Hamsters course and of course I read the syllabus, just not that end part that includes all the university policies I already know. There was such and such a thing that the schedule said we were going to cover in class and the schedule wasn't altogether clear as to whether or not it would be covered in the actual class or if we were responsible for knowing it by that class.

So I asked. Huge mistake.

Conan: Professor?

Professor: Yes *looks down at list* John.

Conan: Conan.

Professor: Conan.

Conan: Uh... I was looking at the sylalbus-

Professor: The department mandated syllabus, yes.

Conan: Uhm. Yeah so I was looking at the syllabus-

Professor: (correcting me) Yes, the department mandated syllabus, go on.

Conan: And I saw the schedule.

Professor: The department mandated schedule.

Conan: Uhhm, yes. And it said we were going to cover Hamster Genital Mutilation next class. And I was wondering if we were going to actually go over it then or if we were supposed to know it by then in order to discuss it.

Professor: Oh, neither.

Conan: Oh! Right.

Professor: If you'll turn to page three of the department mandated syllabus you'll see a little disclaimer.

Sure enough, at the end of all that "Blah blah, we'll murder your family if you cheat, don't think we won't." crap was a blurb:

"Anything on the department mandated syllabus, more specifically the department mandated schedule, is subject to change or to be completely inaccurate altogether. Probably the latter. :-)"

The smily face is original to the syllabus, obviously.

Conan the Grammarian


  1. I would think that an instructor who intended to ignore the departmental mandates would do more than wink in that direction...

    1. On the other hand, in most places, it's a pretty safe strategy -- well, until a student complains about it and someone with authority *then* reads the syllabus. I suspect the professor has tenure (or, given Conan's major/institution, a way of earning far, far more money than he ever will as a business proffie -- which is better, in many ways though perhaps not all, than tenure).

      Sadly, I'm pretty sure that the student in the back in tale #2 had not figured out anything that had anything to do with the class (or, if so, it was something from 2 weeks ago that the student happened upon while browsing the LMS on hir phone).

      And I'm wondering whether the proffie in tale #1 has every heard of a B corporation. Seems like a useful alternative to the usual serve-profit-above-all mentality.

    2. And I do think the instructor in tale #3 should at least hand out a "real" syllabus/schedule, for the convenience of students who actually want to come to class prepared.

    3. Someone in class did mention Newman's Own. The point was that, like Newman's Own, Non-Profits can have really unique goals and ways that they measure value, so managerial accounting might not be really useful for them. Because maybe "Puppies saved from raccoons" is better than "Dollars made".

      I suspect Newman's Own values dollars given to charity and number of creepy portraits on salad dressing bottles. At least that seems to be how they operate.

    4. Oh, and to answer the question the professor was indeed tenured and had resisted publishing a syllabus for many many years. He's a gender studies professor, so I doubt he has a successful business venture, but I understand that he's actually published high profile texts and gets paid to speak and stuff. So he presumably does okay.

      From what I gather, he didn't like having a syllabus because he felt that it constrained his ability to teach. His argument being "Something could happen in a month that prompts a dramatic change of course." because his course was based partly on current events. To which the response was that he could always issue a revised syllabus. This year was the first year that his department forced the issue by requiring a syllabus and schedule.

      It was far more valuable to simply pay attention in class. At the end of each class he'd go over the next two weeks' expectations. So it's like he had a living syllabus. He also put those announcements on Blackboard. So you could kind of trash the Syllabus and, really, you were better off doing so.


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