Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Paula in Podunkville on Professor Absences.

You weren't in the mood?
Your chili sucks anyway.
I'm a long time professor at a gorgeous and tiny college in the Midwest. We have 5 full time faculty members in our department and two part-timers who have been with us for 8 and 15 years.

Our annual department "bash" is during the first week of classes. It's a longstanding tradition that has been in place as long as I've been here.

On our first day of classes, our newest full timer (Nicholas the New - just 2 years in) called in sick for his classes. I took one. My colleague across the hall took one. A part-timer drove in 25 miles to take the other one, the early one that meets at 8 am. (She had 45 minutes notice!)

At lunch I was eating my cold sandwich in a lounge area and a few of us were talking about Nicholas and what a shame it was he was out because he's always the life of the party.

That night, at the chair's house, we were 10 minutes into the fun when Nicholas and his wife arrived. They had fresh beer and a homemade veggie chili. He showed no signs of being sick. It irked me all night. I'd read on this blog about professors skipping class, cancelling Fridays and all that, and it had annoyed me.

Nicholas's buoyant manner and chipper health annoyed me even more now.

I ended up sitting on a lawn chair next to him in the back yard and asked how he was feeling.

"Great," he said. "I wouldn't miss the yearly party for anything."

"What about your classes?" I asked. "You know we covered for you."

"I owe you one then," he said, tipping his beer toward me. "Needed a mental health day. Wasn't quite out of my summer mood." Then he laughed.

His chili sucked anyway. And so does he.


  1. Had my colleague said that, his sucky chili would have been all over his lap. What a shithead (and an idiot - who does that before T&P?)

  2. Well, tea party him! Honestly, what an irresponsible jackass. The first day often sets the tone for the whole semester. I hope he reaps what he's sown.

    Speaking of that, it's back to the garden for me before heading into work ...

    1. I LOVE to garden! I grow way more than I use and wind up giving it away. What do you grow?

      I grow tomatoes, herbs (basil, thyme, sage, rosemary), parsnips, potatoes, onions, and carrots.

      I'm a big fan of root veggies because they're so low maintenance.

    2. Our gardening experience this year has been an interminable war against the squash bugs. The summer squash were the first to succumb, and we're fighting a holding action in hopes that some of the butternut and spaghetti squash will mature before we're completely overrun.

      We have pretty good luck protecting the brassicas by co-planting with mints, and the tomatoes and chilies by co-planting with marigolds and basil (besides, I just like marigolds). But squash bugs are as persistent as a pre-med seeking a grade adjustment.

    3. This year, I've been landscaping my backyard, establishing mixed beds along around the perimeter. It's slow going hard work, but the results should be pleasant next year and lovely in Year 3.

      Next year, I'll include tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans in the mix -- quite literally mixed in with a large annual bed (that I'm currently building). My yard doesn't get much sun, so it's taken me a while to map out where to put things that require the sun. Also, there are deer, so I'm always battling them.

      I'm also mapping out an herb garden near the annual bed. I've included herbs in the mixed perennial borders, too. This fall, I'll plant bulbs pretty much everywhere, which means that next spring, I'll be spraying deer repellent everywhere. The one year I forgot to do so, the deer ate my tulips to the ground.

    4. "as persistent as a pre-med seeking a grade adjustment."

      That's one for the databanks.

    5. Indeed. I haven't gotten to my community garden plot as much as I'd like this year, but the flooding and drought-tolerant native plants I added along the perimeter seem to be moderating the water situation (which has been a problem for a while) a bit. Don't get me started on the deer; I need to work on the fence, and add some higher gates.

      Besides the aforementioned native plants, it's mostly a mix of perennials and bulbs rescued from a family home lost to development, annuals grown for cutting, salad greens, and herbs (it's on the shady side, so I've decided to buy my tomatoes at the farmer's market).

  3. And then you stood up, kicked over his lawn chair, and stalked away, leaving him flailing on his back like a turtle.
    Or so I'd love to imagine.

  4. Please tell him how unacceptable that is. That's a DB move. Certainly, he's burned through A LOT of goodwill. I'd tell him to pound sand anytime he needs help in the future.

  5. Is he tenured or tenure-track? If the latter, please make it clear to him that you and your colleague remember EVERYTHING. And *DO* hold it against him.

    I was a TA and adjunct for YEARS and was never, ever stupid enough to do such a thing. If I took a "mental health day" it was always some time mid-term when the little darlings needed extra time to work on their papers or something. And I was never STUPID enough to tell anyone!!!

    ---anon y mouse

  6. Mental health is important, and you have to take care of yourself.

    But "mental health day" means a non-class day when you neither grade nor prep. It doesn't mean shirking your responsibilities and saddling your colleagues with the stress of unexpected extra work for which they haven't prepared.

  7. If this is the beginning of Nicholas's third year, and he's gotten along well with everyone so far, is it somehow possible that he got the impression from people that canceling the first class was ok? Just wondering--because people don't suddenly become assholes overnight.

    It's also possible that he had something else horrible going on that morning, and maybe he just didn't want to get retraumatized and start crying about it during the party. I.e., maybe the thing about the "mental health day" was a cover so that discussion of something very serious didn't spoil a social event?

    Find a way to talk to him about this in your office.

  8. from Paula

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I did have occasion to talk about the party with the chair, who is wonderful. It does appear that above all else that Nicholas is going with Bubba's defense, that it just wasn't that big a deal. The incident was brought up by another colleague so it became quit the to-do in such a small department. He seems chastened, but the event has reminded me of a number of times during his first 2 years where he seemed awfully relaxed about the duties, putting the teaching of college off to the side as something he 'did for money' (his words), and not a calling.

    I don't want to engage in that discussion, either, because I'm a realist. But he does have to think about tenure, and this group who will vet him is pretty invested in our day to day classes and administration.

  9. What a stupid way to totally poison the well.
    (not that there's a smart way to poison a well, because that's where you get your drinking water from... anyhoo...)

  10. Oy. Maybe he's hoping to be off to greener pastures before he comes up for tenure? In this job market, I wouldn't count on it. But I suspect that the advice I got, to take whatever job you can get and "write your way out of it," is still prevalent in some departments, and that can lead to some bad departmental citizenship, and (well-deserved) tenure denials. More and more, I think it's pretty shitty advice, not just for the individual, but also for the well-being of the profession as a whole. If you can't get a job at a place where you can genuinely see spending a good chunk of your career, and contributing at least your fair share, then maybe it's time to look for non-academic jobs.