Monday, September 27, 2010

New Semester, Old Patterns

To introduce myself: I am an academic in the UK, in a middling sort of university (where the Deans and authorities constantly encourage us to produce internationally significant research and achieve excellence in student learning, whilst cutting the funding for any activity that actually contributes to those things), with a middling sort of academic job, and middling sort of teaching load and research success. We have many kinds of snowflakes in the UK, both on the faculty and in the student seats, and some of them try really hard to wear out my good intentions before I even get to a classroom.

I have just returned from study leave, and I am Grumpy.

Today is the first day of the semester. The building is full of new students, looking for their welcome talks and their registration packs and the toilets and the vending machines, and generally milling around and asking questions. How many academics are here to greet them? I've seen five so far... one of whom is currently on study leave and hanging around the staff common room with a mug of coffee in tatty, comfortable jeans and a sweater enjoying the study leave priviledge of being Smug*. No, we are not a small department. Some of my colleagues seem to have had a conscience-ectomy (i.e. feel no obligation to do their share), others have carefully booked urgent research travel for these few days, or booked themselves into a conference in a warm place.

Because today, you understand, is not about the academic part of the programme. Clearly registration is secretarial. And the Head of Department isn't looking, because he's travelling too. Which is why I'm now off to advise little first-years about module choices for a programme I don't teach on, since I'm
a) in the building and
b) a bit too prone to help out a frantic-looking secretary

*There are very few priviledges, I don't begrude this colleague making the most of one of them. Heaven knows I did last semester during my leave...


  1. Faculty at my school used to make themselves scarce on days which involved lots of advising. Then the provost took a tour of a few departments, noted who was absent. He told everybody that research and teaching make up 97% of our jobs but the 3% for advising counts as our annual raise. I think he was kidding but I see a lot more of my colleagues now.

  2. The first semester I taught university in Third World Shit-Hole, our students went on strike for the first week of classes (to protest tuition hikes), then our faculty went on strike for the second week (to protest pay freezes), and then the rains started and a big chunk of acoustic tile fell out of the ceiling of my huge lecture hall and splatted on the cement floor about five feet away.

    The good thing about the two strikes was that we managed to avoid the secretarial colleagues also suggested that if I (gasp) wanted to use my office during this time, I should lock my door.

    Oh, the secretarial phase. I do not envy you at all.

    (ps--My time teaching at TWSH U has produced a long series of hilarious tales that earn me free dinners on a regular basis, so I don't begrudge it at all.)

  3. Hah well it could always be worse...
    ...we're sort of past the secretarial phase (that was last month) but today is our first day of classes as well. ALL our full time faculty and staff are required to be on campus from 8-6 every day during week one (because getting us up super early and making sure we're exhausted is really the right way to go about things, I'm sure, and yes, to get here on time many of us do have to get up earlier than normal for that hour. Also, there are night shift people who are working 8-6 and THEN their shift, or THEN teach a class from 6-10, so by Wednesday we're all a little cranky).


    This is all so we can stand in the hallways during class exchange and tell the students where their classrooms are and offer to walk them there.


    I know that those are normal working hours and that I shouldn't whine, but if you can't find your classroom in our relatively easy to use main buildings (the third one makes no sense, so that's okay) maybe you shouldn't be going to college.

  4. "where the Deans and authorities constantly encourage us to produce internationally significant research and achieve excellence in student learning, whilst cutting the funding for any activity that actually contributes to those things"

    Wait. I work at a middling English university too? That actually explains a lot except for the missing squash court. If my fifth-rate private school had a squash court, then I would be more than happy to overlook the lack of funding combined with the performance expectation.

    So, Grumpy, if you have a squash court at your place, then you are one up on me. Any chance you guys are hiring?


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