Saturday, April 30, 2011

Student Impatience and the Ballad of Sick Sally

Look, I know I'm taking a whole two weeks to get your papers back to you. Yes, they're important. I know this.

I tried to head off the last minute blizzard of snowflakery about taking a whole two weeks on your papers by telling you at the beginning of the week that I'd be doing it, told you point blank that I wasn't done with them, probably wouldn't be for our next class, and that it would be after the weekend before I knew I'd have them for you.

So what do I get Wednesday? A few people, in both classes, asking about their grade on that paper.

"When will we know what grade we got on x?"

"When will you put x grades up online?"

"So do you know yet how we did on x?"

...No. No, no, no, no. I will put them up when I'm good and done with them, which would be a hell of a lot faster if you guys would have spent this amount of energy writing the damn things instead of repeating each other and asking about things I clearly don't have to pass back to you that day. Don't email me after class is over to ask me the same fucking thing either! Jesus Christ, I'll get to them when I get to them. How about you work on the paper that's due in a week, hm? It's worth more points! And maybe, just maybe, when I offer to put up a play by play example of what you're supposed to do with extra practice and hints as to how you can view them, you actually use it. In one class, half of them said they'd use it. In the other, no one.

Not a single student.

So don't fucking bitch about me taking soooo long to grade them or the shitty grades you'll be receiving. Maybe if you would have paid attention in class, maybe if you would have come to office hours or to the writing center for help, maybe if you would have showed even a tiny bit of interest in helping yourself write this paper, you wouldn't have to be so worried about what you got on it.

And Sick Sally, you've got to be fucking joking. You literally changed your topic two days before you had to pass out workshop copies, looked like a goddamn deer realizing it's about to be mowed down when I reminded you of this fact, and then the morning you are supposed to bring them to class you tell me you've been puking all night (ew), work sent you home (, and you don't think you'll make it to class. When I say you still need to get me your workshop copies, you want to just email it to me or give me one copy, reminding me again that you're about to die of barfing.

Um, no. I'm not making your goddamn copies for you and you aren't getting out of having to pay for copies like every other student has had to.

Reminding you again that if you don't workshop you can lose major points, you then throw a small hissy fit over email (after I've already started teaching my other class) and say you'll try to get your mom or someone to drop them off.

Seeing you not in class, I go ahead and walk all the way back to my office while the rest of your class is doing student assessments (ugh) -- in heels. Do you know that heels are the devil? That they are deceptively cozy and comfortable until you get all the way back to the office before turning into razor blade laden bits of hell and you have to turn around and walk all the way back? Yeah, guess what. Your papers weren't waiting for me outside my office or in the department office. So my feet hurt for no goddamn reason at all.

I go back to teach in those razor blade laden shoes (now with only one razor blade, directly over my right foot's little toe) in front of two of your classmate's "pen pals" -- middle schoolers. Cue me having to watch my mouth as we discuss the most unethical article we've read in class. Awesomeness.

It's about twenty minutes until the end of class, I'm trying to wrap up citation discussion quickly before moving the class into group work, and I catch someone pacing outside my door, in only my view, waving her hand frantically to get a student, any student's, attention.

What. The. Fuck.

By now I'm tired of all this, Sick Sally. I'm really, really trying to get your classmates to understand that they really do have to use this one particular citation, how to figure it out if my handout is too tough for them, and that they only have two options when they use someone else's words or ideas. It's the end of the semester, I'm tired and frustrated and sick of having to watch my mouth and keep these stupid shoes on.

So forgive me for striding back to the door, yanking it open on your friend, tartly snapping "What" to her, and not listening to her bubbling explanation of "my sick friend Sally wanted me to bring these by....she's been puking..." before snatching your papers from her hand and closing the door. Forgive me for getting completely frustrated by the fact that your workshop papers were not stapled and barely broken apart into those stupid little cut and fold over operations you guys think work so well but fail miserably. Forgive me for mumbling under my breath while I separated them all and passed them out while your classmates were working in groups.

But be grateful, Sally, that there were middle school kids sitting in, watching me as they doodled on coloring sheets. Be grateful that I did not have time to explain to your wayward friend exactly how dropping your work off in the middle of my class, much less pacing and frantically waving for someone's attention, wasn't the way to help you out. Be grateful that I didn't send you a snarky email afterward telling you exactly why that wasn't appropriate, for either you or her. Be grateful I didn't leave her out there and not pass your papers out at all, Sally.

You damn well better be in class on Monday.

Back to grading,


EMH is NOT Misogynist

Webster's dictionary defines "misogyny" as follows:

a hatred of women

I do not hate women.  Please let me make that clear.  If I communicated otherwise, I am sorry.

There are some things I do hate:

    1)  I hate Deans who sacrifice their department's accreditation in order to put adjuncts in their place.    (This happened at Lead Posoning CC in California.  I can not be any more specific without outing myself.)

    2)  I hate Principals who force art teachers and other non-qualified individuals to teach Math, only to fire them for incompetence.  (I witnessed this first hand.)

    3)  I hate students who have sex with people in authority.  (It happens more often than we want to believe.)

    4)  I hate authority members who have sex with students.

    5)  I hate corruption with a passion, even if it is the status quo.

However, I do not hate females.  I hate people who engage in #'s 1-5, regardless of their gender.  But I do not hate someone solely because they are female.

I also am not out to just accuse students of misconduct just because they give me a hard time.  In my post about the Crackhead Soccer Mom, I neglected to point out that the student had bragged about screwing the Dean, which is actually consistent with the other stories I have been hearing about him.  In the future, I will be sure to ask myself how I know something.  However, I doubt that I will ever have any video footage to back any of my claims. 

Do understand that sometimes there just isn't any evidence.  I don't see that stopping anyone else from posting.  You don't see me jumping out of the bushes when people post allegations of plagiarism, without any basis whatsoever.  But then, if people did that, no one would want to post.

I am here for the same reason(s) as everyone else.  The job sucks at times, and I cannot afford a therapist.

What set this off?  Good question.  A female student approached me in tears sobbing, and what I could make out is that she was told by her father that she did not have enough testosterone in her body in order to think abstractly and perform spacial calculations, and hence the poor performance in my class.  It made me sick to hear that and it activated all of my subroutines at once (struck a nerve).  Granted, the student may be looking for sympathy, but I've heard that conclusion before, mainly from MD's and Psychologists. It should be noted that some of the brightest individuals I have ever met are female.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My students are doing better than I am.

I took this online course deal for just one extra class this term.   And it's killing me.  My traditional students can basically piss up a rope, because they're a perfectly standard distribution of talent, responsibility, and entitlement issues.  But the online group?  They're better than me.  They get it all done before I can think of more.  Sometimes I cue up what I want to be work for the MONTH, and in a few days I start getting "Is there anything else we should be doing?" e-mails.  I can't keep up.  And sometimes I get side tracked by the idea that maybe there are only four of them using multiple names. 

Appropriate Complaining

Jeez. The week began with a CC of an email that the president sent in reply to a colleague, Dr. C, who had lodged a long-winded whiny complaint to said president about the rooms assigned to him for his exam. Let me summarize by saying that he felt that the university needs to add a building to include enough classrooms with sufficient space for his teaching and office needs. Dr. C's ego is so wide, he has to enter a door sideways.

The president was not amused, neither was I.

I requested that Dr. C show up in my office Tuesday afternoon, but since he didn't read his email until Wednesday, I was able to spend the half an hour sorting through piles of paper on my desk.

I managed to spear him from the hallway in time for a shake-down before he was to speak with the president on Thursday. I tried to explain to him that it makes more sense for him to complain to me, or even better to my room administrator, if he is unhappy about his room assignment.

But it turned out that he just plain felt unloved. He's had all sorts of great ideas these past months, and none of them have been acted on. Might I mention that those that were not completely off the wall cost far too much money? And if I gave him what he wanted, then I'd have 72 others in here begging for money as well?

Oh, and we moved them into a new building about a month ago and he still needs additional shelves and his cork board hung up and an eraser and some whiteboard pens and some paper and the garbage can is the wrong color (no, I made up that last one). And there is no coffee machine in this building, he has to put on a coat and walk to the next building to get a cup of coffee. And the building isn't finished yet so the workers are making an awful noise and he can't concentrate.

And his exam problem? He likes to have 2 empty seats between students, not 1, and that won't work in the room we gave him. I suggested he print half the exams on yellow paper, the other half on green and tell the flakes they are two different exams.

He continued on with about 17 other things that I wrote down and investigated today. None, exactly none, of the complaints are legitimate. Some things he was complaining about we did at the express, written request of his department head.

He in turn spent 2 hours speaking with the president in detail about all the problems again. Why on *earth* the president didn't have his secretary remind him about an important meeting after half an hour is beyond me.

Total amount of time spent on Dr. C.'s whining this week? >4 hours for me, 2.5 for the pres. I hope it was worth it.

Girls and Boys

Here in the Deep South we are chugging along, trying to recover from a spate of tornadic destruction the scale of which hasn't been experienced in nearly forty years. My little Hamlet and college went unscathed, with nary a drop of rain falling, and not much wind, but midafternoon on Wednesday the town suddenly and mysteriously went dark, and there were threats that the power wouldn’t return until May.

Boys deal with this sort of thing by setting stuff on fire. They make flaming arrows out of sticks, dance around fire pits like goblins, and begin eyeing every stray object in terms of whether it will melt or explode. Meanwhile, rational adults of the female persuasion hide the spray cans and pray the ruffians will restrain themselves from dropping their pants and lighting their own farts. The semi-rational adults of the male persuasion smoke cigars and drink, and look the other way, because boys will be boys. And boys like fire.

Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, right before the lights just as mysteriously returned that very evening, crisis mostly averted.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and absolutely lovely, and in two of my classes I had tests to hand back. Portentously, the internet was still down on campus, which meant that most students would not have been able to check their grades on blackboard before coming to class.

For one girl, who had been anxiously emailing me about when the grades would be up just before the blackout, this meant that her grade, a 64, was a fresh hell she had no time to assimilate. She saw her grade, let out a strangled cry, and began weeping.

Crying Girl, how can I go over the test and try to help the rest of the class prepare for the final when you are crying? How can the rest of the class pay attention and correct their mistakes throughout the snuffling and wet breathing and outright sobs you are emitting?

I pressed on, thinking that a boy would take this in stride. A boy would go home and set something on fire. Or at least a boy would wait until the end of class to cry in his car when he got a bad grade, which is what I used to do.

So there will be a new policy. No crying in class. Please, no crying. Light your farts on fire but don’t cry. I can’t take it.

Inexplicable Grade Anxiety

I just spent 10 minutes answering a panicked email from a scheduled-to-be-graduating senior who's afraid that she isn't going to pass my class. It's an online class, and her participation has been less than stellar, but it's at least C level, and it's worth a fairly small portion of the course grade. She has an A- on a lightly-graded preparatory assignment worth nearly as much, and solid Bs in two other assignments worth, in total, 65% of the class grade, the more heavily-weighted of which she still has a chance to revise. As I told her, the only way she wouldn't pass would be to add plagiarized portions to the essay she's revising (and even that would be a judgment call, since she's already given me a satisfactory, plagiarism-free, version of that essay -- but I didn't say that). Admittedly the information necessary to come to this conclusion is in two places (the LMS gradebook, which doesn't offer much room for explanation, and the syllabus, which has the percentages), and it did take me a few minutes to pull it together. But my 10 minutes included some writing, and more than a little double-checking, since of course I don't want to send an email saying "don't worry; you're going to pass" to a student who might not, and her anxiety made me wonder if I was missing something. It's also possible, since she's taking this required course relatively late in her career, that she failed it once before.

But I'm still puzzled. She has the grades, she has the percentages, but she, like the students who disappear for most of the semester and then send emails asking how they can pass, seems to consider the origin of grades a total mystery. No wonder they find college so anxiety-provoking.

Tuscaloosa Tornado Kills Alabama Students.

Dallas Native Killed by Alabama Tornado:

Why Did I Look?

And more importantly, why do I care?  For no good reason other than the fact that one of my colleagues just posted a student complaint from Rate My Professors, I decided to look to see if anything had changed in mine.  It hadn't, for quite a while because nothing had really changed there(other than chili pepper removal, which with the amount of hair I've lost and all the bloating from my binge drinking, I heartily agree with).  I thought the site was basically dead.  Guess I was wrong.

Dr. Zeke is a nice guy.  But he doesn't lecture.  Group activities don't work for the class.  When you ask him questions, he just stares at you blankly.
I want you to know that this is not a direct quote.  I read and summarized the general sense of it, so I'm not plagiarizing.  So why did this bother me?  I'll tell you.  I DO use small group learning in class.  I don't lecture (much).  When I do lecture, it is about something important, and it's probably something that you as a student should pay attention to (and it's probably in response to the reasonable questions students have asked me about the activity we've been working on).

Students do learn this way.  At least the ones who put in time outside of class.  I know who you are you see.  You think that all you have to do is go to class and have your head filled by the professor. Excuse me.  Teacher.  That's what you usually call me.  When you come to class.

I'm sure that you really believe that coming to class 60% of the time, and turning in 60% of the homework should secure you B+, if not an A.  Above all, you really shouldn't have to think, should you?  Like, analyze data to come to a conclusion about something you're supposed to learn.  You're the one who asks "How was I supposed to know to do that?".  Well, before you came to class you weren't.  Now you do.  It's called learning.

Oh, and this does work for most of the class.  They might not all be getting A's, but in the last five years (since I stopped lecturing and started using group activities), fewer students have failed the course.  I'd show you the data, but then you'd have to think about it.

You're going to be an awesome MD.  For sure.

(I feel better now.  I'm going to go turn on some Sabbath and start grading exams.  Then go have some beer.)

Out of Touch Olivia Reports from the Sock Hop.

At my hopelessly inadequate community college yesterday, I was traipsing back from my last (fourth) class of the day with a box full of final projects, and the remnant notes of four 90 minute final exam preps.

It had been about the hardest day of the semester for me, and the worst grading slog was still to come. The final exam prep is something I take seriously, not something designed to make the precious dears feel good about themselves going into the final, but a no-holds-barred barrage of all the stuff I've taught for 15 weeks. I want students to fear the final. I want them to get scared and spend this last weekend reviewing all of the stuff I told them they SHOULD have learned.

As I headed to my office with a briefcase in one hand, and a large box I pushed with my feet along the hallway, I started hearing Frankie Avalon - no, really - music coming from an open classroom door. It got louder as I went, and when I got there and looked in, I saw my colleague, a pleasant and lovely woman of 50, dancing in the middle of her classroom with about 15 students.

The lights were off. Some industrial looking lights with colored plastic paper over the bulbs sat in the corners of the room. The music played out of some kind of boombox. The desks were all pushed to the sides of the room, and two folding tables were filled with Domino's pizza, silver trays of meatballs, crackers, cheese plates, a slow cooker filled with cheese, bowls of cut up vegetables.

Strung above the classroom was a long strip of paper with the words, "Dr. Xxxxxxx's Final Exam / Sock-Hop."

My colleague spotted me and waved me over to the door. She dislodged herself from the dancers and met me at the door in her stocking feet.

"Hi, Olivia," she said. "Come on in and have some food. We're celebrating the end of the semester."

I set my briefcase down, grabbed a toothpick which I speared through two meatballs and said, "Thanks. I've got  to do some work."

What am I doing wrong?

Kell from Kansas Brings us the Case of Rachel Tudor.

The SOSU administration's clear drive to keep Dr. Tudor from their campus reminds me of exactly why I pursued my graduate degree outside of the Deep South (after finishing a B.A. there.)


Professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University Fired for Being Trans

by Michelle Garcia | Article Date: 04/28/2011 8:23 PM
Professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University Fired for Being Trans

A transgender professor was denied tenure and fired from Southeastern Oklahoma State University for her gender identity. Rachel Tudor, who is transgender, was told by the school's human resources department that she could only use the single-use handicapped restroom after she underwent gender reassignment surgery.

Tudor, who taught for the English, humanities and language department, surmised that the request came from academic affairs vice president Douglas McMillan, who had once said that Tudor's transgender status "offends his Baptist beliefs," according to The Daily Collegian at Oklahoma State University. She was then denied tenure at the school and told that she would be terminated at the end of the semester, on May 31.

According to a petition in support of Tudor, the professor has been approved for tenure twice in the last two years by the Faculty Appeals Committee, but the administration re-wrote the Academic Policies and Procedures manual to prevent Tudor from obtaining tenure.

Bilerico reports that Tudor has brought her case to the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Birther Thirsty. A Question about Racism in the Academy.

Call me Ted from Telluride.

I work at a lovely Rocky Mountain-region college, with a group of friendly, ski-happy, collegial academics. We get along, for the most part, famously.

I'm in the social sciences, and for reasons unknown to me, we share parts of two floors with a number of business profs. Both departments are pretty young; we hang out a good deal in two nice lounges. Hardly a cross word gets passed.

But in the past months, the Obama birther controversy has caused numerous testy conversations in our hallways. It is beyond me how anyone can not see the birther movement as racist at its heart. I'm an African-American, but young enough that most of my horror stories are about my parents and grand parents. I've mostly  felt at home in college, grad school, and in two tenure track jobs.

But I sat in a room of profs this afternoon where a number of folks shared their concerns about Obama's recently released long form birth certificate. Surely it had to be a fake, and a bad one at that. They parroted some of Donald Trump's recent quotes, including the one about how Obama should get off the basketball court and get back to running the country, and I kept thinking. "Y'all want to call him a nigger, am I right?"

I sort of hate myself for feeling this way. I'm not so invested in who the president is or what color he is that it overshadows the day to day of my life in this lovely spot. But I left campus wanting to pack my stuff and move along somewhere more tolerant - and I don't even know where that would be.

That's a rather specific genesis for a much more general question.

Q: Do you see racism exhibited among your colleagues? Is it overt? Does it overshadow otherwise collegial relationships?

- Ted from Telluride


No Room for Books

April 27, 2011

While university libraries have taken on numerous functions over the years, such as serving as places for students to study, meet with others, and interact with technology, one component that has always been central to their mission has been housing books.
But plans at the University of Denver to permanently move four-fifths of the Penrose Library’s holdings to an off-campus storage facility and renovate the building into an “Academic Commons,” with more seating, group space, and technological capacity, could make the university a flashpoint in the debate about whether the traditional function of storing books needs to happen on campus.
“We are not alone in this trend of increasing central campus space for study, services and student learning and decreasing central campus space for legacy collections,” said Nancy Allen, dean and director of Penrose Library, in an e-mail statement.
The proposed change has raised the ire of some arts, humanities, and social science professors who say that, while impressive, technology hasn’t yet replaced a good old-fashioned trip through the stacks. They argue that the administration dropped the changes in their laps without consulting them and that it will harm their main mode of research.
“You would never ask a scientist to get rid of his or her laboratory,” said Annabeth Headrick, an art history professor. “But that’s exactly what’s being done to us.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Excuse Ratchet. A (mostly true) playlet of the RYS School

Scene: An R1 Wannabe University in Outer Canuckistan, as Final Exams approach.

Enter Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern and Camping Trip Carl

CTC : Professor .. whichever, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.  I have to lead a camping trip for disadvantaged youth two days later and I need to travel to another part of the forest to do so.  Can I write my exam early?

R/G : No, I don't think that would be fair, since the syllabus does indicate that students need to be available throughout the exam period.  It will be a tight travel schedule, but I think you can manage. 

Exit Canoe Trip Carl, Enter Motorbike Mike

MBM : Hi Professor.  I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.  I have to start a job three days later in another part of Canuckistan.

R/G : But three days is plenty of time to travel that distance.  Surely you can write at the scheduled time.

MBM : Yes, but you see I just bought a motorcycle, and the only way I can get it to my new job is to ride it through the snowdrifts of Canuckistan, and it is a second hand motorcycle which may require repairs along the way.  Are you sure I can't write early?

R/G : No, that wouldn't be fair, I've already said no to someone else.  It's not your job that conflicts, for which I might have some sympathy, but your motorbike.

Exit Motorbike Mike, Enter Road Trip Rhoda

RTR : Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.  I'm graduating this fall, and my friends and I had planned a two week road trip through the glamour spots of Canuckistan in celebration.  Unfortunately, we leave three days before the exams are over, and my friends cannot wait until after the exam.

R/G : Doesn't that mean you are celebrating a little early?

RTR : Ummm... I guess?  But my friends have to start jobs soon.

R/G : No, I don't think that would be fair.  I've already said no to two others.  I sympathize with your desire to celebrate graduating, but the syllabus says you have to be available throughout the exam period.  Perhaps you can catch up with your friends a few days late.

Exit Road Trip Rhoda, Enter Family Guy Frank

FGF : Hi Professor...

R/G : Let me guess, you just checked the exam schedule.

FGF : How did you guess?

R/G : Years of Jedi training

FGF : Really?

R/G : No.  But they do train scientists to recognize patterns.  You were saying...?

FGF : I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.  My family wants to fly me and my elder sister to a vacation spot near a sunny beach three days before the exam. I know you would not wish for me to miss this outing, nor for my parents to lose their non-refundable deposit.

R/G : Are you in Dr. Yaro's class by any chance?

FGF : How did you guess?

R/G : I told you, Jedi training.  But getting back to the matter at hand, No, I don't think that would be fair.  I've already said no to several others.

FGF : But.. But.. Vacation spot.. Sunny beach.. Non-refundable..

Exit Family Guy Frank, Enter Wedding Day Wendy

WDW : Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period. 

R/G : So I've been told.

WDW : (Pause) So Anyway, my sister is getting married in a far off land three days before the exam.  I have to write the exam early.

R/G : Ooh, that is a problem.  I understand how important this is to your family, but I've already turned down multiple requests to write early.  Did your family not consult with you when setting the date?

WDW : Sure but no one ever has exams on the last day of the exam period!

R/G : Wouldn't that mean that the day before the last day would then become the last day?

WDW : Huh?

R/G : (Counts to eleven) I really sympathize, but I've already said no to many others, and I can't start bending the rules now.

WDW : Fine!  I'll miss the wedding!  WhatEVER!

Exit Wedding Day Wendy.

R/G : (To Dean) Damn, I feel kinda bad about that last one.  Do you think I'm being to hard-assed?

Dean : No man, you rock!  Stay Strong!

Enter Sports Event Samson

SES : Hi Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.

R/G : There's a lot of that going around.

SES : Really?  Well anyway, my Dangerous Sport team is travelling to the Big Championship that takes place at the end of the exam period.

R/G : I didn't know R1 Wannabe U. even had a team in Dangerous Sport

SES : We don't, but I belong to the Dangerous Sport Club across town, and Captain Coach want's us to participate in the Conflicting Contest immediately beforehand.

R/G : Wait, you mean it's not a school event, and the Big Championship isn't until after the exam?  In that case, I have to say no.  I've already said no to a whole crowd of others.  You can get there in time for the Big Championship but you'll have to skip the Conflicting Contest.

SES : OK. (Exit)

R/G : Whew!  That was easier than I thought.

Enter Off Campus Captain Coach

OCCC : Hi Professor, I wanted to talk to you about Sports Event Samson and the Big Championship.  You have to understand that it is standard practice in Dangerous Sport to run a Conflicting Contest before a Big Championship.

R/G : Well, I used to dabble in a Dangerous Sport in my younger days, so I do understand your sport, but I'm sure you understand that I have to apply the rules fairly - you'd expect no less of the referees at Big Championship....

OCCC : Why you little...!  I've never heard such a thing, nor met anyone so intransigent.  I've trained my whole life for this!  I hope you realize you've ruined our chances with your inflexibility!

R/G : (Aside) And your standing in this matter is...?  (To OCCC, very politely) Bite me.

Exit Off Campus Captain Coach

R/G : (Railing to the Heavens) Strooth! What next? Anyone else got an excuse?  Wanna crank it up another notch?  Anyone?  Think you can break me?

Enter Church Goer Charles

CGC : Hi Dr... I just checked the exam schedule... 

R/G : (interrupting, slightly desperate) and you noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period - I know, I know!

CGC : No it's not that...

R/G : (Startled) Wait, wait, what?

CGC : No, not at all.  It's on the Sabbath.

R/G : Oh God!

CGC : Exactly.  I belong to Splinter Denomination of Mainstream Monotheistic Faith.  We believe the True Sabbath is on the day of the final exam. 

R/G : You mean your faith was founded on a scheduling conflict?

CGC : More or less.

R/G : And given your emphasis on scheduling the Sabbath, did you perchance consider this issue back when the exam schedule was announced three months ago?

CGC : Err.. Sorry, no.

R/G : (Aside) I'm beat aren't I?

Enter Human Rights Hubert from Human Rights Office

HRH : Yup. It's campus policy.

Exeunt clutching bottle of Scotch.

At least 4 dead after massive tornados touch down in Alabama

Posted: Apr 27, 2011 5:14 PM MDTUpdated: Apr 27, 2011 6:23 PM MDT
Tuscaloosa, AL, damaging a local hospital and causing at least one fatality. The tornado continued on the ground as it made its way toward downtown Birmingham, AL.
This is at least the second tornado in 12 days to touch down in Tuscaloosa.
Druid City Hospital is still able to treat patients, according to a statement posted on its website. More information about the hospital would be made available later.
A spokeswoman for Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox, Heather McCollum, said the mayor planned to personally survey the destruction.
"We are still in damage assessment mode right now," McCollum said.
According to the news website, two people are trapped in homes and businesses.
Other unconfirmed reports indicated that University Mall in Tuscaloosa also suffered extensive damage. The tornado narrowly missed the University of Alabama campus, passing near Bryant Denny Stadium.
Cameras caught a massive tornado tracking through town.
At the hospital, windows were blown out of several rooms and a waiting area.
"It was kind of a glancing blow," said Brad Fischer, communications director at DCH. "We're on emergency power. It took the main line that comes from the grid into the hospital, so we will be on emergency power for awhile."
Fischer said the hospital was starting to receive the injured, but he couldn't comment on the extent of the injuries yet.
Classes were canceled at the University of Alabama, which is located in the heart of Tuscaloosa. The university student newspaper, The Crimson White, reported power outages across campus.

Required textbooks are, in fact, required

I don't know why this has not happened to me before this semester.

Students are not buying the textbooks for my courses.

I teach the kind of basketweaving theory courses where more than one book is necessary. You know, like a 100-page French poststructuralist anti-weaving book, Horatio Q. Rothbury's 18th century Fall of Basketweaving classic, and the 1970s sociological study on Mongolian horseback weaving. The students have a syllabus that tells them when these books will be used. And yet I have half-apologetic excuses from all kinds of students, ranging from "my financial aid hasn't quite gone through so I couldn't buy the book(s)" to "I ordered it on Amazon last night but strangely it did not arrive in time for class today, because it is not delivered by magic unicorns as I had imagined" to the simple "I ended up not getting that book".

I don't even know what to say to these fellows. I'm forced to add a clause to all future syllabi that reads "all required texts must be purchased and in-hand by the beginning of the second week of class" (perhaps I should even make that a graded assignment!).

I mean, I don't get the financial excuses. When I was getting my schooling, textbook costs were a small fraction of the tuition I paid, kind of like the sales tax I expect to pay on the skittles and DVDs I buy at Target. And I was a broke, broke lad - sometimes having a single boiled potato for dinner (and relishing the romantic notion of being the starving student). I always knew the textbooks were there to be purchased before the semester began, and that I would need money to do so, and that I would need them for the beginning of class. I budgeted for it.

I mean, can you imagine an employee telling their boss, "Yeah, I haven't purchased the gasoline for the car that I need to do my sales pitches, so I'm just going to skip out on it for now. Thank you for your understanding in allowing me to make this up at a later date"?

I'm not angry as much as stupefied. Really, snowflakes? Seriously?

"Oh My God, Physic's So Boring." Study Tips. Today's VidShizzle.

Let the Begging Begin!

It’s that time of the semester again.  The point where all of the students who are on the verge of failing begin their begging for passing grades.  My system is very simple: if you do the work than you will pass.  If you don’t do it, you will fail.  I made this very clear on the first day.  Writing assignments, and there are quite a few of them, make up half the final grade, but for some reason students think they can pass while just taking the exams.  Now I get the whole “oh I didn’t know.  Can I still hand in the assignments?”  Uh, no.  What part of NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED (yes it’s in caps and bold in the syllabus) do you not understand?  I don’t care that your grandmother died—I am fatal to most grandparents—or that you “forgot” the assignment or that your computer died.  Why didn’t you talk to me when the assignment was due?  Why did you wait until the last two weeks of the semester to ask me about this?  I am not going to go out of my way to grade late assignments when you couldn’t even get off your own ass and do it when it was supposed to be done.  Oh and crying doesn’t help either.  There’s a reason why I keep such a big box of tissues on my desk.  I get a lot of this and I’m immune to it now.

Snowflake Laziness Takes New Heights

Last week I assigned the Indiana U plagiarism link/test to my students. It's not worth any points on its own, but they must complete it before I can take their final paper -- a 200 point paper worth two letter grades in the course.

This conversation happened Monday:

Me: Does anyone have a Completion Certificate for me?

Girl raises her hand.

Me: Yes?

Girl: You know, I went to your page and I read the about the assignment, but when I tried to click on the link it didn't work. Did you just want me to copy and paste that up at the top?

Me: ....Yes.

This girl, who is on the lower end of the grading anyway, couldn't muster up even the smallest effort to copy and paste the link into the address box of her browser to have access to a possible 200 point, 2 letter grade assignment. WTF. So for something this important I need to make a hyperlink for you, not trust you enough to highlight and right click on the damn thing? Fucking really?

Ugh. Good thing they have a few more class periods before it's officially due.


Second-time Susie: You’re student teaching now, a thought that fills me with preternatural dread, as I have a child who could someday veer under your aegis of flake. But to clarify for you: no, bringing every single assignment you didn’t turn in during the semester to my office in the last week of class will not have a whit of effect on your final grade. And no, I don’t believe you turned in your April 7th essay, even though you insist blackboard sent you a mysterious message saying you did. No, I don’t care that you were on vacation and “forgot” the schedule. No, I don’t care that your student teaching is taking a lot of your time. I thought you would have picked up on all this the first time you took the class—and failed. You need a 98% on the final to achieve a “C” in the course. Go to it, flake. Go to it.

Internet Ina: Darling, darling…I like you. You sit up front, and show up most of the time. You don’t cause me any problems. You have a quick, shy smile. You are not the sharpest tack in the box, but that’s what I’m here for. Why oh why did you choose the last assignment of the semester to plagiarize? No, you can’t pass. One incident of plagiarism results in your failure for the entire course. At first you insisted, over and over, that you never took anything from the internet to prepare your assignment. No, I didn’t believe you. It was only after I gently and methodically presented you with irrefutable evidence, that you finally caved. And you are sorry, really sorry. But no, that won’t help. You still fail, Ina. You still fail. Sigh.

Pregnant Patty: I know you are pregnant. I’ve been pregnant myself. But no, I cannot absolve you of the required work because you are hauling a fetus around. You have a failing average on your assignments, and because of excessive absences, a failing average on participation as well. You need high marks on the oral report and the final just to get a “C” in the class. No, I don’t believe you had “the flu,” especially since you were taken ill the night before your oral report was due. No, I will not waive the requirement that you produce a doctor’s excuse to prevent your grade being halved for lateness. But I informed you that there is actually some wiggle room so that you could have presented your report this week instead, along with the excuse. Your response to that suggestion was dead air. And you didn’t show up today, either. You’re doomed, Pregnant Patty. You’re doomed.

Late Lottie: You showed up late eleven times this semester out of thirty class periods. When I asked you about your lateness earlier in the semester, in order to prod you to come to class on time, you just shrugged and said you just couldn’t seem to show up on time anywhere. I shrugged back. Whatevs. Then this week, which is the last week of school, you got around to asking how many lates and absences you had, and what the effect would be on your final grade. You know, Lottie, I was not kidding when I said that after two you’d be penalized one point off your final grade for each additional tardy. That adds up to nine points off your final grade. Plus you’re one absence over the limit as well and that amounts to another two points off. Eleven points off for you, Lottie. What? No more shrugging? Now you want to meet with me outside of my office hours to arrange for a special extra credit assignment you intend to complete between now and Friday? Uh, no, Late Lottie. You’re a bit late for that as well.

Perfect Portia: No, perfect attendance will not magically get you a higher grade. No, it won’t even bump you up if you are “between” grades. There is no such thing as “between” grades, and just showing up doesn’t get you brownie points. If you haven’t learned that yet, maybe the “C” you don’t think you deserve will help you figure that out. And no, you can’t have an extra credit assignment either.

Jadwa the Junior Poses An Undergrad Thirsty on The Textbook Shuffle.

On the morn of the day before book buybacks, the head of the program sends out an email informing all of us students that the edition we've all been using (and I mean all - this program is a four semester general ed requirement) is out of date and the bookstore will not be buying them back.

He hopes we will keep them and treasure them forever. No shit.

Q: Is it appropriate to tell him to go fuck himself?

Frog & Toad Gets Smacked By a Snowball.

Alrighty then. I haven't posted because frankly, it hasn't been that miserable. I had a summer and a fall and a winter blessedly flake-free, mostly because they were practically without teaching for a number of reasons I won't get into here. I have a great class this quarter of students who seem to be processing the reading and classroom discussions/lectures.

But it's halfway into the quarter, and suddenly this class has coughed out a giant snowball. He didn't show up for a month. He "forgot" he was in the class, no, dropped the wrong class thinking it was mine, no, went to the wrong room. Whatever. He came to me asking if it was still possible to pass at this point in the term (with perfect scores on everything it is). Enough, right? Come to class, do the work, and hope you pass. But no. In the days since he joined the class, I have received several long, excuse- and emoticon-filled e-mails explaining why he is not doing what he is supposed to do. All with little passive-aggressive smileys and "thanks for responding soon!"

He is, he says, raring to go, but this happened and that happened, and you see Professor, I need blah blah blah and you understand that blah blah blah right? Please get back to me when you can!!!! =) =)

I can tell already that he is going to take huge amounts of my time, time I do not have. I want to chew the top off of a vodka bottle, grind up the glass between my teeth, down the whole thing, and jump off a bridge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to tell when you've spent too much time on College Misery

10. You've wanted to assign the blog as mandatory reading for your students...
9. You've spent hours laughing at vidshizzles and reading old postings because that's more satisfying than grading...
8. You've tried to figure out which users are posting under multiple monikers...
7. You know more about the people on this blog than your own coworkers...
6. When something horrific/funny/disturbing/weird/moist happens in class, your first thought is: "I can't wait to post that on CM."
5. You urge random people (not even academics) to check out the blog...
4. You get raging mad at complete strangers who disrespect your 'blog buddies.'
3. You have to shut down your computer to avoid seeing if there are any new postings...
2. You've spent several hours trying to figure out how to type something brilliant and insightful for the #1 slot and now realize you'd really rather just hear what your friends on here think...

Could Foghat Bring Marcia Brady and ELS Back Together Again?

I long for the days when Marcia and ELS flirted madly on CM. (Okay, it wasn't that hot and heavy, but it did inspire the all time VidShizzle.)

I'd be happy if this shout-out brought either one of them back to us...

Sitting at a Table Full of Hammers

An email: Professor Morose, I can’t find the term ‘weave’ in the book. (It’s on the study guide). What chapter is it in?

I responded: Check the chapter on basket-making. Or Google it.

It took longer to write the original email than it would have taken to find the answer online! And this was from one of my B students! Did Google disappear? Did Bing? Did Yahoo? To be fair, it’s not in the book index, although it is on the PowerPoint outline I provide and it is in the book. But I get this type of question every semester. Come on people! You have the most powerful research tool ever invented at your fingertips, and it’s amazingly easy to use. I know you know how to type, because that’s all you do before class. Use the damn tool! It’s as if you were sitting at a bench full of hammers lamenting that you couldn’t put a nail in the wall to hang a picture!

!!!!!!!!!! (I still had a few left over.)

Q: Stupid or dumb? Dumb or stupid?

She is a poor, earnestly troubled soul asking me for help. The correct answer to one homework problem eludes her. Ah, the best part of my job - presenting the mysteries of the material world to curious minds! Half way through working out the

You know what? Screw the storytelling. She’s a senior in physical chemistry who can’t do freshman calculus. Sure, that means that she’s brighter than 99% of the world’s population but I don’t grade on that curve. She can’t do a simple calculation. (Here’s the equation. Solve it.) She "just doesn't get this math stuff." For a p-chem student, she’s pretty dumb.

How could she ever learn, she asks. She routinely gets C’s and some D’s in her major classes so this isn’t her first academic challenge. Well, you study, of course. The discussion devolves into me spouting all the advice that I give freshmen. Practice. Take notes. Do your homework. She gets a look on her face as if I’m revealing great secrets, like the season finale of Glee or something. Her epiphanic expression dissolves when she realizes that studying takes a lot of work.

“All I need is a D.” she says.

If you think that’s what you need, then you’re stupid too.

A: All of the above.

Luther from Louisiana on How It Could Have Been.

I was really moved by My Little Proffie's recent posting, and wanted to reply more fully than a comment would allow.

I've had a long, stumbling career, moving often, and count 7 institutions on my vita. I've let fear control a lot of what I did in the classroom, always trying to hang on to a job, get better classes, get better times, please my students or my bosses, or simply work my way toward tenure without upsetting the apple cart.

It meant that I ate shit a lot of the time, and did it so well and for so long I completely forgot that I was doing it. (To be fair I had a large family to raise, ailing parents, troubled siblings who had legal problems for years, so I was often so busy in my regular life that my career rested on auto-pilot.)

I had a similar realization to MLP's many years ago when I, too, decided to leave a college and head elsewhere. I did what I thought was right that last semester, and it made a world of difference. I treated my students as if they were adults - the first time. And for the most part they became adults in my class. I was fair but strict in all of my actions; I tried to teach like the great proffies of my own undergrad career had taught me. (By great, I don't mean the ones I liked the most, but the ones who I still remember to this day as having made me a better student and human.)

I felt good about my career, something that had been missing ever since the glow of that first t-t job had worn off. Instead of tiptoeing through the department, I took great strides. When a bully tried to push a new textbook everybody hated into the curriculum, I tossed my copy into a bin and said, "That book is bullshit. I don't know why you don't see it, or why nobody else will speak up about it."

I felt as if I was being true to what I believed and what I knew mattered to the students of my college.

It changed my life.


When I ended up in my next position, the superkeen department head ended up being a tyrannical mess who needed tiptoeing and kowtowing on a daily basis. I received endless warnings about fragile and precious students, my "harsh" grading, my brusque manner.

And within a semester all of the good feeling I had by trying to do what I believed to be right was gone. I stumbled that way until tenure, and by then I had become what I am now, an aging and rather doddering old proffie on the very tail end of a career that I don't care to look back on much.

I've saved some money. My wife has done the same. We're looking forward to getting out of our careers and onto a sort of quasi-retirement. But reading this page (and also RYS) over the past few years has made me think about our profession, how we do it, what we must do to survive in it. I think we are often asked to give too much.

I also think of that one grand semester when I had no fear, and I wish I had not squandered so much time.

Monday, April 25, 2011


It's been one of those weeks.

The details aren't especially important—fill in your own, we've all been there—but increasingly, the idea that we might be in control of something, anything, in our own life . . . it seems a tad more silly.  The Powers That Be have wills of their own, and we, Aethelfrith, are somehow at their mercy.

Yes, we know, "it's good to be the king" and all that, but . . . some days, it really kinda isn't.  We're as much of a good stoic as anyone else, but it's pretty obvious that Aurelius was no academic—he'd be pretty quickly disabused of the notion that everything acts for a reason, much less a good one.  Lucretius?  Well, everything's random, all right, but the provost is likely to point to Himself if anyone says there is no God.  And the only thing we have to say about Pascal is that he forgot a few infinites—the infinitely stupid, the infinitely vapid, the infinitely pointless.

And all those people who go to show that even the most depressed of philosophers didn't know the half of it are in charge.

When do we get our life back?  You know, the thing we handed over when we first caught sight of this supposed ivory tower?