Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Somebody Please tell me what is Going on Before I crack up (Long Thirsty

A warriors drink!
Chair:  Hi EMH!  How are your finals going?

Me:  Oh, you know... Writing them is so much fun.
One of your students said that you were allowing them to take the final on the WebBasedThingy, as opposed to taking it during class.

Chair:  <blank stare>  No.  We have a common final.

Me:  Excuse me?

Oh Guinan, your wisdom is most needed.
Chair:  We have a common final.  Ten multiple choice questions to be added to whatever questions you pick.

Me:  Surely, this would have been something I would have been told about.  I mean, I've already told my students that the final would be a take-home and now some of them might not even show up on the day of the final, even though we are going to be covering material...

Chair:  You were told.  In an email.

Me:  When was the email sent?

Chair:  About three months ago.  <grinning> It's easy to overlook these things...  Anyway, I have to go.

Me:  Computer, transfer EMH holomatrix to Wolf359 Communications Lab.

<EMH dissolves.  Reappears in Lab.>

Me:  Computer, unpack Starfleet communications relay.

Computer:  Please specify how you would like to proceed, sir.

Me:  I would like to view my emails and search for specific messages.

<Computer chirps>

Me:  On screen.

Me:  Search for any messages that contain the phrases "Department Chair", "common final", "Remedial Studies"

Computer:  Only one search result.  Message sent September 22, 2411.

<So, I read the whole email exchange.  It mentions a common final for the "Real College Math" courses, but not for the pre-college Remedial Studies program.>

Later that day...

<I notice the chair in his office.>

Me:  Do you have a moment?

Chair:  Certainly.

Me:  I found the email you were talking about.  It specifies common finals for the non-remedial courses, but not the remedial ones.  Are you sure there is a common final for the remedial courses?

Chair:  Look, the decision was forced on the Math Dept.  I had no play in the matter.  It is posted in the curriculum packet.

Me:  It wasn't when I read it.  When did they put it in there?

Chair:  Last spring.

Me:  I just feel left out of the loop about this.  If I mis-read the curriculum, then okay, I messed up.  However, it seems that there was a great deal of information that you think you informed me about but turned out not to be there.

Chair:  I had absolutely no choice in the matter.  This was forced on the Department.  There was a vote on it and I was pushed out as chair.  I feel as much left out of the loop as you are.  We don't have any choice but to give the students a common final.

Me:  <Thinking:  If it was put in the curriculum last Spring, then that's when it was voted on and if that's when you were pushed out, then how were you still Chair in September?>

Can somebody please tell me what is going on here?  I don't know what is more frustrating.  Not being told about the common final or only finding out about it because I happened to bump into the Chair in the Quad.

Fuck That "Sweetie Baby" Bullshit.

I'm baffled at my colleagues who play the parental roles to their students.

I'm across the hall from one right now, a super nice 50ish woman who calls her students "Sweetie Baby" and "Honey." It's not just a special few, either; nearly everyone gets that.

Here's an actual sentence I heard a minute ago.

"Oh, Sweetie Baby, I know how a cold can be. You really can't be too careful. You just put the assignment aside until you can get a good sleep and a cup of soup. I really wish I had some of my soup left over. It was yummy."

And you can't believe how good her student evals are!

I have students tell me they "love" Professor Honey Baby. Why? Am I doing it wrong? Am I supposed to be seeking love from them?

Fucking Sweetie Babies and Honey Babies.

How about we just teach some college courses around here?
Keys to college students' success often overlooked
An early visit to college, clubs and other activities help students graduate earlier than others, study finds. A sense of belonging also helps, researchers say.
By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

Colleges should examine a wider set of social, economic and personal characteristics to determine how they can help students remain in school and graduate, a new report has found.

Using information from a national survey of college freshmen in public and private institutions as well as graduation data, the report found, for example, that students who visit a college before enrolling, participate in clubs and other activities and those who have used the Internet for research and homework are more likely to complete a degree earlier than others. The costs of attending a college and the institution's size also contribute to students' success, the report found.

Overall graduation rates are up from a decade ago — nearly four in 10 students (39%) graduate in four years today compared to 36% of students who started college in 1994, the report showed. But 56.4% of students now take five years to graduate.

Disparities in graduation rates by ethnicity and gender persist and the gaps are increasing, according to the report. First-generation students are especially at a disadvantage: Only 27.4% of these students earn a degree after four years compared to 42% of students whose parents attended college.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time Managing Problems

Wading through all the emails about the budget crisis (sorry people, can't blog much about that, other than to say that it is seriously taking up my time) I come upon this gem, reproduced here for your viewing pleasure:

yesterday I got to know, that I should give some kind of presentation on Thursday on a paper that I use within my thesis. Unfortunately I was not attending the last lectures, because of some time managing problems. So I want get to know, what exactly I should do. I already got the password for the moodle course, but not the course name in order to inform myself. Can you help?

Thanking you in anticipation.

This is the Master's course on good scientific practice. Guess who's failing? I hope he complains to the dean about his grade ;)

Dean Suzy

really bad tuesday haiku

the cold rain sinks like
my spirits. misery--gray,

in semester's end.
the year itself sputters. would
that the world felt new

as cycling once did,
before icy space between
love and learning made

my job as moot as
raking leaves from my lawn hours
before the first snow.

Search Committees Wonder: "Should We Fuck Him or Just Hire Him?"

Utah professor says he's innocent of child porn charges

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:49 PM EST, Mon November 28, 2011Cops: Professor viewed porn on plane

(CNN) -- A Utah professor allegedly caught looking at child pornography during an airline flight said Monday at a court hearing that he is innocent, the Suffolk County, Massachusetts, district attorney's office said.
A passenger aboard Grant D. Smith's Salt Lake City-to-Boston flight on Saturday spotted him looking at what appeared to be images of young girls, nude or performing sex acts, and alerted the flight crew and a family member, who in turn notified law enforcement, according to a statement from the district attorney's office.
When a flight attendant asked Smith to shut down his computer, he began deleting images, prosecutor Erik Bennett said, CNN affiliateWCVB reported. Police who met the plane were able to recover 66 images from the computer, said the station, citing authorities.
Smith's laptop and cell phone were seized as evidence, and investigators will seek a search warrant to examine their contents thoroughly, according to the statement.
"These weren't photos of a child in the bath that a parent might keep," Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said. "These were explicitly sexual and extremely disturbing."

Welcome to College Misery.

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Ways to support Occupiers at UC and elsewhere

After the UC Davis pepper-spray brutality, Frog and Toad posted a comment with ways CMers could support both the protesters and the untenured UC English professor, Nathan Brown, who bravely wrote a public letter calling for the resignation of the UC Davis chancellor.

This post is to bump F&T's suggestions to the top with links and add a suggestion of my own.

1. Buy a tent from Nathan Brown's Amazon wish list. He's asked for 1000 and received 97 (well, 99 now).

2. Write a letter or email to CA Governor Jerry Brown or the UC Board of Regents.

3. Donate to the National Lawyers Guild, which is providing pro bono legal observers (witnesses) at the Occupy demonstrations and then meeting with and helping arrested protesters. Double your impact by earmarking your donation for the CS Fund/Warsh Mott Legacy matching grant, intended for hiring a national Mass Defense Coordinator for those arrested during the Occupy protests.

I'm partial to the NLG because they recently helped my newly minted college graduate son when he was jailed for "resisting arrest" at one of the California Occupy demonstrations (not on a campus). He went limp in order to appear completely nonviolent, so he wouldn't be beaten. Apparently going limp is considered resistance. He wasn't "beaten", just yanked backwards, without warning, down concrete stairs. He was taken to one jail, then transferred to another and released after three days, far from the city and without his backpack, which had his cell phone, wallet and keys. When he asked for these, he was told that he should have asked for that stuff to transfer with him to the second jail. They gave him a one-way subway pass, which he used to get to the first jail to get his things. But it was a Saturday; the person in charge of releasing property was off for the weekend; and he would have to FUCKING MAKE AN APPOINTMENT on Monday to get it back later in the week. He got loud (that's my boy!), so they gave him another one-way subway pass. Fortunately he had roommates who were home, so he had a place to stay and something to eat.

By the way, did you think you get to make a phone call when you're arrested? So did he. But the only access to phones was one hour per day in an exercise courtyard, and the handful of phones were controlled by gangs. Not being in with the gangs, he couldn't call me or anyone else. Still, the National Lawyers Guild had witnessed his arrest (along with 90 others) and sent a lawyer to meet with him in jail and let him know that people were working to help him.

The following week, he turned 22. I'm grateful that he was alive and well to celebrate it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Sartorial Early Thirsty from Albuquerque Adam.

I'm on my way to Seattle in January for the MLA. I already have a job, but I have 4 conference interviews. I'd like to move to a better school if possible, but I'm not willing to sell my soul for it. I am bright, energetic, and I'm told I interview well.

But I'm toying with the idea of dressing for the interviews as I normally dress, work shirt, sport coat (clean, nice), and nice dark blue jeans and boots. I'm not a cowboy. I'm not messy. I don't look like I'm the Marlboro man.

But anything else I'd wear would make me colossally unhappy.

Q: What would you think if a personally wonderful 35 year old guy showed up to a conference interview dressed like that? Or do I have to drink the sartorial Kool-Aid?

Snowflake Email from the Defunct Adjunct.

The following email arrived in my inbox this morning. Despite my admonitions to my students that email should be treated as a formal mode of communication, it lacked any salutation (Dear Professor, etc.). But, given the content, I guess that's not surprising.

I'm having difficulty finding the readings for this week to do my assignment. Are they not posted on the class website?


My reply:


The readings are posted in exactly the same place that they always are: in the section of the class website titled "Course Readings."

To be quite honest, that you are unaware of this fact in Week 14 of the course suggests to me that you have not done most of the reading for this class. Had you actually attended more than one or two class meetings this semester, you might have a better idea of where to find the class readings, because at the end of each lesson I navigate to the Course Readings page and go over the texts that we will be reading for the following class.

Defunct Adjunct

I'm never sure whether to be astounded or simply grateful when students go out of their way to actually tell me that they have been blowing off the class. I should be grateful, I suppose; it makes assigning grades so much easier.
British Muslim students are boycotting lectures in evolution
JohnThomas Didymus
for the Digital Journal

Professors at the University College London have expressed concern at the growing number of Muslim students boycotting lectures on evolution saying they cannot take courses in the subject because it is opposed to their religious belief .

The professors are concerned because the courses in biological evolution are an important part of the syllabus, and theory of evolution is considered by modern biologists the corner stone of modern biological thinking.

According to Muslim teaching, Allah created all that is and He( Allah) only needed to command "be!" and everything came into being. In contrast, the Darwinian theory of Evolution, as expressed in the no-Darwinian synthesis, says that all life forms evolved over millions of years by random mutations acted upon by natural selection in the struggle of individuals for survival. The theory asserts that individuals possessing traits that enhance their survival are immediately selected and spread their genes rapidly in a population. In this way species evolve over millions of years from simple multicellular organisms to complex multicellular organisms including man.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Campus Safety

Prior to Thanksgiving Break, I received a pamphlet in my mailbox concerning campus safety. There have been a string of attacks near campus lately, attacking lone walkers for money, computers, wallets, etc. The pamphlet outlined a few pieces of advice: try to walk in groups, be aware of your surroundings particularly in the evening, and use the escort service any time after 6pm by calling the campus hotline.

Further down, it recommended a series of self-defense videos. Finally, it concluded with the warning to women in particular: if you must walk alone late at night, grip your keys between your fingers so that you can swipe at any potential attacker and apparently do enough harm to incapacitate the person while you run away.

This final piece of advice made me laugh out loud.

Has anyone done this? Does anyone think that if you are attacked, getting the person in the face with your keys will be enough to knock the person down and allow you to escape? I'm not talking about the advice about being aware or walking in groups -- sound advice, that -- but encouraging that someone fight back with a half-cocked "weapon" of keys seems really irresponsible. Especially if the current spree is non-violent and property-based (wouldn't attacking turn it into a violence situation?).

(And why address only women in particular? Wouldn't men need to be aware as well? The publicized attacks have, after all, targeted men.)

Whether you are a man or a woman, please tell me: do you walk alone at night? If you don't, is this because of your gender? If you do, do you curl your keys into your fingers and prepare to strike another person? Have you ever been attacked and successfully fended off the criminal with quarters rolled up in your hand?

Is this just one of those urban myths that we tell each other that has no grounding in real life?

A glimmer of hope through the misery

I learned of this from a professional discussion group. It was originally published in one of those big-time edu-papers that requires subscription. Hopefully in excerpted form, it will pass muster because sometimes it helps to be reminded that there still are some decent, caring people out there.

[begin excerpts]

A little more than a year ago, Sara Al-Bader was a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto in the final stretch of writing her thesis when the unthinkable happened: She and her husband, Michael Smoughton, were killed when their car slid on a patch of black ice near Montreal.

Her fellow graduate students at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and the Institute of Medical Science were devastated at the loss of their friend and colleague, whom they remember as a woman who loved African music and embraced life. But as scholars, they also ached at the prospect that her original research on African health innovation might perish with her.

"It was her work, her life--all the frustration and the amazing moments and all the thinking and the ideas of the last four years," says Dominique McMahon, a fellow graduate student who had traveled with Ms. Al-Bader in Senegal and Malaysia.

So Ms. McMahon joined with several other students and professors to finish their late friend's thesis so that she could receive her Ph.D. posthumously.

Ms. Thorsteinsdottir describes a pains-taking process that involved a careful reading of Ms. Al-Bader's research notes and "a bit of detective work to find all the references."

"There were sometimes important points that had to be changed into narrative, but it was all her thinking," says the professor.

"You don't want to be inserting your own ideas."

The toughest chapter to write was the conclusion, says Ms. McMahon, because Ms. Al-Bader had definite ideas about the dearth of evidence-based research in Africa.

Ms. Thorsteinsdottir describes Ms. Al-Bader as "a warm person," which is not to say she was a pushover.

"She could be very frank, but in a more charming way.  She had strong opinions, and she wasn't shy about expressing them."

By August, Ms. Al-Bader's friends had finished her thesis, "Science-Based Health Innovation in sub-Saharan Africa."

An external reviewer called the thesis "highly original, thoughtful, and valuable" and praised Ms. Al-Bader's research and writing as "full of passion and commitment."

In November, administrators handed doctorates to Ms. Hardy, Ms. McMahon, and Ms. Ray--all of whom managed to complete their own theses at the same time that they were finishing their friend's--as well as to Ms. Al-Bader's parents, Samir and Maggi Al-Bader, who had traveled to Toronto from their home in Bath, England.

"It was hard not to cry," says Ms. Thorsteinsdottir.

She notes that the one part of the thesis that Ms. Al-Bader had completed was the acknowledgments, in which she named three people:

"Billie-Jo: friend, intellectual sword-fighter, thank you for opening my mind and keeping me going; Mike, beautiful man (thank you for coming); and finally my eternal mum, an inspiration to many, for her big and unwavering l-o-v-e across the sea. I feel you! Thank you."

[end excerpts]

Presentation of Dr. Al-Bader's degree to her parents: YouTube


Comic relief at grading time. Fun and funny student words of wisdom.

I've made fun of student writing before. Some student writing is poor; some isn't. In this post, it isn't about that. It's about writing that is just plain fun. Here's a small sample from the last few months. Each quote is from a different student, different situation (tests, online forums or conferences, papers, etc.)...

"The modern cities are very heavily urbanized."

"I do not see Iraq becoming democratic in the near future but when the first Wal-Mart or McDonalds rolls in that will be the democratic companies taking over."

"I guess all people aren’t consider equal in America (Liberal belief) because under this same constitution which was provoked by Liberalism, slavery of people happen for more than 400 plus years, this reminds me of Realism in the most Imperial way, it was just used on a group of people at a dangerous domestic level. Liberals who claim they want religious freedom continue to take the Bible out of school and teach homosexuality which in return tears down the citizen of America (Aids, STD’s), they (Liberals) want freedom but in there exercise of that continually take freedom away."

"I did my research using the Internet and tried to put into my own words what I read and researched on the Internet. Alot of the information is hard to reword due to the fact that they are facts and not opinion."

...and my personal favorite...

"Plato wrote the last days of Socrates, and describes within that document how Socrates comes to accept his death is 399 B.C. The text was written the years following his death but wasn’t officially published by Penguin Classics until 1954."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It's rare, but sometimes I release my inner snark-monster for just a moment so I can appreciate something in my world of miserable flakery.

This quarter, I am thankful for my student Lola. She is not the brightest, nor the most astute. While Lola is also a flake: sometimes arriving late to class, missing assignments, more often than not dozing in the back row, Lola offers something I treasure.

Lola does not complain, whine, offer any excuses, or request extensions to make up for her own shortcomings. Instead, when I ask how she is doing, Lola simply shrugs, tells me she forgot to do an assignment, or that she stayed up late watching movies, and then thanks me for caring enough to ask her how she is doing. Lola does not blame me for her failings. She smiles, tells me she will try harder next time, and then she does. And when she does try harder and gets a better grade, she thanks me again.

What I am most thankful for right now, is that she sent me an email saying she is signing up for the next sequence of the class with me next quarter. This means I will have at least ONE uncomplaining student who takes responsibility for her own behavior and choices. For that, I am grateful!

Le French Professeur Sends This In...

Am I the only one to perceive the irony that the students who are protesting in so many campuses (campi?) against the top 1% do belong to the top 1% of the world in terms of revenue-access to services? Would you call it snowflakery or just cluelessness.

- Le French Professeur

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So much to be thankful for (NOT!)

Dear Drs. A and B:
You've always been fond of discussing the need to include some very advanced topics in our curriculum, perhaps to justify that you teach at a community college despite having PhDs in your field. But you've forgotten that (a) the course we're discussing isn't the same course as the one with a similar name in your other curriculum that has several prerequisites that this new course does not have (and which you applaud as a great course but then let slip that you haven't actually TAUGHT this course in many years, because no one signs up for it since it's a tech elective and not a required course), and (b) there is no way that we can justify teaching this topic in this curriculum as a course that focuses only on concepts and comparisons but doesn't include any hands-on skills, or at least no way that I'd ever support that.

Dear Instructor C:
You're exceptionally fond of posturing about how YOU are in charge of this curriculum development project when in fact you are not. If you are in charge, then how come the only meeting of the committee this entire semester was because I pushed you to schedule it, despite the fact that we're supposed to be (as a group) developing seven new second-year courses to be launched next fall? Or that during that meeting there were many long awkward silences until I finally interjected "C, should we talk about the ____?" at which point you stuttered through asking the group about ____ as if it was your bright idea (ignore the old lady behind the curtain). I don't mind back-leading if its a waltz or a two-step and I'm fond enough of you to forgive that you can't dance for shit, but I'll be damned if I'm going to back-lead this group and do the work while you take all the credit. Why do you think I asked my dept. chair to come to that meeting? So she could report back to the dean on our campus about what really happens in the meeting, which fortunately she did.

And Dear Drs. A and B and Instructor C:
You know, it really would have been great to get this feedback, oh, say a month ago when I first requested it instead of less than one week before I'm supposed to submit my proposed course design, and on the night before a four day weekend. Why the hell are you all online arguing this NOW, when I haven't been able to get any of you to respond to an email for weeks? If it were anything else I'd just shut down my work email and focus on brining my turkey, pickling my liver, and sneaking pieces of pie, but I've been so pissed and anxious about having to depend on people who don't seem remotely concerned about launching all these new courses next year, that I can't just step away from it and leave it until Monday.

Oh, wait!! NOW I remember!! To YOU, "course development" means finding a book that has all of the instructor resources already created (despite the poor quality of the book or poor fit of the subjects covered - like, say, a book that is designed for use in higher-level undergraduate or first year graduate courses), then using that book as a model for your syllabus instead of deciding what really needs to be included in a class then finding a book that best meets those needs.  That way you can "teach" the course by reading the powerpoint slides to your students, give them "tests" provided by the publisher and created by someone who has no clue about what's important to assess, and just rid your mind of any concern about providing them with hands-on labs and activities, discussions, or anything else that will take this and make it real and make it work for our students, if it means more work for you. When I talk about developing new labs, creating performance-based assessments and projects that require them to apply what they've learned without step-by-step instructions that never require them to think, your eyes just glaze over and you look at me like I have three heads, and you pity me for all the unnecessary work that I create for myself when I could just do it the easy way, like you all do.  You're not really concerned with whether or not your students actually learn anything that they can apply later - you just need them to pass, and to justify your salary.

Worthy of Evaluating...Me?

I remember a brilliant old RYS posting about student evaluations, and my note today is an excuse to link to it AND to say, my students don't know enough about what I'm doing to evaluate me.

I'm sorry if that's not academically, politically, or pedagogically correct, but I'm baffled by how much credence administrators, chairs, parents, and some proffies give to feedback from undergrads.

My history in this business has proven to me that students evaluate two things only: 1) if we act like we like them, and 2) if the class is easy or hard (to them).

I have stacks of old evals and the two most common comments are: "Hiram is mean," and "Hiram is (too) hard."

That's it? That's all you've got?

Well, bite me.

Because nothing in either of those sentences worries me, helps me, fazes me, etc.

I work my ass off to make the class challenging and useful, maybe not today, but for the rest of their lives. When they face disputes and problems in the future, I want them to be ready and able to handle them.

I don't want my class to be easy, and I don't want to be their first 50 year old "friend" who isn't also called "Uncle."

Why do they give up so easily?

Marginal Mary is a student in my accelerated Literature of Ancient Hamsters and Other Rodentia class. Mary is a capable student intellectually but missed several writing assignments and a couple of quizzes. Thus, when midterm averages came out over the weekend, she held a low C. She is capable of earning at least a solid B in the course; all she has to do is not miss assignments and follow directions.

When I send students their averages, I explain to them in detail that the midterm average represents only 1/3 of their total grade in the course, most students do improve over the second half, and any missing assignments disproportionately affect their averages now but will be much less jarring after the other 2/3 of the points come in provided they don't consistently miss assignments. This is all done in a nice, easy-to-read list form.

Mary immediately emailed me in a panic. OMG, I have a C- in your class! I'm thinking about dropping! How is this even possible? I want to meet with you immediately to go over every single grade in the class so you can explain this to me! Every grade is available in the LMS immediately after I post it or a quiz's availability ends. Then there's also the not-so-small problem that I'm not in at all this week since I have caught hamster fungus or some such disease that's been making the rounds at my college for the past month. I emailed the students and told them I would not be coming in but would be available online for appointments through chat. But that was good enough for Mary. I had to drag my sorry butt out of bed and meet with her in person. That was Not. Going. to. Happen. Her demand that I come to campus to meet with her came 30 minutes after I emailed the class to say my doc told me to stay in bed for the week, so I know she got my message before she tried to make me come in.

I explained to Mary that her biggest problem was missing assignments and that she could still make a B if she turned everything in. I also pointed out that she'd missed some quizzes. She informed me that she had in fact completed the quizzes and didn't understand why she had zeroes on them. These were quizzes due weeks ago. Now, at the last minute, she tells me something was wrong and it's my fault for not knowing that she did the quizzes. I should've just guessed, based on her stellar work ethic on the writing assignments, that of course she took those quizzes and the system messed up. She'd also had some problems with the research assignment, but it's done in a series of steps on purpose so there is time to fix problems. I told her what she did wrong in Step 1 so she could correct it for Step 2. Step 1 was a low-point assignment. Each subsequent step is worth more so they can learn as they go.

I manually adjusted the quizzes, which brought her average up by 2 points: still a C but at least a solid one. But this morning I woke up to an email telling me that because I refused to meet with her, I was being "uncooperative" and she had "lost the will" to finish the class. So now she's dropping, and guess who's going to be held accountable? I almost wish I had met with her and given her hamster fungus. The average run time of this illness has been about two weeks. Then we'd see how she felt about trying to finish the class with a fever, light-headedness, chills, and a cough that would bring up hairballs along with lungs.

I still don't understand how this happened. I explained everything clearly. I made myself as available as I can given my condition. Mathematically, it's very likely she would have made the B. But here I sit with yet another drop, another black mark on my record, and another impending conversation with an administrator about "What else could you have done to retain this student?" Why did she give up? Why is it my responsibility that she made that choice? When did education become about giving students everything they want and anticipating those wants? Why is it so unreasonable to expect them to understand what an average is and how it changes over time?
UTB/TSC to delay release of grades to students who don't evaluate courses
Jacqueline Armendariz
The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE — Students at the University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College who fail to complete evaluations for this semester’s courses will wait an extra two weeks for their grades, officials said last week.

The move is meant to counter low response rates for the online evaluations.

The fall 2011 semester at UTB/TSC is coming to a close, but students have until Dec. 5 to complete a survey if they want their grades sooner than later. Blanca Bauer, executive director for research planning and effectiveness, said the lack of course data has a cascade effect beyond evaluating faculty for tenure or promotions.

“It’s a lot bigger than that,” she said. “It’s about continual improvement in our instruction. Without their feedback we can’t do it. We don’t know what’s good and what’s not.”

Bleary-Eyed Students Can't Stop Texting, Even to Sleep, a Researcher Finds
By Alexandra Rice
for the Chronicle

Bleary-Eyed Students Can't Stop Texting, Even to Sleep, a Researcher Finds 1Michelle Fox had just fallen asleep when her cellphone buzzed on the night table. She read the text message from her friend, thought about answering it, but then remembered her early class and instead tried to fall back to sleep. But Ms. Fox, a senior at the University of Rhode Island, couldn't stop thinking about the message and how her friend might be upset with her if she didn't respond.

She had to answer the text.

Many people, especially young adults, feel a sense of attachment to their phones and view the devices as a social lifeline that they can't do without, even when the anxiety the phones produce keeps them up at night, say researchers studying students' use of cellphones.

Sue K. Adams, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Rhode Island, wasn't thinking about cellphones when she asked her students to keep sleep journals—she was just curious about their sleeping habits. But through those journal entries, she began to notice the effects phones were having on their sleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Way to Say F*** You

Just to lighten the mood a bit in anticipation of the holiday (for those who get to take a holiday), here's a picture of the very large geodesic dome that UC Davis students have now built:

(image courtesy of Angus Johnston's Student Activism blog )

The floating tents at Berkeley yesterday were pretty cool, too.  If they were my students, I'd probably be worrying that they aren't in class, aren't doing their homework, and thus aren't getting the benefit of the educations  for which they complain they're paying too much, but, from a distance,  I admire their determination and creativity. 

A F*** You Haiku!

Fuck you haiku!   
Last day of class, EMH
When is it?
I don't know.  Check the syllabus.
I know it's there.

No wait!  Don't teach stuff right now!
I wanna know when our final is!
I don't know.  It's in the syllabus.

How come you don't know?
Sorry, I just don't right off hand.

Snowflakes come and go.
Some stay.  Like windshield during blizzard.
Some stop being snowflakes,
they may go on to advanced studies.
Some may go on to advanced studies,
and remain as snowflakes
just like Reverend Doctor.

But then there's also Pastor Gates.
Doctor of Divinity, but big dipshit.
You make the church look bad.
Lead sick man through sinner's prayer
But then told him that he would go to hell
for continuing to take his psych meds.

The man stopped taking his meds
and became psychotic.
Did the church ban together to love on him?
Did they take up a collection so he could
get medical attention?
No way!
They banned him from the church.
They thought he was filled with demons.

Jesus doesn't work this way, so why do you 
want people to think he's like this?
All I can say is remember the parable of the
sheep and goats.  He was sick and you drove him away.

Jeff came over the other day.
No! No! EMH there's nothing wrong with you!
I don't care what the doctor says, you are a
creation in Christ so that makes all the doctors wrong.
Doctor's don't know anything.  If you believe in Christ,
you will see that there's nothing wrong with you.

Well Jeff, being an ex-marine what do you have to say
about those who are wounded on the battlefield?
Being a former police officer, what do you have to say
about all the 911 calls you had to respond to?

My neighbor lost his battle to cancer last week. 
I dare you to go over to his house and tell his wife that
there was nothing wrong with him.

Rest in peace Mark!

An Open Letter to Chancellor Katehi from Dean Dad.

An Open Letter 
to Chancellor Katehi 
of the University of California, Davis
November 20, 2011 - 10:26pm
By Dean Dad

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

I imagine you’re feeling burned right now. You trusted the wrong people, and find yourself in a completely untenable position.

You know perfectly well that what the police did to peaceful protesters was beyond reason. There’s really no disputing that. The right to peaceable assembly is well-enshrined in American law, and for good reason. The videos speak for themselves.

Your people overshot. But you know that.

I’m not writing you to educate you about free speech or police brutality. I assume you’re smart enough to understand both, and to see clearly that the University was badly on the wrong side here.

I’m writing as a fellow higher ed administrator. Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of smug tirades by people who don’t have to balance competing goods. It’s frustrating. And I’ve also had to deal with the fallout when people who report to me make decisions I wish they hadn’t. It happens.

Now you’re in that awful position where the protesters are right. It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true.

UC Davis - The Letter

As requested ... 
18 November 2011
Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
Linda P.B. Katehi,
I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.
You are not.

From Bison: "The Art of the Rejection Letter."

Dear Search Committee,

The academic jobs wiki has let me know you've moved from phone interviews to campus invites. Unless you really drop the ball, it looks like I'm out of the running (or was never there to begin with). I'm cool with that. Now it's only a matter of months before your rejection letter arrives in my mailbox or inbox. And hey, I do appreciate it, better than not hearing anything at all. But look, there is an art to saying no to someone. Since I'm a decent fellow, I'll even help you out. You can just copy and paste my suggestion below into your format of choice:

"Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in [Job Title Goes Here]. Unfortunately, the position has been filled. Best of luck with your future endeavors.

[Your Name]"

I'm an adult, and I've been rejected plenty of times, especially in this market, so that's all you need to write. Unless you do number 5 below, I'm not going to reply back with some salty language or accusing questions. But here are some further tips for writing the rejection letter, based on my previous experiences.

1. Not sending or telling me anything is a real dick move. You don't even need to send letters anymore, just an email. There is no excuse for not sending anything and just assuming I'll figure it out. I took the time to apply, you can take the time to send me one shitty email.

2. The above email is just for the suckers that didn't get an interview. The folks you actually interviewed deserve a better let down. But, since I'm not one of them, I'll let you figure that out.

3. You don't need to tell me that you received over 100 applications. I didn't get an interview, so I was the 4th best or the 99th. Either way, it doesn't matter, does it? No matter what you write, it won't make me feel better about things.

4. I don't want to hear anything about your new hire. I don't care how good a fit they are, or how amazingly qualified they are, or anything else about them really. That's just cruel.

5. Finally, after not interviewing me and then sending a rejection letter (thanks for that!), please don't contact me a month later to see if I'd be interested in adjuncting at your institution instead. Because I'm a professional, and still have a sliver of self-esteem after all of this, I didn't send you the reply I really wanted to.

Feel free to share your own rejection letter advice (or horrible ways you've been rejected) in the comments.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Thirsty

This thirsty is related to Academic Monkey's post about the works our students should be familiar with by the time they're getting ready to graduate. Some people have already sort of answered this question (I'm looking at you, Contingent Cassandra and Dr. Colossus).

I was going to comment, too, something along the lines of being utterly dumbfounded by the fact that most of my students had not read The Scarlet Letter in high school. I teach early American lit, and before finding out that my students hadn't read the Hawthorne, I taught Billy Budd, Sailor. I felt like I had to decide which work was more important for a student coming out of an American college/uni literature survey course, and I chose The Scarlet Letter. [NB: It also fits in better with my course as a whole, since I also teach Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, along with Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity.]

This leads to my question:

Q. What works do you consider foundational for your discipline (i.e. any major should have read at least X)? If you teach general survey courses, is there anything you include that's not quite "canon" and if so, why?

A. Comments below.

UC Davis. "The Whole World is Watching."

UC Davis Police Chief On Leave Following Pepper Spraying Incident
Chancellor Calls On DA To Lead Use Of Force Investigation

DAVIS, Calif. -- The University of California-Davis revealed Monday morning that the chief of the campus Police Department has been placed on administrative leave pending a review of officers' use of pepper spray against protesters on Friday.

“As I have gathered more information about the events that took place on our Quad on Friday, it has become clear to me that this is a necessary step toward restoring trust on our campus,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi in a written statement.

“I take full responsibility for the events on Friday and am extremely saddened by what occurred,” Katehi added. “I eagerly await the results of the review, and intend to act quickly to implement reforms that will safeguard the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in nonviolent protest.”

Read more:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

College Books

Last week, while leading a discussion, I made a reference to George Orwell's 1984. My class replied with a quizzical look. Wondering if this was a minority, I polled the class.

Only one person (out of 71) had read 1984. This is a senior class.

As an undergraduate, I read 1984 in three separate courses. There are a handful of books or authors -- Foucault, maybe, Jane Austen, Catch-22 -- that I simply assumed were part of the average college education. Granted, this is probably a reflection of my discipline, but am I so far off base?

Two questions:
First, what books do you think the average Senior can be expected to have read over the course of four or five years of college (and maybe even the last two years of high school)?

Second, what two books would you recommend to graduating seniors upon finding out that they are woefully under-read?

Anything Change in 31 Years?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011


It is sad. College is abusive.

Sid From Santa Fe and the Student Eval Lottery.

From our Dean this morning:

This is an email reminder that online student evaluations for Fall classes will be available for students to complete beginning November 18th and will close on December 7th. Students will be sent an email to their college account with a link to the survey. To encourage student participation several $200 bookstore vouchers and one Mac laptop will be randomly distributed to students who complete their surveys. The more surveys that they complete the greater their odds of winning! Winners will be determined after grades are posted.

A Friday Thirsty About the Racial Diversity Question. (Flip Side Query, Though.)

Today my committee
will hunker into a tiny room,
huddled around a microscopic SKYPE camera,
to interview 6 people from around the country.

I'm an interloper on the committee.
It is not my department.

So I've been assigned a question to ask.

The card reads - and I must say it
exactly as it is written -
"How would you say you've fostered
and supported cultural and racial diversity
in your classroom?"

Q: What should I be listening for
in the answers?
How will I know if the answer my surely
surprised and nervous subjects
is good, bad, authentic, or otherwise?

A Short Play in One Act

Curtain Rises

Student: I realized that I never turned in the assignment due in mid September. Here is is! Does it count? (towards their grade.)

Me: No.

Curtain Lowers

Campus Cops.

Campus police? We're surprised when the campus police are not quite the crack team of well-trained folks who might one day have their own procedural drama on TV?

I can only speak for my own campus police, and they are, without a doubt, the 9 dumbest dopes I've ever seen. Ill fitting unis. Giant flashlights. Food in their beards. That sort of thing.

All they seem to really care about is if my parking sticker is in the lower left of the back window. Well, I have an open Jeep, Starsky. I don't have a back window.

Looks like Penn State (don't type Peen State, please) might have a different problem with their force.

Flava below.


Penn State scandal turns spotlight on campus police
Justin Pope
Associated Press

At Penn State, as at many colleges, campus police occupy an unusual and much-misunderstood spot on the law enforcement spectrum – and when scandal breaks, that often leads to questions about divided loyalties.

The latest developments in the sex abuse case there have put university’s police front and center of some of the most prominent unanswered questions:

Did Penn State officers thoroughly and professionally investigate allegations that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children on campus, only to have their findings quashed by prosecutors and image-conscious university administrators who preferred to handle things in-house?

Or were the police themselves part of a cover-up?

Would-Be Engineers Hit Books the Hardest, a Study Finds

Business majors spend less time on course work than other college students, but they devote more hours to nonschool duties, like earning money and caring for family members. In contrast, engineering students spend the most time studying and the least on outside demands.

Those are among the findings released on Thursday from the annual National Survey of Student Engagement, a project that tries to measure how hard, and how effectively, students are working. This year’s results are based on forms filled out last school year by more than 400,000 undergraduates, all of them freshmen or seniors, at nearly 700 colleges and universities in the United States.

Grouping students into seven academic disciplines, the study shows wide differences in the number of hours they put into schoolwork outside the classroom. Among students concentrating in engineering, 42 percent say they spend at least 20 hours per week on such study, well ahead of any other group.

They are followed, in descending order, by students studying physical sciences, biological sciences, arts and humanities, education and social sciences. Business majors ranked last, with 19 percent saying they spend 20 hours or more each week on schoolwork.


Ways I hope my students procrastinate

So I was screwing the pooch working industriously this evening and happened to stumble on an essay on and frankly, I hope my students procrastinate the same way I do, because it's great: "The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Cramming for Exams".

And they do. All of them. And I did. In fact I don't think I ever did learn how to study, I just stumbled around in the books and hoped something stuck. No one ever told me any of this. is performing a public service. It should be required reading.

Here's one of my favourite bits:

The most common post-exam complaint is, "Why didn't the lectures just teach us how to do the exam?" For the same reason sex isn't just wetting a condom and throwing it in the toilet. Your professors are actually trying to teach you the subject. Exams aren't the point of education. They're the flaccid little appendix we still sort of need to test if people have been turning up ... The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Cramming for Exams |

That is it in a nutshell. The assessment is not the point. It isn't why I'm standing up there blocking your view of the blackboard three times a week. It's just supposed to tell you how well you've learned the stuff I was trying to teach you, and that was the point. In that ideal utopian world I retreat to in my head.

Trying to think how to introduce my students to this article without admitting I read, lest they think I'm just trying to look cool.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Guess I Missed That Part

Last week I collected a major assignment. I posted it on Blackhole Board several weeks ago. The post (which I also send as an email) contained all the usual stuff: due date, requirements, and resources that the students may use. I have a very firm policy on when I accept late papers. I accept them never. I state this on the syllabus, when I introduce a new assignment, and on any assignment write-up.

Last week's assignment was due at the start of class on Xday. I collected the assignments at the start of class on Xday. I made my usual big deal about "once I put these in the folder it's end game."

The following is a conversation I had after class on Xday:

Class Skipper: Sorry I didn't make it to class, I don't feel well. Here is my assignment.

Captain Subtext: I overslept and I just realized the assignment was due an hour ago. So I came here to turn it in late.

Me: It said on the assignment posting and the email that no late work is accepted.

Captain Subtext: You know the rules and you know from last time that I don't bend them.

Class Skipper: I guess I missed that.

Captain Subtext: I don't take class policies seriously. Besides I was "sick" so it's a special case. You can't hold me to the standard.

Me: ... ...

Captain Subtext: Did you seriously stop reading the assignment post after the second fucking sentence?!?

Name that moderator

OK, we should all take a deep breath, appreciate the return to "normalcy" of College Misery after this morning's nuttiness and the week's drama.  We should relax and move on.  We should do all of this, beginning right after this post.  We need to clear up something that bothered me with Cal's recent announcement.

I want the moderator to have a name.  We, the readers and citizens of College Misery, deserve nothing less than a named moderator.  Without a name, how can we politely address our email messages expressing our thanks and appreciation?

Let's see some creative names in the comments.


Current Favorite

What Have Your Students Been Up To? (a Beaker Ben-inspired Thirsty)

In the spirit of getting back to bashing our students instead of each other (a suggestion in Gordo's last post, which seems to have disappeared),  and getting Beaker Ben some comments, and not thinking too much about the post just below, I want to resurrect one of  Beaker's wonderful  lists that was buried as a comment on the story about the teacher who didn’t teach

So, without further ado, here is Beaker Ben's breakdown of what his students have been up to this semester:

Now, let's be fair to the students. If they are anything like mine,

15% will be absent for months and may not realize that the class is not meeting

3% will attend a different class in the wrong building simply because they can't read their schedule

35% will feel they deserve the A because they did such a good job in high school

45% sit in class texting all the time and may not notice that nobody else is in the room, including the teacher

That leaves a few percent who actually want to learn. They are the ones who probably reported the teacher.

Or, if I'm feeling pessimistic, students ratted her out because she didn't respond to their emails requesting extra credit.

Q: How do your students compare? 

Please, Pass Your Eyes Over This Quickly. Don't Dwell On It. Don't Mention It. Don't Even THINK About Emailing Us About It. Let It In. Let It Go.

New mod. No name.

Two new programs are revolutionizing academic writing…


Are you tired of writing correctly? Do you want your paper to read like an authentic college paper and not like it was written by somebody who actually finished high school? This handy freeware is compatible with all the most common word processing software. Download the program onto your computer. Then, when you’re done writing that essay or term paper, simply click on the desktop icon and the Wryte-Bot will

  • insert punctuation and capitalization at random throughout your text. The special apostrophe feature allows you to decide whether apostrophes will be used exclusively to indicate the plural or for randomly-selected possessives as well.
  • replace “than” with “then” and “you’re” with “your” and “throne” with “thrown” throughout
  • switch the tense of random sentences from past to present or present to past
  • switch random sentences to passive voice. This features includes the timeless double-whammy passive offensive: “Hitler decided to invade France” becomes “The decision was made by Hitler that France be invaded.”
  • change the margins, line-spacing, font styles and font sizes of random paragraphs

Revision that used to take you hours now handled automatically! The licensed version, which costs only $10 and a verified registration, will also make up a random citation system and use it for most of your paper’s citations. The rest of the citations will be automatically deleted. Time you used to spend turning your coherent, well-composed, properly-documented term paper into a complete mess can now be spent doing what you really want to do be doing – sitting in the library studying for the final exam.

The Wryte-Bot Deluxe ($30) does even more. It will take your original work and post it online at dozens of webpages under randomly-generated pseudonyms and submit your essay to several of the most popular essay-trading sites, almost guaranteeing that you will be busted big time for a slam-dunk case of plagiarism when you submit your essay under your real name in class.

Why do all the work yourself when Wryte-Bot can do it for you?


Originally created in Germany after decades of live trials, KlugScheisser software is now finally available for English publishing. It automatically converts any word you enter into a longer, more abstract word or even a new phrase which either sounds somewhat like the original word or shares some aspect of meaning with the original word. Students can use this program to lengthen their submissions up to the required minimum.

But this isn’t just about length! Enter in a sentence, and KlugScheisser will add words and phrases or change the voice in such a way as to make the sentence longer and harder to comprehend, but without necessarily adding meaning. In fact, it will usually erode the meaning of the sentence making it harder for the reader to spot any logical or factual error you may have made. Try this while writing your papers and you will come across as a real intellectual. Now, instead of, “The industrial revolution started in Britain the late 18th century,” a truly banal piece of information, the professor will now read real scholarship: “The beginnings of what is known as the industrial revolution are considered by some scholars to have had their origins in the King’s England late in the Age of the Enlightenment.” If the bastard doesn’t give an A for that, take it to the administration!

Professional academics can upgrade to KlugScheisser-Pro and use it to hide nonsense by numbing their readers and listeners with intellectual-sounding jargon. Mark your text and then select any of the 15 jargon categories from the drop-down menu. Choices include traditional categories such as “post-modernism” and “Marxism” as well as seven different “turns” such as “linguistic”, “spatial” and “visual.” New “turns” are available as free downloads each week as they come into fashion. Fun categories such as “add Foucault,” “conjure feminist Afro-centrism” or “Gender this, bitch!” will work wonders on otherwise straightforward but uninteresting humanities writing. Transform that trivial archive report, the re-visitation of the same old worn-out second century documents, or the Cliff-notes-level analysis of some vampire novel into a real journal article! Watch as KlugScheisser-Pro takes book reviews which simply summarize the content and churns them into verbal oatmeal disguised as cutting-edge analysis. You can even revive some of your publications from the 1970s and “turn” them according to the fashions of 2010 without doing any revision work youself except the addition of a few recent citations. Nobody will notice that you have nothing new to say.

Gone are the days of embarrassing clarity. Hide your banality with obscurantist drivel.

SPECIAL: For a limited time only, KlugScheisser-Pro will be sold with the Postcolonial and Subaltern Studies Utility Pack (a $20 value) at no extra charge!

Natural scientists will have to be patient. The expected publication in 2012 of the Jan Hendrik Random Data Generator for the creation of snazzy-looking data sets will be followed in 2013 by the Poly-Publicize Significator to help you and your team transform real but irrelevant data into yet another four-page paper with five scatter-diagrams and 17 authors.