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.


  1. The chair's words are so exasperating. He doesn't care about the problem, only whose fault it is. Pure bureaucrat.

  2. 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.

    I read this as, "I was in the room during the discussion. Because I was Chair, they made me leave the room when the vote occurred. You know, because of repercussions, reprisals, retributions, and the 'implication.' I was and am, therefore, out of the loop regarding who implemented this decision so egregiously thrust upon 'us'."

  3. Dear EMH.

    Do not cooperate. With nothing in writing, you have plausible deniability. Just administer the take-home as you intended, submit your scores on time, and clap the dust off your hands.

    If they want you to cooperate, they need to communicate it to you clearly and in writing.

    (disclaimer: if you are not on good terms and think this might threaten your job, then ignore what I just said).

  4. @ Academic Monkey,

    I would love to tell this dude where to go, but I already did that with the graphing calculator fiasco.

    But even then, with all the silent politics that go on at this school, I think I'll just give the students the 10 questions and revel at the fact that he never said anything about how much weight they carry.

    I'm still the one who assigns grades, thank God.

  5. EMH, you skeaky little devil. Assign points as you see fit.

    After this episode passes, enjoy the common final. Fewer problems than making your won.

  6. Can't you make the case that your syllabus creates an implied contract and you cannot now change the terms of the final exam without causing a huge shit storm of student complaints?

  7. @ C,

    Then it would be my fault for "not knowing". The syllabus has an amendment clause that states that changes can be made if the "school" issues the command.

  8. I've worked in places where vital news was rarely announced in an official capacity, such as by a memo or group assembly. One only found out through associating with one's office mates.

    If one was among those who were the last to find out, that usually meant that one wasn't part of the "team", which often had dire consequences for one's career. The logic was that if one had to be specifically told about something, perhaps one should work some place else.

    Maybe somebody's trying to tell you something.....

  9. My guess is that the "common questions" are a response to a command from the university assessment nazis. It smacks of "standard metrics" and "inter-rater reliability." At my university, this has led to a standardized, multiple-choice "critical thinking" test and a push to adopt a single grading rubric for all writing courses across the university. If this is what's behind your exam woes, your chair is right when he says he had no choice in the matter: the assessmaniacs seem empowered to make the rest of us do whatever they decree. The good news is that 10 questions is a minor concession to appease the assessment gods; the bad news is that this is probably the thin end of the wedge: you'll be goose-stepping your way to standardized exams and common syllabi within a few years.

  10. go ahead and give them the 10 questions as part of the take home. he didn't say it couldn't be a take home did he?

  11. @ i_escaped...

    Possible, and definitely something I'm afraid of.

    However, it's difficult when I and 200 others don't have an office, but he and 8 others do.

    I wonder what it would be like to have them all try to crowd into his office to associate with him.

    Would he go crazy trying to balance "doing lunch" with his teaching schedule and everyone's availability?

    If so, then why doesn't he just schedule a meeting?

    I can't solve all the world's problems.

  12. EMH, I've had colleagues in similar situations as you. Turns out that they got themselves out of it with the powers-that-be by taking a page from snowflakes and acting like one: "I didn't know! You didn't tell me! How could I possibly know? This isn't fair! This isn't fairrrr!!!"
    They then recommended this strategy to the rest of us, because it worked so damn good.

  13. @EMH: my guess is that he was "forced out as Chair" of a committee that was making decisions about this (but not, obviously, as Chair of your department). It's possible to be Chair of more than one thing at once (and his sense of self-importance may well lead him to think that everyone else is paying as much attention to the nuances of his (perceived) position in the institutional hierarchy as he does).

    And yes, he's communicating badly. Unfortunately, there is a class of people who like being Chair, for the (perceived) status, but aren't very good at the detailed administrative work that such positions require. Sometimes they have a loyal vice chair or secretary (usually but not invariably female to the chair's male), but when they don't, things fall between the cracks.

    The good news is that, given your Chair's style, it seems highly unlikely that he will check up on you, *unless* someone is bugging him for data from your class that they need to complete some sort of report. So, given the students the 10 questions in whatever way is likely to get a good response rate (I'd vote for as part of the take-home final), explain, if questioned, that that was your goal (the assessment types like good response rates), and adjust as necessary next semester. My guess is that missing data is much more likely to get you in trouble than data collected the wrong way.


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