Friday, December 30, 2011

RANT: bad words to follow

TO my student complaining that another student slighted her in class.

First of all, I need you to grow the fuck up and not stay silent so you can bother me later with your cries of how someone was insulting you in class and it's my problem that you didn't say anything.

But second of all, you need to recognize that as a fully-formed adult with online access it is not my job to explain to you that "supersede" is NOT AN INSULT. As in "Susie, I think your comment superseded all the others." As in, the dude was telling you that he enjoyed your contribution. NOT accusing you of plagiarism or being stupid. Why you immediately went to insult, I have no idea, since he was being all smiley when he said it. So what the fuck.

TO the new administrator who offers me classes and then takes them away less than a week before they begin because of a paperwork glitch that she never spoke to me about.

A phone call would have fixed this. I preface this with nice things, to give you the benefit of the doubt, but that is impossible. Since you stepped in to take over scheduling, I've gotten the impression that you are just spinning a bottle to assign classes. Why am I teaching underwater basket weaving while the underwater basket weaving instructor is teaching hamster care (my specialty)?? Clearly you got them switched, or you're just using darts to assign courses. And you need to answer emails before someone blows up your computer.

This last offense on the paperwork leaves me months of preparation gone. You are single-handedly raising my blood pressure. I don't know what to do to reduce the violent feelings I'm experiencing right now, short of chopping down a tree. Fuck. You.

TO my current book project.

When I started you, I thought this was going to be such a fun time. The topic matter is so fun to talk about and even now, 3 years in, I still delight in giving an overview of the ins and outs of the particular subject.

So why did the writing come out so bad? Have I had a stroke? What is wrong with Chapter Four? Who wrote you? I have no memory of making such odd sentence structure. And these obvious argumentative holes? How did this stream out of my head? These arguments look written by a 9th grader. What the hell happened?

I know that I have to delete this entire chapter to start again, writing more clearly this time, but fuck I don't want to do that, even though these few weeks away from teaching are the best time of all to embark on such a project. And so I go to CM instead of pushing through the writer's block. Screw you, book.

TO last semester's students.

STOP EMAILING ME. I HATE YOU. You got a B- or C because you were foolish. You skipped a bunch of class, maybe, or you bombed the final exam, or you thought the homework was optional. This is why you got a low grade. But I don't want to hear it from you any more!! You were a terrible collection of students who failed to make the easiest of connections. The fact that you were graduating seniors enticed me into the false belief that teaching you would be a wonderful learning experience. But it wasn't. It was an identical experience to teaching a freshman class. I had to teach you how to craft an argument, how to cite your sources, how to find the library, and how to analyze information. HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN THIS FAR??? No, I will not give you a recommendation.

FFS. Stop emailing me. Or I'll go ahead and adjust your grades to a flat F. As in "FUCK YOU."

rant over

I'm Dead Inside

I always thought the semester where I had to ask a student to put his shirt back on would be the worst one, but compared to this one, that one wasn't so bad.

But I’ve waited and waited for the nasty emails from the students after I sent their grades. Given all of the complaining they did this semester, I thought it was a sure thing. Perhaps they don’t care, or are waiting to attack me at the start of next semester. Or maybe they figured out how to make a formal complaint. Or maybe they haven’t figured out how to find their grade online.

I did get the snowflakiest email I’d yet to receive. Full of, “I feel you don’t like me,” “I tried really hard,” “I feel I should get a better grade.” I feel, I feel, I feel – blech. I don’t feel anything anymore because you’ve deadened my heart and soul, you twat! Of course it was full of grammatical and spelling errors and he began by telling me that he was upset when he “seen” his grade. Yeah, well, I’m upset that you’re in college and you can’t write a sentence. Another good part was how upset he was over a paper I’d helped him with; I’d looked at it multiple times and suggested changes each time. Few to none were implemented, however he still got a B. Because he can’t do math, he thought he got an F, and this is what the email was about. How could he still get a bad grade after I looked over it? Why doesn't he understand that he should be embarrassed that I looked at this three or four times and they still messed it up? Ridiculous.

I responded that perhaps if he thought he was treated unfairly he should seek out the department head and make a formal complaint. He responded with, “obviously you just don’t care.” I wanted to go to the students house and punch them in the face, but instead I just sent the email to a friend who wrote his own version of the email which made me laugh a lot: “I do not want to be discrimited because I'm not as smart as others. I would like to get an A for effort, I know that may seem bad to you but I tried harder than my friends in your class who just post their smart phone pics of you on facebook when your back is turned, instead of writing down science stuff. I am concerned because unless I get inflated grades no one will overpay me to do a nothing job in a few years, and I have two ugly kids to support. It's not my fault my high school teachers were scared of my girlfriends and passed me to get rid of me. It must be because you don't like me, there is no other reason not to inflate my grades. When I ask you to repeat things you just lectured on, or that are in my textbook assigned reading I get dissapointed that you are not happy to do it all over for me. I think you are a racist slag.”

Other highlights from the semester come from the final: One question has three choices, A, B, C and the student makes up another answer. I can’t begin to explain that one.

They can’t use logic, even after going over the exact problem in class. If the Earth wasn’t around a million years ago, then obviously there wouldn’t be hamsters that were a billion years old...unless, of, you don’t think that, HAMSTERS ARE FROM SPACE?! Could it be?

Two sentences from written answers I particularly enjoyed:

  • Evolution evolves... 
  • It’s importance is that it’s important.

Neil from NY.

Despite a lengthy and antagonistic battle between myself and the Deans at my private university, I'm being forced to go back to a 2/2 teaching load, reversing a change the same people negotiated three years ago.
I've been teaching 1/1 for the past 3 years, and taking the lead on several university-wide initiatives. All faculty here teach 2/2, and I did it happily for years - in addition to a great amount of research, committee work, and the like.

But my warning to all f you is to be careful how your own schedule of duties gets negotiated. My own 1/1 move was a bit of a "handshake" deal, but I will tell you that I made that deal with people I had nothing but the highest level of respect for. These folks were among my closest friends, absolutely a part of my extended family, Holiday visits, births of children, that sort of level.

So when they came to me in September and said they need me to take 2 more classes a year, for no increased salary, and no reduction of other duties, I felt a real betrayal.

"Have I not done what we agreed to? Have I not done what we discussed? Have I not accomplished even more than the stated goals?"

Well, I had.

The level of animosity around this place now shimmers. They view me as an ungrateful leech. I view them as treacherous and traitorous assholes.

One of them, not so recently removed from a similar position, said, "You know, Neil, you've had a nice break from things. You should be grateful."

"Grateful," I said. "Grateful that you didn't fuck me sooner?"

Misery? In spades.

When you discuss what you'll teach, what you'll do, how the work is to be done, how and when you get paid, what extras you might be asked to take on and how you'll be compensated, get it all in writing.

I know I am partly to blame, but I saw these people as family - truly. I wouldn't ask my brother for something in writing, and I didn't ask them.

And now I've been fucked.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Big Thirsty for Fantastical Dreamers.

Of course I'm a teacher of 16 gauge railroading.

But if there were no such field,
I would have been
an actor.

Just look at my visage!

Q: If not a proffie,
what/who would you be?

Football makes you stupid

Dr. Jekyll:  I realize many of you do not like links on this page.  However, I believe this one to be relevant to the discussion here.  A recent study showed that the more successful a college's football team is, the lower the male students' GPAs. 

Prof. Hyde: My plan is working!!

Miller-McCune writeup.

Research paper at NBER.

And a Happy New Year to you too, Fartknocker!

Dr. Hubert P. Hunklepfuffer
Editor in Chief
Quarterly Review of Hamster Husbandry

Dear Dr. Hunklepfuffer,

I am indeed in receipt of MS 2011-3.1415 which has been submitted to Q. Rev. Ham. Hub. for review, and I am preparing my review. I do indeed appreciate the time and effort that goes into maintaining a high quality academic journal and the importance of rapid turnaround times on submitted manuscripts.

But Santa's Thundering Testicles, Hunk - didja have to send out a reminder on Christmas Eve?!? Fer Realz? I mean, sure, I get it, the reminder is automatically generated by your publishing software "Bollock$.one". I'm not sure that makes it any better. While you are snuggled all warm in your bed, your computer comes down my e-chimney to leave a lump of poo coal in my stocking. A big-ol' "Bah Humbug! Get back to work" to go with that "We appreciate our reviewers' time and expertise" bullshit in the (also computer generated) form letter that asked me to do the review in the first place.

Just for that, I'm sending in my review late.

Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern
University of Tuktoyaktuk

Duffer Darryl from Dallas on Search Committee Dynamics.

We're nearly done a fairly boring job search process. There haven't been any big blowups, no crazy scenes. Work got passed around. We had some votes. Most things made sense.

We're hiring two positions, we're a small department, and we got along just fine.

There was one guy we didn't invite to campus and I guess that was the only decision that went against what I thought was right. But the whole process had been so calm and normal it didn't even occur to me to complain.

Then today I was sitting in the lounge with another tenured proffie from the committee, Judy. We were not in committee mode; we were just shooting the breeze.

I suddenly said, "Hey, why did you and the rest vote against that one candidate, the guy from Florida?"

"Oh," Judy said. "All that talk in the phone interview about golf! My sister's husband is a golfer. He spends all his time on it; his clubs alone cost more than a thousand dollars. It's really wasteful. And he's gone 5-6 hours three or four times a week. We don't want someone like that teaching here. We have too much to do. You can't just take a whole day off to go golfing in the middle of the semester."

I looked at her open mouthed. I'm a golfer. She knows it. I have a tie with golf clubs on it. It's a bit of a running joke that if I'm not in my office I'm probably golfing. He didn't have much to say about golf, but I'd actually brought it up because I asked a question about what he did to unwind from the pressure of a heavy teaching load. All he said is that he played, and knew that Dallas and environs was good golf country.

"That's ridiculous," I said. And Judy was now open mouthed. "I taught my 9 and 10 am classes today. I had an office hour. I went and played 9 holes with a neighbor at Stevens Park, and got back here for our textbook meeting at 3. Am I doing something wrong?"

"How can you play that fast?" she said.

"I play 9 holes in about 90 minutes. Lots of us do. 18 holes I might play on a weekend, and that can take 5 hours if I have lunch and some drinks. But surely you spend time on the weekend on things just for yourself, right?"

"Well, you know me," Judy said. "I've always got my grading with me."

"Yeah," I said. "But your kids? Your husband? Don't you have your mother over in Ft. Worth you go visit on the weekends? Didn't you take her someplace last week during the week? Weren't you off campus all day, in fact?"

And at that point I'd gone too far.

"Well, golf is a silly hobby. Just look at your tie," she said.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

MLA Folks? Who's Going to Seattle?

Despite the fact that my department has already wrung itself out doing Skype interviews of several candidates, we've decided to do short 30-minute meetings with top folks who are going to be in Seattle in January at the annual Modern Language Association conference.

The MLA has famously been covered on CM and RYS in the past (like here, and here), so I'm interested to know if anyone is going to report from there.

And so the nightmares begin...

I get them before each new semester. They are full of anxiety and futility. Usually not a full month before the semester, but the last semester was a particularly rough one. 

In the nightmare, nothing was completed – the lab, the syllabus – nothing had been copied. The power was out in the room. It was full of students I’d already had in previous semesters, and some others I didn’t know. The previous students were good ones in real life, but they were awful here. None of the markers would write on the white board and it was about a thousand degrees in the room. People kept walking in and walking out, some people were watching TV(?), others singing. NO ONE would listen to anything I said. 

I even tried to leave the room but for some reason I couldn’t. There were only a few minutes of class left, though most people had walked out. I was going to tell the department head I was quitting. She had already told me (in real life) that I could leave whenever as the position is easily filled. 

Then I woke up thinking about all of the things I need to do for next semester. I’m tiiiiiired. Yawn. Share your nightmare stories! I can’t be the only one...right?

U-M attendance policy may pose challenge to students attending Sugar Bowl


9: I hired a sophomore to sit in my Bio class
the first day.

8: Well played!
Heading to New Orleans for Tuesday's Sugar Bowl? Well, if you're a University of Michigan student missing the first day of classes on Wednesday — the day after the game — you may want to check the attendance policy. Some U-M departments and professors are stressing that students are not exempt from classes just because of the bowl game, according to a Michigan Daily report.

In fact, many department attendance policies mandate that students be in class at least the first few meetings in order to be granted admission. “Students planning to miss class on January 4 are not to be automatically excused from class attendance,” LSA Dean Terrence McDonald wrote in an email to students. “As always units and instructors have the authority to interpret and apply these general College policies.”

The official LSA policy states professors can give away class spots if students don’t attend the first session of a biology, chemistry or physical laboratory, according to the report. Although some professors said they plan to excuse students who have previously contacted them about their impending absence, others have expressed that the no exemption policy is needed to keep admission fair to students on class waitlists.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Henchminion Sends In the Tale of "The Magna Carta Essay!"

The Magna Carta Essay: It's Still ALIIIIVE![Dec. 27th, 2011|03:36 am]

Back in 2005 I did an evil, evil thing. Discovering the proliferation of websites where student plagiarists could copy essays, I wrote a Trojan horse paper about the Magna Carta and seeded it on a few plagiarism sites. The essay is basically wrong from beginning to end. Amongst other silliness, it claims that King John's titles included Duke of Hazzard, and observes that "peasants were reduced to eating burage and socage." It also invents a fictitious war against Flanders Fland (a region on the coast of Luxembourg) and cites such scholarly tomes as Bollock and Maidenhead's classicInterminable History of the English Law.

Every once in awhile, I google a few phrases from the paper to see how it's gettting along in the wild. Over the years, the two seed essays I planted have spawned a dozen or so Google hits at various disreputable sites. Sometimes they even want you to pay to see the whole text. However, for years I had no idea if any student had actually handed the thing in.

Until tonight.

Oh my, oh my. The wording has been changed somewhat and some of the jokes were excised, but that's my essay there. Ranulf de Glanville has been changed from the Sheriff of Nottingham to "a mercenary of John," which totally wrecks the reference to Alan Rickman in the bibliography. (The student is probably too young to have seen that movie.) But since he's not Canadian, the bit about the notwithstanding clause sailed right past him.

He quotes the words "Discipulus tuus hunc tractatum non scripsit" in caps lock, but the professor for the course was an Americanist, so maybe he didn't get it? Did the paper pass? The student seems to have managed to graduate. Apparently he even minored in Latin!

Aaron Kerzner of Boston, I blow my nose at you.

ETA: The plagiarism sites now seem to want you to register in order to see the whole essay. You can read it in its entirety here.


The Magna Carta

by Henchminion

"John, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Hazzard, and count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls barons, justiciars, sheriffs, ministers, bailiffs and all his faithful men, greeting." 1 So begins the most famous legal document of the Middle Ages. The Magna Carta was a product of the power struggle between King John and his barons in the year 1215. Although it was intended to address concerns that were specific to its time and place, it became a high water mark of legal freedom for centuries to come. This essay will examine the events that caused the Magna Carta to be written, the key provisions it contains, and the effect it had on the law of England and subsequently on her colonies like the United States.

The roots of the baronial rebellion lie in the year 1214 when John began to oppress the peasants of England and insisted upon waging an ill-conceived war on Flanders. The winter of 1213-1214 was a harsh one. Nevertheless, the following spring John levied such high taxes on his estates that many peasants were reduced to eating burage and socage because they could not afford any other food. 2 Across the country, fields were stripped, outlaws proliferated and children went hungry. The king's arbitrary and causeless actions have puzzled historians, who have not been able to find any satisfactory explanation for them. 

At the same time, John had begun a war against Flanders. Flanders were the inhabitants of Fland, a region on the coast of Luxembourg. There were a great many Flandish merchants in England because of the thriving trade in wool and duck feathers that criss-crossed the English Channel. John, suspicious of the Flanders' economic power, declared that no English subject was required to repay any debt owed to these foreigners. 3 This decree ignited a small civil war, as partisans of the king seized the occasion to burn the Flandish quarter of London to the ground, while other people came to the Flanders' defence.

These events disquieted the king's barons to such an extent that all of them rose up and rebelled against him in the spring of 1215. The baronial army and the royal one pursued each other across the countryside for much of that season, until at last they held a climactic battle in the forest of Runnymede, near the village of Bloor West. The king's forces lost and John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in order to acknowledge his defeat.

The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, contains sixty-four articles. Many of them pertain to measures the king must undertake in specific parts of England, but others are broad statements of principle that have become the foundations of English law. The preamble to the Manga Carta is one of the latter. It states that the king must be subject to laws agreed upon by his barons, as he has not been able to withstand the collective force of their armies. This section is known as the Notwithstanding Clause. It fundamentally changed the way that subsequent governments operated, and its implications continue to be debated today. 4

Another key provision has to do with the separation of church and state. Many bishops in the kingdom were angry with John because his officials had attempted to interfere with religious officials and ceremonies. Therefore they prevailed upon the barons to include an article which stated "To no one will we sell, to no one will we delay, to no one will we deny Christmas." 5 This statement refers to an event in the year 1213, in which Ranulf de Glanvill, one of the king's sheriffs, forbade the celebration of Christmas mass in Nottingham.

A third provision concerns taxation. In the original Latin, it is summed up by the famous words "Discipulus tuus hunc tractatum non scripsit." This sentence means "There is to be no taxation without representation." 6 The clause, article 23, led to the establishment of the parliament of England, the world's first representative legislature. Each shire of England was thenceforth able to elect two knights and two burglars, or townsfolk, to the House of Commons. From this point forward, democracy was firmly entrenched in England and no law could be passed that had not been approved by parliament. 7

The final clause of the Magna Carta is its amending formula. Anticipating that they might require changes to the document later, John's barons inserted this section so that the charter could be amended. The clause states that the Manga Carta can only be rewritten if the changes are agreed to by the House of Commons, the monarch, and seven out of the ten shires representing fifty percent plus one of the population. 8 However, as this consensus proved impossible to attain, the Magna Carta was not amended for nine hundred years.

Events after Runnymede showed that the Great Charter had become a cornerstone of English law. Once he understood the limits that the document had placed on him, John attempted to have it declared null and void. He prevailed upon Pope Innocent III to strike it down and excommunicate the barons who were supposed to enforce its provisions. The pope agreed to do this because he was an Enemy of Freedom. There can be no other explanation for his senseless harassment of totally innocent barons.

Nevertheless, just as the Magna Carta seemed to be in eclipse, John's elder brother Richard III returned from his crusade to Persia and seized back the throne of England from his younger brother. Now was the winter of the barons' discontent made glorious summer by the true king's return. 9Richard confiscated all of his brother's lands, so that John was thenceforth known as John Lackland. The former tyrant was driven into exile, and spent the rest of his days in a monastery on the island of Thanet amusing himself by writing poetry about the virtues of agricultural labour. Some of that poetry has even come down to the present day. 10

The example of the Magna Carta shows that freedom and democracy will always prevail over tyranny. This is an important lesson for people to remember today. 

1. A. J. Pollard, Magna Carta to Domesday Book (London: Periwinkle Press, 1999), 227.

2. Clarence Miniver-Smythe, From Savagery to Unreason: A Chronicle of the Medieval Age (London: Periwinkle, 1923), 78.

3. Sir Frederick Bollock & F. W. Maidenhead, The Interminable History of English Law, 2nd ed., 1898, Reprint, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968), II 324.

4. David Johanson The Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Research Branch, 1990) 17.

5. Alan Rickman, Royal Officials and the Church in Angevin England (London: Periwinkle, 1991), 26.

6. D. Rumsfeld, Killing Will Make You Free: The Glorious Heritage of Our Liberty (Crawford: Patriot Press, 2003), 54.

7. Ibid., 123.

8. Gunthold Langschreiber, Hermeneutical Exegesis in Epistemology: The Example of the Magna Carta (Heidelberg: Burgamfels├╝bersweinfurtobderrhein Verlag, 1999), 42.

9. William Shakespeare, Richard III (London: Puffish Classics, 2000), I.i.

10. John Lackland, Piers Plowman (London: Puffish Classics, 1996).

If You're Going to Argue For Higher Grades ...

... at least use decent grammar!

I was completely out of email contact over Christmas from about the 21st-26th. I'm so glad. One of my students, who should have been able to get their grades on 12/17, emailed me on the 21st about their grade.

This particular student needed a C for their Hamster Caretaking program, and was still getting a D in early December when they asked me about their grade. They had missed a lot of classes and assignments. I responded, after some calculating, that if this particular student could get a "perfect score" on the remaining assignments (including a written paper), they might be able to pull off the C.

They didn't. Their grade was posted on Blackboard on 12/13, grades were submitted by 12/16.

The email from this student on 12/21 said, "i don't understand why i got a D you told me if i did everything that you told me i would of been able to get a C. i don't know what to do now because i tryed my best to do everything you said to earn that C"


I don't think this particular student should be taking care of hamsters anyway.


Dear students X and Y,

What the fuck are you doing e-mailing me and asking me for a detailed breakdown of your marks on CHRISTMAS, for Chrissakes?!! These marks were posted weeks ago! On CHRISTMAS? Really?!!

And what does that say about me? Checking my (school) e-mail account on CHRISTMAS as well? WTF is wrong with ME?!! Maybe it's just karma. Serves me right. UGH!

A word of advice. Just don't do it. Don't. Even. Peek.

Happy holidays, CMers!!! :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Student Emailz

Dear Professor Monkey,

i actually got my computer fixed at best buy today and replaced my harddrive so i backed up all of my papers and projects from all term on a friends computer. while working on that backup project, i came accross to projects for you that i want to hand in.

deluded dumbass

Dear Deluded,
I am very pleased to learn that you have figured out the joys of backing up one's computer. This would have come in handy multiple times during the semester, as you continually lost your work and failed to come to class prepared. I was pained to enter your 43% section grade as it seemed impossibly low. Glory be! You will now be able to perform the bare minimum of students in future classes.

As for turning in your assignments, I have no idea why you feel you can turn in any late assignments at all, let alone assignments submitted the day after Christmas and ten days *after* your final grades were due.

Perhaps 2012 will be a better year for your attention to basic details and common sense.

Cold regards,
Academic Monkey

"Waiting for mark worse than writing the exam."

by Tess Allen
for the

Two weeks ago, I had conclusively decided that there was nothing in the world more agonizing than final exams. The countless hours spent pouring over notes, the restless sleeps fraught with exam-related nightmares, weeping openly and frantically reciting passages from The Republic over and over again certainly felt like a fate worse than death.

After all, what could be more loathsome, more disturbing to a first-year university student than final exams?

Then exams were over, and it was time to find out our final grades, time to find out whether all the work we had put in (or hadn't) had paid off. I did not realize that the aftermath of exam-writing was actually far more ghastly, far more repulsive than writing the exams themselves. Who would have thought final exams could actually be surpassed in grisliness?

Full Article.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

How Hard Can It Be?

I teach at a church-affiliated SLAC.

In a fit of insanity, I decided to make a nontraditional assignment in a course this fall. It was an experimental, senior-level course along the lines of "Basketweaving as a Calling," and it was intended to get students thinking seriously about why they are basketweaving majors and what it will mean for them as citizens and spiritual beings to spend the next 40 or so years of their lives engaged in the art, practice, and discipline of basketweaving. (I might add, for what it may or may not be worth, that I had my Dean's 100% approval for this course).

My nontraditional assignment was to require the students, for 10% of the course grade, to write an op-ed on the topic of "Basketweaving as a Calling." My idea -- and my explanation to students -- was more or less, "Hey! You are seniors. You ought to be able to hold and defend serious opinions in your major field of study."

I brought in a journalism teacher for one whole class period who lectured on writing op-eds and provided examples of both good and bad published op-eds. I provided a link to a web site on how to write good op-eds. I offered to critique and return the DRAFT of any student's op-ed, so long as the student submitted it to me at least one week prior to the due date of the assignment. (Yes, I know. No takers from a class of 18, but . . . .)

I had coordinated with the sponsor of the student newspaper, which is ALWAYS looking for student contributions. After I graded and returned the op-eds, each student was required to submit his or her revised op-ed to the editor of the student newspaper. If your op-ed gets published, you get 1 point of extra credit (Yes, I know . . .) added to your final course average. However, UNTIL you submit the paper to the student newspaper, you don't get the grade.

These instructions were included in the written assignment sheet. I mentioned the requirements at least half-a-dozen times in class. As you might expect, a couple of the op-eds were excellent; a couple were bad, and most were in the great, unwashed middle.

BUT . . . of 18 students, all of whom submitted the op-ed to me, FIVE did not submit to the student newspaper, thus getting a zero for the assignment and effectively reducing their course grade by one letter.

How hard can it be?

PS: Merry Christmas to all!

It is I, Yaro, With the Christmas.

What is Christmas, after all, but an idea? Of course its historical place varies for us in this country. It's a holiday. It's St. Nicholas's grand day. It's all presents and stockings and sales on televisions. It's the celebration of a distant birth freighted with impossible meaning.

Ideas. They are what I traffic in, in my world. I have them. My young charges do not. At semester end I ask myself if I have transmitted enough of them to earn the right to return the next term. (And I have so far always found my way back.)

This place, this academic water cooler, is an idea, too, of course. Really more of an idea than a real place. We examine the world through lenses uncommon. It's not the real academy. It's one we use to fret the ones that exist.

I put the lights on Mrs. Yaro's lovely tree. I think of the three kings and what they mean. I find myself frozen in place, in a warm light. I think of a little boy who lived in this house long ago who is with us no more, taken on a winter day in 1984. It was at Christmastime.

I would think that would color the season forever, but it hasn't. The smell of goose. Tinsel. What a word. It is glorious.

That the Christmas at times has been nothing but a savage reminder of our bitter loss - for it is Mrs. Yaro's, too, though I only truly know my own. And at others, a peaceful, beautiful time of remembrance.

In the same way my teaching has at times been only a job, a place to ply a trade. And other times, my vocation, avocation, an absolution, an empyrean endeavour.

I am all wind up this evening, lacking the pitch. I am not sure where this meditation is to go.

At this time of year my colleagues have mostly struggled to the airport to travel, abroad, or to family homes, or to warmer climes.

But Mrs. Yaro and I watch the fire and think of one baby born and one lost.

I have telephoned my family and friends tonight with hale greetings. I have told them I love them and miss them, and look forward to when we next meet.

And I thought to look in on all of you, for despite the modern and disconnected format of our community, I feel attached to you as well, so kind you have been to welcome my occasional tale.

And I send you my best, Yaro's, upon the evening, the season, and the Christmas.

I am yours,

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Xanax and Metamucil

So, despite hanging out here, I never really thought I had a “high stress” job. I mean, I always thought a “high stress” job involves life or death sorts of things—like jobs that require you to carry a gun, catch king crabs, rescue people from burning buildings, or insert stents. Whatever stents are, I definitely don’t want to insert them.

Then, beyond the category of job where one’s own possible death, or the death of others, is part of the package, there are those job situations where stress is inherent as well. Such as jobs where your boss is an incredible dick. Or where you really don’t have any job security. Or where you hate what you do, or realize you aren’t capable anymore of fulfilling your job description. Or your commute is two hours long each way. Or those jobs that are just so physically demanding that people burn out by 45. Not having a job at all, and desperately needing one, is its own peculiar hell.

So what on earth should I have to stress about? I could do my job blind and in a wheelchair. They can’t fire me. My commute is eight minutes long and if I get there before nine I can park about twenty feet away from my office. And my office itself is perfect. Despite being underpaid, I have a living wage, and benefits. I am not in any financial distress. I don’t think I’m in any distress at all. As for my personal life, I hesitate to say it is ideal only because I am loathe to draw the evil eye.

But apparently my body begs to differ. According to my body, I am under a lot of stress. Because after asking me a number of questions about my sleeping habits and my general mood, my doctor prescribed me a bottle full of Xanax, to add to the Ambien I’m already taking. Oh, and the antidepressant, because if I don’t take that, I will spontaneously decide to walk into whirling factory equipment.

I guess it was the sleeplessness and the freak outs that led him to prescribe the Xanax. Because in addition to my problems sleeping (even with the Ambien), I will freak out seemingly over nothing, because I don’t really have “something” to freak out about at all. Last time, I freaked out over the fact that my husband put the tomatoes in the fridge. I’ve told him a kabillion times that tomatoes don’t belong in the fridge, and when I saw them in the crisper I went berserk. Like, “FUCK YOU YOU ASSHOLE MAKE YOUR OWN FUCKING DINNER I TOLD YOU NOT TO PUT THE TOMATOES IN THE FRIDGE YOU FUCKER!” berserk.

Pretty fucking berserk. And let me tell you, putting the tomatoes in the fridge is pretty much the extreme of my kind, thoughtful husband’s transgressions. So now, when I feel that berserk coming on, I take a Xanax. Ahhhh…suddenly my husband can put the tomatoes up the dog’s ass and I wouldn’t care.

But what I’ve been noticing since I turned in grades last Monday is that I don’t need Xanax. Or the Ambien. Or, to be perfectly frank, the Metamucil. Because all semester I’ve basically not been able to sleep or poop. Chewing Xanax and fiber tablets all day is really no way to go through life, but life, such as it is, provides no alternative save for quitting my job. And I like my job. Even more than I like pooping. But it is nice to have a rest, at least until Boxing Day, when I have to start working on the four preps I have this spring.

So, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Sans Ambien, and Metamucil, at least for a couple of days.


Getting the Boot for Christmas

I know I haven't been corresponding regularly recently. I think I mentioned there was this budget cut thingy, I'm sure many of you have been hearing about stuff like this in the past months. I've been applying my bitching strength to fighting for money and staff. The results:
  • We must accept a 17% budget cut for 2012.
  • I can hire 6 new teachers, I need 17 just to scrape by in FY2012, as we are to be taking in many new students in order to have more income.
  • There will be no pay raise for adjuncts.
  • We can continue to have heat in the rooms, but we are supposed to be thinking of creative ways to save electricity, like getting rid of "unnecessary" computers.
  • My administrative assistant, the only one who actually understood the numbers around this place was given the boot two days ago. I was not asked, but informed. They found some piece of dirt s/he was responsible for. Dismissal was immediate, although I find the charges to be trumped up.
So over the holidays - and my heart goes out to the administrative assistant - I need to decide whether to step down or not (probably) and I need to polish my CV. Don't think I want to hang around here any more. Will it be better if I go back to industry? I hear that Hamster Fur accessories are all the rage. I better get my loom out of the cellar, see if I can still do it.

Hope you all have a better holiday season. Oh, and I'm grateful for CM. There's nowhere else I can let off steam like this. 

Dean Suzy

Friday, December 23, 2011

RYS Piece by Sara Biggs Chaney.

Earlier today this article was mentioned. It is sort of hard to find, but I've clipped it from a PDF I have of it. The formatting sucks. Sorry. But you can get the gist. Obviously I was interviewed for it, but I choose to let the text stand for itself without any commentary.

Compound Cal

Rankings and Ravings in the Academic Public
Sara Biggs Chaney Rhetoric Review, 30:2, 191-207, 2011. has received critical reception in the academy: While
some college teachers and administrators express support for the site, others complain
that it invades their privacy and impinges on their academic freedom. This
essay looks closely at one response to Rate My Professors, a weblog titled Rate
Your Students that was founded in 2005. The site offers a compelling example of
how Rate My Professors—and the movement to commodify higher education that
it represents—affects public discourse between students and teachers.

Friday Thirsty for the Downsized and/or Underemployed (i.e. Adjuncts)

Emily Post will be rolling in her grave, but:

Who's turning to tutoring?

How do you advertise?

What do you charge?

Anything you want to say?

Some Holiday Reading Suggestions (ducks available on request)

We talk pretty someday:
I was searching for an old RYS post by the Bitchy Bear from Boston.  My google search turned up a surprising find:  Rankings and Ravings in the Academic Public, (Rhetoric Review Vol. 30, No. 2, 191–207 - you may need to get it through your uni library to get around the academic paywall).  It turns out we are a 'public, producing rhetoric'.  Who knew?

Sometimes the author seems to get it:
I will argue in this essay that the public rhetoric of RYS is in part a response to the consumerist infringement on the classroom of which RMP is just one example. By focusing on their teaching as work and themselves as often imperfect and sometimes unwilling workers, posters talk back to a business model of college teaching that threatens to commodify college teachers and their pedagogical product. In the process of performatively scapegoating students as the primary representatives of consumerism
Other times I'm less sure:
Thus multiple publics will exist in a tension that reflects the diversity of perspectives they represent, a diversity almost impossible to quantify in the United States. Using this definition of publics, we can understand RMP and RYS as separate but complementary expressions of identity and self-interest that display, in a contained format, the push and pull of all public discourse.  Yet we still lack full insight into the structure and mediation of publics because the important theories on this topic are usually applied to classroom practice, in some cases cutting short a more thorough investigation of their theoretical implications.
I just hope Bitchy Bear puts it on her citation list (and where are you Bitch Bear?  We miss you)

Whaddaya MEAN I gotta know what I'm talking about?
Slate reprinted an op-ed bit from the New Scientist suggesting that Science journalists should actually have some basic competence in science.  Some Flava:
Previous attempts at drafting guidelines for science reporting failed because they came from the scientific community, looking like tablets of stone handed down from a priesthood of scientists. But these days many science reporters agree that basic guidelines would protect them from the vagaries of their news editors' preferences. The Science Media Centre also suggests making sure that newspapers include science in the training package for all reporters, editors, and copy editors.

If the press were to hold back from reporting extraordinary claims until they found extraordinary evidence, we would have a very different media landscape for science. Gone would be spurious stories about finding "the cure for" or "the cause of" our most common diseases. And we would never have had a massive scare over a safe vaccine based on a small single study not replicated anywhere else in the world.
It's Christmas, and we can dream can't we?

Tenured Radical meets the Great Lobachevsky
I've had an unusually high (and unusually incompetent) load of plagiarists this semester, so if any of you haven't already, check out Tenured Radical's post on the subject.  Some favourite gems:
I will be far more sympathetic if you simply fail the class, or get a bad grade, than I will be if you are hauled up before a disciplinary board and hung out to dry for preventable a$$hattery.

because cheating is evidence of rank stupidity, many people do not get away with it.  In fact, many people are no better at cheating than they are at doing the work for the course. 

What few undergraduates grasp, given that dollars are paid in exchange for their heads being cracked open and education poured in, is that you don’t purchase ideas with tuition.  The people you read actually own their ideas, and deserve credit for them. 
And finally a Christmas card
This morning, I got an e-card-cum-chain-letter that's been making the rounds.  Between pictures of frollicking snow-persons, it wished me an assortment of small joys and miracles.  It was rather touching.  It concludes as follows (verbatim):
Send this phrase to the people you'll never forget .
It's a short message to let them know that you'll never forget them.
If you don't send it to anyone, nothing bad will happen, but just think how good you felt when you received it.
Take the time!
Best Wishes
Wishing you the very best for 2012 and ...
Peace on Earth
This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the named addressee(s). If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Please notify the sender immediately by e-mail if you have received this e-mail by mistake and delete this e-mail from your system.

Rather captures the Zeitgeist, does it not?

Gifts for College Students (with Commentary)

Having a hard time coming up with Christmas presents for college students? No worries, here are some great Christmas gifts that your favorite college student would be thrilled to get.
  1. Jambox speakers ($200) With one of these speakers, which looks like a colorful block of cheese, you can have an instant dance party with music on your iPhone. And disappoint your parents.
  2. Roku ($49) College students love watching South Park, Scrubs and their other favorite TV shows via Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, but it can be a pain to watch shows and movies on a small laptop screen. Plug the device into your television and watch your streaming video on a larger TV screen. It's that simple. To disappoint your parents and ignore the essays that are due and your bio lab.
  3. Livescribe smart pen ($99) The Livescribe smartpen will make sitting through lectures much easier. With the pen, a student can record lectures while taking notes on special paper. Tap on the notes later and the pen will play back the appropriate audio. Or you can just record your roommate farting. And disappoint your parents.
  4. Terrarium (Nearly free) Terrariums are hot. You can buy them online, but it can be more fun to put one together and it will cost you next to nothing. Find a jar with a lid -- a quart size is great - and put pebbles on the bottom. Take a walk in a forest and find some small fern or other tiny plants, along with some hunks of moss and place them in the terrarium. It's the best place ever to keep your weed. And disappoint your parents.
  5. DVDs of favorite TV shows ($20 - $30) Give your college student DVD's of Dexter, True Blood, Entourage or whatever their favorite cable shows happen to be. In case your Roku breaks and, like, the library's closed, and because it's too late to start that paper anyway.
  6. Electric tea kettle ($14 and up) An electric tea kettle is perfect to fix a cup of tea on cold winter days or to heat water for ramen or a cup of soup. If you want to splurge, buy some Tevana tea to go along with it. My son loves Teavana's Jasmine pearls. Her son is using the tea kettle to store his weed in.
  7. Fitbit Ultra ($99) Perfect gift for any college students battling the freshmen 15. The gadget, which clips onto your waistband, records your steps, flghts of stairs, calories burned and more data, which is automatically synced to your computer when the device is nearby. It also tracks how well you are sleeping. One word about the freshmen 15: munchies.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gen Y's Positive Traits?

Is it just me, or does this article make it sound like Gen Y is virtuous and marketable while also saying they will jump ship at the first smell of a raise elsewhere, will want to be praised for every job, regardless of how well it is done, and will also not know how to use the technology that employers expect them to know how to use?

BREAKING NEWS: Teaching quality guaranteed by snowflake crowdsourcing: Study

Rate My Professors is a valid instrument after all. Didntjaknow? Happy holidays!

Anders from an Anonymous College Says, "Don't Trust the Job Wikis."

Three years ago I was a job wiki addict. Refresh. Refresh. Gulp of coffee. Refresh.

Then I got a job, and I thought, "Great, fuck that wiki. I'll never have to worry about it again."

Except now I'm on a job search committee for a broad field English position at a pretty good college in the northeast.

Someone said, "Hey, Anders can keep up on the wiki, keep track of what schools who are doing similar hires are doing, when they make their interview calls and so on."

So I did that. And I hated it. There were about 30 schools that had jobs JUST like ours, and I logged on every day, keeping track when they asked for dossiers, when the phone interviews (or Skype) interviews started.

We even moved up an important committee meeting by a full week because I reported casually that 2 schools near us had already contacted folks for samples and dossiers.

Anyway, despite the fact that we're not making our MLA interview calls to candidates until this afternoon, our job wiki page has received notes from "candidates" who claim they have already been contacted! It says:

MLA interview scheduled: 12/19, 12/20 (X2).

Well, it isn't true. And, there's a note in the notes section about an inside candidate for our job, and we don't have one. We have no VAPs, no part-timers who qualify, etc. Yet, there's a little conversation among some "candidates" about whether this is a real job search or not, and how terrible it is we're wasting everyone's time and money when we already have someone we're going to hire.

Not true.

It makes me think about my own wiki use, the hours and the fret and the anxiety spent on shit that may have been fabricated by naughty wiki users.

Wilma from Waterville With a Big Nutty Thirsty.

Q: If you could gift your department anything, a new colleague,  new computers, a new mindset - truly anything - what would it be?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stop bothering me!

The semester is over – please let me just stay here in my fetal position, sulking. Stop emailing me about something you already have in your possession!

Admin: I need the (dumb abbreviation that makes no sense) form.

Me: I’m not sure what that is, but I think you are referring to the white form? I gave you that in the summer.

Admin: That’s the one. Please email it to me.

Me: I handed it to you in the summer. I only have my pink copy. I can send you that.

Admin: I need the white one.

Me: You have the white one. Also, if I’m supposed to turn in the white one to Admissions each time I fill it out, why would I have it? I gave them my white forms for this semester too. Should I try to recover them?

Admin: You are required to give the white form to them. I need your copy.

Me: (banging face on wall) Soooo – you have the copy you’re asking for AND you need another copy!!!?? (resuming banging face on wall)

Fight Club Soap - Logo Bar

$19.99 $14.99

Plenty of soaps are made with natural ingredients. Usually what that means is that they're made of ground-up flowers and tropical fruits.

You are not special.
You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.
You are the same decaying organic matter
as everything else.
If you’re going to shower, be a man about it. Introducing the only soap made with electrolytes, caffeine, and punching. Don’t waste your time with anything less. 

You're welcome.
  • First-time ever officially licensed
  • Modeled from original fight club props and artwork
  • Caffeinated. Because. 
  • Packaging now comes with a shrinkwrap, to protect the PVC box from scuffs during shipping. 
  • Holiday Shipping: Orders placed after midnight on December 20 are not guaranteed for Christmas delivery. 

- sent in by Nancy from Niles

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

I want to be a gumdrop unicorn. I want it so frigging badly I could puke in 31 colors, all sparkly. I want to feel special. I want to believe that everyone has to wear shades when they look at me, I’m so bright!

What brought this on? Applications. To get anywhere, I have to drink sugar water with no nutritional value and apply for the terminal degree in my discipline. Between teaching and crafting the perfect statement, I’m losing my mind. Oh, and don’t tell Hiram I’m behind in my grading……

Well-meaning colleagues tell me I need to show that I am a “star” to get in. They don’t understand my application apprehension--apparently I’m an ideal candidate with my article and shiny new grant. I don’t know if I’ve got the magic formula.

I am such a bright shining star that I only got one of the classes I was originally scheduled to teach for the spring—the others fell through. So now I am sending out C.V.’s to the equivalents of academic Siberia in the vain hopes of a position paying pocket change. Twinkle, twinkle little star!

I want to be a gumdrop unicorn—they don’t have days like this. If I put on sparkly shoes and click my heels, will it happen? Please?