Wednesday, April 18, 2012

But a complaint was emailed to the President! That makes it credible, right?

I've had to cancel class 3 times so far this semester.  One flue bug after another has been going around here all semester.  Not only that but my bike has been falling apart.  Several teachers have been sick.  However, in my case, it prompted a letter from a student to our President.  I'm speshul like that!


Mr. President.  I think he weighs less than a duck.
Finding a talented math instructor is always reason to celebrate, and I believe that you possess significant instructional instincts.  The students with whom I’ve spoken generally rate your instructional skills quite well—and that’s not something to take for granted.  I hope that we may continue for a long time, but I think we need to talk about some consistent student concerns that I’ve heard directly from a few sources.  One student emailed our President directly, so the level of concern appears to be significant.  Please consider the following excerpt, particularly the sections that I have highlighted:

I also meant to say in the last email I sent you, EMH is a terrific math teacher, when he is there and when his focus is on teaching usI have struggled with math my entire life and I must say that his method of teaching is one that I can easilly absorb.  It's his work ethic that needs a refresher course.

In another instance, I was waiting outside the room in which you were teaching, waiting to speak to another instructor.  Two students who had left your class for a bathroom break conversed within earshot.  The substance of their conversation reflected the same concerns above.  I remember one quote: “Dude, I wish he’d decide if he wants to teach us or not.”

You missed class again the other day, and a staff member relayed student concerns that this was apparently the third time you have been absent from that particular section.  Lack of consistency seriously impacts student learning—and student learning is our core mission.  I know that the other Dean spoke to you approximately three weeks ago about staying focused on the task at hand.  Basically, my question to you is whether you are prepared to make the necessary full commitment to teaching at WOLF359.

The question is not rhetorical, and it is not meant to sound threatening.  We just have to provide our students a consistent, quality experience which requires instructors’ consistent presence, planning, enthusiasm and focus.

I just got hold of you, so I look forward to speaking later today.  I’m going to go ahead and send this so you have the information necessary to contemplate your response.

Later that day...  at the Dean's office

Dean:  We don't want to sound like we are taking you for granted but, is there anything the college can do to help you?

EMH:  Perhaps I could arrange a ride with one of the other instructors, since my bike keeps breaking down.

Dean:  That is not a service that the college offers, unfortunately.

EMH:  (puzzled)  Um...  okay, people carpooling is not unheard of.  I tried to send out an email to everyone on the list, but our email system doesn't let adjuncts do that.

Dean:  We banned adjuncts from doing that because of one faculty member who sent out inappropriate emails.

EMH:  Am I even allowed to solicit rides from other teachers?  (Thinking:  WTF does he mean by "That is not a service that the college offers, unfortunately.")

 Dean:  Well, of course!  It's just not something that the college itself offers as a service.

Dean:  I hear all kinds of good things about you.  But there are consistent concerns that pop up too.  
And I mean this, this is not intended as a threat or rhetorical question, but are you ready to commit fully to teaching for us?

EMH:  (Thinking:  I'm about as committed in you as you are in me).  Of course I'm committed!

EMH:  (Glancing over at letter on screen)  Her?  I don't even know this person other than the fact that she is in my other class.  She doesn't know me.  Where does she get off writing a contradictory letter like that?  Who is she to claim to know something about my work ethic?  She has never once talked to me or attempted to get to know me.  I went to church 2 weeks ago and met her husband.  That is the extent of things.

Dean:  Umm...  I shouldn't have allowed you to see the student's name.  Please don't do anything that could be perceived as retaliatory.

EMH:  And look at the date on the email.  April 2.  (Thinking:  And it's taken the college 2 weeks to talk to me about this).  That was the day I was absent because I twisted my sciatic-nerve digging a trench for $8/hr.  My whole body had been thrown into shock and I was up all night throwing-up.

Dean:  You know, our other Dean also spoke to you about staying on task...

EMH:  I do.  The reason I got a talking to is because I referred that person for disrupting class.  And

you know, when the student gets called into the office, sometimes they like to make like they have dirt on the teacher.  (Note:  Said person acts like she is on drugs.  She was kicked out of class for bouncing off the walls.  In response, she tried to say that I am frequently off-topic.)

Dean:  Yes, I know.  And it's difficult because it's hard to tell if a complainer only represents the small 4 or 5 troublemakers or if they actually speak for the class.  When a letter is written to the President, we have to take it especially seriously.  When a student jumps over our heads, it looks especially serious.

Dean:  Again, we hear lots really good things about you.  The students love your teaching style.  So, I don't want you to come away feeling taken for granted.

EMH:  (Thinking:  But only the complaints matter?  Especially if written to the President?  Why do I come away feeling like I've been spied upon and this is the beginning of the end?)



  1. Wow, that's shitty. The chair should have followed the chain of command. Moreover, the president should have sent the student to talk with your chair, before you ever saw the dean. How does missing THREE classes in a semester warrant a complaint from a student who has questionable behavior in the first place?

    You should write a letter to your president.

  2. Really, NOTHING pisses me off more than adminflakes who don't follow their own chains of command. A president's office should not even glance at a letter like this. They are just part of the snowflake-production factory.

  3. OK, the chain of command completely sucked. But if I missed 3 classes in a semester without some kind of approved leave plan and with no sub, I'd be censured (not fired, true, because I am tenured, but censuring is enough to prevent an every-three-years, minimum raise from going through). We are not allowed to simply cancel class, even if ill -- we have to get a sub in there. And it can't be a TA. Repeated commute issues like traffic or vehicle maintenance are not valid excuses, though a one-time incident might be excused. So yeah, I go to class sick, or sub for others so I can ask for subs, and I plan my 90-minute commute so I leave at the crack of dawn, and I suck up the car maintenance. I realize that I am given the financial and institutional resources to solve these problems, and find it terrible that you are not. But I do think you can't just brush off that many missed classes as not a problem. That would read to me as flakery.

    1. Indeed, 3 classes is a problem. I usually do not miss more than one each semester. However, this semester has been particularly difficult.

      What especially caught me off guard was his response to my wanting to carpool with someone.

    2. That seems like a particularly draconian absence policy. Not even one class? Yikes. And what can a substitute really do anyway?

      Three classes is a lot to cancel ... but it depends on how many times a week class meets. If class meets twice a week, then that's a week and a half that's lost. But if class meets five days a week for an entire semester, then three days doesn't strike me as an incredible amount of time to miss.

    3. No, not even one class without a valiant attempt at getting a sub -- you have to at least try and there has to be a record of your doing so if you fail. Administrative approval must be granted for other kinds of leaves. I guess it's draconian, but it's a public institution and any fool from the local paper, which hates us, can walk into my classroom and ask why I'm not there, and publish whatever they like about it. So there has to be a paper trail. What the sub does is less important.

      No, of course 3 classes out of 60 (5 days a week x 12 weeks) isn't a lot. But 3 is a week and a half of an ordinary, 2x/week class. Unless EMH has lab sessions or teaches a foreign language, that's probably what's we're talking about.

      I sympathize, EMH, but worry that adding bike trouble to illness just makes you look flaky. Start a PayPal account and link it, and maybe we can all pitch in for a new bike for you!

    4. The substitutes are colleagues with PhDs. They should be able to do a lot.

  4. When a letter is written to the President, we have to take it especially seriously. When a student jumps over our heads, it looks especially serious.

    This is kind of laughable. The flake obviously didn't understand who to complain to. She thought, "Oh, I know what to do, write a letter to the PRESIDENT. That'll fix everyone!"

    It's the same kind of person who writes a letter to Obama because there's a pothole in front of their driveway.

    What's annoying, however, is that in this case the tactic obviously worked.

    1. Agreed - it seems like the Prez's office has behaved as though this is the FIRST TIME EVER that a letter like this has come their way, which strikes me as implausible.

      One of the things about Across the Seas U that I've come to appreciate, though it really annoyed me when I got here, is that all class schedules have built-in makeup hours to be taken if/when needed. Sick? At a conference? Vacationing in Tahiti? Just add in the missed hour(s) by calling upon the Special Bonus Hour allotted to your course until all the missed time has been made up. And the flakes can't override the Bonus Hour on their schedule without your permission.

      It's a system that is cumbersome at times, but it's one that works once you get used to it.

  5. EMH, your situation sucks and you work for douchenozzles. A supervisor wouldn't accept car or bike trouble as a valid excuse from a student so why would a supervisor accept that excuse from an intelligent, mature and capable adult? I'd call you out for it too, if I was your boss. You don't need email to arrange carpools - we managed to do that prior to AOL and Prodigy. Find another instructor to fill in for you if you can't make it. You have my sympathy, at least as much as I have left at the end of this semester, but you need to get your shit together.

    1. "You don't need email...."

      Bullshit. Email is the infrastructure of the university. It's how everthing is arranged. Excluding adjuncts from it is dehumanizing, counterproductive. Excluding adjuncts from it because one idiot abused it is viciously punitive and stupid. Especially adjuncts who might want to do things like find substitutes in a timely fashion.

      And I don't think EMH is using the bike as an excuse -- though any attendance policy without a "shit happens" category is abusive and inhumane -- but pointing out that the Dean explicitly said "how can we help" and then proceeded to be as unhelpful as humanly possible.

    2. Yeah, email is nice and it sucks that adjuncts are excluded. Noted.

      My point is that there are other ways to communicate. Post something in the department office asking for a ride. Talk to people. It's possible.

  6. @stockstalker

    ...a job within walking distance.

    Yeah, um, maybe I'll pull one out of my butt (which is also where my money-tree lives).

  7. I'll fix your bike. What's it doing?

  8. Yeah, have to echo the others who suggest that saying "my bike broke" makes you look flaky. Maybe you ARE flaky. Stranger things have happened. But the idea that you present the excuse here as if expecting sympathy is puzzling. It's not the kind of excuse we'd ever accept from our students,so why should we sympathize with a professor who uses it?

    1. Dude, I have to agree: it's not your dean or students' problem that you don't have reliable transportation, and it's not their job to find you a carpool. Figure it out or you're as much of a snowflake as your students are.

    2. And ahistorically summed it up quite well, so that I don't have to!

      "And I don't think EMH is using the bike as an excuse -- though any attendance policy without a "shit happens" category is abusive and inhumane -- but pointing out that the Dean explicitly said "how can we help" and then proceeded to be as unhelpful as humanly possible."

      Read people, read!

  9. StockStalker, you are getting dangeriously close to going on my list. The bad list.

    @EMH Your students and Dean are mentally, morally, socially, ethically inferior. They are the shit between a muzhik's toes, the dogshit mashed into the cracks of the sidewalks in Philadelphia. Fuck them, they need electrocshock thereapy that "accidentally" leads to electrocution.

  10. I am seriously conflicted here.

    There is some demonstrable profflakiness.
    But, at the same time, there is palpable "We'd expect you to donate a kidney to a student, but not so much as a band-aid for an adjunct."

    Speaking of EMail, I recently was able to update my laptop and thought the automatic Outlook setup of my uni accounts went fine - several messages sent/received seemingly without problem.

    Well, I did notice something odd, whenever a student send a non-uni addressed message and I replied I got a "Relaying denied" error. I posted a notice alerting students to the problem. I thought it might have been related to the recent uni switchover to a new online course system.

    When I (finally) had a free moment, I did a bit of spelunking and discovered that I couldn't send/receive between my own accounts. I dug into the manual account settings and discovered the auto set-up was not correct and fixed the settings. I posted another class announcement alerting everyone.

    Yesterday, I get the forwarded message from the boss "Frannie F-up says she has sent numerous EMails and made several calls and gotten no response."

    Of course, I have no record of any calls (there was no problem with the phones!) And Frannie didn't respond when I posted a reply to her post in the "Got a Question?" open forum.

    So ... it wasn't EMH's bike, but this intermediately tech-savvy prof nevertheless was offline due to intermittent comm problems.

    How big is the blizzard heading my way?

    1. If this class has a face-to-face component, shouldn't/couldn't Frannie have checked in with you during class? Or office hours, or, yes, via phone? And yes, if she posted a note on the Discussion Board, one would hope that she would go back to check for the answer.

      Also, you followed the official setup procedures, and tried to inform students that you were having problems. There are some inherent problems with our current tech-dependent procedures.

      So, yes, document, document, and do what you can to catch up, but you shouldn't be in trouble. Whether you are, of course, is another matter. At the very least, I fear you'll end up giving some extensions you might otherwise have refused.

    2. All of the above done.

      Cass, it is 100% online and, thus far with previous issues, the boss has been SUPER supportive (which is both unusual and unnerving at the same time).

      And, I forwarded all of the messages which were logged as sent, including one that responded to Frannie's online posting with a list of all the attempts made to contact her.

      If this had been Arnie Average or Stella Stupendous, I think it would end here. But, this is Frannie F-up whose writing is SO atrocious I wonder how she was able to craft a legible letter to admin in the first place.

  11. I, too, am a bit torn. On the one hand, arranging transportation to one's job and maintaining whatever vehicles involved does come under the heading of Basic Adult Responsibilities. When I bought my current abode, I thought about the location of my job, and the fact that I had an aging vehicle and a very limited budget for a replacement, and those considerations played a role in my choosing a home with ready access to public transportation that gets me (after several transfers) to my job. As my car becomes less and less reliable, I'm using that option more and more. It's a pain, but it works, and, if it didn't, I'd consider replacing the vehicle (or, failing that, moving) a very high priority.

    On the other hand, my economic situation is far more secure than EMH's, and EMH's problem is by no means limited to adjuncts. Low-wage workers who *want* to work often lose jobs due to circumstances such as short-term illness, loss of childcare, loss of transportation, etc. That's a lose-lose situation for everyone, and one of the consequences of extreme income inequality, and resulting income-segregated communities. It's not just a matter of Ford workers being able to afford a Ford anymore; it's a matter of their being able to afford some sort of housing within reasonable public-transit reach of the available jobs. I'm seeing a lot of very exhausted people, and kids out too late and too early, and other signs of the fraying of the social fabric, on the bus.

    EMH, is there any chance that you could use your situation to lobby for better transportation options for everyone -- faculty, staff, and students -- on your campus? A ride-sharing board (electronic or physical) sounds like a good idea. Or how about a shuttle from the nearest public transit stop? Some sort of bike rental/share arrangement? With gas prices as high as they are, transportation may be an issue even for those with working vehicles. And "greening" campuses and increasing sustainability is all the rage (one trend I can get behind). Calling attention to economic inequality is also popular, though perhaps more so among students than administrators (and I'm not sure that even students want to hear too much about economic equality *on* campus). But "green" and "sustainability" are pretty much mom-and-apple-pie stuff at this point, so maybe that's the route to go. Also, if your campus has a parking problem (is there one that doesn't?), you might be able to propose these options as a partial solution to that.

  12. You need a union. At my cc, full-timers get ten sick days a year; part-timers get hours equivalent to the number of hours a class meets each week: A class that meets three hours/week = three hours of sick leave; two classes that meet five hours/week = ten hours of sick leave per semester. Sick leave accumulates. All this is pretty standard stuff.

    Our union contract also says that if you miss five consecutive days, the district MAY require a doctor's excuse. Three days in a row--or three different days during the semester cannot be questioned. I mean, c'mon, people do get sick or their cars (bikes, too) break or they need a mental health day or they might even need to catch up with grading.

    If an email and face-to-face conversation like EMH reports happened where I work, our union would be on the dean and president like stink on shit, and we'd also be telling administrators that they'd better be pretty damn careful about how they treated EMH in the future (like forever)or we'd be filing a grievance--as in "How do you spell 'retaliation'?"

    A few years ago, a faculty member received some negative comments from the dean on her tenure review forms because she'd missed six days during the semester. She was sick, and then her father died. We filed a grievance, and the negative comments--"disrupting the continuity of the learning environment"--were redacted. It didn't hurt, either, that the dean herself had missed six whole WEEKS of the same semester while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery. This particular dean probably needed her brain replaced, too, and so do the people "supervising" EMH.

    1. You must have a particularly strong union. Right now, I work in a so-called "Right-to-Work" state so a union is pretty much not going to happen, although we do have a "Faculty Association".

      I used to work for a school that had a union. They didn't do a damned thing for the adjuncts but take our money. We also had a clause in the contract that said that contents of our evaluations would never be a matter for grievance. I am curious as to how your union was able to keep that clause out.

    2. We do have a strong local. We try to take care of part-timers, too. ("Adjunct" is not politically correct in our uniontalk because "adjuct" connotes something less-than, like an unnecessary appendage.) After six semesters of satisfactory work, pter's have reemployment preference, defined as "a reasonable expectation of an assignment that is consistent with previous assignments." Pters also have automatic access to interviews for full-time positions, and when there's money available for pay raises, we always make sure pters get a percentage point or two more than fters because we think one goal of any collective bargaining agreement should be to bring the two groups closer together.

      With all that said, there's only so much we can do. When there's a funding cut, pters are the ones who lose classes. There's just no way around that one.

      As far as grieving the contents of evaluations, I really don't see how they could not be subject to bargaining. Unions have the right to bargain wages, benefits, and working conditions; working conditions certainly include evaluations. Maybe the subject never came up because out here in California, faculty are part of the process, and faculty flakes cause more problems with evaluations than administrators. My experience is that the flakier the faculty member, the nastier evaluator s/he is.

      But even if only administrators evaluated, it wouldn't take long to come up with examples that were faulty. Then a union would have a solid basis for arguing that they should be subject to the grievance procedure.

      Finally, the idea that evaluations are not grievable implies that whatever is written down in an evaluation is somehow automatically correct and infallible. So who's writing them? The Pope?

      That's what I'd say, anyway.

  13. I do soooo love the whole "Is there anything the college can do to help you?/oh, no, we can't let you email people or think of someone you can carpool with" thing. Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, never jam today.


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