Thursday, October 31, 2013

This Week's Big Thirsty. A Class That Rocked.

Q: What was it about that class, you know, the one a couple of years back, where everything worked? The students were attentive and engaged. You never stumbled. You tried something new and that shit rocked! And there was a moment in week 9 where you thought, "Shit, I've finally figured this job out. It's going to be candy and gravy from now on." Only it wasn't. You've tried to get back that mojo. You've tried to make it happen again. And so far you're still looking. What was it about that one class that was so fucking great?

Oh Why Did I Pick This Sub? From Kimmie.

Why does my yearly medical exam always fall on a busy school week?

Why did I pick a sub I've never used before because my unreliable department pals raved about her and how "fun" she was?

Why did I get a note from the sub afterwards that said, "Oh, I had a delightful time with your kids. It was so interactive and fun."

Why, when returning to class did so many of my students say, "Dr. Smiley was so much fun!"

Why was I surprised when I learned that Dr. Smiley only did half the things I had planned?

Why did Dr. Smiley tell my students they could do the assignment in an "alternate" way because there was always room for a "rule to bend."

Why isn't this alcohol working yet?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UPDATE: Conan the Confused

Two weeks ago, I shared a situation wherein our department's beloved Conan the Confused had been accused by an individual in our building (but not in our department) of creating and perpetuating a hostile work environment. This baffled most of us because Conan has seemed so harmless in all the years we've known him.

After all of the interviews and meetings, Conan tells me that because he often tends to do a combination shuffle-mumble-ramble-cackle, in any conversation, this individual became convinced that Conan has been deliberately mocking this other individual's awkward gait. Not only this, but the individual claimed that Conan has deliberately been mumbling and rambling in hir presence to mock the fact that this individual is hard of hearing (none of us knew this; s/he has never told anyone that we can tell of being hard of hearing). [I have changed the actual conditions, but it's similar enough to what I've written here].

We have been 'forbidden' by HR to confront or even speak with this other person about Conan the Confused and OUR total confusion that anyone could be so insecure as to assume that someone else exhibiting 'different' behavior was automatically mocking them.

Conan has been instructed to attempt to avoid this person as much as possible (well, no, duh?!!). The other individual has been mandated to seek therapy and Conan has been recommended (by our chair, not HR) to at least pursue a diagnosis of any possible disabilities or conditions that may contribute to his overall confused state of being.

Thanks, all, for your advice. Conan now has a mediator as his legal representative, and we all have his back.

Technillogical. From The T-Shirt Prof.

Greetings from the North Pole, where the increasing darkness is more a reflection of our collective misery than the Earth revolving around the sun and pointing us away from her warmth.

I'm on overload this semester, a not terribly unusual situation for me as I appear to either be 1) qualified to teach most of our undergraduate curriculum, or 2) the only sucker in the department who can't say "no." I sent a rather passive note to the Ass. Dean (it makes it so much more fun to abbreviate Associate) regarding my (lack of) pay for the overload, to which s/he responded with a terse, "Academic Affairs is holding it until the Spring."


Less than a week later I get a note from the Chair, asking me to take on emergency overload to cover a colleague's course while s/he's on immediate leave for "at least two weeks." It's a course I've never taught before, and it's our second largest auditorium course at that.

Yanked From the Image Dump...

"Shouldn't We Be Addressing These Idiots on Twitter?" Mike in Memphis Muses.

From Twitter:
"Professor, I pay thousands of dollars to this school which subsequently pay your salary so I will pack up whenever I damn well please."
"Miss a class 4 times and the professor wants to fail me.... Hold up I help pay your salary how does that work?"

You sometimes post Twitter screenshots and it got me hooked on that site. I cannot believe the idiocy pouring out of so many students. I really think some kind of concerted anti-idiocy movement needs to be started, so that people in the real world, students, parents, etc. will understand what the "new" professors job is like, what it pays, how insecure the employment is, etc.

I've heard students say things like the two examples above, and when I've tried to correct them, they don't fully believe me, regarding salary, what have you.

Would we get more respect from students if they knew how much our jobs sucked, or less? I just hate that most of them don't know at all what I do, what their tuition actually pays for.

This is driving me mental. I want to smack these douchebags with reality. Or is that a waste of time?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Academic Monkey Gives Unsolicited Advice... to someone who desperately needs to start soliciting.

I haven't posted here for awhile. Things are really picking up steam in my New Job That Is Very New. Funding issues, hiring issues, faculty firing and temporary replacement issues (gah), followed by student issues, travel, a publication due on Thursday (gah again), and of course my normal research and teaching duties connected to this center. But after today, I need to vent, and CM is the best place to vent in this entire World Wide Webz.

Problem Posed (by me!):

Today, the parent of an 18-year-old "special needs" students (TRUTH HERE: VERY LAZY STUDENT WITH VERY GENIUS OLDER SIBLING NONE OF WHOSE TALENT RUNS IN THE FAMILY) cornered me.

She told me that Special Student has all sorts of Special Needs (none of which are documented). She questioned me on how I am accommodating those Special Needs. She demanded to know my lesson plan. She wondered why I don't have my lessons prepared for the next few months. She asked to know why she has not received any of my homework assignments, my reading list, or my syllabus. She is worried about his progress, or that he will get a low grade.

To all of which I responded: FERPA FERPA FERPA FERPA FERPA

(just in more conversational language)

This enraged said mother. And she began to lose it, wondering however in the world I had been hired here, and how I must be so grateful for the job, insulting me, my teaching, my research background, and my personal socio-economic status. Fantastic!

By the end of the day, I was pulled into the Dean's office. And she was there. Glory be! The Dean was somewhat supportive of me, but very political about it, so that it appeared that he was also being supportive of the mother. He stopped her multiple times during the interview to point out that her characterization of my refusal to discuss her son was not, in fact "evidence that Dr Monkey hates him" or "fails to appreciate his genius" or "neglects his inability to find peers in the classroom." (GAH) Okay, great, he was able to shut that down. But no matter how supportive he is of me, the fact remains:

He should not be speaking to this mother. I should not be speaking to this mother. The student is 18 years old, supposedly an adult, and there is NO REASON for us to be rewarding her bad behavior by talking to her.

And so, in true form: Unsolicited Advice to a Mother:

An Early Thirsty on Grade Distribution from Atua Bear.

A colleague of mine informed some of our newer TAs what average we should aim for when grading the midterms. He stated: "The standard grade distribution is shockingly right-skewed (87-88 average, with about 30% of students getting some variety of A)." That is, a high B is what we should aim for when grading our exams.

I'll admit that I'm at a top university in the nation for some programs, though not all. The university is private and thus expensive--that's about all I can say without giving away my identity. Prior to this appointment (still a doctoral student), I was at another university (public and cheaper) where the average was about a high C; the university was ranked much lower than my current private institution. I'm actually surprised that the public institution had lower grade inflation than the private university... of course, the private, elite institutions have a reputation to protect (thus they inflate grades), but shouldn't public schools be doing the same in order to compete with private universities? I haven't noticed my private, elite students being smarter than my students at the public university, so I don't think the inflation discrepancy is a consequence of smarter vs not-as-smart students.

Q: What's the grade average that you aim for, or that you are told to aim for? Do you consider this average as grade inflation? When you were untenured did you worry more about having a certain average? Do ivy/elite universities or lower-tier universities have more incentives to inflate grades? Have any solutions to the problem of grade inflation?

Today on Professor Facepalm: What, Exactly, Did You Want to Talk About?

I had a meeting with a student, per her request. She wanted to talk about "her performance in class."

I found the request baffling, since she has not been in class frequently enough to be said to have any kind of performance in it at all.

Still, it is my job, and doing it keeps me in used books and over-priced coffee drinks, so I said, "Sure, I'd be happy to."

During the meeting, I was informed of the following:

Monday, October 28, 2013

In which Bella gives an update on her SUCKY English Composition class.......

So, this class.  THIS class. Most of them really do suck.  Some of them don't.  I have this theory about critical mass.  That you need a slight majority of students who DON'T suck to tip the scales, or you are fucked.  I don't know if I am right.  But in this case, I definitely don't have that majority.  Out of 24 young hopefuls at the beginning of the semester, I am down to eleven.  Eleven.  They are doing that thing that students do, taking note of all the missing faces.  Making comments that imply that the reason for the shrinking size of the class is that I suck. Today, one of the remaining faces, actually a pretty nice guy, said "Wow, we have gotten to be a very small class!"  A few of the asshat students looked at each other knowingly, smirking and nodding.  I don't know what I ought to have said.  I said "Well, that is not so uncommon, at this point in the semester."  Which elicited a round of  knowing smirks and sideways smiles.  You know what?  FUCK THEM.

Kimmie: Oh Why.

Oh why do I have these hipsters in class? And am I using the term right? They dress like hipsters. They're so ultra-self-conscious that I almost can't stand it. I feel like I'm the awkward bystander in some kind of camera or car advertisement.

Oh why did I go to that party and tell virtual strangers what I REALLY think of teaching at the college? Couldn't I have just said, "Oh, it's SO rewarding." I guess not. They all looked at me like I was crazy. I told the truth. I told how hard it is, how disappointing it can be. How futile it all looks from the inside.

Oh why do these pants bag in one place and bind in another? Is there no woman shaped like me?

Oh why can't I sleep? Is it the stack of exams in my briefcase? I really thought about them all weekend. They're just there, waiting. I have time this week to finish them, but why didn't I at least start this weekend. Because I was afraid of what I'd learn. I was afraid I would realize my students hadn't learned enough, hadn't gotten control of enough. I ditched a whole unit of my class this year, streamlined it, tried to make the class more "manageable." And I've been beating myself up over it. But truthfully, it was a course I could no longer drag my students through.

Oh why did I eat that last bowl of oatmeal apple crisp last night? I could have saved it for today. Now there's nothing but Luna bars. And, despite all the positive gendered imagery, Luna bars suck.

Oh why did Lou Reed have to die?
Thought of you as my mountain top
Thought of you as my peak
A thought of you as everything
I've had, but couldn't keep
I've had, but couldn't keep

Linger on your pale blue eyes
RIP, sweet Lou.

With colleagues like these

Heisenberg collapses to the zombie, and not here.
One walks into my office in the late afternoon, sheepishly:

"I just wanted you to know  that, although I voted to change the bylaws, I think you're right; but I could just see the way things were going, so it wouldn't have changed the result. I hope you'll understand."

He was silent at the meeting. The other spots me as I'm leaving the building:

"Are you leaving us? I look at her, puzzled. She continues: "Forever?"

And these are the friendly ones; the closest I have to people who are okay with having me around. The majority is completely indifferent. And then there's a small but persistent group who is convinced I won't make deals, that I'm trouble. Better keep me under a tight lid, or better yet, gone.

My departmental colleagues are definitely contributors to professional misery. The things we talk about here: the rise of adminiflakes with strange priorities, the entitlement and poor preparation of most students, the adjunctification and disempowerement of the faculty, the erosion of tenure. Big-picture professional stuff that I've never discussed with colleagues. I could be wrong, but I think they'd say "waste of time, like talking about the weather. Just keep most of them happy and you won't be bothered." It's bad form to talk about it. Administrators can change the rules for new people any way they want; those not personally affected won't bother to voice any opposition.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Moratorium on Flashbacks.

For quite a while Fab has run RYS and CM Flashbacks on the weekend. There's almost nothing he loathed more than an empty day. But they draw few hits and comments.

Do away with the practice? Keep at it? What do you think?

PS: Comments are now off, because, like, well, duh.

A CM Flashback from Middle-Aged and Morose. Three Years Ago Today. Adjuncts and Scholarship.


Unclean! Unclean!

So I get this email, an administrator at my university is collecting books and articles from professors for a display. They want to brag about their professors' academic accomplishments in front of the students and alumni for an upcoming event. Great! I email them, “May I participate? My book just came out and it’s been well-received.” They reply, “No, full time professors only.” WTF? Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct. The book store sends out an email. They have a display of books written by faculty. Please let them know if we've published anything. Great! I given them some information about my book. Oops, sorry. That's not for adjuncts!

OK, I'm an adjunct. I’ve also taught every semester for the past four years and am already on the schedule not only for the rest of this year, but for the next school year as well. I’ve been a member of the department longer than a third of the full-timers. I’ve published more peer-reviewed material than all but one of the other instructors. Hell, excepting that one other professor—who does publish quite a bit, and it’s good stuff too!—I’ve published more than the rest of the department combined over the past several years. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.

"But," I hear them say, "you're not part of the college community!" Really? I've gone to see my students' art shows. My wife and I have cheered them on at sporting events. We've attended their plays and I've gone to the honors society inductions and greeted my students' parents. Students come to me for letters of recommendation. I'm even the faculty adviser for a student club. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.

Seriously, if the profession is going to depend on part-timers to fill the ranks of instructors, maybe, just maybe academia needs to rethink how adjuncts are treated. Call me crazy but maybe, just maybe, we’re often scholars as well……

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Chainsaw Professor Wants Some Post-Tenure Advice.

Miserable people,

I've been following this site since the old RYS days, but have not posted recently. I did a PhD in chainsaw studies almost 10 years ago at the old Chainsaw Forum, and now I have a tenured position at the Logging Institute. The Logging Institute is okay -- my main complaint is about the chainsaw department: it is lame. (I can't be bothered with hamster fur...) In fact, I'm the only one with more than one working chainsaw; suffice it to say that I have the longest bar around. :-)

In any case, my question is this: have any of you made a move post-tenure? What are the potential pitfalls? How does one negotiate giving up job security for the chance of great improvement, at the risk of utter failure? What the hell am I doing!?

I can keep on felling trees -- sustainably, of course -- at the Institute as long as I want. Yet at the same time, I wonder if I am settling for mediocrity. Perhaps it is difficult to weigh in, without knowing all the specifics of the situation, but I invite you to weigh in nonetheless.

= Chainsaw Professor

Letter to New Faculty. An RYS Flashback. 7 Years Ago Today.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Letter to New Faculty

Hello and welcome to the University. I think you'll find teaching at a college to be a rewarding experience. Please adhere to the following 8 rules:

1. You are not to abuse your Xerox machine privilege and make more copies than is absolutely necessary. This helps us save money in ways that you'll never see on your paycheck.

2. You may not sleep with your students. No, not even if they're "totally begging for it." Please note: Sleeping with the Xerox machine or making copies of your students is, however, acceptable. When making copies of your students, we recommend only those that are getting a "B" or better. When sleeping with the Xerox machine we ask you call the next day. And would it kill you to send flowers?

3. If a student asks a question and you do not know the answer, simply say "I don't know, but I'll get back to you." The following are not acceptable responses: -"What? Sorry. I don't speak retarded," -"Sounds like a question a terrorist would ask," -"You know, your mom asked me that same thing last night."

4. You are entitled to one free punch of any student you like during your career, but only ONE. So make it count. If you can hit more than one student with a single punch this will be acceptable.

5. The following do not count as official reasons to cancel class: -"No Pants Day" (We found that this is not an official holiday either in the US or Canada) -"Let's see if I can chug my way to a better profession day," - "Wednesday."

6. If you must cancel class for personal reasons, you are required to provide an alternate activity to your students. Please show discretion for what qualifies as an alternate activity. This University has found the following previously given excuses for canceling class to be unacceptable alternatives to lecture: -"Praying my hangover goes away by Thursday," -"Applying the lessons of Machiavelli by punching a hobo and stealing his change," -"Going to Hell."

7. You are welcome to ask for a raise, but we prefer you do not ask us.

8. You must conduct class in the classroom you were assigned. Class may not be held outside, in a bar, or in your student's pants (no matter how much he/she "is still totally begging for it.")

Thank you for adhering to our policies. Please enjoy a fulfilling semester!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Janice from Jacksonville on the End of a Mentorship.

I remember the mini reunion like it was yesterday. It was 5 years after we'd finished grad school. I and three grad school girlfriends got a house in Myrtle Beach for a weekend to catch up. 2 were married, three had little ones, but it was just the girls.

We all loved grad school, but had only loosely been in touch since leaving.

My mentor there, a man I'll call Adam, was my hero in every way. I worshiped him. He was smart, funny, and kind, and he was the best teacher I'd ever known. Idolatry is no good, of course, but he helped me after my degree, and is someone I always turn to for advice.

Only one of us girls stayed in the area of the grad school, Susan, and she told us a number of great stories of all of our favorite and less-than-favorite professors. She ended up working at the college as a digital humanist, not actually our grad school field, but a little jump that she was made for.

It was late on the first night when I was coming back from the bathroom and heard her say to the others, "Of course Adam's got a new 'friend.' He's been with this first year blonde from Chicago since the first week of school."

Adam was married, then and still. I knew his wife. I'd been to their home for dinner on my last week in town. They had two great boys who were excited to know that I loved hockey, even though I was a girl.

Susan and the others were shocked I didn't know.

"How could you not know?" one of them said. "Someone once asked me if you were sleeping with him."

And I felt sick. I feel sick now just remembering it.

Nothing was different about what he'd done for me as a teacher and a friend. He was just as smart and funny, and I still owed him for whatever kind of academic I was going to be.

But I've never called him again, and when he sent a couple of emails earlier this year I just deleted them.

I don't know what I expected of him, or what he owed me with his personal life, but everything has changed since that night in Myrtle Beach.

Friday Thirsty #2: What Are You Doing for Campus Equity Week?

Image from the Campus Equity Week website
Next week (Oct. 28-Nov. 2) is Campus Equity Week, designed to call attention to the plight of non-tenure track faculty (also known, to borrow the name of one of the sponsoring organizations, as the new faculty majority; estimates vary, but, as most of us are probably already well aware, c. 70-75% of faculty these days are non-tenure track, more or less reversing the proportions of 40 years ago).

The CEW website has an extensive  (and ever-growing) listing of events, suggested activities, and resources.  Many of the suggested activities are very simple, awareness-oriented ones, such as changing facebook or twitter avatars to the CEW logo (which is why I'm pretty sure it's okay to share it here; there's also an "I am Margaret Mary" version in memory of Margaret Mary Vojtko ), and wearing red/scarlet on Wed. Oct. 28 (tying in with the idea, also represented in the logo, of A for Adjunct as the new scarlet letter). 

Of course, it will take much more than awareness to change the present situation, but at least it's a start.  So, I'm wondering:

Top Ten Busiest Cities In the Past Hour.

United States
United States
United States
United Kingdom
United States
United States
United States
North Carolina
United States
New York
New York
United States

Numbers Are In...

Others Day brought in more than 11,000 hits in a 24 hour period from midday Tuesday through Wednesday!

Of course 9,000 of those were Fab, Cal, and Ben hoping to see themselves get name-checked, but still...big day!

Leslie K.

From Strelnikov. On College Debt.

Here's something as an addendum to Bella's "$87,000 in debt for a public U education" post. One of the Heroes wrote this piece on where the Institution is going.

It's not a pretty picture, but then this website is called College Misery, right?

In the name of the Stalingrad dead and all Frontoviks evereywhere,


Academy Fight Song
by Thomas Frank
from The Baffler No. 23, 2013

This essay starts with utopia—the utopia known as the American university. It is the finest educational institution in the world, everyone tells us. Indeed, to judge by the praise that is heaped upon it, the American university may be our best institution, period. With its peaceful quadrangles and prosperity-bringing innovation, the university is more spiritually satisfying than the church, more nurturing than the family, more productive than any industry.

When we reach the end of high school, we approach the next life, the university life, in the manner of children writing letters to Santa. Oh, we promise to be so very good. We open our hearts to the beloved institution. We get good grades. We do our best on standardized tests. We earnestly list our first, second, third choices. We tell them what we want to be when we grow up. We confide our wishes. We stare at the stock photos of smiling students, we visit the campus, and we find, always, that it is so very beautiful.

And when that fat acceptance letter comes—oh, it is the greatest moment of personal vindication most of us have experienced. Our hard work has paid off. We have been chosen.

Then several years pass, and one day we wake up to discover there is no Santa Claus. Somehow, we have been had. We are a hundred thousand dollars in debt, and there is no clear way to escape it. We have no prospects to speak of. And if those damned dreams of ours happened to have taken a particularly fantastic turn and urged us to get a PhD, then the learning really begins.


Friday Thirsty: "Let's Be Honest, Prof, What Is the Most Proffie Thing About You?"

Q: We all probably suffer a bit by being a bit TOO proffie at times, from the way we talk to what we wear.

What is the most "proffie" thing about you?

I'm still wearing what I wore
when Nixon was President.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yanked from the New Image Archive.

This Week's Big Thirsty...

Q: What Was the Best Class You Ever Took In College, And Have You Utilized Things You Learned There in Your Own Teaching?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

World Record for E-mail Blunder?

Worried that you made the worst mistake ever?  Worry no more!  According to Gawker (what more reliable source is there?), a University of Iowa TA accidentally e-mailed her students homemade porn instead of homework solutions.

"Somebody Stop Me. Oh Why Did I Use the Social Media?" Kimmie Makes Another Mistake.

A recent post about Twitter got me thinking about my own students.

And then I made my first mistake. I looked a few names up on Twitter, admittedly, bad students whose dumbshit-edness required some sort of answer.

And they were worse people than I could ever imagine. Racist, misogynist, drugs, alcohol, just plain ignorance of anything approaching adult civility.

And Facebook was mostly the same. Hate speech cloaked as funny jokes.

Now I can't get any of it out of my head. I see these dumbasses and think about the reprehensible things they have posted in public. I don't want to tech them. I don't want to spend even one more second wasting my energy on such scum.

Oh why did I do it? It can't be unseen.

Dr. Amelia asks us to ask ourselves "We can, but should we?"

I was over in the mothership mail room (I'm officed in a different building from the rest of the department), and ran in to a dear colleague whom I rarely get to to see.

"How are you?" I asked, not prepared for the fleeting look of terror that preceded the socially acceptable "fine."

My friend has been the victim of the "we'll make it seem like it matters to us by forming a committee to look at it" scam. He's one of the only native-american faculty on campus, and here in Abilene, we take diversity seriously, meaning that if you are the only one of your kind, you are asked to be on everything.

He just wants to do things that matter like write his book on the genetic basis of hamster fur taxonomy and do a good job training the future taxonomers. But instead, he is spending his time on the "value of the arts" committee, so we can seem serious on art and on the "student happiness through changing the campus bus routes" committee, so we can seem serious on student happiness. He knows almost nothing about jazz combos (apparently, the last meeting was about whether the uni should invite a 3-piece combo or a 4-piece combo) or public transportation, so his place on these committees is mostly to nod and smile.

Art is great. Happy students are great. We can show our appreciation for diversity by putting dear colleague on every committee and task force we can dream up.

We can. But should we? What are the opportunity costs?

Open Discussion: How Did You Think "Others Day" Went?

Comment below & thank you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Presentation Misery with Conan the Grammarian.

As I've mentioned before, I'm an undergrad at a middling business school, yadda yadda yadda. Professors in my major adore group projects and presentations. It kind of comes with the territory. And if the project makes sense and my group members are intelligent and responsible then everything works fine. But sometimes they suck. In my one class I got shoved into a presentation group with Bill Bronx from this post. You can imagine my terror.

I approached the professor privately (this was a completely different class that he and I happened to have in common) and informed her of my concern. She was helpful, but told me that she couldn't just offload him onto another group and that I should keep in mind that not everyone in a group necessarily gets the same grade. In an effort to help me, she enlisted another student's help by having him join my group to "move things along." I was grateful.

Yuri in Youngstown Wonders Where the Courage Is.

I know I didn't start well here. I may have been a bit underinformed about the realities of adjunct life. I have already apologized for being short-sighted.

But I want to ask another question of the veterans of this page, who always seem to be in desperate straits.

Are you really unable to punish cheating students? Do you all really have power-crazed Deans who submit you to cruel punishment? Can't you stand up? Where is the courage?

I see it in my own younger colleagues. They are terrified of their own shadows. I hate that. I'm not trying to keep the down or stop them from rising. I'd gnaw off my own hand to see them have ambition and courage and power.

They're always tentative, afraid, mincing about the department like they don't belong. Listen, we don't want to hire anyone else. We just hired you. Show some huevos and be a full member of the department.

We want you to stand up to student inadequacy. I'm sick of sitting in student grievance committees and watching young faculty flail around. Why not just say, "This student cheated. I won't stand for it." I'd slap you on the back and buy you a Caorunn.

I see the value of this blog, but the desperation oozes out of the screen. Don't be so sad. Make the job better by being yourself. Stand up when any shithead tells you to sit down. You can't get along with a chair. Well, figure it out. Don't throw your hands up and come weeping to the rest of the Miserians.

I like to vent. I like to get it off my chest, but that makes me stronger. When someone writes that their students are breaking their spirit, and oh what should I do, I wonder who the adult is?

If they disappoint you, then you're doing it all wrong. It's not about pleasure and disappointment and the feelings you have. Impart the field's study. Hold them to standards. Don't worry about if they like you - they don't. And if they do or don't, how insecure must you be to care?

I like it when a faculty member in the real or online world stands up.

Sure, bitch when it all goes sideways, but then go take control of it, whether it's a classroom, your Dean's office, or an interview room.

Good luck!

"What Happens When You Get What You Wanted And It's the Wrong Goddamn Thing?" Denny in Denver is Dismayed.

I got the job of my dreams. And of course it's not. What I studied I do not teach. I'll never teach it. I'm going to teach a watered down version of what I learned and I don't like it.

I'm going to teach 5 sections a semester until I'm too addled to do it anymore. The kind of school I went to I will never teach at. I'm at a perfectly acceptable community college close to friends, and my students are ridiculously under prepared.

I got ignored in college when I was an entitled asshole. I failed five classes in the first two years. Now if I fail someone I have to go and stand in front of a Dean and "explain" where I and the student went wrong.

I wanted to write and publish, and there isn't a moment when I can do that.

I wanted to be a college professor, and I guess I am. But I feel like a failure. What happens when you get what you thought you wanted and you find out it's the wrong goddamned thing?

Does anyone ever start again? Does anyone just quit without a plan? I used to be fearless, but the economy and the struggles of my grad school classmates makes me hang on to this job I hate like grim death.

What can I do? What is the path to starting again. I don't know how to do anything else? I have found my highly developed and specialized skills in a tiny, narrow discipline, mean absolutely nothing in the real world.

I try to talk to my colleagues about this and they're offended. They think I'm snooty, acting above them, ungrateful. I guess in some way I may be all of those things. But they seem to me to have given up. One has dreams of writing a textbook. But he's never started. One wants to teach grad students at the school across town, but she never applies.

I can't talk to my family because they think I've achieved my dream. I brought it up with my dad once and he said something like, "Life is a journey."

Sure, I buy that. But my journey ended in the wrong damn place.

What do I do now?

The T Shirt Prof With Some Colleague Misery!

I'm a humanities prof at Regional Comprehensive Public Liberal Arts College (Midwest). We're unionized, which I gather means that as a faculty I am subject to the administrative whims of our regular administration, and the bitching of the wannabe administrative whims of our faculty leadership. Luckily for me, the faculty leadership is astonishingly unable to see their own hypocrisy.

A recent example - we've had a number of very public email listserv accusations fly regarding the administration. These include pleas to reopen a department slated to close this year, enrollment concerns, denial of tenure concerns, budget concerns...none of these are particularly unexpected. However, nearly half the specific concerns raised turn out to be directed at a recent unsuccessful candidate for faculty leadership, by people currently serving in faculty leadership. All of this is done rather passively (we are in Midwest, after all), so the fact that it keeps coming back to personality conflicts is entirely hidden.

"How bad can it be?" you might be wondering. Well, the accused faculty member has suffered through interviews with the Department of Education, the FBI, HR, been investigated by local media, and even had the police called. Perhaps most idiotic was the comment made by a local blogger (and friend of the bullies) regarding the campus community garden, run get the picture.

This past weekend yet another ugly story ran on a local television station, from an anonymous source, regarding a new building on campus that is "virtually empty." Yeah, the administration shouldn't have had a big party and ribbon cutting if the building wasn't finished yet, but it isn't really news that no classes are being held in it if they are still painting it. But yet, that's what our union leadership seems to be reduced to. Last year's hijinks included pulling legislators aside on the house floor to "report" issues with grade changes.

Isn't anyone proud of their jobs, their institution any more? Why try to further stain the reputation of your institution when you could be, say, focused on beiing a better teacher, or researcher, or even colleague? I've decided to essentially stop paying attention, but when people outside the institution constantly ask me about this gossip, it's hard to keep my blood from boiling.

Trish from Texarkana Wonders About Teaching Uncertainty.

The longer I teach, the less I know. I never really know what I am doing when I "teach." I always feel there is some magic system that I haven't learned. I don't know if I am a good teacher or not. My best teacher was a great teacher, but I also know he confused the hell out of my classmates, but there was a gentle soul who somehow got to them anyway.

 Not sure how he did it. I guess he just was like the Buddha. He didn't stop you from thinking, and he'd help you, but he didn't demand that you think a certain way. But you did have to think.

The best teachers I had inspired me to rethink my ideas, but I am not a typical student and so I wonder what a teacher does. It is a lonely profession, and one spent talking to and with the crowds without knowing the outcome. Very lonely.

I see my colleagues win awards and I wonder what they are doing? I plug away, try new things, and so on, but I never win an award. My evaluations are good but I always feel I am missing something. Is there a magic system?

"I'm a Stupid, Stupid Man." Vance from Visalia Is Starting Again.

I'm a stupid, stupid man, who got a PhD in English at a mid-level R1.

I was wowed by the schools job placement! Little did I know most of that took place in the 90s. I'm a stupid, stupid man who has spent 10 years adjuncting, teaching nothing but the basic course, something I never took a course in in grad school. I'm a lousy teacher because I feel I've been cheated, and of course I'm cheating my students now, although they're pretty much mouth-breathers and wouldn't know if I was the King of Composition, or just the Fool I really am.

So, I applied to grad school, in TV/Media Production. I like to mess around with that shit, and the skills are usable in the academic and real worlds.

I feel as though I've wasted half of my life.

The English Department I went to should be ashamed that they take in 20 grad students every year and have placed exactly 1 person in a t-t job from my class. They are still doing it, of course. Their alumni newsletter brags about the biggest class of grad students ever. They are all fucked.

They are fucked like I am. That should be the grad school motto in English. "Welcome to Middle of the Road University. You're fucked. Now go sign up for some courses."

Starting in the Fall I'm going to become a 30 something grad student. I'm a stupid, stupid man.

Aussie Allen Shares a Limerick.

and for God's sake
don't use a cute photo
of a koala or a roo
for my graphic!
Saw your g'day the other day. Thanks for noticing. A mate sent me a link to your page and I've been enjoying reading up.

Since you've set aside a whole day for "others," I thought I'd share a limerick I remember from school.

There once was a proffie from Perth,
whose bottom required great berth.
One day just like thunder,
Air roared out of down under,
And her students weren't long for this earth.

There are many far worse. Enjoy your day!

"Where Does the Confidence Come From? Where Do I Get It?" The Rascal from Reading.

I would like to be an insider here at College Misery. I would love to have a following. I'd love to have a jaunty inside conversation about the things in our worlds that bind us.

But I read the page regularly and I lack what I see in everyone: confidence.

Even at your worst, your words and stories are full of confidence. You know what to do, or you know what to ask to get it.

I don't. I'm sure I'm the only one in the profession who is confused by everything. I have problems that I don't understand, and I have no idea what question would lead to the answer anyway.

You smack down students - who deserve it. You have plans, strategies. You have seen it all before and you have a way to turn it around. You catch them when they cheat! You figure out what's Wikipedia and what's not.

I don't have any idea about anything. You juggle the balls of an academic career as easy as falling off a log. I toss one ball in the air and it smacks me on the head and knocks me out.

The next time I see a ball coming, I'm just going to duck.

Duck, get it? I mean, I like the duck. I get the duck. The rest, I'm just Hiram-med by it all.

Janice from Jacksonville on The Invisibility of the Assistant Professor.

I hide in my office so I can avoid my colleagues. I do it for no reason because I'm invisible to them already.

Older colleagues assume I won't stay, but I don't know why. I've never given any indication about my desire to go anywhere. I just got here. I'm afraid for my life almost every minute. The idea of going anywhere else, trying to find a new location, going to the end of the year conference, none of that appeals to me.

My voice is a whisper in our meetings. Even if it were loud I know it would be ignored. I'm new. I don't count. It drips out of every pore of every colleague's body. If someone were to sit on my lap because they failed to notice me, it would not come as a surprise.

I hide in my office so I can avoid my students. But I don't have to worry because I'm invisible to them as well. I might be seen as an impediment to their fun and freedom. But I'm not real. I'm nothing to them.

They lie like I'm brain dead. They run off in the middle of instructions. They pass me by in the cafeteria like I'm not even there. I smile and wave sometimes and get blank looks.

I don't feel like myself, really, until I'm off campus. Then I go home. And, yes, I have two cats. They have clever names. I won't tell you.

I rest and eat and mark essays and when the morning comes and I'm on campus, I disappear again.

It's not what I want.

To All the "Others!" Tomorrow is Your Day. We Welcome Your Posts and Comments on Tuesday, All Day!

Hey, we've had a nice response to our recent conversations about "the others."

So on Tuesday 10/22 we welcome all of your posts and comments. There's no need to register as a correspondent. Anyone with a Google account can comment already.

But if you want to post some of your own academic misery, just send your email direct to the mods and we'll put it up. Guaranteed "insider" status! Tomorrow!!!

We're very gently asking our regulars not to post on Tuesday. Fill up the comments as usual, but we've started collecting posts from a bunch of new folks, and we'd like to offer them the whole day. Back to the normal madness on Wednesday.

PS: We're rolling out at least 7 new "others" posts tomorrow, 2 I wrote, 3 by Hiram, and 2 by Ben. (Part of that sentence is an inside joke. But tomorrow we're all insiders, so leave it at that.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Changing Projects: From Suzy From Square State.

I shouldn't bitch. I should be glad he's going. But I got really irritated at a student who was a member of my senior hamster fur weaving project team decided to switch to the underwater basket weaving project on the last day for registration changes.

He sent an email to the group, stating that underwater basket weaving was going to be his life, he liked us and our project but he really needed to prepare himself for his personal future. Would anyone be against him switching?

25 minutes later (I am amazed that the registrar reacted so quickly) he sent an email to me and the colleague from UBW and the department head, requesting that we approve his switch by answering the email CC to the registrar. The colleague approved 1 minute later, the department head 3 minutes later. Me? I was stuck in an all-day, state-wide meeting and only dealt with my email backlog in the evening.

The student lead of the project had asked him why he was switching and reminded him that they were under a non-disclosure agreement. I found no further correspondence, so I emailed my colleagues that I was concerned that they were approving stuff like this without asking me if I agreed. They bitched back at me that I should be happy they were dealing with their email in a timely fashion and why wasn't I?

Ah, yes. I knew there was some reason I didn't want that sabbatical to end. I've let the student hang over the weekend, I pretend not to read my email until Monday.

Bubba, you got anything good to drink over there?


Original comments:

Southern Bubba, Ph.D.
October 20, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Seriously, who do you think stole that Pappy Van Winkle? I'm the Robbin Hood of bourbon. And you, Suzy, sound like you're a bit bourbon-impoverished right now....

Southern Bubba, Ph.D.
October 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM
Robyn Hode.


Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno
October 20, 2013 at 6:40 PM
Bitching is entirely understandable. I get these often: godawful, incompetent, immature, work-shy flakes who if they did any job in the world like they're doing my class or project, they'd be fired. Often, when they leave me, I know I should be thankful. It's still hard not to resent the time and effort spent on them, all for nothing except to raise my blood pressure.

You know what's even more exasperating? When months later, they ask you to return. Even worse is when they ask you to write a letter of recommendation!

The Contemplative Cynic
October 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Sounds more like 'good riddance,' but couldn't they have left sooner?!!!

I always feel like this when a student spends my time going over a topic. We spend hours brainstorming. They leave, and then write a shitty paper on a completely different topic.

Suzy from Square State
October 21, 2013 at 12:06 AM
You've nailed it. He just wasted my time. I suppose I should be happy the underwater basket weavers have to put up with him now.


I've reposted Suzy's piece from last night because I allowed the comments to race away from the topic at hand.


We've seen a real uptick in visitors from New Zealand and Australia recently. Welcome.

I'm sure I've done something culturally offensive using the "G'day" title. But we're glad you're here regardless. We'd welcome some Aussie / Kiwi posts about the academic misery "down under." I probably used that incorrectly, too, didn't I? We may need an ambassador of foreign relations if I keep typing.

When CM Makes Its Hall of Fame, This is One of the First Entries. A CM Flashback. 3 Years Ago Today. From Yaro.


It is I, Yaro, To Discuss the Value of the Air. 

I teach in a place, where the mouthbreathers used to take a beating, where my livelier charges would find opportunities to rally the assemblage.

I can remember a long ago term where a particularly splendid student offered himself up to a desultory fellow sophomore as a tutor. This offer was taken up, much to my surprise, and the two of them became quite a team, the mouthbreather raising his own grade to something like passing, and my better student developing his own love for the lectern.

What has gotten me off on that particular story today is a session I've just come from, a particularly tedious opening to class where my students's only addition to the proceedings had been carbon dioxide. (I would have used the appropriate chemical "notation," alas, I, Yaro, am a humanist, and, according to "Jim" and others, likely a pillock.)

Great Lakes Greta Surfaces on an October Sunday Night

Hi all.  I have no verse.  It is that kind of semester.  I seem to have two moods:  rage and sadness.  Well, three really, because I carry a significant amount of guilt with me wherever I go as well.

Yes, this is less rant than whine.  If you're looking for something upbeat and pithy, move along, move along.

It's just that I can't stand most of my students this semester, and I can't stand them not because of who they are--they are as they always are, every semester--but because of circumstances in my own life.  The past six months have brought me several heartbreaking personal losses, more than I've shared even with my closest friends.  I am sad, and I have real reason to be sad.  I am mourning.  I am grieving.  Being a woman of experience, I know--on a cognitive, rational level--that the sadness will diminish and I will move on with my life, but my wounds are recent and I am hurting.

(Please don't suggest professional help.  I'm already there.)

And I have to teach.  Teaching requires me not to be mourning and grieving and sad.  Each day, I put on a shiny, happy, professional face and head into my classes full of entitled, lazy students who have the fortitude of oatmeal and the common sense of toddlers.  (At this point, I would like to apologize to toddlers everywhere.)  They have zero idea of what it takes to succeed in college.  Their commitment to their education rivals Elizabeth Taylor's commitment to death-do-us-part.  But this is nothing new.  What's new is that I am perilously close to breaking character at some point, of telling them that I'm tired of their entitled, lazy asses and their complete and total lameness--and that would be very bad, indeed.

I know that I have students with Really Big Problems and for these students I have genuine sympathy.  I teach at a community college in an impoverished area.  It's not these students with whom I take issue, though.  I am sick to death of the students who email me and hijack me in person to lament the shit they've brought on themselves and the drama they seem to live to create.  I'm tired, too, of the students who lament the sniffles they've contracted--and tired of the ones so sick they should be home rather than infecting the rest of us.  I'm tired of hearing every little detail of their Jerry Springer lives--and I know how unkind that sounds--and I'm tired of them assuming that it's my job to 1) make exceptions for them, and b) serve as some sort of repository for their misery.

This is what enrages me.  It's bothered me in the past, but it hasn't outright pissed me off before.

Then there's the guilt.  This semester, I can stand myself as little as I can stand my students.  I am disorganized and late in returning work to them.  I've flaked out several times and totally forgotten things that needed to be done.  I've gotten better as the semester has progressed and my head has begun to clear, but I feel terrible about my performance this semester.  Even entitled, lazy students deserve the best I can give them--and they're not getting it. Guilt.  That feeds my anger.  That, ultimately, feeds my sadness.

And on top of all of this, I occasionally default into lamenting the straight-up, old-fashioned misery of the job: the politics; the contemporary notion that CC proffies should be so many things more than proffies (retention specialists, social workers, diagnosticians); the disconnect from my colleagues who have always been polite but never outright welcoming; the endless tea partying grading; the Sisyphean task of teaching critical thinking and writing skills to resistant and often hostile students; the realization that I'll be doing this for at least the next twenty years, if I want to retire in something that approximates comfort and not poverty.

It is the combination of aerobic exercise, coffee, and chocolate that keeps me from committing verbal homicide this semester, and I don't know what to do about it.

Have you ever had to deal with a dark night of the soul during an academic term?  How did/do you persevere?  I know that time will help...but for the immediate future, I am at a loss as to what to do.  And I've never been more grateful for tenure in my life.

And that makes me sad, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


This post was relocated to the top of Monday's page. I let the comments get away from me and didn't want Suzy's excellent piece to get lost in the other discussion.

Good Intentions and Student Tragedy. An RYS Flashback. Six Years Ago Today.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A former colleague was approached in 1998 by a teary-eyed student in his seminar. The student had missed a couple of weeks of work, and he explained that he had been in a car accident with his twin brother. The brother had died in the accident. He pleaded with my colleague to allow him back in the seminar. My colleague let him return to class and helped him make up the work he had missed. The student did well in the class.

The following year the student asked my colleague for a letter of recommendation for medical school. My colleague agreed and in his letter he devoted a long paragraph to how this student had dealt with this horrible tragedy. Then my colleague got a note from the dean. During an admissions interview an interviewer had asked the student to say a few words about his brother. "Oh, he's doing great" the student exclaimed."He's starting at Goldman-Sachs in September." Busted.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

$87,000 in debt for a public U education?

Okay, so my husband and I bought those fancy, overpriced pillows from Brookstone. 

We've looked at them for months.  We've coveted them.  We bought them.  That part is over.  It's done.  I'm not going to rehash the angst of that decision.  And yet I think, were William Carlos Williams still with us, he might write a poem about what it is like, to sleep on those beautiful cool-gel pillows.

BUT, while we were checking out, the two Brookstone sales guys were very talkative.  One of them had set up these great new $2,000 massaging chairs for us.  They had two of these chairs going, and my hubby and I sat in them for a good ten minutes.  I felt decadent, and  a little embarrassed, but damn, those chairs!  So anyway, when we were checking out, I made the comment that the chairs.....WOW they were great, the way they massage your feet and back, but $69 dollars a month?   For three years?  No.  Not so much.  The two pillows (buy one get one for half off-----what a bargain!) were enough decadence for this year for us!


At the risk of sounding like an insider who comments all the time making an inside joke, and further alienating the others, whom I'd love to see comment and/or post more (as Kimmie and Cynic say, just start participating, and help shape this ever-evolving community.  I  hate to think I'm making this seem like a closed community, but it's Saturday, and it's a duck, and I couldn't resist),


At least it sounds like he's landed in a place where he is  appreciated, and where there are plenty of the substances to which he (and other compound residents) is/are accustomed available.  

(Photo courtesy of The Bloggess, cropped by Cassandra. It already seemed shitty/blurry enough). A google image search reveals that the poster, apparently posted without attribution at the Austin Art Garage, is the work of Nathaniel Russell.

Round Three of "The Others" Interviews. With Nikola From New Castle.

  1. What is your role in higher ed? Professor, part-timer, student, just an interested observer?Part-timer currently, seeking a tenure-track (or at least full time) position.
  2. Why do you read CM? Is it useful? Are you learning anything? Are you just eager to hear about the demise of the planet through the activities of horribly prepared freshmen?
    I read it partly for the entertainment value (I have a soft spot for reading stories/rants about snowflakes in any arena, things like Tales from Retail, etc.), but it also gives me a window into the world I've convinced myself I want to be in. There's a lot to be said about academia from sites like the Chronicle, but it's always felt filtered and edited. CM feels raw, and more in line with the day-to-day life of faculty.
  3. Why don't you participate through posting or commenting?
    Many reasons. Though I enjoy reading the bitches and rants of others, I'm not much of a complainer myself... and as I said before I don't really possess the snarkiness that makes for the best CM posts. Also I'm not generally a frequent commenter, even on other sites. As a newbie prof, I don't feel I have much to offer those seeking advice. Finally, there does seem to be somewhat of an in-crowd of the same people making comments on every post, and while I don't feel that they are in any way hostile to other commenters, there is a sense that I would be intruding a little.
  4. Is there anything about CM that you don't like? Or several things?
    I don't dislike them, but I tend to skip over things like the haikus and other weekly features (not the Thirstys though... those are great!). It seems like there's not always enough content to make it interesting week in and week out.
  5. What do you think CM could do a better job of?
    Honestly, not much. There are a few tweaks I might make if I were in charge (such as being less jargon-y), but I'd be worried they'd mess with the formula that's made CM what it is.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thirsty Thursday Nights

It's homecoming week here at my fine public institution of higher learning.

Apparently last night was quite the Thirsty Thursday event for some of the student body This morning, I'm on twitter and reading my regular list of interesting school-related accounts. You know, the ones where students' gossip about each other, degrade the profs, and talk about how drunk they were/are/will be. Via a hashtag related to one of these accounts, I see one of my current students proudly announce that they are, "still drunk from last night" and "skipping my morning class" only an hour before our class starts. Yet, for some reason they attend my afternoon class - I guess they sobered up a bit?

Said student didn't fall out of their chair or do anything inappropriate. I'm about 85% sure they were indeed still drunk, but I couldn't smell booze on them or anything. Apart from a appearing inebriated, they were a generally model student through lecture. I took the cowards way out and just went about my business, class ended, and the student skipped off and (I assume) returned to prepping for the big game tonight.

I'm TT (not tenured), I'm not 100% positive the student was drunk (maybe I just imagined it due to their tweet), and the student didn't misbehave in any way.  This hasn't happened before with this student, and once upon a time I was also 20 and did stupid shit during homecoming week.

Still, I'm wondering: Should I have handled things differently?

Blood in the Classroom

Look Ma!  Both hands!
Just how interactive is your class?  Do you have students come to the board to work problems?  Do they complain about that to the Dean?

Apparently, one northern California professor has sparked some controversy when he had two of his students get just a bit too interactive.  Read about the incident here.

Bonus:  The instructor should shave.  What do you think?

The Princess and the Proffie: A Fable from Dr. Amelia.

I don't think I like
being in a fable.
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived Proffie Amelia.

She was a sensible sort. Kind of quiet. Tried to help people when she could. Wore flat shoes.

Well, one day, Proffie Amelia opened her e-mail, in the second week of class. "Good news, fair Proffie!" read the missive. "I have succeeded in getting the Uni to accept my AP credit, and therefore, I will be joining your merry band of freshpersons in the next class. I trust you will catch me up. Sincerely, THE Princess."

What sort of administrative uncle would tell this damsel that it was a good idea to join the merry band at this time, Proffie Amelia wondered to herself. But she kept it to herself, for lo, Proffie Amelia did not have tenure. She sent the class notes and syllabus from the first several classes to THE Princess with due haste and deference.