Wednesday, September 30, 2015

8 Years Ago on RYS.

We'd Encourage Future Students To Read the Syllabus, or Maybe Just Take Another Class.

  • To R: True, anything would be better than a zero. Unfortunately, the limited list of legitimate reasons for excused absences does not actually include not knowing we had a test today. In your email you state that you "will not bother with excuses." Bless you for that. Actually, though, you could have saved yourself the trouble of emailing me at all if you had read the syllabus, which states several times that there are no makeups on exams or quizzes. Of course, then you might have seen the exam dates in bold print on the front page and we wouldn't have had this exchange anyway. RTFS.

Did Terry P. Kill the Misery?

I love me some misery. I love me some Terry P.

But the page's woes got me thinking about what exactly happened. There's a line in Compound Cal's 2010 article in the Chronicle about RYS getting 400,000 page views a month at the end.

Over the past few months the traffic has been steady around 50,000 page views a month. That's obviously a much smaller audience.

Of course this page went dark between Feb 2014 and September 2014. During that time the pageviews averaged about 10,000 a month, for a page with no new material.

When it started up in mid September 2014, the numbers climbed steadily, from over 50,000 for a half month, to 100,000 by the end of school, and then 110,000 and 130,000 monthly at the start of 2015.

The Stommel kefuffle - which is a whole other matter, because if this page's biggest numbers come about because of a minor skirmish with such an unimportant fringe academic, then there REALLY are bigger problems than even what I'm talking about - boosted us above 150,000 for the month.

Then March 18th. As a precursor to the yearly April Fool's Day thing, Terry P. put an April 1st countdown clock up, and then on March 18th dropped The Mediocre Reveal, a remarkable piece that several veterans of this war (Ben, Cal, Hiram, Kimmie) thought was the "best" thing ever posted on the page!

It was nutty, obviously. The conceit of the entire page being written by one poor schmoe all these years played into so many of the various conspiracy theories surrounding RYS and CM over the past 10 years. So many big personalities from our history got namechecked in it that it was clearly a clever easter egg and nod to the page's readers.

But mail came in quickly because the post DID say the page was over "once again," yeah, for the 2nd time, relax Turbo. And Terry P. did send me conflicting messages because I did NOT know he actually had planned to leave the post up as the last entry and really DID intend to stop modding the page. But within 12 hours I got my butt off the wicker patio furniture and got things going again. (Terry P. has since made amends for all this. He was having a bit of a crisis at the time, and some of that apparently spilled over into the world of being the only person working on the page.)

And the page never came back. Our readeship nosedived after that, daily, weekly, monthly, etc. It rallied a bit after the normal summer doldrums, but it is not what it once was at ANY time in the 10 year history of RYS / CM.

Was it all too much? Was it bad timing? Did the nuttiness go over the line? Were people ready to check out anyway from the blog fatigue that Ben had mentioned earlier this year? Did Terry P. kill the misery? Or is it really dying this time, for, like, real?


I wanted to note that I chatted with Terry P. about this post during the writing of it over the past couple of days.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From Pissed Pumpkin: The Non-Complaining Student Misery

A lot gets posted here about the misery of having whiny, entitled, self-indulgent students, and I see just enough of that to fear that you're not exaggerating more than a little bit and that I might have those same students any day now.

But I actually face relatively little of that. Just enough to remind me that it is out there.

My rather dingy little ivory (well, plaster and brick) tower is a directional state school that serves a rural corner of the lower Midwest. Many of our students drive in from the family farm or ranch. Many of them are the first in their families to come to college, and most of the rest come from families that value education. Many are returning to education after a few years in the workplace. Many have kids of their own to look after. Most have jobs. It's a blue collar town and a blue collar student population and a large fraction of them know what hard work is, expect to work for their goals, and are bound and determined to move up in the world. Every class has a student that inspires me.

Compared to some of you folks I'm living in a bygone time.

So with that in mind we move to the misery, which rises from a three ingredient cocktail.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The university should be run like a business." Who says it's not?

So I'm one of those ladies you read about who fled tech. Since I actually did work for an entity that people generally agree is a "business," I can offer some perspective on whether universities are being run like businesses. 

They are. 

Allow me to present two scenes from my working life. 

Scene One: 

My former workplace, pretty much

Management: Our Gizmolator 3000 isn't selling well. Hey, junior person (that's me), go make some phone calls and find out how to fix that.

Yours Truly: (makes many phone calls, reports back). It's because our dealers and customers think we should provide the Extra Support Thingy, as our competitors do. 

Management: What about that one dealer who's selling all those Gizmolator 3000s? 

YT: He told me he felt obliged to code a custom Extra Support Thingy for his own customers, but he says he shouldn't have to do that, that we should be the ones who provide the EST. So are we going to provide the Extra Support Thingy? 

(wind whistles forlornly, lone tumbleweed bounces across the foreground)

Management: Our latest product isn't selling well. Go make some phone calls and find out how to fix it.

YT: But--

Management: Go ask again. [1]

Scene Two: 

My current workplace, artist's rendition

Administration: Our retention and graduation rates are terrible. Hey committee chair (that's me), figure out how to fix that. 

Yours Truly: (does much research, reports back). It's because retention and graduation rates are a function of students' cognitive and financial resources. [2] If you want those numbers to go up, you need richer, smarter students. Every institution with a significantly higher graduation rate than ours also has higher average SAT scores and fewer Pell students. Or, we could just own it, and stand up for the fact that we serve at-risk students.

Administration: We have to raise our graduation rates and we're not going to change entrance standards. 

YT: Well, the only thing that's ever significantly raised graduation rates without changing admission standards is the ASAP program at CUNY. We'd need to provide free textbooks, transportation, and tuition, smaller classes that are block-scheduled, and mandatory tutoring. So are we going to do that?

[wind whistles forlornly, lone tumbleweed bounces across the foreground]

Administration: Our retention and graduation rates are terrible. Anyone besides Bow have any ideas about how to fix this?

So there you go. We're doing great. 

[1] That was a few years ago. Providing the EST with every new product rollout is routine now, for my former company as well as everyone else. I'd love to take credit, but I can't; it was inevitable.
[2]“The more a four-year college serves Pell recipients, the lower its six-year graduate rate and the more difficult it is to improve that rate,” found the committee, which advises Congress on federal financial aid.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

C'est Les Autres

I have been informed by students that "hilarious" things are being said about me on social media.  I downloaded one of the apps where people can anonymously say hilarious things about people (i.e., bully them).  I'd never heard of it.  It's named after a beast of burden, which seems apt.

A sample of the sentiments of les autres:

Prof. Chiltepin Rocks!
[yes, yes I do]
Chiltepin is a fag.
[points for accuracy, I suppose, though I do prefer "queer"]
Turned in my paper for HAM 101 don't even care anymore it sucks
--Friday 8:00am?
--he'll let you revise it tho
--Don't care, I'm done
[Yeah, I know you don't care, darlings.  I finished grading the goddamned things, and guess what?  I don't care either.  If learning nothing is your aim, don't make an effort, and you will achieve your goal as if by magic] 

At least it's not all bad.  Some, even most, are kind, other than the student who thinks my sexual orientation is news.  But I don't need a reminder that I live in the panopticon.  I deleted the app and I'm going to pretend that I never saw it.  I know the panopticon doesn't work that way, though, but hey, a man can delude himself, can't he?


Have had to turn on comment moderation because of a tremendous burst of spam. I will approve valid comments as soon as I see them. If you have posting rights to the page, you should notice no difference.

And twice in the past 4 days our email server has licked us out because of ridiculously high spam email counts. 1400 in a 12 hour period.

Don't know what's up.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Doc Slash Keeps it Real.

Dear Freshman,

When you asked for comments on your earlier rough draft, and I said that you needed to proofread and add in significantly more explanation for how the support in your paper ties back to your thesis statement, that was not secret code for 'Add 2.5 additional sentences to a 4 page paper, then without changing so much as a single further word, send the exact same paper back to me asking for my thoughts on how your quote unquote 'New' draft was looking.'

Yours MOST sincerely,
Doc Slash

More Bros Living the Dream.

The Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at James Madison University did not wait one second of this new school year to start preying on “hot” freshman girls, according to a disturbing new rush guide that’s currently circulating on campus.

The guide, sent to us by a tipster, includes the name, room number, and a 1-10 hotness ranking of several freshman girls in a particular dorm, so that potential new bros can find them and bring them to FIJI parties.

The misery.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Engaged Thirsty

As Frankie pointed out in a recent comment, the answer to every higher ed problem these days is increasing student engagement.  Textbook publishers (oh; excuse me; learning system providers) tout the ability of their products to increase engagement; administrators offer workshops on the subject; buzzword-hip faculty either lament or tout their students' lack of engagement or their magic formula for increasing same.  However, like many buzzwords, this one is sorta vague.  So, I'm wondering:

Q: If and when you use the word, what do you mean by "student engagement"? What do you think your colleagues, administrators, and/or course package providers mean by it? 

If you're so inclined, we could dig deeper: Where did this use of the word come from, anyway? I'm guessing the National Survey of Student Engagement (b. 1998), but even a quick perusal of their site suggests that, like many quantifiable metrics, theirs has been boiled down -- or perhaps diluted is the better metaphor -- to the point where little of the original meaning and purpose is left (in fact, one might argue that many of the marketed solutions offer, at best, a homeopathic dose of the activity that might result in actual engagement).  Are there other, more descriptive, terms with which we used to describe what we now lump under the engagement catchall?

Or we could just wander off in whatever direction suits us: satirical, profane, scatological, and/or off-topic answers are, as usual, welcome; it is, after all, Thursday, the semester is well underway for most of us, the autumn equinox (Hi, Frod!) is past, dark is falling fast, and we are, understandably, thirsty. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Uggy in Utica Stands Up!

This is my fifth term teaching a general-ed astronomy class for non-STEM majors. I always give the same first assignment, which is designed to help students visualize the size and scale of the universe. We begin by watching the Powers of 10 video by the Eames brothers (if you haven't seen it, it's awesome, and only 10 minutes long). We then complete the first homework problem--a rough estimate of how many solar systems you would have to arrange side-by-side to reach a nearby star--together in class. The rest of the assignment is also based on Powers of 10.

Last week I received by far the most atrocious batch of assignments I've ever seen. After many years of students calculating that the nearby star is 1/1000th the distance to Neptune (who knew we orbited a binary star?) I didn't expect them to actually think about what the numbers meant. But chicken-scratching their "calculations" in the margins of the assignment sheet? Obviously a majority of the students spent less than 10 minutes on the assignment.

While I was grading, I thought about making the first assignment extra credit, or curving the scores upward, as I would have done in past semesters. But then something inside of me snapped. I got on the LMS and sent directions to every student who scored below a C- (the minimum grade for satisfying gen-ed requirements) to re-do the assignment at the physics help center. They have one week to bring their papers back, signed by the help center TA who tutored them.

After class, where I reiterated the requirement that students with less than a C- visit the help center, one boy came to me and said, "Professor, I didn't realize you were checking our assignments for accuracy. I thought you were just, you know, giving grades based on completion and effort." I refrained from saying that if I graded on effort, he'd have an F-. I just repeated the directions for visiting the help center.

Exhausted from preparing the dossier and less threatened by the need to get great evals, I finally acted like an educator instead of a customer-service agent. It felt good.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The very definition of pandering

A hookup app for course selection.

Searching for the perfect university course can seem a bit like finding the perfect soulmate. But one university has sought to alleviate the stress of the hunt by launching a mobile phone app aimed at helping students find “the course of their dreams”, and with a functionality similar to Tinder, a popular dating app that allows users to search for would-be partners in their immediate vicinity. On Tinder, users can declare an interest in another user by “swiping right” on their phone (or dismiss them as a potential match by swiping left). The University of Salford said the Match Made in Salford app and website, which hooks up prospective students with their ideal course, was designed to make the experience of clearing “reassuring and enjoyable”.

There's more at Times Higher Education.

Salford's website repeatedly elbows you in the ribs to make sure you don't miss the double entendre, The headline is "Finding the course of your dreams is easy."  A hearts-and-chili-peppers graphic bisects the page.

See the little chili peppers?
And there's even an Instagram campaign.

Bullet dodged

Perhaps you've heard that Scott Walker has dropped out of the primary.

Simultaneously expressing my feelings
towards the candidate and
about his dropping out of the race.

After what he's done to higher education in Wisconsin, I could not stomach his mindset being further legitimized, for it to spread like cancerous kudzu around the country.

I don't ordinarily express political opinions at gatherings where others are likely to hold opposing views, but I told my family that if he were elected President, I'd have to leave the country. Even one uncle who doesn't believe in tenure (and told me so immediately upon learning that I'd gotten it) and drinks deeply of the Horowitz Kool-Aid knew not to fuck with me about this issue.

OK, we can go back to our normally scheduled stuff. I just had to put this out there.

The Sears Customer Service Effect. From Trish in Texarkana.

Yesterday, one of my faculty remarked that it seemed as if administrators get together in meetings and then decide what the faculty should do. That is sadly true, in many ways.

But, I then thought of my recent experience at Sears, where I overheard the appliance sales person talk down an angry customer. This customer was upset because the delivery man had failed to turn on her refrigerator before he left. She didn't know how to make her refrigerator get cold enough to preserve her frozen chicken. And worse, the delivery person had left some of the packing material behind. She also didn't know how to remove that. This salesperson spent about 15 - 20 minutes talking her down, and in the end, offered her a discount.

( I was waiting endlessly for my own salesperson to help another customer, who seemed to be a very lonely person.)

This, I would say, is more the actual job that I do. Faculty, students, parents, other administrators. I help them turn on the refrigerator, and I take away the leftover debris.

Monday, September 21, 2015

AAAIIIIEEEE!!! National Geographic is about to become a Rupert Murdoch publication.

Is there NO limit to which the stupid will pervade? Probably not. "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits," which has been attributed to Einstein, but try finding an authoritative source that documents him saying it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Rascal Sends In A VidShizzle.

I hate how my colleagues kowtow to the undergrads. We're always trying to "meet them where they're at," instead of requiring them to come and find us. I'll admit I chuckled at this video a bit though, even though I do not care to understand their generation's slang, or the next, or the next.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hell is Student Papers

I just got the first stack yesterday, and have spent most of the morning reading them.

Every year, grading sucks more.  It's not writing the comments that sucks.  It's reading the damned papers.  Padding, fluff, imprecision, a refusal to engage with ideas -- it's hard not to imagine it's a willful refusal, a defiant refusal.  "Sartre says that everyone is the same because we're all children of God."  "The reason in which Black describes Satan in Marriage is the believe he has in which he has of Satan."

And the most insidious, because they expect a pat on the back for it:  "Sartre is an existentialist philosopher, which means he thinks meaning comes from the choices people make."  Yeah, I know, kid.  I read Sartre for the first time before you -- no, let's not continue that train of thought.  But burping Sartre up on your paper isn't going to please me.  If you throw him back up, it just means you didn't digest him.

Faculty meetings and shitty student papers.  The two most demoralizing parts of my job.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Half Assed Thirsty...

my experiment with offering 10 minute conferences with students to discuss rough drafts has been fraught with problems...not showing up...not showing up with a rough draft...students sending in emails instead of actually showing up expecting one on one service their way...and hours sitting in my office with nothing to do but stare at the hang in there kitty poster in my mind.

q: what's already gone wrong for you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Borrowed Early Thirsty: Tenure for Sale?

Bardiac has posted a scary story about a questionnaire asking what pay faculty would accept in exchange for giving up tenure, followed by some very good questions:

How much is tenure worth?
Would you give it up [if you have/had it] for 25% more salary?  200% more?
I've got some thoughts on the questions (so this may serve partly as a reminder to myself to come back and set them down), but for the moment I'm busy providing feedback to students (i.e. doing my NTT job), so I thought I'd throw it out here.  

Delta State Killings. Final.

An instructor at Mississippi's Delta State University suspected of killing the woman he lived with and a colleague -- possibly as the result of a love triangle -- died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound late Monday, authorities said.

Local media, citing the Washington County Sheriff's office and other agencies, reported that Shannon Lamb, 45, was being chased by police in his black Dodge Avenger on Highway 1 near Greenville when he pulled the car over, bailed out on foot, and ran into some woods along the side of the road. Lamb had earlier spoken to police, telling them "he's not going to jail."

Delta State University police chief Lynn Buford told the Associated Press that the pursuing officers heard a single gunshot before finding Lamb wounded. The suspect was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One key to the problem

Okay, so it's getting almost as old to blame administrators for everything that's wrong in higher ed as it is to blame professors, or students.  Still, I rather liked this point from an article in the NYT magazine's Education issue:
As Benjamin Ginsberg details in his 2011 book, ‘‘The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters,’’ a constantly expanding layer of university administrative jobs now exists at an increasing remove from the actual academic enterprise. It’s not unheard-of for colleges now to employ more senior administrators than professors. There are, of course, essential functions that many university administrators perform, but such an imbalance is absurd — try imagining a high school with more vice principals than teachers. This legion of bureaucrats enables a world of pitiless surveillance; no segment of campus life, no matter how small, does not have some administrator who worries about it.
It's hardly a new idea, but still worth noting, again, as it becomes someone's job to urge professors to serve cookies to students waiting in line.  The only solution I can think of (other than fewer administrators, period) is fewer career administrators, and fewer administrators with no teaching load at all.  Administrators who are, or will be, subject to their own decrees are far more likely to be reasonable.  

Universities have practically no effect on graduates' salaries. Let's hold universities responsible for graduates' salaries.

I was all set to hulk out on the Department of Education's new College Scorecard site, but Matt Reed beat me to it.

The College Scorecard reports attendance costs, graduation rates, and graduates' incomes. What the friendly interface doesn't show you, though, is that the institution has very little effect on earnings, once you correct for other factors.

The thing is, the DoE knows this. It's in the accompanying policy paper (PDF).

only about 5 percent of the variation in earnings across students who attend four-year schools is explained by the institution those students attend”  (p. 49). If that’s largely correct, then the entire premise of “performance funding” is flawed.
 So why, on the College Scorecard site, do we see this?

I can't believe I even have to point this out:  Being associated with higher incomes and leading to higher incomes are two different things. Whitening smokers' teeth isn't going to prevent lung cancer. And attending an institution full of wealthy engineering majors won't do much for your lifetime earnings if you're a first-generation student majoring in social work.

No one's surprised by this, right?
What does the DoE want us to do with these results? I assume that the College Scorecard is intended to motivate us to do the right things so that our graduates get high-paying jobs.

So do we all go out there and fight to recruit wealthy, white,  tall, attractive, conscientious male extroverts who are studying petroleum engineering? (And maybe some women too, I guess, as long as they're thin, blonde, and don't plan to have kids.)

Entrepreneurial personality types earn the most. Introverted idealists earn the least. Go figure.

Or, as Matt Reed suggests, is the entire premise of "performance funding" flawed?

"Late Add Misery" from Clara in Cleveland.

So, we are in Week 3 of the semester. In my Advanced Hamsterology course, we will be up to page 200 of the first of the three textbooks that are assigned for the class. These are not the sort of textbooks that have lots of pictures, boxes, special sections, etc. This class is limited to senior Hamsterology majors, and generally has a reputation for being a lot of work (which it is - I treat it as a grad school prep course).

This afternoon, I received a request from a student hoping to add one of my courses. The Subject Line was Advanced Hamstology, but in the email itself, Mr/s Unnamed Student asked to add my 8am Woven Textiles class. I do not teach in the Basketweaving department -- not even close. Nor do I teach at 8am. Being of the curious sort, I checked, and discovered that Mr/s Student is a second year Basketweaving major, with no courses in Hamsterology, but with a cumulative GPA that is, shall we say, less than stellar.

I tried to be polite in my reply. I am not sure that I succeeded.

Sigh …..

Clara From Cleveland

Monday, September 14, 2015

Joseph Heller May Have Spent Some Time In Academia

Apparently the campaign against leaving computer equipment on -- because it will overheat in the cabinets which are necessary because the equipment gets stolen if it's left out, but locked with a $2 Home Despot latch you could probably pick with a paper clip, if anyone but me and action heroes still used paper clips, and apparently putting holes in the cabinets is expensive which is why all the cords go through just one hole, in a mass slightly smaller than an old trans-Atlantic cable -- is working, because the computer is hardly ever on when I need it for class. (I powerpoint some, but also need to throw administrative stuff up regularly)

Which wouldn't be a problem if... the start-up process didn't take as long as the transition time between classes. I don't like to rush the room, so I don't dash in at 10 til the hour; that's only fair. By the time the computer boots up, I log in (because without the log in we wouldn't have access to our cloud drives, because some people apparently can't remember to carry thumb drives on a regular basis), Windows puts some useful icons on the screen, the browser loads the university home page, and I log in to the LMS -- pausing to start the projector, whose bulbs apparently cost more than my car is still worth -- well, at this point we're minutes into a class where I have to cover 3 years per minute, on average, to keep up. What's a decade or two?

OK, I timed it: From power on to LMS useability, if I'm doing nothing else but sitting at the computer, is 4 minutes 30 seconds. Technically, I'm wrong: it is possible. It still seems unnecessarily absurd.

Big Brother Much?

Universities have become so paranoid about cheating on exams that they’ve started buying software that scans test-taking students’ faces, follows what they’re doing on the web, and records audio. Now the students who find themselves trapped in this dismal panopticon are wondering what the software company is doing with their data.


Taking Control of Things

Act 1:
    I took Frod's advice and visited that Site That Shall not be Named to do a little, umm... cleanup.  All those negative posts are now gone.  The magic word is "libelous".  All those false reviews had followed me around like a fucking hemorrhoid.  If I could have a favorite negative review, it would be a tie between the one that said I lived out of my car and the one that said I was too smart to teach.  Fuck you.

Act 2:
    So you want to meet today for tutoring because your calculus final is next week.  Sure!  I mean it's not like you went the entire semester without tutoring.  You have been meeting with me for a few hours before each exam to have me work problems from the study guide, though that's not as regular as it ought to be.
    Three hours into the session, my other client shows up for his appointment.  What's this?  You're plopping another packet down in front of me?  It's an extra credit assignment?  What?  You want me to do them because you really need the extra credit points?  Here, I'll do a couple of them just to get you started.  Oh, that's not good enough?  Well, I don't have time to work through all of them.  My other client is here.  No, I will not take a picture of the problems and email you solutions.  You're asking me why?  Why should I have to do them at all?  Oh. That's priceless.  You're saying that because you don't know how to do them, then that means I should do them instead.  You're turning this in for points buddy!  Again, my other client is here and this conversation is running into his time.  That'll be $60 please and thank you.  Yes, that's nice that you're going to have to watch Khan Academy.  Oh, you poor poor thing!
    What's this now?  You've paid and now you are coming back inside only 30 seconds later.  You want some of your money refunded?  You don't say!  Sorry, but we worked for 3 hours.  Services were rendered.  Oh, you don't think it's fair that I wouldn't do your extra credit assignment?  And I didn't tell you about the scheduling conflict either?  Yes, it's unfortunate that my other client showed up for tutoring.  For the love of God, we were already working for 3 hours!   Enough is enough and where do you get off thinking that my day is magically cleared just for you?
    Oh, so now you're saying it's not fair that we didn't get through all the work you needed to do.  Well, that's too bad that you let it stack up.  No, it does NOT entitle you to a refund.  Look.  We are not going to have this conversation.
    Now you're threatening to just take the money with or without me handing it over willingly.  You really want to go there?  In a public place?  Where there's witnesses?  And cameras?  Oh, and by the way, the police department is right across the street.  We have a good police department.  A lady was carjacked here once.  Within 2 minutes, the police had the perp tackled and eating pavement.
    Yes, so please leave, and don't come back.  I should have known you were trouble.  It always seemed to bother me how instead of driving 10 minutes to the local community college, instead you preferred to go 50 miles out of your way to the one in the boonies.  Did something happen at the local one to cause you to not be able to return to it?  I don't know and I don't care.
    That's right, get in your truck and leave.  God I hope that since you're a Business Major, you don't return 10 years from now as a CEO and cause my life to be a living hell.

Delta State University: One dead in campus shooting.

Police are eyeing a love triangle as the possible motivation in a pair of shootings on Monday morning, Fox News confirmed, one of which claimed the life of a history professor at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.

Cops believe Prof. Shannon Lamb, 45, shot and killed Prof. Ethan Schmidt as Schmidt sat at his desk in a campus building. Police also suspect Lamb in the murder of a woman in Gautier, Miss. who was killed before Schmidt on Monday. Lamb was reported to be romantically involved with the woman. Lamb, a geography and social science education instructor, allegedly believed the woman was also in a relationship with Schmidt. The woman has not yet been identified.



"Quit Lit." From InsideHigherEd and Slate.

Soon-to-be former academics are taking their grievances public.

Like most breakups, those between higher education and the academics who choose to leave it typically happen quietly. But as in romance, sometimes these breakups become very public affairs—usually when an academic decides to reflect on the decision in a blog or other medium. The genre, called “quit lit,” has been around for several years, at least according to social media. And it’s enjoying a resurgence of sorts, thanks to some recent high-profile Dear John letters.


Trish From Texarkana With "The Starbucks Effect."

My first job out of college was in the business world. It was during the rise of the MBA, and I considered pursuing one. Instead, I went back for a humanities degree, much to the confusion of my co-workers who couldn't imagine anything better than the world of commerce.

The daily stress of making sales drove one of my supervisors to demand a demotion. She was smoking two packs a day. In the office. A small fan blew the smoke around me, not away from me. If it rained, we worried no one would come shop, and if it was too warm, then no one would buy clothes. We tracked shipments from sweatshops, and marked down the unsold garments to 70% off, which was their true price. Underneath the smell of perfume from the cosmetics counters was the stench of fear. I preferred to read the medieval poets.

Flash forward to now. Now, I am spending many hours hiring contingent workers for pennies, and replacing them when they drop out a couple of hours before the store opens, I mean, class starts. Do you have a pulse and a MA? Here's a syllabus, and good luck. Let me show you how to use the cash register, I mean the projector. I have been given projects to create new business and marketing plans to increase enrollment. 2 classes for the price of one, anyone? I see students paying almost as much for textbooks as one class would cost. We sell our education by the credit. Quality of sales means more than quality.

The biggest discouragement I feel comes from heavy reliance on adjuncts, who will work for so little. And yet, we rely on them so much. They have no reason to be invested in their teaching, but most are very invested. Some more than the FT faculty. The effects on the quality of education are obvious, but although we bemoan the low retention rate, we don't connect it to this devaluing of education. A couple of thousand dollars to teach a class that could mean a student will progress forward or not. And if we don't value our teachers, then why should students? So, we cry about poor attendance, and lazy attitude toward class work, but why should we expect them to appreciate education when it is just another product that we are selling?

I find it ironic that universities like Arizona State are partnering with businesses like Starbucks, who are also reliant on the contingent workers. Perhaps, there is a dystopian novel in the making here. Working in the administration section of this corporation called hIgher education has nearly ruined education for me. I am not even sure what the good fight is, anymore.

Damn, I should have gotten that MBA after all.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

This Past Year.

In February 2014, College Misery closed down. (If you read any of the mail that comes in about this, we've closed down several times during our 5 years online, ungraciously, capriciously, because we're all assholes.)

Beaker Ben (R.I.P.) graciously ran the Academic Pressure Cooker page for some intervening months, and then Terry P. started us back in mid September of 2014. it's been a year now since all that happened, and despite tumbling hit counts (and a historically small day today, for example) we're still open.

Some folks don't give a shit about the hits and so forth, but I think it's interesting to see the reach of the page. Here are some relevant stats. The big spike in the middle is the brief time we were on the Stommel radar. The drop off was after Terry's brilliant early April Fool's post, that apparently fooled too many people.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Assigned Reading?

When I first saw the title, I thought maybe some of us (i.e. those among us with tenure) should consider assigning this book to our students.  But having read the full review/interview, I'm thinking maybe we should just read it ourselves, and perhaps take some comfort. Flava:

Profanity is a source of comfort, clarity, and strength. . .It helps to express anger without blame, to be tough in the face of pain.
 +  +  +  +  +
It’s sort of an axiom of cognitive therapy that when you're unhappy, your thoughts are going to be negative and self-critical. You're going to wonder what you did wrong, what you could have done and should have done.
Part of it is going through a cognitive exercise and really trying to determine, “Did I do a good enough job?” Because if I did, I'm going to shut this investigation down. I know I will never be fully satisfied with how I behaved, but if I go through an investigation and try to look at it rationally, and with friends and be open about it, and I think I’ve done a good enough job, I'm going to try to take a stand on that. Much as I would have if I just went through either a legal or workplace investigation of something that didn’t go right.
You assume that your feelings are going to tell you, since you’re unhappy, that you did something wrong. But that if you can do an inventory based on your own values, you're really doing a good job. And you’re doing a good job in spite of the fact that you’re miserable. That deserves higher praise. I think that’s sort of a basic paradox—that to live with pain and still be a decent person and make a living is a much higher achievement. It’s what you do when you’re not happy that’s so telling.
So maybe we're not doing so badly after all?

Glenn in Gardenia and Reg W. Send In Today's VidShizzle.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

We got problems. But is this the solution?

Oliver Lee Bateman, who penned last year's widely read defense of grade inflation, has finally had enough. On September 8, he published this:

From the article:

1) Too many people go to college

...not out of any particular interest in the field, but in order to receive raises at work or improve their position in a crowded job market.

2) Online education isn't the solution

...a grader for one of our online courses supervises approximately 30 to 50 students for an entire course. The grader typically makes $700.

3) Tenured professors pity adjuncts. But we can't help them.

It's not that we full-timers don't care; it's that we can't.

4) "Alt-academia" isn't a solution — it's surrender

...when it comes time to pay it off with a real job? Sorry — best look somewhere "alternative."
5) The students and professors aren't the problem; the university system is

The quickest and most painful solution to the crisis would involve greatly reducing the amount of money that students can borrow to attend college.

And that's where I heard the needle-scratch (youngsters, ask someone what that is).

Would that help? I understand the impulse to shut off the money spigot, but as Bateman acknowledges in point one, students go to college for career reasons. Desperate to enter or stay in the (shrinking) middle class, they would simply switch to private lenders.

Those institutions that excel at marketing themselves and helping students take out loans would thrive. Community colleges and four-year publics, already running so lean that they don't have real marketing departments, would suffer.

Like childhood poverty, this isn't a problem higher ed can solve by itself.  If I were Empress of Everything (and what a wonderful world that would be), I'd start by matching up infrastructure repairs with people who want to work. (And because the Empress doesn't have to worry about distinguishing among federal, state, and county projects, let's start with elementary schools.)

Yes, making more jobs available would reduce the number of students, but we'd lose the ones who are only here because they have a gun to their head (economically speaking). And if we reined in  class size, we wouldn't have a mass die-off of universities, just a better student-faculty ratio.

What else? I'd make accreditation contingent on percentage of full time faculty (looking at you, Rio Salado). And I'd throw in universal health care.

What do you say? We Miserians are an optimistic and creative lot. OK, we're creative, anyway.

Q: How do we fix this? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Those Pennies Will Not Pinch Themselves People.

Welcome to this faculty meeting. It’s nice to see so many of you here at the beginning of the school year.

First off, our new building project is going great! We’ve found enough financing that our new building will be state-of-the-art. The 400 million in loans are fully subscribed at a very good rate. You’ll love the staff offices when you see them in the new building! They have a spectacular view of the city, especially above the 8th floor. The students will love the recreational amenities and I’m sure you will too. Yes, the classrooms are a bit small, but we’re sure you’ll adjust! And we even have an office for the adjuncts.

Next, a reminder. Just because you have a certain amount of money in your department’s budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it. Find ways to economize. Turn nickels into dollars! Consider not printing everything you’re used to printing for classwork. For example, make the student share assignment sheets. They love group work! Remember, pinching pennies helps us watch the dollars!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Observations from the First Week of School

  • Several students who wish to work on various issues related to the technical correctness of their writing (something we don't really discuss in class, though I'm happy to provide a reasonable amount of one-on-one help in comments and office hours, and/or to refer to the writing center) express this desire as wanting to improve their "grammer."  Sadly, I don't think they're joking.  
  • According to the official letter I received, one student has accommodations that include arriving late, leaving early, and/or leaving class for up to 15 minutes, without prior warning or explanation.  We don't, of course, get the diagnosis, just the accommodations.  I suspect the accommodations are, in fact, perfectly reasonable (or at least the best way to cope with the student's condition -- I suspect we're talking something along the lines of anxiety/panic attacks); if the student makes use of them (which hasn't happened so far), it won't be too disruptive most of the time given the hands-on, small-group-work focus of the class (and the fact that a number of students without accommodations behave this way already); and the student seems engaged, interested, and basically on top of things, if perhaps a bit needier/higher maintenance than average.  I'm also sure the letter was written in all earnestness/reasonableness, and I'm not at all sure I could have done it any better myself.  Still, I had to stifle the urge to laugh out loud when I read the document, which came perilously close to doubling as a parody of the genre ("this student may do anything at any time; pay no attention; it's an accommodation!").  
  • I don't remember ever having a student named Xavier before.  I now have three, of at least two different apparent ethnic backgrounds.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Another from the Academic Hero Series. Sent in by a longtime correspondent.

I'm not sure I want to call out this person, or this blog, under my own "identity," but I was pretty shocked to see this.

The article is innocuous enough:

Effective Motivation for College Students to Study
August 18th, 2015
By Linda Merill

"Often, what discourages students to study is not the inherent difficulty of a subject or task. Instead, it is their loss of motivation that hinders them from tackling a boring or even difficult subject.

Thankfully though, there are ways to give motivation for college students to study and complete any school related task. After all, they will be able to reap the undeniably rewarding feeling of success in the end. Listed below are a few tips to help students get motivated to start working and to do what needs to be done..."

So who is this Linda Merill person?

Linda Merrill is a professional writer and content creator at writing services like for college and university students. She loves to write about college life is exactly what you think it is.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Becoming What We Hate, or, Maybe They Weren't Stupid Grown-Ups?

An article at IHE yesterday about a creative writing instructor rediscovering the once-hated workshopping technique he thought he had left behind inspired this comment from me:
The process by which we implement techniques we considered absurd or toxic as students (and I have myself recreated some of what I thought ridiculous at the time) needs to be examined more thoughtfully. Were we really wrong, or are we wrong now replicating the failures of the past because our newer methods aren't producing the results we want either? Reverting to our training is a kind of null hypothesis, but those methods were themselves innovations at one time...
So, what techniques do you use today that you thought were stupid when your teachers used them? Mine include test essay questions  that practically walk you through the answer; I have colleagues who have reinstituted the "syllabus quiz"...

Friday, September 4, 2015

Krabby Kathy With A Complicated Friday Thirsty.

I taught developmental English for several years at a community college and eventually got the adjunct shaft. I dropped a student for nonattendance, who complained to the department chair and she asked that I reinstate him. Soon after, I had a review by this department chair. I had classes scheduled for the next semester, and after her visit to my class, these scheduled classes disappeared. All my emails to the chair went ignored or unanswered. A month later, I got my review: She had declared me incompetent. The basis of my incompetence was that I read to my students and I deleted things off Blackboard after a couple weeks. Horrors!

Again, emails to her went unanswered and I finally wrote a rebuttal to the review and also wrote to the dean. No response. I finally got in contact with another adjunct, who also had been dropped, but she (this adjunct) called the dean – she seemed to be on a first name basis with him—and got reinstated. I decided that since this college rotated its department chair, I would approach the next chair but this department chair WILL NOT LEAVE, and it has been FOUR years.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Should be the final link ever. There's no topping it. Sent in by, like, everyone. Tara Monroe. Of course her fucking name is Tara.

Amelia on Getting Started.

I am teaching the merry band of freshpersons this semester, and had a student come up and show me a first draft of a paper, telling me "I looked it up, and you're a hard grader." Guess where he looked it up.

In the past couple of semesters, I've had a few whingy reviews on that site that must not be named, relating to how the class is so hard, so much work, etc. On the one hand, that's kind of the humblebrag of the homo professoricus. On the other, though, it scares future students and we all know that some people over and around you look at that stuff and judge you.

Those whingy reviews, though, are almost always a few weeks into the semester. By the end, we really are a merry band, filled with wiser freshpersons who, on at least some level, realize that effort does lead to reward. Those reviews from the first few weeks last forever.

So I am now in this delicate balance at the start of the semester. I've found I can't have a gentle warm-up, or the students get complacent, and then feisty when you try to push them later. I want the start of the semester to be very rigorous, both in terms of expectations and assessments because they then work hard all semester.

But I don't want to push them off into whining permanent things into the ether.

Should have stayed in those gymnastics classes as a kid...

Potheads a Problem on Your Campus? A Half Assed Big Thirsty.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

RYS Flashback. Six Years Ago Today. One of the All Time Nuts. Nancy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dear ones! How are you? I have not written in many moons, but my Mama radar was buzzing and I could tell you NEEDED me.

The dogs and I had a wonderful summer, just boating with friends, and gallons of Mescal. You boys missed many a fantastical party while you were hunkered down there in the loveless compound - although, surely you must have some female company sometimes, right? Maybe Tessa from Tucumcari or Rachel from Raton.


A New Game. Guess the Graphic.

Here's a nearly impossibly awful graphic Cal made for RYS/CM at some point in the past. Guess what sort of post it accompanied.

A) Students With Happy Outlook Easier to Flunk.
B) Dentistry School Applications Up 65%.
C) Bedraggled Brutus Wants To Know Where The Promise of Tenure Went.
D) Nobody Could Find The Duck Photo.
E) _________________________________________________________.
      (fill in the blank; I know everyone wants to...)

A Jaunty News Story About a College Student Cooler and More Interesting Than a Whole Barrel of Humanities Professors.

OU freshman flies to first day of college in own plane

Ariel Pollard, an 18-year-old among more than 4,175 other OU freshmen, is setting herself apart by one thing: she flew her own plane to college. From Argyle, Texas, to Norman, Oklahoma, her Cessna 172’s propeller chopped through the air at 115 knots, or around 130 miles per hour, at 3,500 feet in the air.

The trip was about 150 miles and took her only an hour and 20 minutes — the farthest she has flown by herself. Pollard has been flying since she was 15 and received her pilot's license at 17, she said.

“I just love being in the air, it’s so much different than driving,” Pollard said. “I don’t know anything different from it, flying has just always been there my whole life.”


Get Well...

Too mean by at least
100%, even on his
best days. Only the GOOD
die young. Celiac disease
is not enough, you
goddamn drama queen?
Our pal Cal is in the ER overnight with pneumonia...

Sending you my thoughts, friend...

But more importantly, quit being such a fucking whiner and bounce back already! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

More classy college welcome signs. "Get your bean flicked"? I just threw up a little.

Re-Re-Scheduling Misery From Pissed Pumpkin.

Way back in the halcyon days of the Spring Semester, my department head wrote the Fall schedule and told us how it would be. What she had in store for me was not my dream semester, but I could work with it. I mean, it gave me the five-day-a-week Introductory Survey of Quantitative Rodentology for Non-majors that is our biggest service course and money-maker, and it gave me the night version of the Algebra/Trig Hamsterology for Non-hamster Scientists, but it also gave me a upper-division course for majors that agrees with my specialty (albeit, scheduled TBA) and a little, much-needed overload pay.

Getting the night course is the cost of never being asked to teach before ten in the morning, so I won't complain about that.

After a little bit of horse-trading everyone agreed that it was as good and fair a schedule as could be made within the constraints we face and there was at least a little rejoicing.

Then summer was upon us and I started trying to schedule my TBA. Various students sent me various ridiculously constrained schedules and I mailed them back asking for clarification and generally finding the places where they actually could come to class and just didn't want to. And a few students persistently didn't answer their emails, so I looked up their class schedules and assumed that anytime they weren't in someone else's class they could come to mine. Eventually I chose and
published a time and ignored the resulting complaints from people who hadn't communicated with me during earlier rounds of negotiation.

As the summer semester ended (glorious extra pay warring with crammed days for the most notable feature of that period), I turned my attention to writing schedules and preparing assignments for the fall.

Then, with less than a week to go, the email showed up.

The mail telling us how Professor Formal was having trouble getting her visa to return from seeing her relatives in the old country, and we were all facing schedule changes. The chair had to rope in a couple of occasional adjuncts to cover the service sections, but it could be done.

It wasn't too bad for me, I lost that five-day-a-week service class and got Professor Formal's section of Intro Hamsterology for Majors (a course I've been wanting to teach) and consequently another hour of overload pay and a huge headache preping a new course in four days and re-scheduling my TBA.

So Fall was a little rocky at the start, but as week two drew to a close I had gotten my feet under me and all my classes seemed likely to be a little better than average.

Then the visa came through.

Another email. More re-scheduling.

Because our Chair is not an evil person she was determined not to pull any sections out from under adjuncts, but that meant snagging what units she could from full-time faculty. The resulting schedules are strange and I've lost all my overload hours, and will have an awkward hole in my schedule starting week seven (from historical reason our first "for-majors" class is split into a 6- and 10-week sessions).

I had plans for that money, but maybe I can use those hours for a little research. Or am I being an optimist again?