Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Dean Solves It For You

by Dean Sprocket, M.Ed.L.

Dear Readers,

Today's "problem" comes to us from an apparent long-time reader in Quakerberg. I'm sure you'll see why I had to treat this case with "tough love" as I did. Let's see what we can solve today.
Dear Dean Sprocket,

This is a difficult letter for me to write. Last autumn, we lost a dear colleague to heart failure, which is probably what convinced another to retire early this spring. Prior to all this, our department was already down by one member, as you'll recall from my previous letter [click here. -Ed.]. Our last two searches have failed, and now we are down by three senior faculty! In the short term, we've distributed the teaching and committee load amongst the department as best as we can, and a few faculty have even deferred grants to free up some time. Working extended hours, we are just breaking even with no time left to develop new courses or update existing ones; cracks are forming under the pressure.

To pick up some of the slack, our Dean has magnanimously agreed to hire one (1) tenure-track faculty at the assistant professor level. Of course, this means another search committee and yet more work for me and my colleagues, but do it we must. As for the search, unfortunately, your earlier advice to consider candidates outside our field did not go well. During interviews, it became apparent that they would be fish out of water unless they could realign their research with ours, and grant reviewers are quite averse to funding new researchers having no track record in our field. And, the teaching demos, because these candidates were so unfamiliar with the subject---let's just say they were underwhelming and leave it at that.

Bearing in mind that the problems I described in my previous letter have only gotten worse, I was hoping you would have some other "magic bullet" ideas up your sleeve. Please help us strengthen our department and our program, so that we can once again be innovative in both research and pedagogy.

Hogee Pep


It is good that you caught me at the end of an especially busy day, because as a result I have no time to sugarcoat what must be said in plain language.

Your letter is just a grocery list of "first-world problems." I created this column not to help faculty, but as a resource for Deans whose many, real problems are caused by faculty like you. I just spent the last hour, i.e. a large part of my workday, fixing grades of students who were negatively impacted by unfair teachers who had denied reasonable requests, such as to reschedule one measly exam around tickets previously bought for an important sporting event. If you faculty would be more student-centered, things like this wouldn't happen.

Another case in point: you faculty keep clinging to outdated and inefficient lectures for classes of 100 or more, but today's students need Ted Talks on the U-tube to fit their more advanced learning style. You should just go ahead and get a webcam and give your lectures to your computer, then break them into the right sized chunks, and your students will watch them all just as soon as you assign them. Then, instead of boring lectures, your classes will be much more interactive and productive. There, see? I saved you all that time lecturing and reduced your workload, all in a single paragraph! That's student-centered pedagogical innovation for you! Now, why didn't you think of it on your own? Because you're not The Dean, that's why.

I won't help you re-expand your already oversize department because I simply don't buy that you are understaffed or overworked. On my morning constitutional stroll, I took a detour through a hallway in a building where there are many faculty offices. Only one in ten offices had anybody in them, and allowing for maybe another one in ten actually in a classroom teaching, that tells me that at most, 20% of faculty are doing anything useful at any given time. Now you see why us Deans are perfectly justified in making you pull in at least 80% of your salary from research grants. (Note to peers and self: raise overhead rate next cycle, and create a Chief Officer of Rate Negotiations.)

While we're on the subject of salary, your previous letter whined about yours being "two standard deviations" below the mean, as if using big "sciencey words" made your complaint valid. I cut that part to save you from embarrassing yourself, but now I feel I must explain, as I would to a child, that it is mathematically impossible for everything to be at or above the average. There will always be one at the bottom, and it's you. You don't get more pay because you don't work at a place that pays more---simple as that. If you had any business sense or had even taken Econ 101 like me, you would know that prices are set by supply and demand. You've already seen how one ad in the Chronicle nets dozens of CVs, thus supply clearly outstrips demand for faculty, and it's a buyer's market. So not only can you be easily replaced with someone who'll work for even less, there is also no reason a search should ever fail.

Your searches failed because you have an inflated sense of self-worth. When you faculty complain about the "crippling high self esteem" of our talented, confident students, it is nothing but projection on your part. Get over yourselves! You're not an R1 institution and you are not R1 faculty. And now, just like in high school, the popular kids still don't want to come to your lame party. It's time to stop crying about it and just invite people like yourself---not who you think you are, but who you really are. Instead of coveting the best CVs in the stack, look for one that's almost good enough, one that comes from someone who will be happy to get an offer, any offer. Surely that's how you got your position; just look at the wages you're willing to work for and the conditions you'll accept! You should have learned long ago not to try to date out of your league.

If you really were as smart as you think you are, you'd have gotten a professional degree like mine that sets you up for a job that you can leave at the office and that actually pays something real. But I'm where I am, and you're where you are---so let's think about that, shall we? Why you stay where you are can only be Stockholm Syndrome, Daddy didn't love you enough, or you have all the sensibility of a dog... most likely all three. But bleat as you might about the greater good and working together to make things better, as long as you stay, and because you stay, we know we OWN you. So when your Dean gives you a spanking, metaphorically or no, the only acceptable responses from you are thank you sir, and may I have another.

Never bother me again.

Dean Sprocket, M.Ed.L.


Well, dear readers, that wraps it up for today. Until next time, keep asking your staff: what have you done to ensure student success... today!



11:04 AM by Dean Meatgrinder, B.Ed., MBA

Don't hold back, Sprocket. Tell us how you really feel. LOL!

One point that had me a little puzzled was your ideas about lecture. I've heard lecture called many things including outdated, but never "inefficient." Do you say that, because taking notes during lecture forces students to multi-task and cuts into their important discussions on their laptops and smartphones?

11:08 AM by Dean Sprocket, M.Ed.L.

Thank you, Meatgrinder. I agree 100%. Lecture is both outdated AND inefficient.

I must be off now... 3 o'clock tee time. Maybe I'll see you out there.


Found by Ogre Proctor Hep.


  1. This is stunning / brilliant / soul-crushing.

  2. I'd wonder if we worked at the same joint, except that deans who talk like this are disturbingly common. Ours will be leaving us on July 1: it's going to be a long two months, much like passing a kidney stone, but at least he will be FAR from here.

  3. Somewhere there's an evil, mirror site for deans.

  4. Failed searches seem to be a "thing" at the moment, at least for some positions (mostly somewhat above entry level, at least in my limited experience). I wonder what's going on?

    Are candidates becoming savvier about the fact that there are failing departments and institutions, positions with unreasonable expectations, etc., etc., out there, and exercising caution about what offers they accept? Do stagnant salaries pretty much everywhere mean an increased number of searches (on the candidate's side) conducted primarily with the intent of making an outside-offer bargain for a raise/other concessions? Are we finally seeing one effect of adjunctification in a limited supply of experienced mid-career faculty (combined with an increased realization on the part of institutions that, as retirements increase, they actually need such faculty)?

    It seems like something is going on, and, though it may simply be a matter of things varying by subdiscipline, it's odd to be hearing simultaneously of an abysmal job market (mostly for new Ph.D.s, I think) and of a significant number of failed searches. I suspect the bottom line is that, at a time of scarce resources and increased expectations, everybody involved is cautious, perhaps overcautious (which might even mean that Dean Sprocket is, in one small way -- gasp! -- right. I'm still inclined to trust that Dr. Pep and his colleagues were reasonably open-minded in casting their net, and that candidates were turned off by the same factors plaguing the existing faculty).

    1. We had a failed search last year; two candidates, both with spouses, and in neither case could we offer the (also an academic) spouse a job they found acceptable.
      So this year we ran the search again, and the winning candidate did not have an academic spouse. Not that we asked or that this featured in our deliberations in any way, because that would be illegal. Call it coincidental. But I do wonder what to do about this. Smaller institutions can't do spousal hires. A lot of academics won't come without one. What do we do?

    2. We had a failed search last year; two candidates, both with spouses, and in neither case could we offer the (also an academic) spouse a job they found acceptable.
      So this year we ran the search again, and the winning candidate did not have an academic spouse. Not that we asked or that this featured in our deliberations in any way, because that would be illegal. Call it coincidental. But I do wonder what to do about this. Smaller institutions can't do spousal hires. A lot of academics won't come without one. What do we do?

    3. About a year ago, we had a couple ask to interview on the same day. They were both on our short list but had different last names, so we didn't make the connection till they made it for us.

      We still thought it best to treat them the same as any other candidate and interview them separately, with the usual full campus day each. Although we had only one slot open, if we'd liked them both, we were prepared to make a strong case for opening another slot, since an impending retirement had already been announced. It could have worked out so well: one search, two good faculty, and a second search avoided altogether! We never got that chance because they found gigs in another town while we were still arranging dates for the visits.

      Given the current climate, I feel that however strong the case for opening the second slot was, it would not have been heard. It would have been heartbreaking to only be permitted to make one offer in that situation. But that's happened before, and it will happen again. All we can do is hope there's something else in town, or "near enough". The result is we have some spouses who each commute an hour from a centrally located domicile.

      Next search I'm on I think I'll do a better job of scanning the ads for nearby institutions. But it's hard to know if there's a two-body problem without asking explicitly (which ist verboten) and harder still to predict what the significant other is qualified for without seeing a CV. And, the one we may be calling "the trailing spouse" might actually land a gig first.

  5. That's College Misery gold right there. Thanks!

  6. I don't know about anywhere else, but faculty searches here fail whenever they find out that what this grand institution is most noted for is the time a student fucked a sheep.

    1. But I bet you get a lot of horny sheep hanging around, trying to pick up college guys.

  7. Fred Shouting FORE!April 25, 2016 at 6:19 PM

    I've been fussing about the golf remark. ALL of my colleagues past and present have sneered at my golfing. It's never stopped me from doing my job in ANY way. I don't play the hoity-toities. I play with regular folks with regular jobs on a cheap-ass muni course. But if I say "golf" anywhere near an academic I get the stink eye like you can't believe.

    Personal issue, I guess.

    1. And CAL is a big golfer. And somebody else who was a mod was, too, but I can't remember. Was Hiram a golfer? Was he a mod? I guess I could read the history page, but I assume it's all made up...

    2. I love golfing, although I still have trouble getting the ball past that damn windmill. But I'm great on the hole with the pirate ship!

    3. "ALL of my colleagues past and present have sneered at my golfing."

      I trust you told them to fuck off. There's nothing wrong with the activity: fresh air, open spaces, exercise, striving to overcome mediocrity.

      Lots of assholes like some of the same things I do. I'm an asshole, too, but not because I like those things. The fact that Sprocket takes off well before noon for a 3PM tee time is not proof that he's a shirking asshole, but it is consistent.

  8. I hope to deal substantively with these comments, but sleep calls for now. Tomorrow?

  9. Wave 1 (in case I run out of time again):

    @Frankie, somehow, it seems more soul-crushing now than before I sent it. I have it on good authority that Hogee or a comrade is planning a response, as this piece lacks closure.

    @Frod, it's bad enough that they think like this, but that they talk like this, and to those whom they are supposed to be supporting? It's soul-crushing. I am glad your dean is one foot out the door. My fear is that he'll be replaced by another cast from the same mould.

    @Frod again. Maybe your PR people should consider whether "any publicity is good publicity" has any negative consequences, and consider taking the sheep thing out of their media kit and brochures. I hear that for a mere $175000 you can completely wipe something from the internet.

    @Cassandra, speaking of internet, I think it may have something to do with failed searches, but I'll have to finish that thought later today.

  10. So, back to how the internet has changed searches. This is my untested hypothesis:

    Before internet: send out a few CVs to openings for which you are really well suited, in an envelope with a stamp that you lick.

    With internet: troll Monster, Indeed, Chrampickle, HigherEdJobs, etc. for anything even slightly resembling an opening in your field; send out tens to hundreds of CVs attached to emails that you click.

    Surely this affects the average quantity of CVs that a search committee must contend with, but how many make the short list? That likely depends on field, but my department requires some pretty specialized training, and 90% of the CVs we saw in our last search were either missing it, or they came from an associate or full prof, when we were clearly looking for an assistant.

    Cassandra, the answer to your questions in the 2nd paragraph of 25 April, 10:45, and to your statement about caution in the 3rd, is probably "yes", in that each contributes in its own way. Why would an established proffie apply to an entry level position? I guess things really, really suck at their joint; they're about to lose funding or up for promotion and it's "up or out" so they're hedging; or they're hoping that the search committee would be so impressed that they actually change the job description to suit the applicant. The latter case smells a lot like they want an offer so that their home institution would have to counter.

    Dean Sprocket might have a point (in the way that a stopped clock might sometimes be correct) about a search committee trying to get champaign on a beer budget, but based on his previously stated disdain for expertise, his definition of "almost good enough" is likely to differ from that of the department and the search committee. They might relax on a candidate's having been previously funded as a principal investigator, whereas Sprocket is more likely to relax on the candidate's discipline being appropriate for the department's research and educational missions.

    And hopefully, Sprocket's overt contempt for those in his charge hasn't metastasized into how they represent the institution when they have a candidate with them on campus. They'll have to put that stuff behind them if they're to have any hope of being the people that a candidate would want as colleagues.

    1. > send out tens to hundreds of CVs attached to emails that you click.

      You wish it were that easy. (But I do appreciate the meter and rhyme matching, BTW.)

      A more realistic version is "Plan to send out hundreds of CVs attached to emails that you click. Discover, in almost every case, that they want you to fill out a web form. Copy most of the data on your CV to fields in the web form; a slightly different set of stuff each time but always in little pieces so that there are scores of fields to be filled. In differing orders. Then attach your packet, one file at a time, with thirty second plus upload times for no readily apparent reason. After you re-arrange some of the packet because this place wants the teaching and research statement in one file while the other wants them separate a third wants only the teaching statement and a fourth wants a the research statement plus a statement of ethical principles. Note that we still haven't done the research needed to personalize the cover letter. For the places that actually want a cover letter. Also fill out the online anti-discrimination reporting surveys. Then notice that you've just spent almost two hours doing the first place on the list. Whimper quietly.

      Repeat until the whimper becomes a moan and then uncontrollable sobbing.

      Finally, have a nervous break down at the realization that you've blown a whole day on only five applications.

      I actually sent fewer applications in each round of job searches than my parents report sending in theirs. Not because there are fewer positions, but because they used a single fairly standard packet with a personalized cover letter (secure in the knowledge that a human being would interpret the documents at the other end) and the aforementioned stamp. Whereas now there is an idiot program waiting to send to /dev/null any clicked in file without field X filled out or missing keyword TECHNOBABLE in the most recent Job Description field.

      I'm starting to shake just thinking about it, and it's been three years since my last time round.

      And now that I think of it, the place I landed at just listed the five documents they wanted in the packet. I really did apply in about an hour (that research and re-focusing) with an email I clicked.

    2. Bad of me for forgetting those fucking fillable forms that the helpful HR people have perpetrated. I've read about them but never encountered them in the wild. A pox on them all.

      We're not "advanced" enough to use them at my joint. At least we weren't when I was on a search last summer, and I'm not about to give them any ideas.

      You can send us your CV, your statements on research and teaching, reference letters, cover letter, etc. as a single file or three or five, Word doc, PDF, JPG, etc. or combinations thereof, we don't care. We know how to open the files in the right order to get what we want from them.

  11. Thanks once again to Crystal for fixing the formatting. I hope that I'm asymptotically approaching zero for the number of fixes my posts require.

  12. The image looks a bit like a certain proffie who really dislikes the tenure system.

    The tragedy of (that is?) my joint is this: we really could be as good as we think we are; nay, as good as our homepage proclaims us to be.
    We have some amazing educators, support staff, admin people & yet there’s always someone at the top who is exactly as OPH has described.

    “Innovate, EC1? No, we can’t let you do that. If we let you do that, we’ll have to let everybody do it, and who knows how that will end up?”

    “Let us get this straight, EC1’s colleague. If we give you a dollar, you’ll turn it in to a thousand dollars. Well, we’d like to, but it means we’d have to give you a dollar before we saw any results. You can’t run a university like that, you know.”

    1. Yep.

      Rejecting Tenure and Paying for It? From InsideHigherEd.
      Why I Have a Big Problem With Academic Tenure. From Business Week.
      An Update on Jim Wetherbe. (Now With Crampicle Text, Thanks to Several Readers.)
      Why I Have a Big Problem with James Wetherbe’s Libertarian Fantasies about Tenure

      Other candidates for going under the digital knife were Scott Walker and Mark Chelgren. I'll say this about Wetherbe: he could at least plausibly claim to have a bit of knowledge of the subject on which he opined, and he walked his own talk. His problem was operating in a relatively small sphere of academia, and ultracrepidarianism. Academics are supposed to know the limits of their knowledge. So, he became my paper doll. I retouched the photo while visiting a cross-town collaborator.

    2. As to the remaining points, yes. We are that good. With some institutional support, we could be even better. It's a strange business model, trying to "inspire innovation" by rationing resources rather than investing in your own people, who are themselves your most important resource.

    3. Thanks for this new word, OPH.
      I think you know who in my institution it best describes.

    4. I think I do.

      Sneak preview from the emerging companion piece:

      You are the embodiment of both The Peter Principle and The Dunning-Kruger Effect, wrapped in one, innumerate, sociopathic package. You see issues as simple because you have but a skin-deep knowledge of them. Then, when frustrated at how your simplistic decisions don’t bear instant fruit, you retreat into your primate brain to fling feces… Oh, yes, the computer: it’s that shiny box on your desk that you check your stock performance on. Next time you’re doing that, use the Google thing to look up “ultracrepidarianism”. Google. G, O, O, oh fuck it.

  13. @Annie, I wondered the same thing.

    @Gog, thanks. I aim to please.


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