Thursday, June 30, 2016

This Week's Big Thirsty. "How do you actually improve student writing? Is it even possible?"

Flava from InsideHigherEd:
Why can't my new employees write? I heard this question several times on my recent vacation... I then ask them why they think the next generation of white-collar professionals can't write. The most common response is a belief in a lack of "rigor" in their employees' educational pasts. I don't find the lack of rigor explanation persuasive... For me, the key to changing this is to make writing more engaging in every sense of the word,

The rest of the misery.


So employers say new graduates can't write because of lack of rigor in writing instruction, and the columnist immediately dismisses their input. The employers, he says, are wrong. The real reason is that we professors still aren't pandering hard enough (paraphrasing here), and if we were just that much more "engaging" our problems would be solved.

I, too, get this question from employers. Their complaint is straightforward: Graduates have not mastered basic grammar and mechanics..

The intro comp instructors agree. It's true, they say. We don't deal with grammar and mechanics. The deficits there are so overwhelming that we wouldn't have time to cover anything else.

So I'm not so quick to dismiss the employers' input. What I'd like to know is, what's the answer?

I'm not aware of any study showing improved writing via "engagement." Is this a real thing, or is it wishful thinking / a hipper-than-thou status display?

Q: Is anyone aware of any efforts that have actually improved college students' writing in their native language?

Making the best of Clinton's new higher-ed plan from Frankie.

So Clinton just released what sounds like a truly horrible set of proposals for higher ed: 

  • Opening up federal financial aid to "alternative providers"
  • Providing (unspecified) incentives for actual colleges and universities to accept credits from those "alternative providers"
  • Automatically awarding green cards to international students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees
Now, we Miserians are a can-do, optimistic bunch. Surely we can think of ways to make this nasty little potion of perverse incentives more palatable. For ourselves, anyway, if not for higher ed.

Here's my plan, should this come to pass: 

Aunty Frankie's Surf-n-STEM Academy.

As a Disruptopreneur Alternative Provider, I don't need to bother with unfashionable, buzzkill-y things like ABET accreditation, dorms, classrooms, faculty, or learning objectives. 

No GRE? No problem! My advanced STEM degrees will be available to anyone who has the foresight and out-of-the-box thinking required to pony up a hundred and fifty grand. (Sure, it's about twice the industry average, but can your snakehead get you a guaranteed green card? Didn't think so!) Because my Surf-n-STEM Academy will have a MOOC option, there's no uncomfortable transoceanic travel required, Residency requirements and ID verification are so last-century.

And best of all, it'll qualify for federal financial aid!

Anyone interested in investing? 


(P.S. I did consider one other disruptovative option, setting up a mostly-online school with a 68:1 adjunct-to-full-timer ratio, but that just seemed too evil.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I would've won every game

It's not a new idea, but perhaps this is a new take on it:

Maybe you can guess what my last few weeks have been like.

I invite you to add your own entries in the comments.

---From Ogre Proctor Hep.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mount Saint Mary's Update

Back in February, we discussed the resignation of Mount Saint Mary's President Simon Newman (a businessman who compared marginal students to bunnies and recommended shooting or drowning them -- metaphorically, of course -- lest they mess up the all-important retention metrics).  It appears that the the university now has a new (interim) president: An Army general, as news outlets that took notice were quick to emphasize

Fortunately, it turns out that Gen. Timothy Trainor might also be described as an experienced academic; he's spent the last 15 years as a professor, department chair, and dean at West Point. It even looks like he's spent some relatively recent time in the classroom (albeit with a very disciplined student body).  And he talks about listening and learning before acting:

"Early on I'm going to focus on engaging and learning," Trainor said. "I have a lot to learn about the institution but I want to engage with the different constituencies there early on to learn their hopes and aspirations."

At the very least, I don't think he'll talk about putting Glocks to student's heads, even metaphorically, because, even if they have MBAs, people with actual training and experience in the appropriate use of firearms seem considerably less likely to say that sort of thing than businessman who are just throwing around metaphors.  


I can't call it "Empty Nest Syndrome" because they are not my kids. But, I still feel melancholy as they move on to adulthood. From EMH.

One of my favorite students started basic cadet training at West Point today. I came to know him as a very dedicated student over the years, so I grew to enjoy working with him. His parents hired me when he was 15, the same year he joined the Sea Cadets. It was an honor to have been part of helping this young man make it this far, yet I found myself staring off into space today wondering where the time had gone. Worrying. Did I do enough for him? Maybe I just hope he doesn't get himself killed.

I wanted to get him a gift. I never got one because I just couldn't figure out what would be appropriate. That kind of thing has always been extremely difficult for me.

I have two other students who are getting ready to begin their college experience at UC Santa Cruz. One is going to study Robotics and the other will be studying Environmental Science. Their mom hired me when they were 15 too and I have grown to enjoy working with them as well.

They are fraternal twins (ie. not identical) but with almost opposite personalities. One likes to clown and have fun. The other also clowns a bit but is more serious about life. You know, it's funny because they just turned 18 and the clowny one was poking his brother yesterday while meowing. Yet, they are very bright kids. Maybe a bit easily distracted but very bright and with good hearts too!

We've been working on some STEM work this summer. Dear God, it's Santa Cruz! You aren't under mom's wing anymore. Things will be there that will present themselves as huge temptations. Don't get yourself high! Don't let the girls break your heart. And above all stay away from the sharks!

How quickly they grow up.

Make it count guys!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Double-Double Development Deanlet Distress, by Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

The Tacoma-Narrows Bridge, also called "Gallopin' Gertie," shortly before its collapse. We use this in physics classes to show engineers-to-be why resonances are good for musical instruments, but not for bridges. I was tempted to use instead an image of Epsilon Lyrare, the famous "double-double" star system (with two sets of two stars, orbiting each other.)

My college has for many years employed a series of fundraising people. Usually, the job title is "Development Officer." These people are hired exclusively the Dean, report only to the Dean (and indirectly to higher-ups such as the Provost), and don't necessarily have any academic background: the very definition of "deanlet." There have been a series of them because they have a high turnover rate. One reason for this is that they so rarely raise any funding.

One such Development Officer was fired shortly after the rejection of a $40k grant that I applied for from a private foundation. Hey, rejection happens in the hypercompetitive field of astronomy: fewer than 1 in 3 astronomy Ph.D.s ever get tenure or other reasonably secure jobs doing astronomy, so a 25% acceptance rate when applying for grants is doing great. What struck me was that this Development Officer's job had become totally dependent on the success of this one grant (from an astronomer) for $40k, the overhead from which wouldn't even come close to paying this person's annual salary. This says to me that these people don't know much about the game they're playing.

Another Development Officer hit up as a potential source of funding the local, marginally solvent, minor-league baseball team. You can guess how that worked out: no, the ball wasn't hit out of the park. It occurs to me that if you want to raise money from private sources, shouldn't you try places where it isn't public knowledge that they are struggling for money—such as at the local Rotary club, or a country club, or a profitable corporation, or any of the local casinos, or a bank?

Another Development Officer COST us thousands of dollars, in lost work hours. The plan was a science extravaganza, the highlight of which was to be a talk by a very famous astronaut. This Development Officer assuredly proclaimed that an acquaintance could get the very famous astronaut to give a talk. Only after burning up much of a semester's worth of a faculty committee's time did anyone think to phone the very famous astronaut's office. It turned out that the very famous astronaut charges a hefty speaker's fee, obviating the talk, and the rest of the extravaganza made like the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge collapse. Good thing the advertising hadn't gone out.

A year later, this Development Officer cheerfully recommended that I apply for a grant from a crank organization. Even more disturbing was that, shortly after starting on the job, ANOTHER Development Officer ALSO suggested PRECISELY THIS. Kids, in the unlikely event that I do get such a grant, since what this organization funds is nonsense that my science doesn't strongly resemble, taking such a grant may prevent me from getting subsequent grants from reputable sources, such as NASA or NSF, who don't like to be seen funding cranks, one reason being Congress doesn't like it. What are these Development Officers going to think up next for me? Casting horoscopes?

My duplicate double-dose of distress was delivered by a different Development Officer, who had previously been Development Officer at another university in our system. He knew that I was building an astronomical observatory. He also knew that the other university had one. He also knew they were building a new dome for a new telescope that they were also having built. He then assumed they wouldn't use the old telescope anymore, so he suggested to me that they might give it to me. I explained to him that would be unlikely, since the old one is still useful, especially for their students. It sits in its own dome that they don't need for the new telescope, since it'll have its own—but more to the point, this telescope weighs over a ton and is worth $1 million. I've always gotten along with my colleagues at this other university fine, but they are NOT going to just hand over to me a capital asset of that size, just like that.

What gasts my flabber is that recently, ANOTHER Development Officer ALSO suggested to me PRECISELY THIS: that this astronomical observatory hand over to me a million-dollar telescope, just like that. Apparently, when Development Officers hear "telescope," they think of something that costs $200 that amateur astronomers (heaven bless 'em) pick up, take outside into their backyard, and look through, for fun. Something that weighs tons and costs millions of 2016 dollars, such as what professional astronomers have been doing research with for the past 150 years, doesn't even occur to them, even though they might have heard of Hubbble Space Telescope (since I bring in grants from my project on it, without their help), which they might have heard cost billions, being in Outer Space and all.

Do Development Officers think that bio labs give away electron microscopes, and that chem labs give away mass spectrometers? Even if these things are obsolete, wouldn't one think that a lab needing money might try to SELL them? Even if they don't work at all, wouldn't one wonder what one can get for PARTS? SURELY, these deanlets CAN'T be THIS out of touch with reality? Or have I picked a bad week to quit taking amphetamines again?

- Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Friday, June 24, 2016

Unknown Sender. Context Hazy. Scan Dodgy. Intent Mysterious. Utility Undetetmined.

Who is this "we" of whom you speak?

The Link:
In College Turmoil, Signs of a Changed Relationship With Students

The Flava:
"There's a big difference between teaching students and serving customers," said Mr. Schwartz at Swarthmore. "Teachers know things, and they should be telling students what's worth knowing and what's not, not catering to demands."

Too often, he said, "we've given students a sense that they're in just as good a position to know what's worth knowing as we are, and we've contributed to the weakening of student resilience, because we're so willing to meet their needs that they never have to suffer. That makes them incredibly vulnerable when things go wrong, as they invariably do." He was speaking in the context of sharp upticks at many colleges in the number of students reporting anxiety and depression and turning to campus mental health clinics for help.

"I see this as a collective abdication of intellectual and even moral responsibility," he said.

Who is this "we" of whom you speak? Surely not me or my colleagues in the trenches. We're not the ones "catering to demands." It's all you in the Dean's suites. You who build "aquatic centers" and overturn our grades and cave into snowflake desires and allow them to believe that everything is negotiable as if we are all on equal footing in the process. But we're not: teachers know things, students don't.

Yet I now feel some hope. The first steps towards improvement are recognizing that there's a problem, and identifying its source.

---From Ogre Proctor Hep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Doing research with so-so students, by Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Since at least the early 1990s, many universities have recognized the value in involving undergraduates in research. At my university, several provosts and presidents have praised my physics department, because we have several active research programs that involve many students, despite our being a small department. I'll admit that involvement in research can benefit undergraduates: it make all the difference we me, as an undergraduate. Research gives undergraduates face-to-face interaction with faculty, useful for getting letters of recommendation. It also gives them practical experience and skills, also useful for finding jobs upon graduation. Perhaps most importantly, it inspires students to dream, by showing them how what they're learning in class is useful. 

Nevertheless, as Peter Feibelman points out in "A Ph.D. Is Not Enough," "Only some of your graduate students will really contribute to your research. Others will break your equipment, contaminate your samples, and install bugs in your computer programs." Undergraduates are harder to mentor in research, since they know less.

It's even harder at my less-selective university. Our best graduating seniors have a tough time scoring above the 50th percentile on the GRE physics exam, the minimum that many R1 universities consider for admission to their graduate programs. My best student in the past 15 years scored in the 65th percentile, which got her into a good, but not great program. Some of our students score in the single digits, but the most recent student who did so is now happily developing automation systems for an aerospace company.

Still, mentoring many of our more typical students has taught me a lot. It includes:

- Never once have I had a research student who pulled their own weight. Every last one of them, even the best I get, has been more work for me to mentor them to do a research project than just doing the project myself. It's not unusual for this ratio to exceed 5 to 1, or even 10 to 1. It's been a while since I've had a student who achieved nothing at all: maybe it indicates I've been getting better at mentoring, since instituting weekly research meetings as well as weekly journal club with all the students working for me together. Still, for cases like these, I suppose the ratio would be infinity to 1.

- Only very rare cases can program a computer, in any language, at all. This means that only some projects are doable.  We can analyze samples of 100 or even 1,000 objects, but the latest, computer-generated samples of 60,000 are out of the question. My only hope is that R1 researchers will see our papers, wonder why we can't do what we really should be doing, and then do it themselves, with their superior resources.

- I give my students lots of credit for writing things that I mostly wrote. It's not unusual for an M.S. thesis I've mentored to be about 80% written by me. I was more idealistic with my first M.S. student, holding him to the standard I was held to in grad school, and the resulting draft was embarrassing: it took him two semesters to do something a colleague of mine at Yale figures out in 15 minutes. So, before submitting the thesis formally,I redid a lot of the writing, and I continue to do lots of writing for my other students. I do have them write a preliminary draft, but it's rare for any page of it not to require substantial revisions, by me. I wouldn't be so generous with my students if I didn't have tenure.

- Every university administrator of course wants me to bring in as much external funding as possible. I'd admit it can be handy for running a research program: who do you think pays for all the travel around the world, to get data, and to conferences, to show off results? Still, my conscience bothers me sometimes.  Frankly, I don't think involving students of this caliber in research is a very effective use of taxpayers' dollars. This is why, whenever a student asks to do a research project with me, during the first semester I always pay them with academic credit, not from a grant. Students who do work out and get to be paid from grants nevertheless still need to be carefully watched. I've also had no shortage of students who are dishonest with filling out their time sheets, by claiming they'd put in substantial hours immediately after telling me they have nothing to report.

- Projects can get dragged out for many years. It took me eight years to get three so-so students to complete a project that should have taken a good one, or me, three years to complete. Still, I did publish it in a refereed journal, with all the students listed as co-authors, much to the pleasure of my administration, and all these students went on to good jobs, two in nuclear power and another for the government.

- Never have even my best students put heart and soul into research, the way I was when I was an undergrad. What they give me is almost always not that much different from term papers by undergraduate non-majors in my general-ed class: really, what they think is the least they can get by with.

- Some of my students have subsequently gone to grad programs, usually in low-tier programs. What usually happens is that they get used for a year or two as cheap labor to run labs, and then bounced out by qualifying exams. They subsequently go on to a not-bad record of getting jobs in K-14 teaching. 

- My best students always seem to be busy with something other than what I have for them, such as maintaining their GPAs. When these same students take my classes, they get `A's, but again, only by doing the absolute least they need for it. It's never anything near 100%, in the way I often impressed my elders since I was in Kindergarten. I was often asked, "How come you know all this?" I'd answer, "Reading."

- There are many projects that students can't help with at all. Some of these are left over from my postdoc days, receding into the ever-more distant past.  I hope I can turn them into papers published in refereed journals during an upcoming sabbatical, but some of them are getting old enough to worry me whether the science won't have become beside the point.

- Half-baked ideas about what specific research to do, and how exactly to do it, won't work with my students. A symptom of having been helicopter parented is when students expect you to micromanage them. For such students to be productive at all, I have little choice but to micromanage them: refusing to do so and insisting it's "not my problem: do your own homework," the way I was told when I was a student, simply will not work. Every time I have I mentored exceeding mediocre students in research, they always get tangled in something, requiring me to cut them loose. To be fair, students can't read your mind. You will need to have something specific planned, since expecting students to have ideas, use their imaginations, take the initiative, read the manual, think creatively, etc., the way Henry Moseley did for Rutherford, the way good scientists do when making good scientific progress, is expecting a bit much. No, we have to work lower on Bloom's taxonomy.

After all this, you may wonder: why don't I just give up? I get paid the same whether or not I do research, as too much tenured deadwood in my department so amply demonstrate.

The answer is that, at least, it keeps ME active. With my 4/4 teaching load, which whenever I request release time to make it 4/3 I feel like Oliver Twist with his bowl out, it would be easy to allow teaching to consume 100% of my time.

What university professors know quickly gets out of date, if they don't stay active in research. My undergraduate education was badly marred by old proffies who were abusing their tenure and coasting to retirement. They hadn't done any research in 20 years, and taught us a whole bunch of stuff that was out of date, such as how to develop photographic plates.

Research is especially valuable to the few of my students who do go on to graduate programs in my field. It is also valuable to the many of my students who don't, particularly the ones going into K-14 teaching. It does help them to have some experience of what it is that scientists do. Also, everyone around me says they like what I do. So, I keep at it.

- Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Things I told the last high-school student I foolishly took into my lab, by Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

-          NO asking, "I wasn't in class. Did I miss anything important?" OF COURSE you did!

-          NO complaining about teachers at your high school. It makes you look terrible. ABSOLUTELY NO complaining about the teacher who recommended you come work for me. I thought he was pretty good when he was a student here.

-          NO putting your head on the desk or sleeping during class. It makes me want to quit right then and there.

-          NO looking like there's a bad smell in the room whenever I mention the flagship public university in our state. It's the best public university in the U.S.A., and has for a long time had first-rate programs in both physics and astronomy. You'd be lucky to get in there.

-          Likewise with any other universities in the system.

-          Likewise for the system of universities where I teach. This one is apparently good enough for you now.

-          NO late homework, ever, ever, EVER. If you're ill or have a genuine emergency serious enough to leave a paper trail, bring me a copy, and I'll mark any work you missed as "excused." I won't accept it late, ever.

-          Physics and astronomy aren't pat subjects. Resourcefulness and genuine, original though are required. If you don't appear to have the formula you need, consider it an invitation to find it out, or to devise it yourself. Use your initiative!

-          NO quitting, if you want me to keep helping you. You can make more money for less effort doing just about any job on the planet, other than astronomy. Remember, ultimately, that your career will be up to you.

- Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The entire gawker series on the adjunct crisis.

Don't blame “THE ADMINISTRATION,” from Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

In that past year, I've noticed multiple university administrators decrying how faculty decry "THE ADMINISTRATION." Apparently, it's the new buzzphrase making the rounds in their seminars, or maybe it's the subject of one of those management books you see for sale in airports. Members of THE ADMINISTRATION say "it's not productive" for faculty to complain about "THE ADMINISTRATION," or even use the phrase, "THE ADMINISTRATION." If we faculty persist in doing so, it will elicit a condescending response from THE ADMINISTRATION—well, even more condescending than usual.

This strikes me as not very good logic. If THE ADMINISTRATION are good at anything other than rewarding themselves at the expense of everyone else, it is using the anonymity afforded by their ever-expanding SHEER SIZE to evade responsibility for their bad decisions. WELL, if THE ADMINISTRATION wants me to NAME NAMES from now on, I will certainly DO SO.

But of course, I have tenure.

- Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is anyone doing well, these days? An Early Thirsty From Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

We occasionally lightly edit graphics
to avoid claims. Sorry.
Physicians are unhappy these days, with 9 out of 10 telling young people "Don't go into medicine." Even in the best of times, the medical profession is notorious for lack of work/life balance.

Lawyers are overpopulated. Just last week, the New York Times ran an editorial that wondered whether low-tier law schools should close.

Journalism is in crisis, having greatly contracted with the decline of newspapers. Even in the best of times, it never paid well, and could also be quite dangerous.

The arts have long been notoriously difficult ways to make a living. They're much like getting a degree in my field, astronomy: relatives want to know, "What are you going to do with THAT?"

The military comes with the risk of grievous bodily and mental harm for someone else's economic interest. Even in peacetime—Remember that?—all the moving is hard on families.

Engineering, accounting, business, and finance are all noted or their dullness. The older ones gets, the more obvious it becomes that life is more than a pile of pay stubs. As far as economics goes, there's a reason it's called the dismal science.

K-12 teaching comes with poor pay, little respect, and should come with hazardous duty pay, these days. Just not going to college and living as a working-class person pays even worse than it used to. And no, it's not so easy to go back to making a living at farming.

Pay and working conditions for scientists have steadily declined since September of 1969, and all the while over a chorus of politicians and university administrators that "America faces an imminent shortage of scientists." Anytime I am treated to this, I don't hesitate to scream back, "Then WHY is it so difficult to get a job as a scientist?! Why do we have to traipse around the world as postdocs, moving every other year for 6-10 years, which is real hard on families, with all the moving of the military and NONE of the security? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT A POSTDOC IS?!?!"

And of course, pay and working conditions in academia aren't what they used to be. If you have any doubts, see this blog, not to mention "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School."

It may be an oversimplification to tell a young person, "Do what you love." Better advice may be, "Do something valuable."

Q: What fields today CAN I recommend for a young person? Aside from making money the old-fashioned way and inheriting a billion, of course.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Guilty. By Reg W.

I want to apologize to Crystal and Fab. I've had a bad time of it recently, and my depression has leaked into every part of my life. I sent a number of angry emails to Crystal last month, and continued with a terrible one last night to Fab.

I expected to see it in Real Goddamned Mail, but Fab was kind enough - or dismissive enough, I hope - not to let it bug him.

I have complained through email a number of times about the site, not the fonts and stuff. That's stupid. But I have said that I don't think they do enough to promote the page, and mostly I complained about the lack of content.

Here's something I'm ashamed to have written:
"Every time you change moderators, there's a moment where it seems the page will fold for good; you or whoever makes a claim that you're going to stick around, a BUNCH of comments go up about how this place means so much, and then immediately for a week there's no new content. Just the endless flashbacks. Either make the page rich with content or stop it."
And after a nice Father's Day with my two boys, I just, I don't know, realized how stupid all my little problems are. I have real problems, a divorce, depression, a career crisis, and why I instead spend time pissing and moaning about free blogs or the way Twitter works, I just don't know.

I rarely comment and even more rarely send a post, so content is my problem, too.

I wanted to make amends to the mods of the page because I know I've been an asshole and I know I've shit on this enterprise when I myself have not been willing to row the boat myself.

Reg W.

One of the Great Job Misery Posts of All Time. 3 Years Ago on CM.


So, I've been at "Lost Hope in the Desert Community College," the worst community college in America for 3 years as a part-timer. I never had luck getting a tenure track job anywhere, and I've bounced around for the past 10 years - since the PhD - doing one year posts and the such.

But I hunkered down for the past three years and taught 2-3 classes every semester at one place. I went to optional meetings, I acted on committees. I got to know the few full timers (80% of our classes are taught by folks like me.) I've been a good soldier. But I didn't expect special treatment.

I had forgotten I applied to this job, actually. One is always open on the regular stream, and in September I dutifully do my paperwork. I've never gotten an interview before, and 3 people have been hired in past years, none with PhDs, all from the BIG local university. (That's not me.)

Anyway, yesterday my phone rings at home and here's the conversation:

"Is this Pettermell?"

"Uh, what?"

"Is there a Mr. Peppermen there?"

The rest:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Middle Aged and Morose On More Time.

I wanted to expand on Contingent Cassandra's great comment in ELS's "Big Thirsty" (Thanks for the great question and for the thoughtful answer). As Contingent Cassandra noted, what we need more of to make a great university is more TIME.

I could use more, that journal article isn't writing itself dagnabit, but it's my students I worry about. As an undergrad back in the 70s my SLAC went from three classes to four a semester. We thought that was a heavy load and my did we whine about it!  My students take five, six, sometimes seven classes at a time! Why? Because school is so damn expensive and because to graduate in four years they have to take five classes a semester. In addition, if they can take summer classes and an overload they can finish in three years and maybe they'll be able to get out of student debt before they retire. Cripes, no wonder they think reading a ten page article is torture, or that reviewing their notes after class is an idealistic fantasy. Add in how many of them work to make money to pay for school and I'm lucky if they think about my class during class, let alone the rest of the day. 

I sure didn't sit around mulling over my classes 24/7 when I was an undergrad. I thought about other important things as well: girls, my frat (In Hoc Signo Vinces baby!), girls, that SciFi novel I was reading this week, girls, etc.  But I did review my notes, and I did do the readings (I have my marked up copies of the Federalist and the Malleus Maleficarum to prove it still!) and I did try to think about what I learned in class.  I wish my students now could do the same.  So few people continue to read and think about what they read after college. As a society we suffer for it. How many fewer will do so if they never learned how to in college??

Thursday, June 16, 2016

7 Years Ago, Madison Reminded Us... RYS Flashback.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Madison from Monona Metes Out Some Moderation.

Graphic placed here for Ben's benefit.
Doesn’t anyone on this blog remember what it was like to be an undergrad?

Don’t you remember the excitement of being on your own, the fascination that came from time to time when you had a lightbulb moment in class, the realization that you could eat whenever and whatever you wanted? (Until you gained the Freshman Fifteen.) And what about That Event, the thing that suddenly showed you why you had to stop sleeping through class and trying to scrape together last minute poor excuses for homework? The thing that ultimately led you to grad school and teaching?

I cannot understand why you take plagiarism personally, or skipping class personally, or sleeping during class personally. I remember having to choose between a paper or working a shift, and being dead jealous of all my friends who could go out. Sometimes I went with them and winged it in class. I never made those choices because I thought my female profs were too female, or other profs were too short, or whatever you guys are so nervous about. (Although I was suspicious of the flustered prof who seemed unfamiliar with their (sic) subject.)

As a teacher, I give extensions if a student is willing to ask before assignments are late. I give as many excused absences as they want, as long as they contact me before the beginning of discussion. I feel it rewards those who know they will be doing other things, rather than those who sleep in. And as a result, most of my students don’t bother lying and plagiarizing. And the few who do regret it when I remind them that all they needed to do was email me before class.

Students will always push their boundaries. They’re teenagers. It’s what they do. I don’t take this testing of the authority waters personally, and I give them second chances that don’t involve me dedicating more time. I change due dates last minute so that students have an extra 2 days to take that piece of crap and turn it into something halfway decent. I listen to the cock-and-bull story about sick grandmas and interpret them as “I screwed up, but I don’t want to just give you shit. Please let me work through this.” And as a result, instead of handing me shit, they learn a goddamn lesson. But you know what? Teaching them how to write is my job. Teaching analysis is my job. Teaching citations again and again: it’s my job.

Getting personally insulted that they didn’t follow my instructions to the letter? NOT my job.

The Big Thirsty. From ELS.

Q: What are the elements that make up a great undergraduate college or university. Think broadly, deeply, and satisfy your own fetish. No detail is too small or arcane

Let's talk about "CONSTRUCTIVE student evaluation of professors."

Inspired by the recent flashback post, I headed over to you-know-where. After spending just a few minutes on the site, I had a pretty good idea of how we can all "improve" our "teaching."

Don't be that professor who "asks for papers" or tells students to be "organized."  Too divisive and controversial.
(You should be able to click on each graphic to see it in a larger size...)

Don't let this be you! 

Instead, let class out early.

And do more squats. 

There, I just saved you hours of professional development in-service.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rare RYS Post About the Differences Between Them and RateMyProfessor.

The tip about has led me to discover some of the old RYS posts that Cal culled as he was burning that site to the ground. This one happens to come from 10 years ago today, and was sent to that earlier site by a curious reader who wanted to educate the moderators.


June 15th, 2006

This world can be such a cruel place. But that gives no reason to overlook all the good things in life.

Some professors talk of present-day students as spoiled brats who want everything handed to them on a silver plate. Sure, I guess that applies to certain students. There’s the girl in my Philosophy class who walks out midway through a lecture to talk on her cellphone. Then there’s the guy in Social Sciences class who, after having mysteriously disappeared for the entire semester, comes on the last day to ask why he’s failing. Professors can talk all they want about their lazy and unmotivated students.Students can also talk of apathetic professors. The ones who don’t answer their emails. The ones who don’t return assignments within a reasonable time frame. The ones who come to class and mumble into the podium. The ones who copy textbook sentences and use it as “lecture notes.”

But I would much rather talk about the professors who make it all worthwhile. The professors who are ALWAYS available during office hours to answer questions. The professors who care whether we understand the material, whether we receive the maximum education possible in that certain subject. These professors TEACH us. They inspire us. Their lessons will be remembered for a lifetime. Their names will be etched into our memories.

And most of us who’ve had such professors are grateful enough to go onto RateMyProfessors and speak of our experiences.Why don’t more professors come to your blog to talk about all the “good” students they’ve had? People call your site as a rebuttal to RMP. I will not criticize RMP, although I can admit that I disagree with some of their policies (including the use of chilli peppers to rate a professor’s hotness or lack thereof). But I will also say that RMP is NOT a careless site that PURPOSELY lets students bypass with inappropriate ratings. RMP’s moderators work hard to ensure the best of quality for students all over North America. Bluntly put, some professors just can’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Shouldn’t we have the right to avoid certain classes if they don’t suit our needs? The needs of poor-starving-students-who-are-up-to-their-necks-in-debt-because-they-have-to-pay-high-tuition-and-text-fees?

RMP will last because it’s MEANT to be a site that offers CONSTRUCTIVE student evaluation of professors—it’s well-intentioned. You may love “most” of your students… but a site that’s designed as a venting machine for disgruntled “academics”, no matter how ingenious, cannot… 'should' not last.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Told Ya

"This inconsequential place  has always been a blot on the real world of academe..."  

Our famous troll found a clever way to tell us to fuck ourselves in Latin. Big whoop. I've redacted his brilliance but left the comments up.

And, many many thanks to Crystal who gave it a whirl for 6 great months. You have never seen the trailer so clean!


From Crystal

The email icon on the right will now put submissions on the page immediately. It will result in the occasional spam message getting through, but I'm not able to monitor the page regularly. I don't think it'll be a problem and Fab has been told. He told me he'd erase any postings that got up inappropriately.

I apologize I didn't last much more than 6 months, but my expectations were a lot different. I imagined a bit more community, and it has been devastatingly devoid of that. I'm glad a couple of folks still visit, but the traffic is the lowest it's ever been, and honestly I have some other stuff I could spend time on that didn't make me feel like a steerage passenger on the Titanic.

I wish you well!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rumbling through Dr. Amelia's head today

After yesterday's shooting in Orlando, I am thinking about the idea of civil dialogue. I am thinking about critical thinking. I am thinking about comments from one of our presidential candidates. I am thinking about students on my campus who are lgbt. I am thinking about friends from my own college days who have ended extremely morally conservative. I am thinking about whether my failing to respond to ignorant posts on social media is a great idea because you can't have a dialogue with someone who unfriends you, or cowardice, or realizing that Facebook pronouncements don't have much gravitas anyway.

I am thinking about how finances and politics seem to making it harder to teach critical thought even as we live in a society where critical thought is becoming less approved. I am thinking about how to teach students how to think and how to engage respectably with others. I am thinking about how, given the scope of hamster fur weaving, this may not be my job. I am thinking.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

From Kimmie


Sunday Thirsty

We all know how draining academic life can be, how the endless nibbling of the goldfish of tiny obligations and petty disappointments and administrivia and email can erode away the energy, the sense of identity and purpose, and the well-being of the academic.  But now (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) it is Summer Glorious Summer.  

It's actually raining and in the low 60s Fahrenheit here in the UK, I'm doing assessment paperwork on a Sunday, and my diary has multiple meetings every week about Curriculum Reform between now and the end of July, but let's pretend!  (I just ate an ice-cream cone, and can smell several barbecues in the neighbourhood).

So, to my Thirsty, which has an appropriately spiritual Sunday theme:

Q: What are you doing this summer* to restore your Academic Soul and return refreshed to the fray come Autumn?

* in your copious spare time around the writing things you need but don't want to write, teaching summer courses etc.
- Grumpy Academic

Saturday, June 11, 2016

RYS Flashback: 8 Years Ago Today. What Needed to Be Fixed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Felix the Fixer from Fresno Lets Fly With a Flood of Unfixables.

A potentially fixable problem would be to abolish anonymous student evaluations of teaching, especially when numerical rankings are used. They were a mistake when they were imposed in the 1960s, and they've caused untold harm ever since. They fuel the inappropriate attitudes of consumerism and entitlement so rampant among today's students. Administration who use them almost always abuse them. They are unhelpful for improving teaching, and destructive for faculty morale, especially among young faculty. They really have -got- to go!

Other problems in academia are less easy to fix, because they reflect problems in society in general. I hate to sound like dreadful old conservative (because I'm not, or at least I didn't used to be), but even I am surprised by how decadent American society has become in the past 40 years. We are far less rational, civil, restrained, honest, intellectual, or interested in learning, and far more materialistic, selfish, and concerned with "doing your own thing," with no apparent concern for how it affects anyone else, than we used to be. It's difficult to deny any of this, so why bother?

Universities grew tremendously during the population boom of the '60s. Universities are funded by enrollment, so declining enrollments because of demographics since have unsurprisingly eroded standards. There are many students whose reading, writing, and quantitative skills are grossly inadequate for what used to be college work. This is partly because there has been severe erosion of K-12 education and discipline in recent decades. It's also because many jobs that didn't used to require college degrees now do require them, so there are all kinds of students in college who really shouldn't be there.

Demographics have also eroded faculty quality of life. Universities expanded in the '50s and '60s, along with the general population. The population of college faculty also expanded at this time. Many Baby Boomers have yet to retire; it's now much harder for today's young Ph.D.s to get faculty jobs. Predictably, there has also been shrinkage of tenure-track and other potentially permanent faculty jobs, and growth in the number of adjunct and other temporary faculty jobs. Coupling this with faculty evaluation by student opinion is a particularly effective way to loosen the demands faculty may expect of students.

Electronic media such as TV and video games have made us stupid. It used to be unthinkable for anyone to say "I don't like to read," or "I've never read a book," but it's been common for a long time now. Other technologies also enable thoughtlessness and rudeness, such as when students take cell phone calls in class or expect to be able to use e-mail as 24/7 office hours, or use both to bring in their helicopter parents, although I wonder whether these technologies would have been so misused if they'd appeared in the 1940s and '50s.

Attitudes of consumerism and entitlement, and helicopter parenting, are also fueled by how college costs have gotten out of control, partly because of the growth of student services, and partly because of other factors: how can anyone not be taken aback by $200 softcover textbooks that -aren't- filled with color graphics? And don't even get me started on the subject of sports...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dr. Amelia is thirsty about rudeness.

Is it them, or is it me?

If I set up off campus experience that involves bothering someone else in the community to make time to talk to us at their place of business, and we are supposed to all leave at, say, our regular class time AND if a kid misses multiple sessions with no notice, is he rude or am I expecting too much? In his mind, he is skipping class. In mine, everyone else is arriving late because we have to wait around for him to show up.

If the students ask for chances to engage with the community outside of our class, and I set up an optional volunteering opportunity that students sign up for, is it rude for them to just not show after they sign up? In their minds, I think they are missing an optional thing. In mine, I went out and bought stuff for a project AND community folks bothered to come to campus to work with them and they just blew them off.

I believe in community work, but I find it really embarrassing that their actions get exposed to the larger world this way. 

Q: Are they rude, or do I expect too much?

There are nice ways to write to the RGM.

Try them out. I'm not sitting here trying to annoy you. How about, "I notice the font is a little light and it is proving harder to read."

Instead of what you said, you dick.

From Crystal. An RYS Flashback. 9 Years Ago Today.

As I looked for flashback posts this morning, I found this one which I'd never seen before. And I admit it troubled me. I've done this, happily, and only when I read what the original writer had to say about the "tone" of the relationship did I start to understand the angst.

I know that none of my undergrad profs would have been hoodwinked into moving students in, and now I can't tell if that's good or bad.


Saturday, June 9, 2007
"Sure, Kid, Where Would You Like Me To Put Your TV?"

Last week the Dean at my college created a page in his Facebook comparing our school to the school in the Harry Potter movies and asked students to name the teachers who would play the various characters in the movies. Naturally the students are having a ball with it, and the page has been very busy for the last few days. One student told me everybody will “get the treatment.” Okay, I know, of course, that students do stuff like this all the time, and think energy like this when it comes from the students can be a good thing. But I have a problem with the Dean instigating and then cheerleading for a project the net result of which is the mocking of our faculty. Am I making this up?

Similarly, the administration of my college, which is very small, decided at our founding that it would be nice if faculty helped the students move into the dorms at the beginning of the academic year. They have asked us to do this every year since we opened our doors in 1999. I have declined, but others, especially new hires worried about tenure, have not. Think about this: faculty carrying students’ golf clubs and tennis rackets, stereo components, and so on. I guess this could be fun if you liked doing that sort of thing, although I’m not sure it really sets the tone for the future relationship between the student and the professor. But again what disturbs me is that this order, basically to “have fun,” comes from the administrative level.

At my school one of the ways to fire a tenured faculty member is for “non-collegiality,” which can mean anything from not doing enough committee work to being snotty at faculty senate. In the past “collegiality” was a word that described how we managed ourselves as peers. But in the hands of the administration it becomes one more manifestation of administrative clout. I feel that the Dean’s Facebooking and Faculty Moving Service do something similar.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Annie From Abelard Loses It. An Essential Early Thirsty.

I get that life is fundamentally unfair. Things recently started looking up for me. My school's dean really came through and fought for a budget to get me a funded professorship. Which was a direct result of me taking on extra regular term courses as well as summer courses and continuing to publish things, apparently. I was also asked to be a peer reviewer for a publication in my field, for which I get a stipend and some CV fluff. So things are better for me than they've been in a while. But as life gives with one hand, it breaks my heart with the other. In the past week, I had two very emotional college "miseries" confront me.

The first one happened last Monday. A little background is required: I garden. I have a green thumb. It's something I love to do. I never grow decorative plants; everything I grow has a function. I grow enough stuff that I had a deal with a local farmer's market to sell them my produce. It was a nice way to do my hobby and have a little bit of lucre to show for it. This year they moved pretty far away so the long and the short of it is, I have a fuckload of parsnips and tomatoes. I brought them in to the break room in my college (as I've seen other people do) but not a lot of them moved and tomatoes don't keep forever. So I figured I'd mention it to my students (despite the embarrassment) and see if any of them wanted to take one home before I donated them to a pantry.

Dammit Carl! You left the portal to hell open again didn't ya!

Unknown sender.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ok, so we've beaten this to death...

We've beaten it to death so many times.  They can't read.  They can't even think about what they've read.  There are a variety of reasons.  Either they never learned because nobody taught them.  Or they don't want to.  Or it's afluenza, or oppositional-defiance "disorder." Or it may be something legit like dyslexia (which my disdain is not intended to be projected toward).

I have to share today's conversation with you, in which I had a bizarre discussion with a young-feller (whom I shall casually refer to as Beevis).  I created the above flier and posted it around town because private tutoring jobs are few and far between during summer.

*phone ringing*

ME:  Hello.

BEEVIS:  Uh, hi.  I seen your ad posted in the restaurant and was wondering if you were still doing that?

ME:  Yeah, I still do odd-jobs.  What did you have in mind?

BEEVIS:  Uh-huh.  Like, I saw how you're hiring people to do odd jobs and I'm calling about your help-wanted poster.

ME:  It's not a help-wanted flier.

BEEVIS:  huh?

ME:  It's not a help-wanted flier.

BEEVIS:  Oh, so like, what is it then?

ME:  *click*

So, there you have it.  They can understand a simple ad for the next iPhone, but not an odd-jobs poster.

Unknown sender

Holy Fuck. We've Been Wrong All This Time. Two VidShizzlse Found by ELS.

White lies Dr. Amelia has told her students.

  • The low grade on this assessment was lower than what the lowest grade actually was (I tell them it was D+. Truth: it was actually C- for instance)
  • If they do something extra for the class like show up at the speech the adminiflake wants the kids to go to, the extra credit could really make a difference in their grade (Truth: Other stuff I grade gets adjusted so it comes out in the wash and they get a grade that represents mastery of class material)
  • Whatever class I am standing in at the moment is my favorite subject to teach (Truth: There's good and bad about every subject, and the composition of the students makes a huge difference in how your class will go. I am not presently optimistic about you guys).
  • I understand that their head cold/migraine/tummy ache meant they can't come to class. (Truth: I come to class if I am not actively bleeding or vomiting. I secretly question their commitment.)
  • I believe they are sick on Friday morning, when I know it is "alcohol flu" (Truth: When you come in that afternoon to pick up your paper, I know what that magic marker on the back of your hand means. I am not stupid.)
  • I think they sure are lucky to have the chance to go to the Caribbean for Spring Break. I had too much work. (Truth: I do have work, but secretly, the rest of my family doesn't get my Spring Break, and I'm not going to St. Kitts by myself. Also, I can't afford it.)
  • Anyone, if they try hard enough, can learn this skill/understand this material. (Truth: Some of you will never get it. But if you don't try hard, you have no chance)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hi There,

I’m currently working with a number of education bodies who wish to highlight the various nursing and public health qualifications and careers available.

I would like to secure placements, bespoke to your site, for these educational bodies which I think could be of great interest to your site and your audience.

We are interested in Resource Links or Guestposts.

For the privilege of being featured on your site, we would be happy to offer you either a donation towards your site or a contribution of $100, perhaps to a charity of your choice.

We would love to hear back from you.

Sam Isaacs

From Nick

Found this old picture.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

And in other unsurprising news. . .

Following up on the post that is at the top of the page as I write, here's another shocker, courtesy of a "newsletter" that my university's LMS provider insists on sending me (yes, I need to adjust my spam settings, but I do glance at it now and then in a sort of "know the enemy" frame of mind):

Supply is up in online ed but demand is down — now what?

I'm especially fond of the conclusion:
As colleges and universities rethink their marketing strategies for a changing business model, Budd points to one critical need: executive-level attention.
"If you have marketing buried seven layers beneath your campus grounds, there's no way to move that conversation forward," Budd said. "It has to be at the top."

Because adding more administrators/outside contractors is always the answer, and marketing will solve the student-supply (and student-inability-to-pay-any-more) problem. 

My guess at the next breaking news: there isn't an inexhaustible supply of qualified (or even unqualified) international students hungering for a U.S. degree at an exorbitant price. 


Today in Astonishing News That No One Could Have Predicted: Performance-based funding doesn't work.

Let's reward universities for improving their graduation rates. That'll get 'em moving. Right?

Universities in Pennsylvania did not produce more degrees even after operating under performance-based funding for nearly a decade, according to the report. Indiana schools also have failed to measurably boost degree production while at the same time becoming more selective and less diverse. And even after Tennessee ratcheted up financial incentives, universities there did not improve their graduation or retention rates, according to the paper.

In fact, 

States that tie higher education funding to performance have it all wrong, report says
new paper argues that performance-based funding models are reinforcing disparities within higher education and doing little to move the needle on completion. Thirty-two states have funding systems that allocate money to institutions based on performance measures. (Washington Post, May 26)
"Tying funding to performance favors state flagships and other well-heeled schools to the detriment of institutions that could use the most help, the report said."
What a surprise.  Institutions serving students who are not wealthy or well-prepared are at a disadvantage? It's almost as if "graduation from college can be predicted based on student characteristics known before they begin their studies."
But by all means, keep punishing institutions for things that are out of their control.  Because Accountability or something.

Shot over bad grades?

Just read a Fox News report that says yesterday's UCLA shooting was over grades.

- Nick

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Next question?

- unknown but righteous sender

A handy guide for the CM community.

Dr. Jekyll: Say, Hyde, I know you enjoy a good bourbon.

Prof. Hyde: True, it helps when when my regular potion is not available.

Dr. Jekyll: Well then, I believe you would enjoy the following "list" article.

Wild Turkey (101 not 81). 
Essential drinking for essential reading: Elmore 
Leonard. Stash behind Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories.

From Hiram. Song of the Summer? A New VidShizzle From an Old CM Friend.

I know I'm not alone as a subscriber to Compound Cal's music page. I've seen more than a few people on the site mention is past songs, even the much underrated Angry Archie collaboration!

But I admit I've paid as much as $5.99 for a couple of his CDs and I guess we're just fans of the same kind of music, because his songs sound to me like old friends, like songs I'd heard before but then found again afresh.

Anyway, I usually get pinged when a new video goes up on his website, but it's been quiet the past couple of years. And then today this!!

It's my song of the summer. Hi Cal. Can you give me a free t-shirt or now since I shilled for you on my own?