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Archive for the ‘Work-Related Rage’ Category

Short version: budget cuts, unilateral moves by department administrators without adequate explanations, and People Going Crazy.

What hurts my feelings most about this is that I am stressed the fuck out (a) and that people who ACTIVELY HATED ME AND COLLUDED AGAINST ME not so long ago are now seeking me out as an ally (b).  Because, you know, allies.  (The thing about me is that I will say what I think but I have no interest in being an active member in any faction.  Which perhaps makes me ill-suited to life in most English departments.)

You know what I think?  First: do they think I have amnesia?  That I don’t remember when there was a target on my back, placed there by them?  FUCK THEM if they think that I will just join their fucking club as if I DON’T recall when these people went after me.  Second: I care about STUDENTS and not about either this bullshit administrative shit nor do I care about my colleagues (or even me) getting preferred teaching schedules.

Jesus MotherFUCKING Christ.  I am so filled with stress and rage that I can’t even talk about it.

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  • The longer I teach, the more I realize that actual “grading” at the end of the semester means little.  I mean, I go through the motions, but I’ve started doing this thing where I predict what my students will earn based on their work up until about midterm/75% of the way through the semester, and typically what they earn is about what I predict (within a plus or a minus), regardless of end-of-semester assignments.  Now, part of this is because I don’t believe in weighting Finals so heavily that they can totally change a grade.  Part of why I don’t believe in this is pedagogically sound: it’s because, in the classes where this was possible, I used that so heavily to my advantage as an undergraduate, so I slacked for like 10 weeks and then I pulled out all the stops at the end, and I actually didn’t retain or learn very much.  But I won’t lie: part of why I do that now is laziness: the grading at the bitter end will be less brutal for me as a professor.
  • It’s been interesting (and gratifying) for me to see the way that certain students who started out weak at the beginning of the semester (in more than one course) and who took advantage of my offer to meet with them really were able to improve BY VAST AMOUNTS by the end.  They have improved so much, and I really see that as the result of one-on-one instruction.  Worth noting: this is why I get annoyed by colleagues who don’t hold office hours (even though we are “required” to do so) or who make their office hours so rigid that it prohibits students from taking advantage of them.  And when people say, “But students don’t come to office hours,” I will admit that my response is, “Um, mine do.  Sometimes I hold like 6 office hours a week because there is so much demand.”  Maybe it’s not that “students,” generally, won’t come, but that you suck.
  • This is also why I hate the process of student evals, though, because yeah, you might have gotten Ds on a couple of papers, but that doesn’t mean you will get a D in the class. WHY CAN’T STUDENTS UNDERSTAND MATH?  I believe in giving you the D that you deserve, but I also weight earlier grades less than later grades, so you should know that if you LEARN over the course of the semester that you will be fine.  But students (or at least my students) don’t get that, and so I get semi-crappy evaluation numbers, just because THEY CAN’T DO MATH.  They are all like, “she thinks this is a GRADUATE COURSE,” when what I’m actually thinking is, “IMPROVE!”  And almost universally, they do.  And their grades are FINE, in the final estimation.  (When I say “fine,” I mean that a large majority of my students end up in the A-C+ range. And not because of grade inflation.)
  • On Students Not Understanding Math, why do students who haven’t submitted more than 60 percent of the assignments in a course think that taking the final will allow them to pass?  Why do they show up after they have disappeared for 8 weeks?  Just why?
  • I also have had a couple of students this semester who took a course with me at the sophomore level and then another at the junior level, and it’s been gratifying to see (in terms of looking at how my grading shakes out) that those students earned higher grades in the lower level course than in the higher level.  Which, I think, is as it should be.  (Note: I didn’t do this intentionally: it was how it all shook out in terms of assessments and rubrics.)  Expectations should be higher in upper-level courses than in lower-level courses.  I’m glad that mine align with that ideal.
  • I have weird dry skin issues because of the weather this year.  It sucks.  (I typically have really good skin, so perhaps I’m being a baby.  But I am used to having perfect skin, and this is unacceptable.)
  • A thing that has been annoying me lately in my department is that a certain minority of my colleagues have been bitching at Every. Single. Department Meeting. about how their courses don’t make enrollment and about how it’s the fault of the curriculum, and they do so under the auspices of agenda items that are not about this issue, and they never bring forth a proposal (to put on the AGENDA for a vote) to solve the “problem” that they see.  (My annoyance stems from the fact that a) I have to listen to them bitch unproductively, and b) they end up getting “rewarded” with 2 preps rather than 3 preps or the 4 that I teach because their courses get cancelled.) Right, now, however, I am less annoyed because in spite of the fact that I am teaching an upper-level course next semester that is for all intents and purposes a “new” course (it’s been on the books since Vietnam – literally – but it hasn’t been taught for the 10 years I’ve been here) is totally fine in terms of enrollment, whereas some courses that should have NO PROBLEM (think: SHAKESPEARE) have been cancelled.  Here’s the thing: maybe the problem isn’t the curriculum, or the students, or the schedule.  MAYBE THE PROBLEM IS YOU.  The problem doesn’t appear to be ME, even though I am ostensibly among the toughest (if not the toughest) professor in the department.  (These colleagues often argue that the problem is because their courses are the most rigorous… except that’s totally not what’s going on.)
  • The dating.  Where do I begin?  There are two primary guys right now: Geographically Convenient Guy (who literally lives like an 8-minute leisurely walk from my house) and Tortured Artist (whom I will go out with this weekend).  I like GCG a lot. (We met Tuesday.) Partly because of the convenience, I won’t lie, but even aside from that, he has lots of good qualities.  I’m less enthralled with TA, just because he seems so EARNEST (though perhaps I will find that he is a delight upon meeting? And I do like his name better than I like the name of GCG, which I realize is weird and shallow, but a good name goes a long way).  At the end of the day, though, I’m enjoying the dating fun, and it is taking the edge off the end of the semester nicely.  Worth noting: I found both of these dudes in the sad sea of what I think is the cesspool of internet dating – Plenty of Fish.  Also worth noting: they are both better (on paper, and in life) than any guy I’ve ever found on sites that require one to pay money… it just took me sifting through the dregs of society to find them.  (Seriously: the DREGS.)  So we shall see.

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So today, as with every Tuesday, I was back on campus less than 12 hours after I left it, because I have The Most Awful Schedule Ever for the Third Semester in a Row.  That’s not news.  And yes, most Tuesdays I end with me feeling depleted.

But I’m especially exhausted today because it was the Big Deadline for an internal grant for which I applied.  I also had a couple of other things to apply for internally – one by the end of the week and one by next Monday, so I bit the bullet and completed all three applications (which all required just slightly different information and formats, so it was a total pain in the ass) today.  Depleted doesn’t begin to cover it.

The Big Grant application I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks.  And I’m in no way certain of getting it, even though I was very diligent in formulating the application and making sure I hit all of the items on the rubric that they use to evaluate it.  (Side note: it is SO MUCH BETTER, if more time intensive, now that The Committee that Decides on Internal Grants actually explains what the application requires, what projects can be funded through this grant, and what criteria are used in evaluation.  When I first arrived 10 years ago, there was little to no concrete guidance about what the applications should include, which was… problematic.)  But anyway, even with that diligence and investment of time, why am I unsure about my prospects?  Well, first off, people in The Humanities rarely get this particular award.  I’m not sure if it’s because people don’t apply or if it’s because they don’t understand how to write grant applications or if it’s because there is a gigantic bias against research in the humanities because my colleagues across campus don’t understand it or value it.  Probably some combination of the three.

But I had an idea for the Big Grant (by big I’m just referring to the application in relation to the other stuff I applied for – it will give me personally no actual money, but if I get it then it will pay for some software/work that will buy me time, which would be grand) that I thought I could sell to people outside the humanities, which they would understand as research and not “clerical work” (which let’s note constitutes a lot of what “research” in the humanities involves but no level of explanation seems to penetrate the brains of my colleagues outside of my discipline or the brains of my administration, who value research involving labs and co-authors much more highly than they value the kind of stuff that people in single-author fields do). So I feel like I’ve got a 50/50 shot.  But if I get it, then I will totally write about it here and tell every single colleague who cares in the humanities in my institution about it, because I might have discovered the One True Way to get access to this money.  Maybe.  But it definitely ain’t a sure thing.

And then I submitted another application for professional development money from my College, which I think has a pretty good shot, depending.  Depending on what?  Depending on how many people apply.  Because I got this money last year, and I can imagine them denying me if there were first time applicants in the pool if there were more applicants than there was money.

And then I submitted an application for a course release, which I’m about 99 percent sure I will not receive, mainly because the only reason I was “allowed” to submit the request was because a colleague of mine was told by the provost to submit one, and my chair (kudos to my new chair!) wanted to be equitable and open up the opportunity to others who had expressed interest.  See, my dean has basically said to the chairs (“basically” meaning that all of this has happened not as a policy matter that is in writing but rather as an ad hoc thing he has “told” them and they’ve gone along with since 2010) that course releases for anything other than administrative purposes won’t be considered.  Because, you know, he can’t be bothered to read and to reject applications for release time for other things, I guess.  On the one hand, this is about the budget, and I get it.  On the other hand, how are you going to fight for more money in the budget if you have no clue what faculty are doing and you have no evidence that more resources are needed?  (Note: course releases are available for research in other colleges at my institution).  My dean is “stepping up” to faculty after this academic year (don’t you love that euphemism?).  I’ll let you infer how I feel about that.

So basically I invested about 20 hours of time in composing applications for institutional support for my research, support that would ultimately benefit my institution in a host of ways – student success, getting a woman in my department fully promoted, institutional reputation – and I might end up with nothing for those efforts.  But hey, you can’t get support if you don’t ask for it.  And you can’t bitch legitimately if you don’t get denied the support that you need.

All this work isn’t for nothing, even if none of it works out.  It’s prepared me for external grant applications for next year, and it’s got me started thinking in a systematic way about my THIRD book project (even though I’m not done with the second one).  This is all good.  And it’s also good to do these things because it makes me recognize the quality of my ideas and the high esteem in which my work is regarded outside of my institution, mainly because such applications require you to self-promote.

That said?  I am exceptionally pleased that I don’t need to write anything for a while that waxes poetic about how important I am.  I hate this fucking genre, though apparently I’ve gotten a hell of a lot better at doing it in the 10 years I’ve been on the tenure-track.  And I’m feeling satisfied, because even if I don’t get diddly from all of this effort, at least I know that I’ve communicated what I am doing and the value of what I am doing without apology.  I’d rather dare them to say no than anticipate rejection and fail to try.

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I am a person, historically, who has great difficulty with 1) not getting all riled up when contentious items are discussed in a meeting and 2) not speaking my mind about those contentious issues.  This has been a problem for me throughout my career – beginning in graduate school (seriously), continuing through my pre-tenure years (though I worked really, really hard – sometimes even successfully – to control my impulses during that time), and coming into full flower in my years since earning tenure.

But in the past year or two, I’ve realized that the only person I’m hurting by giving into those impulses to get Riled Up and to Speak My Mind is myself.  See, it turns out that my righteous indignation and impassioned speeches have not tended, most of the time, to make a real difference in things that are stupid.  And when they have made a difference, I’ve often had to pay for the difference that was made in the form of bearing the brunt of various kinds of blame, more work, and less job satisfaction.  So, I’ve been trying to mold myself into a “new, serene me.”

Today, I think that I reached a new milestone in my quest for serenity.  See, I knew that a particular discussion item on an agenda promised to be tense – that the discussion might even become shouty.  So I brought my most complicated lace project that I’m knitting to this meeting.  Oh happy day!  The meeting was tense, and some people did get a little exercised.  But not me!  I was focused on yarning over and slip-slip-knits and kitting two and three together!  Purling purling purling on the even rows! I listened, and I had opinions about what was said, but my hands were busy.  I made one comment – and it was productive.  Otherwise, I kept my head down, stitching away.  (Note: I wonder if in a less egalitarian time historically if this is how women used their handcrafts – to allow them not to lose their minds at things that pissed them off.)

Now, nothing was decided as a result of that discussion, and nothing was accomplished either.  By staying out of it for the most part, I didn’t shirk any responsibility, nor did I just check out of the discussion – I was very engaged in listening.  What I did accomplish, though, was keeping my head cool and getting through 6 rows of my pattern.  And further: I was not the most angry person in that meeting!

Will anything actually happen with this contentious issue?  Maybe something will, but not before next academic year, if at all, and if it really comes up for something more than discussion, like in the form of a voting item, that will be my moment to sound off.  But for now?  I am so happy that I didn’t get provoked.

 

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Yes, I have the PMS.  This makes me bitchy and mean.  And probably less politically astute than I should be.

So my righteous indignation?  Let me produce two scenarios for you:

1) There is a rule that prohibits cross-listing courses that count for General Education credit with courses that could count for something else.  The idea being, according to our accreditation agency, that we should actually have a unified, real general education program.  Seems pretty clear, right?  Gen Ed should be separate from other enterprises.  It should be a program.  This is the spirit of the thing.  Wouldn’t you think that this would imply that you probably shouldn’t offer a course that is, technically, separate from the gen ed course, but which meets in the same room, with the same texts, and with the same instructors, with the same discussion?

Regardless of whether it’s not a technical cross-listing, that is the same class, right?  Apparently, the people in charge of putting the schedule together in my department didn’t see the logic in this.  “NO!” they said.  “It’s not the same course!”

2) Imagine that prior to this semester, the only courses that were in danger of being cancelled just so happened to be ones that would be affected by the (illegal) cross-listing.  (Yes, mine was one of those, though it all worked out in the end.  Look: I don’t apologize for my turfiness in this.)  And let’s also imagine that a colleague (that would be me) would have alerted the people in charge of the schedule to this problem in like February.  And let’s imagine that this person (ME) is the one who will be most fucked over by ignoring her earlier complaint.  “You shouldn’t judge the way your colleagues teach their course (in the field that you were actually hired to teach in! which neither of them are MOTHERFUCKING QUALIFIED to teach in), Crazy.  You are unreasonable, even though you are explaining very reasonable things about upper-division course enrollments and how they work.”

Combine 1) and 2).  Imagine Crazy in the white hot center of both, and imagine her department administrators treating her like she doesn’t know what the fuck she is talking about.  GRBEWAAAAAHHH!  Yes, I might have been a little bit of a monster.  And I might have made an indication about it to my dean, and I might have tattled about it to the director of the general education program.

BECAUSE HARRY POTTER IS NOT THE MOTHERFUCKING EQUIVALENT OF ULYSSES AND FOUR NOVELS BY VIRGINIA WOOLF, INCLUDING JACOB’S ROOM, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, ORLANDO, AND BETWEEN THE MOTHERFUCKING ACTS!  (Ok, that last motherfucking is not a “technically correct” part of the title.)

The point is, I was an asshole all day, because I was RIGHT, and only after my chair was told by the Dean to do what I said did this situation get resolved in a reasonable fashion.   CLEARLY you wouldn’t think that I know SHIT.  As I wrote on Facebook today, this place is totally fucking bogus.

The bad news (or maybe good news?) about all of this is that I’ve finalized the books I’ll teach in my upper-level course in the spring, all inspired by teaching a course that is for motherfucking adults and not children.  Problematically, primary themes will be madness, suicide, abortion, rape, incest, drugs and alcoholism, and murder.  Ah, well, these are all award-winning stylistically phenomenal novels! Fuck you, students!  Fuck you, colleagues!  Fuck you, me!  Deal with it!

And yeah, I submitted my application for the NEH Enduring Questions Grant.  No, my “Enduring Question” was not, “Why not fucking kill the people I work with?”  It also was not, “Why not kill myself?”

But it is submitted, two days before the deadline.  And if I get it, I’ll talk about it LOADS.  Until then, you have to put up with my rage (at least when I’m PMSy and righteously indignant.)

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Fed the Motherfuck Up

I understand that the course of true academia does not run smoothe.  I understand that there are snags and kerfuffles and miscommunications and problematic situations.  And, for the most part, I accept all of that.

But I am motherfucking fucking done with this semester, for the following reasons:

1) When I object to sloppy argumentation in a grad student’s culminating project, it is not appropriate for my colleague to counter with, “but a lot of feminist scholarship does the same thing, so isn’t this bullshit ok?”  (Note: what I said was, “um, it’s still sloppy argumentation.  Yeah, I’m a feminist, but I’m a scholar first, and you can’t get me to back down by pulling the, “your sisters did this first” card.  Because I don’t give a shit if there is shitty feminist scholarship that you want to cite as a precedent for this shitty scholarship – it’s still shitty, and I, as a feminist, refuse to sign off on it.  Fuck you and your full professor rank.)

2) No, my fucked up teaching schedule is not my fucking fault, even if I have innate curiosity and excitement about new things.  It is not a matter of me needing to “figure out what I want to be when I grow up,” and yes, that is a direct quote from my chair.  It’s even more clear that it’s not my fucking fault given my chair’s question today, after I gave him my “what I want to be when I grow up” schedule, about “whether I’d be interested” in teaching one course out of my field and another barely in my field in order not to have those courses deleted from the catalog . This immediately after I’d given him a two year rotation based on “what I want to be when I grow up,” as well as on what I was hired to do, and which I already have compromised on because “but we really need you to do x, y, and z because of all the things.)  Note: I’ve got something like 11 preps over 4 semesters while many colleagues of mine have… um…. maybe 6.  Also, let’s note, he didn’t ask those others whether they’d “be interested” in these dead fucking courses, even though they are precisely the people who can’t make enrollment and who aren’t contributing to our major.

3)  I’m a bad teacher this semester.  I’m not going to lie.  I am. In two of four classes. You know why, though?  Because workload in my world is not distributed equitably.  And because I’m floundering and because I’m fucking my students over because I can’t handle it.  And it sucks.  And I don’t want to do it, but here I am.  Fuck.

4) Drawing a line in the sand about what is “fair” isn’t necessarily what is just for faculty or what is best for students.  I’m just saying.  And it’s also not necessarily what’s best for a department.  It is the path of least resistance, though.  And that’s *grand* for conflict-averse administrators.

And with all of the above?  I am now in a mode in which I am all about extricating myself from obligations and I’m all about taking care of myself.  ‘Cause you know what?  Why should I take care of anybody else?  And I hate being so self-serving, and I hate being put in the position where I can’t do what’s best because doing the best means that I’m getting fucked over.  I hate that I can’t do my best work, but rather that I have to protect myself instead.

It’s worth noting that even this is a privilege – a privilege of tenure – that I can tell people to fuck off for fucking me over or putting me in a position that is compromising.  But I’m angry.  What kind of privilege is the privilege of saying “go to hell?”  What kind of privilege is the privilege of saying, “I hate you and I hate everything you stand for, or I hate everything about you because you refuse to stand for anything that matters?”  That’s not a privilege.  That’s garbage.

So I’m fed up.  And I’m not playing this game anymore.  And the only pleasure in that is that the people who want me to play this game will be in a bind when they realize that I refuse to play.  And it sucks.  Not only in my work-life, but also for students, who honestly deserve better.  Well, at least “my” students will get better.  But fuck the rest of them, and fuck my department.  Because while I hate it, I’m nobody’s martyr.  And no student would be best served by my being one.

 

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So I made a mistake last spring.  I thought I was being a good department citizen, when I made this mistake.  A good teacher, a generous scholar.  The warning signs were there that it was a mistake, and yet, I made the mistake anyway.

The long and the short of it is this: I agreed to serve as a reader on a graduate student’s culminating project.  Now, being a reader is nowhere near the time commitment of directing a project, and, in theory, the director or directors of the project are really responsible for the thing.  Or at least that’s how I understand the work of directing, which, incidentally, is something that I am doing for two students right now.  When I took them both on, I took them on knowing that it would be a substantial increase in my workload, and I agreed willingly.  The reader is there to come in during the final stages to add a layer of vetting, but the reader is not supposed to be the one who will blast the thing to kingdom come.  To agree to be a reader is really not a big thing to which to say yes, in theory.

But I hadn’t worked with the student, and, as I said, the warning signs were definitely there that things could go horribly awry.  I registered concerns then, but I said yes anyway.  Did I mention that this was a mistake?

Today I looked at the first half of the student’s culminating project and… wait for it… There Are Major, Deal-Breaking Problems.  The good news is that I had insisted that I get a copy of the project weeks in advance of when I was supposed to get a copy  (if things had gone according to the required schedule, I’d not have seen this disaster until next week or the week after), so I’m not dropping this massive bomb on the student at the last minute.  If the student devotes hir entire life to the project for the next three weeks, it’s possible that ze can eke out a pass and graduate on schedule.  But seriously: this shit should not happen.

So I feel bad (and angry) for a number of reasons.

  1. I hate the fact that I had to eviscerate the work of a student who doesn’t know me, really.  It’s one thing to eviscerate the work of a student with whom one has developed a working relationship.  Those students know that my heart is in the right place, and even if they hate me for being a meanie, they still know what they are in for ahead of time.  They also know that I will give them the support to whip the piece into shape, if only they ask.  But because there isn’t that working relationship in place with this student, well, I’m feeling like a bad person for calling the student out, even though I know I’m absolutely right to do so.
  2. I blame, resent, and feel deeply angry at my colleagues who are “directing” this project.  Whatever this student’s failings, weaknesses, or errors, I don’t actually blame the student for what has happened here.  Yes, ze could have sought me out earlier for advice, but ze had two fucking professionals who were supposed to be giving feedback.  They were supposed to take that responsibility seriously, and they were supposed to make sure that this didn’t happen to the student.  They were supposed to care about the student, and even if the student doesn’t know me, these jacktards do.  At some point, perhaps they should have noticed there was a problem and communicated that to the student?  At some point, shouldn’t they have read the student’s work carefully?  And communicated to the student that it is in no way, shape, or form acceptable?
  3. I feel entirely disheartened that a student could have gone through all of the coursework in our graduate program and somehow not learned the expectations of graduate-level work in our discipline.

But so yes, I get to be the uncompromising bitch.  Lucky me.  And the student gets to be blindsided three weeks from hir scheduled defense date, basically because lots of people over the past two years failed to do their motherfucking jobs.  And yes, some of the responsibility lies with the student, but I honestly don’t place all or even most of the blame there.  We’re supposed to be teachers, and we’re supposed to push them to meet a standard by the time they are completing the program.  If we don’t do our jobs, I don’t know how we can legitimately expect for students to do theirs.

So I spent three motherfucking goddamned hours reading and commenting extensively on the steaming pile of poo that constitutes this half of the student’s project.  Three hours that I did not have.  And I was hard-core harsh, partly so that the student would have no confusion about the fact that this could make graduation impossible, and partly so that my colleagues would feel ashamed of themselves (though I’m not sure that they understand that they should).  And I hated every minute of it.  (At one point toward the end I was so angry that I had to leave my office and walk briskly all over the department to give me the strength to continue on to the end.)

Now, the politics of my response to this student are complicated.  They are complicated by the need to graduate students from the program, which is administratively important.  They are complicated by the fact that these two “directors” are senior to me, and the one who was primarily responsible for this part of the student’s project is a full professor, whereas I am not.  So my response to the student is more than just a response to this student: it’s a giant fuck-you to our program, and a giant fuck-you to my colleagues.  There’s no way to pretend it’s not that, too, and I’m not sure what the fallout of that will be for me.

At the same time, if tenure provides anything, it provides one with the freedom to take a stand, even if it pisses people off.  (One of the problems in our program, I’d argue, is that many committees have been populated with people without tenure, who feel a lot of pressure not to challenge senior colleagues on their estimations of student work.  Many tenured people in our department have refused to work with graduate students, and yes, that is fucked up, which is one reason why I ultimately agreed to be on this committee in the first place.) Another thing in my favor is the fact that I’m a better scholar than any of the people I might have pissed off – I’m more widely published, and I’m more respected for my research.  Nobody can actually say that I’m “wrong” about the major points that I noted that need to be addressed, and even if they dispute some of the minor points, no one could argue that I’m not qualified to have made those points.  So maybe nobody will respond to my fuck-you, though given some of the personalities involved…. I’m not hopeful.

I really hate that I was put into a position in which a student’s work is central to the stand that I really, ethically, had to take.  And I do blame myself – if I’d just said no at the outset, as I knew I should have done, then I wouldn’t be complicit in this horrible situation.  But then that goes back to my colleagues who won’t work with our graduate students – opting out is as irresponsible and as bad an option as what I’m participating in right now.

But so even though I was harsh with the student, I have spoken with ze and offered to meet after ze has taken a couple of days to process my feedback.  Basically, I’ve offered to do the job that a director should do: to provide the student with a map for addressing the problems.  And I’m resentful that I have to do that, but leaving the student to twist in the wind is not at all a palatable option to me.

So I will get through this particular situation.  And it will be fine, whatever the fallout.  But I have sent an email to our DGS that I will not agree to work with any student who has not previously or is not currently taking a course with me.  It’s not fair to the student, and it’s not fair, quite frankly, to me. I don’t like being an uncompromising bitch to people who don’t already have a strong working relationship with me.  And, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to be.

I refuse to make this particular mistake again.

 

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I wish this were the first time I’d found myself in this situation, but sadly, it’s very, very familiar.

I am, whether I like it or not, a capable person.  That means that I am often put in positions in which I have responsibilities.  And sometimes those responsibilities are above and beyond the norm for the service component of my job.  What this means is that sometimes, because I am a human being, I need some assistance in order to be able to do the jobs that I’m being asked to do.  It might be that I need a particular schedule, or I might need a course release, or I might need some other sort of acknowledgment that I’m doing more than the job that I was hired to do.  Basically, I need help, or my performance in all the areas of my job will suffer.

And so I ask for what I need.  Nicely.

And then an administrator acts like I’m crazy and unreasonable and that I should just suck it up.

And then I threaten the administrator with quitting doing the thing that they very much want me to do, which is actually pretty scary for them because they know that I mean it and that I have every intention of quitting the thing that they very much want me to do, and that I have a big mouth and I’ll make it very clear far and wide why I quit doing the thing, which then means they won’t be able to sucker somebody else into doing the thing without ponying up the resources to do it right.

And so then I wait a while, and either I get what I want and I do the job they want me to do but that they didn’t actually want to give me any resources to do, or I don’t get what I want and I don’t do the job that I don’t have the resources to do.  Honestly, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other to me.  And I don’t actually care whether people are happy with me or not because if I do end up backing out I’ll do it in the most professional way possible, with lots of notice, and so even if people are unhappy they won’t really be able to say anything against me.

But the thing about the above scenario that drives me nuts is that I have to keep playing this motherfucking game.  I mean, seriously.  These people know me.  They know how I operate.  They know exactly what I think about nearly everything in the whole world.  I am, sometimes to my detriment, a very direct and open person.  But so why, WHY do they make me threaten them?  I mean, they know that I’m going to do so, and they know I’ll mean it, so why do they make me be a bully?  Why don’t they just either hop to it and figure out a way to give me what I need to do my job or tell me flat-out-no, and say that they understand if I quit?  Why, WHY must we go through this same old song and dance every freaking time?  It’s annoying, and it is a waste of time – something that I don’t have enough of in the first place, which is why I went to them in the first place.

And it’s always administrators who do this.  Do they not realize that I am not, in fact, an administrator myself?  And that this means that if they want me to do a massive admin task and to do it well that something will have to give somewhere?  And wouldn’t it be easier if they just supported me in doing the work that they want me to do rather than fighting me when I say I need some support?  And wouldn’t it be helpful if instead of trying to guilt me into doing work for nothing they acknowledged that they need me to do this particular job and that they’ll try to do something to assist me, even if it’s not the thing that I asked for?  Do these people have no people skills?  Or do they just think that most people won’t pull the trigger on making a threat or carrying it out, so it’s a numbers game that they win more frequently than not?  So then they wait for me to be a bully (or if we want to be even more honest about what people think I am, a bitch) and only then will they do what they can to help me?  I don’t fucking know.  What I do know is that I am sick and tired of this bullshit.

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Let’s say that you’re going to hold a day-long event for faculty that is about teaching.  The spirit that drives the event is entirely good, and those organizing it have absolutely the best intentions.  Yes, such events are often… disappointing in a lot of ways, for a lot of different reasons.  That said, I’m not against such events.  For one thing, I understand that things like this are work, and I understand that work means that some things will be disappointing or frustrating.  And I also want to state up front that I am, in spite of what follows, actually glad I went to the event that inspires this post, because in spite of the event itself, I did manage, I think, to have some exceptionally productive conversations – with my dean, with my provost, with colleagues from across the institution, hell, even with my department chair and with colleagues in my own department.  However, here are some things that you might not want to do, if you are going to hold such an event:

  • Schedule the conference for the Wednesday before classes begin, meaning that even if everything is awesome and illuminating and causes epiphanies in the way that people think about their teaching they don’t actually have any time to incorporate any of what they learn into their courses.
  • Have the continental breakfast begin at 7:30 in the morning.  7:30 is too motherfucking early for human beings to interact with one another unless they are family.
  • Begin with a “performance” – which starts at 8:30 in the goddamned morning, which involves a lot of stomping and shouting and that doesn’t have a clear connection to anything to do with teaching.
  • Beginning with that 8:30 performance, schedule people within an inch of their lives until approximately 4:30 in the afternoon.  Seriously: there were only two – TWO! – breaks in the day…. both of which were according to the schedule supposed to be fifteen minutes in length.  Because everything ran over, the breaks were shortened to like 5 minutes a piece.
  • Expect the lunch to be a “working lunch” – so, no, lunch was not a break.
  • Claim that the conference is supposed to be about productive conversation and then set it up so that people attend sessions in which they are talked at for over an hour.  Conversations be damned!
  • Fail to include any sessions on actual, you know, students.  How in god’s name are we supposed to be talking about teaching productively when we never think about students as actual people who are central to what we do?  Well, except for when people criticize them as uncaring, irresponsible illiterates.  Students did certainly come up in that context.
  • Fail to talk about curriculum.  As with the previous bullet, I don’t understand how we can talk about “effective teaching” if we don’t talk about what we actually teach.  But god forbid we have a real conversation.  Real conversations are exceptionally uncomfortable.
  • End the day with something that wasn’t on the schedule – forcing people to watch a video from the internet.  Take 20 minutes to introduce the person speaking on the video, even though he is not actually at the conference and is not going to speak about anything related to it.  This choice move extended the already LONG day by a good 40 minutes.  AWESOME!  A clear demonstration of “active learning”!
  • Lie to the attendees, telling them that they will only be eligible for not inconsequential raffle prizes if they are there at the end of the day for the drawing.  The drawing that doesn’t happen until after the motherfucking forced video viewing.  And then, when the first winner is drawn, and the “lucky winner” had already left to pick up their children, don’t follow through and draw again.  Oh no, that’s apparently a “good reason.”  (Let’s note: this was fucking over at least 250 people.)
  • Hold the event at a place from which it is impossible to escape, now that it’s rush hour, because of awful road construction, which means that the attendees will have a drive that is two to three times as long home as would be normal.  I’d say that this construction affected nearly 2/3 of the attendees, because of the dumb location.

You know what I’d like a hell of a lot more than the 11-hour day I endured?  Actual conversations about teaching with my colleagues.  Like, once a month, or every couple of weeks, schedule something that is an hour long.  Have a focused topic, like “the syllabus.”  If you attend, you’re expected to bring a copy of one syllabus that you use.  And then we share them, and talk to each other about them.  Doesn’t cost money (this monstrosity today had to cost thousands of dollars), doesn’t require “speakers,” and might actually foster a culture of support for teaching and for innovation in teaching.  Might actually value teaching and the work that we do as teachers, and might actually show some respect for students.

But hey.  I got my 50 dollar starbucks card for staying until the bitter end, and a glass and a half of wine.  Who cares about actually accomplishing anything?

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Passing the Buck

So my institution, like many others, has some reporting requirements that people must satisfy after sabbatical.  One of these is monitored by the Provost’s office, so it typically gets done.  That said, this one is also one that anybody with half a brain can fudge.  The other is, apparently, not monitored by anyone.  It’s in the faculty handbook, but the handbook doesn’t say who keeps track of whether it happens.  And this is the reporting requirement that would really put a person on the spot and would make it clear whether the person was telling a mountain of lies or whether the person actually produced anything during sabbatical.  As you might imagine, there are a number of likely suspects who shirk the second requirement.

This issue has come up in our department, and basically the issue has been dumped back in the individual faculty member’s lap.  This does two things: it absolves administrators of any responsibility for the way that our department handles the second requirement, and it quietly authorizes the same abuses that people now perpetrate.  Slackers can continue to slack because nobody’s watching, and productive people can have the burden of hiding those who don’t follow the rules. Nobody’s responsible, and everybody’s complicit in something that is unethical, uncollegial, and really destructive.

Awesome!

I have no answers.  I’ve made suggestions to no avail, and I am not willing to fight the good fight on this issue.  I do enough.  So basically, I communicated to my chair that I will schedule my own reporting requirement #2 when three colleagues who have refused to fulfill this requirement do that for themselves – in other words, when hell freezes over. I recognize that choice only exacerbates the problem, but you know, that’s what happens when people in leadership roles dump things back in other people’s laps rather than getting their hands dirty.  At a certain point, the people you used to count on stop agreeing to be dumped upon.  Doesn’t seem like a great management strategy to me, but that, at the end of the day, isn’t my problem.

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