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Archive for the ‘Work-Related Rage’ Category

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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Let’s say you work at a university.  The student population is primarily commuter, and you live in an area of the country that apparently has some sort of selective amnesia about the fact that it snows every freaking winter, and thus there is not adequate snow removal and the people, they don’t know how to drive in the snow.  Oh, and it’s hilly.  And the roads are curvy.  It’s awesome.

But so anyway, even more awesome than that is when the weather people predict a major storm for days.  And when first thing in the morning, pretty much every school is closing, even though the storm hadn’t really started yet, anticipating the Massive Motherfucking Snowstorm that would hit during the day.  But my institution, oh no, it does not believe in “predictions” about weather.  Clearly these “meteorologists” are not scientists but rather some sort of voodoo astrologers or something.  Instead, my institution likes to open up and then send everybody home from campus when the weather begins to deteriorate and the roads become dangerous.  They also don’t like to let you know about the decision to close campus in the middle of the day with any reasonable amount of notice.

So.  I took myself to campus to teach today, in spite of my better judgment, because I knew my students would likely have dragged themselves in, and I felt obligated to go.  I mean, sure, I could have made the call to cancel because of weather myself, but what if a student of mine didn’t check his or her email or look at Blackboard?  What if I decided to cancel too late and the students were already on their way in to campus?  And also, what if not all their other classes are canceled, so my cancellation either encourages them to make the decision to miss all of their other classes, even though those classes are meeting?  Or, conversely, what if they go in for their other classes which are meeting, and me canceling means they are wasting this huge chunk of time in their day? The university frowns upon faculty canceling class because of weather, but yet, it procrastinates about making the call.

This is not the first time this has happened.

This storm was not a surprise.  We all watched it heading here for days. So here’s a tip, president of my university: call the motherfucking snow day before people get in their cars to commute to campus.  Understand that not doing so puts every university worker and every student at risk.  And it puts your faculty in a ridiculous position of either violating university policy to protect students or of following university policy and putting students at risk.  It is, in a word, asinine.

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Groundhog Day

So, yesterday I got to send my twice yearly email in which I explain to the person who does the scheduling in the department that the days of the week on which I teach are not negotiable.  Or, rather, if someone wants to change the days of the week on which I teach, then that’s fine, but then I am going to stop serving on the most stressful, most time-consuming university-wide and college-wide committees, which meet weekly on a particular day/time.  A day/time that I would like to work with my teaching schedule and with my research obligations, as opposed to against those things.  No, Colleague, I am not willing to be on campus five days per week when I am also

a) doing really crappy service (which, incidentally, no one else will do, and it was difficult for them even to find a temporary replacement for me during my sabbatical this semester).

b) teaching a night class.

c) teaching an online class.

d) teaching four preps.

No, Colleague, I will not take one for the team.  If there is a problem with the schedule on the days of the week that I’ve requested for my teaching schedule, then that means that you will have to ask one or more of the people who do not do a, b, c, or d to change their schedules.  I know.  You think that I’m a real bitch for expecting you to earn the course releases that you get for doing the schedule.  I know those other people are mean, and you don’t want to confront them.  I understand that you’d rather get “nice” people like me to do what you want, than force the “mean” people to do something that they don’t want to do.  Except, um, no. I say no.  I’ve actually said no for four semesters.  In a row.  Perhaps you could make a note of it to yourself?  Because seriously?  If I need to explain this one more time, I might fucking lose my mind.  Or slap you until you see that you need to stop asking me to change my schedule around to accommodate people who don’t fucking do as much as I fucking do.  If those people want my schedule, then they can have my committee work.  It’s really not that difficult.

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I think it’s garbage when new faculty members are given terrible teaching schedules (or extra-heavy or inappropriate service commitments, or whatever) because the people in charge  are too fucking timid to make people with tenure carry their weight.  Brand new colleagues should not be shit on so that the rest of us can be comfortable.  I don’t care how people try to spin it – it’s wrong.

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In recent weeks, this topic keeps coming up.  The topic of, “Omgwhowilltakeoveraschairwhencurrentchair’stermisupomgCRAZY!”  Now, I think this is happening for a number of reasons, few of which actually have to do very much with me, my career aspirations, or my abilities.  I think it’s happening because of a style issue with our current chair (who really is great, but who is a little on the contemplative and quiet side as opposed to the forceful and strong leader side).  I think it’s happening because of departmental culture issues that stretch back at least 15 years, if not 30-40.  I think it’s happening because of the continuing pounding the budget keeps getting, years of no raises, years of reorganizations of everything from curriculum to how department productivity is counted.  I think it’s happening because people are feeling very overwhelmed.

And here’s the thing.  I’m a big picture sort of person, and I do tend to be able to get people on board and to make certain sorts of things happen.  In times like this, a person with those qualities seems like a great option for chair.  But here are the things that I know:

  1. I know that I would never be willing to become chair for what they’d pay me to do it (seriously: I’d prostitute myself for less money than it would cost them to convince me to become chair), and I’d never become chair before attaining the rank of full professor.
  2. I know that a 12-month contract would make my heart hurt.
  3. I know that the job of chair includes a heck of a lot more than big ideas: it includes endless meetings, dealing with endless amounts of bullshit from both faculty and students, as well as from administrators higher up, and having to be in one’s office five days a week during normal business hours.
  4. I know that if a person becomes chair he/she has to care about things like the department budget and how much is being spent on photocopies.  In the abstract, I sort of care about that.  But spending any amount of time actually thinking about that sort of piddly crap?  The thought of that makes me cringe.
  5. I know that I do not have the patience to put up with nonsense from people who are idiots, and I don’t have interest in keeping the peace when I think people are wrong.  Thus, a department with me at the helm would be one where a lot of people would be really angry because I wouldn’t put up with their crap.  And then I’d get horrible chair evals and then I’d be ousted as chair.

Yes, I want things to improve in my department.  I want morale to be better; I want my colleagues and my students to excel; I want to enjoy going to my job.  But it is entirely possible to want those things and even to work very hard to make those things happen while thinking that administration is not one’s cup of tea.  It is entirely possible that I’d rather not get the negligible salary bump and instead be a very involved faculty member.  It is entirely possible that I’d rather teach four courses per semester than get 3 courses of reassigned time in order to deal with assholes and go to meetings.  It is entirely possible that I still have ideas that I want to pursue, both in teaching and in research, that I think are much more important and interesting than running a department.  It is entirely possible that just because I’m a good department citizen does not mean that I want my whole job to become service (which, dude, that’s what being chair is).

I have no administrative ambitions.  Money doesn’t motivate me.  I don’t have any interest in sacrificing my career as a professor for my institution or even for my department.  It’s not that taking on an administrative role would be crossing over to the dark side or something dumb like that.  It’s that not all professors should become administratorsIt’s that putting me in an administrative role would take all of my good qualities and grind them into dust!

I care more about myself than I do about my department or my institution.  And that, friends, is why I why I do not ever want to become chair of my department.

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I have no idea what my teaching schedule is.  I mean, I know what I’m teaching next semester and when (at least for the moment).  But I do not know what I will teach in the future.  At all.  Well, that’s sort of a lie.  I’m likely teaching from a selection of about 15 – yes, that’s right, 15 – different courses.  Fifteen courses that are in my current teaching arsenal.  No idea which ones.  Because there is no pattern.  There has never been a pattern.  No matter how hard I try to make a pattern happen.  Because since I teach so many different things, I’m often the person who is asked to switch up the rotation of my courses to fill a need.   And hell, they could even ask me to teach something above and beyond one of those 15.  It’s been known to happen.

I had high hopes that with my university finally entering the 20th century and deciding to list when courses would be offered in the catalog that I would finally understand what I taught when.  But apparently half of what I teach is going to be listed as “variable.”  What. The.  Fuck.

I do not want my courses to be listed as variable.  I want my courses to be set in stone on a four-year rotation. I want switching my stuff around to be the exception and for it to happen only in totally dire circumstances, but apparently, that is too much to want.  And so I can’t plan, and I have no fucking clue what I’m doing, and I hate everything.  I would very much love for somebody to be in charge of the schedule in my department and to make the thing, I don’t know, an actual motherfucking schedule. There is a person who gets a stipend and course releases in order to do this, and yet, here I am.

And I’ve been such a bitch about so many things lately (because sabbatical has removed whatever shred of tact I had left after tenure) I feel like I shouldn’t be a total bitch about this, because in the grand scheme of things you really do catch more flies with honey than with bitchiness, and I felt like I should frame my irritation as a question rather than an accusation or a demand, but I feel like I don’t even care if I catch flies anymore but rather that I just want to tell people to do their fucking jobs and stop expecting me to be this rock who just handles things so that they can avoid conflict with people who suck.  Look, I understand wanting to avoid conflict with those people who suck, but if you’re going to be an administrator, those are the breaks.

I am just so, so tired of being burdened with other people’s shit.  Look, I am willing and able to teach 15 different classes.  I would just like to have a tiny clue about when I might be teaching them.  So, you know, I can be an effective teacher.  It’s really not that difficult to understand.

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I really had thought that sabbatical would mellow me out.  I had thought that the time away would allow me to decompress, and that my outlook and attitude would improve.  It’s been interesting to watch the opposite occur, however.  See, apparently I didn’t have time to get really pissed off before.  I was so busy that I had to just keep plugging along in order to get my classes taught and my committee work done and and and.  But now.  Now I’ve had a few months.  And over the past week I’ve gotten some requests and some information has found its way to me and you know what?  FUCK.  RIGHT.  OFF.  I now have the time to realize exactly how wrong all of the things are.  And you know what?  I REFUSE TO BE NICE AND TO PUT UP WITH IT.

I’m hoping that this phase passes and I feel less pissed off, though, because I really don’t want to return from sabbatical seething with rage.  I also don’t want my time away from the classroom and from meetings to be ruined with all of the angry feelings.

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