Thursday, January 31, 2008

Job Season Is Making Some Folks Crack.

31 Jan. 2008

Dear Search Committee:

Thank you so much for your recent letter informing me that you will not be interviewing me at the 2007 Convention. My wife just called me this morning to let me know of your intentions to interview “other candidates” in December. It’s a good thing that she called, too, because I’ve actually been at the hotel where the convention was held last December, hoping that you would eventually contact me about my application. It’s silly, I know, but my wife and I were a little confused by your letter because it only arrived this week, but the letter itself was dated mid-December—well before the convention.

Could you explain this oversight to me? I mean, I’m sure you’re a stellar department, with top notch organizational skills, so I suppose my confusion is mine alone. Perhaps it’s because I’m so easily confused that you’re not interviewing me?

Oh well, my hotel mini bar is empty, and I’ve consumed my ration of mixed nuts, so I guess I’ll hop a plane home tomorrow. During my flight, there’s a good chance that I’ll be flying over your podunk college. And during my flight, there’s a good chance that I’ll have to urinate. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that tomorrow, dear search committee members, when you sit in your offices, drinking your lattes, there’s a decent chance that my plane will be hovering somewhere over your heads. And up there I will be, pissing on each one of you.

An Applicant whose application you probably never read anyway

The First of a New Series. (Or A Blip That We Will All Soon Forget.) Laura Lasso Checks In.

Hi sexy beasts!

I'm Laura Lasso of the Michigan Lassos. We love us some edjucation, and as a longtime drifter in the academic world, I've developed a network of fascinating people at campuses (campii!) from sea to burning sea.

Once a week - unless I get bored - I'll bring you the coolest updates of Campus Haps, the inside dope, the running scared version of what's really going on, highliting the quirky, the funny, the unusual of what passes for campus life.

I'm doing it all for you. I'm bringing it to your web portal free of charge (for now). My goal, of course, is to work for The Onion, the only paper worth reading, and really the only website I spend any serious time studying. In fact, if anyone there at the RYS Corral can help me get an in with the Onion people, let me know immediately. What I have is pure gold, but as I say, I'd like to be paid for it, and your RYS schwag won't cut it. (But hey, was that Tony Banderas wearing one of those hoodies you featured yesterday? TOO SEXY!)

Okay, here's the first installment of my report. You can call it what you want, and you can provide the artwork. You must have a gnome or geek or goon there who deals with actualization. I'm about the words. And here come some that should sterilyze or paraylyze, depending on how far you are from your flattie.


from U of Mich - Hey, in Ann Arbor, they're celebrating "Goat Week," an unofficial student function where vanloads of upper classmen go to neighboring farms, steal goats from unsuspecting farmers, and then transport the goats to President Waffle's front yard. Oh man the hilarity is ratcheted up high.

from U of South Dak - The Chi Omegas recently started playing footbag inside, as a nod to the weather.

from Cornell U - The hotel management grad school students have switched from wearing pins that say "Hotel-ies," to wearing bandanas with a psychadelyc design and the words "Fuck Holiday Inn" on them.

from U of So Florida - Hey, all you So Fla Sooners need to try to register with Dr. Waffle for any of his English lit classes. In his office he plays killer tunes from Matchbox 20, Nine Inch Nails, mixed in with the occasional Tower of Power cut! It's a rockin' good time.

from U of Montana - Snowball fights at 4 pm behind Mitchell Hall.


Okay, that's it for now. Forward any love letters you get for me, and if The Onion calls, give them my cell number. I'm outie!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More, More, More Students Who Have Conspired to Ruin The Usually Quiet and Luxurious First Days of Spring.

  • At the end of the first lab meeting, a tough guy with tattoos on his arms who is just coming back to college after a three year absence, comes up to me and says, "are all the labs going to be this lame, 'cause I didn't learn a thing."

  • Last week we had a "snow day," all classes cancelled for the day. An automated program sends emails to every student. Harry Hyper, though, doesn't find that - or the crawl on the TV or the announcement on every radio station - enough, so calls and leaves me 3 increasingly hysterical messages on my voicemail. 1) "Uh, Dr. Snoopy? This is Harry Hyper. I was wondering if the class has been moved." 2) "Uh, Dr. Snoopy? This is Harry again. I'm still at the classroom and nobody has arrived. I've already walked across the library and nobody is there either. I'm beginning to worry." 3) "This is Harry again. I don't even see any classes meeting. Is this another holiday? Is it President's Day? There's no mention of that on the syllabus and I don't have any idea what I'm supposed to do now. Do we still have to read chapter 3? When are we going to have class again?" The next day there were four more hangups on my voicemail. I get to see Harry this morning, and I'm eager to discuss with him what a snow day means.

  • I hate the text messaging students. I have a rule. NO TEXT MESSAGES to me. Don't send them; I won't read them. NO NO NO. However, I have received three in the first two weeks of class--all from the SAME student. I ignored the first two, but on the third...I texted back: TTTFH. Student sends back: "?" I text back: TTTFH! Talk to the hand. (Time passes and you can imagine that Jeopardy music plays in the background) Finally, bingo, a new text message alert on my phone. Student texts: Ok. :)

  • "Romeo" was in a class last semester, missing a huge number of class meetings and then coming in with a long and (as I have learned) fictional tale of romantic woe. I offered nothing more than the chance to do the remaining work, which allowed him to squeak by. But he evidently mistook me for Randy Newman. That is, he seems to think he has a friend in me. So he's back this semester, missing lots of classes and barely hiding his contempt for the work of the class, while reassuring me of his grit and effort. If he tells me one more time that I'm going to find him "at the top of his game" this semester, I shall throw a bottle of Gatorade at his head.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Head-Nodders, Laptop Kids, Winter Flip Floppers, and Some Nefarious Wannabe Gangsters. Where Is that Walmart Application?

  • Oh, it's so easy to pick them out. I can't even begin on the cell phones, the enormous cups of coffee, etc. But I've got a classroom full of pen clickers right now. Seriously. They are clicking and clacking like they're autistic. I'm developing a twitch in my eye. At least I think it's their pens that are clicking? Could it be something else? Oh my God! WHAT IS MAKING THAT SOUND?!?!?

  • I hate the laptop kids. In classes of less than twenty-five they are particularly conspicuous. It is intensely distracting to the educational experience to divide time between the lecture and Suzie Snowflake's most recently uploaded Facebook photos.

  • This morning, three weeks into the semester, I had a meeting with the dean of student affairs, the head of two other departments and a student. The student's complaint: "I don't think my professors like me." I hate this student and, well, I now dislike the dean, too. Why is "my professors don't like me" a dean+heads+departmental advisors level problem?

  • Is it Spring Break yet? One of my snowflakes seems to think so. Granted, I understand that she did not realize when she signed up for a metalworking class that she would be getting dirty. What is all this technical information? Melting points and malleability blow her mind. Fair enough. What really makes Precious Petunia mad, though, is the lab's dress code. No open toed shoes. She's been thrown out twice this week for wearing flip flops, and it's not even warm yet. Part of me wants to let her wear them, work in them, and sever off one of those pretty pedicured toes with a dropped tool. Wouldn't that be a trophy? Floating in a jar of formaldehyde for all the newbies to see next semester. I know it sounds morbid, but can't you just see their faces watching it bob up and down in perfect silence? That would be perfect.

  • I hate this phone message: “Hi, I see there is a quiz on Tuesday. I wasn’t in class last Thursday so I was wondering if you could give me a call or email me so I can know what’s going to be on the quiz.” It would take an hour to unpack all the presumptions in that brief message, but the only possible response is, “Uh, no, I won’t be giving you a call or dropping you an email. As it happens, I didn’t say much about the quiz on Thursday because I assumed students were able to read the syllabus for the description of the quizzes and to use their powers of inference to figure out that the quiz would cover, you know, stuff we’ve read and talked about in class."

  • The one I hate was my student last semester. Her completely half-baked paper earned her a C+ in the class. I knew as I clicked that option on my grading page that there would be hell to pay. There was. She emailed me the first week of class to meet, but then remembered that she had practice at our scheduled time. So I emailed her other times to come to my office. She never showed, never wrote. I checked back a week later to see if she still wanted to meet and she emailed me the entire sob story about how she deserved a higher grade because she was in class every day (attendance was not part of the grade calculation, the final paper was a major part of it) and how she'd come to my office the next day to discuss it. Guess who never showed? It's not fair that some students come back to haunt you. Finals should be the end!

  • The brunt of my hatred is currently directed at you--the wannabe gangster who just told me that you will be giving an oral presentation on building a meth lab. Really, you don't impress me. I don't find you funny. I don't find you threatening. I don't find you "hardcore." And I don't take your blatant disregard for my class as anything other than what it is: laziness. If I had to guess, I'd say most drug lords--true drug lords--wouldn't normally advertise the specifics of their franchises to an audience of twenty, in a room close to the campus police. Really, I don't want to have to call the police on you after you give your presentation next week, but I will if I have to. Even if I don't think that you know the difference between Skittles and Sudafed, I'll still call the cops on you because that will be funny. You? Not funny. Your arrest (and removal from my class)? Hilarious.

  • To my PIA (pain in ass), I sent your assignment back because it was poorly written and you did not cite your sources. Your response was not to redo the assignment but instead to tell me that you would be sure to cite your sources on the next assignment because you thought you had it down. Oh, excuse me! I was not aware that you “had it down.” Should I take your word for it and not lower your grade? Perhaps I should check with you on what else you know so I don’t have to go through the effort of grading you on these items. After all I would not want you to have to strain yourself and show me your academic muscles.

  • They say doctors make the worst patients. I think teachers make some of the worst students. When I find out one of my students is or has been a teacher, I cringe. And they're usually more than willing to self-identify: "Well, from my own experience as a teacher, I know that [insert criticism of teaching method, syllabus policy, etc.]" Uh, thanks for the tip. I'll keep that in mind the next time I come into your class and tell you how to teach. Until then, this is my room, my policies have evolved this way over the course of a decade, for reasons of policy, tradition and practicality concerning which you are utterly ignorant, and you can suck it up and follow the rules like everyone else.

  • I have a student who hasn't attended ONE session yet. First, his plane back to school was delayed. Then he was so sick but hadn't yet visited campus health. Then he had pink eye. Then his sister got sick and he had to take her to the hospital and she just got released. Excuse after excuse after excuse. And here I was just hoping that he hadn't shown - yet again - because he'd dropped the class. No, of course not. Life's never that kind.

  • Dexter Dipwad? I totally hate him. He announced on the first day of class that he was the "Most Important Student on Campus" and that the outstanding warrants for his arrest -- which, he warned me, might result in him being arrested in class at any moment -- wouldn't so much inconvenience HIM as reflect badly on the SCHOOL. Mr. "Most Important Student on Campus" sits there nodding encouragingly while I lecture with that, "Go on, you're doing great!" attitude where he acts like what I'm lecturing is EXACTLY in accordance with what HE'd say on the same topic. He's all earnest and super-hard-working but I already dread the class.

  • Wait, I have to pick out just one? That's not easy. I have two in the morning class who are on some kind of bad medicine that makes them write down innocuous asides I make - "Hmmm, the rain is really coming down," - but that somehow stops them from jotting down something like, "Your assignment for next week includes." Even though neither has entered the discussion yet, they come up after class and tell me that they want to be college professors some day. One says he thinks the hours are "neat," and the other says he likes the idea of "ten-year." They each got 3 out of 10 on the first quiz. They left smiling. Drunk, maybe? Do you think?

Monday, January 28, 2008


  • Holy dunk, Phil! What in Hades where you (critical) thinking? You just kicked open the crypt! Let’s see what your critical tinkering (sorry, “thinking”) skills do for you now. Was that wise? (Whoops! Sorry, Phil. Try this: Ctrl-Alt-Delete). Sounds like someone might have had a bad experience a long time ago in an English composition class, yes? (Sorry, again. Try hitting Backspace). Maybe someone got stuck with a female graduate student who didn’t appreciate the fact that you were smarter than that bucket-head Bill Gates? (Ctrl-Z that one, eh? Phil?) Come to think of it, I’ll bet you’ve already committed to (critical) memory every word Bill has ever uttered, yes? Phil, here’s the big clue you’re looking for: it was Gates and his fellow techies (laughing all the way to the bank) who made sure that technology invaded and dominated our kid’s classrooms K-12. Do you remember the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out?” Well, guess what? The chickens have come home to roost. You wanted solipsistic techno-Nazis? Well, you got ‘em. And, we in the Humanities have them too. Let me explain it to you this way, Phil: We can’t undo eighteen years of malformation anymore than you can. So don’t give us any of your crap about the Philosophy dept. (Cha! As if…!). We’re all in the same stinking boat. Take your technology god and your elitism and go piss up a rope.

  • My own work and teaching is mostly on the Great Books model. I frequently teach Aristotle. There is value in this. There is also value in the folks who do cultural studies and contemporary literature. We don't try to set the curricula in the sciences. It'd be nice if people like Phil would extend us the same courtesy. Just because he doesn't understand "post-modernism" doesn't mean its worthless or lacking in rigor. I don't understand network topology, but I don't dismiss its value. I'm not going to go so far as to say that the humanities have taught me to not be a smug jackass, because we certainly have our share of smug jackasses in the humanities, too. But it has taught me not to scorn what I don't understand. Oh Phil, really, where to begin? I don't think anyone said the SOLE purpose of humanities fields was to teach critical thinking. It's just one of the things that should arise from studies in these areas (and others). I'm all for teaching Aristotle's Poetics; when teaching the historical sweep of literary crit or theory, that's the starting point for most. When talking about tragedy and comedy in any era of the Western tradition, Aristotle is read or at least discussed. But seriously, Phil? You really sound like you don't know what you're talking about here. For realz, as the snowflakes say.

  • I'm not sure why I'm making this point, though. Phil doesn't believe in education; he believes in technical training. He does not want any useless humanities requirements to distract students from the pure pursuit of skills. That's fine, but the university is where we educate people and teach them not only whatever technical skills they may need, but also the broad expanse of humanities that will inspire and culture them.

  • So "some of the most uncritical thinkers" that old Phil has ever know have had "liberal arts degrees." Well, I find it hard to take criticism of my discipline seriously from someone who doesn't know that the liberal arts include the sciences. Grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy are the classical liberal arts, if memory serves. And I am pretty sure that memory serves.

  • As to the canon wars that Phil's post alludes to...step back, bitch. Or, better yet, go try and analyze anything written after Ibsen with the Poetics and see how far you get. But never mind, there's probably no point to reading anything after Ibsen, is there? It must be very comforting and safe to know that you have completely delimited the "great thinkers" of the past via the stereotypical dead white guy box. I'm glad that your foundations of culture are so stable that it's impossible for anything or anyone to trouble them.

  • Suggesting that those in the humanities (and, I assume, social sciences which is where I live) limit their subjects to the Enlightenment and anything prior is a bit like suggesting that computer science courses ought to stick to the classic Commodore 64 machine and Basic programming language. To some extent, we need and want to engage in topics of current relevancy - that can include things like pornography and postmodernism.

  • You know what? I’m an English professor, and I think you’re absolutely right. I think I’ll reduce my theory courses, even at the graduate level, to a discussion of Aristotle’s Poetics. That should neatly cut out all discussion of comedy, satire, and of course, as you’ve pointed out, pornography. On the other hand, we’ll still be able to discuss tragedy and epic effectively. “Tragedy makes us feel pity and terror,” I’ll say, “and epic is the highest literary form.” My students can all write papers indicating that they feel pity and terror when they read Lear, and that they understand Paradise Lost to be written in the highest literary form, and then we can all go home! Of course, we’ll have to give Twelfth Night and Gulliver’s Travels a miss, but really, if Aristotle didn’t mention it, of what possible use could it be?

  • Like most people who speak disparagingly of the "liberal arts," Phil presumably means "the humanities," which aren't as rigorous as he'd like. But he's importing his own notions of "rigor" into disciplines for which they are not applicable. Rigor in a computer science course is quite different from rigor in a literature course. I teach literature and very often I teach courses for non-majors. These are wonderful, for the most part. The students tend to be motivated and engaged. But there is always a sizeable minority who resent the class (fair enough) and that it isn't designed around "right and wrong" answers (fuck that). The biggest complaint from these students is that they don't see why they should have to formulate an argument about the material, why it isn't enough to simply say something that is "right." Because just being right is NOT rigorous thinking in the humanities.

One of Our Readers Puts Aside Sunday Dinner In Order to Offer Phil a Little Critical Reading. How's This For Rigor, Punk?

Ordinarily I don't offer my help in teaching and evaluating critical thinking skills unless I'm being paid, but I'm feeling generous today, and have marked up Pocket Protector Phil's latest submission free of charge.

  • Engineering curriculums are necessarily difficult and rigorous.
This seems to me a non-sequitur: the argument you're responding to is not about the validity of engineering curriculums, it's about the unwillingness of engineering students to do the work required in humanities courses.
  • It is not unheard of for an English literature class, where they should be discussing Shakespeare or Milton, to consist of a special snowflake professor ranting against the current administration.

This sort of innuendo-laced statement ("it is not unheard of") amounts to saying very little. Across the many universities in the US, few things are unheard of. It is not unheard of for a math class to consist of a heavily intoxicated professor harassing his female students. Without evidence about how often this happens your statement says nothing.
  • a typical general education humanities class could be safely replaced with a course on logic from the philosophy department or a discrete math class from the math or computer science departments.
This sentence needs to be unpacked - discrete math's relevance to critical thinking is its covering of certain methods of proof and symbolic logic. But that is a very different use of logic and reasoning than is used in day to day life. You might have a look at Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach for a very interesting discussion of the ways in which formal systems of reasoning do and don't scale. He's a computer scientist at IU-Bloomington. I'm actually teaching it this week.

  • These classes provide the students with the tools of logic that English and History classes fail to deliver.
I'm not sure that it's any more reasonable to call the lack of symbolic logic in a history class a "failure" than it is to call the lack of Shakespeare in an engineering class failure - failure implies not accomplishing what you set out to do.
  • As far as engineers failing to learn how to write, I think that they would be better served with a good technical writing class than an English literature class.
This paragraph makes a lot of assumptions about what sort of writing engineers should be expected to be proficient at that should probably be unpacked and looked at carefully. Is the need for engineers to be able to write technical documents equivalent to a lack of need for them to understand the rhetorical structure of an argument?

  • they should stop teaching classes on post-modernism, pornography, and popular novels, and instead teach classes on Aristotle, Milton, Descartes, and other great thinkers.
Your parallelism breaks down here - the alliteration of the first list does not mesh well with the second, and it's unclear why the two lists are in the order they are: why is Milton a particularly logical replacement for pornography? What does pornography do that Milton does better? This also does not seem to follow from your past arguments: is the purpose of a humanities department to teach critical thinking skills, or to teach a body of great works and thinkers?

  • Aristotle's poetics is still the best guide to analyzing literature available,
With over 2300 years of literary analysis since the Poetics, this is a very broad claim to make without evidence. Also, Poetics is a title and should be both capitalized and italicized.

In short, your post, though spirited, seems to recycle overly generalized and cliched broadsides against the humanities without any thorough use of evidence. Were it submitted to one of my classes that studies post-modernism and popular culture (I cut the pornography this semester) it would get a C if I were feeling generous.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pocket Protector Phil Tells Us What's Wrong with the Humanities.

As a computer scientist, my sympathies clearly lie with engineering. Engineering curriculums are necessarily difficult and rigorous. Humanities curriculums should be but are often not. Humanities justify their exalted place on the curriculum by promising to teach critical thinking but fail to deliver. It is not unheard of for an English literature class, where they should be discussing Shakespeare or Milton, to consist of a special snowflake professor ranting against the current administration.

Some of the most uncritical thinkers that I have encountered have had liberal arts degrees. I think that if teaching critical thinking is desiderata, a typical general education humanities class could be safely replaced with a course on logic from the philosophy department or a discrete math class from the math or computer science departments. These classes provide the students with the tools of logic that English and History classes fail to deliver.

As far as engineers failing to learn how to write, I think that they would be better served with a good technical writing class than an English literature class.

If humanities departments want to enjoy the respect that they claim to deserve, they should stop teaching classes on post-modernism, pornography, and popular novels, and instead teach classes on Aristotle, Milton, Descartes, and other great thinkers. Aristotle's poetics is still the best guide to analyzing literature available, but it is now possible to get a degree in English literature without being exposed to it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beowulf vs. the Engineers and Everyone Else Who Craps on the Humanities‏.

Get a dictionary. If you are a science major, think of it as a periodic table. Use it to check your spelling. Use it to look up the words in the readings you didn't understand. Think of it as a gigantic answer key. Yes! We are humane here in the humanities; we tell you where to find the answers.

I don't care if it's hard to keep the Geats and Danes and Hrothgars and Unferths straight. If you cannot keep track of the characters in a 200-page book well enough to write a coherent closed-book exam question, you have no hope of following world events. Guess what: those people have funny names too.

I don't care that you engineers have no interest in Thoreau, or Beowulf, or Auden, or Shakespeare, or whatever. I don't care if it's hard to keep "infer" and "imply" straight, and I don't care that you find literary analysis tedious. I especially don't care that you don't care about what else the author might be trying to say. The fact is that if you can't analyze a piece of text in your native (and likely only) language well enough to locate subtext, that makes you a totally uncritical and unthinking consumer of political rhetoric.

I propose a deal: I'll promise not to build skyscrapers until I have an engineering degree if you promise not to mess with my democracy until you write me an essay that shows you can think critically about language. If you can't do some basic close reading, you should not be allowed to vote.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Academic Haiku Friday.

Oh my god.
And get this!
It's only the second day
but she's already given us
a homework assignment.

I know!
I can't believe it.
It's like...
we have to look up
these advertisements.
From, like, the fifties or something.

Can you believe it?
We have to go to the LIBRARY!
I know!
And the library doesn't even
have the magazines.
We have to, like, look them up or something.

She called the machine
a 'fish' or something.
So we have to, like, find the FILMS
of the magazine or something.
It's sooooo stupid.

Can you believe it?
I know!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We Get a Sense That If They're Reading Skin Mags During Class, They Probably Aren't Quite as Successful With the Ladies As You Think.

Hey, fellas. Yeah, you three, in the back of the room.

I'm glad you're eighteen and that your hormones are oh-so-willing to usher you into the bed of whatever young lady is feeling sorry for you this week. I'm also glad that in the days of reality television and its ubiquitous "confessional" moments, you feel comfortable revealing who you really are on the inside to everyone else in the class, regardless of how stupid/spoiled/immature you sound. Really, these things make me happy.

However, in the interest of revealing exactly how I feel about the three of you little pukes after today's class, let me say the following: Please keep the porn out of the room. Though I love you very much, I don't love having to inform you that looking at glossy porn magazines in class in no way constitutes a productive use of time. And forgive me if I say no to you when you ask to go to the bathroom right after pawing said magazine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Weepy Wayne from Waterloo (AKA "The Chiefiest" AKA "Chum Chucker Charlie") Weighs In On Nikki.

If students smell blood in the pool, you are a goner. The same goes for the administration. They will exploit weakness with equal or greater exploitative cruelty. The answer is simple.

Cultivate a snottyass clique of one. You're the kool kid. And no one's getting in. Stop building bridges and start digging moats. Moats stocked with student-shredding crocodiles. Any attempt to bridge any perceived cultural/generational gap between you and Club Doofus only serves to undercut your authority. You come from the land of adults, and only you hold the keys to the kingdom.

Repeat after me: They're kids. Stupid kids. Fuck 'em. Focus on the few scholars in there waiting for you to take the garbage to the curb and get down to the business of teaching. Focus on the ones who deserve what you bring.

You may need to become fluent in smartass for a day or two. Some suggestions:

  • "Wanna hear what's on my iPod? It's the sound of your folks bailing your sorry ass out for the rest of life because you suck at adulthood."

  • "Know what I drive? I drive stakes into the heart of ignorance. Who wants first?"

  • "I'd love to chill with you boys, but I'm too big for Gymboree."

Here's the kicker, if you are brutal, but fair, they may not want to chill with you (bonus!), but they will grudgingly respect you. Go Socratic on their ass. Make them squirm in front of their own classmates. Squash them with what you have: insight, knowledge, and intelligence. Play the game where you make up the rules. In your classroom, it's Ali vs. Frazier everyday. Only you're both, and they're the mat you're dancing on.

You have to break them to save them. You have to show them their own ignorance in order to show them what they can learn. If all else fails, find a college where students actually show up. You're not going home. You're finding your way to a new one.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We Have Nikki's Back.

Nikki from NY is someone who's written to us a few times over the past few days, and we get a strong feeling that her fear and confusion are quite legitimate. We like her, and in our exchanges she's proven to have a lot more courage than perhaps she's shown in the first week of classes. Of course, we're on board with a number of you - including Wicked Walter - who have suggested that we simply form a posse (a really well-educated posse) and go kick the shit out of the Neanderthals she's been stuck with. Until our hats arrive, though, here are some other places to start.

  • Students are a bit like sharks – once they smell weakness they can all join in with the mob feeding frenzy. But you can use this mob instinct in a positive way. The next time some asshole makes an inappropriate comment, call him on it. Then, ask the rest of the class if anyone thinks his comment was appropriate (staying calm and in control). The silence will speak volumes, and you’ve begun to tacitly bring the majority over to your side. Also, I’ve never found it a bad thing to seek out advice from supervisors or department heads. After all, you represent them to some extent too. You can at least let them know what has been going on, and what your strategy is to fix it. They may have advice for you, but they’ll be less likely to want to step in and rescue you or try to switch out instructors if you show that you’re managing the situation. It may come to pass that the administration has to get involved – particularly if students are making suggestive comments. Where I teach, their asses would be in a world of trouble for anything they said of a sexual/dating/gendered nature toward a prof. This is not weakness on your part – it’s the institution’s responsibility to provide you with students behaving within the college’s ethical standards, not yours. You will survive this. Lots of us are going to be sending in support, because we are or we have been there. Hang in and do you job. It'll get better.

  • I've had classes like that before. I had my freshly minted B.S. in hand and three sections of students to teach. I decided to employ the philosophy so eloquently articulated by the character Vera Donovan in Dolores Claiborne , "Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto." I talked to my course director, and then I put my foot down and enforced every rule in the syllabus to the letter. I never did "dress down" that semester; I wore a suit everyday. In the classroom, I was in charge and that was just the way it is going to be. Their perception of me as being young and easy to push around was directly related to how I managed the daily interactions and the rules and requirements of the course. This led me to manage those aspects with an iron fist. Sure, I got a couple of rude and inappropriate comments during class, which were met with a snappy comeback and an invitation to leave the classroom since incivility was unacceptable. Once I threw one kid out, the rest pretty much fell into line. I also gave them a very frank lecture about appropriate student behavior and what was not going to be tolerated. I still had students who were happy to share in class and who came to see me during office hours or approached me with problems, so my method of dealing apparently did not inhibit the entire class. I think the classroom is a little bit like being in a pack of wolves. You've got to establish, via one method or another, that YOU are the pack leader. When you're a woman and you're young that's a doubly difficult task to accomplish. Being young, female, and a TA (or fellow) makes it difficult to establish the credibility that is more easily given to older instructors or professors, so I found that I needed to take steps that were a bit more blatant than those needed by more established instructors. Sometimes I still have to let the bitch out, but it happens on a much much less frequent basis.

  • Try to imagine that you're teaching junior high, and respond to comments like the ones you described like you would to a child - Say "that's inappropriate" and then move on. Make provoking you as boring as possible. If they persist, throw the shitheads out of class. Get right to business - don't let there be time in class for heckling. Let them know that their behavior is so inappropriate, and the embarrassment of looking like an ass in front of their peers will eventually kick in. Talk to another young prof at your college - don't go crying to the boss; talk instead to a colleague conversationally. You're not the first prof to look young and pretty, and they're certainly not the last despicable students you'll ever have. Just decide that you're in charge and then act like it. The entertainment of seeing you stumble the first couple of days will fade in their memory if you make a solid change now and stick to it.

  • Your students are not being rambunctious, or disorderly, or "just kids." They're sexually harassing you. Period. And you don't have to take it. You should tell your director immediately. I've seen a situation very much like yours (in which a male student refused to take instruction from a female instructor, who he went on to physically threaten and intimidate). In the case I witnessed, the director didn't offer meaningful help, and tried to placate the student, and then offered the instructor a departmental plum as "compensation" and the university swept the whole thing under the rug, and basically something that should have been on the cover of the Chronicle was not. Your students have to learn how to treat people. Your superiors have to learn what their grad students are up against. Step one is always a Stern Fucking Lecture, and it goes like this--if the students who are harassing you are doing it semi-privately, you tell them, in front of everyone, that they are no longer welcome in your classroom. You expel them instantly from the place. You say, "Warren. Smitty. Connor. Please leave. Now." And if they don't--if they have the balls to "refuse"--you call the campus police. If things are worse than that--if your whole class won't quiet down long enough for you to make such an announcement, or if you feel so threatened that you're actually afraid to do it, dismiss the entire class. Tell them that every time they act like this, you'll dismiss class, and that these dismissals will count as absences. If a Stern Fucking Lecture doesn't work, you bring an Official Complaint to your Director. And if that doesn't lead to resolution, you go to the Chair, and then the Dean, and then the Provost, and the President.

  • You are the grownup. You know more about the subject than they do, and, more importantly, you control something they want: their grades. You have to leverage this to your advantage, and the way to do it is not to put up with any of their crap. My suggestions are that you: 1) stop answering personal questions so they don't think you're their friend; 2) dress as professionally as your budget allows so they get the message that you're not an undergrad; 3) make the first exam difficult so they realize that you are in fact smarter than them and that they need to pay attention; and 4) throw them out when they chatter or are disrespectful. Just explain that from here on out, disrespectful behavior will result in being asked to leave class that day and that missed work will receive a zero. Then follow through on it - after you kick one or two frat boys out, the rest will get the message. You may have to talk to your director about that, but you're justified in doing what it takes to ensure that the students that are there to learn get to learn. You worked too hard to throw away this opportunity, and letting the spoiled brats win is not worth the sacrifice. You can do this. Good luck!

  • You are entitled to a safe work environment and all institutions have explicit policies on things like student misconduct and harassment. Learn them and don't be afraid, not even for a minute, to put them to their intended use. Enforcement is probably someone else's job. And do speak honestly with your peers and professors, not just on RYS, but face to face. All of us went through something like this in the early days and there are many proven strategies available to you for getting this train back on track. Keep your head up.

Nikki from New York Needs Your Help.

Listen. These condescending little rich brats in my 9 am class have already gotten the better of me. They are insolent and childish. When they saw I was young - I look about 16, but am 26 - they took their standard Y+ Generation posture, hollered to their buddies across the room, and asked a variety of personal questions, including what kind of car I drive, what was I listening to on my iPod, and how old I was.

I admit I lack some of the force I might need to control a room full of hooligans, but I didn't suspect I'd need it at this pricey private college.

I am inexperienced, and I am over matched, but what do I do now? Do you know how long I've been working toward this? Do you know how hard I worked to get into this grad program? Do you know the shit I had to eat in order to get the money together, to get the time to myself, to make this happen?

And now after two days of class last week I want nothing more than to just get out, to give up my tiny fellowship, go back home embarrassed and a failure, and just take my licks from the "folks back home" who told me I would be back someday anyway.

How do others do this? I find these 18 and 19 year old students to be monstrous, probing, dumb, dickheaded, loud, mean-spirited, and just despicable. How am I going to get them in line? How can I control the class if I can't control my emotions when one of them says, "You're too pretty to be stuck in a classroom. You should be hanging out at the house with me and the rest of the guys."

I know it's stupid. I know they're kids. But they've thrown me off guard, I've shown my emotions in class, and I'm fearful to go to my director for help. I'm afraid they'll take away this gig that I don't even think I want. Is there anyone out there who's been where I am?

Help me, please.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Proffie Poopiehead Has an Answer For Everything.

Exam instructions:
  • Don't ask us if the question and choices are written incorrectly. They're not, and if they were, the question would be removed from the exam marking scheme so don't bother worrying further about it, or planning on using it as the basis for a petition to drop the entire course without academic penalty after getting smoked on the exam. Answer the question based on the wording as it is stated on the exam.

  • Don't talk out loud about how you're answering the question, and then exclaim when we tell you to stop talking, "But this is how I do my work and concentrate better, by talking out loud to myself!" You should have told us beforehand that you were a psycho, we could have accommodated your special needs.

  • Don't use calculators, the exam has no math in it. Don't talk on the cell phone. Don't talk to your neighbour. Don't look at your neighbour's exam sheet. Don't pull out a dictionary in the middle of the exam. I don't know why official regulations require me to make pre-exam announcements like this, as if you came from high schools where exams were banned, and you're a rookie at this who wouldn't know any better if you hadn't been told ("What do you mean copying off someone else's exam is cheating?! No one told me that! Academic petition!").

  • When you are escorted out of the exam hall for a washroom break, don't suddenly run ahead of the escort and pass the regular washroom to dart into the handicapped washroom, slamming and locking the door shut behind you, and then take 15 minutes "to do your business," all the while exclaiming through the door "Just one more minute! I need just one more minute!"

  • When you get your exam mark, don't email me asking for a "do-over", because you got a low mark and you really want to get into med school. I don't want doctors operating on me and screwing up, and then suggesting that they get a 2nd chance to do the operation over again.

  • If you're going to email me stating "I'll do **ANYTHING** to get a higher mark on the exam", at least have the courtesy of sending a full-length photo of yourself so I can appropriately contemplate the merits of the request.

Cheers, and good luck on the exam!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Do We Have to Wind Their Watches AND Wipe Their Asses?

Has anyone else noticed that students are increasingly late to class?

Not just one or two chronic offenders and not just by a couple of minutes. I’ve sort of noticed this trend over the last couple of years, but the whole thing crystallized for me the other day at the beginning of a 2:30 class. I arrived at 2:20 and set up my laptop, hooked it into the projector, arranged the handouts and my roll sheet, then had time to go for a pee before class. I returned and began the class at 2:31 with about a quarter of the thirty-person class missing.

It is early in the semester, so I was going over some logistical bits and pieces and handing stuff out and then taking roll, since I’m still trying to put names and faces together. During the ten minutes or so it took to get all that done, the rest of the class wandered in one or two at a time. Naturally, they had to be given handouts, I needed to mark them present on the roll sheet, and, after class, had to repeat for them the things I had told the class while they were having a last smoke or whatever they were doing instead of coming to class on time.

Several of the students who sauntered in late had a couple of days earlier been begging me to overload them into the class, which was supposed to be capped at twenty-five. Is it just me? Is it just my school? Or have I noticed one more sign that civilization is sliding into the toilet, with my students leading the way?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Suzy Sleeps-A-Lot Gets Her Shit Together.

Warning. I am a student. And being a student who reads this site, and is constantly irritated when a post from a student shows up, I should know better. But I've never been too good at that whole "learning" thing. I will promise you that nowhere in this e-mail will I say I'm the exception, that I'm "actually a good student, there ARE some of us out there you know" sniff, sniff.

Screw that. I'm a horrible student. Well, I have been. I have been that girl, the Suzy Sleeps-A-Lot or whatever other nickname you'd like to come up with. I am a senior undergrad at a big Midwestern university, and it took me until this year to finally take pride in my work and really attempt to be anything other than mediocre.

I am the girl who proudly stated "D's get degrees!" multiple times throughout my collegiate years. I told anyone who'd listen that I'd been named "Class Napper" my senior year in high school and was determined to keep up the title in college. I bragged about my professors who would let me sleep and then joke with me about my naps after I woke.

I have said time and time again that college is not for me, and that I'm only still a student because of my parents. I was completely fine managing C's and B's. I was known with my friends as the girl who would help to convince you to put down your homework and come out for a beer. If I could make it through on the minimum of requirements, so could they.
One of my professors this past semester was someone I'd had once before and had come to admire and respect. She has always been easy to get along with, but remains stubborn and incredibly tough when it comes to grading. I have always been confident that I'd get decent grades as long as I was buddy-buddy with my profs. But it didn't work with Dr. Mom.

She returned my first paper with comments I'd never seen before: "Suzy, I know you can do better than this. I'm very disappointed in you." Reality check. A professor actually paid attention to my previous writings? Who REMEMBERED my writings from another class? I felt like I'd been punched.

I suddenly found myself at the library, studying and reading MORE than what was required, making revision after revision of my next paper, determined to write something she and I would both be proud of. That's what really shocked me - I had never cared an ounce about what my professors thought of me. And yet here I was, focused, determined - and not just in this one class. In all of them. Dr. Mom had flipped a switch in my brain.

I stumbled across RYS only days ago but I love it. And I wanted to thanks all of you for putting up with little shits like me. And especially thanks to the ones who go beyond just putting up with us, but actually motivating us. This site has definitely given me some perspective, and I am going to try my hardest not to fall asleep in lectures anymore (no promises). It is said that parents with a particularly chaotic and irritating child will wish that the child will someday be a parent to someone just like them. If for some reason I find myself on the other side of the desk, I know I'm in for a hell of a ride. Props to you, professors. Vent away. God knows we deserve it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2008's First "Academic Haiku."

For the history of RYS's academic haiku series, click here.


Oh precious snowflake,
so bright and sparkly
with all the accessories
that you gathered over the holidays

I see a laptop
a cellphone, an iPod,
and a calculator that looks ...

but darling,
this is art class,
and yes,
you need a pencil!

Where Students Get Asked To Weigh Their Temperature Against the Sacrosanct Attendance Policy.

Poor little bunny, poor little sick student. I'm sure you're hoping I'll send my TA to tuck you into bed and deliver some chicken soup at an appropriate moment, but, I'm not. I'm mean.

I'm delivering a warning shot up your snotty little nose instead. But, as I am currently suffering a fit of febrile insanity, I'll smack you down via story time:

Once upon a time, when I worked in the "real world," you know, like as an underemployed technician in an inner city emergency room, I knew a triage nurse who was the meanest, baddest-ass bitch you've ever met. We'll call him Nurse Cranky. Nurse Cranky hated his job. He had been discharged from the Navy SEALs for an injury and was determined to take his anger out on anyone and everyone. He did this with a box of tissues he wielded like the gun he wished it was. He also wore a button that read "Nurses get sick too! Cover your mouth when you cough." It was as big and as steely and as mean looking as a flak jacket. If you so much as chortled in his triage waiting area and didn't cover your mouth, he would fire a tissue at you like a missile.

To you, sick infectious student, I fire the following moral of the story and warning like a tissue missile from Nurse Cranky:

Professors get sick too!

So, idiot snot-nosed student desperately in need of a course in public health, go home and be sick there! I know you're not going to show up to class after the 3rd week anyways and you're not impressing me by showing up here sick in the first week. I promise, I won't remember you as the "dedicated student who showed up with a cold."

I will remember you as that sniffling embodiment of toxic germ warfare who coughed directly on me and thus got me sick in the first week of class. I will remember you as the one who totally destroyed what otherwise would have been a great weekend for research.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Part-Time Pete Either Needs a New Place ... Or Just a Little Patience.

Yes, we know that we have lots of characters on the blog named "Pete." It's one of our favorite monikers. It never fails to give us a chuckle. "Carl" gets used quite a bit, too. Just good names. "Nancy," of course, "Walter." These are names with real character. You just say "Walter," and you can see the guy, right? There's no conspiracy or anything. Seriously.

Anyway, a number of part-timers want to take Pete out to an alley and beat him senseless. They see his 32 years of teaching as meaningless, and suggest that he's "smug" and "arrogant" for wanting to use his own "probably over-priced" textbook in his class. We think Pete's okay, and here are a couple of posts that have come in that we wanted to share with you.

  • I'm a dean at a private liberal arts college in the Midwest, and Part-Time Pete would have no problems here. We often hire retired professors, people from industry, and other experts in non-traditional ways, leaving them free from some of the inanities that Pete points out. Of course, state institutions - like the community college Pete seems to have chosen - have got such incredible mandates to meet, that world renowned scholars would be brought to tears rather than go through the motions. It's a real shame, and that institution will likely miss out on his continued service - and much the worse will be that institution.

  • Part-Time Pete's training might not be entirely unnecessary. Community college is very different from a Big Ten university. As incredible as some of the things you're hearing from the little pipsqueak might seem, try to have an open mind about what he's telling you. We happen to have a guy from a Big Ten school in our department this year. We tried to prepare him for teaching science as a health careers requirement rather than its own discipline. We tried to prepare him for community college students. He smiled and nodded and said “yes, yes” a lot. He spent more than half of the semester teaching way over the students’ abilities. I'm not talking about just melting some snowflakes. He was cooking the good eggs. His idealism wasn't fair to the kids who went to community college instead of OSU because they weren't OSU material, but they wanted to keep learning. As a RYS reader, I'm sure you are aware of the snowflake epidemic. And I'm sure on a superficial level, you are aware that your new community college students are going to be different from your Big Ten students. But you might lose sight of that in the throes of the semester as my colleague did. Try not to confuse the average and honest community college kid with a pain in the ass lazy full of baloney snowflake. And try not to be like an academic snowflake and nod emphatically that you know, when you won't really know until you see them up close.

Part-Time Pete From Pensacola Feels Poorly.

I taught English for 32 years and then retired a couple of years ago. Most of my career was spent at 2 different Big Ten schools. I had a wonderful time teaching, though at the end I did more administration than actual classwork, and I felt good to leave the profession when I did.

As my children are all grown, my wife and I retired to a little spot in Florida and I've gone out of my mind with boredom. I grow a nice garden, we like to fish, but during most days I putter around my old books and think about a new semester.

So with some nervousness I trundled myself off to a local community college a couple of months ago to see if I could get a part-time class. The folks were nice enough at first, and my excitement for teaching again got me all the way till today, when I realized what's really going on.

I'm getting paid $1700 for 16 weeks work. I'm being told I can't use the books I want to teach my class - even one of my own that is in a 4th edition from a major scholastic publisher. Instead I've been given a standard syllabus and textbook, both seemingly written by orangutans, and given strict instructions on not changing things like the college's "tardy policy" or their 450 word treatise on cell phones and electronic devices.

I've been scheduled for mandatory orientation on how to teach, not just in my own discipline, but at the college level generally. I sat for two hours yesterday with my supervisor, who tried to explain to me his pedagogical strategies. He's 34 year's old. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that's funny or sad.

We had part-timers at my former institutions, and I often trained and mentored them. Without fail they were usually on their first jobs, and I felt my guidance was useful. As soon as I saw them come into their own in the classroom, establish some of their own bona fides, I set them loose. I let them teach what they wanted, how they wanted. Nearly all of them left for "real" jobs one day, but I hope they learned something with us, and I was grateful for what they did for our students and our university.

Now to be on the other side of that equation, hemmed in by inanities like how to keep my grade book properly for the department administrator, I feel sick about going to my first class tomorrow. I never thought that I'd feel this way about a career I loved. I thought I'd be helping this college out. I vainly believed that 32 years at the post might earn me something - perhaps I could skip the retirement orientation, for example?!?

I hate to act like the typical old fuddy-duddy, but this has all made me wonder how many talented and prepared part-time instructors are out there who get screwed by colleges like mine, forced into teaching to some set of standards devised by a committee, working at slave wages, learning to hate and fear the job instead of love it.

A View of the Modern Student From A Pre-Modern One.

A professor friend of mine just shared a handful of the e-mail grade complaints she received from students. In each case, the student failed to complete a significant portion of the coursework...and seemed completely unaware of doing so [or not, as the case may be]. One student didn't do the oral presentations [you know, stage-fright and all], another plagiarized [and didn't understand how cut+paste was plagiarism], and the other 2 didn't hand in small assignments, did mediocre on the big ones, and just failed to grasp how math worked against them ["But I got an A on the midterm! Shouldn't that count for more?"].

After reading the e-mails, I told my mom about them. My mom is retirement-age and barely got through high school in her day [poor people often didn't graduate H.S. c.1960]. She just shook her head in astonishment. She is habitually stunned by these tales of the "modern student." She simply cannot fathom how any of us who teach college tolerate the student insolence, willful stupidity, and complete inability to do basic work for a college class. My mom never dreamed of going to college, but each of her 3 children knew how to succeed in high school, knew how to learn, valued our educations [even though I, the youngest, am the only member of my extended family to earn a BA and MA]. "I can't believe these people are in college," she habitually murmurs as she shakes her head at each new daily gem from RYS.

Students abitually called me "arrogant" or "mean" because I actually expected them to do basic-level academic work, a workload that my mother remembered from 50 years ago when she attended high school! You know, back when they had to write papers in longhand. Back when an electric typewriter was a luxury.

What has changed so much in 50 years that a typed 2-page paper is beyond the ability of a college freshman to complete in 2 weeks with a minimum of errors? What has happened that common courtesy for one's superiors, one's elders, one's teachers, is no longer something one can assume to establish a simple working relationship? Why can't a significant portion of today's college students grasp simple math [fractions and ratios!] or write a simple sentence [you know, with a verb] or even craft an appropriate paragraph [that doesn't go on for 1-2 pages]?

Many students think professors should act like they aren't better than they are....but we are! We've earned the right to be treated with simple dignity for having received 2-3 times the education of the brats sitting in front of us. I deserve to be treated better than Frankie Frat-boy's "bro" sitting next to him. If I'm the one assessing the work, it's in Gary Undergrad's best interest to listen to directions I am explaining. Or read that book I assign. Or actually turn in work on time, at the deadline. That's their job, not mine.

Not all students act horribly...and it's those students I worry most about. When Paula Plagiarist gets a C because she whined to a faculty-hating administrator about her F, what does that do to Marvin Mediocre who actually earned his C by performing with a basic level of competency? When Big-Mouth Barry bombs a class, bitches his way through a grade grievance and is awarded a C just to go away, what does that do to Sally the C-Student, who had some health problems and earned a C because she came to the final exam with a sinus infection?

I am sick of the undergraduate whine of "It's not fair!" when they don't like their grades [as if they had no hand in the performance being assessed]. Whenever that phrase leaves their lips I know sitting before me is yet another entitled 13th-grader here for a diploma instead of an education. It would be unfair if I awarded a grade on how much I like them. Instead, I have a rubric based on clear instructions given before the assignment is completed. Oh no, that's not fair because I don't tell them exactly how many points each item is worth. And when I do that, it's not fair because I awarded too many points to something that's unimportant [which usually means the student just didn't do it and has sour grapes].

The only unfair thing about the situation is that I wasn't born 30 years earlier, when my education probably would have been free and every third student of mine wouldn't have been a reject who should have been Left Behind at the Judgment Day called High School Graduation.

You Want My Notes? Come and Wrestle Them Out of Me.

Many of you have asked if I will be posting my lecture notes on the university website. My answer, as always, is no. Judging by the deflated and grim expressions you assume upon hearing this answer, I guess this is a problem for you.

Some of my colleagues put everything on the web – which is fine by me if that works for them. Others think that holding back their notes forces students to attend class. I honestly couldn’t give a shit if you decide not to attend lectures – your grades will suffer and you’ll miss out on some great discussions. No, I’m not interested in getting the mouthbreathers to fill my lecture hall each week. Better for all of us if you keep your stupidity at home.

First off, my lecture notes are a rough guide. You’ll find this strange, but I actually manage to keep a fair bit of knowledge in my head. My notes are sparse. Or it sometimes happens that a combination of student questions and my own evolving ideas will take a lecture in unexpected directions. Sometimes, I’ve been too unmotivated to write much of anything down, and I wing it (those of us who, you know, read and think are occasionally able to get away with it). Finally, I want to force your lazy asses to listen and take notes. I know this requires effort on your part, and may seem to be in violation of your implied contracts to buy degrees with your parents’ money. But I sleep at night.

And for those of who compulsively type every word I utter into your fucking laptops – stop! Stop and listen, for goodness sake. Last week, I swear I could hear nothing but clicking as I joked about the loud heater in the room. Are you in training to become courtroom transcribers or something?

Has the idea of being inspired by real life words and discussion died? Do you honestly believe that it’s better to stay at home and read professors’ powerpoint notes? (I don’t use those, either – eat it...). I know it’s not fully your fault that you were spoon fed and coddled through high school, that your attention spans are measured in seconds (not even minutes), and that scholarship is, to you, a quaint old concept that evokes images of oil lamps.

But you’re in my class now. Show up. Listen. Maybe learn a bit.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

When We Send the Spawn Into The Sea.

It is again that time of year when aspiring graduate students are applying to our graduate programs. As DGS (Director of Graduate Studies), I am the fortunate one who must receive, sort, chart, and comment upon the reams of application materials that arrive daily. As a service to others, I provide this handy guide to decoding letters of recommendation:

"With close guidance, she will do well..."
Translation: Left to her own devices, she will fail miserably.

"He is incredibly eager..."
Translation: He's one of those pests who will haunt your office.

"She has worked hard to improve her writing skills..."
Translation: Her writing still sucks.

"He is a free spirit..."
Translation: He is congenitally unable to meet deadlines or to complete assigned readings.

"She has applied to numerous programs, but in my estimation, yours is most suitable..."
Translation: She has little chance of getting admitted anywhere except your program.

"He is a tireless contributor in the classroom..."
Translation: His monopolization of discussion will drive you batty.

"She provides unique insights on course readings..."
Translation: She understands nothing, but is still compelled to provide idiotic commentary.

"He holds great promise..."
Translation: On which he has yet to deliver.

"She is a once-in-a-lifetime student..."
Translation: She is smarter than her recommender.

When We Wear Down.

I'm locked in a grade dispute to the death with a student who would rather game the system than work to overcome ESL issues.

Only ONE of his essays got a passing score, but he refused to drop the course. My comments about subject/verb agreement, syntax and sentence-level error remained consistent from essay to essay--he never even tried to improve his writing. He did not take two quizzes before the deadlines elapsed (it's an online course).

He is sending me email after email refusing to accept a D, saying it doesn't make sense to him--I have explained it four times and sent him his grade records, but he either really can't understand it, or is pretending he doesn't understand it, so that he can keep trying to wear me down.

He keeps asking why "this grade is given to me," and I keep pointing out that grades are NOT GIVEN, they are EARNED. He seems to think I am some sort of wicked, subjective Grade Fairy who is being unfair to him for fun.

He has begun contacting Administration. I suspect he got through Developmental Writing because the instructor finally passed him in order to make him go away. I am afraid I will end up doing the same.

Friday, January 11, 2008

POW: Prick of the Week.

One of the key aspects of this whole textbook discussion is the fact that many of us sell our examination copies for our own personal profit. I have made thousands of dollars over the years from selling my books back to the friendly book buyers that come by each semester (some even bearing gifts of apples and homemade granola bars).

If I get a textbook in the mail, it usually goes into a pile by my desk for future sales.

If I get a "check out our new textbook!" email, click, sure why not? Order it and add it to the pile.

If I get something offering a free copy for review in the regular mail, same thing, add it to the pile. Shit, even our building secretary is in on it. If a book comes for a retired faculty member, she makes a big production about how she'll get the book to them and then stashes it under her desk for the book buyer.

Many of the books come with heart wrenching messages printed on the cover imploring you NOT to sell this, as it only raises the price for the students.

Bitch, please. How else will I supplement my pathetic salary?

The Student Advocate Advocates A Bit For Herself.

Yes, I work in student advocacy. No, I'm not the "little shit" who comes to your office, trailing a precious little snowflake. At my university, that position is called the Ombudservice, and let me tell you, here, it's the students that get screwed, not the instructors. My university hires high-profile law firms to send their staff to disciplinary hearings, who then proceed to "prosecute" and intimidate students in front of the appeals committee. Students never win these cases, unless, of course, their families are rich, and hire their own lawyers. Needless to say, none of this happens in court, which makes it even more ludicrous. And that is where students' tuition goes!
But back on topic - what I actually do amounts to this:

I go to the same boring university and faculty-level committee meetings that make you all want to stab your eyes out, and I meet with university administrators to advocate for areas that students care about. I currently lobby on things such as increasing the professor-student ratio, creating more study space, rewarding excellent teaching as much as excellent research, incorporating sustainable building practices, and increasing the amount of scholarships going to students with a financial need. I do research to that end - trying to find out what other universities are doing, so that I can suggest it for ours.

Also: I'm female, an immigrant, graduated with distinction, and do not own an iPod. I consistently get reference letters from my professors that involve the words "one of the best students I ever taught." And even though I have 40,000 dollars in student debt, and had a well-paid job in the private sector, I took an 8,000 dollar pay cut to work in student advocacy, because I care about post-secondary education a great deal.

So, please, take your vitriol and shove it. I mean, seriously, why do you think I read and enjoy this blog? Because I'm on the snowflakes' side?

Here's the mantra you need to repeat every morning: For every 2 precious, self-entitled snowflakes that run around with the newest iPods and don't care about your class, there is one student who cares. However, that student doesn't have the time to hang around on campus to aggravate you, because (s)he has to come up with the horrendous tuition and book money somehow, and works two jobs. But that's not even the worst thing: There is also one excellent, motivated student who never applied to university in the first place, because it seemed so ludicrously out of reach.

Those are the ones you should truly get upset about.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where the Shame Is: My Brother Is One Of "Them."

Bad students. You know they're there, lurking around every corner, just waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting professor or TA. You just never think that they share your DNA.

Over the the winter break, I headed for my hometown to visit my family for a few weeks. Only too late did I discover that my baby brother is one of Them.

A sophomore a the local state university, he delighted in sharing tales of his exploits and woes. Like the class in which he never attended a single lecture but managed to beg the instructor to give him a C. Or the women's studies professor who failed him just because she hates men. He was particularly proud of the time he stood up in the middle of a lecture and declared, "I'm not paying good money to be taught by a TA who doesn't know anything!" He then led a mass exodus from the lecture hall.

Of course, I should have seen this coming. He once called me up at 1:30 am the night before a paper was due to ask if paraphrasing Spark Notes was plagiarism. For once, though, 4 out of 5 professors agreed that he couldn't charm his way out of an F when it came time for final grades. Victory!

Maybe he'll learn something when he takes all four of them again next semester. Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Someone's Not Missing Missing The Convention.

Dear Search Committee,

No, I’m not going to the Annual Conference for my yearly round of humiliation. Yes, I know this is where you and every other department on the planet are holding your first round of interviews. Yes, I know the conference is a great “networking” opportunity; I’ve been a billiion times before. And this time, I’m giving it a pass.

Why, you ask? Why aren’t you chomping at the bit at the opportunity to leave your comfortable sunbelt home to fly (at your own expense) into a blizzard-infested bit of hell, stay in yet another overpriced industrial hotel, and be forced into awkward conversations with all the people interviewing for the same jobs as you?

And why on earth don’t you love the wonderful networking opportunity presented by those spontaneous get-togethers at the end of the day— you know, the ones where you run into someone you actually want to talk to and plan to have dinner–except that he or she has to wait for a colleague whom he or she has also previously promised to have dinner with. And that colleague brings along several first-year graduate students straight off the short bus, and as you’re leaving the hotel, several other people who marginally know you or one of the others decide to tag along. Then the two dozen of you get to spend quality time together wandering the streets of an unfamiliar city, looking for a restaurant that serves non-dairy/nut-free food and whose entrees are under $5 (in consideration of the graduate students, of course). And these places never have booze.

Oh, and then there are the interviews themselves: despite having a well-received book published, stellar teaching evaluations, reasearch grants up the wazoo, I always get to be the “minority woman” candidate. ‘How would you make your research program relevant to pregnant dyslexic undocumented immigrants on parole?’ I truly enjoy the mental exercise of forcing myself not to reply “Why the bloody fuck should I?”

And then there are those 15-minute “research” talks that no one ever cites and don’t help anyone’s CV except maybe those of the mentally- challenged first-years. And the sight of all those grubby homeless people wandering around the lobby of the hotel—and the horrifying realization that they are not actually homeless, just there for the conference. Running the interviews. And they always look that way.

So I'm skipping it this year. But you all have a great time!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Student We Never Get.

  • I will do all the assigned work and read all the assigned readings.

  • I will correct students' bad behavior politely after class, not witheringly during class (although that would be fun as well as salutary).

  • I will *stop* being such a nebbish about correcting my fellow students' grammar, spelling, and gross assaults on the English language when we critique each others' rough drafts.

  • I will be polite but firm when I see insipid theses, incoherent paragraphs, and insufficient documentation.

  • I will challenge myself intellectually, reading not just the required material but also unassigned texts relevant to the reading material.

  • I will analyze the works of essayists with established reputations, whether they are assigned or not, for their rhetorical choices and incorporate what I learn into my own writing.

  • I will read books outside of assigned texts to refine and challenge my thinking.

  • I will *never* write an essay about the death penalty, abortion, or the legalization of marijuana unless one of these topics is absolutely required of me - and may I be struck down if I break that vow.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Resolutions Continue: Half-Baked and Vain Hopes Soon To Be Dashed on the Rocks of Rugged Reality.

  • I resolve to pay more attention to my physical and spiritual health.

  • I resolve to put my family first this year.
  • I resolve to put my career first this year.

  • I resolve to read more than a week ahead of my students.
  • I resolve to make my students lead more classes from now on.

  • I resolve to let my hair down and be more myself.

  • I resolve to not take out my frustrations on my students.

  • I resolve to let the punishment fit the crime. (Do you hear me, pinheads?)

  • I resolve to get closer to my students, to be their friend and mentor.

  • I resolve to remind myself that I'm there to be a professor, not my students' best friend.

  • I resolve not to be afraid of applying appropriate discipline as warranted.

  • I resolve to sort out classroom problems without calling in the helpless help of administration and the like.

  • I resolve to warm up as a professor. My students will learn better if they like the person who is their leader.

  • I resolve to be OK with not being liked.

  • I resolve to strike a better balance between teaching and writing.

  • I resolve to spend much more time on my research this year, since it's the thing that will help me progress in my career.

  • I resolve to quit worrying about my "career," and just focus on doing a good job.

  • I resolve to put teaching first, since it's the thing I love the most.

  • I resolve to give my career one last chance. If I can't find happiness, this will be my last semester.

  • I resolve to make the most of where I am instead of complaining about how much I'd rather be somewhere else.

  • I resolve to take the first job I get offered out of state. I don't care if I'm teaching night school to bugs. I can't live here anymore.

  • I resolve to prevent my not having a tenure-track job from interfering with my self-respect.

  • I resolve to get off the adjunct track this year.

  • I resolve to step back after this semester and take a part-time teaching position. I've taught long enough.

  • I resolve to go on at least one date during 2008. (Hey, a boy can dream, right?)

  • I resolve to start dating again!

  • I resolve to focus on my swell new boyfriend (SNB), and forget about waiting for something better to come out of the anthropology department! (They DO have the most sex, by the way.)

  • I resolve to stop making New Year's resolutions.

  • I resolve to stop making New Year's resolutions that are stupid.

  • I resolve to follow at least one of my resolutions this year. Not this one, though!

It's Easy to Talk Tough on the Syllabus in January. Wait Till Someone With Weepy Eyes Comes To You in Early May. That's When We Always Go Mushy.

We start school pretty soon so I have to get my syllabus ready. Like all of you who read RYS, I view the syllabus as a written contract with the students. We tell them what we’ll cover, when we’ll cover it, when the deliverables are due and how much they’ll count toward the grade. Pretty simple stuff. Sort of. Here are some things I’ve had to make sure I stress after 10 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate management students.

  • Makeup exams. I don’t give them. If a student misses a midterm, I shift the weight to the final. I can’t begin to tell you how many grandparents’ lives I’ve saved this way. If I get more than 1 student (out of 50 or 60) missing an exam, it’s unusual. It’s taken a lot of the bullshit out of the semester. The downside – sometimes, a student will be unprepared, take the test and ask me not to count it after (s)he has taken it. Sorry kiddies but mulligans stay on the golf course.

  • The final is when it’s scheduled to be. If that’s late in finals week, tough shit. Don’t tell me you’ve already made flight arrangements. You’ve confused me for someone who gives a shit.

  • I’m going to have to add a line to the syllabus for my part-time graduate students in the fall semester. The final is when it’s scheduled. I don’t care if it conflicts with your company’s Christmas party. Call me the Grinch. I’ve heard worse.

  • I put on the syllabus that it’s up to the student to learn how to use their calculator. That, as it turns out, is as useful as a glass eye at a keyhole. They never keep their manuals or they don’t bother to open them. I love it when they come to my office a half hour before the exam and ask how to use their calculators. Our admissions office assures us they had great SAT scores, were ranked high in their classes, blah blah blah.

  • I also tell them I don’t take attendance but I know who attends regularly and who doesn’t. Gotta love it late in the semester when the student whose face was on a milk carton comes by expressing great concern over his/her performance in the class. Sorry about this, but the 13th week in the semester is a little late to start to give a shit, isn’t it now?

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Resolution Miscellany. Where We Bundle A Cacophony of Hopes and Dreams.

  • I resolve to be nicer to people who love me (there are a few), but to give no quarter to idiots.

  • I resolve not to go buck wild on the associate dean when he calls me "missy" again.

  • I resolve to NOT search for jobs outside of academe and I won't fantasize about moving somewhere else.

  • I resolve to become one of those cool "chief correspondents."

  • I resolve to get papers graded within a week. Well, within ten days.

  • I resolve to defend my dissertation and get a faculty position. If these things turn out to be impossible, I will just reresolve in 2009. Or 2010.

  • I resolve to smile at my students when I say "check your syllabus" instead of rolling my eyes.

  • I resolve to think Swiss. Be neutral. Don't get sucked into silly departmental pissing matches and personality clashes.

  • I resolve to teach, and accept that I will not be popular.

  • I resolve to be myself, and live with the consequences. If I decide to tilt at a windmill, I will try not to get mad when the inevitable shit hits the fan.

  • I resolve to strangle the next book salesman who comes by to tell me that the edition I'm using is way out of date and wouldn't I like one of his bundled packages of textbook, workbook, mini-encyclopedia, baseball cap, and free pen set.

  • I resolve to support my discipline, and take it seriously.

  • I resolve to remember that my students do not pay my salary.

  • I resolve to accept that my colleagues will not always approve of me.
  • I resolve to drink less coffee and more scotch.

Someone Wonders If Profs Are Expected To Market Their Classes.

I don’t know about the rest of the professors here on but I didn’t go into this racket so I could become a salesperson. I went into teaching because I enjoy learning, discussing, and studying in my field.

Does anyone else face having to mount a PR campaign every term so that they get the ‘numbers’ so their classes will run? Does anyone else have the problem that to the administration the quality of the academic experience doesn’t matter, just the sheer quantity of students in your classroom? Is anyone else dismayed at the prevalent attitude among the administration that popularity equals large class enrollment equals education?

Does anyone else find that the "one size fits all" model mean that you are constantly justifying the existence of your small classes, small because your field requires seminars, workshops, studios, not lecture courses? If the administration wants us to stuff our classes, then I think they need to appoint each department their own marketing staff.

Should I have chose between preparing my classes and doing research or creating posters? Should I worry that my salary is being tied to how many ‘customers’ I can drum up?

I just want to teach!