Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today's WTF Moment. Julia Allison Deluge.

Okay, so we're geeky enough to read Wired magazine, a truly great mag that makes its way around the compound. This morning - as a little inside joke - we referenced "Julia Allison" in a post header, a 20-something narcissist who made the cover of Wired last month in the piece, "How to Get Internet Famous (Even If You're Nobody.")

She's a past editor of Star magazine, and a dating columnist for a New York mag, but mostly she just seems to be a gadabout with a remarkable gift for keeping the world updated with her ongoing "lifecast." Because we're serious academics, we've read her blog, checked out her videos, and even caught up with her frequent updates on

We're more than a little embarrassed. We also had this odd feeling that we'd seen her before, in the souls and hearts of our most annoying students, the ones who think their lives REALLY need to be chronicled on Facebook and MySpace, and who think that updating their "friends" is more important than finishing up a lab report.

Anyway, lots of people apparently scour blogs daily for her name, because we got about a dozen notes this morning from non-RYSers about Julia, some pointing us to her "new" site, some telling us we're smart for using her name to drive traffic to our site, and some, well, like the ones below.

We still don't get the whole Internet thing, we suppose.
Bleeeeecccccccchhhhhh! You only wish you were as sexy as Julia. Your article sux and this whole blog is a snooze. Righteous arms, people...only the righteous parties get my facetime.


Bunch of latecomers to the part-ay! Name dropping is not cool unless you really know JA. And she I am assured defiantly does not know you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Frazzled Freida from Fredonia Flips Nanaimo Nick a Fuck You.

To drop to the depths of your comments, who in the hell do you think you're talking to!?!

I don't know what classrooms you teach in, but where I'm at we take our courses very seriously. We work hard to pick textbooks that will work for students who no longer know how to read. We struggle to come up with a way to entice them to think. We make lesson plans, practice our lectures, grade our papers in a timely manner, and attend all the faculty meetings, workshops and the dreaded in-services. We get paid half of what we should -- yeah, I know we're called the rich full-timers by the struggling part-timer but when anyone adds the time I spend in classes to the time I spend in committees to the time I spend researching new ideas, I'm still sure I'm barely making minimum wage.

We also bitch, moan, complain, rant and rave. I reserve the right to continue to vent on this site specifically because at least here I know I'm talking to people who understand. What do you think keeps me sane when I've worked for hours to get a presentation ready only to face a room full of students who haven't read the chapter so they'll have no clue what I'm talking about. Yes, I vent about the kid who sleeps in the back row, the girl who is so dense I don't know why she's even in school, the athlete who comes begging with yet another sick grandmother story (my grandma would have kicked my ass from the grave if she had found out I even thought about using her dying as an excuse to get out of writing a paper). I have weird names for my students, I make fun of them, I rage about them, I throw things, I curse loudly.

I also raise my hand at meetings and make suggestions even if everyone groans and says "we've tried that before." I submit well researched, aggressive strategic plans only to get shot down by a state governor who keeps slashing the education budget. I also, and I mean this, have been known on more than one occasion to take money out of my own pocket to pay for something we needed in a course because the budget constraints are killing us.

Speaking of my unwavering commitment - I've bought student lunches, bought school supplies, given out my own pens and pencils in unbelievable numbers. I, the college professor, shop at Wal-Mart, Target, Staples and everyone else that has 2 for 1 specials on school supplies not because I have children at home -- I don't -- but because I have kids at school that this blessed system of ours doesn't have the ability to support.

They're lazy little slackers, but they're MY lazy little slackers and by golly I will rant and rave about them all I want. And I will rant and rave here because we're not a bunch of complainers -- we're a bunch of very tired, very frustrated, very aggravated people who want to get all this off our communal chests so we have the courage to go back out there and face the music.

In short, unsubscribe, take this site off your list of favorites, or blow me. Just don't dare call me someone who doesn't care about solving the problems.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Some Summer Readers Hang Nanaimo Nick Out to Dry.

  • Given my workload and the fact that I've got children, I can ill afford to spend a whole evening in a spliff-induced stupor. However, I would gladly fire up a fatty of BC Bud in celebration if Nick would just fuck off.

  • After reading Naysayer Nick's smarmy and self-congratulatory note I concluded that part of the reason RYS exists is so we can vent about all the cheerleader dickheads like Nick who scold us about venting and who pretend that all the issues within higher ed can be solved if we were all as brilliant in the classroom as he appears to think he is. After all, don't we all have colleagues like Nick who never voice any complaints, concerns, gripes, or critical perspectives but instead grin and act like this is the best of all possible worlds? These cheerleaders like to play at being eternally optimistic because that act is well received by the college administrators who are always looking for a few good yes-men and yes-women to validate the new plan to increase "instructional efficiency" or "research output" or "community engagement" or what-have-you. Not all of these initiatives will be successful - so why shouldn't faculty have the right and the obligation to question these things? The problem with these cheerleaders is that they often seem adept at avoiding their fair share of the work that is added to load of work in the department. It seems that those who complain the least often have the least to complain about. Unlike Nick, I don't feel I need to put on a show of blind optimism to be effective. I work hard in the classroom, gripe to my colleagues when appropriate, and still love my friggin' job - at least 95% of the time (the other 5% of the time is during finals week). One doesn't have to choose between being a dedicated and effective professor and complaining about real problems. So Nick, as long as there are colleagues like you there will be a place like RYS for the rest of us laugh about you.

  • Do you often revisit websites that you don't like? Sending an email saying "I still think your site sucks!" tells us a lot about you. Get help. Notice the "*Summer Hiatus*" sticker at the top of the screen? Christ, these RYS kids probably worked extra hard to include the asterisks and you totally missed it.

  • We don't have to choose between teaching and bitching. We can do both. Don't tell me what "we" need or don't need, as if everybody's the same. If you lump me in with those Marxist po-mo pussies in humanities, you're walking on my fightin' side. As it turns out, you sure did need a place to vent. Glad you could participate - that's what RYS is here for! I'm puzzled by your complaint about RYS debates devolving into name calling, which follows your statements that RYS and its readers are abominable, weak, a disgrace and juvenile. Are we supposed to follow your example by just skipping the debate part? See you later turd.

  • You expect anyone to take advice and a scolding from a guy whose admonition to professors is a rip-off of Tim Gunn from Project Runway: We just need to get in the classroom and "make it work"? Oh, really? Let's think this through a little: the site is less active, Nick old chap, not because it's in its death throes, but because it's fucking summer. You know, that period of a couple months during which most faculty don't teach but instead finally have time to do things like read books and write articles and prepare for upcoming classes, and let's not forget that important summer task of becoming re-acquainted with one's spouse and family and friends, since it's rare to see them except in passing during the school year. You know the school year, right, Nicky pal? In case you've been in the sun too long and have temporarily forgotten: it's that period of the year encompassing three seasons and requiring 50-75 hour work weeks because most professors are "making it work" in the classroom, while also fulfilling other obligations like student mentoring and advising, busting plagiarists, performing committee work and service to the university and the to the department and to the profession, serving on MA or PhD committees, giving conference presentations, organizing conferences and/or hosting speakers. Give me a break with your attempt to tap dance on the grave of the blog. Your premature gloating is as ridiculous as your borrowed catchphrase. Don't make me point out the multiple instances of faulty reasoning in your post -- I'm on summer "break" (ha!) and not in the mood to correct anyone right now. The weather's great, wish you weren't here! I Complain Because I Care!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hey, Nick. Suck It.

I can't believe this site is still up. I'm glad to see you're only posting once a week or so. That means your mail is way down, and it means this abominable site has lost its readership.

I read about this in the Chronicle last year and I thought it must be a joke, but of course it wasn't. All of the weakest professors in the country must take solace that there are others of their number who sit around bitching instead of teaching.

I'm guessing from your paucity of postings that you're about ready to roll over and die, fade away. And it will be better for all of the academe. We don't need a place to "vent." We need to get in the classroom and make it work.

Glad to see you're in ill health and fading fast. This site has always been a disgrace. You're juvenile and academically empty, and when you try to engage in real debate, you fall back on name calling and conflation of issues. I will light up a doobie when it goes completely dark.

Naysayer Nick from Nanaimo

Monday, July 21, 2008

How Much Does Society Pay for Susie Slacker's Education? A Continuation of Our Polite Discussion on the Consumerist Model.

I'd just like to add one more perspective to this discussion of the "consumer model" of higher ed, if I might.

I work at a small state university in Florida. At our university, when a student signs up for a full-time load and pays full ("retail price"?) tuition, that student is not even coming close to even covering her fractional share of the university's semester-by-semester operating budget, let alone supplying a little profit -- which is what a consumer model would mean: all costs covered, plus profit. Based on public records, a student at my university is paying for only one tenth her fractional share. The rest of the money comes from the State.

Obviously, this is not a "free market" approach to education. This is a socialized and subsidized approach, in which "society" pays the vast majority of the bill, presumably so that "society" as a whole can benefit from having a certain number of better-educated citizens walking around -- signified by their degrees.

Since "society" doesn't benefit from having slackers and dumbos mixed into that pool of persons, society prefers we fail those who cannot "hack it." This is our job as faculty: we weed out the weak or unwilling so that the BA or BS or MS or MA or what-have-you will signify something useful to "society" -- and it is "society" who pays us for this sorting (or "graduating") that we do.

My state makes matters even more interesting, because my state has a program called "Bright Futures" which has become the third-rail of Florida politics: utterly untouchable. Established by Jeb Bush, it is essentially socialized higher-ed for anyone who graduates from a Florida high school. With a good GPA and a few hours of community service work, a high school graduate gets a full 100% ride to any college in the state and even a stipend every semester to buy books. Mediocre students get 70 percent of Florida's already heavily-subsidized per-credit cost paid for by the state.

The point is, though, when students come up to you complaining that they are "consumers" and you are a "service person" that they are paying for a "product," it might benefit you to look into who's really paying the bill -- the full bill, not just the bill the student or her parents receive. Odds are, if you pay more state taxes than the student does, you're doing more to pay for her education that she is.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"The Beauty of our Weapons." One of Our Chief Correspondents Waxes on Consumerism, Online Courses, and Leonard Cohen.

I clearly remember the first time a student suggested to me that he was my employer, that he “paid my salary” with his tuition. I responded by noting that in all likelihood his mommy and daddy were my employers, not him, but that even if he was paying his own tuition, he had the relationship wrong. “You may think of yourself as the CEO if it makes you feel better,” I said, “but I’m not one of your employees because you can’t fire me – at least not directly. Better to think of me as a consultant hired to tell you why your company is tanking.”

What’s the big problem that fills me with anxiety even during the summer? I’m pretty much in tune with the correspondent who wrote the “old saw” post, though my take is more abstract: American higher education reflects the values of American society and those values are largely consumerist. Which is to say, anti-intellectual. On the other hand, most professors in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences value intellectual effort, if not always for its own sake, for reasons that go beyond the consumerist model of education. We think ideas and knowledge are important, not just because one can turn a profit with them, but because one can use ideas and knowledge to think about the world and understand it. But the whole purpose of consumer culture is to anesthetize one to ideas.

Many American students have little interest in understanding the world if that understanding does not involve a larger plasma television in the den. And it goes without saying that you will have a room in your house – a den – to house the television set. Teachers might find it useful to think of their mission as merely helping students imagine that there are people in the world without TVs and rooms to put them in. That would be a good start, though by the time they arrive in the college classroom, most students have had the imagination beaten out of them by standardized tests and a K-12 system that not only encourages conformity, but insists upon it.

Different kinds of students are affected in different ways by the consumer culture they swim in like little tiny fish. The sons and daughters of the ruling class at Harvard and Yale are perhaps more sophisticated socially and they are affected by consumerism in a way different from various “struggling” and “disadvantaged” constituencies; both groups are equally drunk on the consumerist hooch. In the 1960s we called this “false consciousness,” though I think that term is currently out of fashion. This is pretty clearly a problem with American society, not just a random student attitude, and consequently there is not a whole lot we can do about the student as consumer except practice a little consumer education.

The problem is exacerbated by online courses, but only by degree. (This is on my mind because I’m teaching one this summer.) Essentially, all college courses are now “online” in the sense that students expect the same sort of experience from one consumer encounter as from another. Students are so comfortable purchasing consumer goods online that the material in such courses seems like just one more download from iTunes or a book from Amazon. (Students still do read books, don’t they?) Worse, students often don’t even see course materials and faculty interaction as a purchase, but as just another bit of entertainment from You Tube or the like. There is a weird paradox here is that students are dedicated, even frantic, consumers of “education,” but they are not very good consumers. They think they know what they want, but they have been duped by a lifetime of advertising. It’s hard, given the quantity of bullshit they produce, to think of them as victims, but that’s what most of them are.

Look, I have it easy. I’m a full prof with a reasonable teaching load. I know that the majority of my colleagues out there labor under far less favorable conditions than I do. I also work in a department in which we have no part-time faculty despite the fact that we are responsible for the first-year writing program. (We do have non-tenure track faculty, but they are full-time, with benefits.) I know that contingent faculty are, more directly, their students’ employees under the prevailing system of academic labor. So I work in Valhalla whereas most people reading this work in one of the circles of hell, or at least in purgatory. The descriptions of that inferno drove our late lamented moderator Craig from the RYS compound. I wish him well as he recovers his balance.

The college classroom is, though, one of the last free spaces available. True, it is under attack from every direction, but when we close the door we can create a charged space because there is the potential for real conversation. We need to use it to foster imagination and critical thought. Most students will blank out, a few might take their vague dissatisfaction with their world and apply it to the work at hand, and a precious few will catch the spark and carry it on. The question is: What sort of a relationship can a college teacher have with a room filled with (not very good) consumers? The first thing to note, I think, is that a teacher must always be alert to the lone student groping past the limits of consumerism, however weakly. That student is our best hope. The other thing that we can do as college teachers – as intellectuals – is to critique our own consumerism and bring the results of that critique into the classroom. We need to rigorously put students on the spot and hammer at them to think for themselves.

I didn’t mean to adopt such a hortatory tone. Sorry. Perhaps we can roll the final credits to this little sermon over a Leonard Cohen song containing the lovely phrase “the beauty of our weapons.” Our weapons are beautiful and we must use them even in a lost cause:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'd really like to live beside you, baby
I love your body and your spirit and your clothes
But you see that line there moving through the station?
I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those

Friday, July 11, 2008

Uh, The Clowns DO Run the Circus, Right? But We Still Get Your Point. Wisconsin Willie Waits.

I teach at a major university in the Midwest. I will not tell you which one because it might hurt the students and administrators feelings.

I am not a tenured faculty in the management area but nonetheless love and respect my job. I spent 10 years in corporate America and simultaneously taught as an adjunct, swearing one day to do what I love to do the most - teach. I have been teaching at this school for 6 years with mostly glowing recommendations. Upon finishing finals this past semester, I took a deep breath and began to relax. After all, I was to teach only one class in summer school and had three weeks before it began.

I received a call two days before the class was to begin from the Human Resources ombudsman of the college. He advised me the administration had received student complaints and would be putting me on paid leave until things were resolved. I was also informed I would not be teaching the summer class.

I waited two weeks before I received a subsequent phone call. The ombudsman informed me that a couple of students said I cheated on the evaluations and actually saw them before I turned them in. Another couple of students said that I favored pretty women in class and had actually touched one of them on the back, and a few other students said that I had a clique and only those students would receive good grades.

I waited another four weeks before I received a phone call from HR. This was my “interview” as they called it. HR asked me the following questions:

  1. Did you touch a student on the back? No I said. What would be the purpose?

  2. Did you offer to give a student a ride home? No.

  3. Why did you cheat on the evaluations and look at them before they were turned in? (This is impossible as my TA administered and collected these while I remained outside the classroom) I did not cheat on the evaluations and take out the ‘bad’ ones. Think about it. If I did take out the ‘bad’ evaluations, then we would not be having this conversation because you would not have anything ‘bad’ to talk to me about!

  4. Why did you have cliques in class? I did not have cliques. I had the perpetual ‘clingons’—those that stay after class to ask questions that most of the time have nothing to do with the class itself.

  5. Why did you…(HR reviewed my evaluations and asked ‘why’ on several of the comments I received in my evaluations, most of which had nothing to do with the current investigation) I asked about these comments and whether they were HR’s responsibility or my faculty manager’s responsibility?

During this telephone interview, not one time did I receive the benefit of the doubt. HR’s response when I commented on the validity of these allegations was, “Why would students make something up like this?”

Obviously these people know nothing about how deceitful, cunning, irresponsible, and just downright mean these kids can be. In fact, one student told me last semester, “Dr. X, I think we are the customers and you are the company. You must provide us with excellent service. If we think you are not providing us with this service, we will tell your boss.” First of all, they are not my customers, they are my students. Second of all, if they are not experts in pedagogy, how do they know I am providing them with what they need? Believe it or not, some people may not like the method and content of a lesson, but it is what they ‘need’ even though they may not ‘want’ it. A question for all faculty: Why are the clowns running the circus?

In summary, I am sitting at home waiting on the verdict from the ivory academic administration towers. If they believe these students, then I am out of a job. If they believe me I may still be out of a job because these students are paying (customers) and the administration wants to make sure they keep coming back. If I do get my job back, they I will speak well of this institution and the intestinal fortitude it took to stand by a lowly teaching faculty.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Phys. Ed Phil, The Phony From Philomath, Phoaming.

I am so over this career. Is there some kind of trick you use to get psyched up for a new year? I've been teaching for 2 years now, and I thought it'd be a great job. I loved school when I was in school. Grad school was about the most fun I ever had. And now I'm a T-T at a cool enough place and I just want to go enroll in an MBA program or something instead.

Doesn't it wear on you, the endless parade of idiocy? The meetings that mean nothing? The self-congratulatory faculty bullshit where we all tell ourselves that our Podunk University is changing the face of 21st century education, blah blah blah? I just want to go postal on the whole damn game.

Oh, and the students, the students who don't give a shit, who think we're impediments to their happiness? The ones with too many questions, or not enough, or the ones who have the permanent blank stare affixed to their faces.

I see people in my department who look all revved up already and I'm gripped in cold fear and anxiety. I feel like a fraud, a phony.

Oh, call me Jim the Gym Rat from Germantown, okay?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Student Advocate Returns And We Revisit the YMGTC Problem.

I can't help but wonder that academics often want to have their cake and eat it, too. Now, no, I'm not one of you, but I'm usually on your side: I also happen to think that most students currently studying at post-secondary institutions shouldn't be there in the first place. But didn't academics create this problem themselves? Honestly now - aren't we all convinced that not having gone to college is a serious impediment to a rich and stimulating life experience? In fact, haven't we been preaching that to students for decades?

Well, congrats. People bought it, and went to college, which caused strong credential inflation. And suddenly, all the plebes who just wanted to be in middle management at JC Penney now needed a degree to beat out the competition, so they came as well. And to think about how many of you wouldn't be working in academia at all if we only admitted the great students! Now, wouldn't that just be a shame, considering the job market for academics is already so tight?

Here are some truths:
  1. The pursuit of knowledge is not the be-all-end-all of life. It is for you and for me, but not for "them." "They" have other talents - the kind you an I frown upon, and the kind they've never had the chance to develop because of YMGTC. And because we don't encourage those kids, academics suffer, and endless sums of taxpayer money are wasted so "they" can pretend to learn something theoretical.

  2. No one is ever going to have the guts to walk up to a legislator and say "No, thanks, we don't need more spaces!" Not academics and administrators, and not the parents who are terrified that their children will get stuck in a minimum-wage job.

  3. Other countries will do better than we do. They will realize the hard truth that not everyone is college material (and take into account socioeconomic factors to separate the truly-talented from the heavily-tutored), and they will realize that we only need so many college spaces. They will raise the social regard for other occupations, and support children in their endeavors and talents early instead of sending mechanical Suzie to after-school tutoring and/or bribing admission officials on her behalf. I don't know which country that'll be, or if they already exist (Sweden is a usual suspect, no?) but someone is bound to realize, and I'm already jealous of their economic upturn.

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