Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking Plagiarism Personally.

It happens every semester as the end closes in. While some students beg for points, and others beg for extensions, there are those that take a simpler, less personal approach. They cheat. At the small community college where I work, there were seven confirmed, documented blatant cases of plagiarism in two days, and more are coming in every day. I’m not talking about the misuse of MLA, and I assume we are missing the recycling of papers from previous semesters. These are papers where students have purchased papers from the online paper mills. The students change a few words so that it is more difficult to Google, but we have caught them nonetheless (and no, we don’t have Turnitin or anything like that to help us – it’s all about the instructor and Google and digging for the phrase that will answer the burning question: how did Tommy manage to write such a good paper).

As angry, pissed off, frustrated and depressed as all this has made me, the one thing I can’t seem to get over is that the only advice my colleagues have for me is this: “there’s really not much you can do other than give the student a zero on the assignment and remember, don’t take this personally.” There’s a look of hopelessness in their eyes. And for good reason. While I can give a student a zero, the student can drop the class. Once that happens, the student is free to move on to another class and, using everything they learned not to do, try it again on another unsuspecting instructor. When I asked another professor if there was anywhere in the Almighty System where the Dean of Student Services could track and reprimand chronic plagiarizers and cheaters, he answered me, "No, and if you think about it you'll realize you wouldn't want the administration to be able to do anything to OUR students."

It seems that in order for anything a student would really be afraid of to happen like, I don’t know, expulsion or suspension or loss of tuition waivers and scholarships, one instructor has to jump into the fire armed with two documented cases of plagiarism. And, as I’ve been told, if I thought about it I’d want it that way. Therefore, no one jumps into the fire and, as we’ve seen from the response on this site about what happens when one does that, for good reason. Leaving us with chronic plagiarizers who slip from one class to another, working their way through college while we don’t take it personally.

No wonder I can’t wait for the semester to be over. If any of MY students are reading this…don’t take it personally.

Mid Career Mike. Restless Regrets.

I am more than a little embarrassed to appear on these pages today, so full of myself was I during my job search this year that resulted in a great offer from a really cool location.

But as this semester is in its last week, I know I'm leaving behind a really great school with great colleagues, and I did it out of a combination of arrogance, stupidity, self-satsifaction, and a number of imagined notions that ended up not being real - except in my head.

As soon as I had the offer at Soda Pop College, I began seeing my home institution in a different way. I talked a little about that feeling about a month ago, and now the feeling is more clear.

I don't regret the opportunities coming up in Florida; those do seem like great folks, and it's a job I believe I'll be good at. But I know beyond a doubt now that I could have been happy where I am, too, had I given it a chance.

I look now at the events that have transpired over the past couple of years, and I see that the mistakes that were made, the things that made me go job-hunting, were all my fault.

  1. I believe I got hired "down," into a school that I was better than. This colored almost everything I did during my time here. I had a chip on my shoulder when this was the best job I could find, and every day I've been here I've thought I was better than the school, and certainly better than the folks who were my colleagues. But I'm not. It doesn't matter where I did my grad school, or where my colleagues did theirs. These are hard working folks, genuine, earnest, and I'm ashamed for looking down on them because their degrees are not from the traditional powerhouses.

  2. I kept to myself. Part of #1, of course, this problem just makes itself worse. When I first arrived I was greeted and welcomed, and I was standoffish. I stayed to myself and it's a perpetuating action because if you tell people to leave you alone enough -they eventually do. I then thought of my colleagues as unfriendly, although it was me who pushed them away. I've gotten to know my colleagues better since I got the new job, since I let my guard down a bit. And I was wrong to be a solo act.

  3. I thought of this place as temporary. Well, and it became temporary. I never invested myself in the town or the college. I've been here a number of years, but still rent. I escaped town every summer and went "home," because that's where I felt comfortable. But this town and this place is terrific. It has all the things anyone would need. But because I believed "better" situations were ahead, I just thought of it as a stopping point. My colleagues have homes and families and roots, and they love the town and the college. I didn't because I never acted as if I was staying.

  4. My grad school pals are mostly like me, and we reconvened at conferences and via phone and email, and for the past 2-3 years all conversations are about where we're going "next." I believe each of us has made some of these same mistakes. We believe we're meant for bigger things; we tell each other the same. And our little "community" came to become a restless and searching group, none of us really making our new academic homes REAL homes.

And it's been just a crushing realization, all of this. What a fucking asshole I've been. And I don't mean to overstate things. My colleagues have been genuine and warm about my leaving, and as I noted earlier, I've gotten to know some of them better in the past months. Nobody hates me or begrudges me. Instead, they've all been supportive. And I don't deserve much of it.

I talked to my best grad school pal last night about all of this. I told her, "Listen, give it a chance." And I'm talking to all of you now, all of you folks in your first or second jobs, those of you at least who think you've got to move, keep digging, keeping that CV ready in multiple copies. There are many great homes around the academic world. I never ever saw mine that way until recently. I was blinded by restlessness or ambition or something, and now I fling myself into another brand new situation when I know I had something very good right here.

Don't make my mistake.

I'm still headed to Soda Pop College, and I'm still excited about the opportunity. I'm going to invest myself in that town and the world, and I'm going to do everything I can not to make the mistakes that have marred the last few years of my life and career. I wish I could have a re-do. If I can't have one, maybe my story can help others before they need one of their own.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Portia from Prince Albert Proffers Props to the Proffies.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation of, agreement with and no small amount of personal delight in the views many professors express on your blog. I am a member of a student contingent who believes you and other professors should repeatedly "kick our asses" into high gear. I feel compelled to share a few thoughts from the peanut gallery of slightly educated babies, for you and the other professors who feel (and rightly so) unappreciated, defeated, ridiculed, etc.

I often find myself the first person (from the time a book was brought to the institution) to bother withdrawing a particular text from the library, or to read an applicable resource outside of the assigned readings for a course. I would also lobby for more reading and writing in courses: two six page papers and a three-hundred page textbook in an upper level undergraduate art history course cannot be enough!

To speak symbolically, we must learn the language of a given discipline. Soren Kierkegaard and Immanuel Kant are delightfully engaging, but one cannot engage/play with their ideas until you read and understand them (not that I have even begun to understand many things, hence my continued education). Comprehension and application are but two goals that you, as professors who are routinely evaluated and accredited, push us towards. Likewise, I believe that any subtlety and nuance a text, image, equation, etc. may hold cannot be appreciated by a mind untrained in the core concepts of its respective discipline.

Any given institution has a few "bad apples" in the bunch, but we are so foolish as students when we lump the entire faculty under one heading. Why do we express a hostile attitude? Why the adversarial relationship? Quite simply put: most of us are spoiled rotten, lazy, close-minded little people puffed up on pride (I have to include myself here). We have been raised in a society that repeatedly tells us how much we are entitled to (before we have even begun to WORK!) and how important we personally are. This is in direct opposition to the history, needs, expectations and requirements of most of the world. Very often, professors will be the first "no" we ever encounter, or the first voice that says, "Well, as marvelous as all your achievements to date are, you still need to continue to work hard." "Yes, it will be that way until you, until Kanye West calls you with an offer, I suggest you study your ass off."

Any professor has my full support who unabashedly reminds their students that "higher" education is a privilege, not a damn birthright. Yes, I don't care that we work to earn and pay for it...earning and retaining a place in the classroom only highlights my point.

Despite our tuition fees being a "drop in the bucket" of college and university operating costs, students pay you to do precisely what you are doing: educate us, teach us to THINK and exercise our lazy minds. I cannot tell you how frustrated I am with society's anti-intellectual attempts to relegate education. We honestly believe that "old books" contain irrelevant ideas, that we should not study something we don't see a practical application for and that grades are a collection of numeric brownie points, expressing the worth of any given human being.

We don't want to be graded for how we actually learn, process or synthesize thought and express ourselves coherently. We need t-shirts that say, "Please mark me quickly, based on how wonderful I think I am, so I can get the hell out of here and get a real job." The meta-culture of North American consumerism, coupled with pseudo-utilitarian value judgements are tearing down the efforts you make to help us grow beyond ourselves. I can only hope that future generations will appreciate your valuable work and fund it heavily.

A Message From Topeka. (Where Our Most Favorite Student Correspondent Ever Drops a Shitload of Questions We're Going to Be Unable to Answer.)

Okay, so my question is:

what did ya'all read back then?

Curiousity, all that.

We did Shakespeare; Rom & Jul, et tu Brute? emo hamlet, and crazy ol' Macbeth. Hawthorne, not his best obviously. (Yawn, yawn. Red. He did some cool ghost stories 'tho.) The Crucible, we also watched the movie which made me cry. (To be fair -- I /loved/ me some Zora and Willa and I have a soft spot for Invisible Man.) Death of a Salesman did not bother me. Who still believes in the American Dream? Fuck the 50s, seriously.

Oh, and is Harper Lee dead YET? I really connected with Carson Mccullers, Salinger (/of/ course). Drop in some good scifi - Asimov, Bradbury.

We never covered the fun stuff -- Vonnegut, Heller. (No Kafka! no untangling Faulkner's alcoholism.) How did I not know that Capote was so obviously gay?

What are we missing? I mean in the past and the present. Will we see Cormac in our classrooms? Who is the next Steinbeck? can I get a bit of Palahnuik? David Foster Wallace?

I guess I'm asking: what's the new stuff? the old stuff? what is good? was is bad? What is essential to you?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Reno from Raleigh With the Final Word on the Study Guide Bullshit.

I teach "Art History," and invariably get cries and moans about study I give them one.

I prepare a one page sheet that *literally* just lists every artist and work of art we have talked about in the class (I even throw in a few extra--I figure, what the hell? They probably weren't paying attention the first time through.) I hand out copies the week before the test, and my snowflakes are super-duper happy about it, even though it is completely useless in pedagogical terms. I think it is just the ritual of the review sheet that they are used to...and I am more than happy to play my part, since it helps keep insane statements like, "We never knew what questions were going to be asked on the test!" off of my evaluations.

Hell, I even throw a review session for each exam. And this is where it gets good. It is always at some ridiculously early hour (like 7.30am). I always blame the time on classroom scheduling, since our uni is notoriously overcrowded (the students just shake their head knowingly when I explain to them how I spent an hour on the phone trying to get the classroom schedule opened up so we wouldn't have to do it at 6am). I get to school at that time anyways, and this helps to cut down on the "slacker factor". I make it a BIG DEAL...I schedule it weeks in advance, make an insane amount of flyers (or rather, I give some keener 5 extra credit points to make them) and then post these ALL over our part of the campus. The students are allowed to bring donuts and coffee (I tell them it is against the rules--which it isn't--but that I will look the other way in this case...for them), and being present at my "Super Kool Review Session Party" becomes a (reluctant) point of pride among many of my students. My administration loves it -- I look like the most dedicated proffie ever, and the student evals often suggest just that.

What's more, it is extremely "student centered" (GAG! Sorry, I just puked into my mouth a little bit...). The students have to prepare questions to ask ME during the session--no questions, no review. It took a while for them to get that part, especially those that like to skip the class all semester and just show up for the review. The first time, we sat in complete silence for 25 minutes (I spent that time reading RYS on my laptop!) until some kid realized that I meant it and started asking questions.

Here's the kicker: I will only answer "Yes" or "No" questions. Seriously. It is a REVIEW SESSION...I will help you check the notes you took in class, nothing more.

"Is Van Gogh spelled G-O-G-H?"


"Is he French?"


By the third or fourth question, I am completely out of the equation -- the students start answering each other's questions (sometimes with sighs and rolls-of-the-eyes, "Van Gogh was NOT French, you douche!"), and I only have to chime in with the occasional "No" when someone tries to share some bad info (I do have some heart). For most of the sessions, I sit there--like a sage--and quietly sip my coffee.

...and revel in my delight.

And why am I so happy? Because I get to see my snowflakes blossom into full-fledged little snowmen? Because, for one brief, shining moment I get to glimpse the potential of these bright young minds?

Fuck No.

Because I have beat them. I have used their neediness, their immaturity, their institutionalized laziness against them. I have turned the system back on itself. In a world in which these snowflakes expect to be the center of the universe, I put them there--and walk away.

I do *absolutely nothing*, and get LOVED for it -- NOT. ONE. THING.

I realized a long time ago that my doctorate gives me one great advantage over these kids:

It means I am FUCKING SMARTER than they are.

Once I realized that, I put all of the powers of my intellect towards one goal: tricking them into doing shit that they should be doing anyway, while giving me all the credit. I mean, think about it. We spend most of our time trying to convince students that they should be responsible, intellectually curious, self-reliant...and what's the result? They say we are "not available for help enough," "too hard," or "unfair." Fuck 'em. I would rather just use my advantage to get the same results. I mean, if I can't outsmart some 20-year old frat boy...should I really be teaching anyway?

The Fall At Eden.

Once upon a time, in a distant land, there was an institution of higher learning called Eden College. No Snowflakes attended this utopian university, only those eager, teachable minds. They absorbed knowledge, participated in class discussion, and could synthesize material from one class to another. They went forth, multiplying. Until That Day happened. On That Day the educational juggernaut as it was known was forever transformed into whatever circle of hell it is now. On That Day, two particular students, one male, one female, decided to come to class late. That Day, education fell.

We now live and work in the aftermath. Like its spiritual counterpart, the consequences have been far-reaching and progressive. To this, no one would argue. I had thought I could patiently deal with the manifestations of this fallen world, until yesterday. Yesterday, I broke. I cannot fathom how far the students have dropped, that following directions has become a nearly impossible task for them. The issue at hand was citing a research paper. They were taught how to do it. Directions were posted on Blackboard. Every one of them met with me with their rough drafts, with instructions, "Be sure when you get to citing, you let me see that you are on the right track." Nope. Didn't work. "Oh, but it's now how we learned it in another class!" Tough crap. I didn't teach that other class. Then today, projects due, a three-part project. Directions are on Blackboard. I nearly begged them to remember to do all three parts. I pleaded to let me see drafts. Nope. Maybe 33% of the class followed directions.

I wish I could say it was one Stupid Snowflake that struggles with this. I wish I could pin the blame on a dope-smoking frat boy or some other person we all love to hate. But it's most of them; the good, the bad, and the ones we can't figure out how they even got into college. It's depressing. How do they expect to succeed after college if they can't succeed when we are telling them everything to do?

Next semester, I'm going to do it differently. I am not going to have directions for anything. I'll just tell them to create their own assignments and grade them. Why should I bother with creating methods for them to increase their learning and mastery over material they claim to want to know for their future professions if they won't comply with how to do them correctly and successfully? Does anyone else feel my pain?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We Send This Proffie a Big RYS Hug...

They are trying to steal my joy, but I will NOT let them.

I want to say, "FUCK YOU" to so many of them, it's not even funny. But instead, I'm just tired.

I'm tired of them taking a subject that I love and turning it into a chore.

I'm tired of wanting to cry on the drive there Monday night.

I'm tired of the whining for extra credit when they haven't done the CREDIT assignments.

I'm tired of the STUPID, INSANE, ASININE remarks that are made in lieu of the intelligent remarks that would come to mind if you READ THE FUCKING ASSIGNMENT. Yes, there are no "Right Answers" but there are intelligent comments. There IS a difference.

I'm tired of the stupid questions, "How do you spell Kierkegaard?" The way it was spelled in the fucking book, the one you were supposed to read BEFORE today.

I'm tired of watching you flip through the book to find the page I am on. (It reminds me of the way I flip through the bible in church when I visit - I'm agnostic. If the verse is in Exodus, I don't want to be looking in Revelations like a dumb ass. FYI - Here's what I do. I look at the program - syllabus - and find the selection in advance. So even if I don't know the bible, I will at least refrain from looking like an idiot when the time comes for us to read. You could do the same.)

I'm tired of you thinking that I won't notice that you stole work. You didn't read for the class, yet you expect me to believe that you read an outside source??? BITCH PLEASE! And, based on your essay responses in the test, this does NOT sound like you. Hell, it barely sounds like me, and I'm the instructor!

I'm tired of lecturing when I should be facilitating discussion.

I'm tired of reading passages aloud, because you haven't read them.

I'm tired of worrying that I'm grading you too hard because I hate you.

I'm tired of school and summer can't get here fast enough.

I'm looking forward to missing you, because that's the only way I can love you again. But there will be some first day of class smack down next semester. It will NOT go down like this again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Worst Department Ever? The Early Leader is Ingrid from Iowa.

I teach at a SLAC in the Midwest, a genial and welcoming town where I felt lucky to arrive a few years ago. My time here has been relatively pleasant. The students are fine. I found a husband - unexpectedly - in the athletic department. All in all, I'm glad I came.

But if you're looking for the worst department ever, I think I have a shot.

Louis the Lech: Oh, this one's easy. Louis is 50, bald, fat, smelly, and hands-y. He has the pervy, skeevy look, the tight polyester pants, and a little bit of drool always on his bottom lip. While I can't confirm he diddles in the student pool, his "holiday hugs" linger way longer than any female faculty can stand.

Dina the Ditz: Dina is our department secretary. She is not quite as cunning as, say, an international terrorist, but it's close. Dina will lose any paperwork you turn in to her, especially textbook orders, which she insists must go through her. I've started to turn in two sets, one right to the bookstore, after she sabotaged 2 semesters in a row. She'll tell you what our married colleagues are up to - in the bedroom or otherwise - without you asking. Her hours are 9-4, but she actually works about 10-3, the other time being spent smoking in the faculty bathroom. She often tells students incorrect information. "I think Prof. So-n-So cancelled class." "I'd bet your professor wouldn't mind if you were late." "Sure, turn in your final exam to me." (It was lost.)

Persistently-Perky Patty: The colleague I hate most. Patty bubbles happiness. She farts a little happy tune. Her burps form a fuzzy cloud of cotton candy. She thinks our mediocre college is the "greatest!" She thinks her students are worthy of the Ivy League. She thinks one day we'll be recognized as the "finest liberal arts college in the country," even though that's absolutely laughable. She has this blind self-confidence in herself as well. "My students are in love with me," she says. She stops in my open door sometimes after class, breathless, and says, "Oh my, we had the greatest class. The little darlings were laughing hysterically when I told them about [dull as ditchwater story about her trip to Italy].

Forgetful Fiona: Our esteemed chair. Fiona's actions might seem to some Machiavellian, but I think she's just stupid. She promises the same classes to the same people often. In my first semester here I walked into a classroom where another professor had set up shop - TWICE. She's no better than Dina at keeping paperwork you give her, so it's almost like throwing it in the roadway. You will occasionally see her racing through the hallway at 10:30 am trying to get to her 10 am class - which she's forgot about. I've seen the Dean outside her office door for a meeting, but she'd gone home for the day. But she's so pleasant about it. If I had the skill, I'd cultivate some of her ability to escape sanction. She just shrugs and offers the lamest grin when she's fouled up. "Oh, dear," she says. "Was that supposed to be today?"

Quit-Already Quenton: Quenton gave up on the profession in the 80s, and he'll tell you all about it. It doesn't matter how bad your class goes, or how stupid your students are, Quenton can top your story for you, and doesn't hesitate. He thinks our college sucks. He thinks the President is a layabout, spending too much time on campus when he should be "out there," bringing in better students. He was a breath of fresh air when I had my first bad semester here, but he's worn me down with his endless and creative stories about how the "profession" ruined his own chances to be a great scholar. "I had so much potential, but the grindstone broke me." It's "grindstone" this, "grindstone" that. I don't even think he's using it correctly. It seems to mean that the world has worn him down. Everything's the grindstone to Quenton, students, colleagues, the Dean, the President, scholars in his field. He's got at least 15 years to retirement, and I suppose he could get worse, but I don't see how.

Weeping Wendy: I became a mentor the day Wendy arrived in our department. The only person junior to me here, she's about as emotionally developed as a 12 year old. Her first crying jag came during her first semester. She scurried into my office, closed the door, and wailed for the better part of the afternoon because of the "disrespect" her students showed her. I was able to suss out that they'd asked her a question - end of story. She bawls at convocation and graduation. (It's all too much for her.) Some people I know think she fakes it for sympathy and attention, but I've seen her doubled over, her body racked with spasms. She's had several "love affairs" in town since arriving here. Each time the man has broken her heart, even if they only dated a couple of times. There was the guy she met at the grocery store (a manager) who didn't tell her that he had been married once before (they'd had ONE date). There was the guy who apparently gave her the impression he was a bank manager, not a teller. There was a guy from a nearby town who claimed she was clingy. (In my office she bawled, reached out across my desk toward me, and said, "I'm not clingy, AM I?")

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Close is Too Close? Oden from Oklahoma Wonders About BFFing Your Students.

I read with real delight the recent Katie from Kalamazoo madness, (and the excellent Lakeland Lex smackdown), because she's the type of professor I hate the most. The arrogance in every line of her post just flabbergasts me. What color is the sky on her planet?

Now, mind you, I love teaching, love students, but am not deluded enough to get to the "place" in Katie's world where I'm hugging and crying with them like they're BFFs. But I have colleagues who do get there, and I'd like to try and discourage them from that sort of insanity.

I don't know the age range of the RYS readership, but surely some folks remember proffies from their own college days. Were you hugging back then? I wasn't. There was a respectful distance between professor and student, and it made sense. The informality and "friendships" that spring up are - in my eyes - a deterrent to any real work being done. Now, if a prof is in the business to assemble a little coterie of sycophants and child-replacements, well then that's part of the problem right there.

So, I sometimes find myself cruising other academic blogs (sorry, RYS, but you aren't my only *love*), and I came across a Katie-Klone droning on about one of her own students. And while the post was fraught with "real" feeling and "real" emotion about the important "scholarship" the adult and the 19 year old were able to do "together," there was something so horribly wrong about the blogger's language.

I may joke about the topic, but I honestly think that some sort of intervention is necessary for someone who writes the following. I've anonymized the text to make it difficult to track down the unfortunate writer. I truly don't want to single this professor out; I want to shine a light on the whole idea of desiring these emotionally-drenched "friendships" with students, especially undergrads. And a further note, there is not even a hint of any sexual inappropriateness in the original text. I know that a cursory reading of the text might suggest that, but the female professor who wrote the text below is married and has the requisite photos of a sandal-wearing neo-hippie husband and their melange of kids, cats, and a minivan. There's something way more untoward involved below than just your run-of-the-mill crush on a student.


I love her. Seriously, we're true friends. I know it's strange, because I'm a professor, and it could be weird for some, but this is real. She's not just any old undergrad. She's someone I'd want in my own "crew."

While we were working on her last essay, I could tell the heavy editing and criticism I was offering was really hurting her. I saw how she felt and hugged her. She hugged me back and I nearly cried. We spent another hour and half in my office talking, some of it about the work, but really it was just two friends hanging out. She agreed to come over to my house the next night to continue talking about her progress in the class, but also for dinner and some wine.

At first I think she was worried about her grade, but when she realized that she was about the best student I'd ever had, and that I was really just getting involved because I wanted her work to be as good as it could be, we just went to a whole new level of understanding. She's so amazing, and she tells me the same thing about me.

This is why I teach, I think, not to be a famous scholar, or to teach at a bloated Ivy, but to help my students become what they can be. I've loved taking her to a place to which she never dreamed she could go. And inviting her into my own private place for wine and talk is the ultimate prize in my career.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mark from Macon on The Quality of Mercy.

So there you have it: the difference between passing and failing in my subject is a cartoon of Russell Crowe killing a lion. Would your readers think I discarded the academic integrity of my discipline, or was it a justified and merciful decision to give a student the benefit of the doubt?

Merciful? Perhaps. Justified? How would one justify it?

Any given semester, probably 90% of my students would like a higher grade than they received. Would I be willing to raise all their grades of my own initiative, out of the desire to be merciful? Or would I only look back over the grades of those who were within, say, .1% of the next grade? .25%? .5%? .09%? Or would I only raise the grades of those who came to see me and asked me to raise their grade? Or would I only raise the grades of those who might otherwise not get credit for the course? Or would I only raise the grades of those who might get into a better law school with a + next to their B? Or would I only raise the grades of those who would lose their scholarship without getting rid of the - next to their C?

Perhaps I might raise the grade of those students who suffered personal hardships, or were ill, or had deaths in their families. Perhaps I might raise the grades of those students whose athletic prowess is essential to the success of a university team.

There is an argument to be made for each. But there is also an argument to be made against each. What seems to me important in either case, and from an institutional perspective, is that how we treat each individual student be how we would treat all students. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to the charge of being arbitrary (what principle could you adduce to justify raising this grade, and not many others?), or engaging in favoritism. If you went back and dug for points for this student, why not all the other ones?

And what would you say to them if they asked you, Why not me? As importantly, what would you say to an administrator who asked, Why them? One can, as Portia might well do, respond with something like the claim that justice isn't just about rules, or pounds of flesh. But unless one is actually as wise as Portia, one is going to run into difficulties.

Lex from Lakeland On Kalamazoo Katie, Diamonds, Coal, and Who Gets the Credit.

We got a lot of mail last night about Kalamazoo Katie's return to the site. Most of it went like this.

It's interesting that in celebrating your student's award, you managed to take credit for her success. Her achievement was the result of your outstanding teaching, and you even feel free to call yourself her hero. How on earth will there be room for your student on the dais, next to your enormously inflated sense of your own importance?

None of this is to minimize your student's achievement or to completely disregard your role in helping her transform herself into a star student. But unless you teach only one student a year, I'm guessing that most of your charges have not done as well. This is not to blame you but to recognize that for every one superstar student, we toil over a few dozen duds. Why is this student worth celebrating? Because hers is an unusual case. Either you spent untold hours unsuccessfully working your magic on coal that refused to transform itself into diamond, or else even you, self-kudosing Katie, gave up on most of those lumps early on, choosing only those bits of coal most likely to shine. So which is it? Do you have students who have disappointed you in spite of your best efforts, or do have students you've abandoned in your favoring of the select few? What's the real story, Kate?

You're right that we ought to celebrate successes when they occur, and to remind ourselves that all is not a lost cause. But I think we ought to do it honestly, acknowledging that the ending is not always happy, and that our Cinderella students often ignore our bippity-boppy wand-waving and choose instead to wallow in the ashes. We should also celebrate our students' successes selflessly, in full recognition that the decision to do the hard work--no less than the doing of the work itself--belongs to them. And that, I would suggest, is the cause of so much of our frustration: we encourage and mentor and direct and advise and teach our f'ing hearts out, and we know if our students would but try, would just see the potential, they too might transform themselves. That so many of them opt to remain coal is what drives many of us to articulate our frustrations here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Yay for Me!" Kalamazoo Katie Shares the Wonder of Her Professin' Powers.

I hate to barge into your never-ending whinefest, but I had to write with the kind of news your page should be sharing.

My favorite student from the past 2 years has jut been notified that she's won our uni's top academic award. She told me in my office and we hugged and cried like we were BFFs.

My student came into my class as a shy and timid wallflower, but during our time together (and the material we covered - DON'T DISMISS THE POWER OF JANE AUSTEN) she has blossomed into a wild and beautiful Michigan rose. It was hard work, but I'm glad I took the time with her. Many professors wouldn't have seen the diamond underneath the coal, but I saw she could achieve anything, I mean anything. At times I felt I wanted her success more than her, but instead of being bitter or annoyed, I kept pushing and challenging. I think it's the best teaching I've ever done in my life.

She's just freaking awesome. Like my best students, she's as good as any student at any top ten uni around here, and I even mean those stuckup Ann Arbor types - whoops. So many of my dunderhead colleagues think of us a mediocre state uni, but that's not what it's like in MY CLASSES.

And now we both have this tremendous honor. I will attend the ceremony as a co-conspirator, this great young woman's mentor and hero, and I couldn't be happier. (I'm tearing up just thinking about that scene!) I'm so proud of her and the teacher I've been to her.

That's what this page should be about.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"And With the D+ I'd Maintain My GPA and Win a Free Trip to Cabo!" One of Our Ongoing Series of Insane Student Emails.

I would like to know how you can make our points out of 400 when we did not even have the opportunity to earn 400 points. You never took attendance so you cannot say whether someone was there or not, you can only base it off of any assignments of extra credit we may or may not have gotten that particular day in which not ALL of the days did we have point activities.

So basically you are making up 50 some points or so and many people I have talked to in the class have different point totals on their grade until you put in the imaginary 390/400 cap. Without this cap of points that we DID not have I would have a D+ instead of a F now.

Explain to me how these points just appear? Honestly, because I am pretty sure we were not able to earn them? If you do not give me a D I will appeal and I have a friend in the class who feels the same.

I received all A's this semester and that includes an A- in Cognitive Processes with Professor Reasonguided who is a far better professor. If I can manage to excel in his class there is no reason for me to fail yours, and without your imaginary as I call it points that WE DID NOT GET TO EARN I would be fine. So can you please explain this to me or somehow justify your grading.

Why Does "Thanks for the Consideration" Always Sound Like Someone's About to Sell You Some Swampland?

This just in from a student I’d not heard from since January:


I'd like to apologize from disappearing from the Monday night class as I did. A number of issues kept me from being able to complete the class, starting with falling behind right off the bat after adding the class late. As I had told you, I am the head coach of a high school wrestling team, and most of our matches are on Monday nights. So I missed some of the classes because of that.

Then, as fate would have it, my boys started to really wrestle well and made it to the district championships, and subsequently the state playoffs. This turn of events cost me another two classes, and I had then missed the mid term and two additional quizzes.

I never intended for this to happen, or I wouldn't have asked to add the class, but I'm sure you can appreciate the responsibility I had to my kids. I know I'm in no position to ask you for a favor after this semester, but as you know, I added this class because it was the only one I needed in order to graduate in May.

I'm wondering if there is any way at all that you would be willing to allow me to write a few papers or meet with you and make up some form of assignments in exchange for a C or D in the course. I know this is a lot to ask, and I understand if you would say no, but I've got a job opportunity lined up in June but that's contingent on me completing my certification. Obviously, I'd be willing to do any amount of work you'd see fit, and I'd work around your schedule. I look forward to hearing from you, and would really appreciate any help you'd be willing to give me. Thanks for the consideration.


The punch line: he’s an education major!

Dr. Cougher from Calverton on Not Taking a Sick Day.

No amount of student audacity amazes the faithful readers of this site and, as a "Christmas and Easter" faithful reader of RYS, I generally figure no amount of student audacity should shock me. But, this morning I got the following gem of an email that caused me to crush my cup of ginger-lemon tea in anger:

"Dear Dr Cougher, I was realy offended how you came to class when you where still sick yesterday. You could make us sick too!!!!!! Can't you just cancel the class next time? Noone could understand you cuz youre voice was bad and noone of us understand the material anyways so we probably will get real sick for nuthing. And its almost exam time too!!!!!! we have other classes not just youres. Me and the other students sent a letter to your boss complaining about you being sick in class so maybe next time you can just cancel."

Really?! You were offended that I came in to teach you the last lecture before the exam? The review that you so pitifully begged for mere weeks ago? And now you're offended that I came in and croaked out a 2 hour review session on a basic topic you should already know about, so you could possibly pass the exam?

You make me sick.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ruby from Richmond Says: "No Grade-Grubbing in Math and Science? Blogga Please!"

The suggestion that RYS posters bitch and moan about snowflakes because we're all humanities profs--whereas the scientists never face such problems--is ridiculous. Oh, you've got an "objective" grading system, and all problems are either correct or incorrect? I've got two words for you: partial credit.

As long as the concept of partial credit exists, there will be just as much grade-grubbing and other bullshit in science and math as there is in the humanities and social sciences. "But this problem was worth 10 points, and you gave me 7.5--and I think I deserve at least 8.5!"

I've taught both English and Biology at the college level, and I saw just as much undergraduate tomfoolery in each. I've had English students turn in the most obviously plagiarized papers you could dream of (It says, "See Figure 2," and your paper has no figures?), and I've had Biology students beg--literally, saying "I'm BEGGING you"--over half a point.

Yes, 2 + 2 = 4, and it sure sounds like science and math profs have a watertight way of preventing grubbing and snowflaking. If you wrote "2 + 2 = 5," you're wrong; end of story. But that's not what happens. Students who don't know the answer will do a data dump, giving you every equation they know, hoping that something at least earns them partial credit. They'll write, "2 + 2 = addition, so I take 2 and add 1 to it twice, which means it's 2 + 1 and then I'm going to add another 1, and that will be the answer, and 2 + 1 is 3, so it's 3 + 1, and my calculator ran out of battery during the exam and the kid I texted to ask to borrow his calculator didn't hear his phone ring because he was listening to his iPod, so the answer is 3 + 1 which is the same as 1 + 3 because addition is commutative."

Objective, easy grading? My ass.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Modest Proposal Concerning the Number of Colleges in Operation. Or: "The World Needs Ditch Diggers, Too."

I've been reading "Generation X Goes to College" and wonder if, despite his generally astute analysis, the author isn't missing the big cause of his complaints: The explosion of college-attending baby-boomers created more and bigger colleges to meet a particular demographic need. That need no longer exists. Instead of whoring themselves out to pitifully unprepared, militantly anti-intellectual "students" so that every seat has a tuition-paying ass, why don't we just admit that there are too many colleges in operation at the moment?

If we reduced the number of college seats by, say, 30%, those that remained could raise their standards and let their faculty put down the hand-puppets and finger paint and reacquaint themselves with academic integrity. The kids who shouldn't be in college won't waste time and money dragging down the quality of everyone else's education. High school counselors could get off their BA-in-Education asses and help kids prepare themselves for vocations for which they are actually suited. All those miserable adjuncts weeping and listening to their Morrissey CDs as they drive from shit-gig to shit-gig can act like everyone else in the world and realize that work is work, that's why they call it...well, you know. Having a PhD doesn't entitle you to a perpetually fulfilling, self-actualizing professional life. It's a choice you made when you were 22 and making fun of all your peers for "selling out" by training for professions such as law and business.

Checked out their Facebook pages lately? You know, the ones with the pictures of successful, well-adjusted adults with families who are smiling because now in their late 30s they are beginning to reap the rewards of hard work in a viable profession instead of bitching, whining, and blaming everyone but themselves for their angst.

I'd walk the walk, too if the population of college students were to shrink. Hell, I was laid off when my school downsized after Hurricane Katrina. What can you do but suck it up and find a way to pay the bills that doesn't suck too much until you find something you really enjoy? Everyone wants professional fulfillment, but as my favorite Demotivator says: "Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up."

Some Thoughts on Texting. And Why It's the End of the World.

Unlike some of the behaviors we’ve faced in the past, texters are addicted, and they don’t care because nothing is as important to them as the feeling of thumbs against the key pad.

I find that most of my students behave best when I behave erratically. That’s right. At any given moment, I’m likely to go nutso on them.

I give a speech during the orientation at the beginning of the class – no late assignments, don’t skip class, blah, blah, blah. I look around the room and say “no electronic devices. I can live my entire life without hearing your ring tone.” I show them how they look, cell phones in their lap trying to sneak a peek. I make fun of the kind of inane messages they send. I tell them that my reaction will be based entirely on what kind of day I’m having. Then we start.

I’m as likely to scream incoherently at an offender as I am to make quiet requests. I’ve stood over a texting student and asked them to read the screen. I’ve given them responses. “Dude, this instructor is nuts. She’s going to throw my phone against the wall. I’ll turn on the camera so you can see yourself moving through space” or “meet me outside, I just got kicked out of class.”

My latest approach, probably because it’s late in the semester and I’m as ready to be finished as they are, I ignore it. That’s right. They text, I teach. I have a no repeat policy – I give instructions once and that’s it. When they miss them I smile and say “LOL, dude. Sucks to be you, huh? Maybe you can text someone who has been paying attention to get the assignment.”

I’d like to ban cell phones entirely, but the college just put out a text message warning system so they all think they have to keep their phones on just in case class is dismissed due to inclement weather.

Sucks to be me, too, apparently.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nancy from Niles on Being Responsible for Students.

Go ahead and call me a privileged whiner. I don’t care. I call my students snowflakes. I draft RYS-style smackdowns in my head all the time. I piss and moan right along with my colleagues about the entitlement, the whining, the grade-grubbing, the ‘is this going to be on the test’ question, and the general neediness of my students.

But I care about my students. I realize they are people too. I know all of their names (over 110 in an average semester). I work hard to keep up on the material in my ever-changing field. I try to be approachable so they can ask questions both in class and during my office hours. And I will always listen when they have problems – both personal and class-related.

I get involved if my students come to me for help. I’ve sent my fair share to the counseling center and have even spent an afternoon on the phone with the director getting advice on how to deal with a severely depressed student. I actually think I might get involved more than I should. I’ve shared personal information about myself to make a connection with those I feel are struggling and who will benefit from knowing that I’ve been there.

But don’t you tell me I’m supposed to be an instructor and a surrogate parent to all of the students who pass through my classroom. And don’t tell me I have to be responsible for their personal lives. I just can’t do it.

This semester I had a student I feared was close to suicide. She confided in me that, when she woke up in the morning, all she felt was despair. She wondered how everyone else got out of bed every day. She saw no purpose to life. I spent a lot of time in my office with her and on the phone with the director of the counseling center. I even broke down in my department chair’s office when both he and the director told me I did as much as I could because I was afraid it wasn’t enough. So I kept up with the student – probably crossing all sorts of boundaries – and convinced her to go see a counselor. She went and is actually doing better.

Know why I did that? It’s not because I think I’m a wonderful person and I wanted to pat myself on the back and say ‘look what I did’. It’s because for the first time in my relatively short teaching career, I had a student commit suicide last November. No warning signs, nothing. Just here one week and gone the next. In fact, administration didn’t even bother to tell me when they took him off my class list. I had to find out a week later when one of my other students emailed me his obituary.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it changed me. I cried for days. I couldn’t think about or talk about anything else. I went over and over all of the interactions I could remember having with him. He was very intelligent and extremely outspoken so there were a lot of interactions to think about. But I came up with nothing. So, now that you’re stirring all that guilt back up, you tell me what I should have done. I only see my students for about three hours a week in a lab setting. What can I do?

I still have the paper I never got to return to him. I keep it in a file along with his obituary. Like I said, students are people too and the obituary will always be a painful reminder of that. But they are adults and I just cannot be responsible for all of them. There is a limit to how much responsibility I can take on without giving up too much of myself.

Two Voices on The Math/Humanities Divide.

"Or could it be that their objective, learning-oriented assessment technique allows them to just fail those who need failing, with a minimum of angst, and then move on?"


We have a winner!

The divine children of God in my humanities/social science-y courses are all innumerate as well as illiterate. How can I tell? They have no clue what grade weighting is. They cannot add their scores together to come up with a total to compare to the chart in their syllabus (because once I knew they couldn't weight their own grades, I moved to a total-point system). They cannot calculate ratios or fractions or comprehend the deep, esoteric mysteries of the decimal point. (I won;t evn mention the controversy of "rounding up.") They also cannot comprehend any grading scale other than the the 100-point scale (which is why they pitch conniptions if they earn a zero, which is not quite as deadly if you use the 4.0 scale).

I am sure they bitch and moan and whine and beg for "partial credit" from their math-centered courses, but the math proffies know all they need to do is give an approved test for basic skills, which, if snowflakes fail, there's little recourse other than accept their innumeracy and re-take the class. There's little chance of the outcome being that Mathie gets accused of hating little Snowie in course evals or a grade grievances. Also, many students openly admit they have poor math skills. Few of them can accept they're functionally illiterate. They read and write everyday online! How can they be illiterate?! It doesn't matter if they can't use a comma properly even once in a paper. Or couldn't find a thesis statement if it were bold-faced, italicized, and labelled for them. And proper spelling is just nit-picking.

Of course, most of them also think algebra is irrelevant. As irrelevant as knowing the difference between "definitely" and "defiantly." As irrelevant as knowing the phrase is "taken for granted" and not "taking for granite." We won't even mention the number of times they confuse to, too, and two. Those are just typos! You knew what they meant!


As much as I despise the divide between the arts and sciences and long for the days of the Greek philosophers who studied politics, drama, and biology, the very nature of the *humanities* means that we are teaching our students what it means to be a human being, and humane. It means we are concerned with teaching students to be engaged in all that it means to be humane. In order to do this, our work is , of course, less "objective, learning-oriented assessment technique" and more subjective. Thus, we are more likely to engage in the anguish of dealing with snowflakes who appear unprepared to engage in this society.

For those who think that we have it easy in the arts and humanities, think again. Our work is just as demanding, just as rigorous, and requires a depth of cultural literacy that only comes from years of reading, writing, and engaging in discourse. We cannot simply send students home with problems to solve, and then show them the 'right' way. We must teach them to uncover their 'right' solution. If they do not bring any basic cultural literacy with them, our job is nearly impossible.

I say we should remove this false division between the humanities and the sciences. How much more fruitful would be our work if we could engage in study as the Greeks once did.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sublime Sally and Ridiculous Rico Weigh In on Shermie and His Fat Fear.

I confess, Shallow Shermie's letter hit a nerve.

I'm a graduate student, and a TA, and have every intention of chasing after that elusive TT job. Despite the odds, I have every reason to think I have a great shot at it -- I'm in a highly regarded program, have gained the respect of prominent faculty members, hold a big multi-year scholarship, and, hopefully, will have soon have at least a couple of publications under my belt.

The problem? Mine is a big belt. 300-plus pounds, just like much of the rest of my family, from whom I've inherited this gene-set, in spite of a reasonably active lifestyle and years of near-ascetic eating habits. Yet how many fat profs have you met? Especially female ones?

Yes, indeed, students often disrespect 'overweight' profs and TAs, as they disrespect instructors of colour, female professors, openly gay teachers, and so on. But we'd be aghast -- I hope -- were anyone to suggest that the solution for members of the latter groups to be (or appear) 'less' of any of those things. It is imperative that we fight against fat prejudice, as we do racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like, by openly discussing it with our students, and by critically examining the ways in which fat-hate suffuse the culture, the curriculum, and the institution.

I still hope to be a TT prof someday. But it's unlikely to happen without a united effort by educators of all sizes to call out and end body-based discrimination in the academy. Help us out here, Shermie.


I can see it now: Shallow Shermie will be taken to task by dozens of RYSers just for saying what we’re all thinking.

I mean, let’s be honest here. Getting fat IS more dreaded than not making tenure, not getting a job to begin with, being wrongfully accused of misconduct by crazy students, having one’s address on file with the fraternity brats, being shot at school, or any other professional risk. If we don’t dread it for our own sakes, we should dread it for our students’; I mean, how do you think our wonderful scholars feel when they drag themselves up to the university one day out of every five, and then see a “slob” standing there waiting to lecture? It’s not fair to them. It’s also not fair to the university, which spends millions on ornamental shrubs and floor wax, all because the university knows what really counts in any college experience: the aesthetic quality of one’s education.

I know I’ve been inspired by Shermie’s honesty. Bu t in the proud tradition of pissing-contests everywhere, I’d like to say I’m taking it farther. Since we all know that students respond best to the white, male, tall, fit authority figure with a Midwestern accent, I have decided not only to lose weight, but also to have a sex change, get one of those operations where they break your bones and use rods to force you to grow taller, and hire a dialogue coach.

Anything, ANYTHING is worth it, just to fit in with the cool ki…erm, I mean, to make sure I give my students the optimum opportunity for growth. Why, maybe if we all learn to blend in, like Shermie suggests, we can make sure that all of our students turn out to be just like him! I know that’s my goal for when I grow up. You know, maybe if I’d done this before, I’d be employed as we speak! The only thing I regret is that no one told my colleague in the wheelchair that he’s right out of the running for professorship; he’ll never fit in--I mean, gain respect—if he isn’t exactly what our wonderful Mensa-minds think he should be.

Thanks, Shermie! Because of you, I’m going to go from being a hu-manatee (get it?) to being the hegemonicallyapproved vision of professorial leadership. Now, with all that surgery, it’ll only take roughly $1,273,583 (counting recovery time-off). I have…$2.50. Ok then; I’m on my way.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Partially Protective Patrick from Portage La Prairie Proffers Some Prose on Putting Down the Grading Pen.

There is no inherent connection between educating and grading. Outside of the university or college setting, people learn things every day without being graded. They learn those things because they simply want to learn them.

Grades only matter in the university setting because people want credentials at the end of their university experience. That would not be so bad if I thought that students wanted something more than credentials - that they actually did want to learn something just for the sake of learning it. I don't believe that.

I believe that students just want the credentials, and they could not give two shits if they ever learn anything in my classroom. They just want the grade, and that means they see me as just a grader, and not an educator.

By refusing to grade, Jen from Jonesboro indeed makes a statement - she says, "I am, first and foremost, an educator. I want to teach you, and I want you to learn, just because learning will enrich your life."

Does that mean I think that we should all just forget about the grading? No. I cannot reconcile that view with the fact that we are hired to be graders - deliverers of credentials. I must admit, too, to shameful bursts of optimism, that, somehow, someway, a student will one day look past the grade I put on her paper, look at the comments I put on it, and actually (if only accidentally) learn something. But I can have those thoughts without condemning Jen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shallow Shermie from Shreveport Weighs In On The "Fear" Game.

You know what? I'm a shallow, grade-A ass. Judgmental, backwards-thinking, etc. And I'm just asking for a shit-ton of smackdown by writing this. Sure. Whatever.

Because you know what my biggest fear as a proffie is? Getting fat.

Seriously. I've almost always been a fit, healthy person. I eat generally healthful foods, walk or bike to campus more often than not, work out a few times a week. But save perhaps for traipsing around in some exotic fieldwork location (hah!), it's not like we live the most active lifestyles. We do a lot of sitting at our desks. Reading, writing. So I'm afraid as the years trudge onward, I'll lose all self-discipline and turn into a lumpy, gross, unhappy blob.

What in the world does a health-related issue have to do with fears as a proffie? It has to do with the ugly reality that appearance does affect the way students and colleagues treat people. (See, eg, the MSE/clothing debate) And don't think you've never seen the way snowflakes sneer at, talk about, and generally disrespect overweight [or anything they deem unattractive or fugly] profs.

By all means, we're here to teach, and I'd also rather be paid attention to because I'm, you know, brilliant, and not because I'm the hottest professor who's ever stood before their bright, glistening, oogling eyes. And blah blah blah, I'm playing into and perpetuating the discourse by voicing this anxiety. (And for the record, I've seen women, especially, take this anxiety overboard and become truly unhealthy; anorexia is not a joke.)

But my greatest fear is being disrespected because of the way I look, and frankly, my insurance is too shoddy to pay a shrink to help me "work through" this. So pardon me, I'm off to the gym.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sheldon from Sherbrooke Shoots Some Smackdown Our Way...But Saves One Surprise for the End.

So tired of it I'm apathetic, but not too tired to abstain from passive aggressiveness (these are all from the same class):

Ms. Got Through Life Blonde: Oh, I see you've come to my office hours one hour before your presentation is due to say that you have a hard time presenting. Wait, after talking with you it seems you are afraid you'd pass out because you actually haven't done the work (thanks for the honesty of admitting something that I knew already) and would be too embarassed to present. I see you are batting your eyelashes and smiling at me. Oh, I see you also seem to think that coming to about 30% of the classes (not that I am judging) is something I may have missed. Or, more appropriately that by being "cute" you will pull the wool over my eyes. Perhaps it's worked for you your whole life so far. Oh, wait, your flirty manner will excuse how you didn't do one of the weekly assignments? You'd like some special treatment? Because why? Because you are blonde and "hot" and I happen to have a penis? Sorry, I'm not interested. Take this D and get out of my face. And yes, a D is worse than an F. Why you ask? Because an F says I care enough to deal with the bullshit of you complaining or whatever stunt you will pull. Whatcha gonna do about a D, huh? I thought so.

Mr. Economics: So... you've never done a paper in this discipline before. Hmmm... you weren't there on the day that I spelled out what I was expecting on the paper proposal? That excuses this pile of crap you're wondering why you got an F on? Interesting. But you seem so engaged now that you are in my office hours. Sure, I'll spend and hour and a half explaining as much as I can for you and helping you craft your topic and thesis. Sure, why not get a second chance at the proposal. Oh, excellent! I look forward to your paper so I can see how I have made a difference. Oops! A copy and pasted, badly plagiarized final paper? Awesome! My favorite! At least you don't blame me for your F and still smile happily and say "Hi, Professor!" around campus. No bs, it's kind of refreshing not to blamed for a student's crap.

Ms. I Don't want to be here: Who are you? Are you in my class? Oh! right. Hmmm... didn't recognize you because you never show up. Oh, some help with the paper? Sure... A half hour later, and I look forward to reading your paper. Interesting topic. Nice. At the next department meeting, I am warned that you may only be here to get away from your parents and that you are a problem plagiarizer. Well, I will reserve judgement. Awesome! You didn't plagiarize in an obvious way! Instead, you used one source and basically summarized the one argument from that text, mis-labeling page numbers and other innocuous forms of bad citation. Nice. You and Blondie should get together and talk about how neither of you handed in any of the weekly assignments and are both sharing the same grade! Life is awesome for you.

But to make up for it:

Ms. Studiously Intriguing: Random references, on topic, to BDSM, yaoi, anime and a host of other fascinating cultural topics that you somehow make relevant to class material? Who knew it was possible? Wait, you are not a major? Hmmm... and you surpass all the majors in class because of your hard work and diligence to make yourself knowledgeable about the topic? And you get the material and challenge yourself to go beyond it? What? Why aren't you in all my classes? A is made of Awesome!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jesus Told Me To Tell You to Suck an Egg.

Hi, I was registered in your philosophy of religion course and dropped It later on. I am watching the DVD. It is purely about things like Jesus, or based on the Bible. I'm not sure if a historical account of the Bible really has anything to do with Philosophy of religion in the context it is discussed.

The course pack talks about other arguments for the philosophy of religion, and they are not included in the "comprehensive" DVD. (I am not talking about the "evolution" DVDs. I am wondering who chose these dvds and how they came to be a part of the group.)

It is interesting content, nonetheless, however, I do not think that this is really explaining philosophy of religion, more than it is explaining life of people from history in relation to the Bible, or biblical surroundings.

I took the Jesus of Nazareth course, and this would probably apply more to that, so I'm not sure if the DVD got mixed around. I am concerned at the quality of courses at [our university] and have seen things explained wrongly, or applied wrongly, in many courses, meanwhile spending my money on these things that i don't think have been put together properly.

Excuse my pessimism, but i am aware of what philosophy of religion is!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Terrible Tahoe Tito Tears It Up with some Old-Time Smack.

A - We’re in an evolution class. Eyes are adapted to catch small movements. So when you hand your laptop to students down the row to check out that sweet YouTube vid, I notice, and it is annoying as hell. One more time and it’s going to be a bad day. Grow the fuck up.

T - You have a wife and two kids, are maybe 23 years old, are taking 21 credits, and work from 3:30 to 9:30 AM? Sounds like taking this class is not the first bad decision you’ve made. Just because you’ve fucked yourself doesn’t entitle you to quiz points in my class. Plus, you’re failing almost every other part of the class, so I might worry about those 800 points before you worry about the 100 from quizzes. Groveling for these points with interspersed reminders about how you are a paying student who deserves an education just like everyone else and that you need this class to graduate is not helping. You have two kids at home; they need a semi intelligent person as a dad. Grow the fuck up and get your priorities straight.

B - It takes balls to show up 45 minutes late to class, tell me you ‘spaced out and forgot’ you had class, mention you knew there were attendance points given out, and ask if you could have them anyway. You’re an athlete. When they say leave it all on the court, they didn’t really mean common sense and discipline; you can keep those for later. Grow the fuck up.

R - You mouth breathing, incompetent, arrogant tool of a human being. Your piece on how nuns are false prophets is demeaning to other students, unless they realize, like me, that you obviously don’t understand what a prophet is. Swearing in these essays does not make your point better. Act like a professional. While I said further writing like this would result in formal disciplinary action, what I meant to say was if I catch it again I’m going to kick your ass. Grow the fuck up.

W - What part of don’t bring metaphysics into evolution do you not understand? You are making more work for me and it is not endearing. Grow the fuck up and pay attention.

M - You are obviously a bright student who wants to think critically, but your incomplete views have led you to some extremely warped and troubling conclusions. Please try to get the full story before you take Ben Stein’s word that we ostracize those not like us. You could be brilliant.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Froderick Takes Time From the Lab to Weigh In On the Male Student Egomaniac Dynamic.

Sexism should be inexcusable, and the dominance games that Nila mentions belong in a troop of monkeys. In the physical sciences and engineering, however, "male student egomaniacs" are extremely common, even when the instructor does fit the "traditional" professor profile, of being a tall, white, hetero male with a loud, American-accented voice, like me.

What's the matter, haven't you ever seen the TV show, "The Big Bang Theory?" The real world is more up to date than the show, however: females of this obnoxious species are becoming increasingly common in my physics classes. I'm not so sure we should consider this "progress," of course: it would be better if all of them had good manners.

Harold Urey, a Nobel prize-winner in chemistry at the U. of Chicago in the '50s, used to call this "the Old Gunfighter Syndrome." By this, he meant that if one of these students could prove him wrong about anything, no matter how trivial, it would be perceived (it's unclear by whom) that all the Nobel laureate's prestige would fall onto the student. Urey said this was annoying, but it could be useful, for getting these students to work on interesting problems---or to read the textbook, as I often encourage mine to do.

Students like this try my patience too, but remember that both Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were booted out of school for asking their teachers too many questions they couldn't answer. Sometimes, if they have any substance and what they do isn't wholly posturing, students like this can help you: if they really are as good as they think they are, your class notes will be thoroughly proofread after they're through with your classes.

They sure beat the lazy, dead-eyed, mouth-breathers we so often complain about!

Norm the Newbie from North Dakota On Hiring Shenanigans.

I may just be hopelessly naive, but I'm disgusted by a recent hiring decision made at my college.

I was asked to be the one 'non-departmental' member of a hiring committee in another department that happens to house offices near me. It was a casual offer, but the workload wasn't casual.

As this is only my second year on the job, I take all of my duties pretty seriously. The position had been advertised nationally and we had received more than 200 applications.

I spent the better part of two weekends going through the nicely prepared folders, letters, writing samples, vitae, etc. As asked, I came up with my top ten list and as a group we chose 4 candidates for phone interviews.

I attended 3 of these conference calls, made my notes, made my recommendation and then heard nothing for a few weeks.

When I spotted the committee chair the other day on campus I asked where the process was, who would be coming to campus and when.

The chair looked at me bemused and said, "Oh, we just hired 'Glen.'"

Glen's been a non-tenure-track member of their department for 3 years, apparently a good guy, a real cut-up at faculty meetings - he occasionally comes in carrying various odd totems, a lacrosse stick, a Dr. Seuss hat, etc.

The search chair kept up his walking and I was left standing in the snow wondering about the work that had gone into this hiring. Not just mine, although I found it hard but interesting work. But what of the applicants, those folks from Michigan and Connecticut and Texas. People with Ph.D.s (unlike Glen), people with families and dreams and in some cases books, lengthy publications, vast experience, etc.

What about those folks? How would they feel to know that our committee acted out a little fiasco in order to give Glen the job they all thought they were applying for.

It's shameful, these shenanigans. I'm less of a newbie than I was a little bit ago.