Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mid Career Mike Muses: "Why Are They All So Fucking Sad?"

I have my share of wonderful students, engaged, excited, ready to learn, even at an 8:00 am class on a perfect day for going to the beach and skipping school.

But not most of them.

Most students I've had for the past ten years or so are sad, depressed, disconsolate. They are the opposite of engaged. They are glassy eyed and slack jawed. They make my Elvis paintings look alive and bounding in comparison.

And I try to get them going in class, activate them, energize them. I get them to move around, have presentations, group work. Even when I force them out of class into a different space or even - god dammit I'm good - outside, they all resume their permanently-ingrained slouch. Slouch of face, slouch of back, slouch of even the damn book bag.

I was quiet in class as an undergrad sometimes, especially when I was stoned, but at least even then I'd giggle sometimes. These people I'm talking about have fly-catcher mouths and Precious Moments eyes.

I want to pour water on them or set them afire, or just go get them laid.

Why can't they get with it? Is this the future? Will it get worse? Will next year's students take this down another notch?

Good gravy...I'm fucked.

"Captain of the Rows."

Hapless Student: “Professor, your class is not on Blackboard. Can you add to it please?”

Me: “Hi Hapless Student. I don't use Blackboard because it discourages student attendance and encourages student sloth.”

HS: “ok I can see that.. but how is everyone turning in there homework.. I was under the impression by one of the classmates it was on Blackboard.. I'm new to the class so I'm not really sure what I should do. I missed the first one. Is there anyway I can make it up. Could you maybe send me the syllabus so I can have more of an understanding”

Me: “Usually, the students pass their homework forward from the back rows to the front rows, then I walk along in a perpendicular fashion, collecting the assembled sheets from the Captains of the Rows one at a time.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shelbyville Shirley Stirs It Up. Some Followup On Working the Grade Game With the Flakes And Their Parents.

Shirley's stock response in her new strategy to deal with disputed grades is pithy enough, but you're assuming the students and their parents give a lick about the other 170 students. "Do I deserve to be treated special? Hell yeah! That's why I'm asking."


A few things can help with this, both to benefit the student (and parents by proxy) and also to provide cover from administrative blowback.

1. Make the wee monsters sign off on a class protocol in the beginning, including an explicit statement about grading. Be clear that this protocol is a binding academic contract, and that both you and your students are bound by it.

2. At the logical intermediate points of the course, run the students through an academic audit/forecast ("here are your current scores, if this trend continues, the end-of-course letter grade will be something in this range ...). Make the wee monsters sign off on it. This ensures that there are no surprises, and it marks the students who didn't bother to get their audits as being unworthy of further consideration.

3. This may be asking for it, but maybe add some language to the class protocol about the correct policies about student accountability and privacy - including explicit language about the permissable scope of information available to parents. It might be worth the effort (or not) to actually draft a "Letter to Parent(s)", but this might just beg questions and cause problems.


Shirley might want to reconsider having any convos with parents, helicopter or otherwise. Unless your snowflakes are minors, parents don't have any right to know what grades the snowflakes are receiving or why, unless the snowflakes give consent. And I don't care if little snowflake shows up with written consent -- snowflakes who are legal adults have to handle their own shit, and that includes dealing with parents. My relationship as teacher begins and ends with snowflake. I don't even return calls or emails from parents.


OMFG, Shirley, WHY are you talking to parents? Here is the only thing you EVER need to say: "I'm sorry, but my students are adults. If you have questions about your Skippy's grades, please speak to Skippy. If Skippy has questions about his grade, he can come speak to me." THAT'S IT. If they push it, tell them how inappropriate their continued contact is. You've got to shut them out: when I've had students bring their mothers to my office, I offer only a brusque "Hi Skippy's Mom," and refuse eye contact from that point onward, speaking only to my actual student, the person who I'm paid to have to deal with. Parents get the point pretty quickly.


Just because there are college professors out there who think that FERPA is their ticket out of having to deal with a student's parents ("I'm sorry, Mr. Smith-Jones, but I'm forbidden by federal law from discussing anything about your son Johnnie's work in my class."), then the sad news for them is that FERPA does not necessarily impose such an informational blockade.

Looking at the relevant FAQ webpage from the U.S. Department of Education, if a student is claimed as a dependant on the parents' tax return, then regardless of the student's age, disclosure to the parent is not prohibited.


5. If I am a parent of a college student, do I have the right to see my child's education records, especially if I pay the bill?

As noted above, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student, once the student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age. However, although the rights under FERPA have now transferred to the student, a school may disclose information from an "eligible student's" education records to the parents of the student, without the student's consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent's status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision. (34 CFR § 99.31(a)(8).)


I like Shirley from Shelbyville's suggestion a lot ("look, fucker, you're no exception," phrased in administration-approved language). I have two more to add:

(1) I'm forwarding all emails and voicemails from parents to my mom or dad, who will reply on my behalf. You're too busy playing World of Warcraft or fucking each other to send me an email, and I'm too busy making margaritas to reply, so let's just let our mommies & daddies handle it, okay? That's what we pay them for, anyway.

(2) Each male student whose parent contacts me about his grade should be required to disclose this fact to potential significant others. I suggest a stylish "Euro trash"-style emo tee that reads, "My mommy talks to my meanie teachers for me." Maybe even a personalized male thong for that special night when you meet the right girl?

Parsing Parveen.

Parveen, dear, let's have a talk.

I understand how, as a privileged daughter of upper middle class Muslims, you find it very fashionable to be outraged every time someone throws a rhetorical flourish into the conversation. I'm sure you look very cute in your hijab (which is much more chic in countries like this one, where women aren't legally required to wear it), your brow furrowed with enlightened indignation every time someone criticizes one of the world's major religions (I bet you get really pissed off when people criticize Judaism and the Catholicism, too; you just didn't have time to get around to defending them in your most recent submission).

But dear, sweet, Parveen, in the wake of the USS Cole (no pun intended), the World Trade Center, and the London and Madrid Train bombings, is it really too much to use the phrase "shadow of Islamic terrorism?" For that matter, is the phrase "...thousands of Israelis were killed or seriously injured by Islamic terrorism" really an editorial? I mean, thousands of Israelis have died, and I'm pretty sure they weren't killed by Mormons. It truly is tragic that so many lives have been lost in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but quoting casualty ratios doesn't prove moral superiority; if that were the case, the Nazis would be considered the innocent martyrs and American G.I.s the cruel aggressors in World War II.

And really, Parvi, Walt Whitman? Is there no poetry in the Koran that advocates charity, tolerance, and rebellion against oppression, or is it that you've spent so much time at American prep schools and universities, drinking coffee and sneering at Western Culture, that you never bothered to crack open the holy text? ("All people are a single nation" strikes me as being suitable, but I'm not much of an expert).

At any rate, I much prefer Robert Burns:

Lord, in Thy day o' vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their pray'r,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
An' dinna spare.

But, Lord, remember me an' mine
Wi' mercies temporal and divine,
That I for grace an' gear may shine,
Excell'd by nane,
And a' the glory shall be Thine,
Amen, Amen!

"Holy Willie's Prayer"


I have repeatedly read both 9/14 posts and for the life of me I cannot find the minimal trace of either the Islamophobia or the racism Parveen mentions. In fact, I cannot find a statement that even marginally refers to race. For the expression "Islamic terrorism," if it irks you... well, Christian rock is rock made by Christians, with a generally Christian intention. When a group composed entirely by Muslims do actions under allegedly Islamic reasons, we call these actions Islamic. If these actions are terrorist, so sorry, we do call them Islamic terrorism.

Parveen-honey, you would more honor the hijab you proudly wear if your statements had the minimal textual or factual basis. Throwing "racism" in someone's face because you don't like what she says makes your "female Muslim academic" sound kinda silly. I strongly encourage you to read one of them books, The Death of the Grown-Up, chapter 8. It is only 36 pages.

Go ahead, put a fatwa on me, see how much I care.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shirley From Shelbyville on The Never-Ending Problem of "Can't Me and My Mom Renegotiate My Grade?"

I had two parents contact me at the end of last semester to try to get grades changed for their kids. I know some RYS correspondents are used to calls from parents, but at my urban Big U, I haven't seen much of fact, this was a first, in spite of the fact that I teach large intro-level classes to urchins fresh off the yellow bus from 12th grade.

One parent started quite cordially by asking for more information on why his child had received the specific grade for the semester. Upon learning (1) that his child had not attended office hours; (2) that, while I would not discuss the specifics of any individual student's grade with others, the grade in question placed the student in the bottom third of a large class; and (3) the way that the grades were calculated, the date the student got the first graded exam back, and the fact that the student's grades had been "consistent"...well, by the end of the call, I was actually defending the student from the parent a bit. "You know, they're young, they haven't had a hard college course before, it takes a while to learn the study skills and discipline they need for this, it's easy for them to surround themselves with others who are doing badly and use them as an excuse, they usually do a lot better when they re-enroll, blah blah blah." I think the student had given him the idea that I was just an unreasonable teacher (or grader) and nobody could get a good grade in my course.

But then, a few days after that conversation, I still got another message from the dad on my voicemail saying that "he didn't know if it made any difference, but [his child] was a scholarship student," and that scholarship was now in some jeopardy because of the grade in my course. I didn't call back.

The other parent sent a long email telling me that my "unwillingness" to "bump up" her child's grade from C- to C was basically ending the student's career, and excoriated me for being so unreasonable about a "small thing" that could make such a big difference in someone else's life. I wrote back a calm and factual message a couple of days later, explaining (as I expect the student had not) the grading protocols for the course and outlining the typical grade distribution, again mentioning that the student had neither sought help during office hours nor (since this student apparently worked during at least some of my office hours) contacted me to make an appointment for help. I also mentioned the unfairness to the 3/4 of the class that earned a higher grade, should I start "bumping up" students upon request. I never heard back from this parent.

While these are the first encounters I recall with parents, I've always gotten many messages, calls and visits along these lines from students; I expect it. I know that in week 16 of a 15-week semester, they are somehow shocked to find out that the grade they are assigned is actually the one that matches their calculated average. And many of them think, after floating anonymously through the entire term, that I should change their grades based on how hard they (claim to have) worked, whether they're going to be accepted into their professional program, whether they'll lose their scholarships, or the fact that their company, who was fronting the tuition, is now going to make them pay it back because they failed.

Up until now, I was always suckered into actually engaging in the debate. But this fall I'm going to try a new tactic, and anyone out there who wants to is free to adopt it, 'cause I think it's going to work, and save me a lot of frown lines and email editing. Rather than getting into the specifics of their grades, I'll write the following: "It looks like you're asking to be graded under different guidelines from those in the syllabus, which were used to calculate the grades of the other 170 people in your class. Is this correct?"

I think that'll get rid of most of them. And I might actually have fun with the rest.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two Of Several Folks Who Don't Want Us to Miss the Full Message of "The Decline of the English Department." Which of Course Would Be, "So What?"

The latest respondent to the Decline of the English Department debate says "I used to be a grad student in English and am now a lawyer. When I hear about the money that you folks are making, even the ones with the dream TT jobs, I shake my head in disbelief. And I'm not a well-paid lawyer at all. How many years of school are we talking about for you folks? They teach about opportunity cost in the business department." I want to provide a different picture. Like the respondent, I majored in English as an undergraduate. And I'll admit that it was taking the path of least resistance for me. Hot damn, but I was good at it! I barely even had to try.

Then I graduated with no idea how to market my skills. I thought I might want to go to grad school, but I knew I didn't want to do it right away. For a few months I worked for a temp agency that quickly slotted me into every open position they had at law firms. Why? Because I could read and write. I worked for several large law firms and scores of different attorneys. I was damn good at being a legal secretary too, and although I knew I didn't want to stay there, I thought maybe law school would be the way to go.

Often, I found myself with nothing to do at these jobs, so I used to read the Norton Anthology of English Literature. I can't tell you how many junior attorneys used to stop by my desk to see what I was reading that day and talk wistfully about how they had been English majors but decided against grad school because it was the more "rational" choice. They told me they didn't have time to even read for pleasure anymore. (The senior attorneys didn't even have time to notice what I was doing at my desk.) The regret in the voices of these lawyers was almost palpable. They made my decision for me.

I couldn't bear the thought of living the rest of my life regretting a choice to go into into debt to get a degree in law just because it seemed like a stable paycheck. There are enough lawyers in the world already (and more than enough business majors, I'll wager) - many of whom actually have a passion for what they do. But me, I wasn't going to become one of the junior attorneys casting wistful glances at the books their $10 an hour temp secretary was reading at her desk because my job overworked and underpaid me for ten years until I could maybe one day make partner.


Had you taken the time to read the thing (gee, you sound a lot like our beloved snowflakes, don't you?) you might have noticed that Chace mentioned a little more than merely "championing literature" as a solution to the woes of the modern English department. I can understand you overlooking his advocacy of a more uniform course of study based around a canon, but his commentary on writing is worthy of serious attention. Maybe you missed it because you were busy helping some slick businessman avoid jail time for scamming little old ladies out of their pensions, or perhaps it's because you, like "most students... have poor reading and writing skills." (Your words, not mine, Matlock.)

Do you mean to tell me that, in a world where professionals of all kinds are frequently unable to express themselves intelligently or coherently, people who possess those very skills are not valuable? Do you mean to say that, in the age of 24 hour news and endless bloviation and analysis of sound bytes, that someone with a crisp wit and strong analytical skills can't find work? Are you trying to tell me, in other words, that a scarce good/service becomes less valuable as its scarcity increases? I guess it's a good thing you're a lawyer and not an economist.

Chace has it right: English scholars fail because English departments have slapdash programs based upon the whims and eccentricities of professors who would rather overspecialize in esoteric and inaccessible material than craft a meaningful program based upon teaching a shared literary heritage and practical composition. Law's hard too, but at least it has a coherent program of study; if every law school was designed like most English departments, you'd have a bunch of JDs who are really fascinated about legal decisions related to the Fugitive Slave Act- fascinating, I'm sure, but wholly useless to the aspiring lawyers in the program.

A Conversation.

He's one of the most clueless and most arrogant students I've ever known. He's failing the class, as he has finally realized.

He comes up to me in the hallway: "When can I talk to you?"

That was it, no introduction, no nothing.

"You're welcome to come in any time during office hours."

"Well, I'm really busy."

"You can also make an appointment if office hours don't work for you."

"I could come in Tuesday at one or two."

"I teach at two, but I have an office hour at one. Come in then."

He nods, sort of, and walks away.

My office hours, as you might guess, are on the syllabus. If this conversation came from a store, I'd return it as damaged.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Parveen from Philadelphia Poses: "Muslims Are Fair Game Now on RYS?"

Careful opening this e-mail. I'm Muslim, so it might have some sort of "Islamic terror" plot attached.

Since when have the rantings of Faux News personalities been featured on RYS?

The 9/14 response to Motor City Mitch was absolutely dripping with Islamophobia and racism (understandable, I suppose, since the youngsters have been "living under the shadow of Islamic terrorism" since birth).

Ooh, look, another gem: "...thousands of Israelis were killed or seriously injured by Islamic terrorism." So now posters are invited to editorialize about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict? Shall I mention here that the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths amid the conflict averages around 5:1? Or that there are many Palestinian Christians caught in the conflict (as academics and thus well read, you may have heard of one of those strange animals. An Edward Said or some such).

As a female Muslim academic (one who proudly wears hijab), I take enough shit from my real-life colleagues. Must I also experience religion/ethnicity wank on a site I visit for comic relief?

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants... reexamine all you have been told... dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.

Some Quick Saturday Smackdown.

Joe Sixpack: Yeah, your arms look good, that time in the gym is paying off. But wearing a sleeveless t-shirt to classes isn't going to help you pick up chicks; it just makes you look like a dick.

Tammy, Tonya and Tina Twitter: After being trapped behind the three of you while walking across campus during class change, I'm wishing for a no-texting-while-walking law. Save it for while you're driving on a lonely country road and take yourselves out of the gene pool.

Chronic Chris: I really, REALLY don't need to know the particulars of your four simultaneous diseases and the diagnostic procedures and treatment plans thereunto appertaining. If you have a note from your doctor that's good enough for me.

Frank Facebook: You are this close to making me go back to a no-computers policy in my classroom. Your classmates will not thank you. Do you actually believe that I'll think my class is making you stare at the screen that intently and happily? Wait, I was thinking Facebook, but now I'm thinking porn.

Anxious Annie: Last week's exam *raped* you? Is that really the term you want to use? 'Cause it was pretty much identical to last year's, except that it was made up of a different selection of the assigned homework problems. I'm guessing some of your classmates would be a little offended at your equating that with rape. Or possibly a lot offended.

Lorena Ludd: It's almost five weeks into the semester. It is no longer my problem that you aren't registered for the online homework system. Your 200 classmates seem to have managed.

Typhoid Mary: Yeah, we postponed the exam. Betcha wish you hadn't cashed in that flu excuse this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Decline of the English Department.

The reason people are majoring in business rather than English these days is not because anyone has failed to champion literature.

There are two reasons: 1) Most students have very poor reading and writing skills, and 2) there is no money in English.

As for the first, it's pretty evident from the posts here at RYS. These kids don't read books. They don't write sentences and paragraphs. The odd one that can do these things will find English classes to be pretty easy, overall (will sparkle and stand out from the drones with minimal effort) and so may end up a major as a path of least resistance. But most of these kids hate English because it's hard and boring, which is in turn because they don't do it very well. I hated gym class for the same reason.

As for the second: No money. Zero. There is money in business -- or that's what people continue to believe. You can point to that degree and at least say it's designed to get the student a job when she graduates with no further schooling needed. An English degree prepares you for a job as what, a teacher? House painters make more, and the customer pays for the paint.

I used to be a grad student in English and am now a lawyer. When I hear about the money that you folks are making, even the ones with the dream TT jobs, I shake my head in disbelief. And I'm not a well-paid lawyer at all. How many years of school are we talking about for you folks? They teach about opportunity cost in the business department.

No one has failed to champion books. Students are making very rational decisions. They can read books on their own if they want to -- though they usually don't.

"Death Or Cancun?" Eddie from Enormous Mediocre University Goes Old School.

I teach the massive 8:00 am "intro to required subject" class to the 250 snowflakes who were too slow to sign up for a later or smaller course. I'm taking the sea of blank looks, the drunk guy sleeping in the second row, and the sorority types who keep cheezing me on how meaningful my lectures are (as if I could get a word in edgewise around their twitter-book posts) as the opportunity to gather material for the next great American academic novel -- or failing that, enough money for a steady supply of cheap whiskey.

After all of the navel-gazing angst on RYS of late, I thought it would be groovy to return to an old-school snowflake slamma-jamma. Right on cue, one of my students stepped up to the line after my first exam:

Staycee Snowflake: Hello, I'm in your 8:00 class. I got a call last night that my mom suddenly died from a brain aneurysm and I had to go all the way to Nearby Large Metroplex and the funeral isn't until 3 days from now. Is there any way I can make up the exam?

Eddie from EMU: Sorry to hear about your Mom. Bring some documentation (funeral program is ok) and we'll set up a make-up exam.

(2 weeks later)

Staycee Snowflake: Hello. Well, Um ... I didn't really go to my Mom's funeral. It was out on the West Coast, and I didn't have enough money to fly there. Sniffle. Is there I can do to make up the points?

(Unbeknownst to Staycee) I have my GTAs taking roll every day. They inform me that Staycee has never showed up for class. Here's the real translation.

Staycee Snowflake: Hey dude. I can't be bothered to get up for your stupid-ass class, and I was in Cancun auditioning for Girls Gone Wild when someone texted me about the dumb-ass test. So let me come in and take it now that my sorority sisters have gotten a copy.

Eddie (sounding like an adult in a Peanuts cartoon): Wah wah ... wah wah wah

Staycee: Eddie, I'm very annoyed with you. Just give me the points. Otherwise you will ruin my life. (or, fill in the blank of what Staycee might do ... which probably isn't too much)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Mean It's Not Because English Proffies Dress So Badly?

Maybe I'm just dense, but this startling information about a critical drop in the number of Humanities students just never got into my cranium.

I'm a poor English proffie who's been looking for a full time job for FIVE years. Here's why.

The article comes from the Autumn edition of American Scholar. You might want to link to it or give your readers some "flava" - is it wrong that I got a kick out of typing that?


The Decline of the English Department
How it happened and what could be done to reverse it

By William M. Chace
American Scholar

During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history.

While the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation’s colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates.

In one generation, the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to a total of less than 16 percent; during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent. Despite last year’s debacle on Wall Street, the humanities have not benefited; students are still wagering that business jobs will be there when the economy recovers.

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Full article here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Search Committee Serge from Shreveport Joins the Job Search Conversation.

Tell Lex from Lakeland that we like easy decisions when we have three or four classes to teach, exams to grade, essays to write, committee meetings, advisees, etc. and 100 applications to read. We like cutting that huge stack of applications down. But I read your message carefully, and I will admit that you’ve given me things to consider. Is it fair that because I’m busy, you have to work to make my day lighter? No.

My department has no graduate program, and all the typical freshmen courses in my field are housed in another college. Applicants promising to do a great job in courses we do not and will not teach don’t hold my interest—as we make those facts clear in our ad so one doesn’t have to go to our sucky web page. At best, our colleagues work on a 3/3 teaching load with heavy advising duties. Your research plans may be of particular interest to other types of schools, but not to us. I might be more interested to know: What courses are you prepared to teach—in September? Have you ever had to advise thirty or forty majors? Can you balance teaching, research, and service?

So let’s compromise: If you choose to write “generic” cover letters may I suggest that you at least consider three or four generic ones? Don’t make our job easier by sending to us a cover letter that you can use for any and all openings. Come up with three or four cover letters, and send to us the one that makes us look at your application closely. Ease our concerns about “fit.” If you want a job like the one we’re offering, make us know that. Otherwise, we might worry that you’re applying to every job—and you will leave after a year or two to take the job you really want and we will have to do this horrible work again.

The very least you can do: make us think that you have read our ad—and not just copied and pasted the contact info into your job-search-macro.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hard Henry from Hudson on Snowflakes Who Have the Laissez-Faire Approach to Higher Ed.

I don't know if I'm just tired or what, but this latest group of student-snowflakes has already worn me down to the nub.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not in turmoil about what to do, or fearful or anything at all like most of your writers who seem determined to be up in arms about whatever, but never do more than write "pretend" letters to you about what they would do only if...

"Only if" doesn't exist for me. I'm old, have tenure, run a tiny department, and have no one to answer to. (The Dean lives on my street and we drink malted beverages 3 nights a week.)

So, my only reason for writing is to say, "Why don't college students make their college education a priority?"

Just this past week I had the following:

  • Baffled Brittany who missed both classes because her mom wanted her to get a flu shot, not just any flu shot, but the one that her family doctor administered 250 miles away in Podunkville. That Dr. Homebody gets the same shipment of drugs as the campus dispensary doesn't matter. Better to miss 2 days of class.

  • Dull Daryl who missed both classes but barraged me with emails telling me he wouldn't be in class, and could I write to him the "jist" of what he had missed. When I tried to reply to him, the school's server replied with: "Student account closed for code violations."

  • Isolated Ike who missed one class and joined the other one 30 minutes in progress. When I asked him where he'd been, he said, "I just let the days get away from me, I guess."

  • Ringing Rodney who twice grabbed his loudly ringing phone and then took calls out in the hallway (small thanks, I suppose). After class I reminded him that it's polite to turn off all electronic devices during class. Rodney replied, "I never hear my vibrate mode. Plus I've got some stuff going on that I need to keep tabs on."

  • Ailing Abigail who came to class to tell me she couldn't attend because she felt that the flu was coming on. I told her, fine, take it easy, go take care of yourself. An hour later after I finished class, I strolled back to my office and spotted her eating a submarine sandwich and chips while sitting on the grass outside our classroom building, talking with friends.
Oh, those examples are probably pretty tame. But, seriously, does anyone else find that students just don't make these darn classes we offer a priority? As I said, I'm not tied in knots about it. I don't let it worry me, and penalties for bullshit are pretty clear in my class. These folks aren't getting away with anything on me, and I'm not going out of my way to help them avoid the work they think they're avoiding, but where does this laissez-faire attention to their studies come from?

Some Advice For Narcissistic Snowflakes Who'd Rather Shiv Their Peers Than Save Them.

Welcome to college--and congratulations on joining the ranks of the insolent whiners. Your classmates disrespect the proffie, and you disrespect your classmates. What wonders you'll achieve for the classroom atmosphere!

Yes, discovering student apathy is disheartening, sometimes shocking, maybe even rage-inducing, but you're not doing anyone any favors by roaring off on a superiority trip ("Dear RYS, please confirm that I am in fact a glorious student by agreeing that my classmates are lowly urchins. XOXO, Your Fave Student Evar"). Rather than letting your classmates exclude themselves on group work, why don't you practice a little transparency and tell your lazy peers--before you finish the assignment--that you'll happily deny them credit if they don't contribute? You don't have to wuv your classmates, and you don't have to (shouldn't) do their work for them, but since you already know that they're not listening to Proffie, it's worth trying to appeal to them as a peer.

No, it's not your job to guide your classmates (because I know it's extremely strenuous and woefully time-consuming to jab your neighbor and say, "Put your phone away or I'll punch you in the jugular"), but I'm fed up with students strutting around like autonomous narcissists who figure they just happen to be inconsequentially lumped into a building with some other autonomous entities. We are a community, human beings who mutually influence each other in ways big and small; we may have nothing in common except omg I totally have those shoes!!! and a presence in the same classroom, but the very least we can do for each other is behave like human beings who recognize that, by golly, I can't build myself up as thoughtful, feeling human being by the sheer force of my free will! The people around me actually affect me! And I them! Maybe, just maybe, I should try to work with these people!

I know, I know, it's a blast to use your mighty ego as a wrecking ball, but just think of the novel possibilities: if you leave it at home, you'll be able to channel all the energy it takes to lug it around into something constructive!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

There's Nothing Like Being Saved. Boston's Bitchy Bear Brings it For Betsy.

Let's talk about some of the bad advice and ridicule Betsy got for a second.

First: "love it or get out, as you are keeping a slot from people who will love teaching and therefore do it better than you." Bullpuckey. Having turned in my tenure dossier I am now fresh meat in the abattoir for crappy service work* that needs doing, and one of my new jobs involves directing one of our programs. As part of that job, I get to see everybody's evaluations for every single class.

Now, I'm not fool enough to believe evaluations do anybody justice. But the exercise is interesting, as I'm in a huge department of faculty and you start to see a few patterns in the data over the course of years. So people in my department who think they are teacher of the year? Eh, some get great evals, others don't. Some do well in some classes and not in others. The people like me who openly admit they're overwhelmed, alienated and (yes) bored get pretty much the same evaluations in general as the ones who, like many academics, gas on and on about how they live for the craft of teaching.

The whole "get out" advice is rather bogus anyway. Though teaching drives me nuts---I go at it with fear and trembling; I miss it when I am not doing it; and when I am doing it the students drive me to drink--teaching is a part of life as you age. Teaching is a part of parenting. It's a part of management and leadership in any context, and I say this as a former professional. It's hard to get away from the fact that as time marches forward, you gain experience and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by young people who have to run the world someday, and most of those young people need a good swift kick just as you and I have needed good swift kicks in our time (and, in my case, still do). It is the great circle of life. Now, you may not want to spend your life teaching in a classroom, but if you are not catastrophically selfish as a person, you will probably spend at least some of your time teaching in some way.

This endeavor of trying to bring youth into adulthood and adulthood into maturity is often boring. You're not bored because you are boring, as one person suggested. Maybe, but I doubt it. There's boring and then there's BORING and it's probably good to distinguish. First of all, as the comments noted, virtually every job has its tedium.

My poor dean. I can't imagine how many meetings that guy sits through every week. Why in God's name would anybody do such a thing? Well, because he thinks he's building something here. It can be a great challenge to lead bright and creative people and to puzzle out what motivates them and how to bring them along. But it involves a lot of meetings so dull I'm surprised that Amnesty International hasn't listed them right along with bamboo under fingernails.

Any parent honest with themselves and others will note that children can be boring as all hell. Yes, yes, yes they are all precious precious little pumpkins, but have you ever sat through that demented "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland 30 times? Read Goodnight, Moon** 100 times? Listened while a six year-old tells a story about the kid who smells like pee and has cooties? Played Candyland for seven hours? Watched Alvin and the Chipmunks for longer than 21 seconds?

Oh here's a good one: my niece catches me on IM just about every night and fills the chat with jeremiads about the injustices of not being able to date 20 year-olds at her ripe old age of 15. That's some boring shit happening right there. Why deal with it? We do it because we love. My niece, I hope, isn't going to be an idiot forever. She's going to grow up. Growing up is hard, and you need the attention of older people to know you are doing it right and that anybody cares that you are doing it right. I'm pretty sure my departmental mentors aren't thrilled with going to lunch in order to listen to me whinge about writer's block, but they do it because they care and they know that all this acting fascinated by youngsters' babble really does get us somewhere.

And that's why as a beginner I think you have to reserve judgment for a bit. The rewards to teaching are random and they take time to manifest. Students, like kids in general, never understand what you are doing for them while you are doing it. Wait a few years. In my limited experience, I find that students echo throughout your life. They come, and some are lovely and gratifying in the moment. Others are difficult but still gratifying. Others you wish would spontaneously combust.

And then a few years later, you will happen upon one, and they will say things like "I hated that assignment/book/class, but now that I am doing the job, I completely understand why you had us do it." This past week, my dean was abroad with a muckitetymucky group and he happened to strike up a conversation with one of the staffers. It turns out she was one of my students from my former university who told my dean that I was the best teacher she ever had.*** Stuff like that happens when you teach; it just takes time for it to happen, and when it happens, it can even touch somebody as tar-hearted and genuinely dedicated to the cause of evil as yours truly.

The other part of just beginning: people give you the dog classes. Yes, yes, yes, silverbacks, control yourselves: it's about paying your dues to some degree. But you should understand that teaching fun classes is a lot different than teaching dog classes, and if your program is smart they will give you something fun to go with your dog of a class.

My former university wasn't smart; they hired a big cluster of very gifted young scholars, distributed the dog classes and fun teaching inequitably, and those of us who got short sticks left after three years. All that talent, recruited and then gone because the senior faculty couldn't work up enough team attitude and self discipline to take one sucky class a year. Stupid. My own preference is to suck up one of the dog classes that nobody wants, turn it into a no-brainer prep as one of the commenters suggested, and then use that as an excuse not to take up any number of other shitty tasks that are being handed out. When you can be relied on to cheerfully and consistently deliver the class that is hard to cover, you build up chits you can trade later. And it's everybody's duty to pick up some departmental housekeeping, even though many of the silverbacks won't deign to teach undergrads. It's wrong of them to do so, no matter how many dues they think they have paid. As you progress, you will get more opportunities to teach some of the non-dog courses. If you don't, then I think looking around at different jobs is perfectly reasonable, but give it some time.

Good luck.

**Classic of western literature, don't get me wrong, but there are limits to appreciation.
***Don't think for one second I don't realize it could have just as easily been one of the students who hated me over the years. I got lucky. Or she was nicely brought up and lied well.

Sledgehammer Steve Brings On His Usual Compassion and Understanding.

To Dana and the rest of the whining adjuncts: shut your pie hole.

Here's what it is. You decided to be an adjunct. Don't feed me that total bullshit about how you need to work to eat, blah, blah, blah. You aren't migrant workers. You're highly educated, economically middle class, and probably speak pretty good English. You can get another job, a decent living-wage job with benefits.

You love teaching. Big freaking deal. Maybe I love playing baseball and I'm mired in the AA leagues watching A-Rod drive his Ferrari while I get filled with resentment. I can bitch and moan all I want about how the Phillies only want steroid freaks who can hit 70 homers per year and have no respect for us underpaid minor-leaguers who just wuv the historic game, and the fans, and, and.... excuse me, I have to wipe my tears and pop in my DVD of Field of Dreams.

Point is, none of that matters for shit. Hit 70 homers, pitch a 1.20 ERA or forget it.

Before you write me off as a classist fatcat (I *wish*!), I teach 4-4, and my campus has almost no adjuncts because our strong faculty union won't allow it. I think the heavy reliance on adjuncts is terrible- it's terrible for the students, bad for the faculty, and undermines the notion of higher education as a community of scholars. But Dana-- you're not a serf.

If you hate it that much, get out.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Dear Mom, I'm Making Friends With My Classmates!"

I am in my first semester and in a class called "College Achievement," designed me achieve in college. I am in a class with other students who want to text through class, act like they are taking notes on their laptops (when they're really just looking at Facebook) and, can't listen worth a flying fuck (but strangely have no problem with leaving their earbuds in during lecture).

The professor, a Doctor of Psychology, who is probably one of the most engaging people I've ever encountered, has to deal with teaching the course as it is rotated every semester to a different staff member. There are a few people of note.
  1. The sleeper. Shows up every day, drinks his cliche energy drink and then...passes out. Yeah dude, those Nickelback shirts and energy drinks make you look COOL!
  2. The "I'm sorry I'm late, I had a rough night and I just got off work" girl behind me. She tried to get me to write an essay for her. I had her e-mail the request to me then I forwarded it to the Professor. Dumbass.
  3. The one who partnered with me on an assignment and let me do all the work. Then she got mad when I only put my name on the assignment (as we were instructed to do if only one member did the work). Fuck you.
No one listens, everything has to be repeated 50 times. They don't care, and they probably won't until they fail. Disrespectful fuckers. Go have fun with your iPods and shut up so I can listen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morose and Middle-Aged Mark Offers An Adjunct Taxonomy.

I’ve seen a lot of posts here about adjuncts. I’m one, alas, and I wish to suggest that we consider the different types of adjuncts, a typology of freeway fliers, if you will.
  1. The Newbies: ABD or the ink is still wet on their Ph.D. Trying to get their foot in the door. How can someone so young look so tired and hopeless?

  2. The Hopeless: Have been adjuncts or on one-year contracts for a long time and likely to remain on that track. In all honesty, they’re not good enough to get that full time slot. Something is lacking. Maybe it’s teaching skills, writing ability, or maybe they just lack intellectual horsepower. Probably shouldn’t have been allowed to finish their degree.

  3. The Hobbyists: Have a full time job elsewhere or maybe they’re retired, but they like teaching and want a little pocket money.

  4. The Second-Careerists: They got the degree but then worked outside academia in the “real world.” However, they never lost the desire to get back into those ivy-covered halls. Then something happened. Maybe the spouse moved the family to a new city, the old job disappeared, or the midlife crisis hit. Now they’re back competing with people half their age trying to get their foot in the door. Tied to their current location by family, they can’t just move anywhere for a position so they interview at local schools and realize that the selection committee chair is younger than they are. Their paychecks are less than the bonuses they received on their old job. They now use an adjunct office that’s smaller than their old cubicle and they share it with other people. That person is me, and on behalf of my second-career brethren may I just say WHAT THE ^&%$# HAVE I DONE!?!?!!

Lex From Lakeland Doesn't Want to Know More About Your Shitty College Than You Want to Know About Him!

Is everyone out of their ever-loving minds? Are these people seriously expecting job candidates--most of whom are finishing dissertations, teaching 2 or more classes, trying to publish articles, in addition to living their lives--to conduct in-depth research on 20, 30, 40, or more schools before they even write their application materials? You getting 200 applications, from which you'll interview, what, 10 people, and yet with those odds you believe that investing untold hours of research into hiring departments represents a wise use of the applicants' time?

Can you honestly say that your department's website accurately reflects the culture of your department and your institution? That its list of faculty and courses is up to date? How many times have I seen application letters that go on and on about how wonderful it would be to be the colleague of a professor who died in the last year (or left--hence the job opening) or about how it's always been their dream to teach a course we no longer offer or that it the sole property of one professor, who frankly is not interested in hiring his own competition for said course. Our department website makes us look like something we're not, and anyone who applies to us with a letter about how much they embrace interdisciplinary cooperation or want a close, collegial faculty, or want to be part of a highly visible research university--all things they might glean from what we say about ourselves online--will be terribly disappointed to find that none of these things are to be found here. Tailoring a letter to that online profile is the surest way to get your application put into the "no" pile, because the search committee knows you'll be desperately unhappy with the job.

Here's an idea: I'll agree to research your institution and tailor my letter to your online self-representation if you agree to give my letter and CV more than 3 minutes' perusal, agree not to discard my application because you find one typo, or because you don't like my dissertation topic, or because my pedigree (i.e. letterhead) isn't impressive enough. Do you promise me that you're running a legitimate search and not just putting up a screen so you can hire your inside candidate? Do you promise you won't discard my application because I'm white and male and your department is under pressure to "diversify"? Do you promise you won't end the search because funding for the line runs out? You understand I'll need some assurances before I invest so much time and energy in tailoring my application to suit your Highness's requirements.

I'll research your institution fully if you'll research me: read every word I've published, look over every syllabus I've constructed, read my teaching evaluations, writing sample, and letters of recommendation from start to finish. Look at the website I've put together, talk to folks who have heard my papers at conferences. What's that you say? You don't have time for all that? Well, neither do I have the time to flatter your ego, kiss your ass, and make you think that you are the world's bestest department and the center of my existence.

Cover letters are generic. Get over it. This isn't a romance novel, full of protestations of adoration and suitability. It is a job search: the candidate tells the committee about him/herself and the committee decides if that profile fits what they're looking for. Half the time committees don't even know what they want until the applications come streaming in, so don't expect job candidates a thousand miles away to read your minds. Anyone who crafts the perfectly tailored letter based on hours of research into your department and hitting absolutely every one of your criteria is probably someone you don't want to hire: s/he either has entirely too much free time (is not doing the work s/he should be doing) or is an eager-beaver stalker (see the film Election. You want Tracy to be your colleague?).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of Snowflake Email!

(No salutation)

I really wanted to get something worked out with you beforei go get this grade appealled. i believe that it is unfair thati try as hard as i did and reached out to you several times for assistance and you still will not help me get 8 points. i have been present in your class everyday expect for when my kid was sick. I took notes and studied. Biology is not my major unlike some of the class, it does not come easy to me. I will do everything to get this grade over turned so please have all my work form this semester ready for me to pick up tomorrow your give it to the dean. I will not except this grade because of your lack of teaching skills.

(No signature)


Dear Student:

I'm not sure why you would expect any other grade except the one that you received. By the way, grades that students receive reflect the caliber of student that receives them, they usually have very little reflection on my teaching abilities, or lack thereof.

Unfair Professor

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mid-Career Mike on Loving the Grumdop Unicorns.

I hope you get a lot of mail concerning Silverback Soren's (belated) admiration for his junior faculty colleagues.

There is a lot of mean-spirited stuff on RYS (and that's why we love it so), but Soren's was a nice palate-cleanser for all of us who toil in departments with a wide variety of folks.

Myself, here at the lovely SodaPop College - with its lovely breezes coming in my office window that I can actually OPEN - I find myself roughly in the middle of the department, with a handful of folks senior and junior to me.

Like Soren, I confess I have spent my time in the faculty lounge bitching about those folks who come for a first year on the t-t only to escape quickly when they find a "better" job or a "better" college, or just a job near their grad school pals. But how is that different than any profession?

What I thought was most instructive in Soren's note was his realization that his young pal Hector was actually - unbelievably! - doing a better job in the same class. This is something all of us "aging" academics need to recognize. New folks come in with the latest training and theory, and as they get their feet under them as teachers, this new information often helps them make new inroads into whatever discipline they teach.

For me, though, it's the ambition that I love in younger faculty. Pre-tenure, they are truly striving, and although this page has often made fun of that notion - me included! - that ambition can rub off if you'll let it.

Sure, silverbacks like Soren (and me, in about ten minutes) have got a wealth of experience, and that has to be valued. But I've learned to love the "gumdrop unicorns" in our junior faculty. I learn from them, and if they're smart, they'll learn from me, too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dana the Decatur Closes Down the Adjunct Discussion for Now As She Eviscerates The True Evil Behind the System.

Dear Administrative Asses Shitting All Over Adjuncts,

I hate you. Viscerally. Sure, if you ever actually invited me to your office (you won’t) I’d be lovely and kiss your ass like it was my job (it kind of is). But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s genuine. I really, really hate you.

I adjunct in the Humanities, and I fail to comprehend how you people—who often wrote dissertations brimming with empathy and awareness on topics like labor, economic disparities, and social class—are such arrogant, ignorant, ridiculous asses when it comes to real life. You say “We need colleagues, not worker bees.” Oh. Well. I guess what I should be doing then is starving in a box on the street so that I don’t look too much like a drone to you. What is it, exactly, that you fuckwads imagine we should do? You certainly don’t want us to leave academia—that looks like work too, and no work you’re familiar with. In what ways can those who didn’t get a full-time position prove themselves to you kings and queens? I would love to be a colleague; I am much better at being a colleague than whatever the hell it is I’m doing now. You just won’t let me. Do you imagine that we are choosing to be adjuncts because we are no good at collegiality? Really. Where exactly is your vision going wrong? I need to know.

You say that our “level of employment is just not decent preparation for the type of faculty we need, someone who will work department-wide and campus-wide.” Well, fuck you. What would be “decent preparation” other than, you know, being allowed to work “campus-wide”? You guys kill me, acting all high and mighty up there, believing somehow that adjuncting has eaten our brains, stolen our ideals, and probably made us smell bad too. God, we’re as bad as those “migrant farm workers,” right? How fucking elitist and inhumane can you possibly be?

And here’s the kicker. You guys will actually say—in writing (though granted on RYS)—that “If you're willing to settle for that in your career, it tells the hiring committee something about you.” Oh. My. Fucking. God. Yes. It does. It tells you that I like to eat occasionally. It tells you that I am my sole supporter, and I can’t go hole up in a library and write for a year. It tells you that I’m not independently wealthy—that yes, though it’s disgusting to consider such details, I do need to work to get by. And it tells you that I’m experienced in and committed to teaching. If it tells you any more than that, you are just fucking schizophrenic.

And all you people—the apologists—with the hand-wringing—“Oh, I would love to hire adjuncts, if only…” or “Oh, I just wish those adorable little adjuncts didn’t have such a rough time…”—fuck you the hardest. You are the only people in a position to change perspectives and practices, and you waste your time sniveling and making pathetic excuses. Y'all can justify it however you want; but don't for one fucking second believe that you're not a bunch of classist fatcats living large at the expense of a lot of broken backs at the bottom.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Athena From Allentown Goes Crazy With the Calculator and Divines and Divides the Adjunct Salary Within a Penny Of Its Life.

In our department, a 3-credit class pays $3000 (give or take). Ok, so a 14-week semester times 3 credits is 42 hours of "work" (not really, because it's really 150 minutes a week, not 180.) $3000/42 hours is $71.40/hour. Pretty good, right?

Oh yeah, I forgot the final exam, that's a 2.5-hour period. $3000/44.5 hours = $67.42/hr. Awesome.

Wait, there are supposed to be office hours. Let's say someone keeps 2 hours a week per class. 44.5 + (14x2) = $41.38/hour. Wow, that's a pretty big hit, but still a good wage, right?

Dude probably gives what, three exams? so let's say four hours writing, a half hour photocopying, and three hours grading. (I probably actually spend more like ten hours grading an exam but we'll assume adjuncts give scantron exams. This time estimate leaves some room for recording grades to a spreadsheet and/or online course management software.) Be generous and call it 8 hours/exam, 24 hours total. Oh and the final, say another 8 hours, 32 total. That puts us up to 104.5 hours and we're down to $28.71/hr.

If the instructor holds review sessions for exams, add in 8 hours for that (2 hrs/exam). $3000/112.5 hr = $26.66/hr.

If the instructor actually answers student emails--well, I probably spend close to an hour a day on that; I have a very large number of students but a lot of my email traffic is "please see section X of the syllabus and get back to me." So how much time for this? Is 2 hours/week too much? That probably overlaps with office hours, so let's put in 1 hour/week or 14 hours. $3000/126.5 hr = $23.71/hr.

Crap, I didn't include any time for actually preparing for class. If it's a new course, give what, an hour prep for every hour of class? Two? Three? I could basically put in any amount of time on a new prep, but let's say a newbie has to spend three hours a week on prep (this counts reading, preparing lecture notes, writing a syllabus, preparing handouts, interacting with the course website, wheedling a copier code from the secretary, putting materials on reserve in the library, arguing with the bookstore about the text, etc etc.) That's probably a pretty lowball estimate, but whatever. That's another 42 hours on top of everything else... $3000/168.5 hours --no, scratch that, if we're estimating here anyway why are we still carrying around that 0.5 hour? Let's say 170 hours, and we get $17.60/hr.

Celia Monahan gets $2100/class; with the assumptions above she's making around $12 an hour. She probably spends more time on some things, less on others, than what I've outlined.

Another way to tally this would be to figure that 4 classes/semester is a full load, or 2 in summer. Then 10 classes/year gets you $30k (or it gets Celia $21k). Calculating out to a 40-hour workweek gives about the same numbers: $18-20/hr at $3k/class, under $12/hr at $2100/class. Yep, crap pay.

Lesson: adjunct pay can be absolutely great if you decide how many hours a week you're going to put into it, prioritize the tasks, and stop when that amount of time has been used each week. You want $50/hour? Then $2100/semester divided by $50/hour divided by 14 weeks/semester is 3 hours/week. That's it. You walk in, teach your class, and walk out. No grading, no photocopying, no handouts, no emails, no office hours.

Anything you do besides standing in front of a classroom cuts into your profit margin. You put in 6 hours/week instead of 3, you just gave yourself a 50% pay cut. Universities get away with this because just often enough, people do a good job in spite of being paid like undergrads. If everybody phoned it in, the students might finally up and revolt. Maybe. And maybe if everyone in the adjunct pool did a little math, there wouldn't be those rows and rows of people waiting to take over when Celia or Brynn turns down a job.

We're Letting These Two Folks Speak for the Anti-Mitch Movement, Which Had a Powerful and Weird Sort of Weekend Energy That We Cannot Deny.

Motor City Mitch is just as deluded as his students. For him, Islamic terrorism began on 9/11. For anyone of his generation with more awareness than a box of rocks, Islamic terrorism is a shadow under which we have been living our entire lives. Has he forgotten the Iranian hostages, the endless Libyan airplane hijackings, or that Afghanistan was a war zone since the 19th century?

Mitch thinks everything was just fine and dandy until 9/11 because he wasn't inconvenienced by having to remove his shoes at the airport. Meanwhile Iraqis and Afghanis were dying by the thousands - most of them women and civilians, victims of their own governments - and thousands of Israelis were killed or seriously injured by Islamic terrorism. But Mitch didn't have to remove his shoes at the airport, so terrorism couldn't have been a problem before 9/11, right?

Mitch concludes with the bleedingly obvious statement that the world is a worse place since 9/11, because of the Patriot Act, rather than the thousands of orphans and widows and maimed firefighters and police officers and the debilitating health problems suffered by the rescue workers.

For people like Mitch, 9/11 is just a political tool for the Republicans. For New Yorkers, it's a memory so unbearable that most of us cannot stand to watch television on September 11. All those memorial services, documentaries, and reading of the names are to comfort people like Mitch, who didn't have to witness the largest mass murder in U.S. history with their own eyes. What a deluded, insensitive asshole Mitch is. His students may be oblivious, but at least they don't pretend to be more sensitive and aware than anyone else.


I am baffled by Motor City Mitch's post. Can a person really be so blind to generation gaps? Even as a lowly, vapid undergraduate, I can understand that people 10 years older or younger than myself have different world views.

Assuming that Mitch is 10 years older than the average undergraduate, that puts him as being born in roughly 1980, and that means he was around 11 when the Soviet Union collapsed, which is the age I was when the 9/11 attacks happened. Since Mitch's childhood memories probably can't reach past Gorbachev and his teenage years were spent in the halcyon years of the 90s, he probably never saw the USSR as much of a threat. I am sure that people 10 years older than Mitch would have a totally different world view than Mitch; their teenage years included the Challenger explosion, Chernobyl, and the gas crisis. And obviously people 10 years older than that would have a different world view, illustrated elegantly by a member of the academy.

A history professor of mine once confided to us that he and his wife had struggled in their decision to have children because they were not sure they wanted to bring children into a world where they might be obliterated in a nuclear fireball. This elicited stares and an uncomfortable, confused silence, because my generation as a whole simply does not feel that nuclear war is a real threat. Nor do we believe that it is very likely that America will ever be in a war against another nation with relatively equal firepower again. Or, indeed, that we are in any real physical peril from anyone other than muggers. The majority of my generation sees 9/11 as an unfortunate incident that we have to take measures to prevent from happening again, but we see those precautions like we see flu shots--probably unnecessary and a little painful, but you should do it just in case.

If I may summarize my childhood and formative years, I would point out the following events as impacting my world view: the war in Kosovo, our involvement, and the statement by my elders that no amount of "peacekeeping" can keep apart people apart; the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the two-faced nature of politicians in general; the ridiculousness of the Y2K "crisis;" the 9/11 attacks and the surge of both nationalism and xenophobia that followed; the political use of that nationalism to begin our involvement in Afghanistan; the confusion surrounding Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and how that confusion remained up to and following the invasion; the general antipathy shown by the world towards America; and the obvious partisanship in the country. If you are ever confused about your students' world view, you should consult that list (or try Wikipedia) and think about what we take for granted and why.

If you would like to see eye to eye with your students, you should realize that while because you think your side of the fence is better, your parents think the same about you. Getting all flustered about a generation gap is useless, because the world is constantly changing and therefore the environment the next generation grows up in is constantly changing. So do what we all do with our parents: roll your eyes, keep your sense of superiority to yourself, and work around it.

Clarinda from Calumet City Goes Old School, And Brings the Page Back to Its Innocent, Silly Beginnings.

Dear Skimmer Simon:
So you just realized today that you missed the first assignment. I'd e-mailed you when I noticed you hadn't logged on to the class site ever. You didn't get the e-mail because you don't read your university e-mail? Well, Simon, I don't see why that's my problem. Next time I'll try a carrier pigeon, okay? As for making the assignment up, did you read the class policies? Oh, you "missed that" part of the syllabus. Well, why don't you go back and read that. Oh. Now you're walking away while I try to explain your options. Well, I hope the back of your head caught the participation policy. Did you know you're balding?


Dear Late Lorinda:
Well, it's a month into the semester and a week past the late registration date. You've missed the first assignment and no, you can't make it up. I'm sorry that Flexible Flo in the registrar's office told you I "had to" let you do the assignments; you're in the same boat as Skimmer Simon. And no, you don't actually have to *buy* both books - you just have to read them. I don't care how you accomplish that. The first quiz is due Monday...good luck!


Dear Back Row Barry:
Yes, the deadline is 10 a.m. It's an online assignment, and I need time to read it before class. But you have class then? So...why not do the assignment earlier. There are other times on the clock besides "the last minute," you know. But you always do things at the last minute? Well, good for you. I'll be sure to take the same kind of care and attention grading your assignments as you'll take doing them. 'Kay?


Dear Historian Helen:
I'm sorry that this class doesn't fulfill the history requirement. I mean, it does say on the syllabus that it's a language course, and you get pluralism credits, but nothing on there about history. I did read these notes on the first and second days in class. You had three weeks to drop and switch to another course. No, I'm not going to pass you just because you're "wasting your money."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Motor City Mitch On the 9/11 Barrier.

I'm a tenure-track professor at Small Private Midwestern College. I have only been at SPMC for a few years. Some sort of miracle happened and I landed this job straight out of grad school. Because of this, I tend to think I'm not that much older than my students are, and I tend to think that I can relate to them on some level. I'm on Facebook. I blog. I buy my jeans at American Eagle. I know who Lady GaGa is even if I don't have an affinity for the Disco Stick song. The majority of my colleagues cannot say the same. Don't get me wrong -- I do not harbor delusions that my students think I'm cool or that they view me as a peer. I'm just saying that, as one of the youngest profs on campus, I have an easier time relating to the students than a lot of the other profs.

But a ten year age gap can make a lot of difference, too, and that was apparent today. Most of my students were in fifth grade on September 11, 2001. As I sat in my office playing around on Facebook during my lunch hour (give me a break -- it's Friday!), I noticed that many of my peers were posting 9/11-related status updates. I also noticed that none of my students were. I started thinking about why that might be.

And then it hit me. My students don't really remember the world before 9/11. They don't remember a world where Osama bin Laden wasn't enemy #1, a world where Islam was just another non-Christian religion, a world where you could leave your shoes on at the airport, a world where Afghanistan was just another one of those "-stan" countries over by Russia. College freshmen today don't realize that, ten years ago, a flag pole was just a flag pole and not a political statement.

My students aren't writing about 9/11 in their Facebook statuses because, to them, it wasn't the day the world changed. They get that 9/11 was scary and bad, but they don't understand the full magnitude of its impact because its shadow is a major contributor to their worldview. Think of it like this: for my students, the Patriot Act is just a fact of life. It's a piece of legislation not unlike other pieces of legislation. They don't understand why I am so shocked and appalled by it -- and I suppose that's because they developed awareness in a country that believed it needed to take drastic measures to protect itself from a dangerous, invisible enemy. I did not.

What I'm really talking about here is frame of reference -- something we've been discussing a lot in my freshman studies/critical thinking course. Your frame of reference dictates how you think and how you behave, determines what you question and what you blindly accept, defines your version of "normal." For me, it's still not normal, for instance, that Muslims are presumed to be terrorists -- and it never will be. For my students, though, it's not an assumption that elicits shock...or even surprise.

And sure, part of it is differences in education levels, in political views, in socioeconomic status, in exposure to diversity, in upbringing and familial values. It would be a gross oversimplification to blame it all on 9/11 (just as it's oversimplifying to say, "All of my freshmen believe in X but not Y"). Still, I do believe that 9/11 is a pretty big barrier between me and my students being able to see eye to eye. At the risk of sounding incredibly trite, the world is a different place now...and from my side of the fence, it's not a better place.

Thad Takes His Life Into His Own Hands By Taking On Boston's Bitchy Bear. (Our Advice is In Today's Graphic.)

Dear Bitchy - Bear,

You, understandably, have to live up to your name - I'm ok with that. But I'm still going to have to give you the shellacking you deserve.

First, I realize you are intensely jealous because the RYS guys gave me a WAAAAY cooler picture than you but please don't let that cloud your true feelings - you seen like primo future-ex-wife material (grrrr!).

Secondly, you really should keep your gloves up in a fight - else you're gonna get decked.

You: "I work at an expensive and hard-to-get-into university."
Read: I'm uber pretentious and I prefer to teach people who aspire to pretense as well (or are lesbians at Sarah Lawrence / Grinnell (and what a shame that would be!), or legacies, or suckers who don't mind being grifted by con-(wo)man educators).

You: "The other problem with perspective is that I am from a rural ghetto."
Read: I don't really have any class, but I'm good at pretending to be classy. Look, I even bought a pantsuit. More to the point, being a professor is my feeble attempt to bury my horrid past, and elevate myself to the elite. (Don't worry, I like my ladies a little trashy)

You: "Being part of the elite means.....blah blah blah"
When I read this part, I get that vomit taste in the back of my throat. You're kidding, right? Elite? Sweetie, just cause you like the Char-Donny instead of Margaritas doesn't make you elite.

You: "I have more war stories if you want, but we all know what the first rule of Fight Club is..."
Yeah, Bitchy - Bear, I don't recall the Fight Club members drawing salaries, or canoodling with grad students, or attending Faculty drinks parties, or spending public money. And though I commend you for alluding to one of the coolest authors EVAR, I'm gonna have to suggest you come on back to Comp 101, so I can teach you how to construct a proper analogy.

Let me level with you Bear Girl: I like your style; I only tease you cause I like you. But what your piss poor analogy has so ineptly stumbled upon is something I want to address. Within the first week of teaching I had one of those "If you like to eat sausages don't go to the factory" kind of moments regarding higher education. Along the lines of Fight Club, I wonder, how are we, the bearers (!) of high culture and the the keys to gate of life long success supposed to sell yet another vulgar commodity to these rubes we call students when the basis of what we do is to try to get them to think beyond (and critically of) money, and commodities, and lifestyles, and status (which, by and large, are the reasons they attend).

We sell different products, you and I. I, the lowly Vienna Sausage (at Artisanal Salami prices) and you a steak so highly overpriced that Ruth's Chris would die to be able to sell their products with such a high margin. Higher education is the impacted bowel of American society after all, right?

From my oh-so-middling perspective, I gather that American higher education is basically a con-game. It's a classic bait and switch. Administrators and teachers alike have no actual insight into the intellectual and economic needs of the larger society. We, rather, enjoy our jobs because we don't have to come in sober or like the praise and attention or whatever (Lord knows the actual teaching is only about 10% as rewarding as those who sing its praises make it out to be) . On the other side of the equation we have a bunch of weak kneed politicians that are happy that the unemployment rate here for people 18-28 isn't almost 30% (!) like it is in Spain or France because we have all those suckers enrolled in the Higher-Bureaucracy-of-Massive-Proportions that we call College/University.

I don't have a dog in this fight per se - where I went to grad school was Fun, Frivolous, Foreign and Free (as it should be). But now, corporate university or pretendo-public-university, it doesn't matter...all around our forsaken country we have sheisters, dream merchants, PR and marketing jerks, student loan farmers and blow hard administrators pimping the goose that laid their golden eggs - a higher education system so corrupt, so self-adoring - a higher education that to those who created the Universities in England and Germany would seem like blasphemy.

So, Bitchiest of the Bears, I ask you to reevaluate all your earnest hard work and optimistic fervor. Go ahead. Oh, you're shy? Let me start. I wear a blazer to work but that doesn't mean I'm not a whore. You try it....I wear a pantsuit to work but that.....