Thursday, September 01, 2011

Goodnight, Irene. Hello, Chronicle Blog Network.

As many LGBTQ-related academic issues have emerged around the country in the last few weeks, including:
  • an uproar over a university LGBT Resources Guide,
  • Elmhurst College becomes the first to ask applicants their sexual orientation and gender identity,
  • two more law schools accepting military recruiters in the wake of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell law,
  • and a study by the Center for American Progress highlighting the unequal treatment of LGBTQ students and children of same-sex parents by federal financial aid,
my bloggy friends might wonder where I have been?! In short, I have been discovering my new town, preparing both for a new school year and a hurricane, helping to orient new students, and trying to manage maintaining research projects while taking on a new administrative job. I am not sure which of these has been the most exciting challenge.

Map of Hurricane Irene

Yes, I spent days tracking Irene on the web.
Oh, and I was working with the Chronicle of Higher Education staff to move my blog to Wordpress so I could be part of the Chronicle Blog network (CBN). As a longtime reader of the paper and online versions of the Chronicle, I am so pleased to be one of the associated collection of blogs. My good friend Tenured Radical is also part of the new crew; it is nice not to go into this alone! She promised that the CBN would be a good new home, and she isn't wrong about that. The move happened pretty quickly, with an improved colorful logo in the header and a new byline. So be sure to change your RSS feed to the new site!

Anyway, back to the actual blog. My quick thoughts on the above LGBTQ academic issues are as follows...
  • The LGBTQ resource guide was a tempest in a teapot, a non-issue brought to life by a conservative faculty blogger and given life support by the FOX and Christian news empires. Providing a list of resources, including listing churches that claim to be welcoming to queer folks, is hardly a breach of church and state. Even the conservative blogger had to admit it was not a violation. The issue died quickly and quite appropriately.
  • Hurray for Elmhurst including information about sexual orientation and gender expression on its admissions form. Having these data allows the school to track these students' academic performance, retention, and graduation rates, along with any number of other important indicators. I am hoping other schools will make the shift and, eventually, the common application will follow suit.
  • Bringing back military recruiters is the right thing to do. The military is a major employer, and students need access to employers in this day and age. That said, kudos for these schools for doing the right thing and standing up to the federal government when the policy was discriminatory.
  • The CAP Financial Aid study shows the good, bad, and ugly of financial aid in the age of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the federal government doesn't count our same-sex partners' income in figuring need, we may benefit and get more aid than our heterosexually married peers. Of course, that assumes that our same-sex partner makes money and that they, or their children, don't have major medical or living costs for which we contribute. In that case, we may get less aid than we should. This discounting of half of the couple/family also impacts children of same-sex couples, whose aid is not determined in a rational way that includes the whole family. This is true, even when both same-sex parents are LEGALLY recognized as parents and/or even if the parents/partners are LEGALLY married. Worse yet, even if one parent is the biological parent with sole legal custody, if her partner pays more than 50% of the children's expenses, the biological parent cannot claim the children in household size. The same would not be true in a heterosexual, married, stepparent relationship.  Bottom line from the report: We need to get rid of DOMA now, enact the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (which would bar discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption), and get the Department of Education to recognize same-sex families. It would also be nice to make the FAFSA forms gender neutral as regards parents and spouses.
Now that those thoughts are out of the way, Irene has made her way up and off the East coast, the electricity is back on, and I am caught up on queer academic news, I can go back to working on an article and thinking about my next blog post on my new and improved blog.

This is Lesboprof, signing out from my new geographic locale and my new blog space on the Chronicle Blog Network.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Le sigh

You know it is a bad day when the major accomplishments are getting my drivers license and hanging my diplomas in my office. Oh, and that I didn't completely fall off of the chair I was using to hang the degrees--just bobbled a little.

The day started out bad with a headache of unknown origin, the kind where your eyes ache and you feel slightly nauseated. It was quickly followed by an argument with the gf over stupid banking stuff, as we try to manage our old account in former state, and the new account here--for which we have no checks and no automatic deposit from my work. Add to this the minutiae of trying to find documentation for the drivers license, and you have a pretty crappy morning.

This experience was followed by a trip to the very full DMV office. The wait took about 45 minutes, which wasn't as bad as it could have been, though that just gets you through the door for another set of lines to process documents, take the visual test, the computerized driving knowledge test, and the photo. I was glad I had my iphone with the kindle app. Of course, they had misrepresented the cost of getting the license, so I had to leave and find cash, which took a while because the first cash machine I found linked to my new bank was out of order. Thank goodness again for the iphone, which allowed me to locate cash machines in the area.

There was something kind of sweet about watching 17 year old kids and their parents waiting anxiously for the computer and driving tests. You get to see into a real cross-section of the community, as well. I got to watch a small child on one of those leashes; that always creeps me out, though she was an active kid who dragged her poor mother all over the waiting room as she talked to herself and asked for her older sister, who was in taking the computer test.

I eventually got my temporary license, picked up lunch at the drive-thru, and made my way into the office. I arrived to find two emails asking for more things my predecessor failed to turn in in a timely fashion, along with several other questions, a request from a journal to serve as a reviewer, and requests and reminders for meetings.

My original plan for the day seemed so simple: get up early, get the drivers license, and spend the day at work writing--perhaps even cutting out early to see the movie, The Help, since everyone is arguing about it. (See different perspectives here, here, and here. I am nor sure I agree with all of the critiques, at least of the book, but I will save that for another post after I see the movie--and if I feel brave.)

End of day, and what is the outcome? Late out of the house, late to the office, drivers license done, stupid degrees hung, but NO WRITING (and no movie). I really need time to focus, time that isn't taken up with the crap of moving. I am hopeful that is around the corner soon, but I won't really believe it until it happens.

Le sigh.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Reflections on orientation as an old timer

You know you are old (e.g., not in your first  second third academic job) when you:
  • wonder why you have a long-ass benefits orientation if they won't let you fill out paper forms to sign up but instead require you to go online and sign up. I don't want time to reflect! I want to get it done now, lest I forget and get signed up for some ridiculous plans. 
The HR folks ought to make benefits enrollment like student registration: hold it in a lab with computers and get us to sign up immediately. This is especially important because there are multiple websites to visit--no one stop shopping here!
  • don't even consider going for the state retirement benefits and want to automatically sign up for the optional program (i.e., TIAA-CREF). Once you have been to more than one other school, you know nothing is forever and vesting is a cruel bitch. Plus, even though the market is undependable, pensions seem to being going the way of the dodo, and I don't trust anyone to really provide for me for the rest of my life.
  • don't get nervous about asking questions about domestic partner benefits. I used to worry about coming out. Now, I know the HR folks have heard it before, and they actually have an answer. Times have definitely changed.
  • don't even fret over the fact that (a) my domestic partner is not covered for most benefits and (b) the ones she does get are paid for with my taxed dollars. It is a total drag, but so normal now that it is just the way of the world. If I want to get grumpy about it, I take that energy to the federal level and turn my ire on stupid DOMA restrictions.
Other reflections on orientation...
  • Why do the people who gather data about the campus always talk about the numbers of "diverse students" when they mean students of color? Can we do some training for them about language? For the university administration? For the government, who requires all these data?
  • Food, interactions with peers and campus folks, and frequent bathroom breaks make orientation so much better. So does an iphone or Ipad.
  • Telling grown people what they can wear for orientation is ridiculous and sends a bad message.
  • Evaluations might be improved if you asked, "What are three things you learned that you are taking away from this orientation?" I bet you would be surprised what made a lasting impression. Some of the negative comments about the undergraduate students are my biggest takeaway. Don't think that was the intention.
  • Linking the orientation to the university mission was a HUGE plus. It was easy to see how our sessions and field trips reflect the mission, and therefore how we could also help further this mission. 
  • I find it interesting how challenging it is to connect to people who don't look like me at these kinds of sessions. Like seems to attract like. International faculty talk to other international faculty; young white faculty talk to other young white faculty; men talk to men. Are people looking for friends, and these seem the most natural alliances? I wonder.
Okay, enough reflection. Now on to finish my syllabus, as the semester approaches!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Start up

I have experienced being a new faculty member on campus several times, and one thing I have learned to do is quickly make the transition. The tasks are fairly straightforward: Unpack the boxes, find the library, set up Blackboard course sites, learn my way around campus, order books for upcoming courses, get the new ID and parking decals, and so on. But coming to campus as a faculty/administrator is a whole different ballgame. You have to do all of those tasks listed above, plus a whole lot more.

In my first administrative position, I had to plan and deliver orientations to incoming majors within a week of arrival. There is nothing more intimidating than trying to welcome students to a program where they actually know the university better than you do! I also had to develop advising lists for newly admitted students, reorganize a committee that was supposed to exist but never really met, and develop and staff  a new satellite program, all in the first couple of months. It was a trial by fire, and I was glad to get to the next semester in one piece.

Now that I am once again starting a new, more senior, administrative position, I am re-learning that different tasks take precedence over unpacking boxes and prepping syllabi...Like finding out how to (a) locate online and (b) read the division's budget, proofing the accreditation documents that are going in under my name, reviewing personnel files, and figuring out the location of the division's policy documents. I am humbled that I am responsible for the fiscal accuracy, accreditation status, and personnel and academic practices of a division.

I will say that I am pleased by how natural I find the role. I have learned enough about how universities function that I can respond quickly to these new tasks. That said, it is still somewhat daunting how quickly these responsibilities kick in. As the new budget authority, I am asked to approve purchases and travel before I can even access the budget on my own. As division leader, I have to identify faculty to fill administrative roles, even though I only know most of them through my interview process. I have to schedule faculty meetings for the year, even though I don't really know the class schedule or the university calendar. I have learned to ask good questions, to take my time (because most things don't have a drop-dead deadline), and to seek out help when I need it. I am thankful for the strong staff and faculty who have answered my questions and helped make this transition a little easier.

I am also thankful for strong, supportive, SMART leaders in the roles above me. Having good people in these roles is such a pleasure, I barely know how to act! I have come away from my interactions with my supervisor impressed every time, which is a wonderful way to begin a new job.

When I was leaving my old job, people kept asking me if I was excited about the new job. I said yes, mostly because that is what they expected to hear, but in my heart of hearts, I was more reserved about the new position. I know how much remains unknown about a new job until one begins, and the real problems and challenges may take a while to emerge. And I didn't really know if I would like the job, the university, and the location. But so far, so good. I finished this week feeling truly excited about my new role.

The  pace of acclimating to a new job rushes a little faster for new administrators on campus, I think, even when you start in the middle of the summer. I can only imagine what awaits when the students and faculty return and classes begin. That said, I think I am in the right place at the right time. I can only hope I will be able to say that a year from now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Boundaries and other administrative metaphors

I have been re-reading Tina Gunsalus' "The College Administrator's Survival Guide,"(left) and one lesson stands out above all others: Maintain your boundaries. My beloved partner is an expert in boundary maintenance, and she has additional words of wisdom. Boundaries, she notes, are like the yellow dotted lines in the road; you usually follow them, but if you cross them for any reason, be very aware and intentional about it. There are reasons to cross the lines while driving: to avoid an accident, to pass a car, and so on. But just as you don't cross the double lines that demarcate an unsafe space in the road for passing, such as a blind curve, you don't blithely cross a boundary with a colleague or subordinate unless you have thought it through.

For example, what are the long-term consequences of sharing very personal information with a student? (Is there some education-related purpose for sharing? Would it be a problem if s/he shared the information with other students or faculty? Could this sharing set up a new relationships that would make others uncomfortable or jealous? Could it be seen by the student as a come on?) When would it be appropriate to hug someone who reports to you? (Suggestions include when someone s/he cares about has been hurt or died or when you are leaving the job. And always with the caveat that s/he seems comfortable and open to it.)

I am trying to live into my boundary keeping by not starting my job until I actually am getting paid. It isn't easy, and I am not quite keeping my boundaries firm. Even though my start date is still in the future, I have met with a couple colleagues, responded to work email, and started reviewing materials related to the program. That said, I am trying to keep it all to a minimum, while letting myself ease into the new job. I hope that doing a few minor tasks in the interim will help keep me from being completely overwhelmed when I arrive for my official first day.

Other great lessons from Tina include:
  • taking time to think before you act (using lines like, "I have to do a little research on that before I can respond")
  • being consistent and dependable (i.e., do what you are supposed to do)
  • communicate with everyone (i.e., get back to people, even just to tell them that it will take longer to respond than expected)
  • ask for help when you need it (i.e., the university lawyer is your friend)
None of these are earth-shattering revelations, but instead they act as good reminders to a beleaguered new administrator. I hope not to be beleaguered myself, but I can feel the impending weight of this new position. I am glad Tina can help me get my head in the game as I ready for kickoff.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Professor's Pernicious Plan

Oh, yes, children, it is time for the truth. Gay professors have an agenda. The students can tell, no matter what the syllabi say--see the latest from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

As a lesbian professor, I have long had to address this issue with students. If I EVER mention LGBT issues once in a non-LGBT class, there are always one or two students who feel irritated by this mention. It it upsetting to their delicate sensibilities, I guess, to hear an LGBT example amongst the many heterosexual examples I use in class.

And all my students (and I) will tell you: I have an agenda for every class and for my overall academic work. Of course, the question is: What is this agenda?

Is it the infamous homosexual agenda of yore? As Betty Bowers explains, at 3:33 we plan to:
 Assume complete control of the U.S., state, and local governments (in addition to other nations' governments); destroy all healthy Christian marriages; recruit all children grades Kindergarten through 12 into your amoral, filthy lifestyle; secure complete control of the media, starting with sitcoms; molest innocent children; give AIDS to as many people as you can; host a pornographic "art" exhibit at your local art museum; and turn people away from Jesus, causing them to burn forever in Hell.
Talk about time-consuming! No wonder it is difficult for LGBT folks to get tenure. Who has the time, when trying to take over governments and effect wholesale cultural change!

Nah, I have been too focused on securing tenure and promotion, supporting first generation college students, running an academic program, and improving my students' thinking and writing. Oh, and occasionally reminding students that LGBT people exist in the world and deserve rights like everyone else.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

When there's not much there there

I have been teaching for more than 15 years now, and I maintain my excitement for the classroom because I love seeing students learn and grow. My teaching this summer has been a fantastic experience, with some of the best students I have ever had the privilege to teach. Perhaps this love fest is due to my love of and interest in the topics; perhaps it is because the students really want to take these courses. That said, I have seen some amazing learning in the classes, with students evidencing reflection, critical thinking, and ideas for application of their learning that you hope for in every student.

This excellent experience has made me think about the flip side: when you just don't see much growth in students. I can take the blame for this lack of development sometimes, thinking that I haven't challenged the students adequately. Yet, there are also classes where I see growth among the majority of students and then other students, usually only one or two, for whom growth and development is just not happening.

For these students, I sometimes think it is an issue of age, developmental capacity, and/or just basic smarts. The first two, age and developmental stage, don't bother me so much, because I figure that perhaps later in life the lessons we learn will kick in. Helping students see beyond their own experiences is a challenge, and sometimes we need to have more diverse experiences before it kicks in. All of us have had a class that we recall, sometime later in life, when the lessons we were learning in a distant way finally make sense. Some classes with feminist content were like that for me: before I experienced real discrimination or power dynamics in an intimate relationship, the writings about these issues didn't really resonate for me. Later, I had a number of "aha!" moments, when I recognized these critiques actually helped me to better understand my own life and the world around me.

But the third category of student is a heartbreaker. Often, these students are nice enough, but, to paraphrase Ms. Stein, there just isn't any there there. It isn't that these students lack formal education; many of my best students come from weaker schools. Nor are all of these students young or inexperienced. What I see instead is an inability to think deeply about topics, to consider how theories apply to the world, and to really reflect on complexity. Those students are just plain depressing to me as a teacher, because I know that there is little I can do to help them really grow.

That said, my feelings about these students are probably not shared by these students themselves in any way other than their frustration over receiving lower grades in my courses. (They don't do well on concept integration and critique.) They usually feel pretty good about their more average grades and their performance in class. I always go back to a great quote from the movie "Bull Durham," when Annie notes, "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness." Perhaps being dim and uncomplicated makes life a whole lot easier.