Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Following procedure

A recent conversation with the gf about student situations I am dealing with, and a story in the Chronicle about a false sexual harassment proceeding, raised questions for me about the role and importance of establishing and following procedures.

In discussing a student issue, I noted that I would likely skip a step in a process for student complaints and meet with the student myself as the administrator, instead of sending him first to his advisor, because I was sure the advisor would hand it off to me. I haven't heard the complaint myself yet, but I have heard about it through the grapevine and know that it is not one the advisor can handle. It will get kicked to me anyway, so I might as well intervene now and see if I can manage it before it becomes an official grievance.

What is ironic is that I created this process myself and put it in all the student handbooks. I did it to keep trouble off my desk as much as possible, and to teach students about the proper process for complaints. Yet, it just isn't always worth it to follow the process, when you know where it will lead. Perhaps it is because it is the end of the semester, but there isn't a lot of time for the process to move forward. Might as well skip a step before we all leave town for the holidays.

I contrast this decision with the story of pseudonymous author of a Chronicle First Person story who was charged with sexually harassing a student (who was also a university employee) via email. It turned out that the student had emailed the professor at a personal hotmail address, but she had the address wrong, and so some random stranger had fun by sexually taunting the student via numerous email messages and signing the professor's name. The author notes that he was assumed to be guilty, not only by the student but by his dean and the ombusperson.

The process, as the author laid it out, was that the student complained to her department chair, who encouraged her to make a formal complaint. The dean and ombudsperson then scheduled a meeting with the professor to go over his "behavior." The author complains that everyone assumed his guilt; the department chair should have talked to him, the ombudsperson should have sought out his side.

I have to say, so far, the process sounds about right to me. The chair should encourage a formal complaint, not (as the author wanted) handle it by personally calling the instructor to find out what was going on. The instructor was not in his department, and that kind of personal "reaching out to handle things" can seem like men taking care of each other. You don't play with this kind of sexual harassment, especially when you have an email trail. The ombudsperson should contact the dean and set up a meeting with the involved professor. This doesn't indicate assumption of guilt, it indicates a proper process and procedure to protect students' and faculty's rights.

However, in my opinion, the procedure breaks down right there. They have the meeting, but the administrators are loaded for bear. They do not offer the faculty member a chance to explain his side of the story. The dean voices her disgust at the beginning. The ombudsperson is not an unbiased mediator; instead, she whips out an agreement for the faculty member to sign agreeing that he would seek psychological treatment. That is the moment, in my mind, where the faculty member is right in his critique.

Had they followed the procedure, I bet they would have been fine. The faculty member should be informed of the complaint, be able to respond with his side of the story, and then a discussion would ensue. All of this should have been kept quiet throughout--a private personnel matter--and the error would have been identified and addressed. A little embarassment for everyone, but a feeling that the process honored everyone. Instead, the author has a story he can retell that will be adopted by every man who has ever complained about attending harassment training.

Procedures matter. We set them up to make sure everyone's rights are respected, everyone knows how the process will go, and everything is clear. When we make changes to procedure or ignore one of the steps, these decisions need to be mindful and purposive. My small change makes little difference to anyone, except (as my gf reminds me) students might learn that they can just come take up my time instead of talking to their advisor. But I can head that off.

And if my student complaint becomes an official grievance, it goes by the book.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Notes for candidates coming to campus

Okay, we are well underway in the hiring season, and as a veteran of the hiring process and an occasionally irritated and disappointed search committee member, I have a few suggestions.

If you want the job, DO:
  1. listen to what the committee asks you to do. Present on your research if we ask for that; if we ask to hear about teaching, describe courses you have taught and your teaching philosophy. Be specific and use examples. The search committee knows the audience, and we know what they want to hear. The committee is interested in you, and we want you to do well.
  2. pay attention to time limits. We gave you an agenda with times on it. Part of the purpose of the agenda was to cue you to our time limitations. So, if we give you an hour to present, keep your talk to 40-45 minutes so there is time for questions.
  3. listen as much as you speak. When you are at dinner or informal gatherings, be polite and ask your hosts about themselves. While they certainly want to learn about you, everyone likes to think they are interesting and wants to contribute.
  4. come prepared with questions about your prospective institution. If you don't research us and bring some questions, how will we know you care?

DO NOT:

  1. try to wing it. Even the best candidates have to prepare. A well-organized colloquium can make all of the difference, and a bad one can sink you. If you don't put the time in, we will assume that (a) you aren't very good, or (b) you aren't very interested. Either option bodes poorly for your chances.
  2. bad-mouth your home school or current department. Every discipline is smaller than you could ever know. One bad word about an advisor or colleague can haunt you for a very long time. Everyone has a nemesis who makes them crazy; just don't give voice to yours while on your job interview.
  3. be over-familiar with the faculty. Just because you met some of the faculty at a few conferences doesn't mean you are friends. No hugs or crude jokes; keep it to handshakes and pleasant conversation.

That is all for now. I am sure I will come back and add some more as we go.

Happy end-of-the-semester!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Countdown...


...to the end of the semester.


Seriously.
I am teetering on the edge. Just a few more weeks.
Ugh.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekend protest plans



Where will you be on Saturday, November 15th?

I will be in my nearby city protesting.

What will I be protesting? California's Proposition 8 and all that it represents. It isn't just about same-sex marriage rights (or rites)... It is about calling out people's rejection of LGBT people, the oppressions we have to fight, and the idea that you can say you love us individually and vote against us as a group. We are your family members, your teachers, your students, your friends, your neighbors, your partners in faith, your elected officials, and your compatriots. We deserve fairness and respect.

What won't I be doing? Blaming any one group for the vote. Not pointing out the many linkages between kinds and types of systemic oppression. Not speaking out for justice for everyone, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and equal rights.

I haven't decided on a sign yet, but I plan to make one that speaks to the intersection of concerns: separation of church and state and the need for equality for everyone. The gf is probably going with me, even though we have a bit of a drive and the weather should be horrible.

I say this to encourage you to go to your local rally...you can make a difference. The people, united, can never be defeated.

UPDATE: My local protest was well attended, heartening, and great fun. Favorite sign: God hates cotton-polyester blends.

Friday, November 07, 2008

How to be a good host--for schools that are still hiring

After today's economic indicators were announced, it is hard to ignore the bad economy. Many schools I know are seeing hiring freezes. Yet, even in this very bad economic climate, many disciplines are still participating in the yearly search process, as indicated by the rash of blogs giving advice to prospective candidates on everything from applying for a job when you have one, writing the cover letter (just don't get into the whole letterhead debate, trust me!), initial interviews, campus visits, whether to write thank you notes, and (my favorite part) negotiating. In fact, I write about such topics regularly. However, this year I would like to expand my purview to the role of the host school.

As I tell our doctoral students, when candidates are applying to a school, they are checking out the school as much as the school is looking them over. Candidates are trying to assess if schools will be supportive of their research interests, their academic and personal lifestyles, their various personal and professional identities, and their teaching. Beyond the basics of the teaching/advising load and the school status, there are many climate issues that are under the microscope. Is the atmosphere collegial, combative, or aloof? Do faculty believe in mentoring or is the mantra "sink or swim"? Is there diversity among students, faculty, and staff, and is it consciously and consistently pursued, or happenstance and temporary? Is the department well respected and connected to the larger college/university? Are there supports for interdisciplinary research, or is such research frowned upon?

The first round of answers to such questions come from the search committee in interviews. It makes sense for search committees to actually have a discussion before they begin their interviews about some of the answers to those questions. Otherwise, answers can be scattered and not very thorough. Thinking about "where the university and department are going in the next 5 years" is a productive conversation for a faculty, and a short discussion before the conference interviews can yield some interesting insights from (and about) colleagues. Also, committee members should be reminded (by the department chair, if necessary) that interviews are NOT the setting to air grievances and complain. That said, you can't control people, especially not academics, and besides, you don't want to sound too rehearsed or saccharine.

The search committee's answers represent only the opinions of a small group of people, and good candidates know that the proof is in the pudding--or the campus visit. After numerous searches, I am of a mind that, in combative departments, chairs need to lay down some ground rules. First, be clear that the people serving on the committee are doing just that--service! Don't dis' the committee. If you have concerns, ask to meet with the committee to address them. If you need a larger discussion, bring it to a faculty meeting. Do not write snarky comments about the committee on feedback forms or complain loudly in the breakroom or to doctoral students about the committee members or the hiring pool. That is just tacky.

Second, don't play "get the candidate." While a spirited discussion about a candidate's research is exciting and fun, and can show a candidate that you are intellectually vital as a school, nothing is more of a turnoff than audience members who need to show that they are smarter than the candidate. This is especially embarrassing when the candidate has just finished his/her degree and the obnoxious faculty are senior people. Grow up, okay?! Be clear about this issue with doctoral students, as well, for they sometimes want to show their intelligence by pointing out mistakes by the candidate. I was never prouder of my colleagues than when they humored one candidate whose research was a nightmare; they asked easy questions, smiled and nodded, and then agreed privately after she left that the decision to bring her to campus had been a big mistake. There was no need to embarrass the candidate; she did that all by herself. I explained this to our doctoral students, who were aghast by the presentation and the lack of critique. Sometimes good judgement is more important than proving you are the smartest person in the room.

The other reason to avoid the "gotcha" game is that candidates will eventually get hired elsewhere, even the ones who don't do so well. And the pond in each discipline is quite small. Everyone will hear about the terrible interview experiences at your school, and your reputation will precede you.


When the candidate is on campus, remember that your faculty are quite literally the hosts. Nothing is worse than treating the candidate like s/he is a bother. I heard from one friend about a school that told her to catch a shuttle from the airport, left her a campus map at the hotel desk, and expected her to get herself from meeting to meeting across campus with no escort. My friend called me upon arriving and said she basically just wanted to go back home again. That school was out from the get-go. Personally, I think candidates should be provided a schedule before they arrive, picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel (one you wouldn't mind putting up a valued friend or family member), and shuttled from meeting to meeting by faculty/staff/students.


Provide the candidate with as much input into and information about their schedule as you can. Ask them who they would like to meet with and try to make it happen. If they do interdisciplinary work, arrange meetings with faculty in other departments. If they are a person of color or an LGBT person, see if you can create opportunities for them to meet faculty with similar identities and talk about the climate and community. I always encourage meetings that include students, and student-only meetings are a great opportunity for candidates to really get an unvarnished sense of the strengths and weakenesses of a school. Also, be nice and build in breaks and some alone time to wander the campus, seek out the "salary book," go to the bathroom, or just answer email. And for goodness sake, have your school pay for the hotel, meals, and airfare if you can, so the candidate doesn't have to carry a major credit card bill just to find a freakin' job.

Serving on the search committee is not for the faint of heart. It is a LOT of work. So, if you are not on the committee, do your part. Read the candidates' CVs, attend their colloquia and any small meetings that are scheduled, and provide your feedback on the candidates. It is one of the best investments you can make, as you are helping to select your future colleagues while creating the initial impression that they will bring to campus when they come. You may also make some friends and meet future collaborators, whether the candidates become your colleagues or not.

Here's hoping we all have a great hiring season...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What I should be doing...

I went to the polls before work with the gf, where we were relieved to see very small lines. We waited until after 9am, when the pre-work rush had waned.

Our polling place was lively, but not too crowded. I live in a state with advance voting and absentee voting, so many folks had already voted. We thanked the poll workers and made our way through the ballot. We walked out together, high fived, and then kissed goodbye in the elementary school parking lot (there's some education for you, kiddos!)... It was a nice way to spend the morning.

I got in to work, changed into my Obama shirt (disallowed in our polling places), and set to "work." Okay, I filled out paperwork for reimbursement for conference travel, answered emails, and prepped for advising meetings later today.

This is our last week of advising for majors and intended majors. I am glad it is almost over, because I am ready to use my office time for something more productive. But, of course, now that I have a free moment, I am blogging, so I can't guarantee that would happen. :-)

Ah, well.

Tonight I plan to get my politico freak on and gather with the gf and other friends at a beautiful house with wireless internet, major snackage, and some fine wine, to follow all of the interesting races. We plan to set up the board, keep up with all of our statewide and national races, and monitor the anti-gay ballot measures in Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, and California.

Here's hoping it is a great night all around! Go OBAMA!!!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Conference season

Well, I have enjoyed reading posts from academic (blog)friends facebooking and blogging about their fun in the New Mexico sun at the American Studies Association, whose conference ended Sunday. I might ordinarily be jealous, and I am sad that I missed out on drinks with Tenured Radical and Gay Prof, but I have plenty of conferences planned for the academic year.

I have disciplinary conferences, where I will interview candidates and be interviewed, as well as presenting papers and helping facilitate pre-conference sessions. I will also be presenting at research subject-specific conferences as well, sharing findings from a research project and recruiting participants in the next phase of study. All in all, I have (at last count) 5 conferences this year, with the potential for 2 more. (Damn, even writing that is freakin' horrible.)

I always tell younger faculty that professional conferences are (a) important to attend and (b) energy-sucking voids that should be chosen selectively and often avoided. How are these propositions simultaneously true? Well, here is my explanation...



Conferences are a great way to get to know your field. You need to learn the outlines of your discipline, the arguments and developments in your field, and the latest research related to your topic. You will need colleagues with whom you can do research and write in the future. Conferences are where you find out more about the discipline and meet prospective colleagues and mentors. If you go to or participate in sessions on your topics of interest, you can meet people who are more senior than you, learn about their research, and get them to know about your research. These senior colleagues are the people who will eventually read your tenure portfolios.



You can also cruise book tables of publishers in your field (and buy books cheap on the last day), do some amazing people-watching, get some free food and booze at receptions, visit with previous instructors and old friends, and perhaps even sight-see a little in fun, new places. A little time away from the old grind can be a very good thing; it is even better when there is room service. And with your part of the trip paid for by the school, you can bring the partner or family and make it a vacation.



That said, conferences can be a little too seductive. I know, you get to present, and that adds a line to your vitae! Of course, it isn't a line that counts much when compared to a publication. And parties are fun, but they often have lots of free-flowing booze, which can lead to lots of unfortunate interpersonal behaviors and comments made a little too loudly. I have had a colleague burst into tears in public because she was so drunk (nothing about the conversation warranted it), another get sexually harassed by a former mentor who was very drunk, another who drunkenly insulted someone at a reception for a school where she wanted a job, and I have heard tell of more inappropriate sexual liaisons at conferences than I could recount in one blog entry.



Yeah, alcohol has some major side effects. Seriously, if you plan to get really drunk at a professional conference, leave the damn hotel or only spend time with your oldest and best friends somewhere private!! Of course, I am the model of sobriety and propriety at these events...but I cannot tell you if that is because I don't like getting too drunk, I have plans for higher administration, I generally avoid embarrassing situations, or I just don't find that kind of behavior attractive in myself or others.


It is also important to note that going to conferences takes money, time, and energy. I have been lucky to be at schools that pay for most of my travel for conferences, especially if you are on the search committee, but many of my friends have very limited travel funds. Conferences can cost $1,500 or more, once you add in hotel rooms, airfare, registrations, and meals (even if you do Chinese takeout, Subway, and McDonalds). If you get $500 per conference, you are still sucking up $1,000 yourself. And even if you get a roommate and keep your meals to those provided by the conference (and you pack tupperware to steal food for later), it still costs a lot.


Conferences usually last 3-5 days, as well, and they won't tell you when you are presenting until after you have had to buy a plane ticket, so you usually wind up there most of the time. The days you spend at the conference are rarely days you get a lot of work done. Sure, you can grade on the plane, as long as you can keep your materials together and not lose a paper or two. And if you can put up with the inquiring looks from your seatmates, who often interrupt with questions about your discipline, jokes about how hard you grade, and so on. Imagine how much more work (writing and grading) you would get done with 3-5 days without interruptions by email or phone, staying in your own place with all of your writing resources available. Perhaps we should just tell people that we are going to a conference and just stay home!


Lastly, conferences are like vacations--fun to go on, but they require recovery time. You get home from a 4-day conference, and your family needs attention, your laundry is dirty, your work is still waiting for you, and you have TONS of unanswered emails and phone calls. And that is assuming that you actually get home! So many people have sat in airport terminals when their planes were delayed or cancelled, that almost none of them go home on the official "last day" anymore. They all want a day leeway, in case there is a snowstorm/ice-storm/tornado/hurricane/some other act of God. Nothing in worse than leaving your Monday class prep for your return on Sunday afternoon, only to find out that you will not be arriving until Monday at 8am wearing your old clothes. (Sigh.)


So, before you write the proposal for yet another conference, consider the following questions:


1. What benefits will you get from attending the conference?


2. Can you afford the expenses of money, time, and energy?


3. What is your agenda for the trip (contacts, experience presenting, relaxation) and how will you achieve it?


4. What is the best way to maximize the benefits for you while minimizing the costs?



Hopefully, by answering those questions, you might make better conference-going decisions. I wish you good luck in this conference season. My first conference is coming up soon, and, nonwithstanding all of the warnings listed above, I am happy and excited. I have plans with friends, get-togethers with family who live near the conference site, tons of interviews with potential candidates, a presentation or two, meetings, and an interview with a school who might hire me. Lots on my plate. We'll see how happy I am when I am coming home from the 5th conference of the year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fall break for administrators


Yes, it is that time again. The leaves are changing, the weather is beautiful, and the university has set aside several days for Fall Break.

Just so you know... fall break is for pussies weenies regular faculty. Those of us who are faculty-administrators have to come to campus and attend meetings on these days. (Not that I am bitter, or anything...)

So, here is what I suggest for administrators who have to go to the office over fall break...

Enjoy the hours of email-free, phone-free silence as the students and faculty are off vacationing.

Between responding to emails and writing some administrative documents, read some blogs and write a couple comments.

Plan a required meeting at a VERY nice restaurant. Make it a long, fun meeting with people you actually like.

End your day with a massage.

Bring in a surprise for the staff...a spread of bagels and cream cheese, some brownies, or a pizza party. Or spring for a massage therapist to come and do chair massages! (Share the massage wealth!)

Sneak out early and see a movie matinee. If you are in a college town like me, the theater will be pretty empty.


Even if you do not get as much work done as you could, you will still feel like an idiot superior virtuous for going to campus and doing some work.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

little bitty updates

Just a few small bullets on a sleepy Sunday evening:

  • The writing day seems to be working. Thank goodness! Data analysis progresses and writing is on track again. All hail the beloved mentor/friend and her sage and timely advice.

  • Stanley Fish makes me tired. Seriously. He should venture out of the humanities and join those of us in professional disciplines and social sciences once in a while. I am so glad he isn't my boss. And all props to Rachel Toor, who is clever and thoughtful and got herself a great gig with the Chronicle, but couldn't she find a woman to look up to? Stanley Fish, Stanley Crouch, and Stanley Hauerwas... testosterone-laden ego on a platter times three. I understand why they are attractive to her; after all, I was into Continental philosophy for years as an undergrad and grad student, and that is nothing but a tour of male ego. But perhaps she could stop looking to be a Stanley and model herself along the lines of an Eleanor or an Ella or even a Katha. Or maybe her essay just reinforces that Rachel isn't a lesbian feminist and I am.

  • The gf and I am so much wanting to meet a friend's young child that we may actually travel over the Thanksgiving holiday to their house. That is a BIG DEAL, because no less than 7 years ago, I pledged that I would never again travel for Thanksgiving. It is a terrible thing for an academic to do... it comes at the worst time in the semester (full of grading and end of semester minutiae), the flights and drives to and from the airport are subject to the whims of the worst weather, and EVERYONE IS FLYING!!! I hate that kind of rushed and busy travel, but the gf and I have so much going on that our visiting options are severely limited.

  • The annual job search/recruitment process is upon us, and I am playing the game on all sides once more. If nothing else, it is a major time drain... writing letters for doc students, researching schools for myself, reading CVs and cover letters, googling everything... Honestly, I am pleased that I get anything else accomplished.

  • Can I just say that, even though Dean Dad thinks that there may be an upside to the budget crunches we are facing, I think that academic administrative life is gonna suck bigtime for a very long time! More saying "No" to requests, more cutting, and less building and creating. And it won't be a short-term problem, limited to one area of the country with a specific economic profile. Nope, it is going to affect all of us in many ways for years to come. And it will be worse for those of us at public schools, facing cuts from our state legislators without a big endowment cushion to fall back on. I have been keeping my head down and hoping that all of these issues sort themselves out quickly, but I know that that perspective is delusional.

  • And, finally, I think the country is figuring out what I have known all along. Obama is gonna win, and he is gonna win big. He will remake the electoral map, upset the common wisdom of the last 20 years regarding the South and the Midwest, and perhaps help us get back to protecting civil rights and civil liberties, a fairer distribution of wealth, and actually working in tandem with other countries. Our next president will have a very difficult job, but I feel confident that Obama and the team he assembles will be able to make some positive changes.

Well, that's all from me. Hope you had a great weekend.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Learning from students

Here is a tip from the New York Times to you... You want to know about the culture and climate of the campus where you are applying to work? Check out unigo.com.

Unigo is a website collection of students' reviews of different colleges. Students submit written reviews of their campuses, outlining problems (parking and food are the common complaints) and strengths (e.g., attractive campus, school spirit, diverse campus). There are also pictures from campuses and video interviews with students.

Developed for students trying to decide where to go to college, the Unigo website is a good resource for academics. Administrators can find out about issues on our own campuses that we might want to address, and prospective applicants for positions can learn about schools before we apply to work there.

After a quick review of comments from my current and former schools, I would say that many of the comments are on the mark. And you can actually search for specific kinds of students (by major, race, gender, political leaning, and whether the student was a transfer student), if you want to know more. Further, you get a sense of some of the students you will be teaching.

My interest in this website may reflect my own predilections. I also like reading "rate my professors" entries for schools where I have worked, and those I am considering, as well. While I know that students who have gripes are more likely to write on RMP, I have found that there seem to be themes that tend to reflect accurately on the faculty. These student videos and blog entries on Unigo offer some real insights into student life, beyond the marketing brochures and catalogs offered by the school and the rosy pictures offered by current faculty who want you to take the job. If you can overlook some errors in grammar and spelling, you ought to add this tool to your job search process. All information is useful, right?

Check it out!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

In search of the promised land

It is that time again...the time where I look at job ads and consider whether or not to apply for a job elsewhere. It makes me have to ask some of the harder questions... What do I want? And what can I reasonably hope for in an academic administrative/faculty job? I mean, what is the best you can expect?

Counselors would tell me to think about the best possible situation. What would the perfect job look like? After some consideration, here is my list for dream job:
  • Offers opportunities for learning and advancement in administration

  • Affable and collaborative colleagues who neither spend much time arguing nor slough off administrative and service duties
  • Researchers in my area of research who are interested in collaboration (and preferably have their own funding)

  • Racially, ethnically, economically, and culturally diverse population (faculty, staff, and students)

  • Comfortable office with appropriate furnishings and electronics

  • Friendly and helpful support staff

  • Attractive and well-maintained campus

  • Excellent pay and a full array of benefits, including domestic partner benefits

  • A steady supply of supports and resources for professional development

  • An administration that values shared governance and the appropriate balance of research, teaching, and service in public education

  • Located in a town with good options for restaurants, healthcare, shopping, and cultural venues

  • Located in a setting close to family and friends--or with enough (new) close friends and a nearby airport to get to see (old) friends and family

  • A position in a large public university with a high level of research production and a reputation for positive relationships to the surrounding community and the larger state

Obviously, I can't probably have all of these elements. But which ones should be the source of compromise? Which can I give up and be okay, and which are the deal-breakers? Should I be more attentive to professional opportunities or personal quality of life issues?

Beyond just myself, I wonder: Do our professional and personal needs and expectations stay the same or change as we get older and more accomplished? And how do the needs of our partners and family fit in?

I have one friend who left a tenured position for a post-doc, just to be closer to family. I have another friend who decided that the depression associated with living in a cold location was worth getting out and starting all over on the tenure clock again. Other friends have refused to move, regardless of situation... the devil you know, and all that.

I have moved up several times--from a small program to a big program to an administrative job at bigger, better program. Each of my moves have been made for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, but it had the benefit of looking professionally logical. As with my doctoral coursework, I followed a path that met my interests and took advantage of opportunities, but it wasn't exactly planned in advance. I sometimes worry about making a move that looks strange on paper, that doesn't make sense professionally but instead meets my personal (quality of life) needs.

At this stage, I feel more planful. I am in a great setting with fantastic colleagues and a good standard of living. I am well known and (I think) well respected here, if requests for university committee service is any indication.There is potential for growth opportunities here eventually, though not right now. My partner and I are comfortable here, if not deliriously happy. I do not have to move.

Yet, I am ready to move into a higher administrative role, and there is nothing here right now or in the near future. I want to look at positions--wherever they may be--that could benefit my professional development as an academic administrator, especially as I am the person in our family who makes significantly more money. I also am tired of being so far from family and friends, away from the culture my gf and I both love, so I constantly look for positions in that region of the country, even ones that are far from meeting my professional needs.

As I weigh these competing factors (staying put and hoping to move up from within, moving closer to home at a less than perfect job, looking for the best opportunity wherever it is), I am somewhat at a loss about this conundrum about balancing professional opportunity with quality of life. Do I stay put and try to wait for opportunities here, because the school is good, even if it is far from our friends and family? Do I consider good jobs in less than ideal settings that may even move us further away? Do I focus on quality of life and move into a less exciting job in a preferred setting, because if I don't, my partner and I will merely survive instead of thriving?

Will the Chronicle list my perfect job, please?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Publishing and administration

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that those of us in "lower/middle administration," if you will, can lose our way as relates to progress on academic research and writing. It's not that I don't write; I write all the time. I just don't write enough for publication.

In the last 3 months, I have written the following:
  • newsletters
  • annual reports
  • meeting minutes
  • reports for faculty meetings
  • training materials for advisors
  • student handbook
  • program evaluation documents
  • marketing materials
  • letters to prospective and current students
  • reference letters for doctoral students on the market
  • Powerpoint presentations about our programs

After all of that writing, and many more projects that I can't think of off of the top of my head, I am tired. Sitting down to think through conceptual frameworks, data analysis, and thoughtful discussion sections seems hard to imagine.

I spoke to a Senior Administrator Mentor the other day about this dilemma and got the riot act:

Mentor: How is your publishing going?

Me: Well... (crickets)...

Mentor: Do you have a writing day?

Me: (meekly) No. I keep scheduling all these meetings everyday, so I don't have a specific writing day.

Mentor: Well, girl, get to it! Block off a day--or most of a day--just for writing. And no writing administrative stuff on those days! Only publishable writing on writing days. And you know you will get the other stuff done, because you always do.

Me: Yeah, that's true.

I used to have writing days back when I was a faculty member. I recommend it to all the junior faculty. "Put it on your calendar and consider it sacrosanct," I tell them sagely. It was a lot easier then, especially because I like to write in endless blocks of time... 7-10 hours in a row. My current schedule just doesn't allow for this. I have more meetings than non-admin faculty members can possibly imagine, and then there are the complications and emergencies that consistently arise. I wonder at those senior administrators who continue to publish. I only have a part-time administrative job, and it takes far more time and energy than I had expected.

So, following Mentor's advice, I have set aside one day a week, or two half-days a week, off limits for meetings or anything else. I am planning to spend that writing day out of the office, in hopes of avoiding the student issues and administrative minutia that can eat up my time. I have learned that I also cannot read blogs on that day, or check email more than once an hour, if I want to be productive. We'll see how I fare.

Any other suggestions for productivity?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Public performances

In my earlier life, I was an actress. I have been in many plays and musicals in school and community theaters, beginning in childhood and continuing through graduate school. This was good training for me as an academic, because there are many times in an academic's life where we have to do public performances.


(Now, as a good lesbian feminist, I know Judith Butler thinks that everything, including our gender, is a performance, but I don't want to get into all of that. I think that she has some basic points to make, but I want to talk about times when we consciously perform social roles. Let's just go with the acting metaphor and move on, shall we?)


Obviously, we teach classes, which is a consistent type of performance, similar to conference presentations. To me, classroom performance is the most basic. I know the audiences fairly well. In the classroom, they are the student body, who I see regularly in advising, and who gets profiled every year in that annual list of "these students have never known the world without the internet, they never knew a Reagan presidency, and they think you are old and out of touch." I play the role of the strict but friendly professor--passionate about my topic, interested in students, and in control of the room. The friendly professor becomes the thoughtful and critical researcher when I present at conferences. I tend to present at the same conferences yearly, so the audience is usually made up of friends, colleagues, doctoral students (not unlike the ones I teach and supervise), and other people similar to my overeducated demographic. I know what they are looking for, be they theoretical friend or foe, and I am prepared to engage them in what I hope is a fruitful dialogue.


Then there are performances where we chair meetings, provide supervision to staff or student workers, and meet with our funders and supervisors. These performances provide a little more challenge when they represent a new experience, but once you have done them for a little while, the nervousness wears off and routine sets in. You learn what affects work best with each group, how best to control the whiners, the oppositional, and the defensive, and you find out how to get through your agenda. I have found that I play the competent manager in these situations--as prepared as possible to provide needed information and give thoughtful feedback, while maintaining a strong but soft hand to move things along.


All job candidates know that we also play a role when interviewing for jobs. We have to juggle the various roles listed above, depending on the level of the job and the time in the interview (conference or phone interviews, small group meetings with students, meeting with the Dean or Provost, doing the job talk or class presentation, etc.). These activities are especially stressful, because one has to juggle all of these performances for several days, with many differing audiences.


Finally, though, there are the big performances. These are the performances that make me really nervous...the ones where you actually have to be yourself. Speaking as an invited guest at a conference. Winning an award and offering "a few words." A first speech to the folks at your new institution where you are the incoming leader. These venues require an honesty and integrity of the speaker that, while they should underlie the other performances, they are not the main focus of those performances. I have found that the best speakers I have seen in these settings are people who really share something about themselves, something that makes me feel connected to them while making me consider new possibilities for myself, my research, teaching, educational community, or profession.


Invited speakers who don't reveal something about themselves leave the listeners bored. An award recipient should never play humble about the award; you are either humble, or you aren't. Same goes for new leaders: if you are excited about the position and the location, say so, but don't try to fake it. People who try to play humble or excited are easily recognized...and it looks bad. And people expect some self-revelation, because it reveals the capacity for self-reflection.


I don't mind some self-revelation. Like most academics, for good or ill, I spend a lot of time thinking about myself--my strengths and shortcomings, the limitations of my own thinking, the places I can continue to grow and learn. I even include these reflections in my academic writings, sometimes, although I have found that to be challenging as well. Self-revelation is difficult I exactly because it is personal and private. You can't take refuge in a role or a script, you have to speak from the soul. But you have to have perspective on how much to share, remember your audience and your purpose for speaking, and balance your role (award recipient, speaker, leader) with your self.


Now that, my friends, is a challenge.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fretting

If there is one academic pastime I would like to give up, it would be fretting.


I am referring to worrying and being vexed, not corrosive fretting of metals and other materials, though it does sound somewhat similar in its ability to "wear and corrode." In this case, I am referring to the wearing of one's nerves and the corrosion of one's sense of well-being.


I have spent far too much of my time worrying about all of the work I *wasn't* getting done. Vacations, eating out, watching TV, relaxing with friends, reading the newspaper, attending events on campus--each of these has been invaded by the fretful thoughts that I just wasn't doing enough.


This feeling of fretfulness is bad all the time, but it is even worse when I am being especially unproductive. I start listing in my head (and sometimes on paper) all of the tasks I should be doing, but I never take the next step and map out what I will work on and in what order. Instead, I eye the list and fret. It is a terrible feeling, and it doesn't help at all. In fact, it makes matters worse. I begin to feel both guilty and incapable of acting on the list.


So, instead of fretting my night away, I have decided to ignore the undone tasks tonight. I will eye the list tomorrow morning, prioritize the tasks, and start setting aside times to complete them--especially the writing that I have been avoiding. I will make a plan to be productive.


Once I start working on the tasks, I know the fretting temporarily will subside. For now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I second that emotion

Well, as I noted in an earlier post, I have had a great start to the semester. I found out that I won a university teaching award, and I have also been offered some great opportunities for consulting and even service work. Further, I have been complimented repeatedly and publicly in the past few weeks by colleagues, administrators, and even people outside the university for my efforts. I feel like the closest to an academic administrative "It Girl" as there might be, other than not being a big research star. But the big teaching award and the recognition related to it, and the other opportunities, has been somewhat disconcerting. (It Girl comic image from http://www.aaapop.com/gallery.php.)

Now, normally, I am not one to complain about getting attention. Truth be told, I enjoy the spotlight. I love awards and recognition, and I like being complimented on my work. I even like it when my picture is taken (and published), as long as it is somewhat flattering! And I know that others who are not getting the recognition they richly deserve would tell me not to complain to them. So, to clarify, I am not complaining--instead, I am simply reflecting and noting my feelings, which are honestly fairly surprising to me.

It is awkward to get repeated kudos from people all over the place, some of whom I barely know. It reminded me of a time when I hurt myself. I had to tell the story of how I hurt myself, what the diagnosis and prognosis was, and how I felt now to each and every person I saw. This award felt the same way--when people congratulated me at first, I responded spontaneously. After the first few people, my answers started to get a little more rote. As the days went by, I felt like a candidate on the stump, "Yes, the award is a great honor. What a wonderful way to start the semester! I am very excited about it." Blah, blah, blah--blathering on. I mean it, I do, but it is hard to continue to feel the same thing for weeks on end, which is how long it takes for word of the award to spread.

I spent one meeting getting compliments from so many sides that I found myself getting angry at the last person complimenting me. I mean, one compliment is excellent, and two is even better... but at some point, you become the kid in the classroom that everyone hates. I wanted to disappear from embarassment. And the other problem is that I know that someone else is not getting recognized who should be recognized, so I started to feel guilty. I just felt like saying, "Okay, thanks, that's enough." And I also suspected that there were others present who were thinking the same thing, which leads me back to embarassment.

It is funny, because I generally thrive on positive feedback. I keep the nice notes from former students, colleagues, and supervisors, complimenting or thanking me. I take out those notes on bad days, so I can look at them and remember that I am not really the worst teacher in the world. (I have a friend who vies with me for that moniker--I will call her and tell her my worst teacher behaviors/experiences, and she will call me and try to top it.) But perhaps it is like our Depression-Era family members say, "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing." Or maybe it isn't a bad thing, but just an awkward thing.

That said, I will try to remember these compliments when I am having a bad day. Or when I am writing a letter to apply for a new job. And I will try to live into what these compliments seem to be saying about me.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Student voting rights!

I have been very disturbed by the stories from Inside Higher Ed, picked up in the New York Times, about actions by a Virginia county registrar that discourage local Virginia Tech students from registering to vote. The Montgomery County Registrar's Office put out an official memo that warned students about registering to vote using their campus address. It warned, erroneously, of students losing scholarships, being thrown off their parents' insurance, and no longer being able to be claimed on their parents' tax return.

The NYTimes article notes that the Supreme Court ruled years ago, in 1979, that students can register to vote using their campus addresses. In fact, the Roanoke Times notes that a student at Virginia Tech fought for the right to register and vote more than 20 years ago. Students across the country have voting rights, like anyone else who meets the voting criteria. Virginia needs to clarify the voting procedures for students, so that there is no question that they can vote using their campus address.

Most undergraduate students are traditional age, and their first few years at college represent their first time being able to vote. Their first presidential election will likely happen during their undergraduate years. How can we be discouraging them from voting?

And why wouldn't they vote in their college district? Undergraduate students live for a majority of their year in the academic setting, and they become familiar with the issues that affect their lives in that context and the elected officials who represent them there. These students can learn to become better citizens if they get the chance to participate in the elections that affect them where they live, where they can meet the candidates and attend the local meetings.

Honorable colleges and universities, not to mention county registrars, encourage students to register and vote. My own university leader wrote a personal note to students to that effect, and I could not have been prouder of my school and its leadership.

I am disgusted by the actions of the Montgomery County registrar, and inactions of the larger Commonwealth of Virginia's legislators, who seem to be working to suppress student turnout. What makes this even more problematic is that Montgomery County’s General Registrar of Elections, E. Randall Wertz, "was elected president of the Voter Registrar’s Association of Virginia (VRAV) for a two-year term. The VRAV, which represents the registrars in 134 cities and counties throughout Virginia, provides educational opportunities and social interaction for its members. It strives to improve the voter registration election processes and promote efficient administration within the offices of General Registrars." (http://www.roanokeonline.com/content/view/8861/1/).


Perhaps Mr. Wertz will use this public discussion as an opportunity to challenge Virginia to do better by its college students and facilitate, rather than impede, their civic participation.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

You know school is back in session when...


... you go out to eat downtown after a Friday evening orientation event and see one student vomiting and another laying down drunk with her friends on the sidewalk.

...you attend so many orientation events that you keep your nametag on the whole day.

...you get an email from a new adjunct instructor asking what to do when students ask him questions about the syllabus, and he doesn't know what to say, because he didn't really read it that closely before passing it out.

...you get an email from the bookstore telling you that your required textbook is unavailable for months. Then, when you tell this to your students, they tell you that the book is actually AT the bookstore, and they have already bought it.


...you get no fewer than 15 emails from students asking to get in a different section of a course.

...you realize that you are the most uneducated and culturally limited instructor ever, because you still cannot figure out how to pronounce some of the international students' names. And you are embarrassed to ask *again*.

...you realize you are already behind in writing, reading, and grading, and classes just started.

....you start looking at job ads. Again.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Just plain odd and nerdy


I am Lesboprof, and I am a nerd.


How do I know?


Examples to follow:


A. Upon reviewing applicant CVs, I saw an article title that looked interesting. I went to find it online and read it. Just because.

B. I just went from watching Semper Fi, the documentary of a gay marine in Iraq, to Dirty Dancing. Makes sense, no? Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

C. One of my young extended family members blocked me on Facebook, so I made up another name and went back on to see her new pic. I'm not a stalker, I just hate being blocked.

And this was just today. I am sure examples will multiply over the week.

What are your current examples of your nerd-dom?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ruminations on reviewing

Okay, I was just reading Crazy's post about being a reviewer for a journal, the sad responsibility of giving a negative review, and how impersonal the feedback process seems to be. I can really relate to her comments. I serve as a reviewer for three journals, and I wrestle with some of the same problems.


Some of that issues Crazy raises relate to the rules of double-blind reviewing. If I don't know who is writing the piece, I have to say, "The author needs to flesh out these ideas..." "The author(s) should clarify their methodology." Etc. And then I send my comments into the abyss, where someone hopefully reads them, curses me, and revises and resubmits. (One could argue this is not a problem if the author is dead, but let's assume we agree the author is a living, breathing person or persons who would like to get their damn article published.)


I have some ideas for improvement of the process:


1.a. Have authors pick a pseudonym. Not like Jake or Allyson or something more androgynous like Pat, but something that gives a little insight into their soul. Something more like blogger names: Dying in Midwest Small Town, Partygrrrl, or even Fishface. It really would be more fun to respond to Fishface's theory of social change than "the Author's". It would also help us determine articles with more than one author, helping the reviewer ditch the unfortunate use of "author(s)".


1.b. Perhaps have reviewers pick pseudonyms, too. Or the author could assign us names. Instead of being "Reviewer 1," I could become "APA freak" who seems more obsessed with comma placement than the content of the article. (Not that I would EVER do that.)


I always assign my reviewers names--I seem to think I can determine their age and gender, based on their comments. I had "grumpy old white guy" and "suspicious black woman" on one of my articles on race; GOWG felt that it was inappropriate to use race as an analytic lens on any social process (seriously), whereas SBW couldn't believe that some white people really thought (or were taught) that all blacks supported integration and the only whites supporting integration were Northern ("Mississippi Burning," anyone??).


2. Send author comments back to the reviewers. It is a drag for a reviewer to write detailed comments and never have a chance to hear back from the author(s). It would be okay to have someone tell me that I missed something on page 2 that answered my question about page 5, or that my suggested literature actually helped them expand their lit review and their conceptualization. I would even be okay for someone to tell me they thought I missed the point altogether. I am no definitive expert; I just bring my experience, knowledge and perspective, which are altogether too fallible. Instead, I am judge and jury with my blindfold and earplugs in place, making a ruling that I never hear.


3. Notify reviewers when an article is (a) accepted and (b) published. I did the work of reviewing; let me know what the final product looks like!


4. Encourage authors to thank their reviewers--even the ones they hated. I just saw an article I reviewed published, and it was stronger because of my recommended changes. They didn't thank the outside readers, which was kind of a bummer.

Also, I always wanted to add a note in my book that thanked the one elitist woman who recommended against publishing the book because my co-author and I didn't work at one of the premiere schools. (I was at an R1 at the time, but apparently it wasn't an R1 that impressed her.) My note would have said, "To the outside reader who dissed our schools: Thanks for inspiring me to move on to bigger and better programs. I hope to be your boss someday."


5. Let reviewers cycle off every few years. I get tired of reviewing articles. I have learned that if you have a fast turnaround time on reviewing, they send you MORE. You actually are punished for being quick and consciencious. (Of course, this is true in every aspect of academe; if you can keep up with details, you get elected chair of committees. If you can get grant money, they want you to get more. If you can relate well to students, go do advising, serve as advisor to the student group, and handle all the problem students.) Yet, I would argue that this doesn't bode well for scholars in the long run. Instead of encouraging reviewers to slack off, I encourage journals to cycle scholars off their lists of reviewers regularly. Give someone new a chance, and let some of us old-timers get a break. I find I am nicer and more conscientious when I have had a few months between articles.

As with the other advice, I really am serious about the pseudonyms. If you ever get a review signed by "Harried and Hurried," just know that I am still trying to do right by you, despite the pressures of my current administrative, teaching, research, and service roles. And be sure to write me back and let me know if the feedback was helpful.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The American President (*to be)


Well, Obama is going for it. He is taking on McCain and the Republican Party. And I think the crowd is digging it, as am I.

But am I the only one who keeps thinking I might hear "My name is Andrew Shepard, and I AM the President."


















Monday, August 25, 2008

A great day for a Monday

Well, I talked to a friend IRL today who regularly reads the blog, and she told me to post on my happy news! So, here it is...

I was pleased to find out this afternoon that I received a university teaching award! I knew it was a possibility, but it was a wonderful surprise to find out that I had been selected.

The award is competitive and comes with a cash prize, so it is a great big deal!

And, to make everything even nicer, the gf surprised me and showed up with flowers at my office when I got out of class.

As one of my students pointed out, none of my Mondays for the rest of the academic year will measure up to this one, I am sure. But I enjoyed the hell out of today. :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Meme-ing again, naturally.

As seen at New Kid's and Dr. Crazy's.

1. My uncle had a green thumb, but lived in a small urban duplex with little chance to use it.

2. Never in my life would I own a ferret. My brother had one, and they smelled really bad. Yuck.

3. When I was five, I broke my wrist falling from (wait for it) a swing in my backyard. I did, however, score a perfect 100% on my math test with my other hand, which made me want to take all math quizzes with my other hand.

4. High school was one of my best times, with lots of friends and good experiences.

5. I will never forget kissing my gf for the first time. She made my knees weak...literally.

6. Once I met Urvashi Vaid. She was incredibly friendly, smart, and warm. I left very impressed.

7. There’s this boy I know who wrote a book that is being made into a movie.

8. Once, at a bar, I got hit on by a waitress. I was so young, however, that I didn't know that what she said was a come-on. A friend had to tell me.

9. By noon during the week, I am usually in my office. On the weekends, I could still be unshowered and watching TV.

10. Last night I was happy that the gf and I were both home, with no outside plans and no damn orientation events!

11. If only I could find a band to sing in or a musical to audition for, I would be very excited to give up some free time to sing in public again.

12. Next time I go to church is pretty hard to predict. As a Jew, I have no real plans to go, but sometimes we go to church to hear a friend preach or sing.

13. What worries me most is whether my visit with my family will be fun and relaxed or...something else.

14. When I turn my head left I see the beautiful fireplace that sold me on the house.

15. When I turn my head right I see the stairs that make the gf wish we had never bought the house.

16. You know I’m lying pretty much whenever I'm lying. I'm a shitty liar. (I stole that whole line from Crazy, but it fits for me. My gf teases me when I try to lie.)

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is my cool, highlighted, permed, big hair. :-)

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be Kate in Taming of the Shrew. Or I would be Puck, from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

19. By this time next year I have no idea where I will be. I may apply for a new job, or I may stay here.

20. A better name for me would be Ms. Bossy Britches.

21. I have a hard time understanding people who own birds. Ick.

22. If I ever go back to school, I would learn Spanish or get a law degree.

23. You know I like you if I hug you. I am not a casual hugger and I don't really like people in my space. So, if I feel the need to hug you, you are definitely one of my peeps.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be the gf.

25. Take my advice, don't talk to people about your latest weight loss plan and/or diet. It is tiresome. Seriously.

26. My ideal breakfast is different on different days. If I have to work, I just want a little something like half a bagel. If it is a weekend or I am on vacation, I want an omelette and fresh fruit.

27. A song I love but do not have is the Soundtrack from "Hairspray." You can't stop the beat.

28. If you visit my hometown, go for the cheesesteak. Seriously, it rocks da muthafuckin house!

29. Why won’t people stop voting against their self-interest and vote Democrat instead???

30. If you spend a night at my house you may hear us talking, and we may hear you. We found that the vents conduct sound too easily from room to room and floor to floor.

31. I’d stop my wedding if I were marrying the wrong person. Luckily, I am domestically partnered with the right girl, and if I marry her, there would be no reason to stop.

32. The world could do without handguns.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than ... WTF???!! That is nasty. I wouldn't even want to do that in a dream.

34. My favorite blondie is the gf, though there is some argument about her status as a blonde. (Age has washed it out a little...)

35. Paper clips are more useful than my allergy medicine seems to be. What's up with that?

36. If I do anything well it's singing.

37. I can’t help but feel pissed when people don't do what they say they will, or when they try to tell me what to do and how to do it.

38. I usually cry at sad movies.

39. My advice to my nephew/niece is remember to be your own person.

40. And by the way, go Obama!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ah, the student woes...

I always know that the beginning of a semester is a busy time for administrators, and this year is no different. I plan my days with a lot of open spaces--in between all of the orientations, the welcome back events, and syllabus photocopying--in resigned recognition that they will quickly fill with what I will euphamistically call "student problems."

I call them that, but they quickly become faculty and staff problems.

Take, for example, the student who chastises a staff member who cannot help her as quickly as she would like, telling her, "Well, it's your job!" Or the new student who shows up for the first day of school, having ignored all emails and letters from the campus inviting him to attend orientation and registration events during the summer, and plaintively asks what to do now that all courses are closed. Add to this another student whose grades last semester were pretty far below the required minimum, who needs to get some supports for the new semester. Then there are the raft of seniors who "really, really need this class/section in order to graduate" but who find the classes/sections closed.

Each and all of these students require my time, sternness and/or kindness, and calm patience. I try to balance supportiveness with the need for a reality check for many of these students. It isn't always easy, but it gets better each year as I learn to expect the unexpected. My schedule has filled up every day this week--sometimes as late as 9pm. I eye the data I collected that needs to get analyzed and the articles and reports that need to be written and sigh audibly. But this, too, shall pass. The students will get enrolled, get socialized into how to deal appropriately with staff, and get into their classes, and eventually the semester will really get rolling. I am hopeful it will be soon.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Happy happy, joy joy!

Tomorrow, I will be enjoying the sun and the surf.

For a week.

Life is good.

Really good.

Enjoy what is left of the summer.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I might be a bad feminist because...

... I hire someone to clean my own house, and I don't feel bad about it. I pay a good sum to an independent businesswoman who hires other women who are paid pretty well.

... I let men do things for me that I don't want to or haven't learned how to do. I know how to mow the lawn and weed, but I HATE those tasks, so I hire men to do it. I never learned to change my oil, spark plugs, etc., and I don't want to learn now. I would gladly hire a woman for these tasks, but don't haven't found a female gardener or mechanic in my town. (I do try to use women medical professionals, though.) I can hook up a washer and dryer and set up my computer, so I figure I am capable enough.

...I hold men who have sex with underage girls more accountable for the sex than the girls themselves. I have this belief that the adult is more responsible than the young adult. I do believe young women can be sexual and can make their own decisions, but they lack some ability to think critically that their adult boyfriends should have. I also hold those in positions of power and responsibility (professors?) responsible for violating boundaries with less structural power (students)--no matter how adult the person with less power may be. Yes, grad students may all be fine with their affairs with their professors--I just don't believe it is a good idea, as long as there is a power differential. If you take the power out of it--step off the committee, don't teach the classes the student takes, etc.--I can be okay with it.

...I voted without reservation for Obama and was not at all upset about Hillary losing. In fact, by the time Obama got the nomination, I was sick to death of Hillary and Bill. I also wanted to (metaphorically) jackslap Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem regarding their statements about sexism and racism in the US. And those women who said they would vote for McCain instead of Obama out of protest made me want to SCREAM!

...I like the Daily Show with Jon Stuart, even though his show's writers are almost all white, straight men. (I am happy to note how Jewish and Northeastern the staff is--a little hometown pride. :-)) I don't much like most of the stuff the women do on that show... I wish they had someone like Wanda Sykes on the show, rather than Samantha Bee or that other strange young white woman who does "young ditzy girl" stuff. That said, I still dig it.

...My favorite writer is a man. James Baldwin. I like his fiction and his essays. This admission is even more problematic because Baldwin has some gender problems, in his rejection of the feminine in men and his failure to understand and embrace the complexity of women. That said, he is my favorite writer of all time. His work speaks to me.


I have toyed with adopting the moniker "womanist," but it feels a little tricky to do that as a white woman. (I almost wrote white girl, but as I am now in "middle age," I have to accept myself as a white woman. Sigh.) And I would certainly be okay with calling myself a lesbian feminist as well, though I would not do well on that quiz--never having attended a women's music festival, joined a lesbian-only group, or been a lacto-ovo vegan.

Still, I will adamantly claim my feminist credentials. I am outspoken, strong-natured, independent and interdependent, and committed to the rights of women and others who face oppression and discrimination. I work in my job and my life helping students think critically about the world around us, and I work alongside them for change.

So, I am a feminist...good, bad, or somewhere in between.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Academics under surveillance

Well, this week has certainly been disgusting in terms of educational news. The National Association of Scholars have undertaken a new stalking initiative. It isn't enough that they publicize tales of (as they say) political correctness gone awry, now they are recruiting people to spy and report on their own schools. Be wary of who comes to see your class.

That peer evaluation you need? Consider which colleague you trust.

Those students from outside your major who "really need your class"? Careful, they might be coming to spy on your teaching style.

I really cannot stand these people. The NAS says on their website that they are "non-ideological and politically centrist." I worked with several members of NAS in one of my previous schools, and I can assure everyone that neither of these claims is true: they have a distinct perspective that doesn't support (and sometimes actively opposes) people like me (lesbian, feminist, anti-racist academics).
The NAS folks act like they come from some politically pure place of traditionalism and objectivity, when in truth they embody a censoring, conservative perspective. I know that their numbers are few, and their influence is very small, but they cast a shadow long enough to intimidate and rile people, and they have a deleterious effect on universities.

On their website (I refuse to add the link, because I hate to pimp for them), they argue that they only plan to use publicly available sources, though in the article at IHE, they never say that clearly. Instead, they say only that their campus-based sources should ask permission to sit in a colleague's class, following what they consider appropriate spying etiquette.

Speaking of spying, IHE also had the story of an undercover police officer who spied on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups in Maryland three years ago. Using a young, inexperienced officer, the Maryland State Police infiltrated these community groups looking to "protect homeland security." Instead, they spied on citizens using legal and appropriate means to advocate for change. Several faculty members were among those citizens whose information is included in the notes released as part of the ACLU lawsuit.

So now, the moral of these stories seems to be: no politics in the classroom, no politics in our personal lives. Who do these people think they are, to dictate how we teach our classes or live our lives? Since when can't instructors teach their students how to think critically about political issues, or provide them with information about activism and methods for pursuing democracy? Since when can't private citizens organize to lobby, peacefully protest, and educate our communities about issues we think important?

I believe it is my right--and perhaps even my responsibility--to discuss political issues in the (social science) classroom, to teach advocacy skills (a required area of study in my field), and to engage students about issues of culture and conscience. I believe that we are training citizens of tomorrow; in fact, teaching advocacy is no different than encouraging community service and global awareness. I do not teach them which "sides" to be on, which positions they have to take, or which causes they should pursue. I simply teach the skills to advocate on their issues. And I certainly retain my democratic right to advocate on behalf of causes that matter to me when I am on my own time. I support democracy, justice, and quality higher education--in and outside of the classroom.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Torpor

torpor
from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Main Entry: tor·por
Pronunciation: \ˈtȯr-pər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin, from torpēre
Date: 13th century

1 a: a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility b: a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature that occurs in varying degrees especially in hibernating and estivating animals2: apathy, dullness
synonyms see lethargy

I believe that describes me perfectly.

Mental and motor inactivity? Check
Partial or total insensibility? Check
Lethargy? Dullness? Apathy? Check x 3

I can't blame just the heat, though it is HOT AS HELL here.

I can't say I have nothing to do, because there is PLENTY to do. Two major projects loom undone. Orientations are right around the corner. A bigass report is due more-or-less soon.

I will just say I can see Fall on the horizon and I don't want summer to end. Sigh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More of...the Perils of Facebook

Every so often, someone writes in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed about the Perils of Facebook (cue the music of dread)... How becoming "facebook friends" eliminates the carefully crafted wall between student and professor; how students' drunken pics will haunt them later when they are trying to find jobs; how professors and administrators share a little TMI; the threats of how the information we may inadvertently share gets used by the companies that are behind Facebook and the attached applications...

Sure, there are some blog entries and articles that trumpet the utility of Facebook for recruiting and keeping up with alumni. But mainly people bitch about it. I really like Facebook, and I use it often. Yet, I want to add my 2-cents, raising another issue that I haven't read so far--the meaning and importance of the facebook status update.

I am one of those users who forgets to update my status for days at a time. I honestly forget it is there. And perhaps I don't really want people to see what I am doing or feeling all the time.

My students, on the other hand, change their status constantly! And the status update is a site for creativity, just like the rest of their page. Sometimes the students quote songs or TV shows. This can be very confusing for those of us who don't know the referent. For example, one of my students wrote that he was "all dark and twisty inside." For those in the know, it is a Grey's Anatomy quote. For the rest of us, it read like he was having a really bad day. My instant reaction, upon reading it, was to write a facebook version of an email (not on the wall) asking if he was okay. He wrote back, laughing, and let me know about the source of the quote, which he thought was cool.

My teenage nieces and nephews also are on Facebook, and they have had to explain to the gf and me that people's status updates can be a little overstated in terms of emotional intensity. It is nothing to see status updates that say things like "Carter wants to kill his parents," "Christina is totally sad and ready to call it done," and "Cooper is totally fucked." Ten minutes later, they read "Carter is hurray!!!!," "Christina wonders if orzo is really pasta," and "Cooper asks "Was I outta my head, was I outta my mind. How could I have ever been so blind?". (Yeah, even I knew that last one was a song.) Simply put, they told us that no one should really take a status update all that seriously. They are a way to spout off, to be funny, engaging, and outrageous.

So, I am trying to not react too quickly to status updates. I do follow them over time, however. For the niece and nephew, three or more pitiful status updates will probably spur a note. I wait longer for the students I advise--but I may be a little more likely to connect with a student the next time I see him or her if the status update notes that s/he "misses home and all my friends."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Techno-goof

Ah, yes. Anyone else out there the techno-freak for their families--and yet, not really so qualified to do it?

At work, there are wonderful IT staff who answer questions, fix my laptop when it gets hinky, and generally address all my tecgno problems. At home, it is another story. As I am the one with the patience and a penchant for "figuring things out," as might be fitting for an academic, I am the one who handles any technical task. I install software programs, DVD players, new hardware, etc. Most of the time it works out okay, but every once in a while, it becomes a huge task. This weekend is one of those burdensome times.

I just switched our internet service provider from cable to DSL. No big deal, right? Wrong. Not only did the new modem not work with my wireless router, but once I got that fixed--after VERY LONG calls to the internet provider and the maker of the wireless device--we now cannot send any emails from Outlook. I am sure it is just a setting issue, but what a complete pain in the ass. And then, of course, there is the plaintive, painful sighing of the gf who just wants to use her fucking email, which was working fine before I made the changes.

I did what I always do--look online for answers while the internet service provider sleeps. All the fixes I found online don't work. Something else is going on. So, it sounds like another freakin' phone call with the service provider's IT folks--somewhere in a foreign country, I believe. (The last connection I had sounded like it was actually overseas--hard to hear.)

If that doesn't work, it is a call to the geek squad folks... you KNOW they are making out like bandits with all of us who have technology we don't understand, but that we just want to WORK! Grr.

There are days that I wish I could just be the helpless girl, spouting something like, "I'm just so helpless with technology," while fluttering my eyelashes, turning the page of my romance novel, and sipping an iced tea. This self-sufficient woman thing sometimes really sucks.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hiring and legal issues

I was intrigued by the discussion about hiring committees and legal issues going on at Dean Dad's blog, Confessions of a Community College Dean. I am especially bothered by the comments about (1) restricting the ability of the committee to gather information and (2) monitoring or guiding their deliberations throughout the process.

I am adamantly opposed to outsiders (i.e., people from HR, EEO, or legal counsel) making decisions about how candidates should be evaluated. The job of HR or EEO staff is to advise on the rules of the process, which are fairly straightforward: have a documented process that you actually follow, no jobs just handed out without a true evaluation of all applicants, no ignoring an application because you have a bias against a person's identity characteristics, and no illegal questions (marital status, race, age, etc.). That is the real extent of what we HAVE to do. The rest of the strictures are legalistic bullshit--good from the perspective of legal counsel, but not necessary or important for the sake of legality or good practice from an HR perspective. Our last HR training (preparing for the next search) really helped me understand this.

For example, the committee does have to ask each candidate the same general questions in a telephone or in-person interview. However, the committee can ask clarifying or follow-up questions of the candidates to better understand who they are. Acting like an interview guide lists the only things a committee can actually say out loud to the candidate is just silly. No one in HR believes this; but life is just easier for legal counsel if we keep everything exactly the same. But if you press legal counsel, they would acknowledge the silliness of the stricture--and quite likely admit that they don't follow it themselves in hiring.

It is also important to recognize that we have many different agendas shaping the hiring process. At our R1s, we tend to need new assistant professors who can (a) teach in one or more of our preferred areas; (b) demonstrate teaching competence; (c) demonstrate research competence and potential for funding; (d) show that they care about the students; (e) have the required degree in hand or will get it before hire; and (f) demonstrate that they can write and publish. We also have some other expectations related to the discipline... Now, not everyone has everything they do listed clearly, nor do they all have every base covered. So, there is a good deal of judgement here. Where do we draw the line? What if they have a grant but no pubs? What if they are a master researcher, but have no teaching experience at all? It is about nuance, folks.


Plus, we need to consider how each will contribute differently to the program--Do we have too many people working on "complexification studies" (to borrow a phrase from Profgrrrrl), or can we build a disciplinary strength by hiring another person who specializes in that area? Someone from the outside cannot deal with these issues.


In our first pass through applications at most schools where I have worked, we usually create a template for scoring apps, based on our job ad and basic interests noted above. We then compare scores and identify who makes it through to the interview level. This has a feeling of being more objective, and thus pleases HR and legal counsel alike, but a closer look will see that (a) some people miss important info on resumes that may result in a lower than deserved score; (b) some people just can't read all the files, so everyone is not scored by all committee members; and (c) some candidates may score lower but still be impressive enough that people want to include them in the interview pool. Nonetheless, it has worked well for us, and we usually have come to consensus as a group.

Another question raised in the DD post was whether one can include outside information (other than from the interview) in candidate deliberations. I think the best answer for this is to include in your documented hiring process a step that gathers information about a candidate from all relevent sources. If we consider experiences we have had with an internal candidate, we also consider experiences others have had with another external candidate. (I would also say that we treat these with a grain of salt. Just because Jane Professor felt disrespected by Candidate A doesn't mean A is dismissed immediately; nor does Juan Professor's great research experience with Candidate B mean that B is on our short list.)

Put simply, I want to follow the law when it comes to hiring, but I don't want to be a slave to concerns of legal counsel that are not legal requirements. I do not serve on the hiring committee to make legal counsel's job easier. I serve on the committee to help my department find and hire the best candidates we can.