Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reflections on age and semester break

As I have commented before, the end of the semester has always been a very important time for me, full of meaning and ritual. I note, as I look back, that the meanings have changed as I have grown older, and I find that I use the time very differently now than I used to use it.

When I was in grade school and high school, I always awaited the December holiday break as a time to get together with family who lived farther away to celebrate and eat copious amounts of food. I also got to slack off around the house, living in that netherworld of no responsibilities, and I frequently lost track of time/day/date as the break moved slowly by.

While attending undergrad, break was a time to try to catch up with old friends who had all gone off to school in other locations. We would ditch our families, hang out, go to movies, etc. We also often picked up part-time jobs to make a little money over break, so the friend gatherings had to happen outside of work hours. My family saw me only ON the days of the actual holidays. But I always made sure that I had 2-3 days at the beginning where I would hang out in my parents' house, let them cook meals for me, watch their cable (free movies! Yes!), and sleep VERY late.

In grad school, break became a time to catch up on reading and (occasionally) late papers, work on projects I had been avoiding, etc. I would also go to the library on my last couple of days on campus (once papers were in ) or my first couple of days back on campus and browse the professional journals in my field, the ones I never had time to read during the semester if they weren't assigned or related to my own research papers and projects. Yet, I refused to give up my 2-3 days of vegetation and catching up with old friends, so the struggle between accomplishing a lot and doing nothing emerged as a new theme.

Once I became a professor, there was a LOT more work to be accomplished during the break between semesters, including prepping for class next semester, finishing up new articles and grants for submission, revising and resubmitting old articles, reviewing other people's articles, writing student and peer recommendations, etc. Break is a time with no other workplace responsibilities (no classes, no meetings, no emails from students and colleagues, etc.), so it is the perfect time to get some actual work done. Of course, my partner also feels that it is a perfect time for her to get some attention, so I have had to make some adjustments to my own workaholic nature. My family (and now my partner's family) still thinks this is family time, AND my lazy self still wants to use the time to veg out and watch movies and read and relax.

I look at my older colleagues, and they tend to use the time three ways: (1) working on research; (2) visiting with their children and grandchildren; and (3) traveling, often to international, cool locations. For me, traveling is a summer thing, as I hate messing with winter travel that isn't related to seeing family. That may change, eventually, since my partner and I have no children and we have a little more spending money as we grow older. Perhaps we will start thinking about a little winter travel... after 3 days of vegging out and watching endless movies! :-)

Hope you enjoy your break!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

B-U-S-T-E-D

When I was a teenager, long, long ago, we would tease one another and hurl insults back and forth, trying to prove who was the smartest (or, as we would refer to it now, "snarkiest") one in the bunch. When you made an appropriately on-point comment or low blow, the crowd with laugh and crow, " BUSTED!" It meant that the person had nailed your flaws, and there was little you could say in response.

Well, that was the refrain going through my brain as I read a recent piece on professors' habits of (and excuses for) lateness. In his essay, "Sorry I'm late," Duke professor Mike Munger calls out 4 types of lateness. See if any of them reflect your own lateness styles and issues:

The Platonic traveler. ...Chronically late people live in the imperfect world, but believe they can travel inside their own minds. If their house is 11 minutes away from the campus, without traffic or stoplights, then they assume that they can actually travel from their home to the meeting room in 11 minutes.

(What I would call) The Incompetent Busy Person.
Incompetent people believe they are busy, but they are just inefficient. Colleagues who are always late are revealing signs of a larger incompetence in many other, less visible, parts of their lives.

(what I would call) The one whose office is too close.
For this group of latecomers, the closer their office is to the room, the later they arrive at the meeting. ...If the session is just down the hall, they wait until the last minute, maybe dial up one more co-author, grade one more paper. Then when Ms. Close does show up, five minutes late, she says, "Oh, sorry I'm late. I was just making a phone call."

The first will be last.
Mr. First shows up, parks his folders, sees the room is empty, and heads for the coffeepot. Because he is two minutes early, he chats up the staff. He finally arrives 10 minutes late, but his papers and BlackBerry sit there in mute proxy, a talisman of timeliness.

I have seen meetings turn into Molière set pieces, almost but never quite getting started, for 20 minutes or more. Folks take turns, saying, "Oh, Smith's not here. I'm going to get a soda. Anyone want cookies?" Smith comes back, but by that time Mbutu has left to retrieve a book. "We can't start without Mbutu; I'll just be gone a minute." Grrrrrrrr.


How bad is it that I have been (and sometimes, all of my constant efforts to the contrary, continue to be) ALL FOUR of these people? I overestimate my ability to get somewhere quickly, I try to fit in one more phone call/email/document, and I try to justify my lateness by pleading "busy-ness." Each time I do it, I chastise myself and try to make a plan to do better the next time.

Unfortunately, I do not come from a timely family. My mother, in particular, has almost no ability to remember commitments or plan effectively to show up somewhere on time. Moreover, I do not get the impression she much cares. Perhaps one of the saddest days I remember was recently calling my 60-something year old mother to ask about her latest part-time position, and she told me that she had been let go. She explained that it was because she had been late to work too many times. She thought that they were completely unreasonable, "because I got to work on time a lot more, since they had said it was a problem!"

After years of being forgotten at Hebrew School, along with my friends, when mom was supposed to be driving carpool for us... After making a special effort to travel back to my home state early to spend time with my mother, only to find out that she had gone to the beach that day, even though we had talked about my visit... After years of being late to school so often that they told my mother they would penalize HER for my lateness... After years of sitting in a car with my siblings and my father while he angrily laid on the horn and shouted for my mother to "COME ON!!"... after years of promising that I wouldn't be like her, and taking many steps to better organize and prepare myself every day, I STILL find myself challenged to get where I need to be on time, with the resources I need.

Perpetual lateness is an especially challenging problem to have for someone in an administrative position. It is disrespectful of others to be late to a meeting, and I am demoralized when it happens. I feel like a failure, and I vow not to do it again. I work quite hard to overcome my late tendencies, but I am not always successful. In some ways, it reminds me of dieting. You make a plan to eat healthy, but then you spy some cookies and break down and snack on them. You can beat yourself up for eating the cookies, or you can just try to eat better the next day.

It doesn't hurt to have a reminder from Munger that excuses are not enough, and that chronic lateness can and should be avoided. All I can say is that I am trying.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lowering the bar... Yeehaw!

Years ago, when I was trying to get up my nerve to submit my first big dissertation research article to a professional journal, I happened across what may have been one of the worst articles I have ever read, published in the same impressive journal where I was planning to send my article. It was a good moment, because I thought, "Hell, if this piece of crap can get published, surely my article might make it in?!" That thought gave me the impetus and confidence to submit the article, which was accepted. (Of course, the unfortunate implication might be raised that my article may have been just as bad as the other I mention, but I have received enough positive feedback on it that I don't believe that is true.)

A recent blog article about the search to fill the Presidency of the New Mexico state system provided a similar feeling, as it explained that both James Oblinger, the disgraced former Chancellor of North Carolina State, and Richard Herman, the vilified former Chancellor of the University of Illinois, are among the finalists for the position. While I can make MANY jokes about the possible interview questions (e.g., when the Governor's daughter's best friend gets rejected for admission to the university and the Governor calls to complain, what will you do? What if, while he has you on the phone, he tells you that his wife needs a job?), it reassures me that the bar for senior leaders is actually a little lower than I would have thought.

Now, my feminist sister-outlaw would say that I shouldn't get too carried away, and that the lowness of the bar is actually just the setting for white guys, not for the rest of us.



But all one has to do is check out the professional rebound of former University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman, who saw so many scandals in her time at CU that it is hard to list them all:



  • a nationally watched football recruiting scandal that culminated in a
    federal lawsuit filed by three women who claimed the university athletics
    department knowingly allowed sexual assaults by CU football players or recruits
  • CU Professor Ward Churchill calling Sept. 11th victims “little Eichmanns”
  • the drinking death of an 18-year old fraternity pledge
  • a student riot on Halloween
  • Hoffman's embarassing state legislative testimony where she explained that the term "cunt" could be used as a "term of endearment"
So, where did Dr. Hoffman end up after she was fired? Well, as the Provost at Iowa State University! So, while the boys may move laterally or even move up, looks like the women might have to take a little step down. Nonetheless, one step back is pretty good, considering.

So, former Iowa Central Community College President Robert Paxton--oh, he of the "shirtless beer bong with young coeds" pic that went viral and cost him his job--should take heart! While he may have lost his lawsuit against the community college for sacking him accepting his resignation, he made off with a dismissal package of $400,000 and he has the potential for another presidency or chancellorship any day now!

Yep, in some cynical way, I am encouraged by the lower bar these stories suggest. It becomes a little more feasible for me to become a President or Chancellor. Obviously, I would aim to be better than these feckless few, but it is good to know a mistake or two wouldn't cost me a future in academic leadership. And thanks to these stories, I know behaviors I want to avoid: covering up rape on campus, boozing with students, setting up patronage jobs for politicos, and helping their friends get into our institutions. Yeah, I think I can manage that.

Friday, October 09, 2009

What is an extrovert administrator to do?

Extroverts can make wonderful administrators.

Just to define our terms here, extroverts are people who like to have interactions with other people. We get energy from these interactions, and that energy is sustaining. We also tend to process ideas out loud, rather than internally as introverts would, and we see our understanding grow through discussion and debate with other people. We think best through conversation. We don't like spending too much time alone, as it saps our energy and sense of self.

There are some clear pluses to being an extrovert and administrator. We are good with people. We don't mind being in the public eye and giving presentations, trainings, and facilitating meetings. We are not shy in advancing our agendas, and we have gifts in communicating our ideas to others.

On the other hand, we extroverts face some challenges. We don't always listen as well as we should to people in meetings, being more focused on participating as part of our own thinking process. We may come on so strong that people take our statements to be firm convictions, when they may really just be tentative thoughts. We may tend to dominate or shut down more introverted people in these conversations as well, in a rush to participate or assert our own ideas. And we may struggle with confidentiality in our need to process--out loud--issues that are troubling us. It makes sense, in that extroverts tend to think by talking, and how can one think about, say, a personnel issue without talking about it with other people? Of course, personnel issues are just one of many that need to be confidential in a workplace, and results of breaking that confidentiality can range from a loss of friendship with colleagues to winding up in court.

I have taken many approaches to these dilemmas as an extrovert administrator. In meetings I am facilitating, I try to take notes about what others are saying and what I want to respond. That way, I won't forget my thoughts, but I also won't jump in prematurely and dismiss out of hand the ideas of others in the group.

I try to signal that I am open to challenge and changing my mind throughout a discussion by trying on the ideas and suggestions of others, though I am loathe to qualify my own thoughts. As a feminist, I just cannot hold with the "perhaps it's just me, but I think..." or "I may be wrong, but I thought perhaps..." school of speaking. Sorry, I know I speak in declaratives, but that is just what I prefer. No namby-pamby half-statements for this woman... you get run over by the guys if you do that.

The issue of managing confidentiality has been my biggest challenge, because the legalistic nature of our society takes away a lot of options for processing. Written reflections, such as journals and notes, can be subpoenaed, and conversations and emails can also wind up in court. My best recourse has been to use my partner (and some off-site professional colleagues) as a processing mechanism and as a support to my determination to keep things confidential. We process work-related issues, and she allows me to use this to think through tough issues. I will claim spousal privilege, since we are officially married in another state, though I would likely lose in my own state since we have a constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships, which is a drag.

My partner is also the person who holds me accountable for maintaining confidentiality. I call her when I am tempted to disclose inappropriately to other people, and she helps me keep things confidential. I find that I am worse at saying things I wish I didn't say--not necessarily things that are professionally confidential, but things that are private or better not shared--when I am tired or, alternately, really excited and overstimulated, say after a day of teaching and public interactions. I have found that the best thing to do at that time is just to go be alone or be private with my partner. If I don't, I make mistakes that I regret.

So, how do my other extroverted friends handle these issues? What do you do to manage your mouth?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Imposter syndrome

I talked to a friend last week about that terrible experience that sometimes happens when one is teaching when you feel like an imposter. A students asks a question that leaves you stumped and looking like a fool in front of the class. At that moment, there is a feeling that a knowledgable professor exists out there who knows everything about all of the material you will cover in class. Unfortunately, you are not him/her. You just know bits and pieces very well, and you valiantly prepare for class every week trying to fill in gaps and cover rough spots so students will not find out that you are not really the know-it-all they assume you to be.

This imposter syndrome can crop up in a lot of settings, and not just with students: presenting on one's research at a professional conference, publishing a book or article, sitting on a curriculum committee, and even when receiving a big award. The thought rushes through your mind, "If they really knew how little I know, how poorly prepared I really am, they would leave the presentation/rescind the acceptance/kick me out of the meeting/take back the award."

I don't know if this feeling crops up more often for women than men; I am guessing that everyone shares that feeling sometimes. Of course, there are also times when you feel like you actually do know the most about the subject at hand, though that feeling is seductive and untrustworthy, because you can always be corrected on some misstep or misstatement of fact.

As we discussed the classroom issue, I recalled a time I taught about a concept that, honestly, I never learned well when I was in grad school, never followed up because it was unrelated to my own work, and never thought about again until I got a teaching assignment for a class that included that concept. The concept was developed by folks in another related field, but is frequently used in our field by people who do that kind of work. Like a good girl, I read the assigned reading on the concept, read additional readings, and felt pretty much prepared for an overview. Unfortunately, I had a few students in this grad class who had undergraduate degrees from the related field, and they critiqued my explanation of the concept and offered a better, richer understanding. With little else to do, I sucked it up, acknowledged the assistance they gave and the ways is expanded our understanding of the concept, thanked them for their input, and moved on to the next concept. From that point on, however, I think that those students who helped, and some of the others, thought a little less of me and challenged me a little more.

Even as I write about this episode, though, I feel the creeping sting of shame and weakness, the reinforcement of the belief, hammered into me in grad school, that I am not really as smart as I should be.

How do you cope with the imposter syndrome? Do you get over it at some point and recognize that it is impossible to know everything and we all do the best we can? Does the fear of being found out paralyze us or drive us to work harder and do more?




Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Artful Dodger

What the hell is wrong with men on faculty committees? Especially the older, straight, white men. I mean, DAMN!


After all of the great posts about committee meetings and their limitations and abuses, I felt the need to bitch about my own recent committee meeting experiences and my encounters with a kind of academic man I like to call the Artful Dodger.

Okay, so here is the scenario. As we wrap up the first meeting of new committee to change the world, we start to review and assign the list of tasks we identified to complete before the next meeting. Of course, a few people step up to take on tasks, but those few are women. I suggest that one of the senior white men take on another task, which I swear to God was something as mundane as "ask someone for a document," and the Artful Dodger quickly passes it off to a junior white man. As a result, Dr. Dodger has no responsibilities as we walk away. I am irritated, because I realize that this happens in almost every damn meeting I attend outside my department. Hell, it occurs at some meetings inside my department, too!


I know I am not alone in my frustration. I complain about this phenomenon with women I know all the time.


My favorite recent story about this phenomenon actually happened to a friend at an LGBT meeting. The committee members agreed to pass around the responsibility for taking minutes during their long-as-hell meeting, so no one would get stuck taking minutes the whole time. After three women took minutes, the laptop was passed to the next woman... bypassing 2 Artful Dodgers in the process. That woman, a no-nonsense feminist, said that she would not take notes until at least one of the men had done so. The silence, she told me, laughing, could have been cut with a knife and went on for more than a minute. Eventually, one of the younger gay men anted up and did the typing.


This gendered division of labor--even among the queers--led us to wonder, what happens in all-male groups? Do they forego minutes and between meeting tasks? Do they just pass these along to a secretary or intern?


I rejoice in my few white male colleagues who will step up to the plate and do the shit work, but there are far too few of them. I want to shake those Artful Dodgers by their lapels and say, "This is a working group. That means that everyone in the group is supposed to work, dammit!" Instead, of course, I bitch about it to the gf, who tells me that the situation is the same in business meetings and on nonprofit boards, which does little to pacify me.


So, I am going to take my anger and turn it into something useful. Beware straight white men! I will be watching you to see if you step up in our meetings. If you don't, I predict that I will be that bitch who points out that you don't seem to have a task, and asks you what you would like to do. That should win friends, eh? And even scarier, I soon will be chairing a committee, and I will make sure that each Artful Dodger gets a freakin' assignment to complete. And if you don't get it done, the women on the committee will not fix it for you! No, we will leave it on your desk, let you know publicly that we are waiting on you, and shame you into finally getting it done. Your Artful Dodger days have come to an end!


This has been a public service announcement.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Heterosexism and civility

This is an older post I just found and decided I wanted to post.

Okay, I know that we live in a world that is, for the most part, pretty damn homophobic and heterosexist. I forget that sometimes when I am spending time on my liberal campus in my liberal college town.


I had one of those AHA(!) moments when I found a recent graduate's obituary published online in her local, small-town paper. The graduate was a lesbian in a long-term relationship (think double digit years). Of course, the gf is left out of the obituary in the paper. That kind of thing just pisses me off.


Granted, I am already saddened by the graduate's sudden death. She was a wonderful person, and her premature death is a great loss. But publishing an obituary that omits the gf and her role as a mourner and survivor OF THE HOME lacks civility, grace, and basic humanity.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Overcommitte(e)d

Okay, no one really commented on this great new word (Overcommitte(e)d) in my last post, so I must re-post on it specifically. I complained in that post about how I was serving on more committees than (almost) ever, and I have since been asked to serve on yet another university committee. The count now stands: 5 University committees and 6 departmental committees, as well as one ad hoc university committee. (I also am serving on 3 national professional committees, but that seems outside the scope of this post.) Now, the academic committees vary in terms of my own day-to-day responsibilities, with some only calling on me once or twice a semester to simply attend having read the documents, while others I chair and require prodigious amounts of pre-and between-meeting work. Oh, and did I mention that I hold a lesser administrative post, with its own work requirements, and I am at an R1, where grants are king and service is an afterthought?

Tenured Radical mentioned that there are many among us who "over-serve" on committees, often because our colleagues are "under perform." I find that to be true, though I also think that some folks who don't serve on committees or, especially those who don't get chosen to serve, tend to be angry that some of us seem to be directing everything because we are on all the committees. Dean Dad wrote a response to TR, trying to blame the situation on the tenure system. I agree with one of his commentators, who notes that tenure in and of itself is not to blame; instead, it is the yardstick by which we measure tenure and the expectations we set for quality job performance. As I said in my response to him, we ought to have quality committee service on the expectations before and after tenure, and if you don't pull your weight, you risk being fired. Of course, that would be a stretch for R1 schools, especially if the faculty member is bringing in massive grants and writing LOTS of articles. Of course, a lot of the faculty who are under performing as regards committee work are underperforming elsewhere, too.


I find it a challenge to avoid committee work, for a number of reasons. First, I like serving on committees, because I like making a difference in the curriculum, current practices, etc. Whether it is a departmental curriculum committee or a university task force on student services or general education requirements, service on these committees means that I am helping to shape student learning and student experiences on our campus. I also recognize that these committees greatly affect the lives of faculty and staff, and I want to make sure that my perspectives (and on university committees, the interests and concerns of my departmental colleagues) are represented. Further, service on tenure and promotion committees in the university and the department have a rather tangible impact on the individual lives of faculty as well as on the well-being of the department as a whole. Committee work matters, and I like to be a part of something that matters.


Another reason I often don't refuse such service is that I have aspirations about moving higher in administration someday, either on the departmental level or in central administration. The more committees on which I serve, the more I learn about the functioning of the department and the university, and the better I can serve in an administrative capacity. And the committee service looks good on the vitae for just that reason. Further, I accept the appointments to the university committees, especially, because the administrators get to know me personally, come to see that I have potential for central administration, and might perhaps consider me for a position.


Now, committee work can sometimes be a serious pain in the ass, especially when committee members act like jerks. Dr. Crazy had a great post about trying to manage a dismissive group of men in her recent committee meeting, a post eerily similar to my own (which was also a response to an earlier post by Crazy...what can I say, I dig her!) ... That is the exception, though, in my current university, and I find my colleagues within and outside the department very solid and thoughtful. And the underperformers generally tend not to show, so we just get the work done around them.


All of that said, at some point committee service becomes too much. I am gonna hold my breath and hope that this year's set of commitments are manageable. The good news is that I can cycle off one of these commitments at the end of the semester, and several of them end when the year ends. And, if the sabbatical proposal gets approved, I will be committee-less for a WHOLE YEAR! Now, that is something to smile about!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Yup, got it!

Yeah, that didn't take long. Of course, I don't know for sure that I have the H1N1 virus, because no one is actually testing for it unless you are hospitalized. Otherwise, you just have to hide in your home--drinking fluids, popping decongestants and analgesics, and sleeping--and make sure your classes are covered and meetings are cancelled. Though some friends have told me that I am lucky to get it out of the way early, others have said that it is no blessing and that I can get reinfected at any time. Hmm.

So, as I sit in my hole (otherwise known as our guest bedroom) hoping that my temperature doesn't go up again, I have had a lot to contemplate. Here are my random thoughts:


1. For a lesbofeminist, I really love me some guy movies. Top 5 crappy guy movies that I have watched too many times to count: Con Air, The Negotiator, Fast and the Furious 2, all the Jason Bourne flicks, and Gone in 60 Seconds. Oh, and I also like US Marshals, though I will watch almost anything with Wesley Snipes (even those silly Blade movies). The dialogue in most of these movies just cracks me up, as I noted my comments on Dean Dad's recent post. And I like some action flicks when I am sick at home.


2. Quarantine sucks. I feel sorry for people who were quarantined when life was more primitive than now, what with my wireless internet, cable tv, phone, kindle, and every other damn distraction known to humankind. Of course, perhaps they got better faster than those of us who read our kindle too long. Sigh.


3. There are some really BAD books available on kindle, and I will still read them. I have entered some sci-fantasy adventure/romance book phase, thanks to the Twilight series, and I seem to be have stumbled upon some that are more porn than romance, which is not my scene. I need to head in another direction, but still something fantastic that doesn't bog me down in real people and their messed up lives. Or maybe I will just go pick up "Straight Man" again, which is perhaps one of the funniest academic books ever.


4. Reactionary people never get less reactionary over time... they seem to stay that way, no matter what happens. They never learn to temper their responses or let them stew for a while before sharing them with the world. Unfortunately, knowing this truth about reactionary people does not make me like them any better.


5. I am realizing that I may have over-committe(e)d myself this year. Okay, so that is not a word, but I think it should be. Very PoMo, eh? Like a title of a paper when I was in grad school. "The Overcommitte(e)d: One faculty member, 365 days, and more responsibility than you can shake a stick at" (There had to be a colon, some re-spelled word, and a list of three things following the colon for the title to work.)


6. Tenured Radical is on sabbatical. (Doesn't that just trip off the tongue? It sounds like something like "eating her curds and whey" should follow...) While I don't hate her, I am jealous. Perhaps I should think of this quarantine as a mini-sabbatical, in that I am not at school teaching, but I am still working everyday. Just like my friends the historians, I am locked in a small, dark room, reading books, sneaking in little bits of food and drink, and furtively checking my emails even though people tell me not to do so.


7. I should be sleeping. My sleep schedule is a mess. I have a constant headache, my body aches all over, and I am moderately grumpy, having been sequestered from the not-yet-sick gf for days now. When I am really, really sick, I like being alone, but after days of it, I just want to cuddle up and let her be sweet and close. But I really don't want her to get sick.


8. Perhaps when there is a flu virus going around, a university and its departments should not hold their regular "welcome back" gatherings, celebrations, orientations, and the like. Had I not attended 40 or so of these in the last couple weeks, perhaps I wouldn't be SICK RIGHT NOW. Sigh.


Good news is that I have not had a temperature for about 12 hours, so only 12 more to go for me to be proclaimed no longer infectious. At least, that is what they tell me. I hope it is so, because we have guests arriving from out-of-town this weekend and I have a meeting Friday that I would hate to miss. That last part reveals something really sick about me, I think, beyond the H1N1--and it likely won't get better anytime soon.


To paraphrase an old TV line, "Let's stay healthy out there!"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Got the fever?

Well, two people in my department have contracted swine flu--a doc student and an undergrad, and I am feeling a creeping sense of paranoia myself about contracting it. I haven't had contact with either one, but it doesn't really matter. The circle feels too close.

It doesn't help that I have seasonal allergies that make me feel gross at this time of year. But after reading countless stories about H1N1 virus in all the higher ed literature, not to mention the national news, I am getting more and more freaked about catching the virus.

I am like your friend who ALWAYS get the virus going around. I must have a limited immune system. Everytime we visit my goddaughter and she has a cold, I inevitably get it. I have come to believe that one of the problems of not having my own kids is that I have not built up the kind of immunity parents get.

The good news for me is that I only teach a small seminar this semester, so my chances of catching an illness from students is smaller than when I teach the really big lecture class. That said, I still report to campus most every weekday and sit in a building with lots of staff, faculty, and students milling around. And even this week, I have attended orientation events with hundreds of students, any of whom could be walking around unknowingly passing along this virus.

If it were just up to me, I might be one of those paranoid people who walks around in the mask (like the pic above). Of course, people would think I was nuts, and the mask would likely drive me crazy.
Ah, well, there is little to be done beyond taking the basic precautions. And it helps that few of the people infected have been severely sick or have died. I'm honestly just dreading being sick--it takes away time and energy that I need to dedicate to all sorts of things.

So, keep an eye out for the future post entitled, "Got it! Damn."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What could have been...

What I should have been doing:
  • reviewing a research report in advance of the conference call with my co-authors tomorrow
  • cleaning my office
  • working on a department newsletter
  • working on a research article
  • reviewing another manuscript for a national journal
  • preparing 2 trainings I am delivering in the fall
  • taking a nap (I had a VERY early and long day)

What I have been doing:

  • reading Facebook and watching clips on YouTube
  • talking to colleagues about nothing--shooting the breeze, as it were
  • responding to email that keeps pouring in
  • blogging

Ah, what could have been...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beginning a new semester

Every year, I start the new semester with some excitement, some hopefulness, and some dread. I can't tell you what proportion of each I have...it changes from year to year.

I recall being a professor with no administrative appointment, and how different the beginning of the year felt in that capacity than it does now. Yes, I was always a little stressed about updating syllabi, working on course outlines and e-reserves, but the semester began somewhat gradually. I felt that I could ease into it. I had time to strategize about the first class, outlining my lecture/plan/activities so that I felt confident walking in the first day. There were certainly meetings, parties, and orientation activities to attend, but none of the planning rested on me. I cannot say that I don't occasionally look back with some sense of longing and nostalgia.

These days, I am the one planning the orientation activities, as well as the meetings and (occasionally) the parties! That planning--and overseeing the resultant events, added to student services activities (students needing to add/drop/change their schedules, manage financial aid, complain about textbook prices or differences in requirements between sections of a course) and the regular teaching planning, can make the beginning of the semester feel a little bit like riding an avalanche downhill. I try to stay on top of the rushing madness, but I always feel it moving beneath my feet and threatening to pull me under.

Now entering my sixth year as an administrator, I am less and less excited and energized by the minutiae of administrative beginning-of-the-year activities. I don't mind participating, but the prep work is getting to be boring and repetitive. I have created good activities, and I have gotten feedback and worked to improve them. They are strong and good--and I am ready for someone else to come in with a new idea or activity. I am ready for something a little different in my own work responsibilities--either a different administrative job or possibly returning to the faculty. Either way, I want something new out of my academic life, and a new start to the (next) academic year.

So, this year will be my last in this particular administrative position. I conveyed that information to those above me last spring, but I worried sometimes whether I was making the right decision. As I approach the beginning of this academic year, I am assured that my decision was sound, and I will stick with it. In fact, it makes me able to approach the year as a series of "lasts"... my last student orientation to organize, my last faculty meeting to oversee, my last time overseeing the development of program evaluation materials. What a nice treat!


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A quick note to those of you beginning your first year as tenure-track faculty members: This experience will not be like you imagined it would be. You will be overwhelmed sometimes with the many demands on your time and energy, and many things will go wrong in the classroom, your faculty, your research, etc. That said, you will get through it, and you will learn so much. Remember to give yourself a break--you have a lot to learn. Enjoy the ride, take time outside the academic venue, learn more about who you are and what you want.

Another note to all faculty: Please remember how hard the people in Student Services are working right about now. If you see them in the student center or at your orientation activities, compliment them on their great work. Help them know they are not invisible to you, and that you appreciate all they do to make the students' experiences better. And extend that same appreciation to your support staff members, who have scheduled the rooms, dealt with student enrollment issues, managed all the equipment purchases and student assistant salaries, gotten the copier running, and basically make your life run more smoothly than it could. Hell, bring in a box or two of donuts or bagels and provide a breakfast break for them. It goes a long way to improving morale, and it helps diminish the idea that faculty are rude, elitist, unapproachable snobs who don't care about the support staff at all. And it keeps them from getting quite as irritated as you describe your trip to Europe, Jamaica, or even the beach, a trip you took while they were all busy working their 9-5 jobs.

Best wishes to all for a good new academic year. This season of new beginning is one of the blessings of an academic life. Don't squander it!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Musing about preparing to become a full professor

I spoke with a long-time friend the other day about how both of us are thinking ahead to when we apply to be promoted to full professor. He has been a tenured associate professor for far longer than me--I am only two years post-tenure--but we both are thinking about moving up on the administrative ladder, moves that will be easier if we are full professors. I realize that our conversation sets us apart from many of our peers, most of whom eschew administrative roles and stop worrying about moving up in rank once they get tenure.

I get a lot of good-natured ribbing from my friends about my "ambitious nature," but to me, professional life has to include careful planning. This is especially true for me, as I have always chosen a somewhat alternative route--conducting research on LGBT issues, taking on an administrative position before obtaining tenure, moving to new positions that offered more challenges and opportunities, and taking on service obligations to make life better for first generation college students and students of color. I believe strongly that I couldn't make these choices and still succeed if I didn't "work the system" in other ways. So, in preparation for tenure, I participated actively in national conferences and professional organizations, published in some of the more traditional journals, took on outside reader posts for a couple national journals, and built strong, supportive relationships with colleagues in my program and across the US.

Still, the move towards full professor demands something other than "more of the same." As one school I found online states in their promotion document, being promoted to full professor is a recognition that the promise that a candidate showed when awarded tenure has been realized. So, how do I "realize my promise"? Which choices will have the most impact? Which choices should I avoid? And how soon can I apply for promotion? Trying to plan and shape my career around applying for full professor is a challenge that no one has prepared me to engage.

The only real direction you get from colleagues on the promotion and tenure committee has to do with obtaining outside funding, continuing to publish, and the ever-mysterious phrase: "Building national recognition for your work." (I first wrote "building a national reputation," which is what one of the institutions where I worked had in its promotion document, but I have learned over the years that national reputations can be positive OR negative!)

So, how do you get known nationally? Well, here is what I am guessing, based on a review of my peers. National recognition comes with:
  • serving as a leader in professional organizations,
  • being an editor (or editing a special edition) for a professional journal,
  • writing a well-reviewed book (or two),
  • winning national awards,
  • winning large, multi-year federal grants,
  • a little glad-handing and schmoozing with people who can serve as reviewers.

If you are at an R1 like me, the people you schmooze must be nationally known movers and shakers. And, to make it even more annoying, they cannot be the same movers and shakers who reviewed your tenure bid.

One or two of the above can certainly happen to a person without intentional planning, but one cannot accomplish most of these elements without some strategy and organization. And, unless you are some kind of superstar who doesn't really care about a home life, it would be hard to balance them all, so you have to pick and choose. Editing the professional journal or writing a book? Taking on leadership of the national professional organization or pursuing the federal grant opportunity? Which should be the focus now, and which should be saved for later (post promotion)? Which will impress your external (and internal) reviewers?

It is a lot to figure out, especially if you are also carrying around administrative responsibilities. This is one reason that many people who want to pursue administration--especially upper administration--wait until they have been promoted to full professor. Yet, obviously some scholars find a way to balance administrative roles and promotion, sometimes with the assistance of a sabbatical or a new job where they are hired at the full professor level.

I will continue to work my plan and rely on my own instincts about pursuing promotion to full. Perhaps having a plan is half the battle, eh?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The state of things

Here is something I never thought I would see... a state attorney general suing the federal government for discriminatory treatment against lesbian and gay people. Seriously, someone correct me if I am wrong, but has a state government EVER filed suit to PROTECT our rights?? I know that some have had to defend our rights in court--such as the Michigan attorney general, who believed that the state constitutional DOMA amendment didn't preclude offering benefits to state university employees. But this proactive motion on the part of the state of Massachusetts is simply unprecedented. [Update: HRC agrees.]

And better yet, in my humble and untrained opinion, the attorney general makes a really good case. As the brief notes, "The federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") interferes with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage. As applied to the Commonwealth and its residents, DOMA constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law." It goes on to argue that "in enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people. " The brief describes the state's challenges in implementing the federally-funded health care program and managing a state burial ground for veterans and their families that has received some federal funding.

How will the anti-same sex marriage forces--who LOVE to argue states' rights--answer this charge? It will drive them nuts!

I am **dying** to know the story behind the development of this brief. You know that the big national groups (HRC, Lambda Legal, the Task Force) knew it was in the works. But did Obama know? Should we suspect some behind-the-scenes coordination and discussion between Obama and his good friend, Massachusetts Governor (and father of lesbian) Deval Patrick? Could that explain why Obama's DOJ filed a weak and lame brief supporting DOMA--all the better to lose in the fight against the Mass suit?

Other interesting tidbits from the brief:

The Congressional Budget Office, however, has estimated that, if marriages
between same-sex couples were recognized in all fifty states and by the federal
government, the federal budget would benefit by $500 million to $900 million
annually. Congressional Budget Office, The Potential Budgetary Impact of
Recognizing Same-Sex Marriages (June 21, 2004) at 1, available at
http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/55xx/doc5559/06-21-SameSexMarriage.pdf. This net
benefit is due to estimated increased revenues through income and estate taxes
and decreased outlays for Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and Medicare.

Hmmm. That isn't surprising, honestly, though it is a lovely piece of data.

I am very excited and interested in how this case proceeds.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salaries: Private or Public?

There is a discussion on the Chronicle Jobs blog about whether salaries should be disclosed at colleges and universities. I come down STRONGLY on the side of disclosing salaries, and, if you are on the job market for a job at a specific institution or working as a faculty member, researching/keeping up with salaries where you (want to) work. I have taken a lot of heat for my perspective in my real life, but I stand by it anyway.

Every year when the salary book comes out, I go and photocopy relevant sections. I think it is useful to have this information. Now, I have to say that I do not personally believe that a person's worth, or the worth of their work, is quantifiable, nor do I think it is represented by one's salary. I think this in the same way that I think scores on standardized tests don't really predict success. Just because I make less money or have a lower score doesn't mean that I am a less valuable contributor, a worse teacher, or a poorer administrator.

Now, if I made a great deal less than my colleagues, I might have a problem looking at the salary information. But you know what? I looked at the salary information for every job I took, and I negotiated a salary that put me close to or at the top of the range for those of my classification (Assistant/Associate) and years of experience... Knowing the salaries allowed me to negotiate from a position of strength. And I am happy with the salary I got intitially and where I am now. That said, I don't take some weird sort of pride in my salary--it is a means to an end, a way to pay the mortgage and other bills, and hopefully have some cash for vacations and other things. It doesn't mean anything about who I am.

I use the salaries of my colleagues to raise the bar for me. If someone else got a better raise, perhaps I need to write a little more! So far, each year I do what I need to do in terms of teaching, research, and service to get the raise that I deserve (back when we used to get raises). And I don't get too irritated when people are hired making more money than me--ultimately, it raises the bar for all of us.

I have to admit, though, that my attitude about the salaries may be the consequence of not feeling bound to a certain job or locality. I have not stayed at one job longer than 5 years (so far), and I am not shy about going on the market if the current job isn't working out. I would never pretend to hunt for a job just to get a counter-offer; the field is too small and professional relationships too important to alienate people by exploiting the search process. I have served on too many search committees to want to muck up someone else's search.

Perhaps the best reasons for transparency in salaries and, I would argue, raises are: (1) it reduces potential for abuse and discrimination, (2) it actually recognizes when someone is excelling in their work, and (3) it allows new hires and ongoing faculty to negotiate for a fairer salary.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aca-drama, or life in the executive's seat

Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle, not to mention the New York Times and the appropriate local and state newspapers, are all having a field day with the scandals at North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In each of these three settings, the public university leaders are embroiled in pretty bad scandals. While they all are bad, NC State's scandal has the most fallout.

Chancellor Oblinger of NC State has been shown as a liar who misrepresented his work behind the scenes with the head of the state's Board of Trustees and the Governor Mike Easley's staff to create a job for the Governor's wife, Mary Easley. He also was part of the discussion to reorganize her job at the end of her first 3-year contract for $80K-$90K to secure her a larger job with an $88 raise to $170K a year for 5 years. A quick read of some of the MANY documents released to the US Attorney General's Office (as part of the investigation of the ex-governor) and posted on the university's website made me think that the decision was based partly on the hope that Mary Easley would continue to raise a ton of money for the university. A well-connected politico, Easley actually raised money from several state business folks WHILE her husband was still in office.

To make matters worse, it also looks like Oblinger got his Provost to fall on his sword and take a deal to resign his position and return to the faculty. In return, Oblinger sweetened the Provost's severence deal for resigning. The Greensboro News and Record notes:

[Provost] Nielsen resigned on May 14, citing "intense public attention and criticism" of his hiring of former first lady Mary Easley. Oblinger said in a news conference at the time that Nielsen resigned on his own. But officials would not release the terms of his separation.

Then, last week, Oblinger and other university officials said that Nielsen would keep his provost's pay for six months while he had a six-month study leave. Oblinger said the payout to Nielsen was part of his original contract and was "very standard." The documents now show otherwise.

On Saturday, officials disclosed that Nielsen would actually be paid over 18 months — then later said it would actually be over three years.

A university policy says such deals should be for a maximum of a year.


So, the Chancellor breaks the rules to hire the governor's wife, breaks the rules to create a new, higher-paying job, and breaks the rules again to pay off the Provostm and lies about each decision along the way. One bad decision begets another.

As a result, Chancellor Oblinger, Provost Nielsen, BOT Chair McQueen Campbell, and Executive in Residence/Instructor Mary P. Easley are all gone from their respective positions--all resigned except for Easley, who refused to resign and was eventually fired.

As Inside Higher Education somberly notes:
David Ashley at UNLV and B. Joseph White at Illinois still have their jobs,
but the heat is turning up on both of them. Ashley has taken criticism for his
communication style -- not to mention his wife’s harsh treatment of staff -- and a university regent recently said “Nobody’s really happy with David right now.” As for White, a Chicago Tribune exposé about the influence lawmakers and other powerful
figures have on admissions at Illinois has prompted at least one legislator to call for the president’s resignation.

Basically, President David Ashley and his wife have run into culture clashes with the folks at UNLV. His wife, who gave up an $80,000/year actual job to play (volunteer-wife) hostess on campus ran into troubles when she got frustrated that staff didn't want to report to her or accommodate her complaints. She wrote nasty emails and pissed off everyone, as far as I can tell. The President ran into similar problems in not building good relationships on campus. It also didn't help that he brought in someone who some are characterizing as a friend to do his "objective" evaluation, a move that made some of the faculty and governing board members a little uncomfortable. Then, notified by the university system Chancellor that his job was on the line, President Ashley left for China with his wife, leaving one regent to note, "Nobody's really happy with David right now." (UPDATE: President Ashley returned home ahead of schedule to meet with the Chancellor and address the brewing crisis.)

President White is in trouble for a "clout list" that was created to identify applicants to U of I who are connected to important politicians, donors, alumni, and other VIPs. According to an exposee by the Chicago Tribune, the clout list seems to allow folks who aren't quite making the grade to get the little extra they need to get into the university. It starts feeling even grosser when the headline reads, "Clout goes to college: Rezko's relative is among those admitted to U of I in shadow of system influenced by trustees and other insiders ." The Tribune notes:
Though documents obtained by the Tribune show that admissions officers worried
about the "terrible" and "weak" academic records of some applicants, the university redacted their academic qualifications, preventing analysis of just how far below U. of I. standards prospective students fell.

The governor of Illinois has established a panel to examine the U of I's admissions process.

As a bawdy and loud Jew from NJ, I am less appalled by the issues at UNLV regarding tone and communication--hell, that could be me!--than I am by the "clout list" that gives some applicants for Illinois an unfair advantage getting into the school of their choice. It is a public school, for goodness sake. As the product of big, flagship, public schools, I am disgusted. If those of us everyday people cannot get into the state school on our merits, our strengths, our abilities and our promise, what is the damn point of having a state school? It is like the state of Illinois is so freaking politically corrupt that they have to bastardize the university application process as well. How privileged and entitled do they think they should be? It makes me crazy.

Sometimes the best thing one can take away from all of the Aca-drama in the news these days is a primer on "what not to do when I am running something." The gf and I have made a deal that if I ever get into a position of power (unlike the little administrative job I hold now, where the only power I wield is over students and the occasional adjunct instructor), she will help me be careful and thoughtful in my actions. The ugliest messes seem to have to do with spending university money on personal things, poorly managing up and down, and moving too quickly on one's personal agenda and leaving the joint visioning behind. I am likely to follow the model of the new interim Chancellor at NC State, former UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward, who had charged his staff at Charlotte with pointing out anything that seemed awry or improper in his actions. He also insisted on paying for his own travel and kept receipts vigilantly. Sometimes I wish they would profile more successful administrative leaders, but that just doesn't keep us tuning in and logging on.

Ah, well. Tune in next week... same bat time, same bat channel.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Frothing faculty

I have been amazed once again at the vituperative abuse that faculty can spew at those who stand in our way, ruin our day, or otherwise mar what must be acknowledged as a pretty good gig. I have heard two stories recently where faculty members wrote emails to people in which they attacked the email recipient and insulted other faculty and administrators. And the amazing part to me is that the purpose of these emails was to ask for something. Where is the logic in that? And aren't we educated lot supposed to be a bit more logical? I mean, did we faculty somehow miss the folk lesson that we attract more flies with honey than vinegar? Or perhaps we missed the day where we learned to write a professional email?

One of my favorite senior university administrators once told me she received 3-5 "What the hell is wrong with you people?" emails a week from dissatisfied faculty who felt empowered to vent their spleen to the central administration. Perhaps this is the reason that administrators, university counsel, student services staff, human resources staff, and even janitorial staff are known to complain about "the faculty."

I know that we faculty are an entitled lot. We complain about poorly ventilated classrooms, students who cannot use good grammar, textbooks that don't arrive in time for the beginning of class, colleagues who don't appreciate our work, and merit systems that fail to reward all of our hard work. These actually are stressors that make our days more difficult. I get that, and I admit to engaging in my own fair share of complaining. What I DON'T do is write crazy, angry notes, calling people names and casting aspersions at my colleagues and administrators!

I must be incredibly naive and/or somehow feel less privileged than these colleagues, because I cannot imagine writing an insulting email to my boss, colleague, or someone high up the administrative food chain. Yes, I have been very angry related to work. I have had times where I felt that I have been "wronged" by one or another colleague or boss. I have even written an email complaining about this mistreatment once or twice. My emails have always been professional in tone, though, because I wanted them taken seriously by the reader. I also don't want some rant of mine displayed as Exhibit A in a grievance or in a court case, should my complaint have to go that far. Especially now, in the days of the internet, when such a rant can be accessible to everyone in perpetuity!

So, for you faculty who are tempted to write the "What the hell is wrong with you people" email, may I make the following suggestions?


  1. If you must write a rant email, put it in your drafts file for at least 24 hours, or until you know you have calmed down enough to read it over. You may think twice about sending it.

  2. If you find yourself addressing the recipient as "Dear fathead/jerk/selfish prick/some other mean name," go back and put in their proper name and/or title.

  3. Write the letter like you are writing it to someone's kindly grandmother/grandfather. Imagine that they will be offended by harsh words and curses.

  4. Try sticking with the dictum: Just the facts. Don't embellish and don't presuppose the reasons for other people's actions ("He wanted to punish me, so he gave me a small raise.")

  5. Make your case--provide evidence, persuade, and lead the reader to your conclusion as the most obvious interpretation.

  6. Re-read the email and imagine that you are the recipient, not the author. How would you feel reading it? If it makes you angry, it needs to be re-written. (If you can't be dispassionate enough to read it this way, ask a trusted friend to review it.)

  7. Snide, petty, and mean comes off just as it is intended, and it hurts your cause. (As an administrator, I can tell you that snide, petty, and mean emails don't work for me. They make me want to delete them; they don't make me want to accommodate the sender.) Just adopt a tone of clarity and rationality, and your point will be better received.

So, here's hoping that we faculty can decompress over the summer and come back to campus with a new attitude...or that we can keep our attitudes (and our insults) to ourselves.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Lessons for summer productivity

Here are my guidelines (I don't believe in rules) for summer productivity:

1. Have a list of projects, with deadlines, goals, and expected products for each. For those of you who write grants, the same planning matrix that you give to funders can help you with your own work. How much time with that R&R take? How about the grant proposal--what steps have to happen before submission? Plan it all out for yourself, and be sure to revise and update it as things change. You can also write it on your calendar, blocking out specific hours for specific tasks.

2. Don't work in front of the TV. Seriously, I know it is summer and you haven't had a chance to catch up on your movies, but save it for one week or watch them at night.

3. If you get stuck, move your workspace to somewhere new. Try a coffee shop, the guestroom in your house, the park, the local public library, or even your (now quiet) work office.

4. Turn off the internet for a while. Facebook will be there when you get back, as will all those blogs you have been meaning to read.

5. Need a break between projects, trying to think of a new project, or feeling stuck on your topic? Use break times to peruse journals in your field. Most everyone can access their university server from their computer and read the e-journals online. Find out what your friends and colleagues are writing about in your field. Nothing like new literature to get you thinking. Just give yourself a time limit--2-3 hours, tops.

6. If you are teaching summer school, remember to limit the time you give over to course prep and grading. Don't let the summer slip by and your projects (and your the restoration of your soul) fall by the wayside.

7. Take frequent breaks to go swimming, go for a walk, have lunch with friends, surprise a special someone at work and take them out to lunch... Remember that summer has to be both restorative AND productive.

8. Try to build a vacation into your schedule. Even a few days (preferably a week) of uninterrupted relaxation time can make a BIG difference when the academic year rolls around.

These are my 8 guidelines. I actually am writing this post, with the hope of following these guidelines myself. I know what works for me, and I hope to get (back)into the swing of summer productivity myself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To buy or not to buy...

Every year when we hit the graduation extravaganza, I contemplate buying academic regalia. I hate trying to remember to order robes, going to get them, and remembering to return them. I have a skill set...this kind of minutiae just isn't part of that skill set!

A colleague of mine who is in her 60s bought a brand new set of regalia. Her husband joked with her and asked if she planned to be buried in them. My partner wagers that she was tired of her original robes--pretty old and worn by this point--and that she couldn't imagine renting robes for the next 6-10 years.


As all of you academic-types know, those suckers are expensive. They average between $400-600 just for the robe, with extra expense for the hood and the cap. I had no money to afford robes when I graduated, and neither did my mom. I rented a gown, borrowed a cap, and only bought the hood.

I have heard that some schools pay for robes for their new hires--a nice perk for a young faculty member, and a good way to start a new job. Needless to say, I never worked at one of those schools.

I couldn't have afforded them before now, but I have recently considered using some (well, all) royalty money from my book to pay for them. Of course, that is money I could easily use some other way...say, a vacation, home repairs, or even conference travel money.

So far in my academic career, I have attended 11 years of graduations and hoodings, including my own doctoral hooding. At $20 per year, I have spent $220 in rentals. A few more decades, and I will have paid for the regalia. I cannot see waiting until I am in my 60s to buy some.

So, should I go ahead and make the purchase? Has anyone bought them and regretted it? Any recommendations on where to get it?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Graduations: pleasure and politics

Phew! I am pleased to report that the graduation tilt-a-whirl has officially stopped and all of my events are over. I attended an undergraduate graduation recognition ceremony, Masters and Doctoral hooding ceremonies, along with the universitywide banquet for students of color and the university commencement ceremony. I am TIRED.

I do enjoy these events, though... getting to see students celebrate their accomplishments, meeting their family members and friends, seeing myself as part of a team both within my department and in the larger university. I came away also very glad that we have some event planners in our crowd who know how to manage getting the students organized, on and off-stage, and making sure everyone can hear us and all the names can be pronounced clearly. I hooded my first doctoral student, which was exciting and gratifying. I was and am incredibly proud.



After giving my own graduation speech and listening to others, I can testify that this was a truly difficult year to speak at graduations/hoodings/commencements. My own speech mirrored those by my colleagues--a bad year economically also offers graduates potential to be part of the changes we need to see in our country and opportunities to be entrepreneurial. Obama's speeches at ASU and Notre Dame echoed some of this same tone.



So, let's speak of Obama's speeches. I have been sent copies of the texts from both speeches from numerous friends, family, and colleagues. They are both thoughtful, politic, poetic even. He (and his speechwriters) tailored both speeches to address the controversies swirling at both campuses: ASU's decision *not* to offer President Obama an honorary degree, and Notre Dame's decision *to* invite Obama as commencement speaker and offer him an honorary degree regardless of his support for reproductive choice. I had a hard enough time speaking where I know people will like me; I can't imagine speaking where people were actively protesting me and where my success or failure would be recorded in papers nationwide. I thought he handled these controversies with grace and humor, for the most part. I suppose that as a politician, President Obama has had a lot of experience with protesters, so it might be easier for him.

As a strong supporter of women's rights as well as LGBT rights, I am very concerned about one section of the President's Notre Dame speech related to abortion. He says:

Because when we do that -- when we open up our hearts and our minds to
those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we
believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common
ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we
can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made
casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions,
let's reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.) Let's make adoption more
available. (Applause.) Let's provide care and support for women who do carry
their children to term. (Applause.) Let's honor the conscience of those who
disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women." Those are things we can do. (Applause.)

Here is my question: What is a sensible conscience clause? To me, that would mean that if you don't want an abortion, you don't need to have one. If you don't want to distribute morning-after pills or birth control pills, you should pursue a job other than pharmacist. If you don't want to perform abortions, you should work in a job other than gynocologist or obstetrician. I don't think that medical staff should have decisions about who they serve and which procedures they will do. I am sure this isn't what Obama meant, but I am not sure what he did mean.

If a conscience clause HAS to exist and individual providers can opt out of certain procedures and services, the medical facility in which they are located should be required to have someone on staff who will do the procedure/service and/or provide referral information. (And referral may not be feasible if there are no other nearby facilities, nearby facilitaties covered by someone's insurance, or if there is not available public transportation to another facility; in that case, I would say that someone on staff MUST be able to offer the procedure/service.)

On a similar topic, I am annoyed by Mary Ann Glendon's decision to decline the Laetare Medal. Well, I would respect her decision, if I could be convinced that she would also decline the medal if the Commencement speaker was someone who supported/advocated for the death penalty. Either you hold with Catholic beliefs regarding the sacredness of life or you don't, you know? That said, I acknowledge that it is her decision, and I am fine for her to make it.

Well, enough of the graduation politics. I am glad that the semester is officially over, and that I am not teaching summer school classes. I plan to write all summer, and I hope to feel excited and proud at what I accomplish this summer. I hope your experiences are similar.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Here comes the sun!!

Wow, here it is May 11, and I haven't written an entry since April 18! What have I been doing, you ask?

Well, I have been dealing with student crises, managing my own massive class (the big one I mentioned earlier), getting some writing done for school projects and my own research projects, collecting data on my students, traveling all over the place, and trying to finish up countless reports, articles, and so on. But classes are over, and the light is bright at the end-of-the-semester tunnel.

I am emerging from my winter funk, excited by the possibilities of summer. Last summer was very different--I couldn't seem to get started, and as a result, I wound up the summer with very little to show for it.

This summer has a different agenda. I have 2 monographs and a report to a funder to complete, a couple articles to write, and a (successful) plan for sabbatical in 2010-2011 to design and compose. The gf will be traveling a good deal this summer, so I will have days of alone time, which is exciting. (I don't like being alone or without the gf all that much, as a rule, but brief stints alone are helpful to the writing process.) I have NO TRAVEL planned right now, which makes me very happy after my conference-laden year... seriously, no one should ever attend 7 conferences in 8 months. And that didn't count all the personal travel for family gatherings, visits to friends, and other stuff...

I feel hopeful about getting some work accomplished this summer. I even found a little money for a doctoral student who will help me support this work. It feels nice to be hopeful, and even nicer to feel determined and energized.

Congratulations to all of our graduates--I hope you have a chance to celebrate your accomplishment. I am celebrating my accomplishments for this academic year, and the many to come. Here is to the summer!

(I can't embed this, but click on the link below to get "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmxSL6H2QEg

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No to concealed carry

Nothing like celebrating the 2-year anniversary of the mass murders on the Virginia Tech campus by passing a bill that allows students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Yes, the proud representatives in the Missouri state house voted 2-1 to give students 21 and older the right to carry guns to classrooms. We can hope that the state Senate will not support the bill, or that the governor will veto if it is does, but this is Missouri and common sense doesn't always reign in the state government.

Missourians are joined in this nonsense by their colleagues in Texas, who are considering a similar bill. This is especially ironic, for while Texas law specifically prohibits concealed carry on campus, it also includes a clause which allows an individual college/university to 'opt out' of the law and allow concealed carry.

According to a pro-concealed carry website, there are 24 states that expressly prohibit concealed carry on college campuses by persons with a valid concealed handgun license/permit. 15 "Right-to-Carry" states leave the decision of concealed carry on college campuses entirely to each college/university.

There are a good number of groups advocating for concealed carry: the NRA is the largest, of course, though there is also a group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus... That group is organizing a "third national collegiate Empty Holster Protest during the week of April 20-24, 2009," where students, faculty, and staff can walk around with empty holsters they wish they had filled. It was nice of them to wait a few days for the anniversary of the Virginia Tech murders.

I am happy to note that I have never worked at a school that allowed concealed carry. I don't like the idea of my students carrying guns in the classroom, nor would I ever carry a weapon. I don't think I would ever want to be on a campus that allowed students to carry concealed weapons; I might actually not take a job for that reason. I hope that faculty at schools in Missouri and Texas will lobby their legislators to vote against these bills. They are scary and should not be passed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Trying something new on

Okay, I am doing something I never do. I am making a decision that pleases no one but myself. I am ignoring a personal obligation (which involved 2 days of travel and no time or room to work) to do something that is good for me (staying home alone to write on 2 major projects with impending deadlines).

I normally try to juggle everything and make myself a little crazy. I hate to disappoint anyone.

The gf is being so supportive, I am moved by her generosity of spirit and once again pleased that she is my partner.

Contrary to how you might imagine I feel--strong, independent, feminist lesbian that I am--I am actually feeling embarrassed and a little like a bad person. I know that is crazy, so I am both feeling these emotions and telling myself that it is okay.

Who knows? If it goes okay, perhaps I will actually make decisions that are good for me more often.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Notes to students in my very large class

Okay, I need to start this rant with a qualified statement that I am enjoying the students in my large lecture class this semester. They seem interested in the topic, relatively committed to the purpose of learning, and they are a lively bunch. Yet, I can feel the creeping influence of spring fever rearing its ugly head. As a result, there are some things I wish I could say to these students.

1. I see you. Yes, I know you see me, up in the front of the room, but I see you, too. I see you sleeping, playing on the computer, reading for your next class, laughing with the girl next to you (hopefully not about my clothes or the way I talk)... I see it all. I often don't say anything. If it isn't bothering your classmates (you know, the ones who are trying to learn, despite your actions), I am gonna let it slide. I don't want to be the commandant of the classroom, if I can help it. That said, I also may come by and tell you to knock it off. After 12 weeks, I am kinda over it.


2. Class lasts 75 minutes. Not 60, not 70, but the whole 75 minutes. DO NOT pack up your stuff in the last 5-10 minutes and tap your foot, waiting anxiously for me or the guest speakers to finish. It is RUDE. At this point, I don't care if you really pay attention; I just want you to be patient and pretend to listen, even if you are bored.


3. I also see the people who use their clickers to sign in for attendance and then quickly sneak out the back. I am gonna mess that up by moving back the time for taking attendance to the middle or the end of class. I hate this game-playing, but if we are gonna play, I intend to win.


4. Be courteous and attentive to our guest speakers. They are taking time out of their lives, finding parking on campus, and making their way to our classroom. The least you can do is listen to what they have to say and ask them questions. They have a lot to offer to you, if you take the time to pay attention.


5. I actually have OFFICE HOURS. I know, it is hard to fathom. A professor sits in a room all by herself, thinking that interested students might just come by to talk. But if you have a concern or question, instead of emailing me or finding me on Facebook, just come by the office. I'd be happy to chat.

6. I know you are ready for the end of the semester. Just so you know, I am, too! But we have a few weeks left, and I am not ready to give up on teaching and learning. We have more interesting topics to discuss, and yes, they will be on the exam. So, I suggest you do as I am doing and try to buck up for the rest of the semester. I believe it will be worth your while. I will do my part and work to keep class engaging and interesting.


Well, that's it. Glad that is off my chest. Now that I have written it and read it over a couple times, I may need to say it out loud!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the other staff lives...

Well, I am at the ACPA student services conference in DC (my second student services conference in 3 months--the last was NASPA in Seattle). This kind of conference is outside my discipline, so I don't know people here...which is weird, sometimes lonely, and yet educational and interesting.

As a faculty member, we often don't spend a lot of time with student services staff. They seem to be a diverse crowd at the conferences--many people of color and LGBTTQQI folks (yes, all the letters are necessary, I swear)... They tend to be younger than faculty, for sure. I have been quite taken aback by how young the housing directors, student life directors, diversity staff members, etc. tend to be. To an outsider who is attending these conferences for the first time, the folks at the ACPA conference seem to be a little dressier and more research oriented than at the NASPA conference, but both seem committed to having some fun while they learn and network. I have no idea how many folks are at the ACPA conference, but there are TONS of sessions. I know there were over 4,000 people at the NASPA conference, which makes my disciplinary conferences seem teeny.

I have been impressed by the spirit and thoughtfulness of the gatherings. They remind me a little of women's music festivals, though the attendees aren't quite as ardent about policing everyone. :-) They don't have a chem free section, but they do offer AA meetings. At ACPA, there is a gender neutral bathroom that is not only marked in the hallway, it is listed in the program! (If only our campuses were that good.) There are interest groups and receptions for every identity group imaginable, and the conference listings include MANY programs around diversity topics.

The student services presenters also spend a great deal of time talking about us faculty types: how to get us more involved in advising, mentoring, and working with student groups; how to partner student programming with academic programming; working together with students at risk of failing or struggling with mental health issues; engaging faculty in recruitment efforts; identifying potential areas for collaboration with academic departments, etc. It feels a little strange to be "one of them" for someone else. Thank goodness for upper administrators (sorry DD), or we faculty would surely be the worst "them" out there.


The best part of the conferences for me (other than the fantastic venue for ACPA at the National Harbor in Maryland, pictured here) is everyone's commitment to the well-being and success of our students. I sat in a session today on research on 1st generation college student retention, and almost everyone in the room (including me) had been a 1st generation college student. I was proud of all of us, and I was glad that we are all working to help recruit and retain 1st generation college students. (I write this even as I am getting a frantic facebook IM from a student asking for help with applying for jobs...)

Next time you think about what to do with your difficult students, the ones who can't get it together or who seem to be facing personal or mental health issues, remember the hardworking student services staff. They are working hard to help these students, and they are there for you, as well. Look for ways to help them out--teach a first year seminar, do a training for student services staff, participate in a recruitment event, talk to undergraduate students about grad school or getting a job in your field, serve as an advisor to a student group, etc. Yes, we're busy faculty types, but we're all in this together.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I only have one thing to say...

..to those anti-choice Catholics who are offended by Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to speak at the school's commencement.

We'd be glad to have him come here, instead.

Amen.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lies, damned lies, and...what in the world??

After having read the Inside Higher Education story this morning on the latest results of a longitudinal study of faculty attitudes by the University of California at Los Angeles's Higher Education Research Institute, I wandered over to see that the Chronicle of Higher Education also had a, um, similar story.

Check out the differences in the headlines and lead paragraphs (first the IHE story, then the Chronicle):

Shifting Faculty Mission (IHE)
March 5, 2009
Every three years, education researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles release a national survey of faculty attitudes and norms, and various categories show movement of a few percentage points. This year's survey, being released today, finds significant shifts in several categories related to social change.

While the above data reflect an apparently broad view of the social responsibility of higher education, other findings suggest that professors are more likely to embrace instruction and assessment methods that focus on students' individual needs. Compared to three years ago, faculty members were more likely to believe it is part of their job to "help students develop personal values" (66.1 percent, an increase of 15.3 percentage points over 2004–05), "enhance students' self-understanding" (71.8 percent, a 13.4 percentage-point increase), "develop moral character" (70.2 percent, a 13.1 percentage-point increase) and "provide for students' emotional development" (48.1 percent, a 12.9 percentage-point increase).

Social Change Tops Classic Books in Professors' Teaching Priorities (Chronicle)
By ROBIN WILSON

A new national survey of faculty members shows that the proportion of professors who believe it is very important to teach undergraduates to become "agents of social change" is substantially larger than the proportion who believe it is important to teach students the classic works of Western civilization.

According to the survey, 57.8 percent of professors believe it is important to encourage undergraduates to become agents of social change, whereas only 34.7 percent said teaching them the classics is very important. Observers say the difference results from influences as diverse as conservative criticisms of curriculum and Barack Obama's call for social activism during his presidential campaign.


These two articles may offer the best example I have seen in some time for how our biases can shape the story.

The title of the actual report is "U.S. faculty: Civic engagement, diversity important goals for undergraduate education." Wilson at the Chronicle clearly saw a sexy angle in contrasting classics with social change, and the story focuses almost completely on the "radical young activist professor types versus traditional intellectuals." They even got a quote from Cary Nelson that I am guessing was not really what he was saying...

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, says he believes faculty members should teach the classics. "I teach American literature all the time, that's what I do," says Mr. Nelson, who is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

But he says that to many professors, teaching the classics has become part of a "conservative agenda" that they don't want to be part of. Conservative critics of academe, he says, "have poisoned the well for these subjects because they've gotten politicized and become symbols of a reaction against the progressive academy."

My guess, after years of hearing from Dr. Nelson and AAUP, is that Nelson wasn't saying professors don't believe in teaching classics. I mean, come on already, we all went to grad school! We read all the classics, the critiques of the classics, and the critiques of the critiques. We could hardly speak if we didn't have the classics to argue for and against, and we know we need to give our students the vocabulary they need to engage all sorts of texts, ideas, and opportunities.

Instead, I think Nelson was talking about why professors might have responded to that survey item in that way. Talking about "whether teaching the classics of Western civilization is important" is code, used by folks from the National Association of Scholars. Were I responding, I would say, "Of course, but not to the exclusion of other materials from people usually excluded from the canon." And, of course, the article becomes a debate between NAS and the education professors, with AAUP President Cary Nelson sounding like he sides with the NAS. Not likely.

Both stories discuss the NAS and their criticism of faculty members' perspectives on diversity and community service, not to mention our left-leaning politics. I am okay with that, though the Chronicle article really moves towards the absurd.

Indeed, the biggest conceptual leap in the Chronicle article links professors' support for teaching students to be agents of social change to... wait for it... the Obama campaign. Yes, that damn community activist-cum-President caused academics to be "shamelessly anti-intellectual," according to an NAS spokesperson. You know, we get accused of a lot as academics--being elitist, out-of-touch, ivory tower effete geeks, but (to channel Rachel Maddow for a moment) anti-intellectual? Really?

I hope you will read the research brief and the accompanying PowerPoint, because the results are pretty interesting. But someone needs to give our friend at the Chronicle a wake-up call. That article was incredibly lame and read like an NAS press release. I personally expect a lot more from the Chronicle.