Thursday, September 01, 2011

Goodnight, Irene. Hello, Chronicle Blog Network.

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

Map of Hurricane Irene

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

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

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Le sigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le sigh.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Reflections on orientation as an old timer

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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Start up

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Boundaries and other administrative metaphors

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Professor's Pernicious Plan

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


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


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

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



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

Sunday, July 03, 2011

When there's not much there there

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making the move



The process of moving a household is crazy, so I won't focus on that, lest I start to cry or panic. Instead, I want to focus on moving on to the new job.

One strange thing about getting a job is moving into a new phase in your life. For example, I am having to force myself to stop looking at jobs. I have been looking at job ads for several years, trying to find something in the discipline or in central administration that fits my interests. I now have to take myself off the disciplinary website job notification list. When I read through the Chronicle (yes, I still like the hard copy), I have to flip quickly past the job ads to the essay on the last page. It is difficult to remember that I am "off the market" in my professional life.

Instead, I am going to a new position, and I imagine being there for several years. If I have any interaction at all with the job ads, it will be posting one for a faculty hire or keeping tabs on them for former doc students and friends who are on the market. (One of my favorite things is helping other people find the right job. I have been successful in helping several students and friends find good positions.)

Also, I am moving up the food chain in terms of my new administrative role. This new role will include a budget to manage, faculty and staff to lead and supervise, and many more decisions to make on a daily basis. It is a classic win-lose: I get to be creative, and I bear the burden of responsibility for successes and failures. I am excited and nervous about this new role, and I know that I truly will not understand the pressures and the benefits until I have had the position for a while.

I have been packing up my files and books at work, thinking about what to keep. Examples of departmental assessment plans and tools: keep. Committee notes related to my former job: toss. Presentations and articles about best practices in leadership: keep. Information from my own presentations so old that the suggested references are from the 1990s: toss. I am still not sure what to do with pictures of former students, copies of teaching evaluations from my current school, my tenure packet, etc. I am likely keeping them, probably until the next move or a future time when I don't smile when I see them.

As I pried the nameplate off the door, with my old administrative title underneath, I imagined the new nameplate with my new title. There is something magical about a new beginning: so much potential, so many possibilities. I am ready, I think, to move on.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The last hurrah: Summer teaching

I am partway through the summer teaching experience, and I have been reflecting on the pros and cons of teaching summer school classes while preparing to leave the job and the state. Here is a small list:

PRO: Less time to be sad, as free time is spent preparing for and teaching class

CON: Less time to pack and prepare the house for the move

PRO: MONEY!!!

CON: Summer school never really pays enough, as it  is only a percentage of my regular salary. But money is money.

PRO: Spending time with students who are interested in the course topic and using our extensive time together to quickly build a sense of community.

CON: Grading. 'Nuff said.

PRO: Evenings and most weekends are mine.

CON: Getting up early in the morning in the summer is just lame.

PRO: Parking is easy on campus in the summer, as most students and faculty are gone. 

CON: They don't have the air conditioning turned to a reasonable level, and my classrooms are terribly warm during the high heat outside. It is difficult to be fun, smart, and engaging when your clothes are sticking to your body, and the students are struggling to keep their sweaty faces from falling down on their desks.

PRO: Hanging out and chatting with staff members who are not quite as busy as during the school year and who are happy for some (faculty) company.

CON: Never seeing other faculty on campus and feeling like the only one who is working in the summer.


PRO: Being energized by great discussions and learning by students.

CON: Being physically, psychically, and emotionally wiped out as we leave to drive across country and get ready for the new job. 100+ hours of teaching in one month--all of it in multi-day, long-ass stints--is sure to take a serious toll.

I am hopeful that the 2 weeks I have between when I arrive in my new town and when I start the new job will be restorative enough that I can hit the ground running (as opposed to crawling). I will try to make sure I do positive things in the new place, like get a massage and a pedicure, and perhaps spend a little time reading books on the Kindle. I am planning to adopt a strict, no work plan for that time, as well.

So, just a few more weeks of teaching, and then we make the big move!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Oh, to be out and renting

Having been a longtime homeowner, I have forgotten what it is like to rent a place to live. After visiting our new city seeking rental housing, I am remembering what it is like to be out lesbians in search of rental housing.

Now, we are a good rental risk. I have a very good job with a solid salary. My partner and I own a home and have excellent credit histories. We are both grown-ass women who are responsible, relatively quiet people who will treat a rental home like our own.

We are also pretty obviously lesbian. Even if you couldn't tell by looking at us, there is this little matter of relocating (across the country) for my new job. But still, some people don't get it. So, each and every landlord will either figure it out or we will have to come out. And, in this state, s/he has the right to tell us that s/he will not rent to us. That is a scary and somewhat depressing space to enter.

I always go into public spaces as if everything will be fine. The gf assumes discrimination is more likely than not to occur, though she also knows that people make business decisions that may not be aligned with their prejudices. She is often correct about the discrimination and reactions we face, but I cannot deviate from my more positive and hopeful approach, which works best for me.

On our trip, we saw a condo being rented by a very friendly man. The condo meets all of our requirements, it has a fantabulous view, and it is one hell of a bargain. We gave all the hints we could about our worthiness as renters: I mentioned my faculty status and being an alumnae of his preferred school; the gf noted that we could write a check for the deposit/1st month rent today and that she has local roots. He was nice to us, even as he told us about the very conservative church he attends.

When we went back to measure the rooms and ask some follow-up questions, he seemed more nervous and asked if we are related. He noted that we look like sisters. Now, we look NOTHING alike, but this kind of comment is commonplace for lesbians, especially those of us in longtime relationships. Our familiarity with one another--the sense of our family--is clearly identified, even if people cannot tell what the situation is. We said that we weren't sisters, but didn't come out in the moment.This conversation reminded me of this great book, pictured below, that gets at this experience.


Lesbian couples, traveling together, are often asked by men, "Are you girls traveling alone?" As if the two women couldn't be a couple. The book is twenty years old; one would hope that it is outdated, but it seems still strangely relevant.

We offered the condo owner to sign a lease and write the check during our second visit, but he declined, saying he would get back to us. Before we left, though, the gf went back in the condo and came out to him more directly. It seemed like the honorable thing to do, though we think it spelled the death knell for our renting the place. (He called and told us that he was renting to someone else.) Sigh.

At another apartment complex, they explained that the gf and I had to fill out separate applications, even though married couples filled out the same application. The gf was so irritated that her application was illegible.

The best experiences we had was at a home being rented by a lesbian couple and a home being rented by a young, straight couple. The wife in the straight couple was our primary contact there, and she seemed very laid back and accepting of our relationship. The lesbian couple wound up chilling in the living room with us for a few minutes, hanging out, sharing stories, and learning about one another. Perhaps the best part of those visits was just feeling comfortable and accepted. Though we don't plan to rent either of those houses, we hope to hang out with them (or people like them) once we move.

The rental home search made me even more aware of the class privilege the gf and I have as people who can purchase our own house. We don't have to worry about pleasing anyone to buy a home. But without protection from discrimination, any LGBT renter can be refused a rental. What will we do about that?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oh, to be out, queer, and Jewish

Just a quick note to tell you about a great resource: a poster series of LGBT Heroes available to you right now! The first set of posters and web info, part of the "Here I am" project from Keshet, include Harvey Milk, Leslea Newman, and Kate Bornstein. Who can help but want that collection for your walls?

The website also include biographical info and lots of pictures of the subjects throughout their lives. Bornstein is almost iconic these days, thanks to the publication of Gender Outlaw and Kate's many appearances at campuses around the country. Newman is one of my favorite writers. She is known best for Heather has two mommies and Letters to Harvey Milk.

And speaking of Harvey Milk, it makes me feel good just to see his smiling face. He was a voice for hope and openness, for reaching across and bridging our differences, and working for change in our communities.

I went online and suggested some more Jewish LGBT leaders for remembrance, including Harvey Fierstein, Frank Kameny, Roberta Achtenberg, and Leslie Feinberg. Feel free to go online and suggest some more. There are so many more Jewish queers than we can possibly recognize with these posters.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fighting for straight rights in a terrifyingly queer world

"We have trouble, 
right here in River City. 
With a capital T 
that rhymes with G 
that stands for Gay...
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones 
moral in that school!"
--with apologies to Meredith Wilson


Whenever we queers fear that we lack power or falter in obtaining anything close to equal rights, we should take heart that the Texas Republican Party is intimidated by our extensive power base and our cultural and social influence. 

Certain that hetero rights are under assault in colleges and universities near them (namely the always weird University of Texas at Austin and, um, Texas A&M?), legislators in the Texas House have passed a budget provision proposed by Rep. Wayne Christian "requiring state colleges and universities, if they use state funds to support 'a gender and sexuality center,' to spend an equal amount on a center promoting 'family and traditional values.'" The current centers under attack at U of T and Texas A&M are created "for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues." After a "serious" discussion of the issues, including a discussion of the definition of pansexuality that required the Representative to apologize to the women in the gallery, the need for such a provision was clear, and it passed with a 110-24 vote.

Tony McDonald, a leader in the Texas Young Conservatives, notes that they helped craft this provision, the one of two proposed that was actually adopted, to ultimately defund these centers. "The traditional values center measure, said McDonald, is not merely about creating family and traditional values centers, but is a “clever way” to work around directly defunding taxpayer-supported gender and sexuality centers that are accepting of homosexuality."

Now, of course, the UT Gender and Sexuality Center, that locus of power, has only three FT staff and some student assistants (who make a whopping $8/hr.), which tells you something about the power and capability of women and queers... With only this small staff, they are able to oppress and undermine the heterosexuality of the (mostly heterosexual) 24,000 faculty and staff and more than 50,000 students. A&M has almost 47,000 students to brainwash, and only one FT staff member to do it! They do have a Christian Faculty organization at A&M, so at least that angle is covered, to balance the advocacy of the GLBT Professional Network of faculty and staff on campus.  And the 35+ Christian student groups on campus, many of which are conservative in theology, can probably provide some of the much needed support to ward off the pervasive influence of the GLBT center on campus.

Lest anyone believe that the brainwashing has been completely successful with students, the A&M Student Senate approved a measure to support the passage of the Texas budget provision and require the university to use existing funds for the campus GLBT Center to support the establishment of the family and traditional values center on campus.

Having to hear about or acknowledge the rights of LGBT people to exist and be treated with respect and dignity is not only an affront to heterosexual Christians, it is disabling and oppressive in nature. Of course, the experiences of LGBT students, faculty, and staff--having to spend all of our lives hearing mostly traditionalist Christian, heterosexual examples, morals, and values in our textbooks, our classrooms, our media, and our lives; being taunted, shamed, and assaulted because of our identities; and not having access to many rights and protections offered to our heterosexual neighbors--is not a problem, because that is the way (their) God intended it. How nice these conservative Christians, who were characterized as "underrepresented" by the Student Senator at A&M, can have some protective legislation enacted to make sure they don't feel any discomfort. They clearly are not as strong as one might think.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Email etiquette

I loved, loved, LOVED this Chronicle piece by Rob Jenkins about how to write an email when you are an academic administrator. I am exactly the person he mentions who has to rewrite the email before I send it.

I certainly have had these days.

My innate tendency is to write terse, pointed emails. My first pass is always something like: "I need this tomorrow." "Why didn't you do this?" "Your instructor is concerned that you haven't come to class for three weeks." Brusque is an understatement. Intellectually, I approached emails as shorthand--here is what I need, period. Why do all that fluffy, nice filler that just clutters up the email and makes me talk about things I don't really care about? I quickly learned that I needed to amend my style and tone to build relationships with colleagues, students, and supervisors, and, ultimately, get the kinds of results that I wanted.

My best teacher was one of my former supervisors. She started every email with something personal, a nice comment on something I had done well or a question about my life or my research. She also thanked me any time I did something for her or the program. Her emails were always friendly and engaging, and I never flinched when I saw her name in the email header. I took these lessons and incorporated them into my own email practice. I would bet that my colleagues are surprised that I don't write these warm, conversational emails naturally.

This is my vision of the chatty, sociable emailer.
I did have a heart-to-heart conversation with a staff person who worked closely with me, explaining my desire to ignore some of the "niceties" in emails when we exchange so many. (Sometimes we emailed back and forth 15-20 times in one day.) She was fine with a short, to-the-point approach, I think especially because I show my friendly personality in our casual, in-person interactions. And I made sure to stop in and chat (about her kids, her sports interests, the latest movie, etc.) a few times a week. I was careful about tone in emails, saying, "Could you get me X?" and "I'd really like the flier to look more like this." I wasn't dictatorial, just straightforward, and it worked for us.

Though I have capitulated to the chatty style of emails, I abhor the extraneous, endless loop of "thank you emails" that pervade academic administrative circles. Once person one says, "Thank you," and person two responds, "You're welcome," the exchange is done. If person two says, "You're welcome, and thanks for your work," I suppose person one can respond, "Glad to do it." But it really isn't necessary in my book. And if person two feels compelled to respond to the latter message, we have officially entered email hell.

I also rejoice when I get a bare-bones email from an administrator, because it allows me to do the same. When a Vice Provost send me a quick note asking a simple questions, such as, "How many students of color are in your program?", and signs it with his initials, it allows me to write a short sentence saying the number and signing with my own initials. No muss, no fuss. Love it.

So, I have embraced my inner friendly, sociable staff identity on emails, and I put it down to the price of the job. I have seen the results, and, therefore, I am a convert. That said, don't be upset if I don't thank you for thanking me.
 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back in the saddle again

Choirs of angels are singing, horns are blowing, and my resignation letter is sitting on my computer ready to be submitted!



Yes, folks, the Lesboprof is climbing back into the administrative saddle once again come fall. (Okay, this is likely the more appropriate of the metaphors, but when the news came through, I swear there was music!) This change comes following the disappointment of losing an in-house admin job, a sabbatical that was fairly successful in terms of getting over the disappointment and getting out some articles, and a return to full-time faculty status which, while more restful than the administrator position, left me feeling left out and wishing I could make a difference as structural issues arose.


I start the new position this summer, as I was able to satisfy the post-sabbatical requirements of my institution without having to stay an additional year. The new position is a shift for me, as it is at a regional public university instead of the flagship R1. I am certain to learn a lot in this new setting. The new job is a senior leadership position, and it will come with tenure and appointment at the level of full professor (VERY exciting and a big draw for the position). I also get to return to a part of the country my partner and I very much love.



So, we are celebrating here!


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Little bits of basketball mascot randomness

Watching all of this March Madness ball is making me a little punchy, so I will apologize up front for the strange focus of this post. But I am so amused by the Mascots for each team that it got me curious about university mascots in general.

There are two wikipedia pages with information on mascots: one lists each type of mascot (i.e., bobcat) and all the schools that use that mascot (no fewer than 15 colleges and universities claim the bobcat as their mascot); the other has an alphabetical listing of all of the names of the mascots and their schools (i.e., Cayenne — a costumed chili pepper for the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette). I had to look up Cayenne (at right) to see what a costumed chili pepper looked like, and he is quite freakish impressive. If you yourself bored between games, check these pages out. They are worth perusing.

Some of the mascots make sense in a very old-fashioned way. Jamestown athletes are known as the "Jimmies," student athletes at St. John's in Minnesota are known as the "Johnnies," and their brethren at St. Thomas (MN) are known as the "Tommies."

You gotta love the UC schools, who clearly went out of their way to select mascot animals that no one else wanted. UC-Santa Cruz went with the Banana Slugs, while UC-Irvine is the Anteaters. The slug is damn cute--at least this drawn version (left). The mascot version (right) is a little stranger. Another interesting mascot from the west coast is the Geoduck (pronounced "Gooey Duck") from Evergreen State. (I wouldn't know what a geoduck is if I hadn't been watching the last season of Chopped; it was one ingredient in the basket.) 


Some mascots are not what I would imagine when I thought of the school. I was surprised to see that Trinity Christian College chose the "Troll" (left) as their mascot. Seems an odd choice. He is kinda wild looking, in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way.

Not to be outdone, the students of Webster created their own mythic mascot: a Gorlok (below). According to Wikipedia, "The Gorlok is Webster University's school mascot. It is a mythical creature that was designed by Webster staff and students through a school contest. It has the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a Saint Bernard dog." Lest you wonder what such a creature would look like, I have added a picture below. (The in-person mascot looks a lot more cat-like.) Too much Star Trek for the students of Webster, hmm? ("The Gorloks are attacking, captain!" "Set phasers to stun!") I have to say, between the Troll and the Gorlok, I would be shooting for the Troll.

In this day of student athlete arrests, it is somewhat foreboding to name your team the Vandals (Idaho), Bombers (Ithaca), Chokers (Grays Harbor College), and Dirtbags (Long Island State baseball). I find it ironic that only one school claimed its athletes to be Gentlemen--the men's teams from Centenary--and they changed their mascot in 2007 to the Louisiana Catahoula--a very cute dog. Their women, of course, were the "Ladies," though they share that (previous) title with the women athletes at Kenyon College (whose men were more impressively named "Lords").

The real question, of course, is: Does the mascot name bear any relationship to how well a team does in the Big Dance? You can read through the list of championship teams and play a 2-player version of rock-paper-scissors, comparing the scariness of the mascots for each team to see if that justifies the win. For example, last year's champs, the Blue Devils, do seem more threatening than the Butler Bulldogs, with the supernatural angle and all.  Clearly, alligators would maul a buckeye (acorn like a horse chestnut), as they did in the 2007 game, but it may be hard to determine if the Florida Gators should have beaten the UCLA Bruins in 2006. Those of us without zoology degrees can get a hint from the television show "Animal Face-Off," which showed a simulated encounter between an alligator and an American Black Bear in the wild. In that version (you can watch it here, if you can stand it), the bear won. Unfortunately, it seems that a mythical bear beats an alligator in basketball.

I would encourage you to review your brackets and see which threatening and/or impressive team mascot should win the game. Hey, you can't do any worse than my current brackets!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dean for a Day

I am participating in the Pseudonym Exchange Blog, and I just did my first identity-switching post. I tackled an administrative question about student advisory committees from an interested reader in the style of my good friend, Dean Dad. I hope I do him justice, though he is far more sophisticated and thoughtful about administrative matters than I will ever be.

Check it out here.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reflections on a national LGBTQ Higher Ed conference

Timo Elliott picture of MOMA and skyline reflection
I have to say that after three days of fantastic panels, speakers, and workshops, I am well and truly exhausted. I came back to the room to work a little, and I can't even focus. My mind is reeling from the presentations and ideas, and I find myself just wanting to chill out and reflect.

This conference is one of few that brings together faculty, administrators, queer studies scholars and researchers, LGBTQ resource center professionals, national higher education group leaders, LGBTQ activists, and student affairs staff members in one venue. It becomes clearer that this is the coalition we need to affect change on university and college campuses. In small and large groups, we have networked, problem-solved, shared best practices, and communicated about our hopes and our challenges in trying to effect change in the academy.

The plenary speakers* have been outstanding. (*I missed one, so I cannot report on that speaker, but I will discuss all of the others.) On Thursday night, Anthropologist Gil Herdt discussed the history of LGBTs in the United States, discussed the transgressive potential of current policy initiatives (DADT repeal, ENDA, DOMA repeal, etc.), and laid out a plan for advocacy and organizing for comprehensive sexual health.

Herdt's message was challenged/complemented by one of Friday's plenary speakers, Kenyon Farrow, former director of Queers for Economic Justice, who criticized the traditional single-issue organizing approach most popular among our big national queer groups on behalf of a multi-issue, diverse people. Farrow reminded the conference attendees about the needs of homeless queer youth, queers of color, working-class and unemployed queer people, and other groups we privileged academic queers can tend to forget. He shared stories of queer, homeless, youth of color in New York City whose very existence has been criminalized; of HIV educators who have been arrested for loitering or been mistaken for sex workers; of transgender people who have been arrested as sex workers simply because they were transgender and carrying condoms on their person. Among the many issues he highlighted as most pressing were: AIDS and HIV (still a challenging issue, with very high rates of infection among men who have sex with men); health care reform; homeless queer youth; economic issues more broadly; and the larger criminal justice system, including prisons.

Farrow also discussed the challenges to organizers of remembering to engage in self-care, in staying connected to and nurturing personal sources of support, and in staving off burnout. He challenged academics to reach outside the academy to other LGBTQ communities that do not have access to higher education, which might also help us stay current with the issues that matter to the many LGBTQ communities.While Farrow didn't have all the answers, he did ask a lot of the right questions for those of us interested in maintaining and growing an active, energized, multi-issue social justice movement.

Perhaps the most moving plenary speaker was Sivagami "Shiva" Subbaraman, Director of the LGBTQ Center at Georgetown University. A product of Catholic education in India, an out lesbian who had once been heterosexually married, and a practicing Hindu, Subbaraman described ways to incorporate Ignatian philosphy, upon which Jesuit practice is rooted, into both the pursuit of a queer, social justice and support for LGBTQQ students in our institutions. She discussed how an approach to facilitating discernment and flourishing in our students can lead to their develop as a whole person. This struck a chord for me, as someone who has seen LGBTQ students really struggle with their spiritual and intrinsic selves, within and apart from their LGBTQ (and other) identities. She encouraged all of us to build on our own imaginations, as an engagement with "what is" is necessary to imagine "what may be" in the communities we desire to build. She challenged listeners to reach out in our relations to others and the larger world--especially those with whom we profoundly disagree, to move from a space of tension and contradiction to an acceptance of paradox and mystery.

The final plenary offered today by Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin, presenting on their amazing study of transgender populations. They have a book coming out in fall, The Lives of Transgender People (Columbia University Press), which is based on the results of "the first large-scale, national study of transgender people in the United States." More than 3,700 transgender people responded to the online survey, with almost 300 telephone qualitative interviews. Beemyn and Rankin were able to identify different subgroups within the transgender population, often associated with age cohorts, race and ethnicity, and labeling of oneself, that corresponded with specific experiences of identity formation, milestones, and conceptions of one's self and one's gender. Just based on the information they shared in the presentation, their findings could impact programming, policies, and practices on campuses and in communities around the country. I am eager to read the book when it is published this fall.

Tomorrow's sessions include a plenary about being a straight ally and a session on building a research infrastructure on LGBTQ issues in education by George Wimberly, the director of social justice and professional development in the American Educational Research Association.

Final takeaways from the conference (which isn't quite over) for me?
  1. We need to get sexual orientation and gender identity and expression on the common application for college, along with the NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement), so we can find out about LGBTQ students on our campuses and have some idea of the overall population from which we sample for our smaller studies. (Rankin noted that individual schools can add questions to the NSSE, so see if you can get these demographic questions added on your campus survey!)
  2. For those who want to create good teaching rubrics, check out Rubistar.com. It is free and fantastic! (No, there isn't anything especially queer about it, but gotta pass on a good idea when I find it!)
  3. We need to keep working across lines--disciplines, contingent and TT/Tenured faculty, student and academic affairs, faculty/staff, etc. to really effect changes on campuses, and that can only work if we try to take that approach in everything we do on campus. 
  4. We are never to old to grow and learn something new. And we should make sure to laugh... a lot.
Yes, I am leaving the conference excited, happy, refreshed, and energized by all of the fantastic ideas and work going on out in academe. I couldn't have asked for more.

If all this sounded good, save the date for next year's conference: March 8-11, 2012 in San Francisco. Perhaps we really can have a meet up! Drinks are on me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The queers are here... and they are ready to dialogue!

I have just arrived in San Francisco for the Expanding the Circle conference, a specialized conference on LGBTQ issues in higher education. The multidisciplinary conference, which starts tomorrow, covers many topics dear to my heart, including making universities more welcoming to LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff; religion and spirituality in queer communities; and queering the curriculum. Plenary speakers include folks from Queers for Economic Justice, the National Sexuality Resource Center, and feminist writer and activist Judy Grahn.

I am excited to be surrounded by so many queer folks. In fact, in the lobby when I was checking in, there were queers everywhere! Now, it may seem silly to write this in San Francisco, a city that is often considered the queer mecca. (At least, it was at one time, before towns in most states all over the country starting developing into their state's queer magnet: Durham, NC; Amherst, MA; Atlanta, GA; Seattle, WA, etc., I am talking to you!)... But there is something about going to a "boutique" queer conference in an actual boutique hotel that is intoxicating. Nothing like being surrounded by effete nancy boys, butch academic dykes, and the full range of gender/class/race/ethnicity at play.* And the damn thing hasn't started yet!

I am looking forward to meeting the other attendees and hearing the presentations. I really don't want to skip anything; there is at least one session during each time frame that is interesting to me! I haven't been able to say that at a conference in my discipline for ages. And with an attendance of 150-200 people, I am hopeful about to getting to know a number of folks here.

I have only attended a few LGBT-focused conferences in my time as an academic, and each brought with it the heady opportunity to meet and hear from the famous academic queers of the time. The first multidiscplinary/queer studies conference I attended was during my student days, and it was a blast. I couldn't afford to fly, so I drove across the country with someone I met online (to share expenses), stayed with a local grad student, and bought fast food and snacks to save on cash. I still remember the excitement of hearing famous scholars presenting at the height of their (early) fame:
  • Judith Butler (incredibly smart, well-spoken, and she had great (defined) arms; she reminded me a little bit of a bartender in an old-fashioned dyke bar, which some of you will understand is a compliment, especially coming from someone who was a serious baby-dyke at the time)
  • Michael Berube (smart and funny) 
The idea that I got to present my little paper at the same conference was amazing to me. I attended another small gathering hosted by CUNY's CLAGS program about the future of LGBT studies. There I got to hear from and speak with:
  • Amber Hollibaugh (well-spoken and quite a presence, but she didn't look as I had imagined)
  • John D'Emilio (very low key, funny, and smart)
  • Ellen Lewin (old guard at this point, she was a very cool customer in facing what I considered immature castigation of women's studies)
Looking back, I am still struck by two stories: (1) D'Emilio talked about running in a marathon to bring in money for the LGBT studies program; you gotta respect that. (2) Several faculty discussed strategies to get offer LGBT-related courses. Suggestions included putting anything "queer" after the colon, so it wouldn't show in students' transcripts; getting all the queer students to sign up for a class and drop it late, so the course would make, even with a small number of students. It was kinda sad.

There don't seem to be so many queer conferences these days, especially multidisciplinary ones, so I am treasuring this experience. I hope it lives up to my expectations. And who know who I will see? I don't think I will be as star-struck as I used to be, but it is always strange to meet someone who you know only by their academic work. I can see myself thinking, "Ah, so you are Herdt, G."

I, of course, will not be out as Lesboprof to any of the other folks at the conference, but if anyone who reads this is here for the conference, I am always up for a nightcap or a cup of coffee. Drop me an email at lesboprof@gmail.com and perhaps we can meet IRL!

Whistles as I get ready to meet a famous lesbian colleague for dinner on the town.
 

* Yes, that was a gratuitous Judith Butler reference. What can I say? I am trying to get in the queer studies frame of mind.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Freeing or flogging flagships

As a denizen of big state schools, most of whom would be considered Flagship Institutions (and don't you forget to capitalize those, sir!), I am increasingly interested in two warring approaches to these venerable schools.

On one side, we have the Biddy Martin/U Michigan/screw-the-system approach: one that says that, as much is expected of the Flagship U (in terms of research dollars, educating many undergrad and graduate students, and contributing to the well-being of the state economy), much should be given to these behemoths in the way of independence and autonomy. Martin's bid to create the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a new kind of governmental entity, separate from the rest of the UW system and the Board of Regents, is seen as a slap in the face by the rest of the UW schools and the Board. But one can understand both Martin's argument and Gov. Walker's interest in setting the campus free (and further reducing state financial contributions to the campus).

On the other side of the same coin is a move by Governors and legislators in states as diverse as Connecticut and Kansas to nickle-and-dime state schools as regards their non-faculty hiring. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy "wants to require that all non-teaching hiring at the state's public colleges and universities be approved by his budget office." Why? Well, an article in the Connecticut Mirror explains:
Non-faculty staff--which includes administration, maintenance, health service, public safety, financial services and information technology staff--comprise nearly 70 percent of full-time employees at the University of Connecticut. At the Connecticut State University System and the state's 12-campus community college system, the faculty-staff ratio is closer to 50-50, according to a State Department of Higher Education report.
"We've seen a lot of growth in non-faculty. Some of it is understandable but given the track record we've seen in the last 20 years, a little more engagement on position control is worth it," said Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti.
They explain this added measure of reviewing every new non-teaching hire, which they swear would not be a burden or add time to the hiring process (I am laughing out loud now), as saying that patrolling non-faculty hiring would make sure faculty didn't have to be laid off (laughing even louder now).

In Kansas, the state House has passed a bill to study outsourcing government services, including campus services. Now, this isn't uncommon, as many state schools outsource janitorial services, food services, and campus bookstores. But Kansas legislators, like Rep. McLeland, want to join the move to outsource even more, like residence halls.
For example, he said, there are hotel chains that are experts in housing. Perhaps, he said, dorms could be sold or leased to them.

State Rep. Barbara Ballard [who works at University of Kansas], D-Lawrence, opposed McLeland’s amendment. She said residence halls are more than places for students to sleep. They are homes for students where they participate in programs and can receive help. “Sometimes, privatizing will not quite do that,” she said.
As someone who worked for residence life as a grad student, I am VERY clear about the ways in which dorms are NOT hotels. The idea of treating dorms like hotels is kind of nuts to me. And many institutions have found that outsourcing is not necessarily the big money-saver they had hoped it would be. But that really isn't the purpose behind this post.

The larger question here is about the relationship between state governments and their institutions of higher education. As states reduce the amount of funding they give to their public colleges and universities, some state governments are moving towards less control over these institutions, while others are moving towards greater (some might say "micromanaging") control. It is difficult to say which trend will win, and which ought to win. Not every state school can handle being released to make its own way, and the outsourcing/micromanaging trend is sure to bring its own set of unintended consequences that will show up in the paper sooner or later, such as protests over low wages for workers, poor compliance with expected standards, rising costs of contracts, divisions among university and contract workers, and failure of contract entities to work well with university systems.

The goals of both approaches are much the same: reduce costs to the taxpayers and, reportedly, maintain strong public schools. The devil is in the details... and the definitions of what we mean by "strong public schools."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Publisher extras for instructors

Okay, this is just a short post to bitch about publisher extras for instructors. I actually appreciate the supplemental materials that can come with textbooks, such as PowerPoint presentations, glossaries of terms and definitions, quizzes and testbanks, in-class exercises, etc. I seldom use them without tweaking them a little bit, but they can really help me think about the important concepts I want students to understand, new ways to help students get into the material, etc.

That said, who does the editing for these things? The PowerPoints are the worst: always incredibly ugly templates, poorly laid out on the screen, and lacking notes and other resources that make PPT lecture materials useful. One might even build in examples and questions that would break up an especially boring lecture, the way real lecturers do! Exercises can be very unclear, and quizzes and tests can include questions on the most mundane topics, completely bypassing the central topics being discussed in the chapter.

If you are going to ask authors to spend time creating these supplemental materials, make them worthwhile! Have someone edit these materials as well.

**Walks away grumbling to continue editing the PPT for class. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

University employees: Activate!


Let's hear it for the Arizona universities employees and other state employees who are participating in a federal lawsuit to maintain domestic partner health insurance benefits, charging that Governor Brewer's mean-spirited bill (House Bill 2013) to remove these benefits is discriminatory. They won the right to a hearing and an injunction from stopping the insurance in U.S. District Court, and the case will be heard by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

The best part? The hearing is being held on February 14th: Valentine's Day! Now that is a great way to celebrate love and commitment!

In finding for the plaintiffs, the District Judge cited equal protection claims, writing, "the Ninth Circuit has recognized there is 'an inherent inequality' in allowing some employees to participate fully in the State's health plan, while expecting other employees to rely on other sources, such as private insurance or Medicaid. 'This back of the bus' treatment relegates plaintiffs to a second-class status by imposing inferior workplace treatment on them, inflicting serious constitutional and dignitary harms that after-the-fact damages cannot adequately address."

When the state tried to argue that maintaining these benefits would cost others the denial of important services because of a budget shortfall, the judge rejected the argument, writing, "Contrary to the state's suggestion, it is not equitable to lay the burden of the state's budgetary shortfall on homosexual employees, any more than on any other distinct class, such as employees with green eyes or red hair."



Lambda Legal is representing the plaintiffs in this case, which they see as very important on a national scale for determining the rights of same-sex couples. Kudos to these academics who are stepping into the limelight and taking a stand for civil rights of same-sex couples.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It never rains in California

Okay, I have had times that I have been really ticked off with my colleagues, but this LA Times story highlighted a professor who was REALLY pissed off. Literally.



Apparently, Cal State Northridge math professor Tihomir Petrov, a grown-ass man in his 40s, was so upset with his colleague that Petrov had taken to urinating on said colleague's door. Not once or twice, mind you, but enough times that the university actually set up a hidden camera to catch the perpetrator. Now Petrov's picture is in the paper, and he has been charged with a crime. This scenario is so unbelievably outrageous as to seem like something from a Richard Russo academic novel. And like reading the Russo novel, this story gave me a case of the giggles.

I keep imagining the possible explanations to the jury:
  1. It wasn't intentional; I have incontinence and am leaving puddles everywhere I go.
  2. The research he produces is such shit, I mistook his office for the bathroom.
  3. In my culture, urinating on someone's property is a symbol of respect and admiration. 
  4. What right did you have to tape me without my consent? That is a human rights violation. I am suing the university.
  5. I have a Pavlovian reaction when I see his door, because it used to be the men's room on this floor before the recent renovation.
  6. Ah, hell, just tell me the fine and I'll pay it. And I might do it again, too. Fuck it, I have tenure and it's not like I'm gonna get a raise anytime soon.
Closing thought: Peeing on a colleague's door is such a guy thing to do. Women wouldn't do this, and not only because we don't pee well standing up. It's just, well, gross.

I am sorta hoping Petrov has a medical condition or an active substance problem, because otherwise, this story is just pathetic. And nothing like getting your name **and picture** in the local paper and national news for this kind of sad story.The best coverage may be the LA Daily News, which notes Petrov's publications and alma mater.

Still giggling.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First day jitters

My first class meets tomorrow, and I am nervous once again. Even though I have been teaching for more than 15 years. Even though my Monday course is not a new prep. Even though I am confident that I can maintain control of a classroom. Even though I have won teaching awards and received pretty good/excellent student evaluations for years. So, you ask, why am I nervous?

This situation is a little like waiting to go on stage in theater. As an actor, I have prepared, memorized my lines, practiced with the other actors, and created a character I can inhabit for the course of the production. But there is one thing I do not control in this play: the audience. As you other performers and instructors know, different audiences react differently to the same play. A dead audience can feel like the kiss of death, and it means that the actors have to work that much harder (with none of the energy exchange) than if they had a "live" audience. One good laugher--you know the ones, they laugh with an openness and clarity that encourages laughter in others--can improve the whole tenor of the audience, and their absence is keenly missed. Students are much the same, in that the group of them becomes a force, larger and separate from all of them individually. That force can bode good or ill, and it is hard to know from the first how that happens.

Managing the tenor and energy of the classroom can be done in a variety of ways: humor, formality, friendliness, intelligence, structure, laissez faire, facilitating... Most of us hew to our most comfortable approaches, those that tend to work for us most easily, though good teachers know we have to modify that approach to the needs of the class. I am mostly comfortable with a friendly, humor-invoking stance, backed up by a commitment to preparation and structure. That said, if the students are acting out inappropriately, I can become a regimented bitch for a while. Like an audience, you can lose a class at almost any time, though a skilled instructor can usually win them back.

I view pre-class nervousness and anxiety as a gift that provides me with energy and excitement. I need that energy to be engaged with the students, to provide leadership to the class learning experience, and to get my ass out of bed and over to the classroom. That said, I have reviewed my notes and presentation materials, practiced my opening day presentation out loud, and reconsidered my plans several times. This anxiety doesn't keep up all semester long, thank goodness, thanks to years of teaching. No, the nervousness is just at the beginning of the semester, as I prepare to face a new audience, a new opportunity to teach. Once I have a feel for the audience, and they for me, we strike an easier balance that usually sees me through. And if, for some reason, the class takes an unexpected turn, my experience tells me that I can handle it and adapt to insure better learning.

So, like any performer (even the King!), I am waiting expectantly in the wings for my time on stage, hoping the performance will turn out good for all of us. And, unlike a play or a one-time performance, I have all semester to perfect the show.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hard stuff

I writing to commend to you an excellent essay written by Dr. Madeleine Li  about her failure to attain tenure. The story is especially heartbreaking, as her father was dying during that same period. To add insult to injury, Li describes being asked to be the institution's graduation speaker (yes, for the whole institution) at the same time that she is needing to find a new job. Her grace and commitment to the students comes through very strongly, and I finished the essay with nothing but respect for Dr. Li.

There are a number of elements to the tenure process that are out of a person's control, leading candidates for tenure to a state of anxiety and a constant series of questions: Will the book get a publisher? Is the publisher good enough? Will the revise and resubmit get through in time? Will they choose an outside reviewer who has a problem with me or my approach to research? Will the two people on faculty who have a grudge against me/my research/my teaching use their pull in the department/college/administration to sink my tenure proposal? Even people with strong records have reason to worry that no one's tenure is guaranteed.

I have known a number of people who did not get tenure, and the experience was devastating for them, even if they were not completely surprised by the decision. Li explains that when her book was not accepted by the press (though it was supported for revision), she knew her chances had diminished. She could have played the tenure game and published essays and articles instead of a book to improve her chances, but that wasn't her vision for her work. That said, embarrassment, frustration, and anger marked her remaining time at her institution.

Yet, I have also seen these same people who didn't get tenure at their original institutions thrive in their next place of employment. Some of these educators were in a situation that was a bad fit (research v. teaching institution), while others were undone by timing issues, tenure process issues, or personal challenges that were addressed by being afforded more time. New institutions and new tenure clocks made a big difference in their abilities to be successful. I hope that Dr. Li's story follows this same trajectory.

This essay is the first in a series, one I look forward to following.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Course Preps

Like my bloggy friend, Dr. Crazy, I am returning from sabbatical this semester and teaching a new course prep. Yes, this means part of my sacred sabbatical was spent prepping the new course. (And unlike Crazy's teaching-oriented institution, my R1 will not be impressed by the time I spent on teaching.) And yes, I will bitch about new course preps like anyone else, especially when I have research and writing that is waiting to be done. But honestly? I believe that new course preps are a blessing dressed as a curse.



The curse is more obvious: new course preps take a LOT of time, especially if they are done right. If the course is required for majors, I have to be sure that the readings and assignments address the approved learning objectives. In some schools, it requires even more, including negotiation with other faculty who teach the same course to agree on common textbooks, assignments, speakers, and/or field trips. I have taught courses with a lot of autonomy and others where we negotiate everything, and since I often get my way, I am fine either way. (BTW: That is tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, with more than a bit of truth.)

Regardless of how autonomous an instructor can be, though, a new course prep requires:
  • reviewing multiple textbooks on your topic and selecting the one(s) that best communicate the points you (and the master syllabus) think important
  • finding useful articles that illustrate or support the points you are trying to get across in class
  • selecting videos, webpages, and other supplemental materials that will enhance student learning
  • preparing any course web materials (quizzes, surveys, games, group activities, links, etc)  
  • identifying potential speakers or external activities to make class more interesting
  • designing in-class activities, assignments, and exams (along with grading criteria) that both encourage and assess student learning while taking into account different students' learning styles
  • finishing a new syllabus
  • a glass or two of wine and/or handfuls of chocolate (...maybe that is just me)


All of that takes time. Obviously, all of this work is not totally finished before the class begins. Instructors will likely be securing guest speakers, films, and determining in-class activities up to the last minute.  (That may not be true for online courses that have to be "in the can" before the semester starts.) But even for those of us teaching traditional, face-to-face courses, a lot of the prep work (readings, assignments, etc.) should be done before you greet the class on day one. (Makes it easier to answer those pesky, type-A students' questions about expectations on a paper that won't occur until late in the semester.) As a result, part of your prior semester and/or the winter or summer break will be spent on significant course prep--time you won't be doing research or writing... or traveling, taking a vacation, or simply chilling at home with fiction on the Kindle.

So, where is the blessing in the new course prep, you ask? After all, you argue persuasively, isn't it better to just refine all the hard work you did prepping the courses you have already taught a few times, leaving you more time for the all-important research and writing?? You could become an expert in specific courses, and you would never have to do another new prep again!


Well, here is where I have found the blessing this semester, as I prepare for a brand new course (my ninth in six-and-a-half years):
  • New preps give me a chance to be creative. I get to try new approaches to teaching, new books, new activities, and to incorporate new ideas.
  • New preps give me more insight into the discipline. I review syllabi from other programs, examining what they see as important and how they approach the central arguments in the field.
  • New preps allow me to focus on a formerly untapped aspect of my own knowledge. This is especially true this semester, because I am teaching a course I have never taught before, but it is on a topic where I do a good deal of research and writing. I then get to bring this knowledge into the classroom, while the discussions and readings from class get me excited about my own research and writing.
  • New preps keep me from being bored (and boring) in class. I had that teacher once who taught from what I was sure were 15 year old class notes, handwritten on yellowing notepaper. It was sad and ridiculous. His information was out-of-date, and he was surly when challenged by his students. The poor man needed a change... badly.
New course preps are both curse and blessing, but for me, the blessing is winning out. Classes start soon, and I am excited to go back after sabbatical. I am not sure I would feel that way if I was just recycling old courses. So, new class, here I come!