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.


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)

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.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I love Dr. Crazy... Can I say that? Seriously, her blog is always interesting and often challenging. Today, though, Crazy went above and beyond. Yes, she took time in her blog to mention a phenomenon with which most academics, especially women academics, are familiar: I will call it "dick-i-tude."

Dick-i-tude is the assumption by male academics that everyone should defer to them. It becomes a dick-related issue because it is just so freakin' male.

I am sure that there are women academics who think it is their right to undermine processes, take up physical and verbal space, and expect everyone to defer to their own perspective... I mean, these women MUST exist. But, in my 10 years as a faculty member and 22 years in higher education, I have only encountered this kind of behavior in men. And it is so incredibly maddening. And it is paired, as Crazy reminds us, with society's corresponding lack of willingness to deal with a woman speaking out, speaking up, advocating her position, and fighting for her own values and needs. She is cast as demanding, needy, pushy, whiny, a castrating bitch, and other negative terms.

I had my own example of dick-i-tude just today in a first meeting of an interdisciplinary committee. We were informed about the purpose of the meeting and asked to introduce ourselves. The leaders--a man and a woman--even started themselves, so we knew what the expected parameters were: name, discipline, and area of research that relates to the committee. Should last about 1-2 minutes, tops. Everything went well until we came to Dr. Oldwhiteguy. Oh he of the white male penis felt the need to expand on his own disclosure. We spent the next 6-8 minutes learning about Oldwhiteguy's latest research project, the findings, and ongoing disagreements he is having with his co-PI about interpreting the findings. It could have been worse, but it was bad enough.

We all basically acted like he farted--inwardly grimacing and ignoring the stink, and we continued and finished introductions. It did make me wonder, though, what a whole semester in meetings with this joker would be like. Will we be treated to little treatises like this at every meeting? Will he never recognize that he is colonizing the airspace? Will the chairs feel empowered to tell him to can it? The first interaction didn't bode well.

Now, as I explained to Crazy, the nice thing about being a big old dyke is that all the criticisms the dicky-boys might lay on women are already part and parcel of my disparaged identity, which means that I can't lose. If I interrupt and create my own space to speak, I am just living into my manhating, pushy, lesbo-self. If I call Oldwhiteguy out, privately or publicly (though I almost never do the latter unless he is my friend or I can play it as a joke), I am just acting like a dyke. The best part of being a big scary lesbian in academic settings is that the dicky boys are secretly afraid that (a) I have a secret penis that is just as big as theirs, or (b) I am proof that you can live a good life (and even get off) without one of those pesky penises (or peni, if that is the correct plural). I find that managing these dicky colleagues is not as difficult for me as it can be for my younger, more attractive, heterosexual female colleagues.

I have confronted a few of my male friends and instructors about their dickishness, occasionally, when I felt like it was getting away from them or bothering me in a way that was impeding my own work. A few years ago, I had a fantastic conversation with a good male friend when, early in our relationship, he dickishly implied--through his actions and his words--that he was smarter, better read, and better educated than me, and that he would educate me. Well, he never said that outright, of course, but that was the implication. So, when I explained how he was coming off, the way he was deploying his privilege, and how much it was pissing me off, he totally got it. He had heard similar criticism before from other women in his life, and he knew he had some dickish tendencies to address. I left the conversation feeling better about him and better about myself. That said, it was a risky conversation to have, and had he not been a reflective and thoughtful guy who was committed to feminist and anti-oppressive interactions, we could have had a massive fight that ended our friendship and cost me access to a lot of opportunities at the university.

After talking over Crazy's post and my committee experience with the gf, we decided that the primary reason women don't tend to exhibit dick-i-tude is rooted in our socialization to take the temperature of the room. When I am at a meeting, I notice who speaks and who doesn't, who looks unhappy and who looks pleased, who wants to talk and who wishes they were elsewhere... And I take the temperature when I speak. Not that I can't speak out, knowing that I am pissing people off. I have certainly done that. The difference is that the dick doesn't know how his actions/words are affecting people and he can't be bothered to care.

The options in how to deal with dick-i-tude from more senior colleagues are limited:
  1. Expect it, accept it, and laugh about it with friends ("Oh, there he goes again. Do you think he gets cold when he whips it out and leave it out there like that?")
  2. Expect it, resent it, and stew silently about it ("I can't believe he did that again. How am I supposed to live like this? Maybe I should look for a new, dick-free job." Good luck with that, by the way.)
  3. Expect it, interrupt it, and live in fear ("Uh, Oldwhiteguy, I have to interrupt you. We're running out of time, and I want to make sure that we hear from everyone." or "Actually, Oldwhiteguy, we already voted on that and we went the other way. Now we are discussing how to implement our decision.")
  4. Be pre-emptive and see if you can stop it before it starts. (see my story above)

One size doesn't fit all, that's for sure. Which option you take depends on the time, the situation, and the people involved--not to mention your own mood, stamina, and mental health. I seem to fluctuate between 1, 3, and 4, depending on my levels of personal investment and professional fear regarding the dick in question. I also try to remind myself that every man with dick-i-tude has been socialized that way, just like the passive-aggressive women that drive me nuts. All I can do is try not to let either one get to me, and to do all in my power not to become either one of them.

Thanks, Crazy, for sparking a good discussion and another "Aha!" moment for me.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Depressing start to a day...or a job search

Nothing like a little bad news to mess up a perfectly good Monday, if there is such a thing. I started my day by checking in on Inside Higher Ed. Lo and behold, I found a column by Jean Dowdall, Senior VP at the headhunting firm, Witt/Kieffer, about administrative searches in a time of recession. The highlights for job hunters?

  • Fewer vacancies, due to hiring freezes, fewer retirements, and people unwilling or unable to risk all the issues attendant in a move--selling the house, relocating the spouse, and other such rhyming issues.
  • More reliance on internal candidates to save money on searches and relocations, as well as saving the school from taking a risk on an unknown quantity.

As an applicant for administrative jobs, Dowdall's column made me feel a little like the tenured job seeker from the Chronicle's First Person column, whose title was "Could I have picked a worse time?"

I sent out a couple job applications this season, and I haven't heard anything back. I am fighting the urge to make a call and ask what is happening... You know, the "Where are you in the process?" call that all search chairs hate. The gf is really hopeful about these positions and their location, too, which makes the situation even harder, though it is nice to share the "not knowing."

I know the economic picture is grim, putting the hurt on schools who want to hire. I have doctoral students who are having trouble finding positions, and that is almost unheard of in my field. So, I am not surprised that administrative jobs are also dwindling. But somehow I thought that the jobs I was applying for were good fits and sound prospects. Maybe I should give Dowdall a call?!

Ah, well. Not the way to start a Monday...