Monday, February 28, 2011

Autopilot and an Early Thirsty

Dear Class of Slackers,

I have decided that, as a whole, you are a waste of my time. So far, I’ve given the best I have of myself to this class, as I do all my classes. You haven’t proven yourself worthy of my best, though. You’ve barely proven yourself worthy of my consciousness. So, here’s how the rest of this semester is going to work.

You don’t have your book? Oh well. You don’t know what page we’re on because you went to the bathroom? Oh well. You don’t know when the assignment is due because you were late to class? Oh well. You think it’s unfair that I won’t accept your late work past the grace period? Oh well.

I’m going to show up on time. I’ll begin the lesson. You either will or will not pay attention and participate. Frankly, I don’t care anymore. If you don’t participate or ask questions that are actually relevant to what we’re doing, I’ll simply continue on.

At the end of class, I will pack my belongings and leave. That’s it. You’re on your own.


Q: I am preparing myself to turn on autopilot for the rest of the term, but already feel guilty about it. CM colleagues, have you ever just given up on a class and “gone through the motions?”

A Question from Mathsquatch

Mathsquatch is still alive and will be posting some good ol' smackdown in the next week or two! But, until then, I have a question. What should I do with a drama queen who is now going through some real tough situations? He already used up his allotted free absences on overblown drama, but is now going through real, honest to goodness drama. He just sent me a message asking me how he can pass the class given his tough situation. His grades are nowhere close to passing and he missed a midterm exam. What would you tell him?

The Aging Adjunct Is Given a Chance He Might Not Take. He's Ready for Your Scorn.

I had a tenure track job - once. But it was 10 years ago. I ended up having to leave mid-stream because of my father's health problems.
Got Scorn?

But then I found myself unable to get back on the tenure track. I've been adjuncting at a variety of places ever since. I'm one of the classic whiners, too, always bitching about how hard it is, how little money it is, and how we get disrespected. I teach anywhere there are classes, and I'm able to just barely pay my bills. I'm an aging adjunct, unsure of my place in the profession, just scrapping and scraping to have a career.

I've been on the job market for ten years then, and I've applied about 350 times during that stretch. I've had - at most - 25 phone or skype interviews, and 5 glorious campus interviews over those ten years.

And on Friday, for the first time, I received a job offer.

Get ready to paint me as ungrateful or whatever.

The job is at a shitty place, a school I'd never want to tell people about. It's got a lousy reputation, is in a city where I could probably live, but where I would have to leave a good number of friends and family behind - I'm unmarried. The school suffers from OUD, or online university disease. It's mostly known for its wide variety of online degree programs, taught by a dispersed group of adjuncts.

Yes, I know I should have thought more about the place when I first applied. But I don't know how else to explain the desperation of 10 years of adjuncting. I felt as if I'd take a full time job ANYWHERE, and so I applied EVERYWHERE.

And then the job offer.

At first I was ecstatic: health benefits, salary, an office, an academic home, all the stuff I've told myself I longed for. But I called my first buddy to tell him and he said, "Xxxxxxxx College, what's that?" And I started to tell him, "Well, it's a college in Xxxxxxxx; it's got an undergrad population of about 5000, but mostly it's known for their online schools." And my buddy said, "Ohhhhhhhhhh, THAT school."

And all day it went like that. The most encouraging thing I heard was, "Well, at least you'll have a job."

It's ranked in the fourth tier of its region, within 2-3 spots of the very bottom. The facilities are old and in disrepair. They use an inordinately high number of adjuncts in their traditional undergrad college. The faculty in my department seemed unhappy and worn down. One of them drank to near blackout condition at my dinner. One kept saying, "Well, it's nice when class is over each day to go home to my little one and his daddy!"

My buddies are not snobby; I don't think I'm snobby. But the place has got little to offer except for the fact that it's desperate enough to hire me, who's proven to be unhirable for 10 years.

I know that there are much worse problems in academia, but could anyone weigh in with a sincere opinion about my dilemma. I have another day to reply. Of course I want a full time job. I want to be fully employed. I've spent ten years fighting for this chance. I just fucked up by applying to a place (others, too, I'm sure) where I don't think I imagined I'd ever have to consider. I want my career to mean something, to do good work at good places. The truth is, I'd be embarrassed to join Xxxxxxxxxx College.

Has anyone faced this problem down? Can anyone offer some perspective? I'm sick of searching, sick of sending out job letters every year, sick of adjuncting. But will I just exchange those problems for other problems? Should I stay put and keep pitching? What if it's another ten years?

Does anyone teach at a place you're embarrassed to call home?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Last-Minute Larry Strikes Again

After the last time we encountered Larry, I thought I'd seen the bottom limit of snowflakery. That incident was anticlimactic, as so many of them are: he turned in a terrible assignment, received a zero, asked why...and finally clued in to the fact he'd sent me that thoroughly idiotic e-mail. He was embarrassed enough to not even request extra credit.

This evening, I receive an e-mail asking if I would please review the sources for his midterm paper, check if they pass the test of "scholarly and peer-reviewed." The assignment's due at midnight, but I'm once again in a good, mellow place. He got my name right, so I take a look. They're all unpromising webpage links, and I shake my head. I follow them anyway.

I am led to the blog of a former student. This former student has, for some unfathomable reason, posted her papers for others to enjoy. At the top of each post:

Paper #: Elementary Basketweaving for Nonmajors. Prof. Batavia.

Why, Larry? WHY?

bad sunday haiku...again


sisyphus said, "i'm
going downhill, again." i
wake. sisyphus said...


spring threatens us with
thaw, but don't you believe it:
snowflakes never melt.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Questioning Quinn Queries With A Weekend Thirsty on Plagiarism.

So the situation is this: a student cheated on his senior thesis. He completely plagiarized pages and pages worth in the final draft. I was his thesis consultant/advisor. The final draft that was submitted did not look anything like the drafts I had tried to work on with this student. I say "tried," because he rarely showed up for meetings. He always had a sporting event ("We have an away game today") or a family crisis ("My cousin's child drowned") to use as an excuse to not come to his meetings or to respond to feedback I provided him. Nevertheless, he cheated. Because of FERPA, no one in the department can acknowledge to his fellow classmates that he is being expelled because of this plagiarism, which is said student's fourth major infraction with academic dishonesty this year. Last semester he plagiarized two essays and cheated on a take-home final exam (by paying a friend to write the exam for him).

The problem is this: the student is telling all of his friends that I failed him because he did not show up to meetings and because I have always secretly hated him. He claims that I 'planted' the 12 pages of plagiarized text into his thesis and deleted what he'd originally written. Since all the professors (and our dean) know this student to be a pathological liar, I am not worried about anyone other than students believing these lies. However, students do not know the truth behind this student's behavior. All of his classmates are giving me the evil eye, some have stopped coming to class, and others are spreading rumors that I am hateful and out to seek revenge on this student because I hate him (which would be a good reason for him to have selected me as his thesis consultant/advisor, right?). I cannot reveal the true nature of his academic dishonesty because of FERPA.

What do I do?


Friday, February 25, 2011

Law Students Are Funny (?)

Gattaca? Gah!

Does anyone remember the "Gattaca" posts over at RYS?

There's a listserv at my college and it often gets used by people who need subs for classes. (What happened to cancelling classes, by the way? My grad school teachers had to occasionally do it, and as far as I can tell I've not been stunted by it.)

Anyway, on any given week I see a dozen requests for subs that all say something like this:

"Oh no, I've just found that I (have an abcess, lost my dog, need to rescue a penguin, am a lazy fuck, deny responsibility as a way to fend off happiness) and I need a sub for tomorrow's class. The sub will show a DVD (Gattaca), and pass around an attendance sheet. Thanks!"

Is it always Gattaca?

And what does the showing of Gattaca do for the students? Is it an all purpose stop gap? Is it really better for your students to watch Gattaca than anything else that a sub might do, even a discussion of some kind, or writing time, or - shit - a walk to the art gallery?

Is it Ethan Hawke? Jude Law? Is that the dynamic that comes into play? Is it the only DVD college profs own and keep in their office for emergencies?

Just wondering.

Fritz from Framingham is Frustrated.

Fritz Wondering
Where Hal Goes.
It's not my students. They're pretty cool and work pretty hard. But I can't say the same for my next door colleague Half-a-Day Hal.

Hal is full time just like me. But he's NEVER here. He strolls in a few minutes late every day, getting to his class 5-10 minutes after it's supposed to start. He's back in his office before the class time is up. He shuffles in there for a few minutes, pokes his head around to ask if I want coffee from the caf, and then leaves his office for almost the entirety of his office hour.

He strolls back eating a bear claw, gives a wave, and is back out the door again before his office hours are over.

He doesn't seem frazzled or bothered. He has a grin almost all of the time. I suspect his stress level is quite a bit lower than mine. I assume he's doing an okay job in class because his students seem to like him - when they do find him in.

When the chair comes around in the afternoon with some random act of servitude, he looks at Hal's door and finds it's closed, and says instead, "Hey, Fritz. I need someone to sit on the Rock Toting Committee." Of course I'm in my office. I keep the number of hours the handbook requests. And I'm here longer than that, too, grading, meeting with students, whatever.

Half-a-Day Hal and I are both tenure track. You'd think he'd be aiming at keeping a job, but everyone seems to like him. "That Hal," people say, admiringly. Are they fucking kidding?

Midterm Madness

I usually teach writing, and only writing. Endless comp classes of one kind or another, my life a slightly fraying, slightly warping tape loop.

Except that every once in a while, I get paroled for one-fourth of my semester's course load for a lit class. This semester, it's your basic survey of literature class, a 200-level course that is designed to introduce students to the joys of literature.

Next week, there's a midterm exam. I gave my students the format for the midterm exam this week. I'm only holding them to five weeks of material for the midterm, because they also had a short essay that they turned in and I figure it may take some time for some of the most recent stuff to sink in.

It is not open book. There is no study guide. It covers a finite amount of material that we have been discussing from (I swear it feels like this) the beginning of time. I explained to the class that I expect them to be able to apply key concepts to selections from the book--an anthology that also contains explanations of how to approach and understand literature, a nice little book, really--and that I will give them the excerpts they need to complete the exam. The exam has a variety of question types. It should take them an hour.

This is what transpired when I made the terrible mistake of asking, "Are there any questions?"

Student A: Are we going to be responsible for things in assigned chapters of the book that we haven't discussed in class?

Me: Yes.

Student A: But, we haven't discussed them!

Me: Yes, but we've discussed nearly everything, and you've applied these concepts in class to selections of texts, individually and in groups.

Student A: But, how can we understand them if we haven't discussed them in class? I'm really confused.

Me: We have discussed most of the material in class. It's impossible to discuss all of the material from the text in class.

Student A: But, I don't really learn anything unless it's discussed in class. How am I supposed to know this?

Me: Well...this is a 200-level course, and it's your responsibility to ask questions about material from the text that you don't understand. You've had plenty of opportunity to ask questions about material that you don't understand.

Student A, indignantly: When? Can you tell me when I've had the opportunity to ask these questions?

Me, politely: Yes, I can. In every class, I ask the class if there are things from the book that you don't understand. That's one opportunity. I also hold many office hours per week, and those provide another opportunity for you to ask questions about things that you don't understand. And you're often asked to respond, in writing, to questions about the course material, at the beginning and the end of class. I can think of several instances in the first half of the semester when those responses would have provided opportunities for you to ask questions about materials you don't understand.

Student B, quietly: This is bullshit!

Me: What was that, Student B?

Student B: Nothing.

Student C: I think what Student B was trying to say is that this is going to be really hard. I mean, without notes. And you just sprung it on us.

Me, calmly: Okay, then. As this is a 200-level class with a 100-level course as its prerequisite, I've been operating under the assumption that each of you knows how to read a syllabus--the same syllabus that we went over as a group on the first day of class. That syllabus clearly explains that there will be a midterm exam and it gives you the date. I'm also operating under the assumption that this isn't the first exam you've ever taken, given that this is a 200-level course. So...if you've had the information ahead of time and I'm also explaining the exam more than a week in advance, I'm at a loss as to how this exam and its nature can be a surprise. Other questions?

Student D: If you're not going to hold a review session, can we at least have a review guide or something?

Me, again calmly, politely: You do have review materials at your disposal. You have your textbook. You have your notes. You have handouts on material that we've covered. You have quizzes that you've taken. You also have many office hours between now and the exam to come and discuss material with me. If you can't make office hours, email me.

The class reacted to this as though I had dropped a bomb on them. Luckily, the timing of this was such that after I reminded them of their many review options, it was time for class to end. I told them that I was available to answer questions after class, and not one of the 40 of them lingered to ask.

Not one has come to office hours. Not one has emailed. As far as I know, no one's complained to my chair, either.

Moments like these in the classroom feel like tipping points to me: If I really think about the implications of the ways in which my students communicated with me--I mean, really, really, really think about them--I will teeter into an abyss from which I will never emerge, and despair for the future of humanity.

BPB is uncommonly snark-free

I had to take a break from the snark, but I'm back - read that to mean, "It's midterms! Ahhhhhhh! I need to unload!" Unfortunately... or fortunately, depending on how you look at it... I have great students this term.

There is one who conveniently had walking pneumonia for a month, so her dissection teammates had to do the lion's share of the work for 3 weeks. Oh, and the one who regularly vomits because she can't handle cadaveric dissection. But she gargles with mouthwash after and brings her own barf baggies and never backs down, so it's all cool.

I'm wondering if it's one of those extraordinarily rare nexuses of good students that I've heard tell of from silverbacks. Or if it's the fact that this is the first upper division course I've taught and the seniors just have the sophomores beat. Or if I'm being punked. Regardless, I have no snark at the moment. But, the midterm is this weekend. I may LOTS of it come Monday...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Applying for jobs at the associate level or has Snarkygirl lost her mind?

It all started when a friend pointed out that there were several jobs that seemed to be hiring at my level (associate). I looked and thought, well maybe it is time to make a change. I applied to all four knowing full well that three would outright reject me. The letters came and I felt nothing. I did what I usually do with rejection letters, I shredded them and moved on. But that fourth job, advertised at the asst or associate level, the one that sounded just like me in a place I would love to live, was a different story. I was contacted several weeks ago and invited to Skype with the committee. I was thrilled. The interview went well and I imagined that maybe they would invite me to campus. I wrote a thoughtful thank you note to the the committee that evening and immediately got an e-mail back from the chair telling me how my work is wonderful and compelling. I was jazzed. I was convinced I would get an on-campus interview, but now four weeks later, dead silence. I know that there was at least one other search they were conducting, but shouldn't they have contacted me by now one way or the other? Honestly, I am really confused. I looked at the job wiki and found that very little is posted and mostly in the form of "has anyone heard if ..." questions. I know I should be wiser at this point in my career, but I am truly baffled. Should I assume it is a done deal and forget about it, shred the rejection letter when it comes, or is there something about searches at this level that I am missing? Are they conducted differently? Please advise.

Beaker Ben finally hears a reasonable excuse

The current wave of unrest in the midwest mideast has brought to my ears the most reasonable student excuse ever.

"I can't concentrate on studying. My cousin is fighting in the revolution."

These are foreign graduate students. (I know, what other type of chemistry grad student is there?) I can delay my exam for a few days but I doubt that will solve the problem. These disputes seem to take longer to settle than our faculty meetings.

As the culturally sensitive guy that I am, I told them not to get their beards and hijabs in a knot. We can work something out. After much deliberation, I've offered the students to choice of writing the following assignment instead of taking the advanced quantum mechanics exam next week. If they are thinking about living in an awesome and free country, this should keep 'em happy.

Choose one of the following people and write a five page essay about why he or she is the greatest American ever.

A. Toby Kieth, greatest singer to use the lyric "boot in your ass"
B. George W. Bush, one of the top 50 U.S. presidents
C. Ronald Reagan, father of our country
D. Tom Landry, coach of America's Team
E. Sarah Palin, best, um, former governor? ... nevermind, she's hot

Consider your choice carefully. No partial credit will be given.

After announcing this policy, the students forgot about all their personal problems. You wouldn't believe how much quantum mechanics those kids are learning. It's like a modern day Solvay Conference!

UPDATE: Made minor edit 4 hrs later.

Big Thirsty on Minty Freshness

Reading the travails of poor Ned from North Norwich set me to wondering: why does everyone seem to want to hire the "freshly minted"? I don't get it. Seems like a candidate with a couple of years of teaching after the Ph.D., and a bit more scholarship, would be the better candidate. But no...we're going through this right now at my university, where a candidate much like Ned was passed over for the Mento. In many cases (such as ours) the "minty fresh" get hired without even having completed their Ph.D.

I'm no Breath Saver myself but I don't get it. I just don't get it. All other things being equal, I would definitely go for Ned. So, can someone explain it to me? Is it something beyond "You've been on the vine a bit and not snapped up, so you are thus devalued in our eyes, and we can make a grab for a new person who hasn't yet been rejected by multiple search processes"?

Is it really the case, even now, that we think someone that hasn't been hired immediately is worth less? Because if it's as simple and stupid as that, we're all fucked.

Edited because I can't spell "thirsty".

Ned from North Norwich Gets the News. A Job Season for Naught.

I didn't go in to the job season with high hopes, but when the first job ads started appearing last September, I was encouraged. I've been adjuncting for the past three years; the only full time teaching gig I ever had was right out of college, a visiting assistant professor spot. I'm 31, single, and not tied to any geographical spot.

I went through the same process we all do, with letters and vitae and teaching statements. I had a good response and made quite a few second steps with writing samples, sample syllabi, and transcripts.

Then when the year-end national convention came around, I was astounded by a total of 4 interviews. Those all went well. I felt positive; I got good feedback through them. I scurried home during the winter break and waited, and then got three flyback visits.

I staggered them to allow me to keep my own classes going, and made visits from mid January to mid February. Each was a pleasure. Each 1-2 day event was well planned and thoughtful. The jobs felt so different to me, different cities, different states, a rural town, a big metropolis. One job featured an emphasis on teaching, the others were more like my grad school, a focus on scholarship.

The people I met were friendly, bright, and welcoming. At one interview, the chair of the department walked me around the beautiful and hilly campus and said, "I can see you here in the fall!"

Although it was against my better judgment, over the past couple of days I've looked at homes for rent and lease in these various spots, imagining where my stuff would go. What would my view be? How would I get my boxes and things there? In which direction would the job compass spin, and in which direction would I be headed? I imagined cleaning out this apartment, cleaning the carpets one last time, getting that security deposit, closing the cracked and peeling front door on my life as an under-employed academic.

I talked to some close friends about my search, weighing the pros and cons of each job, which one looked the best, which one would be the most work. I sat in a chair on my patio and thought, "If I could pick which 2 offers to get, these would be them."

Then over the past 2 days it all came to a crashing end. One email and two phone calls later and I was out of every search. One place hired someone within the department. Two others had hired people "freshly minted." I was told I had done well in my visit, but that the other person's profile was a better fit. One of the people told me he was sure I would not be on the market long.

But of course he was wrong. It'll be another year of adjuncting for me, of course, another year of putting aside money in order to pay for the job season. Another year of wondering if I should stay in the game, despite the fact that I'm in debt to my loans, my credit cards, and - embarrassingly - my parents.

I'm miserable.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bad Teacher. Today's VidShizzle.

Yeah, my grandmother died over the weekend too.

I had TWO dead grandmothers this weekend.  It's a shame to off your grandmother on such a trivial assignment.  You'll blow off much more weighty assignments later; you should have saved her for one of those. 

Meanwhile, I've sat on these crappy lab reports for two weeks now.  I haven't graded them because they're such shit.  I can handle a class average at the D/F border - but this stack contains nothing of merit.  It's all crap.  I never thought about how many points to deduct on which questions for these because they're supposed to be the easy no-brainer first labs of the term.  I'm supposed to get to flip through them and throw a couple of -2s here and there for units and hand back a bunch of As and Bs and give a few morons Cs.  These are like negative number scores.  I've taught these labs before.  I've never needed an actual scoring plan before.  What the fuck?

So can I kill my grandmother too this afternoon?  I'd rather hand them back tomorrow in the actual lab while they're face deep in the hood and high on ether fumes from the morning's organic lab.

Bonus question:  How many labs could I have graded in the time it took to photoshop a bonnet on a dead wombat?

Lisa from LA on Making Rec Letter Requests A Little More Responsible.

Am I doing this all wrong?

I'm in a tiny department where nearly all of the departmental graduate students require a never-ending set of rec letters.

Once I realized I was inundated, I started asking them to provide me with this:

  • A short personal statement regarding their teaching.
  • A short personal statement regarding their scholarship.
  • A short personal statement regarding their interest in the job / grant / fellowship they are applying for.
  • Sample scholarly papers written while at my institution.
And now they've stopped asking. Is it really so much trouble to help your rec letter writer understand what their commitment is?

Now, I didn't want to turn them all off. I want to help them get jobs or whatever, but I want them to help me understand why I should.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

tuesday: miserable haiku


what do you want from
me? i, bottomfeeder, teach
again: subject, verb.


the returning snow
fills the little hollow place
that once housed desire.


"why you so hard? what's
wrong with you? this is bullshit."
i am overpaid.


the coffee smells like
elevation in a cup.
sadly deceiving.

This shouldn't shock me...

Just got an email from our admin person telling faculty that due to budget cuts we have to rent our own regalia for graduation this year and providing a helpful link to the bookstore website in order to do so. I bought my own hood when I got my PhD and, at the suggestion of another friend on this list, am considering pairing it with a nice bathrobe. I absolutely refuse to help my institution plug its budget hole by paying marked-up regalia rental fees at the company, I mean, book store.

To Challenge or Not to Challenge?

So, I am preparing for a new 200 level English class to be offered next Fall. And I am finding myself in a bit of a quandary. See, I have long dreamed of teaching this particular class. I loved this genre in grad school. I have gathered my old notes, done some new research, chosen four representative novels.

Four representative novels.

See, when I was an undergrad, we would have studied that many novels in a single class, maybe even five. Sure we would have. But I teach at Inner City Community College. Oh I know that some of them can do that kind of work. (Wince----'that kind of work' ???) And I know they deserve to get a top quality college education.


I know I am in for a horrible time if I do it the way I would have when I was a young, idealistic professor. One of my colleagues recently noticed I was doing this class and told me there were lots of anthologies available. Anthologies, with excerpts, short stories, pat "Literature for Students" background information right at my snowflakes' fingertips. And mine. Wow. I had a minor epiphany and I could not believe I had not thought of it before. That would certainly make things easier for everyone.

I had so longed, at one point, to teach this genre to hungry for knowledge undergrads. The problem is, I have not met very many hungry for knowledge undergrads. I have a lot to offer on this subject. I would not have even considered the anthology route at one point in my life, but I am considering it now, and have even ordered the samples (and am now being inundated).

So, what do my fellow CMers think?

Professorial Distance?

I try to love my college and all of the nice folks who teach here with me. But there's a disturbing phenomena I witness fairly regularly and I'd love to find out if I'm alone in being bothered by it.

I have colleagues who love their students, who think those students are brilliant. They're always saying, "Aren't they great?" These are the same profs who have students over to their house for dinner and movie nights.

I admit that I teach a sort of "feel-good" place, and that I've been aware of how "special" our students are talked about, even by administration. But at some point I just reached saturation on all this nonsense.

I was never asked over to a prof's house for dinner in college. I never was told that I was unique or brilliant. But my colleagues do this routinely with their students, and OFTEN with majors.

Some of my colleagues have - I don't know what else to call them - pets. These majors huddle in the prof's office morning, noon, and night. They cluster around, never discussing the work, but just mindlessly nattering about Lady Gaga, where one might find a really good panini, and everyone's personal lives.

I believe more professorial distance is needed. I want to bring this up to my colleagues, but whenever I get on the topic of our majors with one of them, they get all moon-faced and say, "Aren't they great? We're so lucky to have these great kids."

Does this happen widely? Am I just missing the new model of higher education?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dean Donald Disagrees.

I'm a bit offended by a recent post on your page by "Sander."

What Sander fails to realize is that we have a wide variety of applicants to choose from, and one way in which we do that is to let those who are really suited to our institution shine. We let them talk. We let them tell us why they want to join us. We let them show us how much they want the job by revealing how seriously they took their job search.

I have asked candidates the same questions Sander found so insulting. I ask for candidates to tell me about themselves because it reveals a great deal.

I ask candidates why they want to join us at Xxxxxxx College because that's going to separate the wheat from the chaff.

What Sander didn't do apparently, is show enough interest in his own job search to actually have thought of these things. I have candidates every year who do a great job of answering those questions. Some ask me probing and intelligent questions about my institution, its students, and its policies.

Those who can't master those meetings with the Dean are likely still on the market.

- Dean Donald

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Thirsty

A little backstory to help this make sense...

My husband is in the military and has recently switched branches and so is now at his new command/duty station. In talking with some of his new coworkers, he discovered that one was a student of mine last year. Small world really. They share a common interest, so they have started to talk and not really become friends, but certainly bonded.

Most of my husband's new unit is deploying very soon, going "over there" (to maintain my anonymity and opsec, that's all I'll say) and this former student is deploying (my husband won't be going, the military has other plans for him...huge sigh of relief from me).

I remember this student. He was a good student, the type I love having in my classes because he was smart but doing well didn't just come to him, he had to work to get good grades and was more than willing to do so. Just remembering him says something - as an adjunct I have 200ish students a semester, so remember a single one a year later usually means he/she was a really good student (or a really, really terrible one, but he was one of the good, even great, ones).

I want to say something to him, wishing good luck or telling him to be safe while he's over there. Maybe just a verbal message from my husband, or a quick handwritten note to the tune of "be safe over there and come back in one piece because you're the kind of student (my university) needs and wants to have" or something (if I decide to write it down, I promise it will be more eloquent than that).

My question #1: Is this appropriate? Am I overstepping my bounds as a professor in sending this student good wishes while he's deployed? Or should I just pray for him and not say anything?

My question #2: If it is okay for me to say something, should I just send a verbal message through my husband or is a handwritten note okay too? Any ideas on what to say?

I don't want to be weird, but I do genuinely hope he stays safe over there (and certainly I hope all the members of my husband's unit do, but this one I actually really know...)

The dangers of teaching classics!

I ran across this in my internet wanderings today, and thought those of you who teach lit, or philosophy, or classics would appreciate it!

Said by an Englishman in his sleep:

"If you make me read Plato, I'm gonna punch you in the penis."

Recording available at the link!

Ying and Yang

Things I hate this week:
1. Students who tell me they should be able to turn their work in late because they are paying for the class and a zero will hurt their grade.

2. Students who tell me that they will give me a bad review if they fail the course.

3. Students who tell me they are going to tattle on me to my boss if they get a grade lower than what they think they deserve.

4. Getting paid $2.03 per student per week for a course. (Yes I did the math).

5. Students who miss their presentations and then beg to reschedule after being an asshole for several weeks.

Thing I love this week:
1. Payday

2. Saturday and Sunday

3. The student who tells me they learned so much and didn’t realize how far behind they were until they got my feedback, and get this APPLIED IT!

Not exactly lenticular, but still very pretty.

Today's APOD  features another interesting cloud formation, with a description.  I thought you fans of lenticulars might like it. 

The Contemplative Cynic's Midterm Angst.

Various answers (from different students) that have showed up on my midterm exams last semester and this semester. The midterm required short answers to various theory questions:

  1. I don't understand this question so I'm going to tell you about my morning. My roommate was sick so we went to the Health Center. It turns out she is pregnant. I think I'm the father, although she has a boyfriend. We had sex a few weeks ago and she told me she's on the pill and they were taking a break. I feel like Ross and Rachel. I don't know what to do, but I don't want to go home...
  2. idk
  3. You look really good today.
  4. The answer is in my notes and I thought this would be open book/notes, so I didn't memorize this. I think it has something to do with religion.
  5. I need a calculator [FYI: there is no math in this exam and this question did not require a calculator].
  6. Are you crazy? How am I supposed to answer this trick question? [The "trick question" asked for effects of colonialism on one of the African countries studied].
  7. I'm not a Buddha so I don't know much about Asian religion. [this was in response to the same question as #6].
  8. I think I know the answer to this one, but it's not the one my study group assigned me to learn, so you'll have to look at someone else's answer.
  9. What is a question that I cannot answer, Alex?
  10. Like we talked about in class the day that the heat wasn't working.
  11. 86% of adults die.
  12. I thought our midterm was next week so I didn't study yet.

And that, folks, about encapsulates my midterm angst this year...

- The Contemplative Cynic

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Those aren't my eyes

The yucky jobs I have to do as dean. Fight with the administration. Explain to an adjunct why it is not okay to force students to write brilliant evaluations of him. Explain to a search committee that I don't give a flying f... how brilliant Mr. X is, he was caught plagiarizing and I am not hiring him.

And speak with Mr. Eyes. The students had complained. He spends most of his time eying their boobs and buttocks. He comes around in the lab and touches their shoulders. And he insists they friend him on Facebook.

Mr. Eyes couldn't find the dean's office, so I had to troupe out and fetch him, as the only time he could come was Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. No slaves around the office to send at that time of day.

But it was lucky that I did. We had a nice little elevator ride together, maybe 10 seconds. And he did the boobs thing (face - left boob - right boob - left boob - face) three to four times. So I ushered him into the office, took his coat, offered him water, we sat down, and I began.

I pointed with two fingers to my eyes and said: My eyes are here.

He was startled, and asked me to repeat what I had said. I said, my eyes are up here, not down on my chest, and I would appreciate him looking me in the eyes when we speak. That behavior like this makes many women uncomfortable.

He said that he was not aware of doing this. I continued with the other sins. He just wanted to have pictures of the students so he can learn their names, that's why he wanted them to friend him in Facebook. And he posts his exercises there.

I suggested he attend the next Moodle course if he want to continue teaching here. He just got a great contract, so he might not continue. So I asked him to let us know in good time if he is not continuing.

The poor boy, he tried really hard during the conversation to keep his eyes off. He gave in to the urge 3 times. I let him drink up, smiled, gave him a handshake, and he scampered off.

My husband thinks I was terrorizing him. I felt very good at finally having a position of power that let me feel comfortable with calling out a boob gazer, because I very seldom say anything, although it irritates the hell out of me. Waddya think?

Dean Suzy

An Early Thirsty on Being Flexible

I've dug myself a hole over the past few weeks.  My syllabus states that I do not accept late work, yet I have been accepting it anyway. 

It's reached the point now that snowflakes will just set it on my table and announce "this is late!"

I've thought about putting an end to this by having them sign a form when they pick up their late work.  Then again, they will gladly sign anything as long as they get to deface the document.  "Print your name" means be illegible.  And good luck getting them to find the signature line.

Normally, I would prefer to say no and let it end there.  However, this kind of thing seems to need a paper trail.  Something along the lines of "As of February 26, no late work is accepted".  I don't think that I can just say "Well it's in the syllabus to begin with" because they could easily say "You accepted Jeff's late assignment!"  Atleast with this, they have a tangible deadline beyond which there is no more grace.  As for the snowflakes who don't receive this, well I never have trouble telling them no.  They were first in line to tell the school to "fuck-off" so my conscience is clear when I tell them no.

Here is what I am really concerned about.  I have heard so many stories from teachers about how being flexible can open you up to lawsuits and all sorts of other fun.  Is this true? How can I clean up the mess that I have caused by being flexible?

Research vs. anecdotes (from SMBC)

Yes, I know we prefer authorship to linking here.
Please: an indulgence for this one from SMBC

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sander from San Francisco Gets Sour.

Sander will be
waiting by the phone.
So I'm on the big campus interview. Oh, it's fun. I actually feel like things are going well. We're marching across a lovely campus. I'm meeting Fishfly majors, the past Fishfly director, and the Fishfly faculty take me out for a rip roaring evening of French food and giant carafes of wine.

Day 2 comes around and I've got 4 Dean meetings in a row. Oh, I don't know if they are all actually Deans or not. One's a VP of something. Someone's a provost. Some money guy. And a woman who I hear will be president of the college one day.

Fine. It's an hour with each.

Stay with me. 4 hours in a row, 3 different buildings. I finish the first meeting a little late because Dean #1 needs to finish a story about his campus visit at this college, 37 years ago. It's 5 minutes past the hour when I get out of there, and I'm 9 minutes late by the time I huff and puff into Dean #2's office.

The assistant fixes me with a look and says, "Dean Two has a busy schedule. Maybe you should have the job search committee reschedule at a time that is more convenient for YOU."

Yeah, sure. But Dean #2 hears me in the antechamber and comes out and welcomes me in.

"So," Dean #2 says. "Why don't you run down your bio for me?"

And I start talking about where I'm currently teaching, a monolithic community college in Dead End Metropolis, and he says, "No, no. Tell me where you were born."

Geez. How much detail does he want. I mention I was born in Kansas and he says, "I knew a girl from Kansas, long before my academic days. She wore wonderful hats and had a vermillion coat that her mother bought her in St. Louis that cost 40 dollars, and that's when 40 dollars was worth something. Not like today. Now I can't get my oil changed for less than a hundred."

Anyway, we do bio like that for 45 minutes and he jumps in after every minor detail I offer with a story - none as good as the vermillion coat thing.

I'm late for the Dean #3 meeting as well, but am welcomed in.

The room is boiling. I was in a sauna once in Finland that was a cool spring breeze compared to this office. I can feel sweat beads popping out all over my body as Dean #3 picks up a stack of paper that contains my vita.

"So, what can I tell you?" he says.

And I think, I don't fucking know. I don't know exactly what this Dean is a Dean of. I ask about the undergraduate students and the Dean holds his hand up, "That's really something that is difficult to answer. I haven't taught in many years of course, but they are certainly an ambitious group, and I'm sure you'll enjoy working with them if you're things work out. What else can I tell you?" And he puts my vita down on the stack.

So, I never asked anything worth a shit and I'm off to the soon-to-be-president.

This office is so full of silk flowers that I feel that I might be in a Hallmark store. The soon-to-be says, "I haven't read anything about you. Why don't you tell me why you'd like to teach here?"

For a second I'm tempted to say, "Well, because I'd like to make more than $11k a year." I'd like to say, "Because you have a job open." But none of that would work of course.

I try out this instead: "I'm really interested in how Fishfly University puts the focus on writing across the curriculum."

"Sure," she says, "but so do a lot of schools. What do you think of our plan to expand?"

And I'm thinking, expand what? I've read the last month of student newspapers, have scoured every webpage of their site. I remember nothing about expansion.

"Expansion of what?" I ask sheepishly.

"Haven't you been spending time with the Fishfly committee? Surely they've talked about it." She waves it off, picks up my vita and says, "Well, then why don't you tell me something about yourself."

"Kansas," I say. "I'm originally from Kansas."

Am I a bad person?

Am I a bad person? I really love reading about some knucklehead who gets tenure at a wonderful SLAC and then five months later is forced to resign because he's a fucking knucklehead. Does this mean I'm a bad person? Is this what they call a "guilty pleasure"? Is it horrible of me to relish such moments?

Well then so be it! I didn't laugh about anything this morning. Not once. Not even a single little giggle or chortle. Then I read this story about the recently-tenured "best professor" who is a fucktard... and I finally laughed my ass off. I thank him. I thank you, fellow CMers.

Please don't condemn me. I get satisfaction when those who give us a bad name are brought down.

Forgive me.

A Particularly Bizarre Yahoo Answers Request

I stumbled across this in Yahoo Answers:

           I need some movies specifically about boys/guys being kidnapped or held hostage.                             

I need to find some movies about guys being kidnapped or held hostage for a psychology study i'm doing as part of my semester grade, it's about the effects of extremely stressful situations on males.

Lord knows what our snowflakes do in their spare time.


With an invite requested and sent this morning, we are back to 100 CM correspondents.

As always, we welcome you to the group, and urge you to be an active and lively participant in the painful madness and misery of the place. If you can help us ruin the academy for everyone else, that would be a bonus.

Share with us how your students, colleagues, and administrators have taken a perfectly good gig of reading, reclining, doing finite math, and burning shit up in a lab, and turned it into a never-ending slog of punishment and awfulness.

Leslie K.

Confusing conversations

DisorganisedColleague: Are you teaching at 1pm in week 6 in room A?
Me: I'm pretty sure not, I'm scheduled for room B, let's check the timetable
DC: I did that. It says you taught that class in room A in week 2....
Me: Yes, I did.
DC: I thought you might have swapped week 2 with week 6 and be teaching there in week 6
Me: Why?
DC: Oh, well, you know, 2 and 6 are quite close...


A group of students were following me down the stairs, and I overheard this exchange:

Girl:...and it's not fair, she made me talk! I don't do talking in front of people. I have the right to remain silent!
Boy: Isn't that only if you're arrested?
Girl: And what's the difference between that and a seminar? I know my rights.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

So I left my bunker yesterday morning and ventured to Madison to join the protest of the latest Republican power grab.

It was amazing. Estimated crowd of nearly 30,000 people filled the area, and their voices rocked the Rotunda. Made me proud to be a participant in a democracy (even though what we really have is a plutocracy).

The American Federation of Teachers rep had arranged for a group of us to meet with our State Senator, He-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless. After several minutes of conflicting information updates, one of his Minions appeared. Four people were selected to speak (I was one of them). First went the Prof from the school just up the highway. Then I went.

The Minion looked like he'd rather be drinking bleach than listening to what I had to say:
  • The attack on collective bargaining does not solve the budget problem or create jobs.
  • This bill will make us even less competitive for quality professors than we are now (after 4 failed searches for a World Languages position, we finally found someone; now we've got the third Comm/Arts search in as many years). California may have some of the same problems, but at least it's got better weather
  • Students are going to leave WI and take their brains and their earning power with them. Why would anyone want to be a teacher or nurse or corrections officer in this state if this is how we are going to be treated?
I finally had to tell the guy, "Write this down" because he was just sitting there. He kept reiterating that we have a $137 milllion shortfall, and this will fix it. Dumbass. We left the meeting angrier than we were when we got there.

I wish I had known what was reported in the Cap Times later that day--that the missing $137 million mysteriously happened right after Walker took office ( as of 1/31 the state was projected to have a balance of $121 million)--coinciding with $140 million in special interest spending he has approved in his first 6 weeks in office.

I do not mind paying a fair share. Neither does anyone I work with. However, we do mind being professors on food stamps (at least 3 of my colleagues are the sole income for their families, and because our salaries are so low in the first place, they will qualify). I am OK for now--my OH makes less than I do but we don't own a home, so our expenses can be managed. Thing Two is now two, so his daycare isn't quite as expensive as it was before. But I am seriously rethinking living in this state if this is how it wants to treat its public sector workers...and I'm not the only one.

As scarce as jobs in the humanities are, I might have to go back on the market--after finally earning tenure--to try to find a better-paying job. Or I might have to go back to the private sector, where I made better money and I still have connections.

I do not want to do this. I love being a teacher. None of us gets into this profession for the money, but it's disgraceful that we're not going to be able to make decent lives for ourselves (I work in the two-year system, so we're paid a LOT less than our counterparts in the 4-year schools).

And if you think I should just shut up and be thankful to have a job, do me a favor and shut the fuck up. I am grateful to be employed, but I'm not going to take a kick in the teeth and ask for another one.

If I fail YOU will pay!

Today I had a student actually email me to tell me that it was my course set up that was to blame for them, to date, earning a failing grade for my course. The student has missed numerous assignments. Never mind that the due date for each seperate assignment is listed in the handy dandy syllabus. They even were brazen enough to tell me that if they fail it will reflect in my teacher evaluation as well as them marching down to the Dean to complain.

How would you respond to this?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beaker Ben's interpersonal skills on display

My boss gave me, sweet, lovable me, the duty of cramming a bunch of shiftless students into our already overcrowded freshman chemistry classes. They all could have registered on time, when we could have opened more sections, but they didn’t. I spent more time logged into the registrar's website than Facebook. "Sux," as the kids say. On the upside, I get a CM post out of it.

“I need to take the 11 am lecture. It’s the same time as my roommate’s class. We’re going to car pool.”
I’m as happy to help Mother Earth as the next guy but 11 am is full and the 6 - 8 pm lecture has openings. Plant a tree instead.

By email, I receive this: “I need to switch my chemistry section. I don’t like this teacher. I had him last semester and he’s terrible.”
Hi Samantha. I haven’t seen you since you took my final exam. We have a lot of catching up to do. See you in class Monday.

“I no speak English good. I just arrive from Russia. Need 9 clock lecture with friend so he translate what professor say.”
My God, you’re going to be a pain to teach. The 9 am guy is my friend. I’ll put you in crabby Dr. Olszewski's class. He’s Polish. And old. Like, - read your 20th century history if you don’t realize I’m screwing you over - old. You two will get along just fine.

“I need to take chemistry. It’s a prereq for lots of my upper level classes. I won’t graduate on time if I don’t get into a chemistry class. This is really important to me and my family.”
Hmmm. This is tough. I’ll need to move some students around so you can get in. Come back tomorrow. [make phone calls, sign papers, check fire department’s maximum capacity for room, slip in an extra chair when nobody’s looking...]
You are in luck. There is a seat in an 8 am class for you.
“Really? 8 am? That’s early. Wow. I’ll think about it.”

See what happens when I try to do something nice for a change? No love for the Beaker.

A Few Things That Worked Today

Students in the morning class turned in atrocious essays today, which I was able to preview
via our version of BlackHoleBoard. I distributed questionnaires that forced them to reduce their arguments and findings into the outlines they should have done originally. Then I had the class define all the attributes that should be present in a successful assignment so that they now had a yardstick for evaluating their work.

Then I organized them into groups, had them read their outlines to one another, had them apply the criteria in the checklist, and told them that successful groups would be able to identify numerous ways of improving each outline.

Then the class reassembled and each group reported on the ways that each outline was improved. I told them that I would not grade the draft that was submitted today and gave them a week to revise their essays. Boy were they grateful.

Five years ago, I would have been pissed that they had screwed up their assignments.
Now I'm ecstatic that I came up with a process that allows them to spot their own errors
and correct them without hating my guts or prompting a call from their parents.

By the way, the essay was 500 words long and required them to compare two things and draw conclusions. I don't know how I could have made the assignment clearer or easier.

Which makes me wonder: What happens when these people graduate and get jobs? Does everything they do have to be redone?

Also, who do you tell if anyone when you discover a useful technique. Your significant other?
Your colleagues? No one?

Natalie Munroe Is Blogging Again!

Blogging teacher blogging again

Bucks County Courier Times
The Central Bucks teacher who was suspended last week for complaining about her students defends herself online and in an interview.
The Central Bucks East High School English teacher who got suspended last week for complaining about her students on a blog is at it again.
And she is making no apologies for what she said - defending herself through her blog and in an interview with this newspaper Monday.
"While I never in a million years would have guessed that this many people would ever see my words, and I didn't even intend them to, I stand by what I wrote and I think it's good that people are aware now," Natalie Munroe wrote on her blog Saturday morning.
"There are serious problems with our education system today - with the way that schools and school district and students and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize them and blame them for everything - and those need to be brought to light. If this 'scandal' opens the door for that conversation, so be it. Let that conversation begin. Stay tuned here."

This seems... just, somehow

Casual Carrie is working with me on a year long independent study double-credit module, and has been very slow to actually start studying. Her Agreed Assessment Instrument will be in the form of a research report, including field data, and unlike most students taking a module like this who scurry into the field as soon as they're allowed to in September, Casual Carrie left it until January. This seems to be her style.

Casual Carrie took an honours module with me last semester, and gained a rather mediocre C, largely because as she freely admits she wrote the discussion section on the day the work was due in 'because that's the short bit at the end'. Never mind that it's the bit that needs the most thought.

Casual Carrie felt that she was 'ahead in all her classes' this semester, therefore took a week off to go skiing with her family.

Casual Carrie picked up a nasty infection during her trip. Casual Carrie is feeling very sorry for herself - she's on several kinds of antibiotics, is a bit feverish and clearly feels rather unwell. But she's used all of her allowed absences on her holiday, and her doctor said she didn't need a sick note when she told him uni only took up 'a few hours' of her time.

Much as I hate to see anyone suffering, I can't help feeling a certain amount of satisfaction that going on holiday wasn't quite as consequence-free as Casual Carrie hoped.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Greetings from My Bunker in Wisconsin

Hello All.

I comment from my bunker here in Wisconsin. I will be venturing out tomorrow to Madison to protest the grotesque assault on worker rights that is masquerading as a "budget repair bill."

I would like to point out that most schools in the UW system get less than 25% of their total funding from the state. Madison gets 8%. We have accepted lower-than-average wages with the assurance that our benefits and pension would be exceptional. In truth, the UW system has already become far less attractive to the top candidates for positions because the benefits are seen as a given if you're a state employee anywhere and the salaries are lower than offers from other states (my "campus" lags more than 15% behind the national average in salaries). The idea promulgated by the Republicans and their masters that public sector workers are "living off of taxpayers" is a convenient fiction. And we have had to do more with less for decades.

I have not had a cost of living adjustment for more than 5 years. (
My OH, who works in the private sector, gets a raise every year.) I have been eligible for merit raises for the past two years, but since there's no money, oh well. I have "sucked up" a 5% pay cut (3% furlough and a 2% promised raise that was just...gone) for the last two years. By the end of this biennium, I will have given the state back $2500 of my salary. At the same time, my class caps were increased to accommodate a surge in enrollment so that we didn't have to hire as many people to teach the course sections these students would have filled. I have continued to give my all to my composition and literature students in spite of all of this.

To say that I am disheartened would be understatement. I've worked for half of my life--my entire adult life, in fact--to become a professor. I am finally (almost) tenured. And I'm depicted by the Right as a lazy, self-serving asshole who deserves a further pay cut to bring my benefit and pension package in line with the private sector. Well, I have 15 years of experience and a terminal degree in my field. I would be making $75K in the private sector if I'd stayed in it instead of coming back to education. Instead, I make $44,500 to teach a 4/4 load AND get kicked in the face by the duly elected government of my state. The pension and health care adjustments amount to over $4000 out of my already below-average salary. I haven't even tried to figure out what my hourly wage would be (factoring in on-campus time, and prep in the evenings, and grading on weekends)--I think it might make me kill myself.

No wonder I feel like such an asshole.


For some bizarre reason (maybe because they are paying me well) I have traveled to a provincial place that proudly presents its very own engineering college to give a talk on knitting baskets.

I was given lunch in a cafeteria that reminded me of the one we had in grade school. The food was edible.

We then went to the Big Computer Room for the talk. There were 20 ancient computers attached to 20 tiny screens, all of them glued and bolted to the tables.

There was a video projector for my laptop and a chalkboard. I wrote the URL to my fancy basket knitting site in chalk on the board. Amazingly, I was able to remember how to write, and was again struck by my very bad handwriting.

My question (does this count as a Thirsty?): How many of you still use chalkboards? And how many of those that do are mathematicians?

Budget Woes and Consequences

The recent post by Fred from Farmville on the budget woes in Wisconsin has got me thinking. As I mentioned in the comments there, last weekend I was in Madison, WI for a conference. I got a lot of second-hand info there from profs and students alike, scared for their jobs. There is a full-scale attack going on in Wisconsin against state employees -- including those employed through the state university. A quick google will get you all the details on cuts, so I won't go into it for you here. But back in my SLAC, it has started a debate, as one colleague assures me this won't actually do anything to the grad program.

Do you think that pulling all tuition waivers would lead to a collapse in a graduate program? Or are there enough desperate fools going to grad school that Wisconsin would be able to draw from people actually willing to pay $100,000 over 6 or 8 years for a graduate "education"?

Beyond the immorality of allowing someone to go that far into debt only to get into a job market that offers them a few grand for adjuncting, do you think there are potential grad students who would be that impractical?

On Letters of Recommendation

Reading Raul’s post made me think about something that has been bothering me all weekend and it’s related to something I almost posted about a few weeks ago.

On Thursday or Friday of last week I received an email from a former student requesting a letter of recommendation for something or another. I honestly have no idea what it’s for because Verne neglected to put that in his email. The email right above his was an email from the organization with a link to follow. Of course, this organization expects the letter writers to have some idea who they are so they don’t tell you what it’s all about. I could pull out my mean research skills and Google it but I haven’t yet so maybe I won’t. I just don’t know.

The deadline to write this thing is tomorrow. So I have time to procrastinate. But I’m really having trouble getting into a positive frame of mind about this student. I’ll lift it up to God after lunch but for now I’ll tell y’all my miseries. We’ll start with the moderately annoying and go from there.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m a chick who teaches in a math intensive field which makes me feel like a mathematician sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I publish in as many of their journals as my own. As you might have guessed my real name isn’t actually Crazy Math Professor. CMP is my alter ego. CMP is a ballsier version of me. CMP wouldn’t have the problem I’m about to tell y’all about.

Many of my students don’t address me properly. I prefer Dr. CMP but Prof. CMP would work as well. When I put my info on my syllabus I write Dr. Crazy M. Professor. When I sign my emails I write Dr. Professor. The signature on my email is Dr. Crazy M. Professor. When I talk about myself in class (that sounds worse than it really is) I call myself Dr. Professor. But I still have students who address me as Mrs. Professor. That’s not ever technically correct. Mrs. Professor is my mother. I am Mrs. Crazy Math Spouse but not Mrs. Crazy Math Professor. You see I accomplished a bit before I got my MRS. I earned three degrees, published papers, and got a tenure-track job. Crazy Math Spouse and I got married after all of this. So I didn’t like the idea of losing my last name and thus eight years of academic history. Sometimes I regret this since my kids’ friends may one day think I’m Crazy Math Stepmom. Oh, well….

Now back to Verne. Verne’s email started off with addressing me as Dr. CMP. That’s cool. I’m glad he’s learned since we last had class together. But then at the end he writes “thanks, Mrs. Professor” (what’s my mom got to do with this!). Ugh. Well, I’m an adult. I can get over it. That’s what being a grown-up is about.

Next I read the email from organization. Of course, it was addressed incorrectly as well. But it’s not what you think. You see the name Crazy was one of the most popular girl’s names in the two decades around my birth. There were no fewer than 5 Crazys (or would it be Crazies?) in the Fourth Grade at my school. The email was addressed to Sane Math Professor. Now Sane is not a name that has been popular since 1938. Over my entire life, I’ve known two Sanes. Both of these women are now in their sixties. So it seems that although Verne knows my email username (cprofessor) he hasn’t a clue that the “c” indicates my name would start with a “c” as opposed to an “s”. And if he wrote the email followed by my “name” it didn’t occur to him that something was weird and he should double check the department website, course schedule, an old syllabus, the college catalog, or any of the other myriad of university resources with my name on it. No. He’s applying near the deadline. Details are unimportant.

Before last week the last time I heard from Verne was just after I submitted the grades for the most recent class in which he was enrolled. You see Verne had earned a 91.something% in the course. He’d missed an A by a few tenths of a percent. When a student is in that position I look at their final exam score and office hours attendance to see if there is any reason to bump the grade. This is the only kind of curve I ever do. Verne had come to office hours once or twice and had a decent final exam score so after a lot of thought I decided to bump him up. Then he sends a snotty email (to Mrs. Professor) about how he’s an A student and I should bump him. I was pissed! I thought long and hard about what to do. I really wanted to change his grade to a B since snotty students deserve no breaks from me. After a few days of ruminating I decided that by changing the grade to a B I would be basing his grade off of my feelings for him rather than his performance in the class. I knew this was wrong so I didn’t do it. (But CMP would have so I felt some vindication). Once grades were posted Verne didn’t even bother to drop a thank you email.

So this is going to be a hard letter of recommendation to write. I should have immediately responded to the email with a stern “This is too short of notice and I don’t have time to do it.” That, of course, would have been a half lie since I have plenty of time to write this post. Unlike CMP, I’d rather procrastinate and be pissed then actually have the courage to write an email stating how I really feel. So I’ll let CMP do it for me on CM.

Dear Verne,

I am very busy woman and I don’t have the time this week or next to write a letter for you. Recommendation requests should be sent several weeks in advance so that your letter writers can gather their thoughts about you and clear more than 10 minutes in their schedule to write a well written letter for you. Further, I’d rather not recommend you for anything since I think you are a snot. I felt angry and offended when you insisted I give you an A when you had earned a B. You also don’t give a sh!t about others. You see I’m not “Mrs. Professor.” I’m “Dr. Professor.” It was on your syllabus, every email I ever sent to the class, and was mentioned in class pretty much weekly. If you gave a sh!t about other people you’d have taken to addressing me as Dr. CMP in the first few weeks of our first course together. I can’t imagine that any organization would be interested being associated with an ungrateful, snotty, self-centered person such as you. I’m very sorry I will be unable to accommodate your last minute request.

Most Sincerely,


What's the point?

I'm an adjunct who was elevated to the rank of lecturer for one year to fill in for a colleague who is on sabbatical. I teach twice as many courses as tenure-track faculty members for less money and get all the undesirable time slots. Such is my fate, and it beats unemployment.

One of my responsibilities is to attend faculty meetings although I'm not supposed to say anything so I don't. At last week's meeting, we discussed retention for the umpteenth time and the need for greater student involvement. Most of our students have grandiose career goals, which they have no hope of achieving so I see their failure to re-enroll as coming into the light. It bugs me no end that we talk endlessly about retention yet no one can be bothered to survey the students who failed to re-enroll. We're probably talking about a hundred people. I'd be willing to call ten or even 20.

Someone suggested that incorporating more small group projects into one of the Intro courses
I teach will foster connections and improve retention. I think it's just as likely to annoy students who find themselves compensating for non-performers. Again, I'm not supposed to say anything because I'm the temporary help but this strikes me as a very amateurish approach to a complex problem. There's no attempt to investigate the reasons people aren't returning--lack of money, poor job prospects, dissatisfaction with classes, change of career direction--or come up with measurable solutions.

My sense is that the faculty doesn't want to address the problem; it wants to be seen as addressing the problem.

Raul from Russellville is Ready to Give Up. What To Do When You Feel Your Career Has Been a Mistake.

Since I sent in that first grad school application, I've been consumed by becoming a college professor. It took me 7 years to get my MA and PhD, and all during that I TA'd and taught classes, and did other odd jobs to pay the bills. (I was especially good at telephone sales for some reason!)

I got married right after the PhD while doing a postdoc job. And then after another year of postdoc work I got my first tenure track job that started in September of last year.

I struggled in that first semester, but worked hard through it. I was astonished at the students, how exquisitely dumb they were, how fantastically lazy, how creatively they avoided work. It was something I never noticed much as a TA. Back then I was working on my own classes. The undergrads I met were just elements or obstacles to deal with and get out of the way. But now, somehow, as they are the largest part of my job, I find myself mystified by them and their lack of sense.

I spoke to some colleagues about this - in general terms - after the fall term, and to a person they said, "This is what it's like. You must find career satisfaction somewhere other than through the students." I talked to my grad school advisors and colleagues, and found that they had similar advice. Some seemed to have better students than I did; some seemed more prepared for what they faced in their first jobs.

But somehow the entire illusion I had about the career has disappeared.

It is not just the students. My colleagues are closed off. My attempts to be collegial are often rebuffed or ignored. I haven't come in expecting to be beloved or anything, but I find that I'm just ignored, left to fend for myself. They are pleasant in a distant way, but there is no camaraderie, and I notice in other departments it appears the same.

I don't want this to sound like a pity party. I want to honestly express that this career is not at all what I thought it was. Was I naive? I suppose so. I had a romantic feeling about the life of a college professor, the so called life of the mind. But it's just drudgery, long hours, relatively mediocre pay, and a feeling that what I do doesn't have any meaning.

My students work harder at avoiding work than at anything I assign them. And even though they vex me, my main feeling about them is just disinterest. I don't even get mad at them. I just think to myself, "Why would I want to teach these lazy fucks?"

But how do I walk away from this now? For the better part of a decade my whole goal has to become this thing, a thing I clearly didn't understand or get prepared for. I think all day, every day, about quitting in May. How do I tell my wife, my friends, my family. What do I say when I quit? "I'm sorry; it wasn't what I thought it would be."

I feel shame about this. I feel stupid. How could I not know? I just want to say "stop" to the whole thing.