Monday, October 31, 2016

And so Bella's Requests for Possible Grade Projections Begin

Every semester around this time, I begin to get frantic missives from students who've been failing, or nearly failing, and now want to know just how high they can raise their grade by the end of the semester.

"If I get a 100 on everything from now on, what grade will I have?" "Ok, if I get an 85 on everything how will can I do in the class?" And on and on and on.

Or else the queries come from students doing passing work, wanting to know if they can skip major things, and still pass.

"If I get a 100 on everything else from now 'till the end, can I skip the research essay and still pass?" (HAH!! You little buggers! I fixed your wagons a few years ago when I added a note on my syllabus that failure to complete it would result in failure of the course no matter what the rest of their grades were. [And for the Monicas out there who will write saying that is not fair, and if I feel that way why don't I just make that assignment worth 50% of the grade---I actually give my little snowflakes many, many opportunities to do well and to practice their skills prior to writing the monster paper, and if I don't give those assignments grades that count, the precious munchkins won't do them.]) "Ok, so how many of the weekly assignments can I skip and still pass?" "If I don't do the reading from now until the end, can I still pass?" (Yes, I have really been asked these things!!!)

I am NOT a calculator, I tell them! Look at the way your grade is calculated (It's RIGHT THERE ON THE SYLLABUS)! Look at the assignments left!!! Figure it out, people!!

They don't get it. They think I am being mean. They think I am not doing my job. They go and complain about me.

It's so damn aggravating!!!

RYS Flashback. 9 Years Ago Today. (AKA The Gumdrop Unicorn Kerfuffle.)

Yes, Cal was and is
a genius.
On Discourse.
From the moderators of RYS:

Over the past 18 hours or so, we've read a ton of mail regarding a deep divide between - for lack of better terms - junior and senior faculty. It's made us awfully sad about the state of this virtual faculty lounge. So, we want to take a minute here to say a few things about the discourse that occurs on these pages.

We read through the mail and choose posts. We try to choose posts that capture the climate of what our readers are writing us about. If plagiarism stories fill up the box, we choose the best or liveliest and put it out there the next morning. If a lot of mail comes in saying cigarettes are better than cheese, we publish something on cigarettes and maybe make fun of those damn cheese-eaters!

Obviously this site started with a focus on students, those lovable but maddening creatures who stare up at us each day. But, this forum has gone much wider, and we've let it. The folks who write to us want to talk about a lot of things surrounding being a professor, and so we go where the flow goes.

We also confess that we publish posts that we think will make for an entertaining read between your 9 am and 11 am classes.

Aside from giving these things titles - which some of you think sublime, the rest ridiculous - we don't chart the course for RYS. We answer the mail, take the temperature of the crowd, do an image, and put it up.

So, we were moderately annoyed today when a number of writers (both young and old) took shots at us as though our coverage of the "Gumdrop Unicorns" issue was so clearly biased in the favor of whoever they disagreed with. It's rare you can get people on both sides of an issue mad at you! And we're overstating it saying we were even moderately annoyed. Bemused, we guess, is better.

The mail continues to come in - although it's slowed down a bit as little ones around the country are ringing bells and jonesing for chocolate - and we'll post a couple more pieces tomorrow. It's worked out that there's a bit more mail in favor of "Professor Mushy Brain," than there is against him, but we're going to pick posts for tomorrow that address the issue without some of the unhinged vitriol that absolutely bleeds out of the messages we've been receiving today.

We do think it's been a powerful enough message, however, that this issue - the seeming transience of junior faculty - has resulted in our biggest mail day ever. You would not believe the name calling and attacks that we've read today, including hateful and hurtful stories that come right from writers' own departmental struggles. We think there is a simmering and dangerous divide here that we all should think about, all might want to consider talking about. And not on a blog that spent most of yesterday urging you to buy the new Britney CD - although we're still urging you in that direction.

Some of the mail that day.

The Original Gumdrop Unicorn post.

The next day.

PS: Some may remember that Katie's blog was involved in this flurry It's clearly referenced in the original post and a comment there started things rolling.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My College. On the Ball.

Ask me how many people I've alerted about this main login page for students and faculty? Ask me how many emails I've sent to the university's TEAM of web coordinators? Ask me how many FUCKING WEEKS this has been up and wrong? Nah, don't bother. 

Because why should you give a shit? My college doesn't. 

I know it's not the end of the world, but wouldn't you think that a tenured professor could get something like the MAIN LOGIN PAGE fixed when it's so crazily easy to do it?

- Ragin' Roscoe

Superior Susie Has It All Figured Out Already

I have a class in freshman introduction to Hamster Studies.  The class has one student who has Seen Some Shit, Brave Brenda, and she's got a list of accommodations that center mostly on her anxiety as a result of her trauma. She sits near the door, leaves the room if she needs to, and usually contributes great stuff to class.  Sometimes, due to some physical effects from the Shit She Has Seen, she doesn't quite track the conversation, but she has no problems with me getting her back on track.  The class also has another student, who is on the spectrum, Spectral Sally.  This student is engaged, active, friendly, and never needs to work out her shoulders because she's always got her hand up.  She's also extremely intelligent and often makes connections the whole class is still working on, and then races ahead, but she has no problem with me saying "no, slow down, hold up a second" or "I can't call on you right now because I need to get through this bit first."  In other words, two "difficult" students whom I like and who contribute more to the class than any other student.

And then there's Superior Susie, who's got it all figured out.  She's intelligent too, but not nearly as smart as she thinks she is.  Whenever either of the two above students talk, she rolls her eyes, bangs her forehead on the desk, heaves loud and audible sighs, shares notes and whispers with those around her, and so on.  I've already talked to her about it, but she informed me that she's just frustrated because she's smarter than everyone else in the class (yes, really, she said that -- and no, she's not.  Moderately above average, probably).  

Normally, I'd tell her to go stuff herself.  But the issue here is that I can't ethically share the fact that these two other students require accommodations.  If she listened to Sally or Brenda, she'd know why, but of course, she's too busy being frustrated with their really quite minor differences.  God forbid that someone be just a bit different, right?  I mean, we're all white suburban girls here, yeah?  So what are these people, who not only *suffer* but sometimes have to do it in public, doing with us normals?  Eeew.  

I don't normally dislike students, really, I don't.  But once in a while, one displays such odious, disgusting behavior that I can't help it.  Obviously, I'm going to have to have another talk with her, and maybe threaten her with sanctions, but she'll just see that as more of the persecution her blonde perfection must endure in this society of the unfortunately diverse.  If I were a wizard, I'd give her one day in Brenda's life, just one goddamned day, and I imagine she'd crumble like a wet tissue.  Or just one hour with Sally's brain.  

I don't want her to think that her behavior is even remotely acceptable.  I want to convey to her exactly how repulsive of a human being she is painting herself as, but I'm not sure how to do that so that it sticks, without violating the requirements of confidentiality.  Any suggestions?

--Prof. Chiltepin

Friday, October 28, 2016

SEO Issues

Wow, look at THIS
shitty site!
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Connie From College Station Is Internet Famous, Sort Of!

Oh my God, as they kids like to say. I'm a forever-reader and have never had one good and juicy bit to share. Until today!

This student took one of my classes. I'm Internet famous now, right? Should I start a podcast? Or will people find me on their own? Stay back. I'm not ready for my closeup. I sure won't be taking my publicity photos in my car!

Flava: Police say a 19-year-old Texas A&M University student who rear-ended a squad car told an officer she was taking a topless selfie.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Shared Governance." A Big Thirsty from Three Sigma.

Our little university recently has had a major fight about a big change to the curriculum. Although advertised as a money-saving measure, there was much debate about how much money it would actually save. It went through our shared governance system, and failed.

The Board of Trustees, at the urging of the top-level adminibuzzards, just overturned the ruling and instituted the chang. They seemingly ignored the objections because "something must be done".

Q: WTF do we do now? Set fire to the school? Boycott the shared governance? Whine? Quit? Sulk? I'm seriously at a loss for how we're supposed to go on with the charade.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Here, have a free audiobook. While supplies last.

The Case of the Defunct Adjunct audiobook is up now. You can hear a sample on the Audible page

If you'd like to listen to the rest of it, email me and I'll send you a code. (You can listen with free Audible software; you don't need a subscription.) 

Forced to attend the Student Retention Office's summer retreat, Professor Molly brings her game of buzzword bingo to fend off boredom. When a serial harasser collapses face-first into his haupia cheesecake, the event goes from dull to disastrous.

Now Molly has to fight to keep her best friend out of the worst kind of trouble — and herself off the unemployment line.

Heroes and villains

Let's play "guess the other side of the story!" 

Recently, IHE's Confessions of a Community College Dean column presented a question from an anguished administrator who was worried that the math faculty were poised to "do tremendous and potentially irreversible harm to both students and the institution."

Irreversible harm? That sounds pretty dire, doesn't it? Almost unbelievable, in fact. 

Let's break this down:

Students at our community college struggle with math, a phenomenon common to many students, community college and otherwise.

Fair enough.

 Recently, our math faculty completely revamped the curriculum and implemented a new placement test (the latter with disastrous results and the exam was pulled). 

The placement test straighforwardly and accurately indicated that many students were not ready for college-level math. Administrators realized that the effect on their throughput and completion benchmarks would be "disastrous" and unilaterally put the kibosh on the math faculty's placement test.
Some of the parameters within the new curriculum are antithetical to student success.

Despite the setback of having their placement test yanked, the math department still refuses to hand out a passing grade and a trophy to every student.

 For example, in order to move from one 7-week class to the next, a student must pass an exit exam with a score of 70%. If she does not, she will earn a D or F in the course, regardless of her status prior to that test.

Competency-based assessment is all very well as long as students are not required to demonstrate actual competency.

Faculty own the curriculum; that point is never questioned. 

This AAUP-appeasing boilerplate must be repeated out loud every so often. It is about as meaningful as the corporate annual reports that proclaim, "our people are our greatest asset" right before trumpeting the cost savings realized by laying off thousands of workers.

However, what if the faculty decisions stand to do tremendous and potentially irreversible harm to both students and the institution? If other faculty approve the curricular changes in the shared governance process, what are the reasonable options that can also avoid irreparable damage to the relationship between faculty and administration?

"Shared governance" is all very well as long as faculty don't act like they own the curriculum.

Anyone have a more charitable interpretation? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Re:I want the Hindi version?

Dear Mr./Mrs. Misery:

I am Sarah from New Delhi,I am working in a translation company in New Delhi,
I am good at translation,
English to Hindi, or Hindi to English, as I am India based, I know very well about Hindi Language.
Do you want me to translate any docs for you?

Best Regards.

Sarah Supal

New Delhi, India

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Back Row Boys

Dr. Amelia's merry band of freshpersons is ticking along as such things usually do, and she is generally enjoying the semester, thankyouverymuch

However, she has a puzzling subculture within the merry band - the Back Row Boys. This group of future fraternity brothers is just not as on top of things as the rest of the students. Other gentle ladies and men take notes. They participate. When the Amazing Amelia throws out questions, they sincerely think about answers. The Back Row Boys come it exactly on time, sit and stare (except the one who texts under his desk the entire class) and pack up early, packing up meaning replacing the baseball cap on the head.

They are not generally troublesome, they are just there. They are very nearly all finance majors, and even when Dr. Amelia has modified class plans to try to speak to their interests, nothing. Their grades are mixed - some do well, some do quite poorly, but this is true of the others as well. They are just there.

All Tweeter?

It's not my call, but why don't we go on Twitter instead. This page is struggling, and has for many many months. I feel some ownership of it because of my time as mod and my years on the site. I love it, but I love mostly what it was.

Without OPH, Cassandra, Amelia, Frod, and a handful of others, it wouldn't have any content at all, and it makes me sad to go back even a year ago and see how much livelier it was.

It's been suggested here before by Ben, Cal, and others that the old blog model just doesn't carry the freight as it once did. Tech changes, you know, and Tweeter is probably dead already, too, but I feel empathy pains for poor Fab, who I suspect sits in between classes and checks for new posts that don't come.

Maybe I'm out of bounds, and I've even been blamed for damaging the page in the past, but maybe a shakeup is necessary.

Sorry if this navel-gazing is annoying to some.

Terry P.

Friday, October 21, 2016

support duck

Apparently we aren't the only ones to turn to a duck when our equanimity needs restoring.  I hope our duck doesn't feel neglected because we haven't issued him shoes, or a diaper, or taken him on a plane (I assume all those compound moves have been made by u-haul, or perhaps VW camper van).

Contingent Cassandra (possibly from Conshohocken)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half Assed Big (Not Really) Thirsty.

I read this thing below at this place:

My partner and I met 11 years ago while she was working in the public health sector and I was studying for my doctoral degree. Over the years, she has witnessed the highs and lows of my move into academic life – the late, lonely nights with only my laptop for company, the lengthy, soul-destroying search for employment and the relief of (finally) securing a permanent academic post. Academia has become an ever-present third party in our relationship, for better and for worse.
In many ways, having a partner who does not cohabit my academic world makes little difference to me. Our daily lives are shaped by myriad decisions and experiences that remain untouched by our disparate careers – what to have for dinner; how to celebrate our birthdays; whose turn it is to feed the cat. In other ways, though, my partner’s detachment from academic life is deeply significant to me.

I tried to think of a question about it. But I went and had Chinese food instead.

Q: What about that?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

University of Florida offers counseling for students offended by Halloween costumes.

So, the University of Florida is going to be offering counseling for students offended by Halloween costumes? I'm so dumbfounded I can't even come up with something funny to properly make fun of this. For a myriad of reasons, which I can't get my head totally around, there's an epidemic of mental health issues affecting students at colleges and universities.

From my perspective I have students regularly emailing me asking for extensions or exemptions from tests, assignments, etc. based on some mental health issue, where the common refrain is "I have gone to the university's counseling services so that I can get registered with disability services (in order to qualify for alternate exam arrangements, etc) but the next available appointment slot is 2 months from now." Oh, and the student health plan gives students four hours of counseling (FOUR hours) before they're kicked to the curb and they have to find an off-campus counselor or therapist which they usually can't afford.

In other words, the demand for on-campus counseling services far outstrips the resources available to students, and I've heard from colleagues that this is also the case at other unis. So unless the University of Florida has a stand-out cornucopia of funding and personnel for its counseling services, then I can't understand why the hell this is even a thing.

The Misery

- Prof Poopiehead

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reminder about Pseudonymity.

Since even RYS, community members have been identified with pseudonyms. Oh, there's a long history of the "Josie from Jeffersonville" style of names. Or someone famous like "Beaker Ben" or "Contingent Cassandra." Wicked Walter from Waxahachie went one letter further! But he's crazzy.

Anyway, one of the rules of CM includes this:

Do not post under multiple monikers or logins. Do not post anonymously or with "non-names" like Nobody, No One, Anonymous Prof, Unknown, etc.

Using "Anonymous" is only possible if I have one setting up that allows members to simply type in a Name they use on the page, and it saves them from tying up their Google account - a common problem for folks who use a private Google account and have their own Gmail account for personal business. It's a courtesy, I guess. 

But lately there's been an uptick in Anonymous, and even though it's sometimes rather clear who is talking, it's not a sure thing, and longtime readers hate it. You want to know how I know? Because I hear about it...haha. And seriously, that's fine. It bugs me, too.

So, quit with the anonymous or I'll shut that option and all comments will have to be generated through a signed-in Google account - which, face it, a lot of us have anyway.

Just a head's up. Thanks.


When a professor supports Trump.

Many of my colleagues in academia find it hard to imagine why a reasonable person would support Trump. Most of the people who talk politics with me are those who agree with me or are on the fence, undecided about whether to vote for Trump, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. People who definitely oppose Trump don’t even want to debate the issues with me anymore.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Random Meme Left By Someone.


The person who posted Texting Tina asked me to take it down. I always respond to such requests.

That poster and 2 others wrote to me asking me to better enforce the policy on not allowing anonymous posts. You must a pseudonym and it should be consistent. It is one of the longstanding rules of the blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Dr. Gibson - No more using that big stick :) It needs batteries." Annie finds comedy gold in the Reddit hinterlands.

So since the start of my CS class, my teacher had always complained about not having a laser pointer. Instead, she had to use a heavy-ish meter stick, because the board was about 8 ft off the ground. So I thought, hey, wouldn't it be nice of me to buy her a laser pointer. Boy was I wrong.


Friday, October 14, 2016

When is it time to give in?

I'm a long-time lurker of College Misery, and I enjoy this blog tremendously. I'm looking for advice right now about teaching; I've been teaching writing and literature courses at my current university for 7 years, and during this time, I have taught 21 courses. This is a private university that is one of the most expensive schools in the country. The students have a strong sense of entitlement, and the faculty act as if they are scared of them. My department cares a lot about course evaluations and keeping students happy and satisfied.

The problem I'm having is trying to maintain rigorous academic standards while teaching in a department that lets students do whatever they want. 

My course evaluations are lower than the department average. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being excellent, 1 being poor), the department average is 4.3. I usually average around 3.7 or 3.8; however, my median is 4.0 (there's usually 1 or 2 students who give me all 1's without even reading the questions, which brings my average down). In the comments, students complain about how my standards are too high, my grading is too harsh, and my policies are too strict. They've even compared me to other professors, noting that I grade more harshly than my colleagues. Students have also written offensive comments about my appearance, which I attribute to the freedom they feel to say these things because I'm a young woman of color. 

Each semester, a student complains to the department chair about me, and he always sides with them. He indirectly threatened to not renew my contract if my evaluations didn't improve (I'm an adjunct). Mind you, he's never visited my class before, so he doesn't even know if their complaints are warranted. I am always open to classroom visitors. Since I've been teaching here, I've had five visitors, and they've all praised my teaching methods. My colleagues even come to me for advice about assignments, grading, and other teaching concerns.  

However, after talking with my colleagues, I can see why students are baffled that I expect them to show up on time, pay attention, and participate in class. One colleague admitted that she couldn't remember the last time she gave a student lower than a B+ on an assignment. Another said that he isn't strict about deadlines and allows students to submit assignments up until the last day of class. The most popular professor in the department shows movies during most of his classes and gives easy assignments that students can complete in five or ten minutes (his evaluations are high but I doubt students are learning anything). I observed another colleague's class, and most of her students were playing on their laptops and not paying attention to her. One student even came to class fifteen minutes late, told my colleague that he slept in, and asked if she could tell him what he missed. She actually stopped lecturing to catch him up. 

I am completely troubled that my colleagues have thrown academic standards out the window. On student evaluation day, the department kitchen is filled with leftover snacks from professors. Because this is so common, it seems as if students expect us to bring treats on that day (I still don't - it's a gendered expectation that I don't support). And because my department places so much emphasis on course evaluations, my colleagues jump through hoops in order to placate students. 

My dilemma is two-fold: do I join my colleagues in lowering expectations or do I stick to my principles? Do I give up and let students win, or do I maintain standards, even if I'm the last professor in this school to do so (I'm reminded of the inspiring "Not in My Classroom" post from Rate Your Students). Maintaining standards may compromise my employment, but I do not want to contribute to the bastardization of the American education system. 

I love teaching, but not in these conditions. 

-Frustrated in Forville

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Professor explains the rise of ‘precious snowflakes’

Thought your readers would be interested in this. I am not the author.

“People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying. The helicopter parent protects the children from real dangers but also fantasy dangers. These precious snowflakes are the children of political correctness, their parents and schools lead them to believe that the world is perfectly moralistic — they don’t live in the real world, it is a fantasy,” he said.

The Misery:

The Royal Wee

I scrounged the last working "old school" overhead projector in the building. It seems the classroom's ceiling-mounted digital projector had gone on the fritz yesterday; when later polled, every colleague who'd earlier been in that room claimed that since everybody already knew about it, they didn't need to tell anybody. So it was just an ordinary Tuesday.

Even though I'd arrived atypically early, now I was running late, and I still needed to grab blank transparencies and another Sharpie from the department office. (By now you've probably guessed that there are no chalkboards or whiteboards in this room.) So that students wouldn't think class was cancelled, I projected onto the screen a note to the effect of "Today: 4th Law of Hamster Thermodynamics," scrawled on a piece of cellophane sandwich wrapper, and ran upstairs.

I returned to find most of the students seated and talking to each other but nary a (text- or note-) book open on a desk. I sighed, flipped a transparency onto the projector, and started to write.

"Uh, professor?" came a confident voice from the student seated two desks behind the projector.

"Yes, Mr. Hruutspungar."

"Could you, like, move the projector? It's blocking the screen and we can't see around it."

It is the academic's nature to consider new evidence; if there's one thing we know, it's that we hardly ever know everything about anything. I looked back at the projector, then surveyed the room. The aggrieved student's desk was surrounded by several unoccupied desks; I hypothesized that other students had chosen theirs for the clear view they afforded. It was easy to test this by estimating sightlines from the corners of the screen to the observers' eyes. Additionally, I was more than a little familiar with this room---I've logged many hours in it and have occupied every desk myself during seminars etc. over the past decade. In about the time the average person takes to read the first sentence of this paragraph, I concluded that the projector was not significantly obstructing anyone's view but Hruutspungar's.

Yet... I wanted more data. "When you say 'we can't see around the projector,' you mean just yourself, right?"

"No, I mean everybody."

I exchanged quizzical looks with Hruutspungar's nearest classmate and turned to another, my expression imploring clarification. I was met with upturned palms and a shrug, the international sign of I have no idea what the fuck this guy's talking about.

I was suddenly reminded of the three mountain problem, and it just escaped:

"Didn't Piaget figure all this out with a bunch of three-year-olds?"

And did a flash of recognition cross the faces of a few students? I savored the illusion that it did. Ah, but not dear, blankly uncomprehending Hruutspungar's. Even so, I regretted my implied unfavorable comparison and tried to make amends.

"I'm sorry. That last thing... it's from another problem I've been working on. Please ignore it." I shifted to a croon and gestured to another desk. "Mr. Hruutspungar, I believe you'll find the view from this desk far superior to that of your own."

"No, you need to move the projector. The top part is sticking up and..."

"The projector stays. Let's try my idea."

"But I don't see how that's..."

"That's rather the point, yes? To see?" I took a second to temper my rising snark. "Please, just... switch desks."

Hruutspungar grudgingly dragged his backpack to the other desk and schlumpfed into the seat, his expression brightening as he again fixed his gaze to the screen.

"Hey, did you move the projector?"


"Well, it's like in a totally different position now, so you musta." He pronounced it as he writes it.

I was lost for words, but one student was not.

"Actually, Spung, maybe you thought you were moving from here to there, but what really happened is, the projector and everything else in the room moved in an equal and opposite direction."

Other students took up the chain: "Not just all the stuff, but the room itself." "The whole building!" "The continent" "The planet!" "The universe!" Some raised their hands to their heads and then splayed fingers and mimicked explosions: minds blown.

I was at once amazed, gratified, hopeful, resigned, despondent. I had no where to put it all.

--from OPH

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Mantra for Midterms (redux)

I'm not sure whether flashing back to one's own posts is the done thing, but I'm feeling in need of the mantra for midterms* I proposed a few years ago today:

They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do

The first half of this semester has been hard, for no one big reason but a whole bunch of small ones: it came too close on the heels of a too-busy summer which followed a difficult spring; I'm teaching 4 sections of the same class on 3 different schedules; neither the LMS nor my home internet connection have been functioning quite as expected (but neither has been functioning consistently badly enough for the problem to be diagnosed and fixed). 

I've been chugging along, more or less keeping up with most things, but I'm feeling more scattered and generally not on top of things, and especially more behind on grading, than usual.  And I'm falling into an all-too-familiar counterproductive pattern of  not taking a day off (or even getting to bed on time) because I'm too far behind, even though I really need a day (or three) off (and a good night's sleep), and would probably be more productive if I just took a break.  

On the other side of the equation, my students are all STEM majors,with a significant proportion of recent transfers (mostly from community college), and it's clear from chatter overheard before, after, and, yes, during class that they're getting back grades on midterms, that those grades are much lower than they'd like, and that they're beginning to fear that they might be failing all their classes (which is probably catastrophizing in most cases, but we all do that at times, and this generation seems especially given to anxiety in general, and, has been conditioned by their K-12 experiences to be especially nervous about tests, and grades in particular). 

So they ask questions about their grades in my class, and I try to remind (convince?) myself that such questions at this time of year represent an opportunity. Not only do I still have time to catch up on grading; this is also a point in the semester where it's possible to return either high or low grades with a better than average chance of their having a positive effect on the student's performance going forward.

If the grades are high, or even satisfactory, the students receiving them will be relieved that at least they're doing okay in my class,and perhaps convinced that my repeated reassurance that just keeping up with the work tends to result in passing the class has some basis in fact (it does, though there may still be unhappiness later in the semester about passing with a B rather than an A). 

On the other hand, if I hand back a low grade with reassurance that there's still time to revise/improve (which at this point in the semester is true), they may be willing to seize on an opportunity to do well in at least one of their classes. 

Or so I'm telling myself as I scramble to catch up with the grading, and to keep up with the flood of emailed questions, some of them more coherent than others,  that results every time I post a bunch of grades (a response which has its own, also counterproductive, conditioning effect on me: what experienced rat is going to press the lever when the result is an electric shock, or run eagerly through the maze when the "reward" at the end is another even more complex one?)  

*My other excuse is that the 2012 post has some great comments from much-missed members of the CM community, plus a link to a wonderful Greta haiku.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Sometimes a comment just needs to be displayed a little more freely in the sunshine.

mods just
fucking cry.
The teachers always help students to earn their knowledge and make their lessons regularly. But when some teachers do some wrong then more of them teachers got wrong near people. So teachers take care of themselves regularly.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


I am a longtime community member. I teach and live in the path of Matthew and woke up to a crunching sound as a tree crashed through the roof of my kitchen. My family and I are all safe but we have extensive damage to the house and no power and no contact yet with authorities.

My briefcase full of schoolwork was at the foot of my bed and I had bitched for 2 days about it and the students who created it, making life unpleasant for everyone around!

A nice recalibration of the relativity of misery. When we sort out our problems here, repairing wood and glass, chain sawing a 60 year-old tree into slices, I will turn my sights on my job again, and I hope I will hang on to the recently gained  perspective.

For others in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida affected, good luck.

- anonymous 

Friday, October 7, 2016

But there was plenty of space there!

From the Department of Not My Job to Think:

We are in the process of getting fancy new alarm systems put into the labs around our place, only a wee bit over a year after we had a major break-in. These things take time!. Anyway, last Friday apparently someone ordered a handyperson to install movement sensors in the labs. The labs were quiet, no one in them. They looked around and found the perfect spot for them:

Right smack dab in the middle of the piece of wall we use to project the beamer picture. Duh.

Of course it's free. We need it to be free (and it would be nice if it got a paint job someday, as colleagues with ink-stained fingers touch the wall to point something out instead of using a laser pointer). We actually TEACH in these rooms. 

We managed to get the people back up to remove the damn things, but now we have holes in the wall and are forbidden from filling them ourselves on account of union rules or something... and they couldn't find anyplace else to install the movement sensors. 

Will the holes get filled by Christmas? I'm not holding my breath.

-- Suzy

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thirsty: Peak CS?

I'm admittedly observing from a biased viewpoint, since most of my teaching load consists of  sections of Writing for Scientists, but it seems to me that more and more of my students are majoring in Computer Science (and, as I noted in a comment on Frankie's post below, they all seem to be obsessed with Big Data, though always with good intentions; whatever majors college students choose, a good many of them seem to have hopes of saving the world, as well as making some money, via the profession of their choice, which is both touching and encouraging.  They also remind each other regularly of the ethical issues involved in collecting data -- also encouraging).  In some ways, this makes sense; computers are, after all, essential to all kinds of activities these days, and my university has a growing engineering school (I suspect a lot of universities have growing engineering schools). 

But it still seems a bit unbalanced, even within the science realm, especially when I consider that 10-15 years ago everybody seemed to be going into nursing and other health professions (partly because of forecasts of a coming shortage of nurses,  which sounded ominously familiar to this possessor of a Ph.D. funded by people who projected a shortage of humanities Ph.D.s, and, from what I've heard, the nursing projections had similar outcomes -- the work was there, all right, but a lot of it got outsourced and/or rearranged so that lower-paid people could do more of it).  It's not as if the baby boomers got younger, or less in need of help/replacement, in the last decade+ (though the CS folks have solutions for that, too: those that aren't obsessed with Big Data are obsessed with self-driving cars -- which of course would be useful to seniors, though students always seem rather surprised when I point that out -- or robots, including care/assistance robots). 

And of course as a humanities proffie (albeit one who teaches almost exclusively gen ed classes), I'm aware of the declining number of humanities majors, even as I see occasional calls for people with the flexible skills built by pursuing such majors, and wonder if the pendulum might just swing our way one of these days (probably long after my retirement). 

But for the moment, I'm wondering whether others are seeing a rise in CS (or similar) majors, and/or see other cyclical patterns in choice of major?  If so, what do you think drives those cycles?  And do they serve students well, or just contribute to the number of un/underemployed, and so dissatisfied, investors in a college education (formerly known as college grads)? 


Annie's Recent Post Is on Reddit.

Here's the link to see some of the comments generated in response to Annie's Black Lives Matter post.

And here's some flava:
  • They were "with" BLM. Horse shit. That was them attempting to intimidate through false credentials. BLM is just a goddamned hashtag, it's not the NAACP. She's claiming they weren't black students, which is possible, but they were definitely racist SJWs.
  • I sorta blame Annie for this. Instead of dismissing the issue outright and refusing to interact, she gave them a platform. She should have said, "I'll take your suggestion under advisement." and left the conversation there. If they continue, have them removed, or continue to dismiss them. Engaging them further is going to do nothing but expose weakness.

Scavenger hunt!

Here's another edu-disrupto-preneur piece claiming that "increasing affordability, quality, and student success all at once" is not only possible, but can be done in a "financially sustainable" way.

Yes! The only things stopping us are "inertia, finger-pointing, and buck passing." If we can stop being so lazy and pessimistic, we can magically achieve what no institution in has ever done before, for the first time in millennia! We can defy gravity, create perpetual motion, and spin straw into gold!

Your assignment:
Find one single substantiated fact in this article.

Just one

Bonus points if you can resist the urge to insert [citation needed] after every sentence.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


At least three longtime community members are in the track of Hurricane Matthew, not to mention dozens of colleges and this page's mythical compound.

Safety first, friends. Good luck.

A Conversation I Had Today

"Tardy Theresa, I noticed that you've been coming late to class a lot lately.  Is something preventing you from coming to class on time?"

"Nope.  I'm just late," she chirped.

"Uh, don't be late?" I said, not quite sure how to respond to such cheerful admission of fecklessness. 

"Oh, okay!"

Well.  There was a teaching moment well-seized.  I'm sure that resolved the issue completely.

--Prof Chiltepin

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Office Hours Playlet

Scene: A moderately disorganized office with papers strewn about and piles of books on the floor. The room is dark because there are no windows. A student walks in.

Matthy Matthew: Good morning. How's it going?

Struggling Stephen: Not so well. I came in to talk to you about last week's exam.

MM: Okay, let's take a look.

Student pulls out exam, revealing a score of 36% F. MM flips through to look at SS's mistakes.

SS: I really struggled with the graphing problem. Can we go over it?"

MM: Sure. The inequality is x - 3y > 6. We need to try and get the y alone, so we subtract x from both sides. What are we left with on the left?

SS: Three y.

MM: No, we have negative three y.

SS: Why is it negative?

MM: In the original problem, it was x minus three y. The coefficient on the y is negative three. That term is negative.

SS: Okay.

MM: So we're left with -3y > 6 - x. What do we do next? How can we get the y alone?

SS: We subtract three. No, we subtract negative three. No, we add three.

MM: No. The y is being multiplied by negative three. The opposite of that is dividing by negative three, so if we want to get the y alone, we need to divide by negative three.

SS: Oh.

MM: So we're left with y on the left hand side. What do we get when we divide six by negative three?

SS: Two.

MM: No, we get negative two. A positive divided by a negative is a negative.

SS: Oh.

MM: So we're left with y < -2 + (1/2) x. We have to flip the sign because we divided by a negative.

SS: Okay.

MM: So, we start our graph by plotting the y-intercept. What's the y-intercept?

SS: One half?

MM: No, it's negative two. The y-intercept is the constant term: the one without the x.

SS: Oh. Where do we put it?

MM rolls eyes as he loses patience, since graphed at least fifteen examples in class using the y-intercept.

MM: We look on the y-axis and go down two units to negative two.

SS: Okay.

MM: Now, what's the slope?

SS: One half?

MM: Yes!

MM gets just a little too excited, considering the student had already made four mistakes on the problem. Standards have clearly been lowered.

MM: So we go up one unit and to the right two units, and that gives us another point. And we keep going until we have a nice line.

SS: Okay.

MM: Now, we need to shade one side of the line. Do we shave above or below?

SS: Above.

MM: No, we need to shade below here. Since y is less than negative two plus one half x, we shade below. Because we want smaller values of y, and smaller values of y are on the bottom of the plane.

SS: I have a question.

MM: Yes?

SS draws a "greater than" sign and a "less than" sign. Student points to "greater than" sign.

SS: This sign means "less than," right?

MM sighs. We spent four days on inequalities, looking at dozens and dozens of them, and still this kid doesn't know which is which.


MM helps SS solve an absolute value equation.

SS: I don't think we actually covered these in class.

MM: Yes, we did. We spent a day on them.

SS: Well, they weren't in the study guide.

MM pulls out a copy of the study guide and leafs through it.

MM: Here. There are actually three problems in the study guide addressing these problems. I believe we went over one of them during the review session.

SS: Oh.


I understand that some students come in with weak backgrounds, and many struggle with the material. But these are some of the most basic things we've covered over and over, and it's exhausting when students totally flub the first month and then think that they can just fill in a small gap here and there and be prepared. And then they go and accuse me of testing them on something we didn't cover in class.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

This is Why the Duck Gets The Big Money.

Annie Has Her First Run-In With the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Two students wanted to meet with me on Friday. They were dodgy about what they wanted to discuss, but I said I'd give them half an hour. The two students show up early and basically just come in. I'm bunking with the guy I've hired til they can get a cubicle so out of deference to his work, I ask the students to join me in a nearby common area.

They jump right into it.

"We're with black lives matter and we saw that as of X date you were hiring for these two positions, yes?" They whip out a screen shot of the school jobs board and put it on the table. The two Junior Fellowships are highlighted.

"Uhm. Yes. One of the-"

Completely cuts me off.

"And you filled one of the positions, yes?"

It's like an interrogation over facts that are harmless and nobody disputes.

"As i was [i]about[/i] to say, yes." I try to show that I'm annoyed. Either they don't notice or don't care.

"And we see that you gave the position to a white male."

I control my physical reaction. Deep breath.

"Yes, it so happens that that's the way it worked out."

"We'd like you to hire a female POC for the other position as part of the university's goal to [goes off about promoting POCs and black lives]."

I blink. "I think I'm a bit too pretty for prison so I don't think I'll be using a quota for filling the position as that is quite illegal. And also even if I wanted to I couldn't."

They don't understand. I take another deep breath. "For non-teaching positions, which is what this is, the contract between the union and the school stipulates that I can only consider: Their CV and assorted research that they've published, written references, objective tests I ask them to take, and questions that I ask them to answer. For both of the last two it has to go through Human Resources. I will never seem, know their race, or even know their name. I get the resumes in a standardized format with all personal information removed. I could google their research to find their name, but that is prohibited."

Keep in mind I couldn't just say this. I had to overpower attempted interruptions multiple times.

One of them shouts "That's bullshit!" I frostily reply that it is not.

"The union fought really hard to put this policy in place. Do you know why? It combats nepotism, cronyism and, yes, it combats racism."

The male one stands and shouts, again "It [i]perpetuates[/i] racism!" He's getting right in my face. I can smell his breath. I'll admit to being a bit scared, but I didn't sense any immediate physical harm so I remained seated. The girl sort of reaches out to him to tell him to sit and he does. For a half second I contemplated calling security. But that would only turn it into a "thing". I determine that I need to end this now before it got out of hand and someone [i]else[/i] calls security.

"I have a lot of work to do. If you wish to continue this discussion, you should speak with Human Resources." I get up and fast walk away after a weak good-bye.

I honestly didn't believe stuff like this happened til it happened to me. I find out last night that the students recorded the conversation without my consent and then posted it online without my consent. Along with a diatribe about what an awful monster of a racist I am with charming phrases such as "her fucking white tears" (even though I absolutely shed zero tears), "white bitch", and "dumb white women". Both of these things (recording and posting w/o consent) are illegal in my state. Dean (who was the one who showed me) is going through the "channels" of discipline. He's pissed for me, not at me, fortunately but has said that this is a learning experience about meeting with students alone. Fiance wants to take vacation time to come to work with me in case they show up again. I have been with him nearly six years and have never seen him this angry. What the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK?!

I just... nothing goes right. The first fucking time I get a break this shit happens IMMEDIATELY. This could ruin my career if it blows up, and I bet that's exactly what the students want to happen. They WANT it to blow up. I want to cry and laugh at the same time. It's such fucking bullshit. I couldn't afford to MOVE OUT until, like, a month ago. And they think they're slaying Goliath. Fuck my fucking life. FUCK these selfish fucking students. Fuck society. /rant

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The TubaPlayingProf Seeks The Guidance of a Tiny and Unruly Group of Academi-cranks.

I foresee a huge conflict coming here at Ambitious State.

The ever-growing offices for social engagement and for social inclusion—two missions that I personally feel are worthwhile—have mentioned to students that they will soon offer classes—to address the issues that each feels is important. They tell the students that these courses will be required of all students.

I sense a serious clash between the officers and the academics. For the earnest and sincere people in the two offices have not partnered with any academic departments—yet they assure the students that these courses will be available next fall.

For over eighty years, course proposals have come from academic departments, then gone through a rigorous (and at time ridiculously so) evaluation and assessment on both the college and university level, then on to final approval by the Trustees. (It once took three years for me to get an elective in my department through the process.)

Academics by disposition resist change—and I think I know how will they react when required classes come from offices instead of departments.

Are we here at good old Ambitious State merely once again behind the times? Are offices elsewhere proposing then offering classes—for college credit—in the general education banks? Who approves them? Who teaches them? Faculty? Officers with no training in teaching? Do they hire adjuncts? Who pays for them? Do the course replace other electives? Required courses? Or are additional credits students must earn? Does everyone take these courses? Will the admins who set up then hired the staff for these offices side with the academics or the officers? How do students react to being required to take these two courses—that do not appear to prepare them for careers (in their view)? How will the media respond—if at all? The two or three state representatives who have recently attacked Ambitious State? The Governor?

Am I overreacting (as usual)? (I am a teaching faculty member after all.) What am I overlooking?