Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009, and Good Riddance

So I've been thinking on and off all day about what to write in honor of the passing of this year, I've toyed with doing the meme I've done previously (too lazy to link), I've tried to think of any deep thoughts I've got, etc.

And you know what? The most I can say is that I've never felt so happy, that I can recall, for a year to be over. 2009 was a rough year for me. This is not to say that there weren't good things, for there were, but it was also a year that had a lot of low lows, and I'm fucking done with it.

I've got a good feeling about 2010. I only have one resolution this year - fitness. In recent years I've always stuck fitness on a list of resolutions, and it's always the one that I don't achieve. This year I'm not messing around - this is the one and only thing on which I plan to focus my attention. I've spent tonight making detailed plans so that this will come to fruition - much in the way that I've done with other resolutions I've actually achieved in past years.

But I've got lots of other things I'm looking forward to in 2010, which include:

1) A course release this spring.
2) A summer fellowship for the summer, so no summer teaching, and sabbatical in the fall, so no fall teaching or service.
3) (Assuming all goes according to plan) buying a house.
4) Getting to work on my next book.
5) Travels to a variety of locations, some for work and some not.

So here's wishing you all a happy, happy, happy 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Well, I somehow survived the last 4 days, and I am home and I feel sort of wound up like I have a lot I want to say, but I am also feeling so exhausted that I can't string thoughts coherently. In other words, this will likely be a rambling, scattered sort of post.

Now, first things first. I really love the MLA convention. I don't think one is supposed to say that. I think one is supposed to complain about its awfulness or something. And yes, I think objectively it is sort of awful, but I love it anyway. Perhaps the best way to convey what the MLA is for me would be to give you a play-by-play of the last 4 days.

Dec. 27

9:30 AM - Crazy arrives at airport and breezes through security and gets to her gate to see 3 of her colleagues will be on her flight. To her delight, one of those colleagues is Mentor Colleague! Huzzah! I love Mentor Colleague. We have much delightful conversation and then we board the plane.

On the plane, Crazy reviews the files of the candidates, and makes some notes for herself.

We arrive in Philadelphia, get the shuttle to the hotel. I check in. I learn that I'm in a stupid hotel that requires you to have a key to use the elevator or to access the stairs. This is ridiculous when you're going to have to interview candidates in a room on the 3rd floor. So I make my way over to the MLA housing desk and I am all "Um, this is nuts" and they call the hotel and it all ends up being fine. I then ran into Mentor Colleague again and grabbed some lunch and had a very nice long chat with him.

5:30 PM I meet Search Committee Colleague for a strategizing dinner. SCC is very uptight, but he's nice enough, I suppose. This is the first time I've ever spent more than 5 minutes talking to him.

7:30 PM I run back to my hotel to freshen up.

8:15 PM I head back over to the Marriott (late, we will note, for something that I scheduled) to meet up with Bloggy Peeps! Huzzah! The MLA has begun! (For the record, why don't we just say that the bloggy peeps meet-up will always be at 8 PM in the english hotel bar on the first night of MLA? I feel like it's such a nice way to start the convention!)

Midnight-ish I return to the hotel to sleep.

Dec. 28

6:30 AM - I awake and take myself to breakfast. I then return to my room to shower, to clean up the room, to prepare for the day of interviewing.

9:30 AM - SCC arrives at my room and we go over the candidates we'll be interviewing that day.

10AM to Noon - interviewing.

Noon - head to lunch, and then to book exhibit area, where I plucked up the courage to approach Very Good Press to talk about the Next Book. At first the guy seemed sort of blank, but once I talked through the project, INTERESTED! He gave me the card of the editor who would handle the book, should I propose it to them, and he encouraged me to email her! My book would fit perfectly with their list! Now, this doesn't mean very much at this early stage, but I felt very positive about it.

1:40 PM to 4 PM - interviewing.

5 PM - meet up with sort-of friend (though i sort of despise him) and go to Hotel Room Party with Whiskey, where I proceed to get drunkedy drunk drunk. This is what happens when dinner is crackers.

10 PM - stagger back to my own hotel room, annoy FB with a drunken phone call, pass out.

Dec. 29

6:30 AM - I awake. I curse the day I was born. I take advil and drink about 45 gallons of water, eat an apple for breakfast, and think about how it's really not sensible to drink so much.

7:30 AM - 10 AM - interviewing.

10:15 AM - 11:30 AM - panel for the society of which I am president.

11:30 AM - lunch, and shopping for society business meeting/party.

12:45 PM - 4:00 PM - interviewing

4:15-ish PM - I am late to meet Horace for a drink, but we do manage to meet up, and it is lovely. I blow off arriving on time for another engagement, and we make plans to meet up again later.

6 PM - I show up late to a wine and cheese thingie, but ultimately I was wise to show up late because the business had only just begun. I volunteer to be a reader for a journal. Because I'm a sucker for such things.

7:30 PM - go to the liquor store to buy wine for business meeting/party.

8PM -9PM - return to room to freshen up, straighten up, and ready the food and drink for the business meeting/party.

9PM - 10:15 PM - hold the business meeting/party.

10:25 PM - meet up with Horace and head over to another party, in a FANCY sweet, but apparently we arrived after most of the people left. Get to meet Very Fancy People whom I admire greatly, and then we make our exit.

(Time gets muddy at this point, for I've been drinking pretty much steadily since 4:30 PM)

Head with Horace to the Marriott Bar, meet up with Sisyphus, and drink whiskey with abandon. I then go back to my hotel room and collapse into the bed.

Dec. 30

11:15 AM - I wake up, pack up my shit, and leave my bag downstairs so I can head over to a panel and to see whether there are any giveaways or deals at the book exhibit.

12:15-12:45 - panel

12:45 - 1:30 - lunch

1:30 I head back to the hotel and arrange for the shuttle.

2:10 get the shuttle, get to the airport and breeze through check-in and security, and meet back up with 2 colleagues, for again we are on the same flight.

Somehow I then made it home, to two kittens, one of whom I think eats to comfort himself when I'm gone and the other whom I think doesn't eat because he's depressed.

But so anyway, that's what MLA is like for me. And yes, it's awful. And tiring. But I love that I get to see people I don't see anyplace else, and I love all of the parties and the socializing and getting to talk about my work, and all of that. The thing is, MLA is not a conference - it's a convention. And conventions are about all of this crazy hobnobbing and networking. And I know that's not everybody's cup of tea, but it is my cup of tea, apparently. What's nuts is that I didn't even do everything I might have done this year. And I'm totally not fancy or anything - I just really do the convention.

In other news, a review of my book has appeared. It's not positive (at all), but I'm strangely ok with that. Here's the thing: I didn't write the book that this reviewer wanted me to have written. And I can't really feel badly about somebody not liking my book for not being a different book. Some of the criticisms are totally fair, and if I were writing the book now, I know that it would be a different book. Maybe a better book, but maybe it would still have these flaws. Or different ones. But it still wouldn't be the book that this person wanted it to be. I kind of feel like somebody else needs to write the book that the reviewer wishes I would have written. Maybe, in fact, the reviewer should do it, as the reviewer has not published a book.

What's weird is that I feel like I should be devastated or something that the review basically says that the book's a piece of shit. Except I'm not. I just feel like the reviewer totally didn't get it. Maybe that's stupid. Maybe I should take the negative review more seriously, or more to heart, or something. But then I think, why? I think the best thing about the book is that it's out and done. I love that I never have to think about those particular things again. I love that I'm moving forward with totally new things. I love that a lot of people who've read the book have liked it or found it useful in their own scholarship. Of course, they've not said so in a journal, but then I think, you know, I've never read a single article in the journal in which this thing was reviewed. And, typically, I don't actually read reviews of books. So who cares? I mean, it's not a good thing, that my book is hated publicly, but does it really matter?

I'm thinking that it doesn't.

But so this may seem like a digression from the MLA title of the post, but it really isn't. Because here's the thing: the only point of the MLA convention, aside from the interviewing portion of things, is that it's about being active in the profession. And while my book may be garbage, at least in this one reviewer's eyes, that's also about being active in the profession. So maybe I wrote a shitty book. But I wrote it, and it was published. I'm part of the conversation. Really "doing" the MLA convention is about being part of the conversation, too, at least in my experience.

So, yes, I'm exhausted. But I left this MLA feeling totally psyched about getting started on the Next Book (I told lots of people about it, for one of my resolutions over the past couple of years has been to talk about what I'm working on, for that is what I see people I really admire doing, even though my natural inclination is to avoid such self-promoting braggart-like behavior, and in doing so I got some really great suggestions for directions I might take and also a lot of positive interest from people who I think are fantastic), feeling totally psyched about what I might achieve in a society in which I'm heavily involved, and feeling totally good about my institution and about my colleagues and about the hire that we will make after campus visits. And even the totally negative review hasn't changed how I feel about any of that. (Actually, it occurs to me that the person who reviewed my current book will likely despise my Next Book as well. Hee! Because you know what? I'm still not a new historicist or a cultural studies person. Or a psychoanalytic critic. Or somebody who works on non-canonical stuff. Or somebody who does postcolonial theory. I'm just not. And I feel like that's totally ok.)

So as much as I'm exhausted, I'm also energized. And I am very much looking forward to 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

MLA Meet-Up Intel

Have just sent out an email re: an MLA Meet-Up. I think I got everybody who emailed me (and even one who didn't). But if you want to partake and you've not contacted me, or if I missed you accidentally, send me an email tonight at reassignedtime at gmail.

Away, Now Home, Soon To Be Away

First, my apologies for not leaving a "Merry Holidays and Happy Celebratory Day of Your Choosing" sort of post before I cut out, but things were wicked busy up until my time of departure on the afternoon of the 21st (which also would have been my dad's birthday, and I didn't know how to write a breezy post when that was on my mind). A bunch of you had left comments that fell into moderation and I only just now got to posting them. For those of you doing the MLA meet-up, I'll send an email out tonight.

I spent the holidays in my hometown, having quality time with my parents, having fun nights out with my hometown friends, seeing my dad's side of the family (for though it sucks that he's dead and all, the unanticipated positive side effect is that I'm no longer exiled from that side of my family - not that they'd exiled me, but circumstances made me feel uncomfortable seeing them, because it was just too hard to deal with questions about my father, blah, etc., so now I can happily bring myself back into the fold without any angst, which is awfully cool). It was a brief visit, but a good one.

This morning I drove back to my current hometown (because, dude, this place feels like home now - whereas that place feels like a place where I grew up), and the kittens were very meowy and indignant about the fact that they'd eaten all of their food (not because they didn't have somebody coming in to feed them, but because apparently they gobble up whatever is given as if they'll never be fed again when I'm not home), and now I need to pack for MLA to ready myself for tomorrow morning's flight to Philly. For those of you who are perplexed at the fact that a discipline has a major conference between Christmas and New Year's, this has been the way of things for generations, but this is the last year of that. Starting next year, MLA will happen at the same time as AHA - the weekend after New Year's. There are positives and negatives to both sets of dates, though I've got to say, I'm really looking forward to the change.

So now. I need to pack clothes and interviewing odds and ends, I need to charge my phone and my iPod, and I need to attempt to make my cats love me again before I abandon them in like 17 hours. Is it wrong that I'm both looking forward to MLA AND looking forward to it being over?

Perhaps more later this evening, but I feel like I should pack while the impulse strikes me. Have got lots to say about the coming of the new year and about my reflections on this crappy one. So belated Merry Christmas and early Happy New Year! More anon...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

3/4 Classes Graded, and I Need a Break (MLA Meet-Ups, Thoughts on Grad School in English, etc. to follow)

First things first:

I've only heard from like 4 people re: an MLA meet-up on the 27th (which is indeed when it shall happen). If you don't email me at reassignedtime at gmail then you will not get to know where said meet-up is, for I don't believe in publicizing that shit for all of teh internets to see. And I won't be doing any twittering sort of meet-up because I don't do the twittering - which is what I think makes more sense to call it than "tweeting" (even though I did sign up for an account once and like a gajillion people apparently follow my feed, to which I've never posted a substantive update after that first signing up day). So the point here is, if you're into the MLA meeting up with Crazy and other bloggy peeps, you should totally send me an email so that we can make actual plans. I'll be sending a mass email out re: time/location just before MLA, so why not say Christmas Eve is your deadline. Indeed, email me by the 24th or you're out of the loop. (To those of you who've emailed already, I've got you on my list, and in the worst case we will have an intimate meet-up in which we all drink lots of whiskey, or whatever your drink of choice is :) )

And now, for the actual real post that I want to write. I suspect that you've all seen this news from the MLA about the status of the job market. Because I am the bearer of bad tidings at Christmastime, I sent the article to which I linked along to BES, and of course totally made her anxious and unhappy, only then to try to cheer her up. As I said to her, though, it's better to know. But so anyway, Roxie also posted about this, and Historiann linked to Roxie and had a few comments of her own. So I've been thinking a lot about this report about the state of the English job market, especially as I was grading seminar papers for my first ever grad class in our brand-spanking-new MA program.

Let me note this: yes, I'm teaching what are technically "graduate students." But I teach a 4/4 load, and all we've got is an MA program. If I had my druthers, I'd probably not teach in the grad program at all. I enjoy teaching my undergrad students more, and on the whole I think that my undergrad students are stronger students than the grad students in our program. I teach in our grad program as a service to my department, to my institution, and to my region. It is not tremendously rewarding, nor does it really enhance my prestige or my research.

This might surprise you, that I'm saying that. You might think, as is the common wisdom, that all professors are dying to teach grad students. This is often one of the arguments that is asserted when people talk about the "over-supply" of English MAs and PhDs. The "fat-cat" tenured folks just "want to teach graduate students" and so this accounts for the fact that too many people are admitted to graduate programs in a glutted discipline, and this accounts for the adjunct track that currently exists in English.*

Most importantly, let me also note, there is "teaching grad students" in the sense of teaching students who will go on to become part of one's profession and then there is "teaching grad students" who are the cash cow of an underfunded regional university. These two things are not the same thing. The grad students in my department's MA program are not the grad student that I was, nor are they the grad students who would have attended my MA or PhD programs. We started our program not because we had ambitions of sending students on to the professoriate (even the community college professoriate). We started our program a) because we have a lot of high school teachers who need an MA in order to get a pay bump, and having an MA program would allow us to serve those teachers; b) because another audience for our program is people who need an MA to advance in their non-academic jobs, and we can serve them by offering such a program; c) because, in terms of the administration of our own curriculum, we were already offering a graduate curriculum, over which we had no control, to serve other graduate programs at our university, and it was important to us to maintain control over the curriculum that we offer. In other words, in starting our program, we had no ambitions to produce college teachers.

The bulk of the students in our program are unfunded (and I advise all of my undergrads that they shouldn't go to grad school in English without full funding) and even those who get funding are only partially funded. In other words, I would never advise an undergrad student of mine to enroll in our grad program. So the fact that I teach in it hurts my feelings at least and compromises my integrity at worst. But here I am.

The best I can say for myself is that many of my students have their current employers paying for their MA.

But so. I teach graduate students. Most of them have no ambitions toward the professoriate. Those who do, I do my best to dissuade. At the end of the day, this is probably the best I can do.

What does all of this have to do with the MLA report? Well, the thing that pissed me off most was not the news about the dearth of t-t jobs. It was the comments of Rosemary Feal and the president of the MLA grad caucus, Alysia E. Garrison, that indicated that the problem was not the number of grad students that programs admit.

According to Inside Higher Ed,
"But Feal cautioned against trying to solve the job market problem by shrinking graduate programs. Many programs are turning out great new professors, whose teaching and research should be advanced. "It would be a shame for academic programs to calibrate the number of students they admit exclusively on short-turn fluctuations. That would be short-sighted and rather sad," she said.

and, for Garrison,

"Still, she said she would oppose any shrinking of programs. "The declining presence on campus of humanities programs would signal a decline in their importance to the university community," she said. "Admitting fewer graduate students may also justify decisions to cut writing programs and to move toward online delivery models of student instruction, particularly for lower-division writing and literature courses that graduate students have traditionally taught."

Look, I agree that individual programs are not to blame for the adjunctification of higher ed generally or of English specifically. But seriously: a field in which 75% of people with the required degree and qualifications have no fucking hope of getting a job is not going to increase the number of tenure-track positions. Nor will a continuation of that increase the status of the humanities in the wider culture and nor will it increase the capital of programs or departments that produce humanities degrees. I do not blame people who end up on the adjunct track for ending up there. I do not blame people for pursuing this degree and this passion, if they can get into a program. I do blame programs for admitting people when they have no reasonable expectation of them getting a full-time job with benefits. This is not a matter of a "short-term fluctuation." This is reality, and it's the reality we can expect into the future.

And as far as writing programs go, if institutions believe in the teaching of writing as a discipline, then they should hire people who are qualified to teach writing, or at the very least offer faculty development opportunities for people across the university to qualify them to teach those courses. Allowing for an entire field of study to be covered by grad students and adjuncts who don't necessarily specialize in that field is irresponsible at best. Look, I have my own issues with the field of composition, and probably because I'm not a specialist in that field, but if we really believe that every student who graduates from college should have a semester or a year of courses in composition, we should probably fund tenure-track lines to support that belief. If we relegate the majority of the teaching of composition to part-timers and grad students, how important is it really? Teaching composition well requires skill and dedication. It requires a fuck of a lot more than the one-semester of grad school I had before I first taught comp, and I'm saying that as a person who actually had a full-semester course in teaching comp before I entered the comp classroom.

Also, I feel like the "online delivery model" vs. face to face is a false dichotomy. Look, I'll be the first person to say that I think teaching online sucks - both for me and for my students - but if you have a dedicated t-t faculty member teaching online vs. an inexperienced grad student or an overtaxed adjunct teaching f2f, I'd say that the online course might actually be superior. Not because the adjunct or grad student was in some way personally inferior, but rather because good teaching happens when you've got resources. Look, I'm a shitty online teacher, and I've got tenure. I'm looking forward to that moment in May when my online teaching duties are done, mainly because I know I've been a bad online teacher. But the fact that I've done it poorly doesn't mean that I don't see the potential for that delivery method. The fact of the matter is, if I had ever had any instruction in teaching online, or if I taught more online courses, I do believe that my online courses would be superior to an adjunct phoning it in (by necessity) or a grad student teaching for the first time.

So, anyway. Enough with that rant. The point is, why shouldn't there be a mandate for English programs to admit only those students that they can fully fund? Why shouldn't we reduce PhDs through that sort of a method? Why shouldn't we say that professors themselves should have heavier teaching loads to support such an initiative?

I realize I'm in weird position, in that I teach 4/4 and I'm saying that. My load won't likely rise, while people on a 2/2 or similar would likely see their loads rise. And we might see a change in curriculum: maybe we wouldn't require those writing courses that are now the norm, and maybe that would mean that all faculty - across disciplines - would be responsible for making sure that their students could write. Maybe there wouldn't be so many TAs to grade, at institutions where people have TAs to grade. Or maybe we'd need to limit enrollments in such a way that more and more Americans couldn't attend college. Maybe a college education isn't something that every American "deserves." The point is, the current state of higher ed funding doesn't support every student going to college, plus college profs having 2/2 loads, plus plus plus. Something's got to give. What's it gonna be?

With all of that being said, and with all of the good reasons that we had for starting our MA program, I'd be in favor of entirely getting rid of it, even though it isn't directed at students who seek an academic career, necessarily. Sure, we serve particular needs in our community, but I hate that some students really believe that they will ever become English professors through pursuing a degree at my institution. I'd rather, in some ways, that we totally got rid of our program, even though it serves so many. Let's note that our enrollments since starting have been through the roof, as entirely stupid as that is.

I believe in the necessity of people doing research in my field. I believe that it is necessary for students to read literature. I believe that the humanities are central to a well-rounded education. But should departments continue to admit people to grad programs when they can't fund them, selling them the lie of the t-t job? No. Should programs continue to support lower teaching loads when their general education courses are being taught by adjuncts and grad students? No.

Either we believe in the humanities (in English, in literature) enough to pay for people to teach them with a reasonable salary and with benefits, or we don't. If we don't, then fine. Then change the general education requirements of every university, and let's just state it outright.

Or let's realize that we probably need to think about the enrollments in our grad programs in light of what the hiring conditions are, whether or not sections of comp or intro to lit have instructors. And let's commit to the fact that adjuncts or grad students shouldn't be teaching the majority of our core courses, even if refusing to hire adjuncts for those courses pisses our institutions off, and even if faculty members are pissed off that they're not teaching only courses in their specializations.

The point is, the current market isn't a "short-term fluctuation." Our responsibility is to respond to it in a way that has long-term gains, both for our discipline and for higher education generally. That may or may not mean more jobs for PhDs. But the point is, we need to wake up and realize that we can't afford to wait for a turn-around.

*Note: it is true that the vast number of grad programs in English does produce people who can (and most likely will) serve as adjuncts. I just don't think that there's a causal relationship between the existence of an adjunct track and the number of programs, at least not a simple causal relationship. The buck stops, in my estimation, with funding, and that's not about the number of grad students admitted in any one program or across programs. This is not to say that I think that so many students should be admitted to or receive degrees from graduate programs in English. It is to say, however, that the adjunct track exists not because of individual departments and programs but because of the way that institutions choose to fund the humanities, and the ways in which institutions regard the humanities in relation to the value of a college degree.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RBOC: Thoughts at Semester's End

  • I realized today that a choice that I made for my own workload and well-being in a particular course was a huge mistake in terms of my students' performance. Am currently trying to figure out how not to make this same mistake next semester while at the same time not increasing my workload. No idea how I'll achieve this.
  • I've had approximately 4 students cry in my office this semester. Perhaps I need to keep a box of kleenex hidden in my drawer? Because I hate being so without the necessary props for dealing with this.
  • Note to students: getting an F on a paper does not mean that you will fail a course. Do the freaking math. The paper was worth 25% of the course grade. If you got half the points, and if you did ok on other stuff, there is no way that you will fail, and you likely won't even get a D. Seriously.
  • How the fuck am I going to grade (responsibly) 40 exams (all of which include short answer or essay, and with no TAs), ten 10-page papers, and six 20-25-page papers in the next 36 hours? And then manage to tabulate and report final grades? Just how?
  • An awesome and unexpected thing happened while I was waiting on my seminar papers tonight. A former student of mine, whom I'd taught as a first-semester freshman, ambled by my office on her way to turning in a paper to a colleague. It's been 4 years, and she's doing so well, and I was so happy to see her. She'll graduate next May, and she's fantastic. I love that I ran into her, and I love that she's doing so well.
  • What kind of grad student just doesn't submit an assignment that's worth a goodly portion of their grade? What kind of grad student misses at least a third of the class meetings? And still expects to remain in good standing in the program? I feel as if I'm going to get a person booted from our MA program by reporting hir actual performance. I'd feel bad, if I weren't so disgusted. Look: I don't think we're Yale, and I don't expect my students to perform at that level. But I do expect students to show up and to turn in the motherfucking work. Clearly, I'm a bitch and an awful person. And yes, I'm preparing for a challenge to the grade.
  • In nicer news, I got not one, not two, but THREE awesome thank-you letters from students this semester. I feel like I have to quote portions. So the following bullets will do so.
  • "I was very scared at first, but you taught me valuable skills that I will carry with me in this level of my education.... I may be a bit tired, sore, embarrassed and frustrated, but I'm a little more noble and quite a bit more enlightened." On the one hand, I feel sort of bad that I seem to have put this student through so much. On the other hand, more noble and enlightened? That's some good shit.
  • "I will take the knowledge gained from this experience well into the future and appreciate the time and effort you have given to make this class so meaningful and effective."
  • And finally, the best and last one. Ok, first, the card is a Shoebox card from Hallmark. There is a kitty on it, who has a photo-shopped cigarette in his mouth, and a full ashtray in front of him. On the front of the card, it says, "If you think this is bad, you should see my litter box." On the inside the card says, "You behaving yourself?" This is one of my favorite students ever, and the student's choice of card shows me that zie truly knows me. Love zie. Anyway. I'll just quote a portion of what zie wrote inside, with slight changes to keep the pseudonym safe: "The material you assign us plain rocks! My new-found love of Foucault was started in your XY class. ABC class has introduced me to wonderful writers I was completely unaware of. I hope we keep in touch. Whenever you read anything that blows your mind, recommend it to me! Thanks again. Have wonderful holidays and keep being awesome!"
  • Seriously, if anybody needed to know why being a teacher is worth it and truly wonderful, doesn't the above explain it? I am so proud of the above, and so humbled by it. I only hope that I can measure up to their praise.
  • So all of the work of Fall 2009 is in. By Sunday night, all of that work will be graded. And yes, I'm freaking exhausted. But, God, I love my job. I really and truly do.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Because We All Know That Professors are Slackers

A number of posts recently have been floating around the blogosphere about professors who shirk their responsibilities, particularly with break on the horizon. It all started with this post at University Diaries, which then Historiann riffed off of and followed up on, and then finally Dean Dad wrote a post dealing with similar issues yesterday.

I've read all of the above posts with a kind of detached interest. See, at my uni it is university policy (and we are reminded of this every semester) that we must have some kind of "culminating experience" during the final exam period, and as far as I'm aware, people take that seriously. In other words, I'm not aware of any of my colleagues - whether within my department or outside the university - who take off for greener pastures as soon as the regular semester is done. I'm sure some may exist, but I don't know 'em. I've been on campus both Monday and Tuesday this week (although I didn't have a final Monday), and while I will be at home grading today, I'll be back there tomorrow to accept seminar papers from my grad students. I'm not sure whether I'll go in Friday, but I may well do. I won't be on campus next week because the reality is that with the electronic submission of grades there is no need for me to go in.

What's interesting about all of the above posts is that while the central issue appears to be "Professors flee during final exam week! How dare they?!" the subtext is really much broader, and has to do with an anxiety that somehow professors selfishly seek to short-change students in a variety of ways (whether it's not assigning substantial writing projects, not giving "real" finals, not offering an exam during the exam period, not grading their own students' work, not checking in over the holidays, not being available outside of regular business hours and the regular semester via email or to meet, not holding enough office hours, etc.) in the service of their own personal convenience. This narrative creates a binary opposition between privileged tenured folk and students/administrators/adjuncts/TAs, with privileged tenured folk on the side of all that is self-centered, lazy, and wrong and those others on the side of hard work and fairness and right. This opposition is, to my mind, very simplistic and not terribly useful. While I'm sure there are some professors who abuse the autonomy, flexibility, and lack of accountability (i.e., the lack of a clock to punch) that the profession affords, I'm willing to venture that the narrative about professorial slackitude, while convenient, doesn't present a realistic picture of the motivations and actions of most professors.

First, let me address the issue of exam week.

Mitigating circumstances:

1. How does the university schedule the final exam period? This is crucial. My university schedules it M-F during the week immediately following the end of classes, and finals are scheduled at roughly the same time that the course typically meets. This scheduling makes sense, and it encourages faculty to administer some sort of graded work for that period for a number of reasons including a) students won't have legitimate reasons why they can't attend the final; b) profs have at least four days after the exam period is over in which to tabulate final grades; c) there is enough time after final grades are due - even if one doesn't get them in until the very last minute - to complete holiday travel (and let's note that for the majority of faculty, holiday travel is likely because of the nat'l job market and the fact that one can't settle in his/her hometown near to family, though I suppose one might argue that faculty should just ignore things like "family" over the holidays).

2. Number of students/number and type of preps/the presence or not of grading assistance. If one is teaching two comp courses, say, and then two other writing-intensive literature courses, one might be inclined to have one or more "final" equivalents due prior to the regular exam period of the course, if one is responsible for all grading. In that case, the issue may not be about fleeing from campus but rather about having the time to conscientiously grade the work submitted before submitting final grades.

How I have come to approach exam week:

In writing courses, I typically will have a portfolio due on the first day of the finals period (regardless of when the scheduled exam period is) that includes revisions of previous work and a final research project. This amounts to about 30 pages of writing per student, and the only way for me to get it all read and evaluated by the time grades are due, I really need a week for grading/commenting. Students know about this deadline from the very start of the semester, and this is an excused exception to our "you must meet during the exam period" policy. In courses that count for general education, I hold a traditional cumulative final exam, with a mix of types of questions, from identifications to matching to short answer to essay, and it's typically worth about 20-30% of a student's final grade in a course. In upper-level classes, I've moved to having a short oral presentation during the final exam period for the final that is worth only around 10-15% of the final grade, in which students are asked to synthesize what they've learned over the course of the semester and to link it to their final paper project. This is a relatively new development in my teaching, and pedagogically I find it much more beneficial to students than a traditional exam, since as students become more advanced in my field, what matters more than their ability to spit back plot information or definitions of terms is their ability to write and speak about the literature and the theory. The paper is really the most important thing they'll do for me, and a more traditional final doesn't really show me anything substantive in addition to what this oral assignment does. It's also less stressful for students, which I think is a good thing. And the presentations are easier/faster to grade than a traditional exam. For graduate students, they write a seminar paper. The idea of testing my graduate students is absurd to me. If they need a test, they shouldn't be in graduate school. (Note: this is the norm in my field.)

So am I slacking? I'd say I'm not, but I think a person could ostensibly read the above information and say that I am. I only give traditional exams in approximately 1/2 of the courses that I teach. But I'm not jetting off to glamorous locations as a result of my pedagogical choices. Because my choices are pedagogical - they're not about me getting out of work. Why would we assume that professors are, when they choose not to give a certain kind of assignment or a certain kind of test, that they make those choices without regard to their students? It seems to me that those assumptions are underwritten by a kind of anti-intellectual suspicion that I find deeply, deeply troubling.

Related issues:

And I think that anti-intellectual suspicion drives other complaints related to professorial workload that have nothing to do with exam week. For example, it's unclear to me why it's so unthinkable for a professor to have a teaching schedule that is only two or three days a week. I have had a schedule like that for the past few years. It doesn't mean that I'm not on campus five days a week - much of the time I am. It's just that having a schedule where I'm not teaching every day allows for me to use those "off" days for other things - like research, advising students, meeting with students in my courses, committee work, professional service, and course preparation. It also means that I have to cancel fewer meetings for conferences, which I need to attend in order meet the basic requirements of my job. While it's true that I may not come to campus if I don't have something scheduled, I do check email on the days when I don't come in, and I do work on the days when I don't come in. Similarly, when we talk about things like course releases or sabbaticals, we're not talking about professors "getting out of work." We're talking about a redistribution of workload, an acknowledgment that there are aspects of this job that exceed the work that we do in the classroom.

So here is the thing. I'm not a fan of the discourses about how professors don't do their jobs, or about the discourses that reduce professorial workload to time spent in the classroom and to specific approved classroom practices. This isn't because I'm all "poor me! look how hard I work and how much work I do!" It's because I think it's stupid and fails to produce any productive results or productive conversation about workload. And perhaps more important than that, it fails to acknowledge that maybe there are multiple ways of doing the best we can for our students, and maybe doing our best means allowing for some flexibility.*

*Within reason. I am not saying that I think the whole thing should be a free-for-all wherein professors are completely unaccountable. It's just to say that it's important to realize that pedagogical choices are not uniform across disciplines or even across individual instructors, and that it can be the case that deviation from "the norm" isn't about slacking or the desire to slack.

Maybe Now Is The Time For Some Major Productivity?

So, I've barely been posting, but this is not because I've been keeping up with all of the many things that I need to do. Well, or I've been keeping up, but I've got a lot I need to get done between now and Saturday or Sunday (when I shall go off to Hometown for the holidays). Like what, you ask? Well, in no particular order:

  • Mountains of laundry.
  • Other stuff around the house.
  • Christmas cards (I've written out like 5, but seriously, I really am going to finish them and mail them. Seriously.)
  • Take care of some shopping.
  • Register for summer conference, which is requiring registration before they do the program.
  • Grade final exams for class that took their final last night.
  • Grade mountain of papers for class that will take their final tomorrow.
  • Grade for online class.
  • Set up new phone (my home phone was dying and FB, practical gift-giver that he is, played Santa and bought me a new phone).
  • Clean out car.
  • Call cat sitter to set up time when she will pick up the key.
  • Order books for spring (woops).
  • Do agenda for business meeting at MLA and get it circulated to society members.
  • God only knows what else.
And yes, this is a boring post. But I needed to write some things out to spur on the productivity and to make myself accountable. But I'm going to end this post and write a real post now, because even I can't pretend that this boring post is of interest to anybody, and I'm not yet in the place where I can get started on all my items. (Still drinking coffee.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two out of Three Ain't Bad, or Hip Hip Hooray!!!!!

Who will not be teaching summer school this summer but will get paid anyway? Indeed, that is me. Who will be on sabbatical next fall? Me!!!!!

(Now I just need to finish up work for this semester, to order my books for spring - woops - and skip and frolic and sing joyfully of my good fortune!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

RBOC: Can't Sleep

  • I'm typically a good sleeper. I put my head to the pillow, and I sleep. But this fall I've been having trouble with the sleeping, trouble reminiscent of my final year-and-a-half of my undergrad days, the only other time I really remember having had trouble sleeping. I think this has to do with being wound too tightly. I was wound too tightly then, as I am right now. I'm looking forward to not being wound this tightly come spring. Crossing fingers re: that, at any rate.
  • One of the weird things that happens in the 21st century when one is up late at night is that one IMs with people in the wee hours who live in other time zones. People with whom one isn't in regular contact. In contrast, in the early-to-mid-90s, one had no such options. One was just bored, watching QVC or something.
  • I internet-stalked on behalf of BES this week (she broke up with her boyfriend, and expressed an interest in another former student of mine). I feel like internet stalking a former student on behalf of another former student is an all new low for me. I mean, it's bad enough when one internet-stalks on one's own behalf. It's got to be worse when one is schooling a mentee in the ways of internet stalking boys.
  • I have tons of grading to do. I am procrastinating.
  • My Christmas present from FB is a new home phone. I should receive it on Monday, in theory. I hadn't thought we were doing Christmas presents, but my home phone is crapping out on me, and he's sick of my bitching. While I clearly could have gotten myself a new phone, as I told him many times, he insisted. I have to say, I love that he's about the pragmatic gift. I also feel like this is an appropriate gift for him to get me since our relationship is nearly entirely phone-based. Indeed, it could even be his *fault* that my phone is dying, what with all of the phone-talking to him :)
  • I don't think I actually wrote about this on here, but Mr. Stripey had a lump as a result of a vaccination a couple of months ago, and I freaked out, and then I looked on the internet and I found out that some kitties get cancer from vaccinations (although I felt like the people who said this were not entirely to be trusted, as the rhetoric was a lot like the "vaccinations cause autism" rhetoric, but so when I found the hideous lump - which was seriously LARGE - like the size of a lima bean or large marble or similar -, I took Mr. Stripey in to the vet, and the vet was all "oh yes, this is something that happens to some cats - see if it disappears in a couple of months but if it doesn't then we'll need to do surgery to remove it because it turns out the splinter groups who believe vaccinations cause cancer in their cats aren't always idiots.") Anyway, I had been very worried, though my anxieties were somewhat soothed by my Fb-cat-having friends who were all "oh, totally this can happen," but the Lump seems to have nearly entirely disappeared! Mr. Stripey is well! (I will also note for the record that it did occur to me that the Man-Kitty could well have had similar side-effects in the past and I'd never know because he doesn't expect me to touch every part of his body every day - and in fact, he discourages such intimacy. And thus, much as I was worried about the look of Mr. Stripey's butthole as a kitten because I'd never actually seen the Man-Kitty's butthole (it is covered in fur and he does not expect or encourage me to touch it), I had wondered whether my concern over this lump was because Mr. Stripey is such a man-whore of a kitten who wants to be touched everywhere every single day. Whatever. The lump, it appears to be nearly entirely gone (it's now like the size of a lentil and I have trouble finding it). I know all of this was TMI, but I figured I should write about it in case any of you gets a cat, gives them their shots, and then has a huge lump develop and it freaks you out.
  • Are you looking for a cat toy for your feline companion(s) in this holiday season? My kitties love this and I've also recommended it to others, and it has been a hit with their kitties. No, it's not the cheapest of cat-toys, but for serious: they want to marry it. I imagine that it would be fun with one cat, but with two, they totally wrestle over it for control, and it's entirely awesome and entertaining to watch.
  • Ok, now I actually think I might be able to go to sleep. I'm feeling sleepy, and I'm going to run with it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scattered Thursday Thoughts

I decided that the class to drop from my schedule was the class with the low enrollment. Points in favor of doing so: the likelihood was that the class was going to get canceled anyway, and that would have meant getting another section of Gen Ed Class. So either I'd be doing a ton of prep work for few students or no prep work with substantial grading. Points against: the only reason I resisted getting rid of this class is that I think it's bullshit that this Very Important Class can't make enrollment within the current curriculum. (The last time I taught it the class didn't really reach the enrollment minimum either, without a lot of exception-making and back-door dealing.) I suppose, though, this is why it was important that I spear-headed the move to change our major in the ways that it shall change next year. In theory, this will never be a problem for this class again. So while I'm philosophically saddened by the fact that the class won't be offered next semester, it really was for the best that I chose to drop it from my schedule. Also, and this is no small thing, this means that I won't need to get to campus as early, which is a good thing for the research motivations I have for the other days of the week.

In other news, I had back-to-back students in tears in my office today, which sucked. I hate it when they cry. First, I rarely have tissues or other props for student breakdowns (or even for my own infrequent break-downs) at the ready. The benefits of this lack of props involve the fact that people need to keep their shit together in my office, at least a little bit. The negatives are that when students (or on the rare occasion I) cry, they're all snotty and without a kleenex. Second, when my students cry I immediately tear up. Seeing them cry makes me feel like crying. Because, dude, I've been there and I hate to see them so stressed out and freaked out. That's the thing: I'm a tough cookie in a lot of ways, but part of that persona is about not being able to hang with the breakdowns. (I should note that the tears weren't about any grade-related complaints or problems related to me or my class, really. They were about the students' personal stress and a paper deadline that drove the students over the edge. Normal stuff. And I think I calmed both students down and made them feel better, at least a little. So all in all it was fine, but it doesn't mean I like it when they lose it in my office.) Oh, and then after the back-to-back office crying I showed a film in my class that made everybody upset and some students teary. Merry fucking Christmas, students! The world is filled with violence, brutality, prejudice, and injustice! I'm the harbinger of doom and bad tidings! Have a nice day! (Must rethink the syllabus so that I don't do this to them next semester at the very end. I knew that this would not be the most positive ending (emotion-wise), but pedagogically it made sense to organize the course as I did (and intellectually I think it was a good ending). Not sure how to fix it, or if it's possible or good to fix it. But I want to fix it.)

Tonight I fed my grad students a swank end-of-semester meal - lasagna, salad, and fancy (store-bought) cookies. And then they talked about their papers and workshopped them. That was a very positive way to end the semester in there. Good times.

But so anyway, I've been feeling something since I got the news of my course release that I only just recognized while driving home tonight. For the first time in over a year, I feel positively happy. I feel like myself. This is not to say everything's totally perfect right now, or that I've not had happy times interspersed in there over what I'm thinking of as the Dark Year, but really, since my chair died last year, and then another colleague died quickly thereafter, and I found out about my father's cancer and my uncle's terminal illness, and then my father died, and then summer teaching and Service from Hell that was very important and I'm very glad I did it all, but dude, HELL, and feeling out of sorts with all manner of other things.... Well, I haven't felt like myself for like a year. I've felt sort of like I was going through the motions and just trying to hang in there and to keep up. I think that teaching this grad seminar has had a lot to do with my change in attitude. I started a research journal a couple of months back, and while I've not written loads in it, just the fact that I felt like I had ideas again that I should keep track of was a pretty big deal. And since finding out about the course release, I've found myself making a map of plans for the next calendar year about things that I want to accomplish thinking-wise and research-wise. (Note: the plans right now are WAY too ambitious. And even these are all predicated on the as yet to be confirmed sabbatical.) And I feel excited. Yes, I also feel exhausted. But I really feel excited about what comes next. This hasn't been the case for so long that I almost didn't recognize the feeling when I realized I was having it this afternoon and evening.

So anyway, yeah. Apparently I'm feeling energized and excited. Who freaking knew that could happen? That said, I'm also avoiding grading because I don't want to ruin the happy place with such mundane tasks. Time enough for that when absolutely necessary (say, Monday or Tuesday).

A Harbinger of Even More Good Things to Come?

So, I still don't know about sabbatical and other things I applied for for, but I do know this: I, somewhat to my surprise, was awarded a course release for next semester!!!! Now I have the enviable task of deciding which of my four courses I shall drop from my schedule. Now, the class that I want to drop from my schedule is my online class, but I think that would be a) mean to a colleague who'd have to deal with the fallout of that, and b) would not give me as much bang for my buck time-wise. So that leaves my other three classes, all of which I really enjoy. I know which one I *should* drop - the one that is currently under-enrolled. That said, I don't want to drop that class because I really feel like it's one that should be offered. However, it's currently under-enrolled because it currently doesn't count for anything but elective credit. (All that will change in Fall 2010, when the revised major goes into effect, but for now, it ain't worth it for students to take it, in terms of time to graduation issues.) I could keep it on the schedule for now, knowing that if it gets canceled I can just pick up a section of a gen ed class. But then that leaves me to wonder whether I should drop my evening class, even though that is also a class that I would hate to be dropped from the schedule.

Gah. This is the problem with course releases when you care about teaching and when you teach shit you care about. I know, this is a great complaint to have. At any rate, I'll need to make some decisions by the end of the day today.

But so anyway, I had not really been terribly optimistic that I'd get the course release, and, rightly or wrongly, I'm feeling like the fact that I have gotten it is a Sign.

And so also but so anyway, I'm now starting to get really excited about mapping out a schedule for the Big Post-Tenure Research Project (also known as The Next Book). I really want to commmit myself to using this release time in a way that gives me something to show for it research-wise, but this means that I'm going to need to be ruthless when it comes to protecting that 9-12 hours per week that I'd normally be spending on teaching that class. I think my plan will be to block off two afternoons per week that are sacred for doing research stuff (with the only excuses for getting out of that work being for search committee stuff). Otherwise, I think I'm going to be very clear about making myself unavailable for meetings, for events, for whatever for those two afternoons. If I really do the above, I think I'll be in excellent shape come summer to hit the ground running with actual writing.

You know, this is the best time in the life of a research project - when you haven't actually started working and you're all filled with hope and grand ambitions.

Ok, time for me to get myself ready and to get myself to campus.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nearly Done....

  • Last department meeting of the semester? Check.
  • Last class meeting in one class? Check.
  • Second to last class meeting in another class? Check.
  • Validation that university-wide service in which I've been heavily involved was not for nothing? Check.

Other than that? I feel like posting but I've got no "topics" that are calling for a post. So, until I've got a "topic," check out this little animated ditty. I laughed in the way that you laugh when a "funny" thing is so dead-on that if you didn't laugh you'd cry.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That

I have no unified idea for a post, but I feel like writing, so I shall ramble.

First things first: I am tired. Like, tired in my soul. I mean, physically tired, sure, but in additionally I'm just tired - mentally, emotionally, intellectually, etc. Only two weeks left, and two fairly tame weeks (committee meetings are done! prep is done! I just have to show up and to grade a gajillion things, but otherwise, done!) In the next two weeks I will need to grade approximately 600 pages of student writing (and no, this is not all of the writing I've assigned over the course of the semester) plus about 50 exams (and yes, I have given other tests throughout the course of the semester). This is nothing to sneeze at. This is why I make sure that my final week of classes is light on the prep stuff. Oh, and I've also got to serve as a respondent for a grad student thingie. Oh, and I've got to do some curriculum nonsense. But seriously: I'm thanking all that is holy that at least I don't have reading or prep.

I'm more anxious than I probably should be about all of the applications for things that I should be hearing the final word on within the next week to two weeks. The only thing that really totally matters is sabbatical, and when I'm being reasonable, I know that it's likely that I will get it. When I'm not reasonable, though, I'm freaked out about the possibility that I might not. The other things would all be bonuses. Summer money that would mean that I don't need to teach two classes this summer. Some extra money that would make it possible for me to travel to some archives not on my own dime and that would make it possible for me to hire an RA type person. A course release for next semester. I can survive without those bonuses. I seriously don't know how I can survive without sabbatical. I know that comes off melodramatic, and maybe it is. But seriously: I might die without sabbatical.

Things go smoothly with the search committee on which I am serving. Nothing more I'm comfortable with reporting about that, other than that I am very excited about the candidates we continue to consider. I have high hopes that we will hire a really super-fantastic colleague. Oh, I guess there is one thing that I'm comfortable with reporting. Lots of times people assume that certain kinds of candidates have "no shot." The criteria for what kinds of candidates have "no shot" varies, but I can tell you that we are interviewing a range of people, from ABD to much experience, from Incredibly Fancy PhD programs to Very Strong State School PhD programs, to No-Name Regional PhD programs. We are interviewing people from a range of backgrounds, with a range of specific interests. In other words, while it's true that we won't be interviewing approximately 94% of the people who applied for our position, it's not like people were thrown in the recycling bin because of arbitrary ideas about who has "no shot" at a job at our institution. While I suppose this might not be the case with all searches at all institutions, I feel like it's worth noting that at least in terms of how things work in my neck of the woods, or have worked with this really wonderfully composed search committee, our choices were not arbitrary ones, and people weren't excluded for such superficial reasons. And I think that's a good thing to mention in this forum, because I know that this is a time of high anxiety for many job seekers and people fear they'll be excluded from consideration for any of the above reasons. At least in our search, these things are not ruling the day.

Hmmm. What else? I dunno. I'm just feeling spent and tired and overwhelmed and what have you. But in two weeks, this semester will be OVER. I must focus on that light shining brightly at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Point of a Pseudonym, However Many Years Later

(But before I begin, you'll all be happy to note that I'm actually feeling quite chipper this morning and not rant-y and complain-y. Only two weeks left of the semester! Hooray! And then finals week! Yippee! This semester will come to an end! This is not to say that I won't whine or complain as these three weeks transpire - I likely will. And I do recognize how lucky I am - blah blah blah - it's just to say that even the lucky ones get into a funk every now and again. This semester, I've been in a bit of a funk. My job's been stressing me out, and I'm cranky. Some of my reasons for that are good, some less so. Whatever. It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to. Suffice it to say that this morning I don't feel like whining.)

So yesterday, riffing on this post by Tenured Radical, Historiann posted about blogging before tenure, and the conversation turned to pseudonyms and the idea that nothing on the internet is private and such in the comments. I thought all day yesterday trying to formulate a response, but everything I started typing seemed like me rehashing crap I'd already written about blogging and pseudonymity in the past. (And I'm too lazy to link to myself, so whatever. I've said a lot of stuff. You can search the blog if you'd like to read all that.)

But this morning, I feel like I've figured out what it is I actually have to write about these issues that isn't just recycled stuff. And it begins with this issue of the pseudonym.

Now, I've overtly outed myself (like accidentally wrote my real name instead of "Dr. Crazy" a couple of times), I've slightly outed myself (made myself easily find-outable), and I've had super-sleuth readers figure out who I am (which isn't all that hard). I've told people who I am. A lot of people. Professional type colleagues from other institutions, blog readers, other bloggers, friends, some former students, some colleagues. No, not everybody I work with knows about the blog. Mainly because it's a hobby. It's not some deep, dark secret, but just as I don't tell acquaintance-type colleagues about the ins and outs of my other hobbies and personal life activities, I don't announce to them that I blog. But so if all these people know the non-super-hero identity of Dr. Crazy, then why bother with the pseudonym at all?

1. When I started blogging, I chose the pseudonym on a whim. Everybody was doing it. I didn't know of anybody who wrote the kind of blog I wanted to write under her professional name. I had no interest in breaking new ground by being the first (esp. as I didn't have tenure). And I had no interest in writing a "professional" academic blog. I figure if I'm going to write stuff that edges toward the scholarly, I'm going to just write conference papers and journal articles and books. I also liked the idea that this was something that would not count toward tenure, promotion, or annual review. That this would not be another line on the cv. I still like that.

2. But I think it's important to note that just because I write under a different name I'm under no illusions that this is not "public" writing or that my real life self isn't accountable for what gets written under the Dr. Crazy moniker. What the pseudonym does, though, is that it creates a definite separation between "professional identity" and "personal identity." Think of it like this. If I go out for drinks with my friends, and I'm in a bar, I'm in "public." I'm accountable for my actions and for what I say. But at the same time, I'm not in a professional context. I'm in a social context. While it's true that something that happened in a social context could have bearing on my professional life, most of the time, that's not going to be the case. The problem with online identity is that there isn't the clear physical distance between professional and personal, if one uses the same name for both. Google doesn't distinguish between "here this person is writing socially" and "here this person is writing professionally." And let's face it: this profession invades lots of parts of our personal lives. In order to write about stuff that isn't necessarily cv-worthy, I need to create some sort of physical distinction between my cv-worthy identity and my social identity, in a medium that has no physical boundaries. The pseudonym is the way that I found to do that. When people talk about the use of pseudonyms in blogging, though, they often talk about those who write under pseudonyms as wanting to be unaccountable or as being stupidly naive about the potential to keep their real life identities "secret." Look, if I wanted to be private, I wouldn't be blogging. Just as I wouldn't go out with friends to get a drink if I didn't want to be out in public. But just because I'm out in public doesn't equal that I want all of my public activities to be part of my annual review.

3. So when it comes to the question of whether blogs should be considered in people's professional evaluation, in my case, the answer is I don't see why anybody would be assisted by evaluating this blog in that way. Sure, people would find out things about how I feel about my job on a given day from it, or they would find out my attitudes about the broader profession. But you know, people find that stuff out from what I communicate directly to them. I've written nothing here - even in my more whiny posts - that I've not said directly to my colleagues (though more often with less cursing). And I don't need the blog to beef up my cv. But do I care if people know about the blog? Eh, not really. It's just not really relevant in most contexts that I write it.

4. But so you may be wondering why I don't link the blog to my professional identity, esp. now that I've achieved tenure, when so many people know the real-life lady behind the pseudonym anyway. If I've got nothing to hide, you might say, I should do that. Well. I've thought long and hard about that. Pre-tenure I had fantasies that I would do so. But I haven't. Why? Well, partly it's because I've grown attached to the identity of Dr. Crazy. (And, as Historiann wrote, that name is a sort of "brand" in the academic blogosphere, and it would be weird if I monkeyed with that.) In this space, I've developed a particular voice, a particular persona, that feels comfortable, and I'm afraid that I'd lose that if I slapped my name all over the thing. Also, I still like the fact that the pseudonym preserves a distinction between work-writing and social-writing, which I think is good for me. But there's another reason, too. It's also that I've found that many readers like to think of Dr. Crazy as Dr. Crazy. Even when they learn my "real name," they often think of me as "Dr. Crazy" or feel uncomfortable addressing me by my actual name. This is true in both directions, meaning that I've revealed the fact that I'm "Dr. Crazy" to some real-life friends who had been reading the blog not knowing it was me, and that I've revealed my real-life name to some readers who didn't know me outside of the blog. I think that people for the most part like to think of Dr. Crazy as Dr. Crazy. And I'm ok with that. Since I don't have any desire to claim the blog professionally, I don't really see the point in sticking my professional name on it.

Here's the thing: blogging before tenure is not really this controversial thing. Lots of people do it. And even blogging with a pseudonym isn't exactly some controversial move, or doesn't have to be. Both are writing choices, like any other writing choices. I think at the end of the day you've just got to be clear that when you make choices in writing that goes out to an audience that you're responsible for them and that you may be expected to account for them in a variety of contexts, and maybe even contexts that you didn't originally anticipate.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Follow-Up: Some Things about Academic Employment

FrauTech left a lengthy comment to my ranting post about tenure and adjunctification, and I wanted to respond, if not to each and every point, point by point, then at least in a general fashion to the comment.

Before I begin, let me put the caveat in place that I'm definitely talking from my experience at a regional, non-selective, primarily undergrad-focused university. All of this stuff is not one-size-fits-all, and it's important to acknowledge that. Also, I think it's important to acknowledge that things vary by discipline, and they vary by status within the academy (adjunct vs. full-time contract lecturer vs. t-t vs. tenured). So I'm very much talking as a person in a humanities discipline, at a non-selective state school, who now has tenure but who recently was yet to be tenured. And yes, I think all of that matters.

So, FrauTech writes,
"Implying that faculty would not devote anything on contract would be implying that ALL the employees of for profit and non-profit companies in at will states are not contributing anything or innovating anything. Which is patently untrue. The pay gap is not so large as to explain this discrepancy (unless you mean a paygap between humanities in industry, b/c i'm not sure where outside of academia that is a viable career)."

Ok, so here's the thing. I was totally ranting in my post, and when I get on a rant, I oversimplify. I become sometimes stupidly polemical. So let me be clear: I do not think that people on a contract would not devote anything to their jobs. Rather, I think that tenure allows us to, and encourages us to, particularly in those fields that are not so much about professions for students but those that are about a broad, liberal arts education, devote ourselves differently. It's not that contribution or innovation are impossible when one does not have the security of tenure. If that were true, then I'd not have contributed or innovated anything in the past 6 years. But I do think that this is where discipline matters. FrauTech is in engineering. This puts one in a very different position from a person who is, say, an English professor. First, in a discipline like engineering, there is an outside market value to ones labors. This matters. This is not to say that there is not value to the skill-set that I possess, but rather that the particular skill-set that I practice day-to-day within my job as a professor does not really translate in an obvious way to employment outside the academy. Now let me be clear: this is not because I'm not qualified to do other jobs. But, whatever those jobs might be aren't in one-to-one relation to the degrees that I hold. An English degree, in itself, qualifies a person for no particular profession. A journalism degree does. An engineering degree does. A degree in, say, marketing, does. And the longer that I stay in academic employment, the less employable I become outside of the academy. Because what I do in my academic job is so different from what I might do in another job, this makes me less amenable to the idea of academic employment without tenure. (And I'm not just saying this because I've now got tenure - I felt the same way before I had a tenure-track job, which is why I was resistant to adjuncting. This is not to cast aspersions on those who do adjunct or who have adjuncted, but rather to say that for me, it always felt like a path that wouldn't be good.)

But so if I don't mean that employees without tenure (whether they are in a "permanent" position or whether they are on semester-long contracts) contribute nothing (to their institutions, to broader knowledge, whatever) then what do I mean? I mean, and this is coming from a very field-specific place here, that what one contributes depends on the conditions of one's employment. (We were reviewed each and every year toward tenure, which may make a difference here. In other words, the way tenure works at my institution, I could have been fired at any time pre-tenure - it wasn't like I had three years to prove myself before I came up for a contract renewal.) Example: pre-tenure, I did not serve on potentially contentious or political committees, regardless of their import. This is not to say that I did not do service - I did service in spades. But, and I'd say rightly, I did not put myself in a position to make enemies when it came time for review. So I "served" my institution, and I contributed to things, but I did not risk my neck. I did not risk my livelihood or my professional future. (I've only started taking risks since the tenure binder was in.)

Similarly, my research agenda was shaped by the fact that I didn't have a stable position until this year. Don't let the fact that I published a book obscure that fact - that happened only because I wrote a very-close-to-book-manuscript dissertation (with the aid of my diss adviser and readers). I did not need a book for tenure. What I needed was a couple of journal articles and a number of conference presentations. And so, that was where all of my "new" research energy was focused. Now, did those articles contribute to my field? I hope so. But I'm in a "book" field. The fact of the matter is, one cannot embark on a completely new book project pre-tenure, devote oneself to that, and hope to get tenure. Because the reality is that teaching a 4/4 load, with no pre-tenure sabbatical, means that it is very unlikely that one would finish the book before one went up for tenure. And so one can't, in my field, reasonably expect to make the kind of scholarly contribution that is most valued while being secure in one's job. (This is not to say that people without tenure don't write books: they do. But it is to say that spending one's time on a book that doesn't find its way to a contract can get people fired. It's also to say that the only people I know who have managed to produce books not related to the dissertation without stable employment (i.e., tenure) have done so because they were not the sole breadwinner in their household.) This is not to say that those writing articles aren't contributing to broader knowledge, to their institutions, to the profession. They surely are. But it is to say that the contribution is different, and differently weighted, than if those same people were writing books.

Finally, I do think that one's teaching, in those disciplines that serve general education requirements, is intimately tied to one's employment status. If one is adjuncting 4 courses - let's say two sections of comp and two sections of intro to lit- at 2 or three different institutions, each about 30 mins. away from one another, that is going to affect the way that one chooses to teach those four courses. In contrast, if one is on the tenure-track, or tenured, and teaching those same four courses, but at only one institution, and if one knows that he or she will also teach upper-level courses in his or her specialization in a subsequent semester, he or she might choose to teach the course differently. This is not to say that adjuncts are sub-par teachers. They're not. It is just to say that one's choices as a teacher are affected by the conditions of one's labor. If I didn't have my own office, I would be much less likely to hold mandatory individual conferences with my students. If I were teaching across two or three institutions, I would be less likely to develop content suited to the student body at one of those institutions in particular. Now, you might say, but what about those full-time "permanent" faculty without tenure? I will say that the teaching of those faculty members tends to be much more parallel to the ladder faculty, in that they do have more commitment to the institution, to its students, and more commitment from the institution. But, if you're never teaching a course outside of gen-ed requirements that relates to your own specialization, then your teaching is going to be much less linked to your own intellectual life and to your own area of expertise. When I was a student, I know that I responded much more to those faculty who were passionate about the content that they taught. And passion isn't something that happens by accident, or something that is just magical. It's something that is totally affected by the conditions of one's working life. Again, this isn't to say that there aren't great part-time and full-time adjunct instructors. There are. And it's not to say that none of those people have passion when they teach. They do. It's just the conditions of their labor do not inspire that. And thus, we can't expect inspired teaching from those people. If they offer up inspired teaching, that's a bonus. It's not part of the job that they've been hired to do.

Finally, a last thing about "permanent" contract people. The reality in academic hiring currently is that when budget cuts happen, "permanent" people without tenure are let go. This has happened to a number of my "permanent" colleagues in the past two years. Not because they did something wrong, or because they didn't fulfill the duties of their jobs. Just because there were cuts, and somebody had to go. Sure, in theory, the decision was made on performance. But in reality, none of those people were let go because of performance: they were let go because we were told from on high that we had to eliminate x number of instructors. This had nothing to do with the teaching needs of the department (our enrollments have increased, not decreased), nor with the performance of individual people. That's the reality of that kind of contract. Those people's courses are now being taught by part-timers, because part-timers cost less.

FrauTech also writes:
"Faculty DO benefit from a flexible schedule, whether they are tenured or adjunct. This is not disimilar to exempt employees hired, again, At Will by private industry. Yes you end up working a lot more than 40 hours a week. Give it up, everybody in this country except the unemployed are working those hours. And b/c they are exempt, they also are only paid for the 40 hours a week."

You know, I've got to say, this whole "academics benefit from a flexible schedule" argument is something that always irritates me. On the one hand, it's true: we're only in the classroom for x amount of hours, which is much fewer than a person would be in a cubicle in a 9-5 job. But let me talk about my own experience a little.

I am in the F2F classroom this semester for 9 hours per week. In theory, this would mean that I am flexible for 159 hours per week. Sounds grand, right? Who wouldn't want that schedule? But let's consider further. I've also got 3 office hours per week, plus 3 hours of committee work per week. This puts me at 153. Take into account 3 miscellaneous hours in any given week (meeting with my chair, other committee meetings that don't happen weekly), and we're at 150. Ridiculously flexible, right? I've also got to spend at least 6 hours a week dealing with email. That puts us at 144. And then let's consider my online class. I'll generously estimate that this takes but 4 hours a week. So we're at 140. Oh, but prep and grading. Let's minus approximately 15 hours per week, although that assumes I'm not reading anything new, which puts us at 125. That's 37 hours per week. Oh, but I've not counted any sort of research in there. And research is required by my job. Let's lump any reading for class in with research-related stuff, and let's put that at about 15 hours per week, which leaves us at 110, and then let's add in writing letters of recommendation, being a good department citizen by attending events, etc., and let's say that's an extra 3 hours per week in a given semester. This puts us at 107. This means that on average, I'm working 61 hours a week. And let's note that I was being generous in my calculations.

First, let me say this: I'm not saying that people in other professions don't work a similar amount. But many people, even in this current economy, don't. My friend who's a director of annual giving at a non-profit? Doesn't. My friend who's a high school English teacher (who actually makes a comparable salary to me?) doesn't. My friend who's a photographer for a university? Not so much. My friend who works in the insurance industry (and who makes a gajillion dollars more than me)? No dice. My parents don't. My cousins don't. My aunt, who works for a medical school as a high-level administrator, doesn't. Nor does her husband who is a union negotiator. I know lots of people who make good money - and some who don't make great money but who are doing just fine, thanks - who totally don't work more than 40 hours a week, as a rule. Now, is this to say that I shouldn't work more than 40 hours a week. NO. This is just to say that an incentive for me to do so is tenure.

Further, the "flexibility" of academia is relative. Yes, it's true that I went and got my hair cut on Tuesday morning. I didn't have to be anyplace before noon. Yes, this is a benefit. If I need to take care of banking, or of other errands, I can do so on a weekday afternoon. But this "flexibility" is not all that it seems. The "flexibility" of my schedule this semester means that I'm putting in 12 hour days (on campus) 2 days a week, not by my choice. "Flexibility" means that I'm expected to be at a 9 AM meeting and then at a 2 PM meeting because I'm "free" (I don't teach that day) even if I was there 12 hours the day before. This semester, I've mostly been in the office 5 days a week. Yes, some days I'm there only for a few hours. Yes, I'm not committed to being there from 9-5. But the way that it's working out is that I'm there at least 30 hours a week, for shit that's not my choice, plus working at home when I'm not in the office. For part-time adjuncts, "flexibility" means teaching when you're needed, regardless of preference or of your other needs. (This is one of the most hideous things for part-timers - trying to negotiate schedules across institutions, or with child-care or other commitments. Being an adjunct isn't like this awesome flexible job. Oh, and let's note, adjuncts at my institution in my discipline make around 2K a course. Is this really comparable to salaried employees outside of academe? Really?)

And lastly, regarding flexibility, while there is flexibility in a given work-week, academia is incredibly inflexible when it comes to needing time that is more than a few hours. When my father died, I cancelled but one day of classes. This is not because I was ready to be back in the classroom, but rather because there was nobody qualified to teach the material I was teaching, and had I missed more, I'd have had to cut content from the course. Which would have hurt students. There are no subs in college teaching. There is no "vacation" time and there are no "personal days." I've got a HUGE amount of sick time accrued. You know why? Because I can't get sick. There's nobody to do my job if I do. So yeah, I've got the flexibility to get my hair cut on a Tuesday morning. And this being me, with tenure. But if I really needed time, if it weren't over the 4 weeks over Christmas or over the summer break? If I had a real reason to take some time off? Nah, that shit better happen on the academic calendar.

Here's the thing: I'm not at all saying tenure is perfect, or that this system serves all people equally. It's not, and it doesn't. But I value it (precisely because I have it, I should note. I know that I'm in a privileged position here). Sure, without tenure, people would still strive to do good work. I'm not even saying that good work can't happen without tenure. What I am saying, and what I truly believe, is that work would be shaped by different things if tenure were not in place. What would matter would be keeping one's contract, and that would shape one's productivity - not the higher ideals about what students should learn. People would still make important contributions to their institutions, to their fields, to the profession as a whole. But those contributions would be influenced by the prospect of contract renewal (or non-renewal) at the end of the day. Is that really what we want shaping higher education - as opposed to what we believe is best for students, even if that "best" is not the most economically or politically advantageous?

What I want is what is best for my students, best for my field, and best for my institution. I don't know that I could want those things without tenure. I think that without tenure I'd only think about what was best for me.

(Though maybe that makes me an asshole? I don't think it does, though. I think it makes me reasonable.)

Time to Stop Relaxing and to Head into the Home Stretch

So, I've been basically powered down since Wednesday. The Thanksgiving meal was unbelievable, though there was some drama with my parents which I could have done without. (Long story short: I think that G.'s health ain't great and that he's not taking care of himself properly, but since he likes to be secretive about such things, well, drama.) In other news, I've basically spent the past 3 days resting, watching TV, and napping. I've been disconnected from blogs, from facebook, from the news, and even from the phone, for the most part. I think that this was a much-needed break that will energize me for the coming end of the semester.

So today, I awakened after 10 hours of sleep (that's right - 10) and I've got things to do.

1. Grading.
2. Make list of things to accomplish this week.
3. Finalize a couple of syllabi and send them off to my dept. curriculum committee for review.
4. Scheduled chat with online class.
5. Laundry (though this may wait until tomorrow).
6. Pay bills (probably tomorrow morning).
7. Prep for classes this week.
8. Make arrangements for summer conference (tomorrow morning, most likely).
9. Put up Christmas tree and nativity.
10. Maybe make list for Christmas cards. Maybe.

Oh, and my favorite crap Lifetime movie is airing at noon - A. called this morning to alert me to this. I shall watch it while catching up with grading. Huzzah!

I really can't wait for this semester to be done. I've been in a funk for this whole semester, I feel like, and I'm sick of it. Actually, I'm sick of this whole stinking year. Time for this year to be done and to move on to bigger and better things.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Menu

So I've been busily cooking for the past couple of hours, and I should be done with the do-aheadable stuff (other than the pumpkin pie, which I'll make when my mom arrives later) by 1 this afternoon. I thought you all might like to take a gander at my menu for this Thanksgiving.

  • Golden Delicious Apple and Cheddar Turnovers with Dried Cranberries. Good for breakfast (I should know - I had to "test" one since it was a new recipe this morning), good for dessert. Just plain good. And easy. And even if your turnovers look like crap when you put them in the oven, by magic they look like they come from a magazine when you remove them from the oven.
  • Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrette.
  • Turkey, obviously.
  • My little grandma's giblet gravy. (Comes out perfect every time! And you don't have to make a roux!)
  • Mashed potatoes. This year I decided to do baby yukon gold and leave the skins on because I didn't feel like peeling.
  • Mashed rutabaga, what my little grandma would have called "turnip" although it's a rutabaga and not turnips.
  • Stuffing. (I don't do anything fancy with stuffing. No chestnuts, no sausage, no oysters, no corn-bread. Just plain old white bread stuffing with some celery, carrot, and onion. Salt and pepper. Chicken stock. Oh, and then there's the ton of butter that is what makes it delicious. And eggs for binding. But I'm a stuffing purist. I don't need no stinkin' pancetta or mushrooms or nuts or what have you in my stuffing.)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Pecorino.
  • Sweet Potato Gratin.
  • Pumpkin Pie. (I use the How to Cook Everything recipe for both crust and filling.)
So what will you be having?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tenure and the Adjunctification of Higher Ed

Ok, I had vowed to myself that I wasn't going to enter the fray (or not really enter the fray, even though did, sort of, already). But I can't just let it go (even though I've tried all day, sort of, to let it go, since my initial comment). So, I'm going to write this and get it out of my system.

First, let me state for the record that I'm not saying the hiring structure of higher ed isn't fucked up. It is totally fucked up. The tenure system isn't fair, nor is it about merit, nor does it serve all students or all institutions in the way that it is "supposed" to (however that is). Higher education generally exploits a vast number of people (especially in my own field, English) in order to achieve its ends (giving the largest number of students possible a college degree). This is not because higher education is a meritocracy, in which people who are "worthy" get ladder jobs. This is because higher education is not willing or able, for the number of students it enrolls today, to pay all of its workers a living wage. And it's not willing to do so because it doesn't have to and because it's not feasible within the current structure of higher education to do so.

Here is, to quote a recent post of mine, why I think tenure matters:

"You know why tenure matters? Above and beyond academic freedom in scholarship and in the classroom? It matters because when we don't have strong administrative leadership, and I suspect this happens at all institutions in a variety of contexts at one time or another, somebody needs to be able to speak up, loudly and clearly, on behalf of students, on behalf of faculty, and on behalf of the future of the institution. Tenure has made little difference to me in terms of my scholarship or my teaching. I have never felt in jeopardy in those areas, and I think my institution values my autonomy in those areas. Where tenure has meant the most to me is that I don't have to hold back at all when it comes to fighting bullshit that will hurt my university, my colleagues, or my students. Now, my loud and contentious voice may not make any difference. But at the very least I do have the power to say my piece without fear of losing my job. And since I'm being put in a position where I'm being expected to "participate in" (read: authorize) things that entirely contravene our mission and our values, then I need that power and I need to use it."

But, there are those out there who believe that "THE SYSTEM IS DYING." And their alternative is eliminating tenure in favor of multiyear contracts. And these people believe, when somebody objects to their claims, that those people are clearly "elitists" who don't actually engage with the arguments that they make. So let me try to address some things, which I think are really important in this conversation.

1) I don't think that tenure makes a person "elite" or "elitist." I think that there are lots of different versions of tenure, at lots of different kinds of institutions. At my institution, tenure means no TAs, teaching four courses a semester, teaching composition, teaching general studies lit classes, and maybe teaching one course in one's actual field of specialty per semester, if one is lucky enough for that course to make enrollment. Tenure (or even just being on the tenure track) means immense service obligations. Tenure means doing research above and beyond all of that. Tenure does mean job security, and benefits (and I don't dismiss these as solid, important benefits), but it also means making a salary of, after tenure, someplace around 60K a year, if one is lucky. I've got friends who are ladder faculty who were hired in originally (recently) in the 30s who will be lucky to see 50K at tenure, and this is in higher cost-of-living places than the one in which I'm located. And this is with the sometimes massive student loan debt that going on for a PhD can entail. Yes, named professors do better. But most tenured faculty don't have named professorships. Let's be real about what the realities of what most of the tenured professoriate's job situations look like. Oh, and for most tenured professors, at least in my field - there is no prospect of switching jobs.

2) While it is true that "it's easier to get out of a bad marriage than to get out of a bad tenure decision" I would also argue that since you have six years before you give a person tenure, during which that person is on probation, then if a bad decision is made, given that time-frame, it's probably the fault of the tenure process at the institution. (And I'd argue that more bad tenure decisions are made in the negative - in terms of not granting people tenure who deserve it - than the reverse.) The whole point of the tenure process is that it's a vetting process. In theory, the tenure process should ensure that you don't hire anybody on long-term who would be a shit employee. If you do, that's not the fault of tenure - that's a fault of the process at a particular institution. I mean, seriously - if you can't figure it out in six years, then how would you be able to figure it out to fire people on a 5-year contract cycle? Unless, of course, the idea is to fire people who are old. 'Cause you know those old people are obviously deadwood. (Though let me note that one of the most productive and active in all areas people in my department has been around since the early 1970s, but obviously, the point here isn't productivity or activity - it's the corporate bottom-line.)

3) If one thinks that somebody on a 5-year teaching contract is going to give a shit about the institution and its future, then they are either woefully naive or actively stupid. If I were on a 5-year contract, I can tell you with utmost certainty that I would not have invested what I have done in curricular development, in service to my university's campus community or community generally, in directing undergraduate research. I'd do what I needed to get the best teaching evals. possible and I would be busting my ass on research, for I'd need to be ready if my institution screwed me to go elsewhere, and research is what allows a person (at least today) to go elsewhere. The fact of the matter is, the work of ladder faculty that is most important, given the adjunctification of higher ed in the past 20 years, is not teaching, nor is it research. It's service. The only incentive for that service, as far as I can tell, is tenure. Tenure binds a person to an institution and to that institution's community. You want to pay me by the hour for the non-teaching and non-research work that I do? Rock on with that. I'd be making more than I currently make. But until and unless that part of my job is acknowledged, I'll take tenure, thanks. Tenure makes it reasonable for me to give a shit about the institution. Without tenure? I'd be stupid if I did.

4) If you want to reduce the number of adjuncts, the first step is in looking at curriculum. If you insist on a curriculum that you can't staff, you're going to have a large percentage of adjunct (or grad student) faculty. If you make a curriculum that you can support with ladder faculty, then that problem becomes smaller (if not disappears). This might mean that not every breathing American can attend college.

5) Graduate schools need to admit fewer people, if what we want is a fairly compensated professoriate. When I enrolled in my well-respected Ph.D. program in the 90s, my entering cohort had a number of 7. They'd already made the choice only to admit those they could fund, and those whom they could ostensibly ensure would get jobs. That's where we start to deal with the problem of hiring in higher ed in my opinion - not with doing away with tenure.


Here's the thing, if getting rid of tenure could (a) definitely ensure more people a living wage and benefits, (b) ensure faculty governance within universities, (c) ensure the birth of new ideas, original research, and a safe space for politically volatile areas of inquiry, and (d) ensure investment on the part of faculty members in the mission of their respective universities, there wouldn't be a problem. The issue is, for me, is that those I've heard argue on behalf of getting rid of tenure have not addressed a, b, c, or d. Address, those, and I could well be your champion. For now? I think you're construing the work of professors as being only the work that they do in the classroom. If that were the only work I did, fine. But it's not. Let me state this clearly and for the record: I'm in the F2F classroom a mere 9 hours a week, in the online classroom a mere 3 hours. On top of that is grading and prep - let's say that accounts for another 12 hours, which adds up to 24 hours a week,. If we count my other work though - writing rec. letters, serving on committees, doing research, keeping myself abreast of what's happening at my institution and within my field of specialization - I'm working probably 60-80 hours per week during the academic year (which, let's note, is all that I'm paid for).

I love my job. I love my university. I love my students. But the reality is, if I didn't have tenure I'd not invest anywhere near as much. Who would? For this salary? And you'd have to hire somebody to do all of the shit that I do that isn't related to teaching and research. Because, seriously? You really think I'm going to give all of that away for free? Even though I'm an English professor and the market is glutted and whatever? I'd temp first. I'm not saying that for rhetorical effect: that's exactly what I did rather than adjuncting full-time when I ran out of funding in my PhD program. It paid better.