Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Anyway, having just gotten tenure with this teaching load, I feel like I might have some things to share, though do put all of the necessary caveats in place about this just being one person's experience, that institutions do vary even if they're of the same basic type, that personality and personal life situation does influence how well any of the things I'm about to say might work, etc.
Some of what I may write will probably repeat things I've said on this blog before, so I apologize for that in advance. Also, lest I forget to do this later, I do welcome people to add advice or additional points or challenges to whatever I write in the comments. Again, there's no one-size-fits-all model for this stuff, so lots of voices are a good thing.
Becoming a colleague
When you first start on the t-t, your inclination might be to keep your head down and to work like a maniac. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do this. However, it's important to develop relationships with your colleagues, too, and too much working like a maniac with your office door closed (or too much working at home) can make people see you as aloof, disconnected from the life of the institution, etc. So I suppose the first piece of advice that I have is to be friendly with your colleagues. This isn't an "extra" that you can put as last on your priority list: it's crucial.
Now, some departments are more touchy-feely than others. Mine isn't a particularly social department outside of the job (I think in part because we all are at work so much that when we go home we don't want to hang out with one another all the time), but we are friendly with one another at work. We greet each other in the hallway. We have conversations. We leave things of interest in one another's mailboxes. We share syllabi and assignments.
In other words, be in your office with the door open. Take time to chat in the copy room. Have lunch with people. Ask senior colleagues for input when you're thinking about new courses or tweaking old ones (though do spin this as "I really value your experience so I wanted to see what you thought about this idea I have" as opposed to "I'm an incompetent nincompoop and I need you to teach me how to do my job"). Show interest in your colleague's teaching and research. Basically, get to know people, and let them know you. And try to be as positive as possible, even when you're feeling frazzled. (Now, in my department it's totally ok to be frazzled on occasion and to express that, but you need to get the lay of the land before you just let loose with the bitching. Bitch to your friends, bitch to people from grad school, bitch to yourself, but don't be the colleague who is always bitching. That just brings everybody down.) Oh, and especially in your first year? Accept social invitations and go to a fair number of events (though don't feel obligated to go to every single event - feel out your department culture to see what "good colleagues" do in terms of event attendance).
Basically, this is the advice about "visibility." But don't think of it like this chore to be visible. Think about it as developing relationships with people who will mentor you and give you support when you need it. Think about it as making yourself at home.
Yes, It Is a LOT of Work in That First Year
Now, you might be saying, "No shit, Crazy!" And yes, we all imagine that the first year will be hard and intellectually we know all of that. I will say, though, that as much as I knew that intellectually, I didn't really know what that meant physically until I went through it. (You may be different, or have greater powers of imagination than I. I'm not saying that all incoming t-t folks will be as I was, or that life is "easy" in grad school.) That said, it really does get better.
Anyway, though, here's what I hadn't anticipated, in terms of the LOT of work.
- I hadn't realized how physically exhausting it is to have face time with 75-100 students a week. This isn't even about the prep or the grading: just about being connected to that many students at one time was a total shock to me. And I'm a pretty extroverted person, and yet it still leaves me exhausted. Every year I have a rough re-entry in the Fall. Just learning their names and getting to know them is an effort. Now, it's a positive effort - one that reaps many rewards - but it does sap one of energy.
- The volume of email that one receives - from students, colleagues, committees, administrators is... wow. Now, a lot of it is just white noise, but still, I hadn't anticipated how much of my life would be spent dealing with email, and it took me a while to learn how to deal with email efficiently. The best advice I have for this is a) if you need to write more than 2 paragraphs in response to an email, set up a meeting instead; b) limit the amount of time you spend reading/responding to email (like set aside 1 hour for that a day and stick to it); c) set strict rules about when you will respond to student emails (I don't respond outside of business hours).
- When I started I had absolutely no idea how to multitask in terms of research/teaching/service throughout the academic year. I actually think this is ok, for the first year, but I did need to learn skills in the first year about how to do different sorts of tasks all at the same time. What I learned was that teaching would always be the "legitimate" thing that would stop me from working on anything else, so I had to be merciless with myself about limiting the amount of time I would devote to teaching. After teaching, service is my next big time-suck. There is an infinite amount of service "opportunities" to which you can say yes. You cannot say yes to them all. Research for me always comes last, and that's why I have to make myself schedule it in, doing little chunks of research-related stuff throughout the year. In the first year, I didn't schedule research, and that was a mistake. It meant any time I thought about research - even research I was excited to do - I felt like I might die. Not cool.
Now, it's true that when you're new on the tenure track you don't want to make a first impression of being the person who says no to everything, who's so worried about protecting her time that she's a crappy colleague. But, if you make a rule that you don't say yes to anything immediately - you always first think about the request and then give a response after a 24-hour thinking period - you will thank yourself later. This goes for service requests, but it goes for requests from students, too, or requests to teach a new prep, or whatever. The idea here is this: availability and visibility and being a good colleague do not equal being a doormat. It's ok to take time to think, to figure out how a particular task will fit into the broader picture of your cv, and to figure out how a more immediate request from a student ("I need to meet with you to talk about this paper right away!" or "I need an advising appointment immediately!") will fit in with your schedule of things to do. A lot of times what seems urgent just isn't. A lot of times taking that 24 hours to think about the request will show you that this particular request isn't, in fact, urgent, or that it's not in your best interests to say yes at all. (I know this stuff seems obvious to a lot of you, probably, but I'm a person whose first impulse is to say yes without thinking, so I need to remind myself that it is totally ok to think and consider before committing myself to things, and I need constantly to remind myself that I have permission to take my time and that doing so is actually being a good teacher and colleague - not being a jerk.)
You Are the Only One Who Can Get You Tenure and Who Has Your Professional and Personal Welfare As the Top Priority
Now, I work in a very supportive department, where I have a lot of people who are truly invested in my professional success. That said, I'm the only one who has my success and welfare as a top priority. What this means is that you have to advocate for your own advancement and your own well-being. Sometimes, people can be well-meaning and still give you bad advice ("Don't worry about publishing! You'll be fine!") or ask you to do something that's not in your best interest ("How about you teach this lower-division class that's out of your field and would be a totally new prep next semester if your upper division class doesn't make its enrollment?"). You've got to speak up for yourself in the latter case (suggesting a substitution of a course that would be more reasonable for you to teach in place of the crazy course), and smile pleasantly and ignore the advice in the first case. You've got to take care of yourself first. Nobody else will. (And this goes for personal life stuff, too. Your relationships outside of work are important, being healthy is important, and relaxing is important. Schedule these things in if it's in your nature to put yourself last.)
I Think Not Having a "Real" Research Agenda in the First Year is Totally Ok
This is not to say that you should just drop research, but if you're at a teaching-intensive gig, with little support for research, maybe you shouldn't be holding yourself to some crazy goal to get three articles out and to polish the draft of your book. Maybe in that first year the thing to do is to plan to do a couple of conferences, to know that you need to transition into the job and to focus more on getting your teaching solid, and to figure out what kind of research you can achieve successfully in this particular job. This is also a good time to try to find ways to link what you're doing in the classroom with research interests that you have.
Look, I've got colleagues who believe that they could never possibly connect their research in a meaningful way to teaching the often underprepared students that we encounter, especially when we teach at least three service courses a semester. Some people think that unless they're teaching graduate students that they could never possibly do teaching that connects to their research interests. Here's what: these people don't publish very much. The people who publish the most in my department (and I'm among those people) are people who find ways to bring their research interests into the classroom and who allow what happens in their classrooms to influence their research. Nobody ever taught me about how to do this in graduate school, and I had no models for how this might look in graduate school. I just sort of experimented until I figured out how I might be able to do this. Teaching comp has been hugely important to me in terms of how it has allowed me to think about my own writing process and my approach to scholarly writing when I have so many other demands on my time. Teaching books that I want to write about (in both lower- and upper-level contexts) has given me a context that's fairly low-pressure to think deeply about those books and to figure out why I think they should matter to people and why I think that they're of particular interest. Teaching survey courses and intro to lit has allowed me to put my research interests into a broader context, and it has definitely influenced and fleshed out my interests in canon-formation and periodization. Teaching is not the antithesis of research for me: it is, a lot of times, where I find my research.
Find a Mentor
Some departments (or institutions) force you to find a person who will mentor you through your years before tenure and who will mentor you toward tenure. My department does this. However, I think it's a good thing for any new t-t person to choose a mentor from within their department who will help them navigate the mysterious tenure process. You can take your time with choosing this person (and you probably should - get to know people a bit first), but I think doing so really helps in terms of feeling supported along the way.
Now, who should such a person be? 1. It shouldn't be your department chair. Your department chair will mentor you in some fashion regardless. The idea is that you want a person who is not responsible for your annual review every year, but rather a person who will mentor you out of the kindness of his/her heart. 2. It's good to choose a person who has tenure, and who has served on P&T within the past five years. 3. It's good to choose a person who when you look at their career, you think to yourself, "I hope that when I'm at their point my career looks like that." Don't pick your department's service-learning afficianado if you have no interest in ever doing service-learning, for example. 4. Pick somebody whose judgment you trust and who you like and respect. I love Mentor Colleague. He is just filled with positive good vibes, he does super interesting work, he cares about students and research and is just a great person. He made my time on the tenure track so much less scary.
It Will Take Time to Transition, So Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
If your first year is anything like what mine was like, you will have moments of deep self-doubt. You might get a bad batch of evaluations, do something stupid by accident like miss a meeting, speak up when you should have kept quiet, or not speak up when it would have been in your best interests to do so. You might not really know what's expected of you all the time. You might feel overwhelmed. That doesn't mean that you're in the wrong job, that you made a horrible mistake in pursuing this career, or that you're a fraud. It doesn't mean that you'll never be happy or never feel at home. In the first year, it just means that you're new. Now, if these feelings persist, it might mean other things, but in the first year, you need to be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. You're not going to just jump in and be perfect. There is a learning curve. That's totally ok.
Making Teaching Less.... Well, Just Less of Everything
With a 4/4 load, you will teach a lot. I think it's pretty common that this means 3 preps a semester for people in English (often 3 different preps each semester, so 6 preps per year), though that does vary by institution, and even within institutions (I have colleagues who do 2 preps, and I now typically choose to teach 4, though 3 is probably most common). Whether you're coming directly from grad school or whether you're coming from time on the adjunct track, you might not have experience with this number of preps, or you might not have had a lot of freedom to develop courses on your own. In my years on the tenure-track, I developed - wait for it - 13 brand new preps. Yes. 13 distinct courses. A few of those I only taught one time, and I'll likely never teach again. (Remember that whole learning curve thing? Yeah, that.) And I'm developing a 14th new course now, and I've got a 15th course in the offing. This may mean that I have ADHD when it comes to teaching, but it also seriously is about the fact that one of the reasons I was hired was to teach a range of courses and to develop new courses, and I like doing it.
But so as you might imagine, that means a lot of work. So how does one make sure that teaching doesn't take every ounce of your time, blood, sweat, and tears? In no particular order, I recommend the following:
- Always type up your notes for any in-class activities, lectures, etc. You will then have these at the ready when you go to teach a course in the future, and you won't need to reinvent the wheel every time you teach. This is where teaching repeat preps saves time, and where allowing prep-work to do double-duty saves time.
- Use checklists, rubrics, or any other means that work for you to limit the amount of time that you spend commenting on student writing. Try to develop these so that they can work across courses with only small amounts of tweaking (same goes for writing assignments and handouts).
- Use in-class activities, handouts, and parts of lectures (slightly modified) across courses. When possible, teach texts across courses, modifying what you emphasize when you teach a text in a particular course in case you have people who take multiple courses with you. (Example: I've taught Jane Eyre in intro to lit and in the survey, just emphasizing different things.)
- Let students do the work for you. A well-designed presentation assignment allows students to be "experts" on background material for a day, and it means that you don't need to spoon-feed that material to the class. Designing the assignment takes lots of time, effort, and skill, but once you've figured that part of it out, it's a life-saver.
- When you teach a text for the first time, take careful "teaching" notes. With novels, I tend to do brief plot summaries at the end of each chapter, I make big notes about important scenes on the pages where they occur ("Bertha laughs for the first time here" or "Stephen uses the word tundish"). With poetry, I note poetic devices, I list three things I need students to understand about the poem. I rarely use my "research" copies of texts for class, because they are too marked up to be useful. Doing this, I do not need to reread every single time I teach a text.
- After you've taught a course a couple of times, develop a slightly modified syllabus so that you can switch back and forth when you're feeling like a course has become "stale" for you. When you feel like a course is stale, you'll be a less interesting and engaged professor. (Or, well, I'm a less interesting and engaged professor.)
- When teaching sections, keep the sections on the same schedule no matter what. Sure, that may mean letting one section go early on a given day, or spending less time on something in another section. But do not for any reason allow yourself to turn one prep into two by getting off schedule. (Note: I suck at this, and I hate it, which is why I'd rather teach 4 preps now than teach sections. However, sections were my friend in my first couple of years on the tenure track once I figured out that I needed to stay on the same schedule in both classes.)
- Where possible, teach things that you've done research on. I can't emphasize this enough. It means that your research is in fact prep for teaching.
- Use a timer when you grade. Do not cheat.
- Make appointments to meet with students, even if they're planning to come by during your office hours.
- Be organized (HA!)
If advising is part of your job duties, do try to get some training about how to advise students, and familiarize yourself with the course catalog and the advising software before you ever meet with a student. Nothing makes an advising appointment suck more time than learning as you go (and students hate it). Also, I usually give new advisees "homework" to do before their advising appointment, so that they come in prepared and having thought about what courses they need, what they'd like to take, and questions that they have. When an advisee comes in and just says, "I'm here for advising," and they've got nothing.... yeah, that takes a really long time.
Ok, that's a lot of stuff. But it's everything I can think of at the moment, and if there's more - god, how overwhelming! But so I'll stop here. I really need to stop procrastinating and get to work!
Via an email from a regular reader, you should also check this post out.
But see, this is probably weird, that I'm not worried about it. One would think that I would be most anxious about the publication side of what I'm doing, since I'm at a teaching-intensive place and I'm, ultimately, really well suited to being at a teaching-intensive sort of place. This occurred to me because this morning I was reading through this thread over at the Chronicle forums (one that won't make your head explode, so it's kind of worth checking out). And then that got me to thinking about the blogs that I read, and how often people will write about the stress of trying to get published.
I'm not trying to be a jerk here, or to pretend that I don't get stressed about research ever. You all know that I do. I don't exactly suffer in silence. But while I do get stressed out about research in the sense of being stressed out about working out problems, polishing, structuring, or finding time to do the kind of thinking that I know I need to do, I don't get stressed out about publishing per se.
In contrast, I do feel anxiety when I'm about to teach a new class (something I've realized even more clearly as I've developed courses that are totally new to me, that are totally about things that interest me, and that look nothing like courses that I actually took as a student). This is why I had to work on that syllabus yesterday, even though I won't be teaching the class until the fall. Because I've seriously been freaked out knowing that I'll have to teach it. I'm afraid the class will be a disaster, afraid that I'll be too ambitious, afraid that I'll not be ambitious enough, worried that I don't know what I'm doing, worried that I won't do well.....
But with research? I don't know. I have never felt the kind of pressure about research that teaching a new prep can make me feel. That total fear of being a failure and a fraud.* Wait. Scratch that. Yes I have. When I was in graduate school, I felt that kind of pressure. Which seems strange, since I had a heck of a lot more support and encouragement about research in grad school than I do now.
But it strikes me as an interesting question: why don't I feel like a failure and a fraud when I think about putting on my research hat? Why am I confident that I'll do just fine, thanks very much, and if not that it's really no big deal?
1. While I do hate dealing with criticism (which is why revising and resubmitting can be such a challenge for me), I really don't worry overmuch about rejection. See, my response to rejection is typically, "Oh yeah? Well fuck you, too, then." By the time I send something out, I think I believe in the work enough - and yet am disconnected from it enough - not to view the peer review process as one that is about ME being under review. Lots of articles get rejected. Lots of book proposals get rejected. So what? It's a blip on the radar screen. I've been rejected hundreds of times - for jobs, for publications, for conferences. Sure, it stings, but, well, "fuck you, too, then." If they reject me, they don't know what they're missing. And in the case of research, you just send the thing out again. No biggie. (In contrast, with teaching if something doesn't work, you're stuck with it not working for 16 weeks. 16 Weeks of students staring at you with hatred and discontent. 16 Weeks of knowing that you messed the whole thing up, and that no matter how you try to recover, you may just have to continue living through the hell only to get reamed on evaluations.)
2. I think it really helped that I wrote for newspapers in high school and college. That took a lot of the mystique away from the idea of seeing my name in print, and it also taught me to write quickly without falling in love with my sentences or turns of phrase. I mean, sure, every now and then I'll turn out a gem accidentally, but I don't labor at the sentence-level when I'm hammering out a first or second draft. I do labor at the sentence-level later in the process, but by that point I am somewhat disconnected from the piece of writing, which makes such labor go faster and more smoothly, typically.
3. I think I'm a good networker, and an engaging presenter of new work at conferences, which certainly has been a key component of my success with publication. Putting yourself out there in that way with confidence means people ask you to do things. If you take those opportunities when they fall into your lap - voila! publications! And let me be clear: I take those opportunities, and I pursue them enthusiastically. One might call it the "don't look a gift-horse in the mouth" school of publication. This might be unwise if one worked at an institution where "placement" was all. But I think it's a pretty reasonable way to go about publication if one is a grad student, or if one is working at a place where you should publish but there isn't a list of 10 journals that are the only ones that "count." (To be clear, though, I don't think you should publish with disreputable places. Just I haven't had to avoid publishing in smaller venues along with fancier ones. Although probably my laisse faire attitude about this has hurt me when I've sent out job apps while on the tenure track. Whatever. I like where I work and where I live.)
4. I think about publishing as a way of telling people interesting things that I've discovered or realized through my work on a text. The point of publishing for me is really not the line on the cv, nor do I think there's really a point in publishing just for the sake of publishing. Of course, I have the luxury of thinking about it that way because I've got a job (and tenure, but really, I felt that way before tenure, too). I have (for my institution) published a lot, but that's really because I feel like I've been thinking about a lot of interesting stuff and publication is a way of sharing that stuff, particularly in an environment where my colleagues and I rarely talk about Ideas or whatever. Publishing is a way to stay connected to the idea part of the discipline. I think it makes me a more engaged teacher, and it keeps me "fresh," I guess.
5. Publication makes me feel a sense of liberation from a set of ideas. The best thing about publishing my book, seriously, is that I'm done with it. I'm done with my dissertation, I'm done with the manuscript, and I don't ever have to think about those things again with any kind of focus ever again. I'm free to move on to new things. On a smaller scale, publishing an article feels exactly the same way. It means I get to move on to new things, which is exciting.
Writing all of that out, what occurs to me is that the reason publishing doesn't freak me out is that all of the parts I care about come before publication (thinking deeply about things, putting those thoughts into some articulate form so other people can think about them, too) and after publication (thinking about new things, and putting those new things into some articulate form). Do you need to publish in order to think deeply and to articulate your ideas? Maybe some people don't. People talk all the time about the dreck that gets published, that it's somehow wrong for so many crappy things to be published, etc. But for me, I would never think so deeply or ever bother to articulate those ideas as fully - to myself or to other people - without publication as part of the process. At the end of the day, that's why I like writing for publication, even though I'm not convinced that the publication itself is the most important part of the whole thing. And no, I can't trick myself into thinking and writing as if something is for publication.
But so anyway, it's a beautiful sunny day, and I'm not feeling terribly motivated to turn to the article, even though I do have a structure percolating in my head and I think the thing will come fairly quickly once I sit down to it. I'm wondering whether it might make sense to work for a couple of hours and then to go to the pool and work out for a few hours and then maybe return to the work in late afternoon? That does sound more fun than just working in the house all day. Or I could go to my favorite coffee shop with a patio and work outside..... Hmmm.
The thing I must not do is to return to the bed for 3 hours, which is a habit I've been getting into over the past couple of weeks that is really not a good one.
*Caveat: I think I actually did feel this in the months between when I finished with the proofs of the book and when the book came out. But that was more about the waiting than anything else. And about being up for tenure at the same time.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
It is also a time of grand socializing. First, there was the awesome dinner with BES's parents and her and Mentor Colleague. And then, the Inimitable A. came for our annual weekend of awesomeness (which, by the way, is especially awesome precisely because it's always Memorial Day weekend and we've committed to that weekend until forever. Like seriously: we've already discussed how it will go down if ever one or the other or both of us procreates, which as far as we can tell is the only thing that could threaten the weekend in a continuous way). Today I had coffee with my kitten-dealer (and happily said no to the service thing - which would be crippling - that she presented to me as an opportunity, and I'm really freaking proud of myself for declining, I've got to say) and tonight I went to a play at the opening night of a local theater festival with another friend, and I'm in the planning stages of a (potentially lame) coffee meet-up with a stranger (for that is the pain that is the life of the single girl). And there are plans in the offing with Naomi (for with her schedule and my schedule during the academic year, those don't happen often enough, but with summer - yahoo!).
And I'm plowing my way through a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay (just for fun), and I may be shepherding some brave souls through Finnegans Wake in the coming weeks, depending. And also I've got some plans in the offing with Mentor Colleague and others about advice about how to make plans that will lead me to full professor.
In research news, I sent off the revise and resubmit a couple of weeks ago, and now I'm about to work in earnest over the next five days or so on the draft of the collection article of awesomeness (this in opposition to the collection article that's been held hostage for years - for this collection already has a publisher and it's on the fast track to being published in 2010, because it's about something Silly, though really Cool).
So yes, that's all of what's going on here. Lots of fun, lots of thoughts, lots of work but fun work that doesn't require me to negotiate with people with whom I disagree. It's lovely. Oh! And I'm going to NYC at the end of June for a weekend, to visit with my dad's sister whom I've not seen for years, and in which I'll get to see High School BFF and her mom, for they will be there on the exact same weekend! And then my mom has a visit planned with just me and her (in which I will make her help me haul all of the shit that she's given me that is useless to goodwill as punishment for giving me shit I don't want or need, but also in which we will have quality time together). And then, when summer teaching is done, a trip to Hometown.
There's a lot of less pleasant stuff I'm leaving out, but all in all, I'm very excited about this summer, and already it's shaping up to be glorious fun. Except for my broken computer (am now on alternate computer), but that I'm sure will work out swell (somehow) too.
The only piece of total unswellness is, well, probably something that it's less than cool of me to write about here, but I'm going to anyway. Let's say that once upon a time (nearly two years ago exactly) you fell into a Long Distance Relationship with a person who, really, is fantastic. But let's also say that this person had a total block about realizing the necessity of SEEING you - in person - and refused to make plans to see you in any real way, just to see you, not as a tacked-on thing to a family visit - and at a certain point you realized that this wasn't going anywhere. Note: this person is fantastic, but just because a person is fantastic it doesn't mean that you and the person want the same things. And so then you didn't speak for a month, although there were some angry emails sent back and forth, because just because you didn't want to talk it didn't mean that you wanted to be ignored. But so then, the person didn't ignore you after you forced the person not to, and you felt better about it all. BUT. Now the person is calling regularly again. You're trying to keep it light, but really, you feel like the person needs to chill and to leave you alone a bit. Because seriously, you can't talk to this person every three days, and have him emailing you on the off days (though with forwards, nothing substantive), and still move on to have coffee dates with strangers, which you need to do since this person has made it totally clear that he's really just not that into you. (And yes, I hate myself for invoking the He's Just Not That Into You thing, but that really is what it is here.) How exactly do you make it clear that you want to be the friend of a person and that this does not mean that you fall into the same every-day contact pattern? Without being a bitch, and thus making the person ignore you? Which of course, makes you filled with rage, because you're so not good with the people ignoring you? It's a conundrum.
And clearly it's an issue of boundary-setting, with which I've never excelled with this person. So anyway, I'm being fucked up about it all - in which I either try to be breezy and to allow contact or I ignore the person (which is uncool, given how I myself hate the being ignored and know how it's lame). I know it's just that he misses talking to me. Shit, I miss talking to him, too. But I get it now. He does not want what I want. And if I allow the everyday contact, well, then we won't move on, which we both need to do.
So that's the unswellness of this summer. Really a tiny blip on the swellness that is the rest of it.
And that is the latest and the greatest from the World of Crazy.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
In other news, on the agenda for this week is attempting to get a solid draft of that article for the essay collection, to go to dinner and a play with a friend tomorrow, to get syllabi done for summer classes, which start Monday, and to finish ordering books for fall. Also, summer fitness activities begin this week, if possible, but if not possible June 1.
Cross your fingers for my computer that it's just a silly and easily fixable problem.
Oh, and in other news, my elementary school sweetheart found me on facebook. Like, I loved him when I was 5 in ways that I think he found very, very irritating, he was the first boy I kissed at 12, etc. I haven't spoken to him since I was 14 or 15. Totally weird.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
- C: "Those shoes are totally like the shoes from Payless in olden times. Remember? How we said they were split personality? Good from the front, and then you'd turn to the side and you foot would look weird? And now Payless is all about the BoGo, and so you have to buy two shitty pairs of shoes to get a deal. I'm so not into that."
- A: "That lady [at the Kroger] is totally wearing a cat t-shirt with quotes on it." C: "I told you this was the stank Kroger."
- A: "Do you see how she [in the magazine] is pegging her pants?" C: "I will not do that again."
- C: "What time is it?" A: "Like 2 PM." C: "I think we should stay at the pool until 3." A: "Totally. That's perfect."
- C: "I feel like we're not sunburned." A: "I know. We're like bronze."
- A: "Look how fucking horrible my sunburn is." C: "You can't look at that. It will hurt your feelings.
- C: "That's not Vagina Power. That's Insect Power." A: "I think your Mr. Stripey just ate another fly. It's like Africa in here."
- A: "I have my own house and I live with my boyfriend and I still want Jake Ryan to be my boyfriend."
- A: "Your bridesmaid's dress will be modeled after Samantha's in 16 Candles in the wedding of A. and M."
- A: "Look at M. in the yearbook. You know, he made varsity football as a sophomore. That's a catch." C: "Dimo."
- C: "OMG. That guy from high school was such a dweeb! He's so cute now! (as we see from trolling Facebook)."
- A: "My legs are fire legs. What was I thinking? That's some hot shit."
- C: "What doesn't make you more angry than diarrhea?"
- C: "Ther's no rule about beer after wine." A: "We make our own rules in Vagina Power."
That's Vagina Power.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
But now back to my regularly scheduled whining. I've procrastinated massively, and so now I have to clean like a maniac in preparation for A.'s arrival tomorrow. Certain things that were on the list to do (defrosting and scrubbing the refrigerator) have been eliminated from the list because now there just isn't time. Other things I'm planning to half-ass. Ah well. I'll end up with a basically tidy and clean house by the end of it, although I will have some projects to keep me busy in the coming weeks. I feel like that's fine. The weather for A.'s visit looks like it will be superb for all of our activities, and I'm tremendously excited to have this weekend of girl time with her. And then next week, I'll work on my article for that collection, get ready for summer teaching, and I've got tentative plans to go see a play with E. All in all, this final couple of weekends and week before summer teaching promise to be very relaxing and productive all at the same time. Huzzah! But today, the time for procrastinating about cleaning has long since passed. Sigh.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
In other news, I'm officially on Very Important Committee that will meet this summer (and for which I will be paid a good chunk of change for participating, since I'm not under contract when we'll meet), tomorrow I go to dinner with BES, her parents, and Mentor Colleague, which will be awesome, and Friday the Inimitable A. arrives for our annual tradition, Vagina Power Weekend! Huzzah!
All of which is to say, I really need to get my shit together and continue with the cleaning and weeding out. The problem, of course, is that I am sick to death of the cleaning and the weeding out. I'm at the point in this process where I'm trying to negotiate with myself so as not to do all of what remains to be done. This is not positive.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
- Pictures of like 3 exes.
- A number of cards from my sweet little grandma who died during my first year on the tenure-track.
- These tiny miniature "trouble" dolls , from my mom. The paper that came with says the following: "In the land of Guatemala the Indians tell this old story. They teach that when you have troubles, share them with your dolls. Remove one doll for each problem. Before you go to sleep, tell the doll your trouble. While you are sleeping the dolls will try to solve your troubles. Since there are only six dolls, you are only allowed six troubles a day." Let's just note that there are only five dolls in the tiny container. But my mom's note is the best: "Crazy: I figured you had 2x the worries than the avg. girl your age. Use them wisely. Remember to pack your troubles up and take with you - when not in use. HA-HA." I have no idea when she gave these to me. I also think it's hilarious that she gave the "HA-HA" to me ever not having them in use. But where is trouble doll #6? That is the question.
- A picture of me and my half-brothers when the bros were BABIES. I cannot believe that the older of the two is man-sized, when I look at that picture.
- Pictures of me looking positively skinny like a super-model. Must get self in shape this summer. Though I will note that I was terribly unhealthy then - it was grad school when I smoked constantly and pretty much lived on caffeine and alcohol. Perhaps I shall not get back to that particular size and shape, and perhaps that is ok.
Part of the problem is that tidying up is totally not interesting. Oh, sure, you feel good once you've done it, or it's cathartic to purge things, but on the whole, you're just going through piles of shit that you have accumulated, which is not an interesting task, particularly if you're efficient about it, which you really should be otherwise you never finish.
But so anyway, as a kid, "cleaning my room" was always this horrifying endeavor, one that I had difficulty ever actually completing because I would become distracted. I would, for example:
- fall asleep.
- begin reading an old book that I found in my efforts.
- play with old toys.
I am a 34-year-old woman, and I've already done two of the three over the past two days. Seriously, I just woke up from a 4-hour long impromptu sleep. Sigh.
In other news, I might not have bought enough bins, if certain people who live in this house plan on storing themselves within them.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
- I am doing a massive book weed-out. Seriously. I am never going to read Dryden's plays again, or if I am, I'll just buy the book again, or check it out of my library. Further, there are some books that are crappy pleasure reads that I surely do not need in my life. I'm turning over a new leaf. Time to get rid of things!
- It's time to accept that I am not the sort of person who files, but rather that I am the sort of person who piles. With this being the case, I am getting rid of my two file cabinets (who even knows what is in them? It's not like I use them....) and moving to a system of bins for research-related materials. We'll see how that goes.
- Projects like these always actually make the room messier first. Doesn't that suck?
Friday, May 15, 2009
And my students wonder why I grind these axes when I comment on their work. It's because these are my own crosses to bear.
(Which of course I always tell them, but I don't think that they really realize how true this is.)
So, on the agenda for this morning:
Finish typing in changes (and revising) from hard copy notes. Rewrite conclusion. Update works cited. Work on content notes. Revisit reviewers' comments (because I haven't looked at them directly since beginning - a central part of my revision process - I always translate them into my own notes first, work on the revision, and then I return to the comments in their direct form again at the end) Reread entire draft, making any other essential cuts/changes and adding in other necessary content notes that I decide I need. Get the thing to a tight, polished, appropriate length. Write letter regarding how I addressed the reviewers' comments.
- Either let the article age over the weekend or
just send the thing off this afternoon.It depends on how I feel about the whole thing.
ETA: I could have held on to it over the weekend, but I'm sick of it. It's gone. Done. Whatever. I do think it's much better for the revisions, but who the hell knows. Keep your fingers crossed that this thing is out of my hair forever.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
But I've gotten really good work done today. Either that or it's garbage, but whatever the case, it feels like I'm on the right track.
The revision today got off to a bit of a bumpy start. First of all, I hadn't realized that I'd actually gone through the draft and made actual notes for revision at some point this spring. This was a help, ultimately, but it was a bit disconcerting to encounter a marked up draft that I hadn't realized I'd marked up. Second, I really hadn't realized clearly until today how right the Mean Reviewer was about some problematic crappy theorizing I was doing. I've done what I think is solid revision of the first six pages of the draft, and I do feel like I'm getting into a groove. The problem is, I do think I may need to cut massive portions of the essay in order really to polish it, and I am really resistant to doing that. There's a reason why I wanted to write about all this shit, yo, and I'm really reluctant to cut whole portions. Don't worry: I'll do it ultimately if it's necessary, but wow do I not want to do so. I do think that the reworking of the first six pages was some of the hardest work I'll have to do - and in fact I'd probably make my life a whole lot easier from this point if I just forced myself to cut some sections in their entirety. Gah. I hate when I fight with myself this way.
The problem is that I'm trying to talk about four novels in the space of one journal article. Now, I'm only talking about a teeny tiny piece of the four novels, so this did make sense when I originally decided to do it. It's just, now, I don't know. If I flesh out all the shit that I just skimmed past, I don't know that there's room. But the part that would be easiest and most reasonable to cut is the part that really is the most interesting and original, if only I can get it right. Maybe I need a snack. Yes. I think a snack, and then two more solid hours of work, and then I'll call it quits for the day.
I know that those things can work for some people, but for me, such strategies are a lot like teaching on the three-day-a-week, 50-minute schedule as opposed to teaching on the two-day-a-week or one-day-a-week schedules - because it takes me at least 15 minutes to power up and to power down, a 50-minute period means that I only get about 40% done of what I'd accomplish in the same amount of actual time on another schedule. So part of what I think helps with scholarly productivity for me is the fact that I know this, and that I don't fight it.
But so anyway, today I begin work in earnest on the revise and resubmit. I'm trying to forgive myself for the fact that I've not knocked this thing out sooner. I'm trying not to worry that I've left it too long. The point is that I should just get it done, and even if it turns out that I have left it too long, that's fine - I'll just send it out elsewhere. It's a solid and interesting piece of work. It will find a home.
And the sooner that I get it off of my plate, the sooner I can file away all of my notes, and the sooner I can move on from the project. Must keep my eye on that prize.
I suspect that it will be rough going for the first bit, and that I'll need to use the kitchen timer to keep me committed to working for the full three hours (I set the timer for one hour increments, allowing for breaks at each hour mark). The fact is, I really want this article to be done but I don't actually want to do the revisions. That is annoying. I'm much more excited about Silly Article, but I know that's because the r&r is old work as opposed to shiny new work on a thing that is Silly and Fun. But that's the thing, too: it's old - I need to get it out of my life.
Ok, I think I'm done giving myself this pep talk. I think that I'm warmed up. I'll read blogs for a bit longer, and commit to starting by 11 AM. Must make more coffee (I treated myself with starbucks first thing this morning), put on a writing outfit, and get myself organized. I can do this. I can work on this for three hours. Totally.
Edited to Add:
Wow. I just dragged out the draft of the article and apparently I already went through it and made a slew of notes. I have no recollection of doing this. At all. Maybe I have less work to do than I actually thought.
2:51 PM Ok, so I'm making my way through this thing. I think I need to cut a huge chunk out, and I do not want to cut that huge chunk out. I hate everything.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
(And now I'm going to bed. Because in spite of the napping, I'm tired. And also I want to get an early start to the day tomorrow. I've got big plans.)
Monday, May 11, 2009
I started thinking about writing this when I began the arduous task of cleaning out email this afternoon. I had just under 3,000 emails in my inbox when I began (I've deleted about a thousand, but I've got miles to go before I'll be done with this project). Now, a lot of it was garbage - budget updates from my university's president that I just never bothered to delete, emails about appointments with students, the usual stuff that I tend to hang on to just in case that I don't end up needing. But my messy inbox also told a story. And it got me thinking about everything I've been through this year. In no particular order, here's a list:
- I returned to teaching four courses a semester, after having begged, borrowed, stolen, and sold my soul not to do so for the past couple of years.
- I taught online for the first time.
- I taught the required theory course for the first time.
- I taught the upper-level course that is, basically, my "book" course, which always, though rewarding, leaves me a pile of useless goo by the end of it. The best part of this course this time around, though, was that it brought together a group of like 6 students who are awesome and who got more out of it than just the requirement on their transcript.
- My chair, who had been one of my most steadfast sources of support throughout my time on the tenure track, died suddenly.
- Within 6 weeks of that, another colleague died.
- I gave two conference papers on entirely new stuff.
- I got an R&R (after months of waiting) from a good journal (though I've still not revised and resubmitted, because I haven't had the mental space to deal with it).
- I became president of a small professional society.
- I agreed to host a conference for that same society in 2011 (because I'm an idiot).
- I served on one university-wide committee, one standing department committee, and three ad hoc department committees, one of which I served as the chair of and which dealt with overhauling a major that hasn't seen a true overhaul since the 1970s.
- I continued on as adviser of BES's thesis, which she has now completed (awesomely) and submitted. The bad parts of that involved having to be a total hard-ass and making her cry. The good parts involved really developing a professional, collegial friendship with her. (Incidentally, I've been forcing her to use my first name for the past couple of weeks. She only uses it in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS - both when she says it and in email. I find this hilarious, though I do hope that she can take me out of CAPITAL LETTERS before she applies for grad school next year.)
- I sponsored two other students for presentations at our campus-wide student research thingie - and everyone noted that my students are teh awesomest of teh awesome. Now, of course, I should not get total credit for their awesomeness, but it's always nice for your chair to note that the best students always seem to be affiliated with you (as my chair did note at graduation).
- I served as a reader for a "best graduate thesis" thingie for some regional organization.... I don't know. My dean of the grad school asked me to do it and I did it. At least I got a $5 Starbucks card for my trouble.
- I put together my tenure application. Which even though I was secure in it, still caused ridiculous amounts of stress.
- My book was published.
- I found out that my uncle was terminally ill.
- I found out that my father was terminally ill.
- I drove approximately 9 hours in one day in order to see my father (for what I would come to find out was the last time).
- I made it a priority to visit High School Best Friend.
- My father died.
- I finally called it quits with FB.
- I visited BFF (under the auspices of a conference, but dude, it was really about seeing her).
- I officially got tenure.
- My dean made a point of saying, at a fancy reception thingie, "Dr. Crazy ROCKS," in his introduction of me. Sure, he totally didn't mention the fact that I'm the only junior faculty member in the history of the English department to publish a book before tenure - nah, he focused on my service - but still.
- I finally got to zero on what had been my highest balance credit card.
- I somehow got it together to post grades for all of my courses for this spring.
And I'm not writing all of the above to be self-congratulatory or egotistical or whatever: it's just seriously the main points of this academic year. And it was a lot. And it meant that I sucked as a teacher in some of my courses, and it meant that I didn't get that revise and resubmit turned around as soon as I normally would have done, and it meant that over the past couple of months I've pretty much been just trying to keep my head above water. And so I am done with this year. And this year has been both good (tenure, book, paying off a credit card) and awful (dead father and chair, dying uncle, ended relationship). And you know what? I'm done with all of these highs and lows. I just want a nice regular non-tumultuous year. So I'm looking forward to 2009-2010. And I'm closing the door on 2008-2009.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
If I wish I had learned one lesson earlier in life, it’s this: it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to make other people angry, and anger can work for you. (Well, that might be three lessons, but I find it hard to disentangle them, so bear with me.)
I'd been thinking that the whole "lessons for girls" meme would be a great one to pick up when I read it, but then I couldn't think of what my lesson would be. Anger was such a good one to start the ball rolling, right? Well, I think I've got my lesson.
If I wish I had learned one lesson earlier in life, it's this: it's okay to opt out of toxic situations and conversations. Opting out doesn't mean that you're weak, nor does it make you a bad person. Sometimes, the most advantageous position is, in fact, one in which you don't resist, in which you don't explain, in which you don't try to justify your position, in which you don't bother trying to help others see your point of view. Or, conversely, in which you don't try to be inclusive, to give antagonists a forum, or to apologize to diffuse a situation.
In some ways, this lesson number two may appear to contradict lesson number one about anger. Opting out can seem, once one has embraced the power of anger, like stupid passivity. Like letting people or situations steamroll you. It can seem like you're not standing up for yourself. And if we are "good feminists," opting out can feel like giving in, giving up, or complicity.
This, in fact, may account for why this lesson has been so hard for me to learn (and why it's a lesson I have to continually work at). Anger makes sense to me. Channeling anger in positive ways makes me feel strong and powerful. Opting out? Well, the benefits aren't so immediate, and they are often much more subtle, though I would argue that they are no less concrete.
Because here's the thing: anger is an emotion that is built on energy. As Historiann notes, that can be a very good thing: we can use our anger propel us out of situations that aren't good for us or to effect necessary change in our workplaces, our communities, or the world. But sometimes, the expense of energy that anger requires actually takes us away from our goals, away from feeling centered, away from what we really value. Sometimes, it's seriously not worth it to invest the angry energy required to "opt in."
And also, just because we are women, and in particular women who are intellectuals with academic credentials, it is not our responsibility to opt in and to engage in toxic situations or conversations. While it is true that we may value the free exchange of ideas, spirited debate, a diversity of opinions, etc., that does not mean that we individually are obligated to engage with all ideas, to enter into all debates, or to entertain all opinions. We are not required to get angry and to respond with anger to any and all comers. Particularly if there is no positive way to channel our anger toward a concrete outcome.
This lesson is a valuable one in a lot of areas.
First, it's been valuable to me professionally. Imagine, for example, that you're chairing a committee charged to give a major a complete overhaul, a major that has not changed dramatically since the 1970s. As everything begins, you're all about including as many viewpoints as possible. You're transparent in what the committee's up to with the whole department, and you invite the free exchange of ideas. This is as it should be. Somewhere in the middle of the process, it becomes clear that certain individuals (a small minority) aren't about productive compromise, but rather that they want to obstruct the process altogether. Now, you can continue to court these individuals, and you can continue to try to appease them. Except they won't be appeased, because they have no intention of compromising. They have no intention of considering the majority viewpoint. Are you, as chair of that committee, obligated to spin your wheels seeking unanimity that will never happen? Ultimately generating a report that gets filed away somewhere, and failing in your committee's charge? Or is it the better course of action to opt out of entertaining the outliers, refusing to give them the energy of your anger or your time, and instead to try to complete the charge successfully, if not with unanimous agreement? I chose the latter.
Second, "opting out" can be a very valuable course of action in one's personal life. Let's think about the drama of a breakup. When the break-up happens, you both go through the trauma of figuring out that you can't be together, talking about the whys and hows of that, and (often, though not always) giving one another a lot of angry energy. How do you move beyond that in a way that is positive? For me, that means opting out. Not opting out of the person's life altogether, necessarily - but rather opting out of the trauma and the drama of the breakup narrative. At a certain point, both parties know what each other think and feel about the whole sordid mess, right? In order to move forward, you've got to move through that to the other side and then decide that you're not going to engage in conflict anymore. No, it's not easy, but opting out actually can open the door to a peaceful resolution in friendship. Similarly, let's say a friend does something, or is thinking of doing something, with which you don't agree or of which you disapprove. At a certain point, it becomes clear that the friend is on that path however you feel about it or whatever you say. You've got a choice: continue to expend energy trying to make the friend see your point of view, or opt out. Either opt out of the friendship, or opt out of the argument. Either way, once there's no change possible, the best course of action can be to just let it go.
Third, by trial and error I've learned, the hard way, that the best thing to do when people object to "Dr. Crazy" (and really, it does come across that way - that people just object to this online identity and to the content and tone of this blog) is to opt out. As I've said, I learned this the hard way. I used to engage. I used to try to explain this space, to justify my perspective, to include these people in the conversation, no matter how awful they were. I felt like if I didn't engage that I was somehow failing. But after trying, and failing, to engage people who had no interest in engaging with me - or with a conversation on this blog - about actual posts, go figure! - I have realized that opting out is the only appropriate response. Not because I couldn't work up a hell of a lot of anger about the drive-by comments filled with sarcastic vitriol or about the blog posts that refer to me in derogatory ways (because a lot of people read the blog and so it's a way for them to generate traffic? This is the only reason I can imagine that a lot of people in this vein link to me, even though, of course, it only brings me more traffic, and so if I'm so reprehensible, why would you want to bring me a wider audience?) - but because it's not my responsibility to engage with people who aren't really engaging with me. It's not my obligation to provide a forum for people who treat "Dr. Crazy" or the blog in general like shit. It's not "feminist" to award this sort of shit with my anger, because if I were to do so, I'd be taking the energy of that anger away from things that might actually be served by it.
With posts on other blogs about the blog, this is somewhat easier to handle. I just don't acknowledge those anymore. With the commenters? It's somewhat more trying. See, if I allow them to spew their nonsense here, then you all have to read it, too. I could just delete such comments when I see them, but that's annoying as I'm not by my computer 24/7, and my readers might still have to encounter them. That would change this space, even if I did ultimately delete those comments. What to do? At this time, I've chosen comment moderation.
The haters typically claim that I just want a fanclub with the blog when I do opt out, that I'm not giving opposing viewpoints a "voice," and that I'm in some way reprehensible because I don't allow this blog to become a forum in which people are explicitly derogatory, in which they impugn my character, and in which I'm some stupid little girl who has no business being a professor. But you know, here's the thing: I like this blog to be a place where conversations - not conflicts - happen. That doesn't mean that there won't be disagreements, but it does mean that everybody basically agrees that everybody else is coming from a place that is genuine and generous. I don't have an explicit comments policy on this blog, mainly because I've never felt that one was necessary: at the end of the day, I think that the people who read and comment here "get it." It's only on rare occasions that people decide that they're going to put me in my place, tell me that I'm a self-involved ninny (dude - I'm writing in the first person - how could I not be? This blog doesn't claim to be an objective viewpoint on anything), question my integrity or ethics, or just generally insult me. I used to think that I had to respond directly to such charges. Now? Nah. I'll just refer those people to those posts to which I linked earlier. And I'll keep comment moderation on until those people go away, and if they come back, I'll put it back on.
The brilliant thing about comment moderation is that I don't actually have to read the entire comment, by the by. In other words, neither I nor my readers are infected with the toxicity. That's pretty sweet.
So, to sum up, sometimes the best thing is to just refuse to deal with the bullshit. To opt out. It's really liberating, actually. See, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if people like me. It doesn't matter if people think I'm "inclusive" or "welcoming" or whatever. It's not my job to give a voice to assholes. It's not my obligation to include all people. It's not my responsibility to justify myself to people, to give those people my anger and energy, who will never accept any justification that I might offer. At the end of the day, people who believe in their own position don't bend over backwards to please those who disagree with them or who dislike them. They don't expend energy on making those who disagree with them or who dislike them feel good.
Anger can be a source of power, but so, too, can realizing that it's not on you to listen to people or to engage with people who are full of shit.
Friday, May 08, 2009
Ah well, piece of cake, right? And I shouldn't complain. It's a good thing when publications fall from the sky. And it also means that I don't actually need a research agenda, for the universe already has an agenda set for me.
In other news, 2/4 classes are graded, and I am not feeling very motivated toward doing the other two.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Since it's spring-y, I decided pasta salad was a good choice. For the class earlier this week, I made a southwestern chicken and pasta salad, based on this recipe (though I made a good number of adjustments), and it was quite good. But for today, I went with an orzo salad. Since it had to sit for at least two hours (i.e., overnight), I didn't know how it would come out.
Oh. My. God. It's so ridiculously good I don't even know how to talk about it! I did make some adjustments (additional olive oil and lemon juice so the salad wouldn't be as dry, and I included some celery, cucumber, and red pepper in addition to the tomatoes, I didn't bother with all the whisking nonsense and so I forgot to add the mustard until this morning - woops), but I am in love with it.
The question is, will my students be scared off by feta cheese and olives?
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
She's nearly done with her thesis. Her penultimate draft was, well, shit. The organization was all fucked up, her attempt to integrate theory was (generously) lackluster, and well, just generally, it was not what she could do. So then we drank (a lot of) wine together, and talked through the problems, and at one point I made her do a close reading of a random passage from The Pleasure of the Text, and we busted through a wall. And then I sent her off to finish her thesis. And the draft I read today? MOMENTS OF TOTALLY RIDICULOUS BRILLIANCE. Sure, she still has some cleaning up to do, but I am so, so, SOOOO amazingly proud of what she's accomplished. She's reached a point that I didn't reach until after my M.A. program. She RULES.
Student Brillianter than BES (and BES agrees)
So last semester, I encountered ze for the first time. In my Joyce and Woolf class. Now, this class had some repeat offenders who knew the level that I expect of my students, and who'd had a theory class with me, and well, I imagine for the other students, at least at first, that they were insufferable. Ze wasn't one of those students. Ze (who we'll call Ridiculously Smart Person - RSP - from now on) was a totally unknown quantity. RSP showed up every day, but ze also never spoke a word. And when RSP turned in hir's first paper, ze turned in a paper that received an 83. I remember the grade exactly because RSP was so clearly stunned by the grade. Apparently, I was the first person never to just hand RSP an A. Flash forward to the final research paper of that semester, and RSP wrote a paper that was nearly publishable. Seriously. Like, better than anything I've ever read from a student. Like, something that I would have thought was awesome and provocative had I read a version of it published in a peer-reviewed journal. Like, better than ANYTHING a student should be able to write. RSP BLEW MY MIND.
So, this semester, RSP took my upper-level course. Ze talked a lot more having had me before, and ze continued with the brilliance. Now, the paper that RSP wrote wasn't as ridiculously awesome as the one ze wrote last semester. Why? Because ze tried to write with theory for the first time. In the service of this, RSP, a graduating senior who knew he didn't need to do this, read nearly all of the Foucault Reader on his own, along with Barthes's "The Death of the Author," and no, it wasn't perfect, but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! WHAT GRADUATING SENIOR TAKES ON FOUCAULT???? JUST BECAUSE IT'S INTERESTING??? And does so reasonably well, without having had lengthy instruction about what Foucault's on about? RSP is like an alien or a miracle or something.
Look, I tell students all the time to investigate theory. I mention, in passing, all the time, theory that can support their readings of texts. Some take me up on that, and others don't. But NONE has ever read like all of the Foucault Reader just for kicks, other than RSP.
Fantastic Awesome Student (and Perhaps the Beginning of Crazy's New Posse?)
See, both RSP and BES are graduating. As are a bunch of other smarties who are my loves. What shall I do next year? And the year after? FAS, well, ze may be the center of the Next Generation. I had ze last semester, and ze was a standout among those students (in a general education class). And then ze took me again for an upper-level English course. As FAS said, "I took you again because I know you're good." Let's just note that FAS's paper was better than RSP's (for the same class). No, ze didn't read a ton of Foucault on hir own, ze did read a ton of Gilbert and Gubar on hir own, and hir paper was SUPERB. I enjoyed reading every single word of it. Ze is AMAZING. AMAZING. (And I may have seduced ze into my feminist theory class next spring, even though ze is "not a feminist or anything.")
The Ones That Don't Stand Out As Above But Nonetheless Stand Out
I have read, over the past few days, papers that talk about religious belief in ways that aren't reductive, that interrogate history without resorting to a discussion of what "really" happened, that investigate multiculturalism and postcoloniality without reducing those things to unproblematixc difference. I have ridiculously good students. Students who are original in their research, and students who support their original ideas with solid research. And this is the majority of my students - not the minority.
So that's why grading is good. It lets you know all of the above. And no, that's not the case for every student, but how great that it's the case for so many of them.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Now, there are some out there who are offering up solutions, but I am curious--since the inclination when discussing the future of higher education is to do what the CHE did and chat up association and institutional leaders--if there might not be just a teensy bit more room for faculty and staff in that discussion? And that is what this is really about.
So, here are two questions:
- Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
- What are the top three things you would change in the long-run if you had the power to do that?
Finally, the intention is not just to encourage folks to talk about staffing (unless that is one of the areas you firmly believe needs changing), but rather to generate a wide range of ideas from a faculty and staff perspective since one fundamental change we believe in is more faculty voice in academic decision making . . . but I get ahead of myself.
So I've been thinking about this since I received Craig's invitation a few days ago, and I've gone back and forth about how to respond. It seems to me that discussions about higher education reform often reach an end point that is likely going to be difficult if not impossible to implement in practical terms. So, for example, let's say that we want to talk about the crisis in adjunct labor. Yes, I think that this constitutes a crisis. But if where we go from there is that we need to hire more t-t faculty (which I'd agree in principal that we do) and stop hiring such a high percentage of adjunct labor (which I think that we do), where we often come out at the end is with a call to action that will never become reality, not because it's not right but because there isn't the infrastructure to support that change.
The bottom line is that if we need hundreds of sections of composition, we're not going to get the lines to support t-t hires to fill all of those sections, what with the budget situations of the states these days. So then, the extension of that is that we end up whining about how everything's broken, but we don't see improvement in working conditions for faculty (whatever their stripe) or improvement in education for students (which should really be the ultimate point). In the worst cases, we just offer support for those who believe that higher education has been totally ruined - "taxpayers" (not individual people, but the group that is invoked), legislators (people who think that implementing tests will get them re-elected), idiots - without offering a workable alternative. We are the very people who have trained our whole lives in the field and who, in theory, should know best how higher education should work and who should really be the people who spearhead discussions about change in higher education. And yet, what we end up doing is confirming suspicions about our own inefficiency, stupidity, and obsolescence.
So, before I begin, let me offer some suggestions about who should be coming together to start any discussion of these questions:
- Working tenured and tenure-track professors from a range of institutional types and from a range of disciplinary areas of expertise. The profession of "college professor" is not, ultimately, a monolith. Being a college professor at an Ivy League institution is different from being a professor at an R1 Flagship state university is different from being a professor at an R1 non-flagship is different from being a professor at an Elite SLAC is different from being a professor at a non-elite, non-selective SLAC is different from being a professor at a regional state university is different from being a professor at a community college. The institutional cultures are different, the funding levels and emphases are different, the students are different, the missions are different, and the conditions for one's labor and successful promotion and tenure are different. Moreover, having a wide representation of fields is important, as my experience as a professor may actually more closely resemble that of an English professor at a non-elite SLAC than it does a business professor at my own institution. Also, in this category I'd include tenured and tenure-track librarians from the whole range of institutions.
- Administrators from a similar range of institutions, as well as from a range of positions within administrative hierarchies (academic deans, provosts, presidents, deans of students, those in charge of technology, heads of libraries).
- Contract faculty (part-time, full-time) in non-t-t positions, post-docs, VAPs, again, from a range of institutions.
- Students. Both grad students and undergrads. I know, crazy, right? And this isn't about the customer always being right but rather about including the biggest population on university campuses in the discussion.
- Staff. Full-time advisers, support staff, IT people, people in administrative units like First Year Programs or Retention or Study Abroad.
So with all of that being said, let's look at the first question.
Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
Before I can answer this, I want to think for a minute about what we think "change" is supposed to do. Who is the "change" for, and what we hope to achieve through change? Because here's the thing that often gets lost in discussions of higher education in the United States: even with all of its problems, the university system in the United States is still, as far as I'm aware, the best in the world. Our higher education system still attracts people from all over the world, and degrees from the United States remain more marketable than degrees from elsewhere. So as much as we talk about our system as "broken," it's still, apparently, pretty darn good.
So let's start with what makes our system good. I think it's the fact that we do believe - across types of universities - in "general education" and in open access (to varying degrees depending on institution type) to higher education. Higher education in the United States (first since the GI Bill, and then since affirmative action) is not, across the board, about preserving privilege for a select few. It is about granting access to opportunity. That has to do with economic opportunity, sure, but it is also - and this is key for me - about intellectual opportunity. This is what general education, core, or general studies requirements are about. Any student who goes to college in the United States is put into a position where there is the potential that his or her mind will be blown. No, this may not happen for all students. But the potential is there for all students.
So if we are to change things, I think the only reason to do so would be to increase the chances for students - across university types, across backgrounds - to have their minds blown. This is potential that I see as already being there, and something that already happens for many students. "Change," for me, would mean that more students get their minds blown. (I'm not going to say all students - that might be more than anybody could deliver.)
But so if that is the goal of "change," then "change" can't really start with an objective of "selling" higher education to legislators, or taxpayers, or whatever. Change has to start with curriculum and with what happens in the classroom, and, further, with ideas, and those things aren't quantifiable or assessable before you imagine them. If you start with assessment before you address what will be assessed, you're not changing anything in a meaningful way - you're just adding layer after layer of bureaucracy. It's not that I don't believe in assessment. I do. I just don't believe in putting the cart (assessment) before the horse (education). Meaningful assessment grows out of solid curriculum. Solid curriculum does not grow out of proficiency tests, pre-ordained learning outcomes, Quality Enhancement Programs, or legislative mandates. And it certainly doesn't grow out of demands for excellence without money, or, more broadly, without support (which includes things like time).
So, do I think higher education should "change" in the United States? Yes. I think that we do not serve all students as well as we are obligated to serve them. I think that as college has become a necessity for most people rather than an option for an elite few, that the structure of higher education as a whole has not transformed to meet that need. Instead of transforming higher education to our current needs, we have merely added on to an elite (elitist?) model, which means a brilliant kid from Appalachia will go to the state college down the road rather than to the private university in the Northeast, and that brilliant kid's opportunities will reflect that "choice." Only it was never really the kid's choice, because we talk about "college" as if it means the same thing no matter where you go. And if your parents, or any of the people that you know, didn't even graduate from high school, they're in no position to tell you any different.
I think that it's wrong that we exploit highly qualified "temporary" or "contract" faculty because it means that the bottom line works out, even if it also means that students don't necessarily get the same kind of support that they would get otherwise (and this is not a diss on the temporary or contract faculty: this is about the fact that if they do give students that support it's out of the kindness of their hearts and not in any way something that students should have the right to expect of them).
And finally, I think that a model of higher education where tenured and tenure-track faculty fight turf wars about the respective "value" of their disciplines through battles about curriculum is totally fucked up. That's not what our students need, and it's not really about educating them. We do it because that's what higher education used to be, and we do it because administrators can force us to take those positions based on their edicts. But seriously: I shouldn't want a course to be required for all students just so that I'm sure to make my enrollment, or because I'm worried that my program will be axed if x number of courses in my department aren't required. I should want a course to be required for all students because I think that all students really would find such a course useful, illuminating, and enriching in their lives as educated people. Seriously. That's the bottom line - not enrollments, not department power, not anything else. As higher ed stands today in this country? I'm a fucked up idealist. What I just said totally isn't reality.
So on to the next question:
What are the top three things you would change in the long-run if you had the power to do that?
Ok, so I'm going to list three, without a whole lot of explanation because this is already wicked-long. We can talk more about the ins and outs of these in comments, if people want more.
- I do not believe that adjunct labor (or graduate student labor - grad student labor should be about training them to do this job, not about using them) should underwrite lower teaching loads for tenured and tenure-track faculty at institutions that aspire to raise their research profiles. It's bad enough that we rely so much on adjunct labor at my teaching-intensive regional institution, but at least I teach as much as most of our adjuncts, and I do teach those "unattractive" gen. ed. courses (comp, intro courses) that they also teach. Yes, I want a lower teaching load. But no, I don't want it on the back of somebody who's making 2 grand a course. And seriously: teaching is not an impediment to ideas or to solid research. It's just a time-suck. In this job I've learned how to make it less of one, without sacrificing rigor in my students' educations. This is not impossible. If research universities want to have faculty who teach less, they need to hire more t-t/tenured faculty.
- Curriculum should be about serving students - not about serving the legislature, not about serving the "community", not about doing an administration's will. Curriculum should be determined by people who have an investment in those disciplines, not by outsiders. Just because you "love to read" or have read a few books doesn't mean you know what literature students should read in college, or how much they should read. Seriously. I went to school for years to become qualified to make these judgments. I teach these students. You hired me to do this. You tenured me. Yes, I'm the lady who knows more than you about these matters.
- Decisions about the vision of higher education at a particular university, or about what it should become generally, need to happen with ultimate transparency and they need to happen with a mandate. This isn't all that hard. Dude, I'm in an English department (and we all know that those are snakepits) that hadn't truly given its curriculum an overhaul in 30 years and I made that happen. How did I make that happen? By being totally transparent and by getting people invested in the change through that. Yes, it was a fuck of a lot of work. Weeks of my life I'll never get back. But I made it happen, and I'm like this hero for doing it, even for those who were suspicious and resistant. That can happen on a broader scale. It just takes trusting that it can, working really freaking hard, and involving as many people as possible.