This "Bright Gumdrop Unicorn" is about solutions not just problems

Continuing the thought process about junior faculty looking for other jobs (that began here, and continued here, and summed up nicely as a sort of Hotel Californication by Maggie May, and today blew up with this Rate Your Students post and the beginnings of the responses),
here are a few thoughts that I'd like to see addressed. And at the end, a proposed solution.

Having followed the posts, it's interesting to hear that "senior faculty" (by the way, if "junior faculty" get painted as a single brush, so do you, gramps - this post is going to take the same tone I'm seeing from the "senior faculty" in hopes that by speaking their forked tongue language, they'll get the point a bit better) really are as insular as Abe Simpson. First, because it seems they can no longer distinguish between reasons for leaving. In none of the posts above that brought this up has anyone given any indication they're doing a one year and out situation, and yet this seems to be the assumption made by the "senior faculty" posting in response. Second, because they can't quite imagine that people don't love everything the same way they do, they seem to take someone doing typical job things - trying to find positions that fit better, pay better, etc. - as some sort of personal affront. It's great that you love your town, your university, your country, your 7 pm bedtime after "Matlock" is over, but honestly, hegemon, that doesn't mean everyone has to.

If we're not happy, if we're far from the things we care about, if we're not getting what we need then we have two choices: we can wait for you to finish your victory cabbage, your 40 mile walks through the snow with no shoes, and your stories about how FDR beat Superman in a footrace and help us fix it , or we can do something to fix it ourselves. From the posts thus far, the choice is obvious. And if that's the way we feel, why do you want us there anyway? If we're as selfish and egotistical, why cry when we leave? Wait - that would mean you'd have to teach those intro courses you hate, serve on more committees, do more research, reprep old lectures, stop peddling your cars with your feet and enter the modern world.

Most importantly, recognize that you've got more than a little blame in this, old folks. You've perpetuated a system. You've done job hires the way they've always been done, you've hired junior faculty out from under other departments and been glad to have them. You've passed off the duties you don't want to the person at the wrong end of the career ladder. So change how you hire, change who you hire, or hush up and relax - I'm sure "Lawrence Welk" will be on soon, and then you can take your naps and dream of shooing kids off your lawn.

And you know what? I know why you want me to stay. I've just spent parts of several days watching your poor argumentation - name calling, castigation, the need to resort to profanity and sad stereotypes - to bolster your points. I've seen your weak logic, your reliance on strawmen arguments, your inability to think critically about the system you're in, and your strange assumptions that everything is either/or. The whole point of this post, after all, is designed as both argument against and satire of how you "senior faculty" are coming across. You need me to teach you critical thinking as badly as your students do from the sounds of it. Just because I'm looking for a new job doesn't mean I don't appreciate and want to help students, that I don't like the university, or that I voted against social security or whatever it is that's really got your Depends in a wad.

Oh, and that solution: for all of you more curmudgeonly-than-thous who think junior faculty shouldn't leave one job to go to another, put that in your ads. If you really think that badly of someone trying to find a situtation that is good for them and good for the school and their students, own it. You write the job ads. Because I can tell you, if that's your attitude, I don't want to work with you anyway, you narrowminded, judgemental, sanctimonious windbags.

It's Game Time...

And just in case you missed it in the midst of other, less important things: today was the start of the NBA season. And all I need to say is: Go, Spurs, Go!

There's trouble right here in Academic City

Big discussions happening over at Dr. Crazy's place. Check out the useful post about approaching the job market after you've got a tenure track position and the useful comments about what the considerations might be once you do.

One of the thing I've noticed in my brief time in the blogging world (this go-round, at least) but also in academia at large is that there's a tendency to look at problems in a very particular way. Take this for example:
EdSmithers said...
I can't believe not a one of you has been a senior enough member of a faculty to know the damage that this "casting around for a better gig" does to a department.

The junior faculty of present day academe is made up of people like you, uncaring and selfish, not giving a shit about the students and colleagues you leave in the lurch with your pretty "look at me, love me, and miss me" announcement of departure in April of each year.
Ignoring the assumptions about why people leave, there are some things missing. The point that I never see mentioned at moments like this is that the people in question - in this case, junior faculty - are entering into a world with rules made by senior faculty.

Structurally, the university system is made up in such a way that faculty would be crazy not to leave. The April departures edsmithers bemoans happen because of a structural process senior faculty, organizations, and universities have much more control over than do individual faculty. Do I want to have to wait till late in this school year to give my departure notice? Not really. Do I have to? If jobs are posted in the Fall, interviews are done in Winter, and hiring in Spring, then there isn't much say that the person being ired really has in the process. Now, consider this gem:
Webmaster said...
Imagine our delight in imagining you might deign to stay here in Pudknocker town another year or two!

We will certainly forget your casting around for a better gig when tenure and promotion loom.
Who'd want to stay at a job where "senior faculty" condescend and stereotype junior faculty in such ways as edsmithers or who are threatened with retaliation for exercising an option in the labor market as advocated by webmaster?

The other thing that neither/both/the same seem to ignore is that sometimes leaving is the responsible thing. It is entirely possible that one could land a job that seemed perfect only to discover they are a poor fit for that department's needs. By the logic shown in those threads, you don't ever get to part gracefully; you can only be shown the door. But that's not the way the job market works anywhere.

It's also intriguing to hear "senior faculty" (this keeps going in quotes because the only evidence I can find of an academic edsmithers seems to be teaching one course a year in the Santa Clara University Law program) who (if they are, in fact, senior faculty) would've come in at a substantially different pay scale relative to inflation than new faculty. I can imagine it would be easier to marry yourself to a place if you were making the sort of money profs who started in the 70s or 80s are getting paid. Come back down to my pay scale, though, and I'm betting you'll rethink it.

[Addendum: if we must keep using this marriage/career metaphor, then sooner or later, complainers must cope with the fact that, just as in real life, a lot of times when say "it's not you, it's me", it's really you.]

Things Fall Apart

So I was dozing in the chair, having written 1,000 or so words on the book chapter that I recently got accepted, and I was feeling quite satisfied with myself. As days go, it was productive and relaxing. There was an invitation to a party this evening that I had hoped to attend, however briefly.

And as you know, dear reader, such moments cannot last.

The phone rang. It was a good friend calling to make sure I was okay. It seems they'd left multiple messages on my voice mail this week that I'd not returned. I explained I'd not received any voice mail messages. I'd been checking religiously because, as you may have inferred from the umpteen bajillion posts whining about things like giant applications and the like, I'm on the job market. The little beeping thing that happens when I pick up the phone to tell me someone was calling to ask for money hasn't happened. But the friend who called is one of the sort that you'd trust your life with, so clearly something was amiss.

As it turns out, there was a voice mail. From the phone company. Telling me my voice mail wasn't working. So only if you're the sort who checks your voice mail even when the thing that tells you whether there is voice mail or not is telling you no would you actually find out that your voice mail isn't working.

To sum up, I'm on the job market and my phone doesn't work.

I take this in stride. I curse the fact that I have to give my home phone number because my office phone doesn't work reliably but evidently cannot be fixed right now because there's a new phone system going in shortly (read: Christmas break). I think of all the SNAFUs like this that have happened in this region since I moved here - dry cleaners going out of business with my clothes in check, never to be seen or heard from again; landlords who won't make repairs; drivers who have opted out of thinking about lanes and turn signals (even paying attention to other people's) who have dinged my car - and I curse this place.

Then I relax. I can roll with this. And I open my e-mail to try and draft an e-mail to all those places I've sent applications to that won't make me sound like a hobo or crack head or some sort of unreliable sort when I explain that I can't get their messages right now because neither of my phone lines work correctly. And I find an e-mail from the editors of the book collection, revealing that they haven't actually secured a publisher for the book they've accepted the article I was dutifully plugging away on, but it should be any day now, and incidentally, the deadline hasn't changed at all though they can't even tell me what style the article is to be written in.

Entropy, dear reader, has wiped the smile off my face.

Meme fodder for a Friday afternoon

Not much to tell here today - the new contract arrived and needs review and the students are punch and distracted as am I - so lucky that I was tagged for this meme by MommyProf. The Darwin theme feels a little creepy and also maybe a little seventh grade, but since I've fallen into the Facebook pool, I won't resist the urge. Plus I'm a sucker for genre.

First, the rules:
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question.
For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.
Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

So, without further ado:
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great=great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Primate Diaries.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is a k8, a cat, a mission.
My great-great-great-grandparent is Monkeygirl.
My great-great-grandparent is DancingFish.
My great-grandparent is Dr. Brazen Hussy.
My grandparent is Addy
My parent is MommyProf

The best television series in SciFi is: Battlestar Galactica
The best cult movie in comedy is: This is Spinal Tap
The best road novel in classic fiction is: On the Road
The best high-fat food in Tex-Mex cooking is: chicken fried steak
The best recent movie in comedy is: Little Miss Sunshine

Now then, PopTart, Dr. Crazy, Dance, and Samantha: tag, you're it. And, of course, anyone else who stumbles by and needs a little distraction from the day.

Sanity days

We're coming up on week 10 here. The students are dragging more than a little bit, and I'm not far behind. Some teacher - I think perhaps my ultra-cool, funny 6th grade English teacher - once confessed that in teaching, they always programmed in sanity days for themselves and the students.

This was advice I took to heart; usually we call them research days - or in the terms when I plan to be on the job market, I've got a few days in to help deal with those. The monkeys are doing well, but they're flagging. The discontinuity between all freshmen and all seniors is making my head hurt. And the weather is changing.

I think it might well be time to pull one out of the hat.

p.s. I joined FaceBook, and I'm so very, very afraid. More on this soon, I'm sure.

Of Sesame Street and the Job Process

Two more applications out today (that puts me at 11 so far). It occurs to me that if Sesame Street made a show for young academics, it'd be self-doubt that'd start the show off. So today, self-doubt is brought to you by the job number 11 and the phrase "proof of teaching excellence."

Today I was thinking about quirky the process and fickle the players can be. So, as I was sending off ginormous packet #11, I began to wonder "what if they think I'm trying too hard to demonstrate 'teaching excellence'?"

Rather than complain about the ambiguity of the phrase, instead I'll offer my interpretation of it. If nothing else, there's always catharsis?

First, I haven't won any teaching awards (wow - that sounds harsh). So instead, I opt to share peer reviews of my teaching (that happens pretty regularly here in the early years, thankfully). And then I submit syllabi and evals.

This is also where I wonder if I'm trying too hard.

This is the third university I've taught at, if you include graduate teaching (and I did quite a bit of that and in courses that were sufficiently distinct - they were 10 week courses, for one thing - that I feel like they need to be included). At my second job, as a visiting assistant, let's say that my comfort zone was pushed a little bit. I taught courses "as needed" (advice to anyone applying for that sort of job - if you see that phrase, be aware it can translate to "whatever no one else wanted to teach can be yours regardless of whether you've anything like expertise in it). It was a 4/4 load, so you can imagine that I got quite a bit of variety out of it (because naturally as the department's whipping boy go-to-guy, I did four preps each term). And now I'm at my third job - also (as noted previously) a 4/4. Here, at least, the preps are relatively close to what my areas of expertise and interest are.

But the number of syllabi adds up. If I send them all - as seems possibly appropriate (particularly so for jobs that are written broadly) - that's something like 15 distinct courses I'm sending syllabi for (in most cases, also with detailed assignments). Add a sampling of evals for them, and these packets get out of control. My tendency has been to try and send as much as possible on the syllabi side while giving some meaningful summary of evals (whatever that means - and it's certainly debatable).

On one hand, it seems to me that sending as much as possible is almost what we're conditioned to. Think about all the advice about holding everything aside for tenure packets and such. On the other hand, who could blame a committee member for blanching a little at the prospect of a 200 page packet?

Ay yi yi. Where's Mr. Hooper and Big Bird when I need useful advice?

So glad this isn't the positive thinking week

So I'm proposing a course for my department.

This has become one of the big advancement objectives of late, and the school is all about objectives. Maybe this is happening everywhere. On my syllabi now, I not only have to list my objectives for the course (a good thing), but also the department's overall objectives (a questionable thing), and the university's general education guidelines (much more questionable). My syllabus, on average, has gained a page and a half due to various objects and explanations of objectives and explanations of how thing X satisfies objective C. I remember this from the business world, and I recall from my days managing there that it didn't do much to create the "excellent customer service opportunities" it was meant to because really, who wants to listen to ten minutes of that crap just so you can check your balance.

A syllabus works the same way, kids. I remember in grad school being given a 42 page syllabus from a professor who was teaching a course that I desperately wanted to take. The syllabus though was Exhibit A - in 10 point font and excruciating detail - of this professor's mania. Somewhere around page 13 of our in-depth reading of it, I found myself so disinterested in the course and the topic that I politely excused myself, went to drop the class, and began to rethink whether this was the thing for me to study or not.

Maybe this was the professor's point. And actually I don't have a problem with them designing a syllabus that way if it was their goal. I'm fine with the quick reading I got of the prof and all their issues, faults, and quirks. A good syllabus should probably do exactly that. But I do have a problem with being forced to represent someone else's manias in my syllabus. If I'm going to look crazy, it should at least be an honest representation.

All of which leads me to the course I'm designing for the department. There's been a lot of pressure lately for our department to participate in an interdisciplinary Master's program being toyed with here. Calls have been made, edicts passed down, discomfort has been registered. But I like designing courses, and I want the chance to work with graduate students again, so in I jumped. Thinking that the first course we should have would need to be flexible, I put together a pretty flexible special topics course that would allow whichever of the limited departmental faculty who could find time to teach a course a way to either tie to an existing course (and thus manage an extra prep somewhat more easily) or to do something related to their current research and interests.

As part of the exercise, I had to design a syllabus for this course which isn't on the books (and help me out here, that is the point of this right? To get a course on the books so that someday it might be offered?). And I received the committee's comments and requirements for making the syllabus for this imaginary course. Among the easy to fix but utterly silly gems was a demand for office hours to be listed. Okay, it's silly and nit-picky, but alright. I can make up fake office hours for a course that hasn't been approved in an as-yet undetermined term.

The amusement goes on. One comment says they can't make sense of how grades are tabulated. I work on a points system. All the work in any course is always worth a total number of points (let's say 500). Each assignment has an assigned point value (let's say there are six assignments, two early ones worth 50 points, and the other four 100 points each). Confused yet?

I guess math is hard, Barbie.

But more irritating was the continuing attendance policy question. Out of the eight changes that were requested, three of them have to do with attendance policies. Random people from random departments will call me at least twice a term to ask how Student X's attendance has been. They never ask how their work has been. No one has yet called to ask me how a student was doing with the actual business of a course; they only ask if they've been spotted in a chair in recent memory.

My university loves attendance policies. It seems to have a passion for attendance policies that I can only compare with my love for my bed on a Sunday morning.

To be clear, attendance policies irritate the hell out of me. As I tell my students - in my syllabus and in the opening day lecture - attendance is assumed. You'd be stupid not to come to every class, mine included, at every available opportunity. You're paying enough for it, after all - and that's what you're paying for: not a grade, not a good grade, not for me to listen to your problems and solve them, not for me to give you warm and fuzzy feedback, not for me to agree with your views or to hide my own. You're paying an entrance fee to be exposed to ideas, to have me help you evaluate and use those ideas, and to have me use those ideas in the evaluation of your work.

Let me repeat (as I do in that opening lecture): I'm not here to be your mommy. I don't care if you attend. In fact, if you can't show up interested and prepared, I'd rather you didn't so that the students who were smart enough to take advantage of what they're paying for don't have to suffer your disruptions.

How do I grade on attendance? I grade your assignments. If you're not attending, it will absolutely affect your grade. I'm not going to give you points for your ability to sit in a chair. And I'm not going to waste my time taking points off if you come in late or leave early. My time is worth more than that, honestly, and deserves to be better spent. It will come out on its own, thee I do assure.

What could be clearer than that?


I don't have much to say at the moment. Life's quiet, midterms have concluded, I've had two days of guest speakers, the weather is near perfect, and I sent three more applications out. This is not to suggest that life is perfect, but it is at the very least even-keeled.

And so, in light of this, I'll offer my list of desires that would push these things closer to perfect to the Universe for consideration.
  • it wouldn't be so bad to have backing singers and a surf drummer to accompany me (or someone around me) at appropriate moments throughout the day
  • one week where there wasn't some sort of IT or university organizational snafu
  • the books I need to choose from for next term to arrive
  • more visits from friends with funny wedding stories (okay, the wedding stories thing isn't a deal breaker)
  • the cost of the pumpkin chocolate chip muffins to return to their normal prices
  • one more week of weather like today's
  • a clear sign about whether to attend a costume party over the weekend or not (and if the sign says yes, it would be really helpful if it also pointed me to a costume)
  • two days of comfort that I'm not an academic fraud for failing to publish more
  • for someone to understand my fixation on "Art Star" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Universe, do with these things what you will.

An Academic Haiku (sort of)

I think I saw something similar on Rate Your Students, but maybe not. Anyway, since I'm always a fan of random acts of poetry, I offer this (alleged) haiku...

Quoth the guest speaker
goodness of last presentation = how good you are.
Call it irony, but quietly.

I'm Honored (and Confused)

So this afternoon as I was meeting with one of my advisees, she mentioned she's working with a performance of "The Vagina Monologues," and asked whether I'd like to be a reader. This stunned me a little, as my understanding - and I'll confess more than a bit of cultural ignorance here - was that the Monologues were intended to be read by women.

Citing fear of over-commitment (oh, isn't it ironic?), I said I didn't think I could help, but offered her the option of pitching to my class for help. In hindsight, though, it occurs to me that I may have been over-hasty. First, because I'm always honored when a students asks me to help with something they care about. But second because I responded without recognizing my own lack of facts. So, those in the know, please fill me in and offer your thoughts and advice.

Things from My Inbox: Call and Response

It must be midterms. And if anything should bring out a special edition of Things from My Inbox, midterms and grades should do it. Having only just - thirty minutes ago - given out midterm grades, naturally e-mails like this one are starting to roll in:
I was just wondering if you would be able to fill me in on why my class grade is a 79 when I feel that I have gotten fairly high grades on all>assignments and received an 85 on the test
Of course, it's not all a downside, since it gives me an opportunity to reply with things like this:
I'd be glad to explain. I take all the scores and add them up as described in the syllabus. When I total the total number of points you've received and divide them by the total number of points currently available in the course, the percentage I get is 79. When you total them up do you come up with something different?
Good times.

Genius or Folly?

Yet again, I find myself wondering about my choice of lecture support materials.

Was it, I wonder, wise of me to use the M&M Character generator as a way into discussing the cultural interpretation of signs and symbols?

p.s. my glasses look much cooler than that.

The Wages of Technological Sin

Today - right this moment, in fact - I'm giving a midterm exam in one of my large freshmen classes. And naturally, that means today would be the day where my no cell phone policy got to be tested.

Awhile back I started putting the rule in my syllabus that if a cell phone rings in my class, I get to answer it. And sure enough today, ten minutes in, someone's cell phone went off.

It was her father.

You can imagine how mortifying it is, first, to have your professor answer your phone in class. Then to have it be your father so that the professor gets to tell them that your cell phone was disruptive in the middle of an exam. Add to that having everyone in the room as quiet as they've ever been when your cell rang.

You can be sure the rest of the term will be free of that sort of disturbance.

Of midterms and post-partum digressions...

And so life does away with looking on the bright side.

Midterms are here and one of my students in a research methods class sent me this question about their most recent assignment (a critique of a scholarly journal article):
also, the methodology.. would an example of that be something like a textual analysis??
For those of you not in the know, I have determined the double question mark signals that a question is being asked that will make you want to actually drink a bleach and tonic. Then my sister called to complain about how my mother had ruined the birth of my grand niece by wanting to be in the room and jockeying for position during the birth. The quite-heated conversation actually went on for over two hours on two separate evenings, forcing me to ask the following:
did you see the birth?
did mom see the birth?
so you're upset and screaming because someone touched you?
Let's ignore for a moment why in the world my entire family actually wanted to be in the room ( I know, I know, beautiful experience...miracle of life...but honestly, if I ever have a kid, we'll not be serving potato salad and having a reunion in the birthing suite) - evidently births are now stadium events. What is most frustrating is the fact that in all of these conversations, no one actually managed to tell me anything about the baby herself. Through my superior deductive reasoning (and the ability to ask a question in the time it takes a rabid relative to draw a breath between incoherent spewage) I have since learned that the child has hair and a flat nose.

I might be grand-uncle to a pug named Antoinette.

I'm consoling myself with the knowledge that other people's families are also absolutely insane and might also miss the point of a birth in such an utterly insane manner.

Tangents and Positive Thinking as Schtick

This trying not to complain for a few days is already proving difficult.

Wait. Is that a complaint? Aigh. Let's try again.

This trying not to complain for a few days is already proving difficult a worthwhile experience that is pushing me to new limits and realizations.

That's better. Unfortunately, it means I don't have such a well thought-out post for today. That has resulted in a more free-form sort of post. In the past 24 hours, as I've been undertaking this new adventure with a smile on my face, I've found myself pondering the following things:
  • drawing a cartoon with a superhero called "Riot Grrl," intended as a positive feminst role-model, whose arch-nemesis would be "FemiNazi" would be the straw-woman my students often make feminism out to be. Unfortunately, I cannot draw, but I have a great script if anyone is interested. What a great opportunity for me to learn to draw, unless someone would like to collaborate which would be keen, too!
  • how much my insurance is paying beyond my copay for a physical therapist to have me do an exercise I was taught in first grade
  • the unintended consequences of race in teaching (see here - particularly the comments for what started this thought process)
  • where are the eligible women in my age bracket have gone from the place I currently live and whether this would have been considered a plague in Biblical times, assuming of course that women counted in the Bible how fortunate I am, as a single male, to be in place that makes it so easy to focus on my career, which is good because some naysayers might compare this to a Biblical plague only to then use that comparison as a negative commentary on the foundational text of one of the world's major religions
  • what I was thinking assigning weekly essays to my two largest classes and how when I make it out of this term alive (ha! you thought I was going to say something that needed to be struck out, didn't you?) I will be much more cautious for at least two to three days in choosing what assignments to hand out
  • that probably only my father would have appreciated the reply, "No, I'm not such a grand uncle. I'm really kind of average." to his phoned announcement that my niece just had a baby girl as much as I enjoyed making it
  • how wise it was of me to spend extra money on a boxed set of John Lee Hooker's music at this time in my life (answer: so very, very!)
There was other stuff. But the stack of essays appears to be growing as I type this.

Genre and the Academy: Reading the Academic Job Process

So technically, I should be grading. But I'm lingering around, nervous about a trip to the doctor to see what exactly I did to my knee a few weeks back. Initially, they thought it was a break in the top of my fibula, but they've since ruled that out. Whatever it is, it hasn't been so pressing that I could convince anyone to see me quickly. It's had me hobbling around several weeks, and the pain seems to have shifted which I can only assume means something awful

Want an academic horror story and what sounds like a happy ending? Just read this over at Scattered and Random, and it's got all the tell-tale elements: awful advisor, peculiar academic norms, haggling over areas of inquiry. And it has a happy ending.

Isn't it frightening that the academic advancement process - and I'm including grad school here - has evolved into a subset of the horror genre? Hand that first advisor a butcher knife and a soundtrack by Mike Oldfield, and it's a slasher movie ready made. That tale is so distressing and mine is so much better in comparison that I'm going to forswear complaining about the gig for a few days (but only a few: mom always said do what you're good at, so...).

p.s. maybe I should start giving all my blog entries conference paper like titles. Note the "witty" use of a semicolon

Citizens of Whoville, take a 'lude...

At my local grocery store yesterday, they'd already put out Christmas trees. Pause a moment and soak that in. I like a good long holiday break as much as anyone, but at the beginning of October? Seriously?

If the attention span of the world has shrunk two sizes too small, I guess that means I'm going to have to tie the reindeer horn to my poor pooch's head even earlier this year.

Why "Curmudgeon," Curmudgeon?

Tonight seems like a good time for a little explanation.

Having spent a little more time splashing about the blog-o-sphere (doesn't that spelling just beg for someone saying it like Mr. Burns?), one of the things I've appreciated elsewhere has been some note of introspection from the people whose stuff I'm reading (Dr. Crazy gives a good explanation about what her blog should do by explaining the transition from one blog to another as does Tenured Radical in her "About Me" page). And once, I promised to explain a little bit about what my greatest gripe about teaching is (this post won't exactly answer that, I don't think, but it might be as close as I get).

So here's what I'm shooting for with the post:
  • a brief bit of explanation of who I am which won't actually reveal who I am
  • an explanation of the ethic of the blog
  • some sort of amusing moment that might also be an epiphany
Let's see how it goes.

First, the name. After having read a post about the literary canon and the subsequent comments and categorizations of academics in that discipline, I find myself a little nervous over the use of the name Dr. Curmudgeon. I was shooting for fun and a bit of irony. I considered Dr. Cranky - it is probably taken but it also sounded a bit petulant (not that I'm not, but...). What I wanted was something that gave me a notion of being both disgruntled while hopefully being amusing and lovable. What I wanted was a sort of academic version of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show. I'm hoping it doesn't imply - as the word curmudgeon seems to in that thread - that I'm insular or afraid to roll with the punches or the times.

And I wanted to be anonymous. I cannot stress this enough, though Dr. Crazy's thoughts that led to her move to Reassigned Time have me thinking.

For me, this blog is intended to be cathartic more than anything. You'll see the impact of that in a few ways. I don't edit so much here. There are posts with grammatical errors and leaps of logic that make my head and heart cringe. The posts are, in some ways, a form of intellectual shorthand. At other times, the blog is my virtual bobo doll experiment (I hope it is more Bandura than B.F. Skinner anyway). That it has - or might - draw an audience is both a thrill and a fear.

Here's the thing: I like where I am.

Sort of.

My department is great if sometimes dysfunctional, disorganized, and set in its ways. My Dean generally looks out for me and has the same priorities I do. After that, things get hazy. And if you go up a level, beyond the university, things get downright ugly. I like where I am. I just don't like where "where I am" is.

So the anonymity isn't just about protecting me - though let's be honest, that's the biggest part of it - it is also about making sure that I give a fair shake to those around. One thing that I've noticed so far is that by adopting the anonymous pose, I have to spend some rhetorical and cognitive effort to write what I do. Sometimes that has resulted in my finding a more equitable but less obvious spot to pin my gripes to. With that in mind, not every event I tell you here is the capital-t truth. I'll change a name or hide an event where I can when I think I need to to help keep me anonymous. And I'll do it to help make sure that someone who isn't a part of this forum gets as close to a fair shake as they're going to. That also means as people comment, I'm moderating them with the thickest red Sharpie this site allows. Having readers - and reading other people who are talking about the same things - has helped. And like I said, that's the biggest goal of the thing: to organize my thoughts and to keep me grounded.

As for me, I'm the first kid in the family to have made it through college. I'm the only one to have gone to grad school. I did it all on student loans because it was the only way to do it. I did it because this was the Olympics I could qualify for, the thing I had enough chops to have a shot at completing that would require me to push myself. I believe in education the way some people believe in Religion. It has sent me places I never thought I'd go. I've met people amazing people, and I've discovered just how often I'm only the smartest aleck in the room but not the smartest. It has come with a price - I can give you a figure and I can tell you the other parts - and most days it has been absolutely worth it. I've found a career that I like, even if it doesn't pay the tolls it took to get here.

There are some things I should apologize for - or at least note - in advance. I'm bad with names. My mouth - and my keyboard - often works faster than the rest of me. I decided when I was very young that if I couldn't laugh at it, I was afraid of it, and sometimes I take that too literally. I'm private to a degree that makes the notion of a public journal absolutely laughable (I'm serious: many of my best friends do not know my birthdate, when I'm dating, or who I'm likely to date). I can be too literal at the wrong moments. My Meyers-Briggs switches (usually, I'm ENTP or INTP or ENTJ or INTJ). I'm not above selling out exes, friends or family for the sake of a story. While I recognize that my taste in books is idiosyncratic, I'm convinced my taste in music is superior to everyone else's. If you recommend something to me too much, too often, or too strongly, I might ignore you just for spite. I like food baseball metaphors and movies but not the actual game. I love food that makes me cry. I may be a little too thrill seeking for my own good.

So that, my ducks, is a sort of introduction. Hope it fills in a gap or two without scaring anyone off.

Cosmetic changes, the academic version of "seat up/seat down", and a long weekend

Just a quick note. I've added a few new folks to the fold under the Summer Vacation reading list, in part to welcome some of the lurkers. That's also meant alphabetizing the list - the order while distressing to me seems best since the list is growing.

I'm also thinking about this quote from a recent Tenured Radical post on the what-to-do's of the academic job market (the post is excellent, by the way):

And do not send anything by email unless invited to do so: this is incredibly lazy and annoying, and invites someone to screw up your file by not printing things out properly. While first impressions are by no means decisive, you do not want to convey that you are a confidence man from Nigeria, or that you are desperate.

While I can't fault the logic, it does seem a bit to me like a fight I had back in the day with a live-in-girlfriend about leaving the toilet seat up. At the heart of both debates is the question about whose life gets made easier and why. Certainly saving something as a PDF would seem to eliminate most of the problems of printing error, but the real question is do you want to make someone work even a little bit harder? Obviously, no. I'd send them cake and would open the letter for them if it'd give me a slightly better chance at getting the interview.

And yet, I bristle at this as I did with the girlfriend. Why am I the party in the process who has to go the extra- extra-mile? Aren't you courting me? Don't you want me to think you're active, interesting, considerate people to work for and with? Aren't we shooting to be colleagues rather than superior and subordinate? Do academic committees feel any guilt over asking for 200 page packets which they likely don't look through for each candidate? Ever been on a committee where there was remorse about the cost a graduate student had to pay for transcripts and reference letters and printing? I'm wagering no (at least it hasn't happened on any of the committees I've served on). Shouldn't something that makes it easier for both sides, at least, be considered?

Of course, part of what we're dealing with is the unfamiliar and an established power dynamic. Nothing is so frowned upon as treading on tradition. It wouldn't be unheard of to suggest that older academics might be nervous at being asked to use technology.

And part of what we're dealing with is a ritual of hazing. I think if you ask anyone who's ever gone through this process, they can tell you a story that feels like academic hazing. During my first round of job interviews, I didn't blink when one of the schools interviewed me at 6 a.m. my time. I don't think they were being malicious; I just think they didn't pause to consider time differences. But it didn't feel like I was in any position to point out just how inconsiderate that really was. I needed the job after all, and as my grandmother would've said, had she been an academic, "I know from power dynamics." But wouldn't it be something if the process recognized this too?

In any case, I'm not really as concerned about it as this post might seem. And I don't fault the Tenured Radical's advice - I'm just feeling, well, curmudgeonly today. I've already decided to cater to that level of fear that might hypothetically be living in the hearts of my search committees, so why ruin a long weekend worrying about that? Besides, there's plenty of grading to be done, and two movies from Netflix that I've had for months that need to be watched.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, the girlfriend and I compromised. I put the seat down, but she had to put it up when she was done.

Things From My Inbox: the Tweed and Leather?!? Edition

That's right, kids, it's time for cognitive dissonance e-mail style. As always, names changed to protect the innocent, etc, etc. Here are this week's selections:

[Person X] would like to invite you, your spouse & two guests of your choice to learn how to create a retirement roadmap customized specifically for you.


Why does it have to be a smart young professor aren't there any smart old professors who could get this ball rolling?

Does this suggest that old professors never die, they just retire in a foursome?


And just as a bonus bit of good news from the Inbox, this arrived late last night:

We are pleased to inform you that your chapter proposal has been accepted for inclusion...

All this and a long weekend. Life's feeling up right now.

Get your geek on and your lurk off...


Having stumbled across this in several places today, I'll call it kismet and blow you all kisses as I jump on the bandwagon.

As for you, give in to peer pressure, show your manners, be good joiners, or whatever it takes to get you, my poppets, to delurk long enough to let me know someone's out there, reading this. Say hello, leave a suggestion. Whatever makes your meta-self happy while lingering in this little corner of the interweb.

Doctor, doctor, give me the news...

So earlier this week my seniors had a bit of a meltdown. They're graduating soon, you see, and that carries big implications. As one of them put it, so sadly and sweet, "Don't you think I'm sad for having four years of college and still not knowing what's next?"

No, obviously, I don't. I've got a lot more education than that, and a quick scroll through the rantings here will let you know that I don't know quite what's next.

But how nice that they thought I would know - that they'd actually ask for a day of class to talk about these things. And of course, I'm going to give it to them. I'm pretty sure at this point they've earned the right to demand my perspective now and then. The hitch in the matter is the question they've asked is so big, I'm not quite sure what to tell them. In finest academic form (here's what I've learned from my work on University committees), since I don't know what to tell them, I've put off the discussion.

But what I'm hoping is that some of you able-bodied, employed readers will step up with some practical advice to offer my poor, stressed, soon to be grown up monkeys. Looking back at that moment before you were kicked out into student loan debt and nine-to-fives and what-not, what do you wish someone would have said to you? What strategies worked and what didn't?