This, too, was a sign...

In the interest of being frugal and saving money - or at least using it to reduce my debt - I carry my lunch to work. Most days, I eat the same thing for lunch: a chicken sandwich with spinach leaves and provolone, roasted tomatoes and red peppers with mozzarella, some yogurt, and a Coke Zero. Simple enough.

For whatever reason, however, this term, my little eating containers - I'll call them tupperware, but without the capital since they actually aren't that brand - are failing me.

Sometimes as I'm coming up the stairs, other days when I pull my lunch out of the communal refrigerator, the lids to my containers have decided to shake off their oppressive seals, spilling the contents into the bag. I use these same containers at home, and this never seems to happen. It only seems to happen when I bring them here. And I cannot help but think that perhaps I am missing some basic meaning here, some message from the Powers that Lunch.

But what, what are they trying to tell me?

"Some random, some weird" - 7 Facts meme

I'm definitely coming down with something, as it feels like my a few extra pounds of rocks have been added to my head's already substantial load. It's nice to have this to blame my lack of productivity on. And so, I'll take the chance for a little procrastination spurred on by Dr. Crazy. FYI, I did this (or a similar meme before) so if you're dying to see those seven facts, here's the link.

The rules:
  • Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
  • Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
I won't tag anyone - pile on if you want, and let me know so I can come give your facts a look. And with that said, here are seven facts about me:

  1. Even knowing this is a meme and a complete and silly time waster, I have a compulsion to point out that I can't give a random fact about myself because the act of selecting facts about myself removes the randomness from the equation. I'm justifying not resisting this by noting that I just spent a long time talking to a student about sampling errors. But really, I just get irritatingly literal sometimes.
  2. I am convinced having this job has made me less interesting. I'm near-useless in most conversations because all I have to talk about is work, and really, one day of teaching is largely the same as the last. I miss being interesting.
  3. I heart female punk bands. Possibly too much, as I also heart some female "punk" bands. But not so much that I can justify Avril Lavigne. There are limits.
  4. The best Halloween costume I ever wore had me dressed as a released sanitarium patient who would only talk through his angry, sex-mad sock puppet. One friend felt I did the character a little too well, and suggested I see someone to be diagnosed.
  5. In spite of owning way too many CDs (I'm a bit past the four digit mark), I don't own anything by the Beatles. This is a political stance, as I think people give the Beatles too much credit, and I resent the place they are given in discussions of rock music.
  6. In spite of the fact that I only wear a tie maybe three times a year, I always stop to look at them when I'm shopping for clothes.
  7. When I'm at conferences, I like to take dares to see if I can work unrelated phrases into my presentations. I once was able to force the phrase "Amish simulacra" into a presentation seamlessly.
Looking forward to seeing some folks take up this meme. But don't steal my complaint about the randomness demand. It'll only make you seem like a nerdy joiner.

Charlie Brown's Teacher

I have been tongue-tied today. Even simple sentences and words have required some little struggle. This post is a small act of will: me yelling at a storm.

The first lecture of the day was an ordeal, and I'm certain no one got anything useful out of it. This is mostly because I felt like every time I approached something nuanced - not even profound or particularly difficult - things got difficult. It started well enough, even allowing me perhaps eight minutes of comfort before my speech got muddy. It was a bit like a waking dream in that regard: I could look out and, as I spoke, watch the wave of confusion flow out from me, feeling students even as it induced yawns and checks of the clock.

I've really had dreams like this: where I'm in front of the class, and every word out of my mouth is some incomprehensible speech even I couldn't understand. In the dreams, there's an element of horror to it, like being trapped in a body-cast as the world goes to hell around you or having your voice stolen from you just when you need it most. These have always been the most horrifying dreams to me - the ones where I've no control but no one around can see that something has been taken from me.

That's what today felt like. And even when it wasn't that bad, the thread of what I wanted to say was hard to grasp and seemed to dance just out of reach.

The thread of this post is doing it now, in fact.

But, like the lectures, I am through it. And very little seems worse for it.

Job Tracking - Week 7

Three more applications this week, and not a lot that's new to report. Jobs in my particular area have tapered off pretty dramatically, which is a shame, as I was hoping to get 30 applications out this year.

My roommate is also on the market this year, and we've been comparing application processes since he's in another field. One thing I've been fortunate about is that very few jobs I've applied for have asked for transcripts. And I'm lucky my alma mater isn't currently charging to send copies out. I feel bad for him, a graduate of a California school, because he's being required to pay $13 per transcript. His estimate is that at least 50 percent of the jobs he's applying for (he says that's conservative) ask for transcripts (some even ask for undergraduate transcripts). For me, if the cost were the same, that would mean an additional $130 onto my costs. That's a lot to ask, particularly for people coming out of graduate school.

Really, the transcript requirement is a ridiculous one this early in the process. One thing that I think the school I'm at did right in the job process was to wait to ask for transcripts until I had made a cut or two. I understand the need for demonstrating you've really got the education you claim, but anything that you're not going to look at until near the end - and transcripts are usually a part of the bureaucracy that goes with completing a job offer - shouldn't be asked for until the end because of the cost to candidates and because they aren't used until later in the process.

Here is last week's post with the numbers for it. And, of course, here's the numbers for this week:
Total # of academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified: 15/20
Total # of non-academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified 0/0
Total spent in U.S. dollars on applications: $124.82
Average cost in U.S. dollars per applications: $8.32
Total spent in U.S. dollars on travel, etc: $0
Total amount in U.S. dollars reimbursed: $0
The Chronicle of Higher Ed: 3 0
Other online service (listserv, etc): 14
Friend/Colleague: 2
Personal Research: 1
Total number of paper submissions: 13
Total number of e-submissions: 2
Total weight in pounds of application packets: 15.79
Total number of recommendation letters requested: 27
Total number of requests for references: 5
Total number of "proof of teaching excellence" packs : 7
Total number of requests for Teaching Philosophy :6
Total number of research packs: 9
Total number of transcripts requested: 2
Total number of acknowledgments of receipt: 11
Total number of confirmed reference contacts: 0
Total number of phone interviews: 0
Total number of conference interviews: 0
Total number of on-campus interviews: 0
Total number of offers: 0
Total number of rejection letters: 0
Total number of canceled or unhired positions: 0
I'm expecting a big week next week, possibly getting all of the last five applications out (assuming no new positions out).

King For A Day: Tips From the Kid Crashing the Chair's Meeting

Today I got to be department chair for a bit, attending the (presumably) regular meeting of the various department chairs in my division. I had some spare time, and I'm in need from some University goodwill, so why not go, right?

As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons you might not want to go to a Chair's meeting and a lot of finely tuned etiquette involved in these moments, and so I offer you some tips to consider should this offer ever come your way.

Tip #1: When someone asks you if you can do this sort of thing, make sure to ask what's the on the agenda before you agree.

As it turns out, if the meeting I attended had a "$10,000 Pyramid" title, it could have been any of the following: "Things That Are Pissing People Off," "Things That Cookies Cannot Salvage," or even "Things That Will Cause the Chair Of History to Cite University Historical Precedent for Twenty Minutes Without Drawing a Breath."

(Seriously, history chairs, what the hell? If we stop the jokes about your discipline being irrelevant, will you go easy on the soliloquies?)

We talked about technology, we talked about a failed university PR event, and we talked about scheduling meeting times. Department chairs have a lot to say about these things. All of it angry. Even a cursory examination of the agenda would have revealed this, allowing a suitable excuse to be formulated to help avoid the meeting.

Now, this is actually the second - maybe the third time - I've done this. Today's was the most amusing because there were special guests (more special than me!). And if you think being a tree-shaking, untenured faculty member makes you unwelcome at one of these things, try attending as the person who is in charge of the technology that's been dropped from on-high (and a little haphazardly) onto the university community.

Tip #2: If you're the guy in charge of the technology that's recently been dropped from on-high (and a little haphazardly) onto the university community, when the leader of the meeting asks something like "So, does anyone have anything they want to ask about the new technology?" you must flee the room.

This is a blood in the water moment. The person running the meeting has just dumped chum in the metaphorical waters. If you don't get out, you've only yourself (and years of bureaucracy-induced madness) to blame.

I'm not sure, but I think the reason for this may be that department chairs have moved just far enough up the ladder that they rarely get to complain. They hear lots of complaints, but they rarely get a chance to cut lose themselves. And that's a shame, really, because they're pros. Ever seen someone who doesn't like Blackboard but uses it anyway because they think they must talk about why they wish they weren't using it? Kick them in the shins then ask, and you've got what this meeting was like.

Tip #3: If you're the tree-shaking, untenured faculty member at the Chair's meeting when the chum's in the water, think carefully when and how you open your mouth.

There are acceptable reasons to open your mouth: taking a bite of a cookie is a good reason. Trying to cut past the overly-specific complaints to a general suggestion in order to move on to the next bullet point on the agenda is not. This makes the natives angry. They've earned their venting time by helping to prevent things from falling on you when you last shook a tree. Let them have their fun.

Also, suggesting things leads to committee work. Always. Instead, ask for more cookies. Cookies never lead to committee work.

Tip #4: Many other things lead to committee work.

Among the things that increase the likelihood of a committee being formed with you implicated in its membership are the following: taking notes, nodding, any vocalization which sounds remotely positive (Ex: "Yes!", "Mm-hm.", "You go, girl!"), vocalizations which sound remotely negative (Ex: "No.", "Uh-uh.", snoring), direct eye contact, showing up late, leaving early, allowing someone else to speak, interrupting the wrong person speaking.

If you get sucked onto a committee, my advice is to try your best to become the person in charge of it. The reasons for this are three-fold. First, the person in charge of a committee determines how often and when the committee works. And in most cases, their schedule will be the exact opposite of yours. Second, being in charge of the committee means you get to set the agenda, and that means you can try your best to force a quick, non-bureaucratic solution. Third, the person in charge gets to order the cookies.

Tip #5: Any meeting you can walk away from was probably just seconds shy of being so long you lost the feeling in your lower extremities.

Plan accordingly.

Socialism? Really?

Okay, just for the record socialism isn't focused on the redistribution of wealth. You could call it taxation, you could call it robbery, you could call it fairness. Any of those things would be closer to the truth (though still over-simplifications) but it's not socialism. Socialism starts with the collective ownership of the means of production that then allows for redistribution of wealth. Even that's an oversimplification. But if we're going to oversimplify, we can do a better job than we have been.

With that in mind if you want to rattle people's cages about socialism you probably should not be the governor of a state that pays every citizen out of a general fund more than $3,000 - man, woman, or child - based on the assumption that your state owns the rights to oil production. The question I'd like to see someone ask Gov. Palin is whether she and her family cashed the check - which would have been roughly $21,000 for her and her husband and their five kids just in 2008 - or whether, being such a staunch opponent of socialism, she refused or returned the check.

I'm just saying.

Thanks, Adjuncts

I'm still decompressing from the vitriol events chronicled in the last post brought up. But I had an interesting experience last night: I got to do the classroom evaluation of one of our adjuncts.

Now normally this is probably something a tenured faculty member should do, and I didn't have do it. But it was something I was intrigued at the possibility of. Our department, as I'm sure most departments, is increasingly beholden to adjuncts. And unfortunately, adjuncts tend to function as professors off the reservation: they're largely - probably completely - out of the loop about departmental objectives, there is minimal effort made to help with syllabi preparation or university assessment, and they're not included in departmental planning.

Oh, and they're paid worse than I was as a graduate student teaching a summer course.

It bothers me that I don't know our adjuncts. In part, this is about timing - they can generally only teach in the evenings, and so I'm rarely around. But we don't do much to include them either, and that's something I hope we'll rectify. It bothers me that I don't know what they're teaching or whether they feel sympathetic to the rather rare mission statement my department's taken on. It bothers me that we treat them so badly. It bothers me that we can only keep adjuncts roughly two years before they have to go on to do something else (and that might be an over-estimation).

So I was glad to sit in, even if the day was more than a little frustrating and even if meant being on campus into the evening. And I enjoyed most of what I saw. The students connected, and this person brought some knowledge that we simply don't have among the tenure-track lines. Certainly there were some things we need to do to help them, but it was well worth it.

I'm looking forward to being able to put those things in an official document. I wish I could get them more money, but at least I can get them something that glows a bit about what they're doing. And maybe it'll be a moment where we can figure some ways to help them out more than we do, to make them feel more valued than they can possibly feel as things are going. Maybe that'll help us keep 'em awhile longer, though I understand if it doesn't. But at least they'll know we're aware, and we're thankful for what they do.

Flame on!

I knew the day had gotten bad when my roommate suggested to me that I might need too keyed up by the day's events.


I don't generally think of myself as having a temper. If anything, I'm probably too slow to anger most times, owing to a family full of folks prone to flying off the handle. I've got an extremely long fuse.

And yet, sometimes, when I'm really frustrated, I find myself with a vision of myself catching fire. There I am, a picture in my own head: engulfed in flames, trying to make it through the world. In these visions, I'm a water person convinced I'm fire: I don't want to lash out, I simply want to go through things: walls, structures, limits. When I'm less angered, I find ways around them. But not today.

Today, I wanted to catch fire.

Since that wasn't possible, I thought about all sorts of other rash actions. I spent a fair amount of time pacing my living room floor and debating the straw that would break my camel's back. Wisely, no doubt, I passed on most of those options. Instead, I took a long walk, down by the river and through town. Music up loud. It didn't do much to take the edge off, but it was something at least.


There was a problem this summer, that resulted in classes being canceled that shouldn't have been. Ultimately, the University gave some funds to those profs whose courses were canceled in error. My class was canceled for this reason, though there were plenty of other snafus that happened along the way.

For whatever reason, though, there was no mysterious infusion of funds for me.

I'm not above saying I want my slice of the pie. And so part of the day was spent trying to get some explanation. The culmination of the day - the answer to the question - was, and I'll quote:
"[This solution] was only negotiated for undergraduate [courses] since I did not know about [graduate courses]. We will be developing a new procedure for next summer."
I felt well and truly dismissed.

Not surprisingly, that one line answer left me in more than a bit of a funk. Obviously a response is in order, unless I'm prepared to be dismissed by a negotiation I knew nothing about that obviously didn't have the full set of facts. And even though I've managed to avoid the truly angry e-mail I wanted to write, as far as I can tell there isn't a way to write a response that won't result in the administrative equivalent of "fighting words."

We'll see what a good night's sleep brings, but it seems like that's how it's going have to be: Curmudgeon on fire, going through things rather than working around them.


I am so utterly irritated this morning. I think it's because of university things, but maybe it's just that university is hopping on my last nerve with cleats on a day when I'm already irritated.

Maybe it is because there is rumored to be some compensation for summer courses that were canceled due to enrollment even though there's a clause about being able to teach for tuition in the collective bargaining agreement. Checks have been sent out, but not to me. Or maybe it is because IT - who still hasn't managed to put software on my new PowerBook, making it an expensive internet kiosk - apparently has screwed up our department's lab on a day when I'm the only one in the building to field student questions.

Or maybe it is because the Nun Next Door today stuck her head into my class to tell me I'm too loud. I'd be okay with that, I suppose, though it hadn't been a problem for the last eight weeks of the term when I lecture in my "lecture voice." What seems to be irritating me, though, is that in addition to telling me this, she has to give me a mini-lecture on the spot as though I'm intentionally disrupting her class. And because I don't want to argue with another faculty member in front of students - or particularly argue with a nun on the tenure committee - I stood there and sucked it up so that I could get along with my class even though the good roll that I had going was squandered.

But I'm a pestilence on two legs right now. You have been warned.

The Most Important Thing Said This Year

I know the economy is blowing up, and there are multiple wars happening. And yes, there's an endorsement in there which I'm glossing over. All of those things are important. But still, I can't help but think what's said between the 4:42 and the 6:08 marks in this are somehow the most important things I've heard in I don't know how long.

The ideal he's talking about the country and its leaders needing to be: that's the place I remember learning about as a kid. That's the place I thought I lived.

Job Tracking - Week 6

So even though this was a short week, and I had the advantage of an unexpected respite from life-with-roommate, I'm somehow more behind than ever. And that meant that this week saw no new applications put out (though I did request some letters be sent out). It's not much comfort that the market seems to have stalled in my area - there are a lot of new positions still coming out, just not for me. It's a shame, too, because this week brings with it a couple of looming specters for those of us on the market: how downturns in the national economy affect higher-ed.

It's with this in mind that I must pause and recognize the fortunate position from which I'm looking for jobs: having one. The links below open up food for thought about the institutional level of impact by the economy, but I think it's at the micro-economic level of the individual that we see just how "trickle down" economics really trickles down. In higher-ed, the people who seem poised to take the worst hit - to be trickled on, if we tweak the metaphor established so well by Regan-era economists and their advancements of deregulation (though to be fair, they didn't start it and it didn't stop with them) - are the people who don't have a secure job (included, of course, are those without a job at all). It's an interesting piece of anecdotal evidence that when the economy dives, grad school applications go up. But we can't forget that even as enrollments go up, the number of jobs goes down.

On the face of it, then, there are a few trends that I keep hearing about in faculty meetings and journal articles that are worth putting together. First, in most fields the number of full-time positions is in slight to moderate decline. Similarly, in many areas of the country, we're nearing the edge of a bubble of undergraduate enrollment. When that bubble burts, there will be fewer students to teach to (and hence, fewer sections needed, etc...). Combine this with higher grad school enrollment, and what you get is a crunch for positions. The longer the economic downturn, the tougher positions seem likely to get. It's an armchair analysis, sure, but it is worth considering.

And so, this week's post brings with it the addition of an unfortunate new category: positions that are canceled/unhired. It seems pretty likely, with the economy doing what it is, that universities will be one of the first places to feel the hit. As Dean Dad discusses here, universities will probably feel it harder than other parts of the economy, while this piece from Inside Higher Ed says that smaller schools that are driven by tuition rather than endowment are more likely to feel the pinch. Some schools are already planning for this. And having seen one position pulled - though thankfully not one I was applying for - it make sense to track how many spots either are pulled or go the distance only to not be filled.

I'd like to think that I'd get clear enough information that I could break this down later - schools that don't hire because of failed searches vs. schools that don't hire because of budget shortfalls - but experience tells me that level of detail is rare, at best, in rejection letters.

Here are last week's numbers for your comparison. And here are this week's:
Total # of academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified: 12/20
Total # of non-academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified 0/0
Total spent in U.S. dollars on applications: $92.42
Average cost in U.S. dollars per applications: $7.70
Total spent in U.S. dollars on travel, etc: $0
Total amount in U.S. dollars reimbursed: $0
The Chronicle of Higher Ed: 3 0
Other online service (listserv, etc): 14
Friend/Colleague: 2
Personal Research: 1
Total number of paper submissions: 11
Total number of e-submissions: 1
Total weight in pounds of application packets: 11.24
Total number of recommendation letters requested: 18
Total number of requests for references: 5
Total number of "proof of teaching excellence" packs : 7
Total number of requests for Teaching Philosophy :6
Total number of research packs: 7
Total number of transcripts requested: 2
Total number of acknowledgments of receipt: 10
Total number of confirmed reference contacts: 0
Total number of phone interviews: 0
Total number of conference interviews: 0
Total number of on-campus interviews: 0
Total number of offers: 0
Total number of rejection letters: 0
Total number of canceled or unhired positions: 0
Next week promises more applications, and we're nearing the one month mark of the first set of application deadlines, which should be interesting. I've heard from friends at a couple of other schools that the downturn has prompted them to rush their hiring process in hopes of getting things through before the axe is taken to the budget. So perhaps it's time for me to start obsessing over why I haven't heard anything.

Ear Candy

I don't really have anything thrilling to report at the moment. I'm home on a Friday night, teetering on getting sick and with a mound of grading in my bag. We're past the halfway marker for the term, and somehow, in spite of this being a light week, I'm further behind than I am when I've got a full five day schedule and oodles on my plate.

And so, I'm going to take another break - I take them like every three posts, don't I? - and talk about music instead.

But the night's good. I've got the CD player on, not as loud as I'd like because I'm a considerate neighbor (even to putzes who think that doors must either be left open or slammed as hard as possible). And the musical world has given me two great things this week which I strongly encourage you to give a listen to. I can't decide which I like better of the two. The first, which I picked up earlier in the week, is "Live at Shea Stadium" by The Clash. This one comes from close to the end for the band, taken from their 1982 tour of the U.S. supporting "Combat Rock." The band had already kicked out their drummer because of his drug usage, and I believe they broke up only a few weeks following this show. But that makes the show all the more impressive. It's not the first live disc for the band, but it's the first (to my knowledge, at least) complete show, and they're pretty amazing even without Topper on the skins for them. Part of the joy for me is that The Clash is one of those bands for me who I always loved but was on the wrong side of the age curve to have actually experienced. They're the answer to one of those meme questions about what band you wish you could see but never got the chance, so anytime I get to hear them live is a thrill. But to hear just how much I missed out on, even on a remastered recording, only heightens that longing to have, just once, seen them live.

With that leading off the week, I didn't think there would be anything else musically that would touch it. But today as I was out and about running errands instead of working on job applications, I picked up another disc: "Little Honey" by Lucinda Williams. And now the rotation for the week has gotten a bit more complex.

This is a bit of a different sound for Lucinda; her albums are always great, but very bluesy. This one is a bit more like the live shows she puts on - lots of energy to it and if I can use this without invoking a mid-1980's bright pink lettering sort of vibe, it's a lot more rocking. I've seen her live twice, and her shows always bring an edge to them that her albums, great as they are, don't always suggest she's capable of. That's a shame because her music always has that rough feel to it that comes across best from turning up in some small roadside joint with pool tables and a deceptively large dance floor. And while the album feels more optimistic than her typical album, all the things anyone's ever loved about her is still there. Lucinda is, I dare say, happier on this album than she's been in years. Now I've only had a chance to listen to this one once, since I picked it up this afternoon, but I'm pretty certain it'll be getting some heavy rotation in the next few days.

And considering what's going on these days, that's a pretty good thing. If you like either band.

The Unluckiest Student in the World

Halfway through last term, I received an e-mail from a student lamenting that he had been unable to attend my class for the previous eight weeks. His reason was fairly singular. For the sake of argument (and student privacy), we'll give him (more) made-up excuses. Last term, he said to me that "he had lost his right arm and had spent the term in physical therapy." This was after having "survived a wild groundhog attack" the previous term in a colleague's class, and having brought "a note from his chiropractor explaining he'd misplaced a vertebrae, and it had taken nine weeks to find it in the cushion of his couch."

You can imagine my surprise then - my sheer and utter joy - on receiving an e-mail from that same student today informing me that he had again "lost his right arm and spent the term in physical therapy." That's right, my darlings, he gave me the exact same preposterous excuse he gave me last term. Moreover, he sent me the exact same e-mail.

Now, lest we venture into the realm of Rate Your Students, here's my real gripe: when I pointed this out to the Powers that Be, their response was essentially "We should make sure the student passes your class so we can get him therapy."


Yes, that is what I'm here for. To pass anyone so long as they have a reason for not doing any work or coming to any class that includes the following:
  1. words
  2. what? you want more than words? Alright. They should be in English.
Seriously, who needs standards? Not me. This has got to be one of my biggest gripes about (what I perceive to be) life at an SLAC: the mistaken notion that student retention is about keeping any one who has had the word student used for them rather than making sure those who really want to be students have the opportunity to be.


A Class Meme

I've seen this around a time or two, most recently at Squadratomagico's, and I've meant to complete it for awhile. Part of what I think is interesting about it is the almost protectionist response (though thankfully not at Squadratomagico's) that it seems to elicit: "Those things may be true about me, but they don't mean I'm a member of a privileged class." Yes, that's true. But they're pretty good indicators of whether you might belong or not.

The idea behind this is not to incite some sort of class warfare, by marking which are true for you (put in bold), but to simply help you think about some things that might be markers of privilege. And in a time where questions of middle class versus wealth are coming to the forefront, not to mention questions of race and ethnicity (and those things are often tied to class, even in "enlightened society, whatever that might be). And part of why I wanted to put it up here is that class is such a sensitive word in American society, and my inclination is always to poke at things that are tender so we can figure out why.

So, here goes.

1. Father went to college.

2. Father finished college - he got an Associate's degree just after I graduated with my B.S.
3. Mother went to college. - this has been a point of shame for her, to the point that she's been known to tell tales about it
4. Mother finished college.
5. Had any relative growing up who was an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
16. Went to a private high school.
17. Went to summer camp.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment.
25. You had your own room as a child.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course..
26. You had routine and consistent medical and dental care.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Part of what is so fascinating here is that class is such a moving target. If you think about moments where someone has provided a fairly nuanced demographic definition of a class - think Bourdieu's Distinction - the idea of class becomes not only culturally bound (in his example, French) but historically bound as well. What was a mark of distinction at the time of his study doesn't seem likely to be today.

That brings me to what I think is most fascinating about this meme: the things that I'd add to it if I were writing it. It's significant, I think, that for some periods of my childhood we were able to get by on a single income. Those periods weren't long - they mostly happened in my high school years - but they were there. I can't imagine almost any American family today surviving on a single income, let alone what my father made as an NCO in the military (which is also the only reason I had consistent health care as a child). Similarly, I'd ask questions specifically about what one's school did, though I would add that in because I took a very strict interpretation of the questions.

Ultimately, I guess I wonder what other markers of class we should be thinking about. Bourdieu, for example, offered familiarity with particular pieces of classical music as an example of one marker. Maybe that's the still the case if you were to ask someone like Bourdieu. But I can't help but think there's a third limit on the notion of class: where you're looking from. I do wonder what his study would have found the markers of "distinction" were who weren't from whatever privileged class he was imagining. I don't think, however, that I'd get the same answerif I were to ask my students or - even more tellingly, perhaps - their parents.

On some level, this parallax error of class perception I think might account for some of the distress about "Joe Sixpacks" and "hockey moms" in this election. It isn't just that classes live diferent lives. It is that they see them differently as well.

Because "Grouch Marx" Would Have Been Too Obvious

Since the Classic Dames Test seems to be all the rage (maybe I should've taken that one instead), and I've got nothing terribly interesting happening this evening.

Your result for The Classic Leading Man Test...

Clark Gable

You scored 10% Tough, 43% Roguish, 33% Friendly, and 19% Charming!

You're a pretty interesting guy, all man but approachable and friendly. You like the lovely ladies, but you're also a real stand up guy with a true sense of honor and duty. You're respected by most men, although they probably wouldn't trust you alone with their girlfriends and even wives. Women find you intriguing, drawn to your playful sense of fun and true-blue core. You think most women are rather silly, but strong dames with smarts really turn you on, and you tend to marry them. Leading ladies include Claudette Colbert and Vivien Leigh, women who find you somewhat charming but a little dangerous.

Find out what kind of classic dame you'd make by taking the
Classic Dames Test.

Take The Classic Leading Man Test at HelloQuizzy

Union, Yes!

This one's for Adjunct Whore, who could use a bit of hope.

The specter of racism isn't so ghostly and immaterial in this race, and there's certainly plenty of reason to be concerned. But I think there's some cause for hope. While I've grown to hate the term "Joe Sixpack" the way I hate "What happens in _______ stays in ______," there are some Joe Sixpacks in this audience who've got their heads on straight.

Job Tracking - Week 5

Another slow week, with only one new position found and one new application completed since last week. This week, however, has presented the interesting conundrum of a position in an area I'd like at a school I might like, but where I know there is a faculty member I'm not likely to want to work around. How do I know? I went to school with them. Decisions, decisions.

And in response to the week four post, Notorious Ph.D. asked whether I'd posted about why I'm thinking about jumping ship, and as I thought about it this morning when I should have been playing defense, I'm not sure I've ever tackled that directly (though it absolutely lurks in the shadows of virtually every job related post here: for some quick primers maybe look at posts from my early days: try this one and this one).

Boiling it down, I'm applying - and possibly leaving academia if it comes to it - because where I am doesn't meet my needs. I'm in a great department for me at a university that pays below the national average. I've got above-the-average student loan debt, and my salary isn't helping me do anything to that, even keep up. My parents are old, and I'm the responsible kid in the family so getting close to them is important. And only now, in my fourth year here, have I found any semblance of a social life. And it pretty much consists of hurling discs at other faculty members for two hours on a Saturday.

I generally think it is a little foolish for someone not to try to make themselves happy. I've asked about pay options here. I've even suggested some form of student loan assistance for young faculty, because having asked around, it's a problem that is going to need serious examination and quick (particularly since, as you may have heard, the economy isn't what it once was). Some of this goes back to the great Gumdrop debate of yore: if a job isn't doing what you need it to, you owe it to yourself to look. Most schools have the capability, for example, to adjust faculty salary. My sense of things, though, is that they're only going to do it if there's sufficient pressure. Bureacracies don't like the carrot, but they will usually respond to the stick. If you like where you are and where you are likes you, sometimes they'll do something to keep you. But only if they're really convinced you might leave.

I'll try and post more on this as we go, if folks have questions about it. For now, here are the week's numbers.
Total # of academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified: 12/20
Total # of non-academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified 0/0
Total spent in U.S. dollars on applications: $86.42
Average cost in U.S. dollars per applications: $7.20
Total spent in U.S. dollars on travel, etc: $0
Total amount in U.S. dollars reimbursed: $0
The Chronicle of Higher Ed: 3 0
Other online service (listserv, etc): 14
Friend/Colleague: 2
Personal Research: 1
Total number of paper submissions: 11
Total number of e-submissions: 1
Total weight in pounds of application packets: 11.24
Total number of recommendation letters requested: 18
Total number of requests for references: 5
Total number of "proof of teaching excellence" packs : 7
Total number of requests for Teaching Philosophy :6
Total number of research packs: 7
Total number of transcripts requested: 2
Total number of acknowledgments of receipt: 9
Total number of confirmed reference contacts: 0
Total number of phone interviews: 0
Total number of conference interviews: 0
Total number of on-campus interviews: 0
Total number of offers: 0
Total number of rejection letters: 0
Tune in next week, when Dr. Curmudgeon asks Nurse Janice whether it would be better to give the patient a local anesthetic because a long-distance one might cost too much.

And to all our friends north of the border, Happy Canadian Thanksigiving and sorry for what we're doing to the value of your dollar.

Sometimes I Forget

I was in my office today when a colleague came in, very excited because she'd been able to share a story about a spontaneous show of solidarity against some folks proselytizing about the evils of homosexuality. I hadn't heard the story, and while I was glad that the story could be shared with our students, it took me a minute to process why she was so excited.

I was spoiled by my grad school time by the overwhelming number of friends who were comfortable in their own skin and with their sexuality. They - we - were lucky enough to be in a place where that sort of support and comfort was largely commonplace. My poor colleague hasn't had that luxury it seems, and while I was sad to be reminded that coming across a story in the news where people stood up to the sort of moralizing bully who'd tell you that you're living your life wrong might seem so rare as to be a victory, I was glad that sort of story got published at all. And I'm glad I could cheer 'em on and just maybe make my friend feel just a bit more comfortable in the world she lives in.

Digging Holes

One of the truest things I've learned about life in academia is that often times it is best (by which I mean least inconvenient) to keep one's mouth closed unless it's a last resort. And so I worry a little that I may have backed myself against a wall today.

There's been some concern at my school about the state of our newspaper (which, to be fair, has made sure that every bit of concern is warranted). Recently, the paper attempted a take-off of the popular website and book series Post Secret. Unlike the site, the newspaper's attempt was much less about catharsis and confession than about (attempted) humor and titillation. Some of it worked better than others. Some of it was clearly a matter of poor editorial choice.

But the reaction from the University - or at least from faculty and what few administrators I know - has been shortsighted and narrow-minded in a fairly generational way. "Why don't those kids understand what a newspaper is for?" is one easy way the response could be framed.

Now I'm not a newspaper reader myself; I like the interwebs for most things newsy. But I do know enough to recognize that there's a generational difference between the kids I teach and the adults I work with about what a newspaper is for. And I recognize that at my SLAC, the newspaper has been put in the worst possible situation for success: it's run as a club, it barely has faculty involvement, the editors have no means of giving consequence to the newspaper staff. And so, after listening to multiple gripes about the newspaper and what should be done, I found myself stepping up to defend the paper. My defense wasn't based around First Amendment considerations - though I did point out that it would seem part of the point is to let students muck about with it and that if we were going to let them, we'd have to be prepared for what we see as mistakes - but rather around the fact that we've failed institutionally to help the newspaper be what we know it can be.

And I got in touch with the newspaper editors today - trying to explain to them what "off the record" means - to give them a heads up that they're currently standing at the bottom of a very steep, snowy hill that's just a lot of loud noise unleashed at the top. They should expect a mess and be prepared to start digging.

I think I did the right thing. But I'm also worried that as I've tried to help think of ways to dig out of this, that I've, in fact, dug myself into something I don't have time to deal with. I'm on an overload this term (effectively teaching 5 courses), at some point my book is going to come back to darken my desk, I'm on the job market, blah blah blah. I'm co-advising our department's honor society. I can't do one more thing.

Still, I cannot escape the feeling that by speaking up, I've volunteered. And I don't particularly like that doing something that I think needed to be done is going to likely result in something that is, essentially, a punishment wrapped in the form of school duty.

The Only Useful Note From My Meeting Today

Likelihood of Being Required to Attend Another Pointless Meeting = 100 - (x * y)

where x = the number of hours of your life you can't get back due to the initial meeting

and y = the number of people more important than you in the meeting divided by the total number of people in the meeting.

Job Tracking - Week 4

There isn't a lot to add about the job search this week. My guess is that things are about to slow down, as the first big round of submission deadlines is in the midst of passing, and it will likely be awhile before most of those committees have been able to meet and come to some decision. In my field, at least, the early deadline seems to only work for the big schools who use them (though not always).

One of the things I'm going to start asking about in interviews - just so someone starts thinking about it as a possibility since I've not encountered it anywhere else - is whether the university in question offers any sort of student loan assistance. I continue to think that schools are going to have to figure out ways to support junior faculty with mounting loan debts, and maybe if enough people ask, it'll become an option. I actually floated a proposal to our union rep here (as I was trying to guard him in ultimate frisbee), and he seemed to think my idea was both and good and doable: that universities could offer a percent of salary each year to faculty towards their student loan debts the same way they towards 401k's.

Each year a faculty member stays, that amount would go up a little bit. Even if such a program only went through tenure, it would have the potential of putting a decent dent in someone's student loan debt. My thought is that, particularly at small schools like the one I'm at, it would be a way of attracting candidates and keeping them. Has anyone heard of something like that being offered? Or feel like taking up the challenge and asking about something similar when you're interviewing?

And with that said, here's the week's job search stats. [10/11/08 - edited to add this link to the week 3 post]
Total # of academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified: 11/19
Total # of non-academic jobs applied for/# of jobs identified 0/0
Total spent in U.S. dollars on applications: $81.62
Average cost in U.S. dollars per applications: $7.42
Total spent in U.S. dollars on travel, etc: $0
Total amount in U.S. dollars reimbursed: $0
The Chronicle of Higher Ed: 2 0
Other online service (listserv, etc): 14
Friend/Colleague: 2
Personal Research: 1
Total number of paper submissions: 10
Total number of e-submissions: 1
Total weight in pounds of application packets: 10.1
Total number of recommendation letters requested: 15
Total number of requests for references: 5
Total number of "proof of teaching excellence" packs : 6
Total number of requests for Teaching Philosophy 6
Total number of research packs: 6
Total number of transcripts requested: 1
Total number of acknowledgments of receipt: 8
Total number of confirmed reference contacts: 0
Total number of phone interviews: 0
Total number of conference interviews: 0
Total number of on-campus interviews: 0
Total number of offers: 0
Total number of rejection letters: 0
It's also been a slow week for new ads to appear. Hopefully some new ones will crop up, as I've got a goal of 25 applications this year. And with that, on to midterms.

Talking About Politics with Students

So I've been stewing a bit about the implications of this story from Insider Higher Ed about the University of Illinois policy against faculty displaying any signs of political allegiance.

Last night, instead of live-blogging the debate with folks over at Organizing Grievances or posting something here, I spent the evening watching a colleague from Women's Studies talk about the role of gender and sexism in the election. And when that was done, I sat with a few colleagues and watched the debate with a group of students. I didn't wear my Obama button, and I didn't bust out my Kinky for governor memorabilia, but I don't imagine I'm quite so crafty as I'd like to be about my leanings. Students don't get the intensity of my "leftiness" but the do get the general direction right. So far, it hasn't seemed to be a problem, even though I'd describe most of our students as having a fairly conservative view.

The pervasiveness of views that would make that sort of policy isn't something that can be ignored, but so far in my case, it hasn't been much of a problem. Mostly it seems to be a matter of framing. I've started to tell my students - particularly the intro groups - that part of what I think college is about is confronting unfamiliar ideas and trying them on. And so I'm not going to hide my views from them because I respect them enough as adults (or soon-to-be-adults) that I assume they can handle hearing things they don't agree with. We just have to agree on some rules about how to handle those moments where we disagree.

With some discussion along those lines last night - that everyone involved would have to offer their evidence and let everyone talk without interrupting (a point the students all seemed to wish the debaters would take to heart) - we made it successfully through the debate. And I think the students enjoyed it for a few reasons. First, because it let them feel like they had equal ground with those of who were faculty - they could speak and have opinions. The biggest problem with the Illinois problem is that it turns college into one more version of the kid's table. And second, it allows for some humanization of the issues. One of the things a student said on the way out the door last night was that they'd essentially had their first moment of putting a human face to a policy they'd always heard - and so, believed - was ridiculous. And in thinking and talking about it, some of the rough edge of politics was smoothed out.

For me, it was a moment not just a refutation of the U. Illinois policy but also a brief moment of hope about the future of politics.


I'm feeling a bit worn down today.

This term has, in a lot of ways, felt like a lot of extra effort has gone into it for little result. Because of the group of students my course puts me in touch most frequently in our department - freshmen and seniors - I've seen some interesting patterns and similarities in questions. And when freshmen and seniors are asking the same things, it could mean one of a couple of things. Maybe it means that the question is one of huge importance, regardless of age. Maybe it means that we've done a poor job answering it over four years.

In any case, I made it a bit of a mission to try and address the biggest of the questions that I hear from this mix: how to get jobs with this degree. I put together a lecture on it, and this year, I've started to bring in people from various fields who have the same degree they have or who are in the careers my students say they want. I've fought the battles for rooms and equipment. I've begged money. I've sent notices and reminders. And - I'm sure no one is surprised at this - none of the students who weren't somehow required to be there actually attend.

I know I'll be less irritated in an hour, but in this moment, I could scream.