Friday, March 20, 2009

Annals of the Second Great Depression: Looking On The Bright Side

It's time to sing the end-of-spring-vacation-blues. What would normally be a happy day -- Friday, with two long weekend days ahead -- is a sad day, with only two days left before we go back to work. Of course, yours truly will work for exactly two days, and then fly to Seattle for the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting. The theme this year is "History Without Boundaries:" yeah, baby. Don't fence the Radical in. Historiann and I already have a meet-up planned to further refine our plans to rule the world.

When I return from Seattle it will be April, and April is the cruelest month ("breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.") We never get tired of muttering this to each other at Zenith, in between editing thesis chapters; grading, grading, grading; slogging through the final five weeks of teaching; checking Facebook compulsively; writing annual reports; making sense of the budget; advising students for preregistration; signing endless forms for graduation, going abroad, transferring credit, and activating AP; attending receptions; giving prizes; electing Phi Beta Kappa candidates; doing every piece of faculty business that did not get done the rest of the year; and scraping exhausted students off the sidewalk with a snow shovel.

It makes me want to go back to bed just thinking about it because, you know: I'm knackered this year, more so than usual. I am sick of evaluating other people, and don't want anyone else to evaluate me for a good long time. Between the economic meltdown and doing four searches (and checking Facebook compulsively) I feel that I have done enough work this year. I discovered earlier today that Zenith may feel that I have done enough work for a lifetime. I was just invited to a panel discussion on campus entitled "The Experience of Retirement." To be fair, I think everyone who is tenured was invited. Initially I thought the notice was a little strange, since I am only fifty. But my guess is that they are using me and others like me as cover so that colleagues over 65 can't bring a lawsuit to say that they are being harassed into retiring. For my money, a panel discussion is a more subtle message than, say, leaving a dead fish in your mailbox. Now that's harassment. That is what I will say if called to testify, at any rate.

But there are bright spots: because we have no money, there will actually be less work to do, starting now. We won't be hiring visitors or adjuncts, which takes an enormous amount of effort, and lasts well into May or June. We won't be submitting new line requests, as there aren't any new lines -- or at least, so few, it's hardly worth while to compete for them. We won't spend part of the summer getting ready to search, and -- best of all -- we who are chairs won't have to worry about recommending our colleagues for merit in June, because we are not getting any raises. And we chairs also won't have to spend all of July zig-zagging from bush to bush on our way to the library, trying to hide from the people who -- because we are asked to rank our colleagues -- didn't get very nice raises.

(Not So) New President and his staff have, to date, done a great job of keeping up morale at Zenith in the midst of all this financial trouble, but here's what would be even better. Instead of money, give us back some time. For example, since we aren't getting any raises, why not cancel annual reports -- the medium by which raises are determined? Annual reports take forever to write -- that is, if you have actually done anything. And it always feels like a kind of double-jeopardy. You have spent all year working your fanny off,and then you have to spend a day writing it up and updating your vita. Then, if you are a chair, you have to spend another day at least badgering your colleagues to get their annual reports in, and then writing yet another report about what a fine bunch everyone in your department or program are.

Here are a couple other ideas to give time back that won't cost a dime.

Kill a faculty committee. At Zenith, we could start with the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities which used to serve as a venue to file grievances against members of the faculty, but rarely does anymore. A few years ago, from what I understand, our university counsel took a look at it and its procedures and had a rather large bird. The faculty could agree not to harass each other in return for the administration agreeing not to appoint or convene the committee.

Stop asking for letters of recommendation for study abroad programs. These are a screaming waste of time. I have never known a student to be turned down from such a program. Even when you forget to send in the recommendation, they get in. Truth.

Make the freshman year credit-fail. This one's tricky, but stay with me. There are roughly 800 first year students at Zenith: multiply by four courses and two semesters, that's *6400* final grades given in the first year alone. Then multiply by the roughly 4 pieces of work given in each course, and that's 25,600 grades that have to be decided! And since at least 20% of those grades will be below the grade of A-, that's at least 5,120 incidents of upset students, at least half of whom (2,560) will want to see their professors for at least 15 minutes per incident to explain that they have never received such a grade before. Now you see where I'm going, don't you? Think how much better it would be for the students not to stress out about grades their first year, and how much better for we, the faculty people not to have those stupid conversations about grades and spend our time teaching (or checking our Facebooks) instead. If every party, students and faculty, is happier at the end of the year, we could get rid of grades for the other three years as well.

What are your ideas, readers?


Unknown said...

OK, this is hilarious. Too bad comic timing can't be taught, or you'd have a second tenured position waiting for you during "The Experience of Retirement."

Anonymous said...

TR writes: "Make the freshman year credit-fail."

This is an absolutely brilliant idea if only we didn't have to worry about transfer issues, prereqs, etc.

But it's still brilliant

(...she types as she glares at the end of quarter gradebook, noting which students will be e-mailing her or her chair when final grades are posted....).

Belle said...

Oh yes! Credit/NC is perfect. Particularly for those experiencing individual freedom for the first time. It would cut down on stress and angst all 'round.

Ahistoricality said...

Better yet, make senior year C/NC (or credit-fail, or whatever neologism your registrar invented in the '60s that you haven't been able to shake). That's the year to take risks, to branch out; students already know, at this point, what they are capable of grade-wise (this is my problem with the first-year proposal: the shock when they start getting grades as sophomores will kill retention, not to mention some of their parents) and are mostly working on their majors and a few electives. Make it fun!

I had a blast my senior year: I took the hardest classes in my major, my minor, and high-level electives in areas of interest just for the hell of it, and I never had so much fun (until I got to grad school). But a lot of people, especially preprofessionals, get nervous about experimentation at that point....

Anonymous said...

At Johns Hopkins, the first semester is all pass-fail (or, at least, used to be). It worked remarkably well to stem some of the panic.

Vellum said...

I know this may sound crazy, but.. facebook takes up a lot of time. Could New President cancel facebook? (I am in the midst of a lenten facebook "fast" -- I find it has given me back an average of half an hour a day -- it would have been more, but now I write more e-mails). Think of the positive effect on the economy giving every facebook member an extra half an hour a day to get things done would have. ;)

*removes tongue from cheek*

Matt L said...

Oh yes, I like the pass fail idea for freshmen! It would save on the bloodshed in the fall semester and give us some time to help them figure out how to be college students. I think thats just grand!

Why don't we extend it to the whole four years with maybe an honors category for sophomores and juniors. Honors, Credit, and No credit. Seniors would revert to pass fail but could earn honors on a thesis or final project.

(Crumps, back to my professional development report...)

Anonymous said...

I especially like cancelling the annual review. Assess this, babies!

See you in Seattle, and bring a raincoat.

Elizabeth M. said...

C/F for the first year would be a boon. It might reduce the number of times I hear "But I never got a C in high school!" and better still, it might make it possible to teach students to write if they can take risks, fall on their faces and try it again without being "punished" with what they consider poor grades.

Yes, please!

Anonymous said...

At the college where I first taught full time, we had several faculty committees that had no responsibilities and never met. It satisfied the community service requirement for those lucky enough to be assigned to them.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the lucky ones who was hired for a fall 09 tenure track position. Reading your post, some of the glow became decidedly dim.

I got a glimpse of my future.

I will keep your excellent suggestions in a mental back-pocket and try them out one day:)

Susan said...

My first faculty committee was the "hospitality committee", whose sole job was to put together social events for faculty. Ugh.

But Pass/Fail freshman year would be terrific.

Anonymous said...

As someone from outside of the education profession -- stop having so many meetings. My "favorite" meetings are those designed to organize information for the actual meeting!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

C/NC would certainly put a dent in grade inflation.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

These are all fantastic ideas. Really, anything that keeps me from having to generate more useless paperwork (either on my own, or as a part of a committee) makes me a happy person.