Monthly Archives: May 2014

It was a dark and stormy night…

Last week, final grades were released to students.  I know this because, like clockwork, that’s when I start receiving emails from students regarding their final grades.  Some express anger; others sadness.  Some plead their cases; others demand immediate action.  Regardless of tone, language, and length, these emails always boil down to the exact same question:

 

What can I do to get a better grade?

 

Whenever I receive such an email, my first response is to go back to my notes and make sure that the posted grade was, in fact, the right grade.  Several years ago, while in grad school, I mistyped and accidentally gave a student a lower grade.  No matter how many times I double-check before posting final grades, I know that accidents happen.

 

However, that was not the case this semester.  One student – who missed more classes than he attended and never once brought a book to class – sent me more emails regarding his final grade in one day than he sent me all semester regarding his performance during the semester.*  In these emails, the student begged and pleaded for a chance to improve his grade.  Of course, the semester is over, the grades have been submitted, and there’s nothing to be done.

 

But it did get me thinking about this post, one I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

 

There have been a number of posts over the years and around the internet arguing against seeing colleges and universities as corporate entities concerned primarily with customer service.**  This push has come from both administration and students: administration is continually looking for ways to decrease the size and power of the work force, while students increasingly expect their tuition dollars to provide them grades.  (Yes, I know that I am over-simplifying a complex development.  I’m happy to have a more detailed discussion in the comments.)  I’ve written before on aspects of the former; the rest of this post will address the latter.

 

I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, and over that time I have come to realize that there will always be students who only care about the grades.  Hell, there were times when I was that student: I can tell you that I didn’t give a damn about the Geology course I took in college for one of my science requirements; I only cared about how that class would impact my GPA (because I knew I wanted to go to grad school).  So I’m not going to sit here and pretend that there was once a time when all students cared about learning, and somewhere along the way everything went to hell.  We all know better.

 

That said, I believe that many of us faculty are (perhaps unknowingly) contributing to the move to corporatize the university.  According to oversimplified model I employed above, students pay tuition for a degree; in order to receive that degree, they must reach a specified level of achievement; therefore, students are paying for the grades they need to graduate with a degree.  In short, the product that students pay for is the degree, not the education.  Now, we can all wring our hands and shake our fists and complain about how awful this is, but then we should sit back and remember that we are also part of the problem.

 

We are part of the problem because we encourage students to think of the grade as the product.  In fact, many of us will bemoan the current state of affairs, wondering why students only care about grades, all the while using grades to punish students, guide behavior, or at the very least as the carrot we hold out for them to chase.  Now, I’m not going to say that I have all the answers (or even any of the answers), but I am doing my best to design classes that emphasize learning over grade-grubbing.***

 

Let me use one example: attendance policies.  As I have written before, I do not like attendance policies.  I used to penalize students for lack of attendance, and the punishment always came as a form of grade reduction (and most of the college faculty I know have some sort of policy in their syllabi).  I understand the rationale for such policies: if students don’t come to class, then they can’t learn, and if they don’t learn, they shouldn’t be able to earn good grades.  However, if the students aren’t learning, won’t they earn low grades anyway?  Taking points off of their grade thus seems needlessly punitive.  If the student can miss class and still earn good marks, why should that student be penalized for not being physically present in the room?  In other words, when constructing attendance policies, what’s the motivation: to get students to learn or to put their asses in the seats?  If the students can demonstrate an ability to learn, then what are we teaching them by penalizing them for lack of physical presence?  “I’m sorry, but even though you learned all the material and demonstrated that learning on the exams, you missed too many classes.  You earned an A, but here’s your B.”

 

Additionally, I’ve talked with many people about such policies, and they all seem completely arbitrary.  Many faculty use something called “excused absences.”  You are allowed to miss an arbitrary number of classes with no punishment; after you hit that arbitrary number, however, you lose points.  For some, it’s 3 classes and 5 points (out of 100) for each additional absence; for others, it’s 5 classes and 3 points.  Or whatever.  At some point, to me, it’s all just numbers.  Why, if physical presence is so important, do they get “unexcused absences”?  If X number of absences is pedagogically justifiable, why is X+1 over the line?  And how do people come up with the points they deduct?  If 5 points, why not 6, or 13, or 2?  Personally, I’m more interested in grading they work that they do, and not the work that they do adjusted for the number of times something was more important to my students than that day’s class.^

 

In my mind – and I’m happy to be convinced otherwise if there is something I’m missing or misunderstanding – attendance policies encourage students to recognize that the grade is the goal, and that students should adjust their behavior in order to maximize their chances at earning a good grade.  I understand that the goal of the policy is to get students into the space where learning happens.  But the result, from what I can tell, is that we are training students to associate grades with attendance, and not with learning.  (Again, if a student misses class and is able to keep up with the work, meet with classmates, form a study group, and learn the material, should that really be penalized?^^)

 

Similarly, I cannot grade with rubrics.  I understand rubrics even less than I understand attendance policies.  While I appreciate the effort at standardizing what can often seem to be a completely subjective procedure, too often such rubrics seem either arbitrary (thus making them no more objective than grades not based on rubrics) or exist to encourage students to consider the grade as more important than the learning.

 

For instance, here are two rubrics I found online for grading essays (there are many others, but I only need two to make my point).  Look carefully at them.  Now, not knowing the assignments or the classes, perhaps my comments will be entirely unfair.  But I’m going to make them anyway.  For one rubric, proper use of evidence is worth 25% of the paper’s total grade; for the other, it’s worth less than 20%.  Now I understand that all faculty – even those teaching the same courses in the same program – will have individual approaches to grading; we cannot expect the kind of uniformity we might expect from multiple-choice exams, where the grade is the same regardless of who grades the material.  But why should “good” be 85% and not another percentage?  Why not 80%?  Why not 90%?  Why a multiple of 5?  (Is it just to make the end of semester math easier?)  However, that’s not my real concern.  My real concern is with how rubrics hide the arbitrariness of grading.  What, for instance, constitutes content that is “somewhat accurate and fairly clear”?  What is the difference between “evidence support argument adequately” and “evidence […] makes the argument soar”?  Honestly, once we start using metaphor, we have lost any attempt at objectivity.

 

But more importantly for my post, I truly do not understand the use of pedagogically irrelevant grading policies.  I have known faculty who have taken points off of papers if those papers did not have page numbers (and in the “correct” location, however the professor decides what that location should be), did not include the date in the header, were not stapled, and were not handed in in person.  Not one of these, in my thinking, has any bearing on the work being graded.  I cannot imagine telling a student, for instance, that while the paper earned an A, it’s lack of a staple and page numbers make it a B+ paper.  What lesson are such policies teaching students?  Certainly one lesson learned is that the grade is more important than the learning.  If a student can perform A-level work and not earn an A, then we have divorced grading from learning.  And because it’s the grades that get recorded and posted, the grades become the goal, not the learning.

 

I’d like to end this post by describing one of the most creative approaches to grading I have ever experienced.  While I was at UConn, I had the great opportunity to take a class with Ann Charters.  While there is much about this course that should merit discussion (and might in future posts), it’s her approach to grading that I’d like to mention.  On the first day of class, Annie told us that we had all already earned As for the course.  Regardless of what we would do with the rest of the semester, each of us would earn a 4.0.  This washer effort to free us from concerns about the final grade.  What would we do, in other words, without the pressure of GPA guiding our decisions.  As I’ve noted before, one of my interests as an educator is getting students to take risks with their work.  Fairly often, I work with students who make choices about their research that minimize their chances at earning a lower grade, as opposed to working to maximize their chances at learning.  Even though I think we can all agree that we can learn from failure, failure is the enemy of GPA.

 

So what Annie did was eliminate the pressure of failure.  She wanted to encourage us to design and complete projects that best suited our intellectual needs.  I remember spending my time researching environmental writing from the 1960s, not knowing what I would eventually write my final paper on.  It was freeing.  I was able to read, take notes, and learn, without worrying about what my final paper would look like.  I did eventually write such a paper, but it was not a traditional final essay, the kind graduate students write as training for eventually publishing an academic article (or that eventually becomes an article itself).  Instead, I wrote a rather passionate argument regarding why she should reconsider the choices she made regarding an anthology she was completing at the time, the work for which she shared with us over the course of the semester.  After immersing myself in a variety of popular publications and relatively-unknown small-press works, reading about environmental approaches to literary and cultural studies, and reviewing the rest of the anthology, I made suggestions about the inclusion of some works over others.  I did not expect her to accept all my suggestions, but she did accept some, which pleased me immensely.  More importantly, however, I learned a great deal about the subject matter, worked with resources I likely would not have worked with otherwise, and was exposed to aspects of the publishing world that I had previously been entirely ignorant of.^^^

 

Needless to say, I learned a great deal in that class, and my learning had nothing to do with my grade, which was assigned before I did any work for the class.  And in the many years since that class, I have often wondered about how I might adapt that experience to my own classes.

 

Not every student had the same experience I had, however.  One student took advantage of Annie’s experiment and clearly did not use it to learn.  He often came to class without having done the reading, and admitted to me that he didn’t put any effort into the paper.  For this one student, the class was an easy A, and not a chance to explore something freely.  And while I am very tempted to try this in one of my own classes, I know that I would end up with several such students, who take the A and run.

 

As I noted above, I don’t have all the answers.  I may not have any of them, in fact.  But I am very interested in finding ways to encourage learning as opposed to encouraging grades.  I know it’s common for faculty to complain about grading.  However, in my experience, grading is not hard because we have to read student work.  Grading is hard because we have to assign a grade to student work.  What’s the difference between a C+ and a B-?  This is an extremely important question, because the end result will be recorded, factored into the final grade, and have an effect on the student’s overall GPA.  That small difference could be the difference between passing and failing, between honor roll and not, between funding and not.  Grading, in my opinion, would be a much easier part of the job if all we had to do was read and comment on the work, providing feedback on what works and what could be improved, engaging in a conversation with the student about where students can go with this work and what they are learning. But having to assign it a grade (whether letter or number) reduces the learning to a commodity.  This, I am convinced, is why so many students flip to the last page of the essay to see the grade before ever reading (if they ever do) my commentary on their work.  At the end of the day, it’s the grade that matters.  And it’s not because students are inherently grade-grubbing or anti-intellectual.  It’s because of the variety of ways they have been trained to see the grade as the only thing that matters.

 

And yes, many of us are complicit in this development with our classroom and grading policies.

 

If anyone has any thoughts about how they emphasize learning over grading, I’d love to hear them.  What have been your successes and failures?

*Which was none.  Nor did he speak in class all semester.  Or come to office hours.  There was a period of 4 weeks when I was convinced he had dropped the class.

**This is also a move by corporations to fund colleges in order to control curricula.

***I understand that there are many reasons why students focus on grades, and some of those factors are imposed on them by colleges and universities.  In addition to graduation, many aspects of student life are determined (at least in part) by GPA, including but certainly not limited to: housing opportunities, financial aid, extra-curricular opportunities, work-study positions, and participation in athletics.

^Seriously, I do not understand the concept of “excused absences.”  If the point is to make sure that the student is present in the room, why should it matter why that student missed class?  The student who missed class because of a medical emergency is just as absent as the student who missed class because of a nap.  If the first student is allowed to miss class without punishment and make up the work, why shouldn’t the second student be able to?  I mean, other than the desire some faculty have to punish students for not having the same priorities as their professors.

^^In case you are wondering, that student I discussed at the start of the post?  His grade was based entirely on his written work.  I’m sure that some of you were outraged at the student’s behavior.  Perhaps you may find it outrageous to learn that, had his work earned him a passing grade, he would have passed the class, despite all of his absences.

^^^To give one example, I learned about the difficulty of securing permissions.  Sometimes, no matter how much you’d like to include a work in an anthology, it will never happen.  Some authors demand more money than an editor and/or press is willing to pay.  Others have ideological objections to inclusion.  Others still are impossible to locate or never respond to your requests.  I had always thought that anthologies were expressions of the editor’s choices.  How silly of me.

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Triggernometry

Triggernometry.

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Final Workload Post

Today, I finished my spring semester grading, and so today marks the final day of the spring semester.  Because I know at least a couple people are interested in this self-indulgent project of mine, I thought I’d post my final tally and a few things I learned along the way.

 

So first, the math:

Teaching:

Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 44.5 hours

Time spent preparing for class: 4.75 hours

Time spend grading: 13.5 hours

Total teaching hours: 62.75 hours

Service:

Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 6.5 hours

Research:

Total research hours: 4.25 hours

Total work hours for the month of May: 73.5 hours

 

Because I only had to be on campus for 2 days during finals week, I was required to work 9 days in May so far, I worked just over 8 hours per workday.  Odd that finals is what brings me down to a 8-hour workday.  But perhaps not, considering that I had very little prep, few service requirements, and did not have to be on campus every day during finals week.  Also, I had very little work to do for my current research projects.  And I’ll be honest, it does feel a little disappointing to know that I come down to an 8-hour work day when I’m not doing much work on research, service, or preparing for class.

 

And now the lessons I learned (in no particular order):

 

1. I need to do a much better job of balancing my work with my personal life.  Even when keeping track of my work hours, I still spent too much time focused on the job, and not nearly enough time focused on non-work-related pursuits.*

 

2. Although committing to not grading on weekends sounded like a good idea at the time, it became increasingly difficult to stick to.  And I abandoned it for finals week, in part so that I can go visit family for a few days starting this weekend, before my summer class begins.**  Some weekends, not grading was great, as it gave me time to spend several hours on campus working on my book.  Some weekends, I managed to take some time just for me (including a couple short trips to Canada).  However, at times, it really would have been easier to get some grading done over the weekend, so that I didn’t spend so much time grading on days where I was also teaching, prepping for class, sitting in meetings, etc.  One of the ways to make this job manageable is to take advantage of the flexibility that comes with academic work.

 

3. While I have managed to make grading pretty efficient, I have not been able to do the same regarding service.  I honestly don’t mind service.  However, I mind very much when it’s a waste of time.  Sometimes, meetings can be productive.  But one thing I have learned is that far too many of my colleagues use time in meetings to prepare for those meetings.  Please, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, don’t ever show up to a meeting unprepared.  And if you do, sit there quietly and don’t waste anyone’s time.  Also, be on time.  But holy fuck do I hate showing up to a 1:00 meeting where most others don’t show up until 1:10, and some people aren’t prepared until 1:15-1:20.  Also, I hate attending meetings that can be handled over email.  If the purpose of a meeting is to share information, we can do that electronically.  If the purpose of the meeting is to collect data, we can do that electronically too.  I honestly believe that many of the people I work with enjoy meetings because it gives them a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from emails.  I like working.  But some people like to be seen working.  Often, those people are not really working.  Sometimes, they are actually prohibiting work from getting done.***

 

4. As satisfying as it was to punch a clock this semester and collect data, the numbers really don’t tell the whole story.  I suppose I could have broken this down by day, even that would not have told the whole story.  The time spent working is just that: time.  In no way does it indicate effort.  Sure, sometimes I was able to walk through my days pretty easily.  Others, however, were incredibly stressful and tiresome.  And let’s face it, some kinds of work are easier and more fulfilling than others.  Reading Whitman’s poetry and Batman graphic novels for class was fun, even though it was work.  Thinking about new ways to approach literary theory was difficult, but immensely satisfying.  But sitting through meetings where my presence was completely unnecessary, or grading work that was written at the last minute and without much thought, was incredibly draining.^

 

Honestly, it will probably take me some time to process all that I have learned from this little experiment in naval-gazing.  And hopefully, some of what I have learned will help me make the job more manageable.  The goal at the outset was to chart my work, to collect data.  But now that I have that data – limited as it may be – I now see that the goal really was to help me learn that my life is so much more than my job.  And that’s a lesson I’ve needed to learn for some time now.

 

Thanks for reading.  I promise, my next post will be about creative approaches to teaching.

 

 

*For the past year, I have been playing guitar.  I played bass for many years, and used to fool around on a guitar now and then, but I’ve been playing seriously for the past year.  I’ve been learning how to read music for guitar, and have been working on teaching myself some favorite songs.  I loved being a musician, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, stopped.  It feels good to produce art, and to do something that’s just for my own personal development; it feels good devoting myself to something that won’t go on my CV.

**Every summer, I teach a section of The Short Story.  It’s a fun class, easy to prepare, and most importantly, I could really use the money.  I keep thinking about changing it (I’ve taught it, pretty much unchanged, for 6 years), but the idea of changing a course in the week between the end of spring semester and the start of summer session (where I teach 3.5 hours per day, every weekday, for nearly 3 weeks), just sounds exhausting.  Maybe next year.  (But likely not.)

***This is one reason I have started moving away from committee work and instead have begun projects that require me to work on my own, or in some cases directly with the dean and other campus offices.  I have done more work that way in one year than I have done in several years sitting on committees.  Now that I have tenure, I can move away from committee work, and actually accomplish something meaningful.

^This is the third time I have taught our intro to theory course, and I think I’m starting to get it right.  I made some changes to the readings, changed the final exam, and most importantly, spent more time getting out of the books.  This is something I hope to do next semester, when I teach a course on Modern American Poetry for the first time.

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“Can You Get Me Into College?” – Midnight in Southie

A reminder that, for many of our nation’s youth, “go to college” is roughly equivalent to telling them to “go to the moon.” We need to make the applications process much more manageable and transparent.

It's complicated.

Southie1 Photo by Valéria M. Souza

It was midnight and we sat on the jungle gym of a South Boston playground designated as being “for ages 8-12” and “requiring upper body strength and coordination.”

We both had some degree of “upper body strength and coordination,” but neither of us was 8-12.

The young man, who had abandoned his skateboard nearby to come talk to me, interrupted my vaguely clumsy acrobatics on the monkey bars to ask: “Yo, what are you doing? Like, why are you on here?”

I dropped to the ground.

“I saw you skateboarding,” I said.

“Yeah—-so?”

The retort was a bit defensive, challenging. Did he think I was a cop or something? “No, I mean—-I don’t care. I just wanted to ask you: do you skate here at night? Do people bother you? Like: tell you to leave? Or is this place chill? That’s all….”

Instantly he relaxed. His…

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Whose woods these are I think I know.

Earlier this year, I posted about my own small efforts at tending to my own backyard.  My thinking was, let’s take one small step toward faculty equality in matters of departmental governance.  By the end of this post, you may see these efforts as pretty small-scale, largely symbolic, and not terribly helpful in the face of the larger problem.  However, I hope that’s not the case.  I hope to show why this is an important first step.  No, it’s not going to put more food on the table for anyone.  But if it helps to change the way people think, and helps to change the culture at the university, then perhaps it’s a very good first step.

 

Anyway, before now, non-tenure track faculty were not allowed to vote on personnel issues in my department.  This meant that, among other things, they were not allowed to vote on their own reappointment, the reappointment of those with similar contracts, or the election of the department chair.*  This, in my opinion, was outrageous.  Because all faculty are subject to the authority of the department chair, all faculty should be able to vote on the election of that chair.  It’s that simple.  Similarly, faculty teaching the lion’s share of freshman-level courses** should be able to vote on the reappointment of those with the same teaching duties; those faculty are the ones who best understand the pressures of the job, and are therefore the most qualified to judge the merits of their peers.

 

So in September, I circulated a memo asking my colleagues to consider granting full voting membership to all department faculty, regardless of rank or contract status.  In response to this memo, an ad-hoc committee was formed to (among other things) consider this proposal and make a recommendation to the department.  Sparing you the details of the sausage-making, at the last department meeting of the year the committee presented the department with two options for the expansion of voting rights, one of which we accepted and will be written into our department by-laws.  This provision allows all faculty, regardless of rank or contract status, to vote on all matters before the department, including personnel matters.

 

The one caveat is that non-tenure track faculty will only be able to vote on personnel issues after they have worked for at least 6 semesters over a 5-year period (and those semesters need not be consecutive).  On the one hand, I find this caveat to be rather insulting to adjunct faculty, essentially asking them to demonstrate loyalty to the department before being allowed to vote on personnel matters, where no such fealty is asked of tenure track faculty.***  On the other hand, this will quickly become meaningless in my department because most of our non-tenure track faculty have long since met that requirement.  (This includes, but is not limited to, the longest-serving member of my department, an adjunct who has been teaching in the department for 23 years.)  Further, because we are not located in an urban area and do not have a large pool of potential part-time faculty to draw from, our adjuncts tend to stay working in the department for several years.  In fact, in the 7 years I’ve been in this department, we have had more tenure track faculty leave for other jobs than adjuncts.  In my time here, our adjunct work force has been more stable than our tenure track work force.

 

And it’s here that I should note a few things about my department.  Because of our location, we don’t have a large pool of adjuncts to draw from.  Nor do we have a PhD program that would give us a rotating crop of graduate students.  My department has, as I noted above, a stable population of dedicated adjuncts, some of whom I have turned to for the benefit of their long experience in the department.  As one adjunct noted in a wonderful statement that I wish I could post here, many adjuncts in my department have been working with students, working with faculty, and working with other departments for decades; these adjuncts have been serving on committees, advising students, and participating in a variety of scholarly and creative endeavors.  This population of faculty have the experience, the institutional memory, and the training to participate fully in all department matters.^  But most importantly, this group of faculty should not be defined by the limitations of their contract status.

 

So, at the end of the day, I can live with the fealty clause in the new department by-laws, because I know that the non-tenure track faculty in my department have either already demonstrated the commitment that some believe should determine full voting rights, or are on their way to doing so.^^  And by the end of what became the longest department meeting I have ever attended, my department voted – by a 2/3 majority – to extend full voting rights to all department faculty.

 

But why is this important?, some might ask.  This does not provide job security, nor does it increase pay or benefits.  What, in other words, is the larger importance of this move?

 

One of my colleagues – someone who has spent his time at my university raising awareness for a variety of equal rights issues and pushing for various kinds of social change – noted at the end of the meeting that our very next obligation to adjuncts is financial.  He noted that we are limited to the contracts available to us by the SUNY system and the union, but there is still much we as a department can do.^^^  This was the first time in my 7 years at SUNY Potsdam that a tenure track (in this case, tenured) colleague asked the department to make such a commitment to our contingent faculty.  It’s not, let me make clear, the first time this colleague has made such comments, but those comments have often been made in casual conversation.  This colleague noted that we could, and should, do better by our contingent faculty, and that we can start doing better next year.  In other words, once we take the first step, we can start to build momentum.

 

The first thing we need to do is change how we think about adjunct faculty.  We cannot make substantive changes while we still, in our minds, hold to a two-tier division of faculty.  No change to the material conditions of adjunct labor is possible while we still accept that contract status determines the comparative worth of our colleagues.

 

Now, based on the comments of at least a couple of my non-tenure track colleagues, full voting rights is no mere symbolic gesture.  To them, this move is a first step in recognizing the value of their contributions to the department and university.  That at least 2/3 of my colleagues agree is a positive sign, and may suggest even more advancement on this issue.  These colleagues will now be able to vote on their own reappointment actions, the election of department chair, and other personnel actions that help shape the department and its continued development, just as they have always been able to vote on curricular (and other) matters.  (Oddly, adjuncts have always been able to vote on revisions to the department by-laws, giving them a voice in some matters of governance, just not those related to personnel.  Because this oversight has been corrected, I will limit my speculations regarding this matter to the following: it’s not uncommon for tenure track faculty to become uneasy when putting their own careers in the hands of adjuncts.  That the majority of my colleagues do not hold this bias is encouraging.)  

 

I’ll admit that, in the grand scheme of the academic universe, working to extend full voting rights to all faculty members in one department at one university may appear to be a small move.^^^^  But it’s an important first step for my department.  Ideally, this can become a model for other departments, perhaps even leading to a university-wide change regarding the treatment of adjuncts.  Certainly, I can now spend my time talking with other departments, particularly those that increasingly rely on adjunct labor.  But I firmly believe that it’s an important first step for my own backyard, the place where I work, and the colleagues who share my vision for the department.  One lesson that I have learned is that we have to start at home.  

 

But this is just a start.

 

I still have miles to go before I sleep.

 

*I know that in many departments, faculty do not vote on their own personnel actions.  At SUNY Potsdam, tenure track faculty are allowed to vote on their own personnel actions.  So of course, non-tenure track faculty should have the same opportunity.  The question is not whether or not faculty should vote on their own personnel actions; the question is whether or not all faculty should have the same rights, whatever those rights are.

**In my department, that includes Survey of Human Communication, Basic Principles of Speech, Writing and Critical Thinking, and Introduction to Literature.

***In fact, I find it incredibly insulting to offer faculty short-term contracts, and then tell those faculty that their short-term contracts are proof of their lack of loyalty to the department.  This, by the way, is part of the insidiousness of the two-tier faculty system: that contract status in some way reflects value or worth.

^One argument that is often made by those who wish to preserve a two-tier faculty system is that adjuncts do not have the same qualifications as tenure track faculty.  This, of course, is simply not true, as a larger and larger number of PhDs find themselves in non-tenure track positions.  In my own department, two of our non-tenure track faculty hold PhDs in their respective disciplines.

^^Honestly, while I can understand the argument that faculty should have some experience in the department before voting on personnel matters, there’s no reason why this limitation should only be imposed on adjunct faculty.  If my department wanted to require some length of service from all faculty members, at least that would be equitable.  But I will never be convinced that somehow the parameters of a contract make some faculty more qualified to contribute to the department.  Also, and perhaps much more importantly, universities should extend contracts to adjuncts that reflect the kind of commitment they desire in return.  But it’s absolutely absurd to refuse to provide any job security to adjuncts, and then demand commitment in return.  That many adjuncts are committed to their various departments despite the limitations of their contracts is something that universities continue to exploit.

^^^Because of the nature of the contracts, some of the potential advancement – such as from semester-to-semester contracts to 3-year renewable contracts (with guaranteed courses) – is based on the number credits taught within a specific time frame.  So it’s not at all uncommon for department chairs and/or upper administration to restrict the number of credit hours an adjunct can work, to make sure that adjunct does not qualify for the renewable contract.  This means that one thing we can do as a department is to offer our adjuncts enough work (and with freshman-level classes, there is always enough work) to qualify for contracts that offer more job security.  We might not be able to change the system, but we can work within that system to the benefit of all faculty.

^^^^And I don’t want to suggest I did this alone.  Many of my colleagues have spent time talking to other colleagues, explaining the value of this revision to the by-laws and encouraging others to support it.  And, at the end of the day, 2/3 of my colleagues supported it.  If nothing else, this demonstrates that all changes must be made by the group.  We need to work together, and that means all of us, with no division made by rank or contract status.  We are all part of this department; we are all responsible to and for each other.

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Toward a Pedagogy of Urbex

This is a wonderful piece on (among other things) creative pedagogy. Please read this post and follow this blog.

It's complicated.

Urban exploration , or “urbexing,” (sometimes abbreviated as “UE”) is the act of exploring structures in the built environment, particularly abandoned buildings, although it may also include sewers, storm drains, caves, and other man-made dwellings. For those who engage in it, it borders on an obsession. For those who don’t, it’s probably baffling: why on earth would people actively seek to enter decaying, and—in many cases—dangerous structures? Why go where it’s off-limits to go? What’s the appeal of trucking around in asbestos, dust, mold, animal feces, and God-knows-what-else?

In this post, I explore urbex as not merely a culture, hobby, or sport (though it is arguably all of these things and more), but as a radically different kind of pedagogy—one that offers an alternative to traditional forms of education upheld by (and increasingly embroiled in) late neoliberal capitalist economies.

I’ll approach what I’m calling a “pedagogy of urbex” by highlighting six…

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here is the deepest secret nobody knows

It’s the first of May, which means that I owe you all April’s accounting.  Before I do the math, I want to preface this post by noting that this has been the most tiring month of the semester.  Regarding my research, I sent off the manuscript of my book Failed Frontiersmen.  And while I know that I still have miles to go before I sleep (including the indexing), I feel like a huge weight has been lifted and I can spend some time doing other things.*  In terms of teaching, we’re almost done, which means that final projects are coming due, and I’m spending more time meeting with students and working with drafts in extended office hours.  And while I don’t feel that I have put more time into service – in fact, I’m sure I haven’t – some of the committees I’ve been working on have been getting to work we’ve been putting off all semester.

 

Honestly, I’m exhausted.  I spent two weeks sick, which could mean that I spent less time working, but was more tired as a result.  I did take a sick day, but wish I had taken more.  I’m so happy the semester is almost over.  This semester I taught two sections of Literary Analysis and Research (an introduction to literary theory), which always involves a fair amount of prep, and two new upper-division preps (a senior course on Whitman and the Archive and a graduate seminar on Batman) which, while very fun to teach, involved a fair amount of work.**

 

And I should also note that this week is the Lougheed Festival of the Arts, and while I am not directly involved with the events, I am participating and assisting where I can.  This, I know, has increased how much time I have spent on campus.

 

Anyway, time for the math:

Teaching:

Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 89.25 hours

Time spent preparing for class: 36.25 hours

Time spend grading: 12 hours

Total teaching hours: 137.5 hours

Service:

Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 11 hours

Research:

Time spent reading and taking notes: 17 hours

Time spent writing and revising (as well as preparing the manuscript): 31.75 hours

Total research hours: 48.75 hours

Total work hours for the month of April: 197.25

 

Some more math:

There are 30 days in April, so I averaged just over 6.5 hours per day, every day.***

There were 21 days I was expected to work (9 days of weekends and a sick day), so I averaged nearly 9.5 hours for every day I was paid.  That does not seem unreasonable, until you take into consideration that that’s a full 1.5 hours above what’s considered full-time, and this semester I am being paid less because of mandatory furlough days.  In fact, as I recall, I was charged for 2 of those furlough days last month, so let’s pretend those were days I was not supposed to work^ and redo the math: nearly 10.5 hours per day for every day I was paid.

 

That’s fucking crazy.

 

So with each passing month, I have spent more time working than the previous month.  This is not a very good trend, and I know that I need to do better next semester.  Part of that will involve not finalizing a book manuscript.  However, next year, I will be working on another edited collection and applying for sabbatical.^^  I know that I will spend much less time preparing for class, but I will also have twice as many students to grade, so that’s likely a wash.^^^

 

Anyway, that was April.  Thanks for playing along.

 

*Including reading A Feast for Crows, which I started earlier tonight.

**I’ve already made sure that my fall semester will be much, much easier.  And I’m lucky I’m in a position where I have that option.

***Think about how fucking crazy that is.  6+ hours a day, every day, including weekends.  That’s fucking crazy.

^Technically, we are no longer taking furlough days.  However, we are being charged for furlough days.  The union swears that, at the end of this contract period, we will be getting paid for those non-furlough furlough days.  But I’m doing the work now and not getting paid for it, so I’m counting those as furlough days.  The promise to pay me later for work performed today is not terribly comforting.

^^I have in mind what I want to work on for my second monograph, and I will be working on that during my sabbatical.  So yeah, I likely won’t be putting the brakes on my research agenda just yet.

^^^I already have more students registered for my classes next fall than I have enrolled in classes this semester, as a large number of my seats in Introduction to Literature (3 sections) are reserved for students registering this summer.

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