Monday, July 30, 2012

37.8 the centigrade equivalent of 100.4 farenheit.  Which is precisely the temperature I found that I'm  running, once I decided that two days of apathy plus one day of complete physical exhaustion was not normal, and decided to take my temperature.

No wonder I've been exhausted.

Not to worry, though: I'm in a friend's home, his mother is fussing over me, and I'm drinking juice and eating watermelon and pears.  And I'll likely sleep at least 10 hours tonight. But I'm leaving Blarg city in just over 72 hours, and I really wish I was fit enough to be out enjoying it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zombie Days

The seminar is over.  All but a few of the participants have left.  I'm still in Blarg City, which is a wonderful place, and have another 4 days before I leave.  And do you know what I want to do?


I could write a long blog post about my adventures in the seminar.  I could upload photos.  I could take more photos (something I've been frightfully lax about, given how photogenic Blarg City is). I could begin to pack (I have to leave the place I'm staying tomorrow and move my stuff across town to my friend's house). I could organize my notes from the last couple of weeks. I could go sightseeing, or swimming, or make myself lunch.

I don't want to do any of these things.

I call these "zombie days." Days when you are capable of nothing other than sitting alone in a room, and that's really all you want to do.  I usually plan for two full zombie days when I get home from a trip, where I do no more than unpack, laundry, and perhaps a trip to the coffee shop.  I may or may not get up the energy to buy groceries.  Zombie days are also blocked in for the first few days after a semester ends.

I find it really relaxing.  And I'm learning to let go of the "You should be doing stuff!" guilt.  I've decided that if I have an unclaimed day, and this is the way I want to spend it, I should be able to do it that way.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Answers to the Homeless Adjunct's Questions

There's a post up at the Homeless Adjunct that's well worth a read.  Actually, since hir points about the harms that overreliance on undercompensated adjunct labor has done to universities, professors, and students alike will be of no surprise to any of my academic readers, it's one that is well worth passing on to your non-university friends with offspring about to go to college, or who are about to choose a university for themselves.

The post provides a list of questions that people in this position might consider asking on their campus visits.  What's below is just a list of the questions, with my own answers.  Note that the original post explains and explicates each and every one of them very nicely, and brings up some excellent points.

My answers about my own institution (mid-tier four-year state school):

1. What percentage of the faculty teaching your undergraduate classes is full-time? What percentage is adjunct? About 45% a couple of years ago; surely more than that right now, for the simple reason that, with each round of budget cuts over the last few years, another batch of adjuncts lost their jobs, or had full-time cut down to part-time. I don't think this is the way we want to go about "increasing tenure-track density."

2. A related question: what percentage of my child’s classes will be taught by Teaching Assistants?  None, at least not in my department, but that's because we aren't a Ph.D.-granting program. I think that some classes over in Natural Sciences and Mathematics may be taught by TAs. (Note that HA does talk about the problematic nature of applying the term "assistant" to someone who is, in reality, fully responsible for a given class.)

3. Are undergraduate students guaranteed full access to their professors on campus?  Faculty, whether TT or contingent, are required to hold office hours, but there's no minimum or maximum.  I'd guess that 4-5 "official" hours a week are about average, with more random hours when we're between classes. 

4. Are undergraduate students guaranteed private meetings in their professor’s private offices? Up until recently, most faculty shared offices, but usually not on the same days.

5. Are undergraduate students guaranteed advising from their departmental faculty? This is where I get cranky. There were hours available with one of two departmental advisers (both department faculty) every day of the week, staggered times so that any student could make them. We also scheduled mandatory meetings for new majors, whether transfer or freshman.  But advising funding has been slashed.  We now have one person tasked with doing the job that, until now, it's taken two people to do... and there may be a 50% reduction in hir compensation for that work.  There is university advising as well -- important for general graduation requirements, but problematic when they try to give advice about the major. One, last year, advised at least a couple of majors to delay taking our (required for majors!) core course because it was "too hard."

6. What is the number of “general education” or “core” classes required of my student’s major, or of the general university degree? Good lord, I don't know... they seem to change this every two years or so.  I'd direct you to ask our departmental advisor, but... (see above, #5)

7. Will undergraduate students be given ample access to the courses required for graduation within four years? Probably not. Too many students, too few faculty, too many budget pressures to cut "underenrolled" courses within the first couple of weeks of registration.

8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in?  Hmmm... no, no/no, and... I'm supposed to do what?!?  (Unless the author means that I'll be available to mentor outside of class hours? Because I'm in no way qualified to handle the many personal issues that my students have. Sympathize, yes.  Direct them to the correct resources, certainly. But I have no business guiding their personal lives.)  Honestly, while this is a lovely thought, I doubt that any but the highest-ranking SLACs could say yes to this one.

9. Where does the tuition go? Will universities provide a full accounting of... [and here there's a bit about various salaries] Actually, for my state, all public employee salaries are searchable online; if you know my name and institution, you can find my gross salary for as recently as last year.  You can also find the gross salary of any adjunct or staff member or campus president.  What you won't find is an accounting of the extras.  For example: faculty members have (until recently) had access to about $800 per year in money for travel to professional conferences.  Campus presidents in high-cost areas get a supplement to their salaries that is a "housing allowance" equal to about what our most recent full-time faculty were hired at.  Lecturers get bupkis.

10. Finally, you might want to ask them about their corporate partnerships. I don't think our uni is allowed to have those (unless you count the concessions contracts).  But I could be wrong.  And I imagine that this makes more of a difference when you dig down into the corporations that are funding individual or group grants.

That's a longish post, and the original is even longer.  But I thought I should make a full accounting.  As you can see, my colleagues at Grit City U. are doing our best.  But the odds appear to be stacked against us, and I might want to revisit these questions at the beginning of next academic year.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

That Gut-Wrenching Tipping Point

The summer seminar I'm taking part in is drawing to a close, and that means getting a presentation of work accomplished together.  I'm trying to synthesize it in some way, and have some focal point, all while tying it in to the themes, large and small, of the seminar.  Herding cats, I tells ya'.

In any case, today marked another ka-chunk step forward, where I began grappling with the Big Idea.  And here's the problem: I really, really want this big idea to work.  But I'm at the stage where I'm pushing it ahead of me and pretending that I'm following where it leads.  And it's at that kind of tipping point where you get a wrenching feeling in your gut that comes from knowing that the next big push might see you either break through and really understand what you're trying to do, or fuck it up beyond all recognition, and not understand that you've done that until you're too far into the process to remember where you were, and what you thought before you started flogging the Big Idea.

I've been through this before, with First Book.  At one point, pushing the idea out in front of me before I really believed in it -- the "fake it 'till you make it" school of writing -- actually helped me get the big idea that the book would eventually be based on.  At other points, it ended up with literally months of research and writing being thrown in the trash.

((deep breath))


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ignorant Twaddle

Has this happened to you?

You are walking through your Research City, when you come upon a tour group.  You stop for a moment to listen in... and hear the tour guide assert something so patently ridiculous that it's all you can do not to shout "Oh my God.  What a load of ignorant twaddle!"

This happened to me today.  I did manage to restrain myself, but only just barely.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Starting to think that I've found something really interesting

Remember that obscure book of privileges that I mentioned a couple of posts back?

Well, I finished transcribing the privilege I was working on, and I thought I'd see if I could find some book or article or a even an entry in a reference book to give me some background on it, and there's nothing. There's a book with the same title for a different location that is a music manuscript.  And there's another one that has something to do with plants.  But absolutely nothing out there on the book I'm working on. 

On the one hand, this is frustrating, as I'd like to know a bit more.

On the other, there's that really cool feeling that maybe I've stumbled onto something that almost nobody even knows exists, and it's a really big something.

There's likely a doctoral thesis from some Blargistan university floating out there somewhere.  And there are a couple of people I can ask.  But I'm still quasi-giddy about this whole thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In an effort to do my part to help rescue the European economy...

...I bought this shoe, plus one more to go with it.

Also, a stripey shirt.

And lunch.

And then, I rested.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Archive discoveries

Technical archive geekery ahead.  You have been warned.

#1: I found the urban privilege I have been looking for off and on for over half a year. It's kind of the key to the paper I've been working on, and I'd started to believe that the informants in my document were just making it up (they do that sometimes) to bully the other cities around them (they do that a lot). But it exists, and in a minor book of privileges that seems to be little known except among real specialists; it's been completely overshadowed by its more important sibling book of privileges.

#2: The person whose reference I used to track back to this privilege (thank you!) has the date just a bit off, and doesn't seem to have looked at the whole document.  It's not that they got the interpretation of the part they looked at wrong, but...

#3: ...the whole document is ever so much more interesting than I could have hoped for.  I was expecting a terse paragraph saying "city X gets to do this crazy-ass thing." What I got was five full pages, in which this privilege was nested within a narrative about how city X did this crazy-ass thing, then city Y (which was harmed by this action) retaliates against city X, at which point the king explains the privilege to city Y and orders them to make city X whole again and furthermore to publicize among their officials the fact that city X gets to do this crazy-ass thing that looks like flat-out theft but in fact is totes legal, and then city Y just plain ignores the king's order and goes on retaliating... and that's just the first page and a half.

It's nifty.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Update: On being a student again yesterday's post, which alluded to me being a student again.  And here's my student perspective from this morning:

If you assign 100+ pages of pretty complex reading for a week's discussion, the students will take a deep breath, and struggle through it.

If you announce at the beginning of the week that you will be posting the primary texts  that that seminar's discussion will actually be based on, your students will groan, complain to each other, and mentally rearrange their schedules for the week.

If you actually post those readings less than 12 hours before the discussion? At that point, expect things to get interesting.

[Explanatory note: Yes, I'm bitching and moaning here.  I'm also reading.  But really, being a student again is causing me to reflect on things I can improve in my own teaching and structuring of classes.  It's been a long time since I've been in this position, so this is super-helpful to me.  Anyone else want to chime in with some learning experiences?]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Junior Year Abroad... the Sequel

Hey there, all!

Betcha thought some big beastie had swallowed me whole. But that's not the case.  Unless you count this seminar as a beastie, in which case, it's a pleasant one, full of smart and interesting people and a lot of great food. Also, many interesting excursions.

In some ways, it's like revisiting my junior year abroad:*
  • I've been thrown in with a group of people I don't know, and we work out interpersonal relations quickly.
  • I'm staying in a dorm room (though with my own efficiency kitchen).
  • We're in a foreign country, and participants have varying degrees of knowledge of the local language
  • There are many interesting excursions planned for the group.
  • There is homework.

The first week was packed with group activities, both those put together by the organizers, and those we came up with on our own. These activities have also meant that many of us finished week one with the sense that we really hadn't done nearly enough work on our major projects. In fact, last night, I gave away a ticket I had purchased to a really excellent cultural event because I felt rising guilt that would have prevented me from enjoying myself anyway.  So I stayed home and worked -- which turned out to be the right decision, at least for me.

Anyway, these are general observations.  I'll let you know how I feel about this at the end of week two, which I consider to be my first "real" work week.  And I'll leave you with a cool picture from one of our excursions:

faith never sleeps

*The one major difference? I'm sober enough to remember the experiences I'm having.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seminar Begins Tomorrow...

...and I've been enjoying my role as helper/guide/ZOMG where do I buy a colander on a Sunday? answer-person for the new arrivals in Blarg City.  And the accommodations are just ducky.  And there's likely more to say, but I'd like to get to bed at a decent hour, since tomorrow is our first day.

So I'll just leave you with this picture of something that I was working with the other day in the archive.  A scroll?  Really?  I now have lots of sympathy for all those folks who work in the rolls series...