Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching in Europe, but Halloween in a Taxi

Did I mention I'm going to Europe?  Work-related.  Teaching-related, to be precise.  Last year's trip was incredibly labor-intensive.  But still, I look forward to it because it was also incredibly rewarding.  I teach a week-long class (3hrs/day) in my area of specialization, mostly to students from developing countries and particularly war-torn areas.  Many will work for NGOs in their home countries when they finish.

So I leave this afternoon.  The worst part is that I will miss Halloween with my kids.  I will be traveling from the airport to my hotel during the height of Halloween hour for kids in Europe, so I doubt I'll get to experience Halloween at all!

My kids were bummed at first, but seem to have adjusted--in large part because they've already had several Halloween events in the last few days that I accompanied them to, including at school. 

Speaking of Halloween at school...why was I one of the few parents of my son's class to bring food for the class party, to help set up, and then to clean up?  I, who have a full-time job and am leaving for Europe the following day? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Lil' Ol' Professor Heart, Broken

I'm reflecting on students who've broken my lil' ol' professor heart.  They have all been women.

One of my thesis advisees got into Michigan Law School, just like her fiancé.  Hurray!  They could be together pursuing the career of their dreams in the school of their dreams!   But wait--you've accepted an offer from a near-by law school that I've never even heard of? 

Yes.  You see, they didn't both want to be burdened by the student loans.  So she took a scholarship at a minor law school.  And he ... didn't.

Then there was the genius thesis advisee, who was so good, I hired her as my research assistant.  She got accepted to Harvard Law!  Hurray!  But .... Oh! Too bad! Your fiancé did not get accepted to Harvard grad school--or even any school near Harvard? 

With her LSATs and GPA, she had her pick of law schools, so she went to the law school at the school he did get in to.  Not a bad law school, but not, not, NOT Harvard.

Now on to the grad student I had at my old university.  I was her MA thesis adviser, and I wrote her many, many letters of recommendation for fellowships.  I wrote her a really over-the-top  letter that got her into a Ph.D. program.  Weird coincidence--I took a job at her new university the following year.  She was now in a different discipline, but her new adviser and all the other professors were also over-the-top about her. 

But then--oh wow, your fiancé got a great contract job in Africa?  Yeah, you should take a semester off and travel with him while he's there.  You could write up your dissertation proposal at the same time!  "Great idea!"   Oh, but where is that proposal?  Oh congratulations, you've gotten married!  Oh happy days, you're pregnant.  Here's a present for baby.  Sooooo cute!  By the way, I think that starting a new outdoor recreation business with your husband in that remote part of that far-away state sounds....interesting.  Yeah, that's it.  And it doesn't sound at all like a dissertation.

There have been many more.  But these are the ones nearest to the surface. 

My most successful grad student?  A man, a great guy.  He wrote fast, not always carefully, not consistently with great depth of analysis.  But he got 'er done!  Then he boldly approached publishers and got a book contract!  He did not hesitate, did not worry it to death, making those final corrections so it would be just absolutely, positively perfect.  Rejections did not phase him--he pushed on!  AND he has a great wife with a mobile job perfectly suited (through perfect planning based upon absolute career self-abnegation) to move where he needs to go.

I think he's great.  I'm very happy for him. 

But is there a trend here?  In such cases, feminism for me is not about condemning individual women for the choices they make.  Rather, it is about looking critically at the processes that produce relatively more male PhDs, more male tenured professors, more highly paid male lawyers, etc.

But it is the individual women that break my professor heart.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No room for academic visitors

I had coffee today with an associate professor who is in my discipline at another university several states away.  She is on leave and living in the area because her partner (nonacademic) got a job in our big nearby city earlier this year.  And they have a preschooler.  Yikes!

She is an amazing academic.  One of my colleagues actually uses her book in his class.  I would LOVE to have her in my department.  But visiting professorship opportunities have dried up with the recession here.  Knowing this, she is ready to consider stringing together several lecture positions.  Each of those pays less than $5k, no benefits. 

That must be quite a cut in pay.  

I'm trying to get my director to think outside the box for once.  There's got to be something.

Another effect of the recession--one of the schools at my university looks like it is going to be cut.  No guarantees that the untenured faculty will keep their jobs.  Tenured faculty are going to be housed elsewhere in the university. 

My small department had one professor from that school with us for 3-4 years on a temporary basis.  Now it looks like she might want to come back to us once her school dissolves.  Small problem--she is crazy.  No really. I mean it.  One faculty (a "distinguished professor" who is indeed quite famous in the discipline) would demand to be relocated out of the department.  And the rest of us would just be miserable.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What the dog will and won't do

Our dog has become afraid of stairs.  Only outdoor stairs and only on the way up, thankfully.  But still, what a pain.  If we let her out to go pee, she can go down the back stairs, but then stands at the bottom and barks until we let her in a different door.  Weird. 

She ate a $20 bill the other day.  Grabbed it right off the counter.  She's only 7 months old, so we cut her a break.  My mom's dog, at that age, ate the back seat of her car.

Lately she has been grabbing things that she is not supposed to have so that we'll chase her.  Whenever I find her chewing on something, I grab her head, open her mouth and shake it until whatever she has falls out.

Last week, a dead mouse fell out.  It was dark. I couldn't tell what it was, so I picked up for closer look.

My daughter said, nonchalantly, "Oh yeah.  Me and [babysitter] saw that earlier today.  The cat caught killed it and left it in the living room."  I guess cleaning up dead rodents is not really part of babysitter's job.  But from now on, I hope she'll point out the carcasses to me.

And let's give a round of applause for the cat--she's 15 and still killing!  She earns her keep.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I get a move on!

I've moved forward on a couple things that I've been procrastinating on.  And I feel better.

I think I'm going to agree to do the summer online course that I discussed in an earlier post.  The money is hard to pass up.  Plus, I'll get some good training on new teaching technology, which should really help out with courses in general.  There is a lot I'd like to learn about podcasts and video and running online discussions, etc. I haven't been able to find the time to seek out the training.  So the pay will be a really good incentive to finally do it.  I'll be interested to see if I hate online teaching or like it.  Could go either way.

I also finally responded to a journal editor about a paper I submitted. I got a "revise and resubmit" on it, but the editor stressed that it needs substantial revision. I wasn't surprised about that part.  And one of the reviewers wrote about 5 pages single space of comments--they were critical but encouraging and very, very thoughtful.  The other review, however, was a bit dismissive, plus unfamiliar with the methodology I was employing, plus displaying some political prejudice. 

I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to respond to that reviewer, and the editor had given absolutely NO guidance.  Editors have always written their own summaries detailing which comments to focus on--and thus which I could more safely ignore.  This is standard in my field.  But this is a guest editor of a (top) interdisciplinary journal.  Regardless of why he didn't provide his own response to the reviews, I've now written him asking for some guidance.  I don't really like being assertive like this, but I feel a lot better now that I sent this off.  I was polite.  And the worst that can happen is that he gives me a response that helps me decide to not bother with him anymore and go elsewhere.  Hmphf.

I also spent a lot of time not having my calls answered today.  No one answered the phone at my kids' school, which is disturbing  And then I spent 15 minutes on hold plus many more calls to my daughter's doctor.  Finally, I wrote the dr. an email over the healthcare provider email site, asking some questions and then saying, by the way, no one is answering, please have someone call me so I can schedule an apptmt.  Two different people called me back within 10 minutes!  Now I know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professor-The Last Good Job in America?

"Our Dear Leader" at my university gave a special talk this week.  Faculty received so many notices and reminders about it that many of us thought he was going to have some major announcement, akin to the recent bomb dropped at SUNY Albany on the languages (except Spanish), classics, and theater.

It was scheduled to be 90 minutes. I arrived for the last 30 minutes.  But it had already ended, and everyone still milling around had suits on and nice buttons with the university seal in their lapels--in other words, administrators.  Faculty had bolted.  I took that as a very good sign, and I was right. Turns out nothing new at all was said.  Thank goodness!

But I still feel embattled as a professor, with a job that could just disappear "poof" into thin air.  Ironic, given that many think tenured professor is the last secure job around.  A personal finance magazine came to my area to have a workshop on the new economy, and one of the financial experts quipped, "Well, if you're a tenured professor up at [my university] you have job security, but the rest of us...."

Ha ha, very funny.  I just don't believe in job security through tenure anymore.  And when a professor loses his or her job, they must move to a new job in a new city/state (if they can find a new job).  I do not want to move--I dread that more than losing my job.  I can envision not being a professor, but I cannot envision moving from this area.

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting interview with Ellen Schrecker (author of The Lost Soul of Higher Education) out today.  Schrecker notes: "Professors are getting a bad rap these days.... After all, a full-time tenured position in a college or university is, as many observers have noted, the last good job in America. No wonder, therefore, that ordinary citizens, who currently face so much economic uncertainty, resent the security and autonomy that tenured professors enjoy."  She notes that many of the people teaching in higher ed are instructors or even lecturers stringing together 5 classes at 3 different area colleges.  Also noted is the importance of academic freedom!

Refreshingly, she argues that tenure "attracts talented people into the academy and protects its quality. The security that tenure provides makes up for the economic disadvantages of the academic profession, whose members, faculty stars excepted, rarely make as much money as other similarly educated professionals. At the same time, the rigorous process through which they are hired and achieve tenure ensures that the men and women who staff the nation’s faculties are competent, experienced individuals who deserve a lot more respect than they have been getting these days."

Exactly!  THANK you!  As I wrote in an earlier post, in my discipline, failure in academia can be rather lucrative--as the other options available to us pay better.  And about the respect that we deserve--Stanley Fish in NYT calls upon us to refuse "to allow myths (about lazy, pampered faculty who work two hours a week and undermine religion and the American way) to go unchallenged."

First, I insist that the "American way" fundamentally involves questioning authority--an impulse upon which the country was founded.  Universities with academic freedom through the tenure system help keep it that way.  What could be more patriotic!

Second, I work way too much.  I was at a campus meeting for "mid-career" faculty.  Most of us there were yearning for a better "work-life balance."  Lazy?  Pampered? We are own most demanding taskmasters.  As one faculty stated, "we choose the stick with which we beat ourselves."  A politician here has been calling for faculty to teach 5 classes a semester!  Teaching more would force me to be a worse teacher or give up research--and I hate both ideas.

So in response to Stanley Fish's call to action, maybe we all need to start tracking systematically how we spend our time.  That politician might be surprised to find out that I wake up at 6AM to write or prep for class.  And I do the same 9:45-11pm.  And in between those hours, I teach, go to meetings, respond to endless work-related emails, and stress out about university budget cuts.

But I'm not sure I have the time to systematically track my time....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In which I interview myself

Naptime Writing blog has issued a blog challenge!  My answers to the questions posed:

1. What is your favorite word? bejesus, Clackamas

2. What is your least favorite word?  schedule (British pronunciation--no offense!)

3. What turns you on?  humor

4. What turns you off?  bitterness, racism, sexism

5. What is your favorite curse word?  Oh shit!

6. What sound or noise do you love?  crickets at night, laughing (especially little kids)

7. What sound or noise do you hate?  neighbor's wind chimes at night

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? war correspondent, NGO work

9. What profession would you not like to try? soldier

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Ha, you were so wrong about me!  But no biggie.  Go check out the ski hill.

Now you--post your responses in your blog (or here in comments)!  You'll see--it's really fun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How do baseball tournaments fit into my work-life balance?

We had a parents meeting last night for the "competitive league" baseball team that my son is now on.  The season doesn't begin until March, but never hurts to start early, I guess. 

The coach is a very friendly, likable guy.  Wants the kids to come out of this loving baseball--says that's more important than winning.  He is also extremely organized, and distributed an information sheet that should become a template for campus memos and information packets, which are typically dense and not so informative.  And he even blocked off a week and a half for spring break, so that we could all go on vacations (if that sounds routine to you, you either don't have a child on a sports team or you have an abnormally reasonable coach like us).

I'm already accustomed to getting him to practices 3x/wk.  But I hadn't realized what "tournaments" involve.  They are 3 day trips to other cities!  And there will be 4 or 5 of them.  How, exactly, does that fit into my already hectic life? 

Actually, the more I think about it, all I have to do is drive some kids 2-4 hours away, watch a few games, make sure they don't burn down the hotel or something in their off-hours, and then drive them back.  If spouse and I trade off rather than both go, I could get a lot of work done.  My daughter is much more time-consuming than that!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Students with faces are better

My university is trying hard to get tenured and tenure-track professors to teach online courses over the summer. They are offering $5k to plan the course over spring semester, plus the usual pay for teaching the summer course, plus a grader (paid 3.5times more per student than graders normally are).  There are about 20-25 students.

It is tempting, the extra $5k.  But I just don't know how I feel about contributing to the online course trend.  I don't want to be a Luddite.  If that is the direction universities are headed, then I should take the $5k while it is still being offered.  That said, I don't think this is a good way to learn.  And frankly, I would much prefer interacting with students face to face rather than via email.  I nearly always really like a student in person--not so much in abstract.  I don't know if I would want to teach if this became my only option.  And I don't know that students will learn as well--especially the best students.

So I'm wondering, do I really want to contribute to this trend?  Is this what university teaching will become? Or is it just another option, not threatening to replace face-time teaching?  What is lost and what is gained for the professor and student?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A publishing contract is not a contract

There's a shakeup at one of the university presses that has tenure implications for people in my area.  I have reviewed several books for the editor at Biggish University Press.  I respect his work.  Plus, I wanted to support that press because it has been so good about publishing books by tenure-track faculty in my narrow area.

He told me he was retiring.  I was disappointed, but I assumed the press would continue its interest in this line.

I sent in my latest review about 6 weeks ago.  He contacted me last week.  It seems that even though he had extended a provisional contract to the book I reviewed, the press was reneging on that contract now that he was gone.  The book had gone through two revisions, and I had reviewed three different versions!  And the university committee had also approved it.

My old advisor from grad school had his edited volume canceled late in the game by the same press.  The editor is now working with another press (part-time, semi-retirement), trying to get these books published there.  Problem is, while this second press is pretty good (and getting better), it is not a university press.

It probably won't matter too much for the edited volumes.  But several of my friends got tenure based upon their monographs being published by Biggish University Press.  And one of my colleagues here at my Univ. had sent his manuscript for review at the beginning of summer. I'm scared to ask him about it.  He needs publication by a university press.  And it needs to happen in the next 18 months.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Life after professing

I had dinner recently with my old grad school advisor.  We were at a conference, and it might well be the last time I see him because he's retiring after this year.  It was a great dinner. He is a neat guy.  I'd love to have had him as a colleague. 

All in all, I was pretty lucky having him as the person that controlled my future.  He does have his quirks, but at least he is fairly aware of them.  When you call his house, he answers the phone with "What?" Even if he told you to call!  Intimidating for most of us--especially grad students. 

He also was on a panel once when he became exasperated or simply bored with the person presenting their paper.  So he took out his fingernail clippers and started clipping his nails! Right next to the guy and right during his talk!  The guy had to ask him to stop.

At least he has a nice life set up after retirement, with great travel plans.  This is unlike several professors I've known lately, who teach until they are physically or mentally unable to do it anymore (and maybe even continuing a semester after that!).  Not much of a retirement after that!  I understand about loving your job.  But you also need a life, I think, beyond it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Manly professors bond over meat and poker

My friend just told me about the Men's Night Out that the male faculty members in her department hold monthly.  At my two previous institutions, the men in my department similarly indulged.  There was a "Meat Night" (manly dinner at a steak house) and a poker night.

My friend is tenure track at a research university.  There are quite a few untenured women in that department, but none ever objected publicly to being excluded.  This is understandable, given the power differentials and the pressure to get along.  But criminally, no tenured faculty objected--man or woman.

My friend brought in a co-author--a man--to give a talk and meet other faculty.  She could not schedule a department dinner for him because of this Men's Night Out.  So one of these guys told her to just let co-author come along to their Men's Night!  He thought it was a great idea!  My friend declined.  And she was embarrassed to have to explain to her co-author where most of the men were that night.

Men's Night has the effect of excluding women from crucial opportunities to bond and network with others the department--including the powerful men who will hold a lot of sway in terms of tenure. 
It took a new, untenured man in the department to forcefully point out how problematic Men's Night is.  Not coincidentally, his wife is also in the department.  Now many of the men finally get it.  Geeeeez. 

I'm wondering, how common is Men's Night?  Is it just my discipline (still male-dominated)?  Is it OK to have women faculty events (under the argument that women are clearly disadvantaged in terms of salary and promotion plus work-life balance issues)?   Are men whose wives work in the same department more tuned in to ways that women are disadvantaged/discriminated against?  (And is this one of the unrecognized benefits of spousal accommodations?  If so, deans take note!).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cat murderers attend a wedding out-of-state

Went to a wedding in a nearby state--my S.O.'s niece. We drove half way Thursday, arrived Friday mid-day, went to wedding in the evening. And then drove home all day today (Saturday). 

We were rather ambivalent about the whole thing.  There was no question of not going, but that doesn't mean we wanted to go.  We haven't talked to Niece in four years.  She stopped talking to us after we murdered her cat. 

Let me explain.  It only gets better from there (and by that, I mean worse).

Four years ago, soon after we had uprooted ourselves from one state to move to a new one--and were completely stressed out and not coping all that well--my mother-in-law's health declined rapidly due to spread of cancer.  We all piled into the car on the quick and drove the 8 hours to see her.  We hadn't yet formed a strong support network of friends and neighbors ready to take care of our pets, etc.  So we took the dog with us.

We were staying at S.O.'s sister's house.  She is officially a dog-lover, has two dogs herself and even does dog-sitting as a side business.  And our dog was pretty low-key and extremely friendly.  She (the dog) stayed in our bedroom at night and in the day was either in the car or tied to a tree at the far end of their big yard.  So we thought things were fine.  Sister's husband (the brother-in-law) and daughter (the niece) also lived there, and neither complained about the dog.  Plus, we were distracted by the fact that S.O.'s mom was dying.

We said our last good-byes to his mom, spent some nice quality time with her.  Then we drove home.  When we arrived home, a voice mail was waiting for us.  Brother-in-law was screaming about how he had just scraped his cat off the street with a shovel and blamed us for killing it--oh, plus a lot of bitter, raging swear words.  This all shouted into our house phone message machine that our children could hear! Yes.

Apparently the cat had ran off out of fear of our dog and then gotten run over a street or two away.  A tragic pet accident, yes.  We're sorry for the kitty and would hate to lose a pet this way (or any way).  But to unleash such an attack on someone who's just said good-bye forever to his mom?  Can't you cut a guy a break in that situation? 

So, when we returned a week or two later to help with burial arrangements and attend the funeral, we steered clear of brother-in-law.  But niece was to help select flowers, etc with S.O., and she absolutely refused to speak to him. 

So four years later, we were not happy at the thought of attending her wedding.  The bride barely said hello to us (she did--but barely).  And my daughter, who loves princesses and thus loves a bride, could barely elicit any attention despite her best efforts.  That family hadn't seen my daughter since my daughter was a toddler--practically still a baby.

And my son (unfortunately) caught her garter when it was thrown.  And she did not acknowledge even knowing him.  They're cousins!

Sadly, each of S.O.'s three siblings has their own disturbing set of attributes and histories.  At least the main problem in terms of his sister is her husband and daughter.  I'm really hoping that S.O. and his sister can start reconnecting.  She says she wants to come out to visit--I hope it happens.  My kids need some better connection with that side of their family--that much was clear from the wedding.

Anyway, I just asked S.O. and he says he's glad he went.  So I am too.