Archive for: March, 2012

In which the professor expresses her frustration with the perennial bashing of her occupation.

I am generally a patient person, sometimes more patient than I should be. I am also usually optimistic about people's potential to learn and grow, which is probably a good thing since I am in the business of educating adults and since a good bit of my job also involves being on committees.

But darned if I'm not starting to believe that there are some issues that are black holes of dialogic suck, around which people are absolutely committed to killing the potential for learning and growth where it stands, and where any speck of patience is likely to be rewarded with a punch to the gut.

I refer you to this steaming pile of fail that posits that college professors do not work hard enough.

Others, including Zen, and DrugMonkey, and Crooked Timber, and Echidne, and Lawyers, Guns and Money, have gone into some of the dimensions along which the author's model of what's happening in non-R1 colleges and universities (and what, therefore, should be done) veers widely from reality.

And there's part of me prepared to jump in to lay out what kind of time it takes to teach college students well -- the time that is invisible because it happens out of the classroom, when we're prepping classes, and updating classes, and designing assignments, and refining assignments, and grading assignments in ways that actually provide students with useful feedback that helps them figure out what they can do better on the next round of assignments for twice as many students as the same number of classes had not ten years ago, and seeing students in office hours, and answering their emails, and providing websites with announcements pages and periodic email blasts to one's classes to keep them on track -- and these are just the demands on time and effort of teaching, not even starting in to what research and "service" activities or various sorts pile on.

But I'm not going to lay out all these details because the people who are reading David C. Levy's op-ed and nodding approvingly just don't care.

They will simply deny that my workload could be what it actually is.

Or, they will insist that I'm somehow exceptional and that everyone else in a tenured position in a teaching-focused state university is doing much, much less (and that those slackers at community colleges are doing less still).

But I'm pretty sure the ugly truth is that these people believe that my students, and the community college students, do not deserve quality education at a reasonable price.

And, I'm pretty sure they believe that professors at teaching-focused state universities and at community colleges (not to mention public school teachers, too) do not deserve to make a middle-class wage. Never mind that we sometimes work so many hours that it's hard to find time to spend it (for example, to get to the grocery store to buy food for our kids, or OTC medicine for ourselves so we can drag our lazy, sniffly asses in to class to keep teaching).

It matters not a whit to these people how many years we have devoted to our education and training. A Ph.D. program (or two) is obviously just a multi-year exercise in sloth.

Verily, to these people I and my entire sector of the workforce are a problem to be solved. We are doing something of which they do not approve, and even if we were giving it away for free and living on alms, they would hate us.

I can't argue with committed ignorance of that magnitude. I cannot counter such thoroughgoing selfishness.

So this time, I won't even try. Instead, I'm going to fix myself a drink, make dinner for my family, and brace myself for as many more hours of work as I can manage before my eyelids refuse to stay open.

21 responses so far

When gate agents attempt to be social engineers.

Mar 17 2012 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

I have just returned to Casa Free-Ride after a few days at a thoroughly engaging conference about which I'll have more to say soon. Getting home required air travel, this time on United.

There are many airlines that have so many levels of premium member stratification that they have run out of precious metals and gemstones by which to identify them in calling them to board. However, United is the first airline I have noticed that gets really tetchy about precisely which lane the non-premium members queue up in for their approach to the gate agent who scans the boarding passes even after all our betters the premium members have boarded. See, the premium lane has this special blue carpet on it that, it seems, is only to be trod upon by the feet of those special in the eyes of United Airlines. Indeed, on more than one leg of the trip I just completed, the gate agents actually halted the boarding of a plane to move everyone in the passenger-group-now-boarding from the fancy blue-carpeted premium lane to the economy lane.

Gate agents, the premium passengers have already boarded! They will not see the great unwashed swarm of economy travelers stepping on their blue carpet of awesomeness!

Anyway, on the last leg of my travel, the amplified gate agent (who was announcing which groups were invited aboard) was both distinct from the gate agent scanning boarding passes and several yards away from the boarding lanes for the gate. Thus, she tried to direct people to the appropriate lane by reiterating that the premium lane was the one on the left and the economy lane was the lane on the right.

It turns out USian air travelers cannot (or will not) distinguish left from right any better than your typical U12 soccer player. (How well is that? As a soccer coach, let me tell you: not very well at all.)

In short, it strikes me that United is:

  1. Attempting to get USian air travelers to accept a rigid class system, and
  2. Attempting to do so based on people's knowledge of the difference between right and left.

I fear both of these attempts are doomed to failure (although maybe for different reasons).

8 responses so far

A hole inside where my optimism used to be.

I have discovered that whatever patience I may have once had for students who think it's a reasonable strategy to try to deceive their way through "meeting" requirements in an ethics course has completely eroded. There's not a bit of it left, just a gaping hole where it used to be.

What's more, I think I came to the mistaken impression that I still had some patience in reserve largely due to my lack of inner shout-y-ness* about these students.

It turns out the inner shout-y-ness is gone because the part of me that regulates it has concluded that it's wasted energy. I cannot save adults who have decided to cheat at ethics for a grade. This is not to say I believe they cannot change -- just that I cannot change them. At least, not with the tools at my disposal.**

This realization leaves me feeling kind of sad.

Also, I think it has changed my strategy with regards to setting explicit expectations (for example, specifying that students are only allowed to use class readings and notes, discussions with classmates, and their own wits on certain assignments, and that using any other materials for these assignments is forbidden), and then enforcing them with no wiggle-room. At this point, if a student specifies (in writing) that he or she understands the rules and agrees to follow them else fail the course and face administrative sanctions, I am going to treat that as an enforceable contract.

Because honestly, with a critical mass of students who do seem willing to conduct themselves ethically in an ethics class, it's probably better for everyone if I can remove the few who are not.

I only wish removing the bad actors didn't leave me feeling dead inside.

*Shout-y-ness is so a word.

**This is not an oblique request for a torture chamber. That's not really my scene.

6 responses so far

Pursuing your goals in a world with other people.

Apropos of the discussion here, I offer some general thoughts on pursuing partner, career, family, or other aims one deems important:

  1. Knowing what you want can be handy. Among other things, it can help you identify when you've found it. If you have no idea what you want, recognizing it when you have it can be harder.
  2. On the other hand, being able to specify exactly what you want is not a guarantee that you can or will attain it. It could be, for example, that your desired simultaneous combination of partner-career-family-other aims does not exist.
  3. Hypothetical people that meet all our desiderata may be easier to get along with in our imagination than are actual flesh-and-blood people who embody those desiderata. Happily, it often turns out that actual flesh-and-blood people who significantly depart from some of the desiderata we set a priori are wonderful to be with.
  4. It's possible that there's something creepy about choosing a life partner on the basis of an a priori list of criteria (as opposed to, say, getting to know hir and deciding zie is a person whose companionship you value), especially if those criteria tend to specify services that imagined life partner will provide in advancing your aims. It kind of sets you up to be a self-serving creep who doesn't care about your partner's needs or aspirations.
  5. If your aims matter to you -- if they're really worth pursuing -- sometimes this requires that you sacrifice other aims.
  6. If you, personally, are unwilling to sacrifice aim X to pursue aim Y, that probably means that, push come to shove, you value aim X more. That's fine -- but it might be a good idea to make your peace with the possibility that you can't have both X and Y.
  7. If you really, really want to pursue aim Y without abandoning your pursuit of aim X, you might have to adjust your expectations about the level of attainment that will be possible. (Depending on values of X and Y here, this might involve ratcheting down career aspirations to something slightly less competitive, lucrative, prestigious, and/or time-consuming, scaling back on the projected number of your progeny, ratcheting down your expectations for a spotless home, what have you.)
  8. On the other hand, if you really, really want to pursue aim Y without abandoning your pursuit of aim X and you therefore make it someone else's job to pick up the slack on one of these two goals, it strikes me that you ought to make damn sure that this someone else (a) values the goal you are asking hir to pursue on your behalf and (b) that zie is not being forced thereby to abandon the pursuit of some other goal that zie values more.
  9. This is a good moment to remember Kant's insight that treating others as mere means to advance your goals rather than recognizing them an setters of their own goals is thoroughly assy behavior.
  10. In some circumstances, the least exploitative way to achieve the goal that matters to you but not so much that you'll sacrifice pursuit of your other goals to attain it is to pay someone else to do it. After all, money can be exchanged for goods and services, which might make it useful to the person whose assistance you are getting in pursuing some of hir goals.
  11. Institutions that stack the deck in favor of some classes of people being expected to sacrifice their own aims in order to accommodate (or actively support) other classes of people in the pursuit of their goals suck big bags of crap.
  12. When you recognize that institutional structures support your pursuit of your goals by limiting the options of others to pursue their goals, it would be a real show of humanity (and of not being an entitled ass) to do what you can to increase the potential for those other people to pursue their goals. It would also be cool to examine the institutional structures that stack the deck and figure out how to start dismantling them. (If you need a self-interested reason to do this, consider that fate may conspire to make you care greatly for the happiness and well-being of someone on the short end of this institutional structural stick.)
  13. In an environment where some people's goals are presumed to matter more than others (because of what class they are in rather than anything to do with the particulars of their goals), or where certain goals are judged in advance to be more appropriate (or "natural") to members of some classes of people, it is hard as hell to identify "freely chosen goals" that are actually free of the influence of various institutional structures. But, people who don't live in vacuums can't set goals that don't assume the persistence of certain features of our background environment.
  14. Sometimes taking your own goals seriously may require imagining -- even working for -- the non-persistence of certain features of our background environment. This may also be required to take seriously the goals and aspirations of other people who matter to you. It doesn't mean changing those features will be easy, but few goals worth pursuing are.

I hope I can be forgiven the Xs and Ys in the discussion here, as I think what's at stake ranges far beyond the traditional work/life balance issues about how to divvy up housework and parenting, whose career advancement to prioritize, et cetera. I think it cuts to the core of treating other people as fully human.

And, for some reason, it seems an awful lot like politicians, policy makers, and pundits are having a harder time with that lately than they should be. It feels like the rest of us have to pick up some of that slack.

4 responses so far