Improv Blogging, the Not Really Dead Edition

I am not dead. Well, at least not literally.

Another insight from Stephen King’s “On Writing”: He wrote the least when he worked as an English prof at a college. All that interaction with language while teaching, and especially grading student essays, left him completely drained. He wrote much more when he worked  poorly paid, low-skill jobs; they left his mind free to wonder. I have been really, really busy with work this semester and when the time comes to sit down and blog, I’ve got nothing to give…

It is fundamentally impossible to ever catch up on work in academia. There is a cartoon in it. Another night, perhaps.

There was a discussion on DM’s blog on how women, and especially women of color, do much more service than men (especially white). Lots of incredulity arose in the comments. I completely believe the data, as it aligns with my own anecdata. Every year, we get a list of service roles (department and university) for all faculty in the department. It’s not hard to count how many committees each person serves on, and once you have been faculty for a while, you know which ones are labor-intensive. Each of the women (women make <20% of faculty) is on 2-3 times more committees than the average. There are men who serve a lot, but there are a few men (a nice equal mixture of white and Asian, in fact) who serve much below average, just the bare mandated minimum of committees. Most of the service shirkers are prima donnas whose time is presumably too valuable to be wasted on service. Women serve because a) people ask them to, b) women are socialized to be helpful/communal, c) people expect the women to be helpful/communal and react much more negatively to women being selfish than to men being selfish, d) junior women are not stupid, and they are rightly concerned that rejecting service will make them look bad, like poor department citizens, in a way that doesn’t hold for men. If you don’t want women to serve too much, don’t ask them so much; it’s douchey to say, “Well, she should have just said no that committee, what’s the harm in asking?” when the very act of asking all the effing time shows that women are expected to jump to serve.

I almost, ALMOST, sent an angry letter to my chair because I get no help with teaching and it’s taking too much of my time and nobody seems to give a shit that enrollments are swelling and a few faculty keep teaching high-enrollment undergrad courses, while the aforementioned prima donnas haven’t seen anyone younger than a senior in their courses in many, many years. I wish I didn’t give a damn about teaching and could just, like some of my colleagues, give the exact same homework and exams for a freakin’ decade; who cares that there are solutions to all exams are already in fraternity archives?

Instead to giving the department chair a piece of my mind, I will rely on the passive-aggressive path (preferred in this part of the country) of keeping my mouth shut, ignoring faculty meetings, shirking service, and then in a year or two just come with an offer from another institution. Because if I complain, he will again insult me by trying to placate me, as if I am a toddler undergoing a tantrum and not a faculty member with a serious grievance, with some bullshit like “I am working behind the scenes” and “Let’s talk in person (so no paper trail)” and generally just hope that I will forget.

What is scary is how close I was to sending that email. But it was therapeutic to write it anyway. I am very angry and disappointed with him. I thought he was a good guy, but the Koolaid is stronger; it’s in his veins now.

I am fantasizing of moving to Australia. There is a conference in Sydney this summer, I wonder if I should go. How excruciating is the trip? I have never been. My husband thinks I am nuts, but I say let’s collect several more passports! We are still young! Only wusses emigrate only once! Look at all the unexplored continents!

I spent some time with 2/3 of my brood at what can be called a pinnacle of consumerism doubling as an amusement park. What I have learned is that: my kids are spoiled and I am a wuss; vacations are expensive and tiring, especially when you are one adult with two kids; little kids have ridiculous amounts of energy which we need to learn how to harvest (Monsters Inc.?), because WTF how can they go-go-go and never seem to need to sleep? Yet, having kids run me ragged is exactly what I needed to  do to disconnect from work, and after a couple of days I feel exhausted but also strangely rested. They are ridiculously cute. And the hotel room is a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. And my low-carb diet had to be suspended. And riding on roller coasters is awesome, and I forgot how much I liked it; the only thing I don’t like is waiting in line for a ride. But I am totally game for having my guts in my throat.



We have done a couple of rounds of edits, I have to do three more cartoons, and it’s nearing completion!

It will be called “Academaze,” and I have a great pseudonym! Here is the announcement on Annorlunda Books’ pages, and here is where you can sign up to be an advance reader and reviewer!


  1. Come to Australia. Sydney is beautiful. And hey, if you’re going to travel all the way around the world – visit Perth too. 🙂 No snow here!

  2. Wow, apparently we’re twins! Maybe it’s a winter thing….I’ve also been fantasizing about chucking it all and how satisfying it would be to just walk away while department chairs and deans wailed etc. and said “but who will do all the teaching now!?”

    It is true what you say re service. At our institution, I am on a bias and barriers assessment committee that is charged with coming up with policy proposed changes to try to make things more equitable. Service is a massive problem here because junior and less well-mentored faculty (including women and minorities) who worry about not making tenure usually feel that they can’t say “no” to service. They also often don’t have well connected senior faculty mentors to fight for their promotion or to fill them in on how much service is really enough. The essence of the unfairness is that teaching and service by junior faculty (at my institution anyway, which is an R1) is completely uncompensated—it is supposed to pay off in the theoretical future by possibly helping you make tenure if your research portfolio is weak (but usually it doesn’t help). In contrast, senior faculty here typically do their service in program director, other director, or dean positions which provide real time compensation in the form of fractional FTE support which is essentially more funds for their research program.

    To address the equity of service problem, I suggested to the bias and barriers assessment committee that we follow more closely a corporate model of job descriptions, and actually “pay” every single person who does each piece of teaching or service a literally appropriate fractional FTE, whether they are doing low level teaching or being a director of something, specifically compensating them for each service thing they do at the exact time that they actually do it.

    I proposed that this would eliminate the current unfair situation of “exploiting junior faculty to provide service now in exchange for a theoretical (but usually delusional) boost to their career at some time in the future”. Sounds fair, right?

    Unfortunately my proposal was shot down on my committee. Everyone said it would “cost too much”. I countered that if the service by junior faculty is really essential, then institutions should be willing to pay the people who actually do it. However, the committee instead is going to just suggest a policy to urge department heads to be careful of overloading junior faculty with too many service demands.

    I didn’t really expect them to make any changes….institutions are willing to talk endlessly about how to make themselves more equitable and welcoming of women and diverse faculty. However they are never willing to actually do anything about it. I’m kind of philosophical about this unwillingness to change at this point, but I figure I might as well try to shine some light on the overall problems.

  3. So Lise Vesterlund has this amazing lab experiment in which she shows that women always end up doing more service when they’re in mixed gender settings. I asked a famous (older white male) experimental economist why economists haven’t come up with a market to make service more equitable, and he said because you don’t want the person willing to pay the lowest bid being the one doing the service. Then I asked a famous (white male) organizational labor economist, and he said once you make voluntary service extrinsically motivated instead of intrinsically motivated, organizations fall apart.

    I think both of these reasons are bullshit.

  4. I’ve been monitoring the service loads in my department, to see if there is gender inequity or senior/junior inequity. There is and there isn’t.

    I see some senior faculty shirking service, and some taking service only if it leads to course relief, but I see others taking on heavy service loads with no rewards (even course-relief service jobs, but not reducing their teaching load—just using the course relief to pay instructors in courses for which there are no funds in the budget). Junior faculty have generally been sheltered from the most onerous service jobs, except for inclusion on recruiting committees, to make sure that they learn how recruiting decisions are made and so that they have significant say in who gets hired—they’re the ones who will have to live with the consequences longest.

    I’ve not seen any gender-based discrepancy in service loads nor in teaching loads. Of course, almost all of our really heavy service courses are taught by lecturers (one male, one female) not by tenure-track faculty, who mainly teach upper-division courses.

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