Faculty Governance, My A$$

Those of you who’ve been following this blog awhile are familiar with the ups and downs of my attitude toward work, coupled with midlife-crisis musings.

The thing is, when I look at my posts from even two or three years ago, I can’t believe how invested I was in my work. And, on good days, I still think I have the best job in the world. I love teaching and research; the interactions with my students are the best part of the job. The institution shows me a lot of love, I get raises and accolades. I am well respected in my professional community, even if I am not a superstar.

But every so often I get reminded of what caused me to have to emotionally detach from my job. Being too invested in the institution and the colleagues and the work itself was too hurtful too often, and what’s worse is that I felt helpless to do anything about it. This need to drastically compartmentalize, turn off certain parts of myself in regards to work, is not something that came lightly to me. There was a lot of internal struggle, some still ongoing, some documented here on the blog. Three years ago, I started focusing my energy and aspirations and associated emotions elsewhere, on my writing, and while it can be frustrating (mostly because I am an overachieving pain in the ass), it has also been healing and nurturing and so, so good for me. An endeavor where I can start from nothing, and learn, and grow, and achieve, without having to wait for anyone to catch up, without needing anyone’s permission or agreement. I also met some nice people along the way, who are smart and kind and funny and open-minded. My world became kinder, bigger, brighter.

Last academic year, I was on sabbatical and came back, apparently, with rose-colored glasses (pandemic notwithstanding). I was glad to be back teaching and glad to see my colleagues again.

Then came the committees.

Initiatives that are completely unnecessary. Meetings that could have been emails or those that take an hour to hash out completely obvious stuff.

On the other hand, a complete lack of transparency or discussion regarding some important, very non-obvious stuff.

I ask for clarification about why certain decisions were made or which  specific actions were taken, and I am (as before) invariably stonewalled. Colleagues in admin roles cite HR rules, but, in reality, no one is asking for any HR-sensitive details. I am asking for some sliver of information so these decisions and actions look transparent and fair and equitable, as they should be at a public university, and do not smell of shady backroom dealings and secrecy. Instead, I am met with “We are not allowed to discuss this (and shame on you for asking).” I am not asking for anyone’s medical records or private information. But if things were supposed to happen but didn’t, or if certain concessions were made for certain people but aren’t usually made, we should be given some smidgen of information regarding what had transpired. We are not the CIA. This level of secrecy about the operations is not warranted. And asking questions should not be shameful.

The thing is, these people in the know could share more but choose not to, and it’s convenient to hide behind HR. The thing is, that there is an in-crowd, there has always been an in-crowd, they’ve always had all the information, and their mode of holding on to (a little bit of) power is knowing what they know and deciding if and when and with whom to share, and what/what to withhold. Getting tiny power-trip boners from morsels of administrative secrets.

God, I would gladly double my teaching load if it meant I didn’t have to participate in “faculty governance.” It’s faculty governance in name only.  Decisions are made without us anyway, attempts to find out what is actually decided behind closed doors are shut down, yet we are all supposed to keep pretending we’re one happy faculty-governed institution.

F*ck university politics. F*ck having to play these humiliating games where I need to act like I am an idiot buying the bullshit I’m being sold.

Gimme a roomful of (masked) freshmen any day.

Bleurgh

Bleurgh, indeed.

I worked all weekend and am understandably exhausted now that the new week has started. This is the part of the semester when I get really angry over all the things I have to do, and I am doubly pissed because I swear there is more service now, in the middle of the pandemic, than what is normal. Admins collectively seem to be losing their damn minds, and being the types they are, they seem to try to regain some sense of control by starting more unnecessary, boneheaded initiatives. I will have to complain to the powers that be because it is insane to expect this much extra of people under these conditions, even though I know a vast majority of my colleagues either have grown kids, don’t have kids, or have someone else shouldering the burden at home, so might not be sympathetic to my pleas. But I cannot fucking supervise morning school for my kids, which means I am trying to work, while Smurf does his thing next to me, Middle Boy is in the next room, and I am responsible for food and help/clarifications. Me trying to work means I am getting constantly interrupted while attempting to handle endless emails and papers, grant proposals, editorial duties, reviews of papers and proposals, letters for everyone under the sun, Zoom meetings with students/whole group/collaborators, student defenses, and so, so many committee meetings. Then in the afternoon I go teach in person. By the time I come back home, I am completely fried. But wait! Maybe I still have to post class notes or homework solutions! Or finish up service paperwork! On the weekends, I grade exams, do more editorial work, try to catch up on reviews of stuff, try to get a couple of hours uninterrupted so I can revise and resubmit some papers, and everyone ^&$#E(%&$ wants everything done yesterday.

Are you feeling bleurgh, too, blogosphere?

Trekking Classics

Today was nuts. Many meetings for service and mentoring, family obligations, people just generally needing stuff…

Hubs and I had our wills done; today was the ceremonious signing in front of a witness. (For someone whose job has nothing to do with law, I sure know a lot of lawyers. Met a bunch (a big bunch!) through book club and writing.)

I had grand plans for tonight’s blogging, but the brain is fried. Instead, I give you assorted gems from Swear Trek and Classical Studies Memes for Hellenistic Teens:

AND THE ALL-TIME GREATEST:

Almosts

I unofficially measure how busy and pulled in every direction I am by the daily number of almosts.

Here is an example: I get an email from a student, decide what I will write back, maybe even draft it, then get pulled away by another email, or one of my kids needing something, or having to cook dinner, or having to go teach my class, and the almost email falls off the radar and never gets sent, because it was almost written and almost sent, and the brain almost considers it done.

Or I finally (finally!) set aside a few hours to work on the revision of a paper, and maybe I get to do that for a bit, but then I get called away by a service task/email/children and, before you know it, my block of time is gone, other urgent stuff has flown in, and it may be days or even weeks before I have another large-enough slot where I can finish the activity.

I like being busy, but I’m also big on “touching things only once” and constant distractions during the semester are my kryptonite.

Not sure where I was going with this, because I almost finished it, then fell asleep in my chair, and now…ugh.

Committee Baby

Sometimes I feel like I grownup. Usually when I achieve something on behalf of my kids or my students.

Other times, I feel like such an infant. This involves being in a position of some authority — chair of a committee, for example. I feel like I am a kid wearing Dad’s shoes. Like someone put me in charge my mistake, and everyone is internally rolling their eyes at my blatant incompetence. It doesn’t help that I find everything humorous and need to work very hard not to crack jokes. Or to crack only one out of every ten jokes I want to crack. The older I am, the goofier I am, and everything seems ridiculous and hilarious. (You should see my creative endeavors. 100% of my poetry turns out silly. Way too much of my fiction, especially the kind that was supposed to be terrifying or earnestly moving, ends up funny.) I can’t help it that people are being very serious about things that seem, to me, to be only molehills made into mountains. But maybe that’s because I am really an infant and don’t realize the gravity of the issues. Or maybe I do, and the gravity is nil, and we are all pretending to be more purposeful and important and engaged than we really are.

Or maybe significant administrative load changes a person. One colleague in an admin post seems positively hurt whenever I suggest we cancel a standing committee meeting because we have no pressing business. But there is always minor, trivial business! The meeting must not be cancelled! You’d think the f*cking pandemic would be a good time to not waste breath on stupid busy work. (Also, how come, regardless of my level of seniority, I am always the only one with young kids? And how come I still have young kids? The kind that goes to school all morning? Where are other people’s kids?)

Another faculty member, who has held several serious admin posts at the university level, basically said that, yes, this obscure document was available to all, in one of the (hundreds of frantic) emails sent by (various leadership or leadership-adjacent bodies of) the university. With a straight face (maybe he really is a master of deadpan the likes of whom the world has never seen) he basically implied that , of course, we have all read the attachment in that email. In reality, I have never in my life read any email sent by said body, let alone opened any attachments. As of a few years ago, I’ve been ignoring a vast majority of emails, because the stream is unbearable. Then the pandemic hit, and all the anxious emailers lost their damn minds and tripled their efforts.

Maybe I am just a baby, unappreciative of the important work done on the committees. Or maybe this goddamn meeting could’ve been an email.

How’s it serving, blogosphere?

Blink-a-thon link-a-thon

You Are Who You Are In Everything You Do


From a review of my proposal submitted to a federal funding agency:

“This proposal envisages using [name of approach], which (to my surprise) has up to now not been used for [specific systems] and which I consider very promising. So this goal on its own is highly original and valuable.”

From the introduction to a collection where one of my stories appeared:

“And in [story title], [xykademiqz’s fiction alias] had fun with the theme by introducing a fantasy figure not normally associated with [holiday]—although there’s such an obvious connection, I’m amazed I haven’t seen this done before.”

I guess my brain has…a personal style?


Shortly after the lockdown in March, I started my “murder-prevention” daily walks. They got me out of the house, away from my lovely but omnipresent family, and out of my increasingly confining house and even more confining head. Until the fall semester, I managed to do my 3 miles every day, some of it walking, some jogging.  Intermittently, I’d have a day or two when I was too busy, or didn’t feel well, or just couldn’t make myself go, but I think for  six months I walked 6 days a week, on average. It did wonders for my sanity and I noticed I was markedly more grumpy on the days when I skipped, which really pushed me not to skip in the future unless I had a really good reason.

Then the semester started and, owing to kids doing online school and me teaching face-to-face in the afternoons after their  school is done, I no longer had the time to go out for almost an hour on teaching days. I told myself that 3 miles a day on nonteaching days and weekends had to be enough, because that’s what I had the time to do; that 4x a week is much better than nothing. I might still do some strength training (with resistance bands or the rowing machine) or have a  shorter walk (~1.5 miles) in the middle of the day on teaching days, but I consider it a bonus, and feel especially virtuous when I squeeze these in.

I used to be a feast-or-famine fiction writer, and while I produced more than most, I felt like I could and should do more. Then I joined this writing group where every two weeks we do hourlong flash sprints. This is a perfect pace for me, it seems. If we did it every week, it would be too often. Biweekly is perfect. At this pace, I generate enough new drafts that I always have something to tinker with, I always have at least half a dozen stories out on submission, and my mindset has changed from one of scarcity (“Every story is my precious! Every story must be submitted to the bitter end! Every comma, every turn of phrase in it must be guarded with my life!”) to one of abundance (“Look at all these stories. There is plenty more where these came from, and my best work is still ahead of me. Maybe this story should be retired; it’s not as strong as a bunch of others I already have out. Maybe this editor has a point; I will remove these commas and these turns of phrase, since these edits do not mean anything grand about me or my abilities, they are just edits to this one story.”)

Why am I talking about this? The other day, Hubby was lamenting not having read as many books over the summer as he’d set out to. There are personality types who are drawn to structure — the more structure, the more calm and relaxed and productive they are, because they feel internally compelled to adhere to said structure. My husband is not like that; he won’t do something just because it’s been scheduled, but he’s not quite like me, either. I am generally a source of chaos and disarray, but I can commit to things as long as I have managed to convince myself they’re really worth doing and the commitment is not too confining. I think these are key, for me. I have to find a comfortable (low) level of structure that doesn’t make me run away screaming. And I may still drop the commitment on occasion. A strength of mine, I think,  is that if I’ve truly convinced myself it’s important and it’s generally pleasant, I will always go back to it, even though my commitment or adherence isn’t perfect. I think what I’m saying is that maybe more people would have better success sticking with things if they committed to less than some platonic ideal, or if they didn’t expect unwavering adherence and perfect participation from themselves. We should all cut our inner slackers some slack.


‘Sup, blogosphere? How’s your Sunday? 

Exhale

All right! The election insanity is over. I am personally thrilled by the outcome, and I assume the same holds for much of the blog’s readership. However, this place has never been about politics and I am not a sophisticated political thinker anyway, so let me just say I hope we can all exhale now, and I hope for a good 2021.

(I personally like Kamala Harris. I also liked Elizabeth Warren and Hilary Clinton. It pains me that women are always much more palatable when they play second fiddle to men. But that battle will likely take more time to win than I have on this planet.)

Back to regularly scheduled academic programming.


I believe we need to teach our students as best we can. To give them all we’ve got.

But not all university teachers do their job well, or care to. For example, I have several colleagues who, while nice people, definitely phone their teaching in.

There are also students who really just want to tunnel through to the degree, with as little effort and as little actual learning as possible. I will never understand this attitude.

And now the college powers that be keep talking how we may never go back to the old “instructional modalities,” how we need to keep offering online classes so the students can complete their degrees on time, from wherever they are. I understand during COVID, but where were these concerns before? What sprouted this sudden need to remotely educate hordes? As usual, when someone is trying to shove something illogical down your throat, it’s because there is money involved. The real reason behind anything shifty is always money.

We have students who just want to get to their degrees. Like those two who signed up for my in-person class (even though there is an online section, too) and never (not once!) showed up for class. What exactly are they getting out of it? We should not be supporting any of this.

But now the administration wants to just funnel bodies through the program, as quickly as possible, as many of them as possible, because each warm shoddily educated body is full tuition, the fact they know nothing be damned; the fact that this will erode the reputation of our institution be damned.

I want us to remain selective and excellent. I don’t want us to become a ridiculous diploma mill, in the name of “increasing revenue.”

God, I hate what is happening to my college so much.


How are you doing today, blogosphere?