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More about Graduate and Teachers’ Assistants

We’ve gotten some doozies come through the graduate program. Among the worst are the Graduate assistants and teachers’ assistants. Really. They’ll write almost anything to make themselves appear to be people who are committed to the betterment of mankind. I don’t know why the committee that chooses these yoyos can’t see through the bullsh*t. One semester we had three older males ( aka nontraditional students) ranging in ages to about 28-40 who professed to have been very closely associated with religious groups at some point in their lives.

One of them revealed in his application to the program that he had been living in South Africa with his parents who were missionaries. He claimed to be fluent in Zulu, the predominant language of that country ( only twenty-two percent of South Africans speak Zulu ). I was a bit doubtful, but I thought, Okay. No big deal. Maybe he does. How would I know?

He also stated that he was fluent in French, having lived a significant portion of his life in France.

Another guy who was about 39-40 years old professed to be a former Franciscan monk, and he took every opportunity to throw in as many obscure facts about the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar, the history of his order and several other orders, and just about anything anyone could NOT converse about into conversations. Apparently, he had earned a prior masters degree in obscurantism from another university. Why he wanted another degree from this diploma mill was beyond everyone who knew about him.

Then we had a guy who was in his thirties who claimed to be an active, ordained minister in a local Christian sect. He wasn’t an evangelical; he wasn’t a fundamentalist snake handler; nobody was quite sure what his faith was because other than the statement that he placed on his application, we knew little about him. In fact, we saw very little of him. He attended to the duties of his contract and nobody ever complained about him. I wondered if perhaps he was a pagan or a Satan worshiper, or a naturist and just didn’t want to call attention to himself. You never know about people.

The preacher’s kid and the former monk showed up at a faculty Christmas party that year. The Preacher’s Kid slowly got loaded to the gills on his own stash of Spaten German beer that he brought with him (surprisingly, not French wine). Also attending the party was a very young undergraduate from South Africa whose English was impeccable. He grew up speaking Zulu. He spoke to the PK in Zulu, and the PK looked like he was going to die. He couldn’t speak a word of Zulu. Later, I overheard one of the grad facs ask the PK about the places he had seen in France. He couldn’t recall more than the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Seine River. He did offer that he was quite taken with the Rhine River.

Uh-huh. The last time that I looked a map of Europe, the  Rhine was in Germany.


Wanted by The Capricious Grading Committee

I cleaned out my mail box in the top corner of the faculty mail room. I don’t know why there’s anything in it. There’s no name on the cubby hole, but it’s stuffed with memos directed to me as well as to the rest of the faculty. Apparently, sometime during the last month, someone filed a complaint against me for unfair grading. There’s a special committee that addresses this specific accusation against a teacher. It’s called The Capricious Grading Committee. For years, I thought that it was a group of faculty members who were elected to do what I have just been accused of doing. How am I supposed to know? I’ve been at this crummy university twenty-five years, but I’ve never been given a faculty handbook.

I’ve never been dragged before the committee, so I am not sure what to expect. It’s a good thing that I haven’t given back any of the final papers yet. It’s late, I know, but there’s really no policy regarding when final term papers are to be returned when they’re due on the date of the last class). I know the student (of course). She complained about the grades on her papers a few weeks ago. She claims that I am an unfair grader. Her proof?

“I get A’s in all of my other teachers’ classes.”

Big whooppee. Maybe her other profs should be dragged before the committee.

The first thing I did was to look at her works cited page. At first glance, it conforms to MLA guidelines.

On second glance, I saw that her indentation was a bit short. Minus one point.

The date of publication of the book is in the wrong place, and there’s a missing period after the date of publication in each of her cited works. I’ll be generous. That’s one point total.

Further inspection reveals that her web sources provide no page numbers, just the abbreviation n. pag.. Most online articles and publications have no page numbers. Fine.

I thought that I might have discovered a flaw in my own method of evaluating a student’s paper (I’ve written about this before) until I checked her online sources. She gives credit to four lines of text from an online publication, but she stole an entire half of a page from the same source and failed to assign credit. Maybe she forgot.

A check of her other online sources reveals that she did it two other times as well. She probably didn’t think I’d check her sources. This little maggot has committed plagiarism.

Further reading revealed a few run-on sentences and improperly indented quotes. I marked them as such (in black ink. Red ink is verboten in this department. Red ink is supposedly traumatizes students).  I re-computed her grade. Two Bs, a C, and an F that counts for twenty-five percent of her grade. It’s not looking good. Someone should evaluate the faculty who wrote her recommendations for her appointment as a TA. She isn’t academic material.

Maybe my system is flawed. Maybe all this time, these crummy little slackers should have been getting lower grades. I need to take a better look at these kids. I saw the tattoo on her ankle and the strange ear piercing that goes through her earlobe and every fold in her ear, then back to her earlobe where it connects to the other end with some sort of industrial fastener. That’s ten points off her final average on Day One.

I wish I had checked my mail sooner. I could have made a copy of this paper and laid it out on the lunch table in the faculty lounge for the rest of the faculty to see during the Christmas party. If they’re giving this first-year graduate student A’s, then perhaps they should take a closer look at the contents of her papers or change their grading methods.

They’re ruining academia.

Rate My Professors. com

There are some professors who are actually scared of that website as if administration really cares what lies (and truths) students tell about their teachers. If a student leaves one negative remark, some teachers leave five good ones to compensate. It’s nutty. Anyone can see through it.

I’m sure that I get frequent negative remarks. I don’t care. I’m tenured, and I seriously doubt that any negative remarks could  trigger a tenure review that would result in my losing tenure and then losing my job. An inquiry would have to be initiated outside the department because the graduate faculty members in universities are like cops: we protect our own. That’s why we turned our heads when a  department chair was appointed despite the fact that his wife was also a professor in the department. There were probably a few remarks about nepotism on the website, but I doubt anyone noticed or cared.

I haven’t looked at the site in years, but others do. Occasionally, I’ll hear someone complain about an unfair remark. Most pretend that they don’t look at their ratings, but I am sure that a lot of them do. Insecurity runs rampant in academia, but only among the competent, so few in this department have cause for insecurity. Our department is probably the worst in the whole state system.



Is Your Professor a Jerk?

Believe it or not, some students confide in me about their other professors. They are effusive about some professors and lecturers. Everyone knows who those professors/lecturers are. Mostly, I hear a lot of grousing about the ones who are stingy with A’s. (The only students who will talk to me on that level are the two or three students that win the lottery and make A’s in my class). Other professors hear the moaning and griping too. (Some gripe about me, I’m sure, but it is rare that they do it to my face). Most want to hear me say something that confirms their opinion that their other professors are  jerks.

I know these people. Some of them have been on the faculty longer than I have. A lot of them are idiots. I freely admit that here. Would I say something bad to anyone in the department about another faculty member? Nope. As far as anyone knows, I believe that everyone is brilliant. As a result, I believe that most faculty members distrust me, especially the not-so-brilliant. They know that they’re dim bulbs on the Christmas Tree of Life. I’m sure they know that it’s all a game.

Then there are the ones who believe that they are shining stars among a universe of black holes. I confirm their sometimes desperate attempts to convince others that they are what they say they are.

Every year, the publishers set up shop in the conference room to hawk their books to teachers. It’s usually just the student teachers who browse the books. One of the graduate faculty publishes a book for writing every three years. Rarely does anyone pick his book to use in his freshman writing class. It’s because the professor is a jerk, and nobody wants his reputation to rub off on him. The guy doesn’t realize that his teaching method and personality hamper his book sales. His photo on the department website doesn’t help him too much either.

When I’m asked how to handle the jerk professors, I tell the student to just drop the course as soon as possible, preferably on Drop Day, the last day on which a student may drop a course before the professor can assign a grade. Most professors don’t give tests or assign papers before then, and for good reason. A lot of them would lose a substantial number of students. Oddly enough, few students drop my course before Drop Day. The ones who wait too late deserve what they get; I give them ample evidence that I’m one of the jerk professors.

Finals Week Is in Full Swing. There Are Lots of Strikes.

It’s that time again. The time of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Some students are late turning in papers. Some don’t turn in papers. Some plagiarize entire papers. Some cheat on tests. Others don’t show up to take the tests.

My favorites are the plagiarists. There are a dozen or so online plagiarism checkers that do a fairly good job of checking for papers taken from the internet. Students whom I suspect of being plagiarists are requested to submit their papers on paper as well as an attachment to an email. (The university does not want teachers to accept attachments because of the possibility of picking up a virus, but I don’t care. Isn’t that what Norton is for?). Students who don’t submit a paper as an attachment to an email automatically fail.

It’s great. All I have to do is copy and paste a few swatches of brilliant writing that is unaccompanied by citation and Bingo! Instant F! It sure beats reading these dreadful papers.

The free plagiarism checkers aren’t perfect, but they do a good enough job so that I still get a nap or two in. Finals week isn’t a total loss.  Back when students actually did research from books, it was much more difficult for them to plagiarize and I had to read a lot more papers. I read that plagiarism is more widespread than actually believed, so maybe next term I’ll require a digitally produced paper. Maybe a CD would be better than an attachment. CDs make great drink coasters.



More on “Awareness” Months

Yesterday, I reflected upon Awareness months. Who in tarnation makes these things up? And why? One month was Gender Awareness Month which coincided with Double Standards Awareness Month. The people who decide what we should be  aware of every month cram a lot of awareness into every month as if we don’t already have enough to distract us. Just how many things is the human mind capable of being aware of simultaneously before it becomes too dangerous for one to even tie his own shoes for fear of awareness oversaturation? Someone should run a study of this pressing social problem.  I’ll ask a former student who took a grant writing class this semester to help me write a proposal, and she and I can embark upon this journey together. Maybe we can tie it in with some sort of survey of gender, writing ability, and white privilege.

I think that the whole Awareness Month thing is about bonding with someone different from oneself. That seems like a good thing.

I can see a small connection between being aware of gender and double standards (separately, of course). Women have to contend with glass ceilings in their careers, and a reported dearth of toilets in football stadiums, concert halls, WalMarts,  and other places of mass gathering. (I’ll overlook the fact that this department is overrun with women, and the fact that the last two department chairs were held by women, and that the head maintenance engineer swears that the faculty women’s bathrooms rival the Taj Mahal itself. I take his word for it. His name is Ravi).

I do remember that month of Gender Awareness and Double Standards month (supposedly two different awarenesses). In a memo, faculty was encouraged to undertake a role or engage in a behavior of the opposite sex. In addition, we were encouraged to be aware that “we” (i.e., men) adhere to a code of double standards.


At the subsequent faculty meeting, we were all asked to tell what we had done to observe Gender Awareness month. It got off to a bad start.

“I horked up an oyster and spit it on the sidewalk,”  Jane, the new young female lecturer volunteered.

“I’m carrying a prophylactic in my purse, ” a Women and Gender Studies professor said.

There was an admission by one professor that she wrote her husband a love letter forgiving him for being a pig, and that –pig or not— she will always love him. To underscore her awareness of the disparity in their genders, she said, she threw her dirty clothes on the floor too.

Then they turned to the male faculty— all nine of us.

“I changed the baby’s diaper last night,” a young male first-year lecturer said meekly.


That doesn’t look like much in type, but when you hear twenty-five or thirty women say it in unison, it’s pretty scary. It seemed planned. I wonder if the women faculty have separate meetings.

Then it was my turn. I really wasn’t ready for the meeting, and I couldn’t think of an appropriate answer, but I gave it a shot.

“I’m wearing my wife’s panty hose,” I said. “My wife complains that they’re uncomfortable and inconvenient, and I must admit that both are legitimate complaints.You women should be awarded medals for what you must bear every day. I can’t imagine what a brassiere would do to my psyche.”

Silence. I think I shocked everyone, but not for long.

“I want to see and touch those panty hose you say you’re wearing,” the department chair (a woman) demanded.

I reminded her that it was also Double Standards Awareness month, and that her request indicated a gross double standard. I reminded her that if I asked to see and touch her panty hose, I’d probably be fired. (Sometimes I amaze myself at how fast I can conjure up things).

When the rest of the men were polled, each one falsely admitted to being a panty hose guy too. After the meeting, they thanked me for saving them. They couldn’t think of anything plausible either. I think they were shaken up by the reaction to Mr. Baby Diaper.

I don’t think that meeting accomplished much in the way of bonding, but It surely elevated my self-esteem. I stood up to the department chair, and I struck a blow for maleness, even if we all said that we wore our wives’ panty hose that month. They had to take our word for it. If that isn’t equality, I don’t know what is.

I just checked the Awareness Month list for June. It’s a short list, but June is (among other things) Scleroderma Awareness Month. I have no idea what scleroderma is, but it sounds like it oozes and is highly contagious. I think I’ll get another cup of coffee, walk to my office and lock the door. I may even cancel classes for the rest of the term. The students are all getting C’s whether they learn anything or not.

Besides, they should stay home if they have scleroderma.

May Was Personal History Awareness Month, And I Missed It

Would I lie about something like that? (Hey, Google it, dammit. It WAS!) It’s important to be aware of one’s personal history. I try to be aware of my personal history as often as possible. Unfortunately, I forgot all about it last month. I was too busy throwing away all of the term papers I didn’t read and entering final grades into the system. I guess you could say that I spent a lot of my time in the first week of May creating personal history for my students.

Enough about their personal history. I’ve got my own personal history, and I have a lot of it. Ask my wife. Worse, ask my mother. She’s eighty-five years old and every time I visit, she can’t remember my name. She doesn’t confuse me with any of my three brothers (or my sister, thank God). Oh no. She beckons me with a reminder of my personal history. The whole family was gathered for Easter dinner a few years ago ,and my mother wanted my attention.

“You. The one who broke the Tiffany lamp back in 1964! Could you stop talking and pass the roast beef that you hacked to pieces?” (Here we go. Another entry onto the ledger of my life of crime). She hasn’t used that one for awhile. She saves the Tiffany Lamp Incident  for special occasions. I should quit trying to set the record straight about that one. Any response just raises more questions.

—Mom, how many times do I have to tell you? Ralphie (my older brother) was beating me with Fletcher (our cat) and I was getting my eyes clawed out. It was me or the lamp!

“Ralphie wasn’t even there at the time, were you, sweetheart?”

My brother Ralph has a clean blotter. The firstborn of our family has never done anything wrong, and at middle age, he still won’t ‘fess up to the Tiffany Lamp Incident. If you believe my mother, his personal history reads like the Lives of the Saints.

“I was with you, Mom,” Ralph said.

I let it go. We’re all grown up now.

I’m surprised that nobody mentioned Personal History Month during the last faculty meeting. There’s always some sort awareness week.

Maybe everyone else was too busy throwing away unread student papers and making up students’ personal history too. My colleagues criticize me for acting detached. Maybe it’s true. Next May, I’ll remind everyone of Personal History Awareness Month in a departmental memorandum and urge everyone to disclose something very personal about himself at the next faculty meeting.

Wow. I’ve got something to look forward to now.

Post script: As I look on the list of notable things on the list, I see that May was also Self-Discovery Month. What in Hades is that? Was I supposed to have spent a month looking for myself? I guess it’s sort of like twenty-five years ago when we were all urged to get in touch with our “inner child”. I was really bummed out when I found out that he had left the country and was last seen building sand castles on a beach on Tahiti.