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Want to Be a Graduate Assistant?

April 26, 2013

The semester is almost over. Thank God. Some of my students are as dumb as a box of anvils. At yesterday’s faculty meeting, the prof who teaches writing theory took the stand to criticize the department for not making students “part of the electric, eclectic, and electronic arena of society, language, voice, culture, and global awareness” and a few other things I don’t remember. This guy is known among English majors as Dr. Death. I’m not sure if it’s because he has a tendency to upset students with his heavy-handed grading (that ruins their GPA’s) or if it’s because students fear that he will bore them to death.

I’d have asked if we were to make freshmen writing students “part of the electric, eclectic, and electronic arena of society, language, voice, culture, and global awareness” when most don’t even know the difference between a comma and a coma, but by the time he finished the third sentence of his diatribe, I was busy texting another grad fac sitting across the table from me an answer to her question if she thought that the former department chair was having an affair with one of her students.

My answer: “IDK”. I don’t write anything that might come back to haunt me.

When the noise stopped coming out of Dr. Death’s mouth, there was a discussion of who gets an assistantship. One student had a perfect 4.0 average, and is well-liked by his classmates. The problem is that some of the grad faculty think the kid is an @sshole, despite the fact that throughout his time spent at our campus, he has engaged in (and led) numerous community service projects, and was (generally) liked by faculty who are no longer teaching for this university. Though over a third of the graduate faculty never even met him, the common consensus was that we didn’t need any @ssholes student-teaching in our department. (It is ironic that if the same criterion were used for retaining existing department faculty members, half of them would be dropped in a heartbeat, provided that anyone could arrive at any consensus. Most of us hate each other anyway). We have an official committee to determine who is awarded an assistantship or a scholarship (or both), but the matter is really passed before all graduate faculty. Everyone has an opportunity to stick a fork in him before official decisions are made.

I like the kid. He’s probably better educated than most of the Ph.Ds around here.

Then the question of faculty recommendations came up. Some students complained to the department that professors who promised to write recommendations didn’t write them in time for submission deadline. That is a problem. There’s no good reason why a professor can’t take ten minutes of his time to write a letter. Wait. There are several good reasons. We could be writing the promised recommendations instead of attending these stupid faculty and committee meetings. It’s bad enough that the afternoon meetings cut into my nap time.

Some professors just submit blank university stationary in a university envelope, then send it to the student who, in turn, submits the letter along with two other recommendations and all of the other documents required for application. The blank piece of paper constitutes, well, a blank piece of paper. Nobody knows who gave it to the student, and if a student raises hell, there’s no evidence of a third letter of recommendation. He’s just told to reapply next year or get another recommendation so that he’ll be put in line in case one applicant dies during the summer or is accepted to a better school before the fall semester begins.

We’ve got one prof who actually volunteers to write a letters for students whom she dislikes, then pulls the blank piece of paper stunt. A few years ago, one student got suspicious and submitted a fourth letter of recommendation and threw hers out. When his application was passed among the committee, the prof raised hell that the kid’s application had three glowing recommendations. After that, she tried to get the department to mandate that all letters of recommendation be submitted in heavier paper envelopes. Of course, that would be impossible because all envelopes used by the university would have to be changed. Something like that is nearly impossible to implement in a lumbering organization like a university. It was decided years ago that no recommendation would be sent directly to the graduate program because then it would be known who screwed the student over. Ever since that little incident, it was mandated that all letters of recommendation contain a second (or third) blank page so that a smart@ss student couldn’t hold it up to the light to see if anything was written within. We now know who the volunteer recommendation writer is. Her “recommendations” are not two, but three blank pieces of paper.

To my surprise, there was an application and three recommendations for the student that is suspected of having an affair with the former department chair (who is a woman). He’s a really bright kid. I heartily endorsed him and made the mistake of commenting that he was dating last year’s valedictorian. The former department chair didn’t like that news too much. I don’t think he’ll be approved for a scholarship or an assistantship. His application will probably get lost before the official committee makes its decisions.

It’s almost nap time.

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