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Fall Semester Burnout Already?

It’s going to be a long semester. Classes started three weeks ago. My Lord Byron Class is going well except for one thing: the Bible thumpers are on campus. They’re ministers from a local Fundamentalist church. The students either walk past them or they engage them in debate. I heard one of my students yell:

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There are four questions of value in life. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.

This got the thumper going.

— Yay-Yus. Jaysus loves you, Yes he does. Now there’s a man who knows his Bible.

“That’s from Lord Byron. He *beeped*his sister.”

— Abomination! Abomination! Satan’s Spawn Thou Art! There is but one Lord, and his name is Jay-sus, not Brian.

It was turning ugly, so I walked on.

It’s sort of strange that a few years ago, some free speech advocates were denied access to the campus, just like the Conceal and Carry gun nuts were. I can see why the C&C people were told to leave. They’d probably shoot the Bible thumpers, one of the few sources of entertainment this campus offers. The free speech advocates? Lord knows why they were chased off campus.

The Neutral Gender Housing proposal was shot down during the summer. I’m surprised. We talked about that in the Lord Byron class. One girl said, “I’d pretend to swing the other way and grow a beard and my boyfriend would be happy to wear one of my brassieres if we could share a dormitory room.”

Now I know why the Neutral Housing proposal was shot down. My college years are coming back to me; where there’s a will, there’s ALWAYS a way.

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GOOD GOD! Lord Byron! I was just joking!

I just left the first faculty meeting of the new school year. Five or six months ago, I turned in a joke proposal for this semester’s literature class centered around the perversions of Lord Byron. I’ve submitted it before, and every time, the department chair guffawed and passed on it. I have never been serious about teaching such a class because my university is located in the Bible Belt (as opposed to other American regions such as the Rust Belt, the Borscht Belt, the Jello Belt, and the Sun Belt, among others), and I always expected someone to complain. (I admit that I allowed one of my literature classes to dwell on Byron until the end of the term solely because he was the only author who appealed to everybody. Well, okay, they liked to talk about his life more than his poetry. There were rousing student orations for and against the Good Lord).

Not this semester. We have a new Department Chair who hails from another state and whose Significant Other (the terms “husband” and “wife” are temporarily banned pending state legislation pertaining to gay marriage) is NOT a faculty member and who seems not to be one of those in-bred blue-bloods from an overly-expensive and undeservedly prestigious eastern university. Somehow, my Lord Byron proposal  found its way to her desk when the department came up short on its list of Comparative Literature classes. I’m having difficulty figuring out how my proposal could possibly fit the bill as Comp. Lit unless the Literature and Life of the Good Lord Byron fall into Cultural Studies or Gender Studies. In the classical sense, I am not qualified to teach Comp. Lit because I haven’t done much translation, and I’m not terribly familiar with literature from outside the English Speaking World. Many years ago, I taught a class on German Dadaist literature back when people still remembered the Beatles singing “Revolution” and the memory of burned draft cards still hung in the air. I introduced students poetry by Emmy Hennings, Johannes Becher, and other German writers and poets of the Dada Movement. That’s it.

When the Department Chair handed out the “finalized” list of courses to be offered this semester (for the benefit of the entire faculty, not to announce approval of the course. Approval was granted or denied months ago) I was  a bit surprised when I saw “The Life and Loves of Lord Byron: Beyond Polymorphous Perversion.” It caused an even greater stir among the Politically and Morally (but not Literally) Correct faculty, and the Professionally Gay professor was visibly miffed because he had planned (I imagine) a similar course that was rejected.

It is times such as this that I am quite thankful that I have made no enemies among the graduate faculty. (Forget the lecturers. The department changes lecturers more often than some faculty members change their underwear). I’ve gone to great lengths to maintain a low profile most of the time, so the bible thumpers among the faculty have nothing to complain about when my name comes up.

This course may just be the ticket for them. I have two more years before I retire. I just hope I make it.

College Students: You Deserve It (That’s What Your Parents Told You, Right?)

I’ll never understand why universities can’t sign an enrollment contract stating that tuition will not increase for a student as long as he is in school and will graduate within 4-5 years. It’s an insane proposition to enroll in a university and agree to pay one tuition rate one year, then be expected to pay a higher tuition the next year and possibly and even higher rate until he graduates. Worse, government loans won’t be nailed to to a flat rate, so the student gets hit with a double whammy: increased interest on a student loan on an increase in tuition.

On the other hand, I read about Harvard graduates who end up with insane college loans upon graduation, then expect the government to bail them out. If the government forgives these Ivy League loans, then the student should be required to relinquish his degree and anything that bears witness to his having attended the school.

Why? Because you know darned well that as soon as the economy picks up, they’ll head to their respective jobs as investment bankers, neurosurgeons, and company CEO’s and begin to recoup that loan money. If their loans are forgiven, then I should be reimbursed for the bucks that my parents shelled out many years ago— with compounded interest.

 It’s a good possibility that student loans will be forgiven to some degree. That’s why I encourage every college-bound hopeful to apply to the most prestigious, expensive school he can get into, apply for loans (to live on and to pay for that new Audi) and scholarships (to pay for tuition), then whine and cry that he can’t pay back the loan. This is what the current generation expects.The current college-age generation has grown up to feel entitled, guilt-free, responsibility-free, and deserving of everything without working for it.

Princes and Princesses: take advantage of it. Your parents have bent over backwards to make you feel as though the world is your oyster and you are its pearl. Your narcissistic complexes will eventually bring every employer to his knees to beg you to put in at least part of your forty-hour week.

But you won’t be expected to. Your parents will write a note for you excusing you from going to work for having attended your eighth summer break in Destin, Florida or Aruba since you graduated from college.

 

Working Your Way Through College

It just doesn’t happen anymore, at least not for full-time students, and certainly not for undergraduate students unless they attend school part-time, enroll in 1-2 classes per week and take about ten years to finish their BA degrees (provided, of course that their college or university allows them to take that long. Many universities have time limits). By that time, their work experience as a produce technician at their local grocery store has pretty much relegated them to the shipping department of life.

What they mean to say is that they worked while they were in college. There’s a big difference. Those who study for a masters degree are in a much better position to work for a living and go to school. They’re older, and their BA’s qualify them for jobs that pay more than minimum wage. I have grave reservations about those who complete a 36+ hour masters degree in two years while supposedly working a full time job. I do admire those who study for a Ph.D while working at all. Many of the faculty here worked part-time jobs and full-time jobs while studying for that sheep skin. My hats are off to them. It took them six years to accomplish that.

I admit it. I didn’t work my way through college. I didn’t even work during the summers when I didn’t take classes. My education was paid for by my parents. Plain and simple. There’s a guy in our department who swears by the story that his parents were share croppers, and he had to work on the farm during the day and attend school during the day when he could slip away, and at night when the land owners weren’t looking. He makes his life sound like scenes out of “Cool Hand Luke”.

This department (and others in the Humanities) rail against “The White Privilege” and many profs do their best to make students feel guilty for having grown up white. To compensate, the profs make up stories about how poor they were when they were growing up, and if it hadn’t been for  a scholarship that rewarded their intellectual brilliance, they’d have been doomed.

Right.Sure.

Why won’t they just come right out and admit that they grew up in an affluent home?

UProf Doesn’t Need To Be Liked, Though It’s Nice. More Outrageous Behind-the Scenes Drama in a University Department

Really. I have no need to be liked by my students. When teacher evaluations come around, I don’t get worked up. I don’t even think about evaluations until the end of the term and my grades have been submitted. I look at the numbers, but I don’t give them much thought. Sometimes, I get high ratings. Sometimes, the numbers aren’t exactly stellar. Some other faculty wait until the evaluations are submitted 3/4 of the way through the semester to give a challenging test or assignment which usually allows them to negate a lot of those high grades that they have assigned to papers earlier in the term.

Most of my colleagues actually assign a short idiotic writing assignment on the first day of class which they never return to the student. They’re usually in-class assignments asking the student to tell the teacher something about himself. The student gives the information, then forgets about it. Students don’t realize that these serve two purposes. “Nontraditional” students usually give information about present jobs, past degrees, personal interests, and other personal data which either qualifies or disqualifies them as informed, educated intimidators or nobodies like the rest of the students (at least, in the minds of some of my colleagues).

Most of my colleagues (myself included) assign in-class writing on the first day to find out about the students’ writing ability and to get a little insight into the individuals. Once, I had a nontraditional student in my class who was pursuing a degree in American literature after having completed medical school and set up her own medical practice. She said that she took night courses in literature to preserve her sanity. I respected that, and I respected her different interpretations of assigned literature largely because they weren’t the usual tripe churned out by professional critics. Unlike so many highly educated academicians who had never worked a real job in their lives, this student had actually been out there doing things for twenty years or more. It isn’t often that I feel humbled by a student, but I was. Having her in class was an absolute joy. I was glad that I knew that she was an M.D. ahead of time so that I could give her the space that she deserved.

A lot of profs feel uncomfortable with the nontraditional students because sometimes they are more motivated than the younger students, and they fear that he’ll give the prof a bad evaluation. Worse, some profs feel that the nontraditional student may offer a mature opinion of his own about the assignment and may actually be able to back up his opinion with personal experience or (worse) a recognized academician’s published criticism that the prof was unaware of. That happens sometimes. I love it when someone springs something new on me.

Another use to which some profs put in-class written assignments is sinister: the assignment is used as a handwriting sample to identify students who give low evaluations AND have the temerity to qualify their boiler plate fill-in-the-bubble form ratings with an actual handwritten explanation. This information is telegraphed through the faculty grapevine, and the student is branded. Apparently, some students are aware of this tactic. One member of the faculty was actually angry over the “dishonesty” of a couple of students who slanted their handwriting on the first in-class writing assignment to make it appear as though they were left-handed. None of the anonymous evaluations which bore a written comment matched any of the first-day handwriting samples. Each evaluation form required the student to fill in the heading on the anonymous evaluation with the name and number of the course as well as the name of the teacher. None of that information matched the handwriting samples either.

One prof taught classes that were offered to both graduate students and underclassmen. Though he was supposed to leave the class as soon as the evaluation collector (usually a graduate student) entered the class at the assigned time, he’d remain in the class to instruct the students to enter a class code that indicated whether the student was an underclassman or a graduate student. Considering the fact that his classes are usually comprised of fewer than twelve students, it made it much easier for him to determine who gave him a poor evaluation. (God help the student who gave him a bad evaluation. He was toast for the rest of the time that he spent at the university— or for the rest of the classes that he took in the department). He should have been strung by his heels by an ethics committee, but he’s never been caught.

One of the nice things about tenure is that the grad faculty don’t have to worry too much about evaluations, though some actually fear them and do their utmost to keep students happy by inflating grades paper after paper, semester after semester, and year after year to avoid receiving many student evaluations that the department chair will see. While a prof may undergo tenure review and the student ratings may be used against him when it is felt that it’s time to thin the herd, I really don’t spend too much worrying about it. I do what I have to do to keep the university happy, and my student “approval ratings” (that’s what they are) have remained pretty steady through the years. Luckily, nobody in the administration pays much attention to the freshman whiners. Otherwise, I’d have been thrown out years ago. Actually, everyone’s freshman reviews have gotten steadily worse through the years. Some find this alarming. I view it as a sign of the times: little Halle and young Zander (whatever happened to traditional names?) expect a nice reward for the least effort.  Somebody has forgotten to tell these kids that a grade is an assessment, not a reward.

(I won’t get started on grading vs rewarding. I’ll save that for another entry, along with tenure review).

But again, I feel no need to be liked by my students, though it is nice. My job is to teach, not to boost my popularity among students or faculty. If I ever do engage in anything to boost my popularity, it is unconscious, and it is certainly not an effort to boost my popularity among my colleagues. I know too much about them to want to be liked by many of them.

I’ve got a 101 class this summer, and as far as I can tell, few of them have read anything or written anything since they were in fourth grade. I don’t receive papers from these kids. I receive Twitters.

More on that later.

UProf Says: Don’t Be a Wimp. Feel Free to Check “Don’t Like”. Besides, June Is Migraine Awareness Month.

Don’t be afraid to check “don’t like” after you read my posts. I like honesty because I’m an honest sort of guy myself. I’ve been telling students that I don’t like their work for years, so it isn’t going to tear me up if I get several (or dozens) of “Don’t Likes”. Don’t be a wimp. I’ve received messages from students telling me that they know who I am and threatening to “out” me for the things I write here. Nobody in administration has said anything to me yet, and I doubt anyone ever will, even though it may be widely known who I am. I’m tenured. Go ahead. “Don’t Like” me.

That said…

News continues to get worse and worse: global warming issues; fracking; offshore drilling, and beached dead animals that no one can identify. The list is longer than the list of students I’ve awarded failing grades to through the years.

Now there’s another environmental concern: deer pee. Someone did a study and found that in some areas of the United States, deer are responsible for the dwindling supply of hemlock, the deer’s own food staple. Their urine contributes to nitrogen in the ground, something which the hemlock doesn’t like. As a result, other plants take over, plants which the deer don’t like. I suppose this is a headache brought on by the deer themselves. I can’t blame them. What do deer know about chemistry and botany anyway?

This news comes on the announcement of National Migraine Awareness Month, as if one might not be aware that he has a headache.

And all of this comes on the heels of a departmental headache right here at UProf’s university. Our department’s secretary somehow got students’ grades to the registrar’s office mixed up. This resulted in a flurry of phone calls and emails to a lot of professors and lecturers. I suspected that something was wrong when I got several emails (and voice mails) from students thanking me for my generous grade. While I myself believe that my grading is quite generous, only those who take issue with their grades and watch me tear their papers apart word-by-word actually know how generous I really am. The rest are just  mice leading lives of quiet desperation.(Thank you, Henry David Thoreau).

I decided to stay out of the flap and not acknowledge the emails or voice mails. I figured that our incredibly incompetent department secretary would hear about it from someone else. (She’s got another title, but I don’t know what it is, but since she does what she does, she’s just a secretary).

It isn’t as if she’s new to her job. It certainly is NOT that it is the first time that she has made such a mistake. A couple of years ago, she made major entry mistakes in the department chair’s students’ grades, which required her to reply to those who received A’s when they really deserved B’s. (I may be the only prof who has the guts to award a grade below a B. If you aren’t aware of my grading system, check out my last blog entry).

That one incident should have put her on the radar, but no. This recent goof merited some sort of talk, but nothing happened. After ten years, she still hasn’t figured out that I don’t have a cubby hole for mail (not that I care, but the fact that she hasn’t figured it out should tell you something).

I’m not teaching classes this summer, but I was in my office anyway to get away from the house. I heard one of the other profs asking the chair why this woman still has her job. He went on to enumerate a lot of other recent snafus this woman has committed just this year.

The answer? She’s a single mother. She REALLY needs her job. (I REALLY need my job too, but if I don’t do what is expected of me, I could lose my job).

I remembered that from when she was first hired. I walked to her desk to look at the photo of her kids and to see if more personal liabilities had been added to her family portrait.

Nope. She’s got the same photo of her with her ten year-old, her twelve year old and her fourteen year-old kids. Her kids are grown! Add ten years to their ages and it becomes very clear that she is NOT exactly desperate. At least two of those kids should be on their own by now.

This seems to happen in workplaces other than university departments. Managers love to hire single mothers because they are supposedly “more dependable.” More dependable than who or what? Through the years, our “more dependable” secretary has taken sick days at critical times when she was needed more times than I can count.

What can one do or say other than “Deer pee”?

 

UProf: Got a Tattoo or weird piercing? Have a Bad Attitude? Can’t Spell?

I’m getting better at grading papers after all these years. Wait. I’m getting better at grading in general. Only three students challenged their grades. Almost every paper in all three of my classes were awarded C’s (or lower). Since I don’t make corrections, and my handwriting is illegible, most students have no idea why they receive the grades that they receive. They can only guess, and I guess that they guess correctly because few students appeal their grades.

This is my Grading System and General Evaluation Rubric:

Got a tattoo or piercing somewhere other than your ear?   You lose ten points right off the top. (I can’t legally take off points for the tattoo or the piercing, but both are indicators that something is lacking in the student. A close examination of the paper always proves my point.

Bad attitude   You lose five points off the final grade. (Again, I can’t take off points for the attitude, but read on).

Have a bad attitude and come to class every day? Another ten points off. If you have a bad attitude, I really don’t want you to come to class.

If someone contests his grade, these are the areas in which he is officially graded:

No thesis statement/poorly defined thesis statement   Ten points off

Infrequent attendance  Ten Points off the final grade point average. Most students who have a bad attitude don’t come to class anyway, so they get docked only five points for the attitude, but they lose ten points for poor attendance.

Comma splice or run-on sentence Five points per occurrence.

Improper citation  If I catch it, it’s five points per occurrence.

Grammatical error One point per occurrence. Again, I just don’t have time to correct the language of these nitwits’ papers, so I don’t usually catch the errors unless someone contests his grade.

Improperly formatted works cited page   If I catch the errors, it’s twenty points off. I don’t bother to keep up with the finer points of citation, so as long as I am given the name of the author, the name of the source, page number and date of publication (in any order) I’m okay with it. If I were to actually go through each paper and check for every mistake, I’d have to spend hours on each paper. I know some profs who actually measure the letter spaces in the indentations (or measure to see if it’s a full half-inch. I can’t remember which standard is in vogue, and I don’t care).

Incorrect punctuation          Two points per occurrence. I don’t make a big deal about punctuation because it creates too much work for me to explain it. Most of the time, if a sentence is punctuated incorrectly, there are other problems with the sentence.

Misspelled words    One point per occurrence.

That’s where these dummies with bad attitudes and tattoos and weird piercings went wrong. They should have accepted their C’s and called it quits.When I went over their papers with them, it was discovered that each one had lost much more than twenty points from not coming to class, incorrect (or no) citations, poor grammar, and poor spelling.  When I corrected their papers in front of them, They were aghast to see how bad their writing is. Each one reversed his decision to appeal his final grade.

The three students who contested their grades knew about my rules for attendance, grammar punctuation, citations, etc., so they shouldn’t have been surprised at their even lower grades after I actually read and checked for errors.