Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hitting the ground running

It's going to be a busy semester. Two of my classes are 100% full (as in: there is no where else in the room for someone to sit), the third is close to 100% full. I have something like 8 Readings students. And I have two graduate students. The first one just began her research but she's very independent so I can just unlock the room for her and let her work - she has done all the necessary reading and has the experimental design figured out.

And I have an undergrad research student. I have mixed feelings about this one; this person can be EXTREMELY demanding, and yet at the same time they are very enthusiastic. And I think this person realizes that they sometimes make life difficult for the profs; this person has prefaced coming in to see me with "Sorry, I'm here to make your life difficult again" or something similar.

And we're waiting for some shoes to drop. First, the FEMA certification thing - are we doing it as an online training, or, as I've read some of the information, are we going to have to block out time when we can go and sit in a room and be talked at and then do a simulation? And are we going to be asked to cancel classes, or give up a weekend for it?

There's also the budget issue. I am working without teaching assistants this semester. A lot of us are. Some people are lucky enough to have students that "owe" them (because the prof in question got the student an internship, or the student is doing paid research with them) that they can get a few volunteer hours out of. We've also been told that we may run out of copying budget. (If that happens? I will just drive to the nearest Kinko's when it comes finals time and copy my finals on my own damn dime. I'm not going to go to "project the question on the screen and make everyone take blue book tests" situation). And that we may see another 8-10% budget reduction.

Although that sounds grim, it could be a lot worse. For one thing, we are a very collegial department and we're willing to share the sacrifices that need to be made - people were saying stuff at the meeting like, "I know you really need a TA for that lab; I can make do without having a grader this term" and things along those lines. If we were a turf-battle-y sort of department it would be a lot more difficult to deal with but everyone seems to have the attitude of "This sucks, but we all have to deal with the suck so let's do what we can to make it seem to suck less."

And so far, there's been no rumor of pay cuts or "furlough days." (I'm not sure how that even WORKS if you are a people, yeah, I could see custodians not coming in certain days, but if you're a prof - you can't very well cancel classes. And you have a set amount of work to do and no one really gives a flip if you complete it all in one big miserable frantic day, or spread out over a couple of days. And I tend to prefer taking my time on stuff. So I suspect for many profs a "furlough day" would be a de facto short-term pay cut, because we wouldn't work LESS.)

And, of course, on a global scale, it could all be worse. What's going on in Haiti is sad, and hearing the politicization of tragedy is sad. I've done what I can do: sent a donation to a reputable organization that has a long-term track record of helping in these situations, and then tried not to get too caught up in the grief-wank that the news is trying to generate. Yes, it's sad. And it's tragic if someone you care about is there and you don't know how they are. But - there seems to me to be something vaguely distasteful and exploitative about news anchors sticking microphones in the faces of Haitian ex-pats who have gone to church to pray for their friends and family members back home, and ask them how it feels to be waiting without any word. (I always wish someone would spit at the news person and say, "How the hell do you THINK it feels?" as they push past them.)

I will say I've seen an awful lot of kindness done by people who want to help. By and large, Americans (the only group I really have experience with, but I expect other nationalities are the same) are decent people who care, and who care even about people they've never met. And that often they will give even when it means that they have to rebudget and do without some things they might want or even need. That's one of the beautiful things about this country - that we are really not selfish, regardless of what some may claim.

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