Monday, February 28, 2011

Stuff, meet fan

Well, something that was decided in the fall (and which I can't talk about too much, even in relative anonymity here) has happened.

We've all been told DO NOT DISCUSS WITH PERSON. So I've already practiced saying "I'm not at liberty to discuss it" (A phrase I hate, but must use, in this case).

Right now no one else is around, least of all the person I'm not supposed to discuss with. I hope that when they do come in they (a) realize this is how these things work and (b) don't try to approach me.

I hate conflict. Hopefully there will not be flounce-age or anger. I don't know.

It stinks that so often doing what is the right thing winds up with people angry.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring comes to campus

It's warmed up here a lot since the ice storm of a couple weeks ago. I had to drop something off in an office on the main campus (my building is ~1/2 mile from main campus) and I decided just to walk it, because parking on main campus is a nightmare, and it was also a nice day. And because I like walking, I like getting out to be able to clear my head and be alone for a few minutes.

It was early afternoon - most of the students NOT in the sciences don't seem to have afternoon classes, there weren't that many people around.

There were, however, some folks over where there are batting cages set up. I don't know if it was the baseball team, the softball team, some intramural people, or just students out having fun. I could hear the crack of bats and balls being hit.

And someone turned on a boom box. And it was playing "We Will Rock You."

And I had to smile: there are some bands that are just perennial on college campuses. Queen is one (and they could do a LOT worse than choosing Queen as a "perennial" campus band, I think). I remember people playing Queen 20 years ago when I was in college. Heck, I think I remember hearing it some spring day as a kid when I went down to my dad's campus with him for something (And that would have been back when Queen was kind of in its first run).

I said once before one of the things I like about being on a college campus is that some of the good things don't go away, some of the good things don't change: like spring days, going out and hitting a ball around with your friends, and playing music.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The personal should not be political

One of the things I kind of hate about internet forums (and about the way our society is right now in general) is that (for example) if you happen to mention you shop at wal-mart, you immediately have to note that (a) it is the only large grocery store in the town where you live and (b) the other option for groceries is driving an hour's round trip, to avoid some people calling you ugly names.

(And even at that...there will be people who will tell you to suck it up, do the hour's round trip once a month and...I don't know, not have fresh vegetables for three weeks out of the month?)

I grow very weary of how every stupid little choice we make becomes fodder for people to examine, discuss, and criticize. I suspect it's related to the whole zero-tolerance thing, the whole "everything is equal" ideology: "If it's OK for people to criticize someone for torturing puppies, it's OK for me to criticize you for shopping at a store owned by a corporation I happen to disagree with."

(It occurs to me that this is what people always used to complain about when it came to living in a small town. But often then the things people gossiped and judged about at least had more of an arguably moral basis, like who was having affairs with whom.)

This is even considered OK by some in government; the whole "shake your finger at the kids until they stand up and start exercising frantically." The whole "We want you to eat less salt, because we think that's best for you" mentality.

Just leave me the (expletive deleted) alone. I'm a freaking adult; I can make my own choices and deal with the consequences of those choices.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Budget accounting

I've been watching the mess in Wisconsin with dismay. I want to yell at the teachers, "YOUR STATE IS BROKE, WHAT DO YOU THINK ANYONE CAN DO???"

I don't know. My parents live in Illinois, which is now the home of the multi-tens-of-percents (I've heard calculations ranging from 67% to 90%) increase in state income taxes to deal with similar issues. (And I would not be at ALL surprised if my dad saw his state teacher's pension reduced, or health benefits from it cut, or something).

(I think the Wisconsin governor should maybe lay it out on the table: "Okay, citizens, here is the problem. We are $X million dollars in the hole. We can fix this in one of several ways: First, we could ask state employees to kick in something every month for healthcare and pensions. Second, we could raise EVERYONE'S state income tax (or state sales tax) enough to make up the shortfall. Or, we could just cut the social safety net to the tune of what we're missing. You choose."

I suspect that even many of the unhappy state employees would choose the first option. And you know, if that were happening in my state, that's what I'd choose. (I am, technically, a state employee, though THANK THE GOOD GOD not a unionized one. I had enough "union" experience as a TA on a unionized campus (and even more: a campus where you were automatically in the union, no choice). )

I see it as being like the family sitting around the dinner table: "Okay, so Mom got laid off of her job. We need to cut back so we can keep the house and continue to pay for the essentials. We are going to have to drop having cable TV, stop going out to eat except on VERY special occasions, and rely more on store brands and generics for our food budget."

I lived - as a child - through the 1970s. An era of inflation and high gas prices. I remember we went without certain things - fancy vacations, meals out at restaurants (it was a rare treat, like for someone's birthday). I was expected to change out of my 'school shoes' when I got home at the end of the day to save them.

You just do it. Sometimes it's unpleasant, sometimes it means giving up some nice things, but you do it because you have to.

If it came down to me having to contribute $200 or $300 more a month towards pension and healthcare (I think that's the figure I heard quoted for Wisconsin), I could do it. I'd probably have to cut back on my voluntary contributions to a 357B plan I have, and I'd probably have to cut back on purchases (and maybe even on charitable giving, though I would consider that a last resort), but I could do it. I wouldn't be HAPPY about it, and I'd hope the sacrifice was being shared by, oh, I don't know, the coaches and the administrators and others, but I'd do it. I'd not march on the state capitol and cancel my classes and stuff. Because I've seen how much budget cutting we've done ALREADY...and I realize that if much more comes, it probably will hit benefits and salaries.

I may be alone in my grudging acceptance of that, if it comes, which means things could get ugly...I can see how some teachers, if they chose not to march, would be kind of shunned by their peers who did. Because that's just how politics and human nature are.

Another thing: Is it my imagination or does there seem to be a distinct shortage of grown-up talk in all the rhetoric surrounding the Wisconsin budget? Or for that matter, the federal budget? It seems like there's a lot of vilification and a lot of finger-pointing and very little acceptance that there ARE going to need to be sacrifices made somehow. To me, the hallmark of being an adult is realizing that tough choices have to be made, trying to make the wisest one possible, and not complaining excessively about it...because there's nothing you can do about it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Interesting observations

We had a little discussion in lab today about laptops in class. Most of my students in this class are pretty serious, pretty driven. A lot of them seemed to think laptops in class were a bad person talked about how the person next to her in one large class annoyed her, because this person would play around on Facebook and have the sound notifications (I guess it makes a sound when someone sends you a message or something? I so do not do Facebook) on.

I don't have any laptop folks this semester, which is good. I'm very conflicted about it. On one hand - I have had a few serious students, a couple with learning disabilities, who used laptops - and they used them solely to take notes. On the other hand, I've had a few students in one of my class that I suspected were playing around on websites (we have on-campus wireless internet. And even if we didn't, enough people seem willing to shell out the bucks for one of those cards that gives them wireless through their cell phone plan). I tended to let it slide and not say anything...because people who mess around in my classes and don't pay attention tend to earn poor grades anyway.

But...I was at some meetings where a bunch of people had laptops open, I was in the back of the room, and even though the talk being given was very interesting and an important topic, the shiny screens were distracting and unpleasant. (I know some faculty have back-of-the-room-only rules for laptops, and I think I'd probably suggest that if I had people bringing them. Though the back of the room...well, I don't know if you've seen the Spongebob Squarepants episode where Patrick went to boating school with Spongebob for a day, and they were talking in class, and Mrs. Puff send Spongebob to the back of the room...and he got all freaked out and scared because the back of the room IS a different's a lot harder to pay attention and it's often where the less-motivated hang out).

Another interesting observation: most of these folks are medical sciences people. People who have taken multiple anatomy courses, including ones where they actually work with human cadavers. And today, we were working with live crickets. And that freaked a few of the people out, and they couldn't bring themselves to touch the crickets. I always laugh a little bit about it (in a good-natured way), and try to goad the people along ("You touched a DEAD PERSON'S SPLEEN and you're bugged by a little cricket?") but I do let the people who are genuinely distressed (I guess some people really are) be less involved with that part. But it does always surprise me what things bother some people.

I don't know. With a few exceptions I'm pretty happy with the (majors) students this semester (The non-majors, a few of them could do with a little growing-up, in my opinion.). A lot of the majors students I have are genuinely nice people - polite to one another, polite to me, they clean up after themselves, all of that. They're mostly pretty good students too (I think my average on the first exam in one of the classes was a low B). But honestly? I'd rather have a classroom full of C students who were kind and worked hard but maybe didn't quite get things, than a classroom full of A students who seemed apathetic or were competitive and rude to each other. (And I have seen competitive and rude A students in my career; mainly when I was a TA at a large, competitive school that turned out a lot of pre-meds.)

(Interestingly, I just realized: a lot of my students this semester are non-trads in some way - either they're a bit older and are returning to school, or work for a living and are going to school part-time, or are parents of young kids. Coincidence? I don't know.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If I were remaking NCLB?


Any child who couldn't or wouldn't do it, WOULD be left behind. As in, kept back until they could.

I'm getting so damn tired of having to parse out everything I ask my college students to do, and then have 2 or 3 out of 25 do it absolutely, spectacularly wrong, and then get angry with me because they claim "But that's what you TOLD us to do."

I'm also done with people who tune out during pre-lab instructions and then don't have a freaking CLUE of what they're supposed to be doing. Luckily, I don't teach any labs where that really means things are UNSAFE, but it's still a huge annoyance.

Why can't people just follow damn directions? I don't get it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What bothers me...

I've felt a mild malaise about academia in the past year. I couldn't quite put a finger on what it was, but I think maybe I've figured it out.

You have to understand, I'm one of those people who secretly sort of hopes that life is fair. Or, at any rate, that the people who work hard, who follow the ethical rules, who do what is right - that they get rewarded, or at the very least, not-screwed-over.

When I was a kid growing up, I was taught to respect my teachers. Even teachers I disliked. Because they were my teachers, and because they had gone through a fair amount of education and presumably knew more than I did.

And I was also taught that going into education was a respectable career. That you were educating the next generations, preparing them to go out and be doctors and lawyers and such, and that it was a good and worthwhile thing to be. It seemed that, by and large, university people were looked up to in my parents' circle. (Though that could have been a false impression, and maybe it never was so...maybe it was just who my parents' friends were).

Yes, I heard yet another commentator opining on how college is "a waste," and how it's better to keep your kids out and, I don't know, apprentice them to someone, than to risk having their brains destroyed by those horrible professors.

And it just makes me sad. Because there's nothing I could say to someone who believed that that would make them think that I was anything BUT a parasite and doctrinaire and wrong and bad.

And I admit, I worry a bit...will the next push in budget cutting be, "let's close down a lot of the public universities"? Driven, in part, by the mentality that college may be fine for those few twisted eggheads - but not normal, red-blooded men and women?

And then what do I do? Go on unemployment? REALLY become a "parasite" while I try to find another job that will allow me to support myself?

And I realize, those are unrealistic worries; they're unlikely to happen. But still, a part of me says they could.

What bothers me more is the respect issue. I grew up treating my teachers and profs with respect - even, as I said, the ones I didn't like very much. (If anything, I was more deferentially distant with some of the ones I disliked: there were a few profs I had who had the reputation of doing things like yelling at students who came to their office hours).

But now, I wind up with students walking into my class 20 minutes late. Or stopping me before I start class to complain that the stapler in the computer lab is out of staples, and that I "need" to go and refill it. Or who talk in class. Or pull out their texting device. Or show up with their work undone, and then ask me if they can give it to me the next class meeting. (That frustrates me, as I have explained that I have due-dates when I do FOR A REASON: I am able to budget grading time then so I can get the stuff back to people very fast. I pride myself on handing most things back in the next class meeting. Which is why I often make papers and the like due on Fridays.)

Or even the little crap: the people who don't staple their papers, and then look at me and go, "you got a stapler?" Um, no. This is not my permanent room. I do not live here. The last time I brought a stapler to this room it was gone in three days. Please staple your papers before class.

I know, it seems like such a petty little thing, but really - taking an extra five or ten minutes to have to staple all the unstapled papers, it's just something that wears on you over time. That makes you feel more like a servant than a mentor. And I don't like feeling like that.

Actually, a number of times during the semester, I begin to wonder if the students see me (and my TA) as more servants than mentors...when they leave a mess in lab. Or when they do things like e-mail with a request or question at 2 am, and seem unhappy to find I've not answered it by 8 am.

I'm sure part of it is an age-related thing; people in their late teens and early 20s are still stuck in that childlike idea of being the only person who matters - or, more likely, just not thinking that if they're asking something of me, that other people will be asking, too - or not thinking that I have other things going on that I have to deal with, and that sometimes, seriously, having someone call me up and go, "I know our paper is due today but I just couldn't get inspired to write it. Can I have another week" makes me want to cry.

And from time to time we get dicta coming down from On High about what we must do, how we must do things. More assessment testing. Surveys we're supposed to fill out. More things to fill our "free time." More "mission statements." More guidelines on when we can have office hours, and things like requirements that doors be kept open. Someone once referred to the corporate world as the "death of a thousand papercuts" and it seems like that somedays in academia too.

And it doesn't help to have that societal undercurrent among the populists that college educations are a waste at best or dangerous at worst. That we as professors are basically overgrown adolescents ourselves, sucking at the governmental teat while providing little of value or service.

I guess I know a little bit of how trial-lawyers feel now.

But it does wear on a person over time. And it is a worry, hearing that little populist drumbeat growing, and wondering: should I be doing...I don't know what, should I be learning mechanics? Or hairdressing? Or God knows what, some other alternate career?

I love teaching. I think I'm a halfway decent teacher. But some days it just feels too damn much like swimming upstream for my complete happiness.

I guess fundamentally I feel a bit cheated - that I grew up following the rules, showing respect, and expecting that when I completed my education I'd also be a respected professor. But then I get into the job and I find that my students don't always respect me, the administration sometimes acts as if it doesn't respect me, and there are a lot of people out in the "real" world who are all too happy to tell me I'm part of what's wrong with the country.

And it's kind of like sandpaper, you know? Or like someone walking on a polished floor with grit on their shoes. It takes the shine and luster off of things, it wears things down, it makes them dull and sad and old before their time.

I hope that I'm not telegraphing that frustration in the classroom. I don't think I am, yet. But I may get there someday.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Given all that's going on in the world

I find I really want to spend a lot of time looking at things like this, instead:

cute baby animals - Fluff and White and Squee All Over
see more Daily Squee

I can feel my blood pressure start to drop looking at that little fuzzball.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The malevolent elf strikes again.

So, the w*leaks guy is now lecturing the Italian government, telling them their "private lives" should be in line with their public policies.

The irony, it burns.

I hate to say it but I hope the individual in question IS found guilty of sex crimes.

And I'm just waiting for him to come forward and say something along the lines of "I have some REALLY damaging information, and I will release it unless you pay me One. Billion. Dollars."

If I were in the "Mikado," he'd be on my "little list."

Monday, February 07, 2011

"Stoner chic"?

I can't help but wonder if the reality-challenged folks are going to be the next hip thing, based on two adverts running in heavy rotation here. (No, I'm not going to go YouTubin' for them. You can do a search on "Jack in the Box stoner ad" and "Denny's 2-4-6-8 ad" if you want).

The first ad is for Denny's. Two scruffy guys are sitting at the counter figuring out ways that they can divvy up their $10 on the various "cheap" menu items. Diners around them all suggest different combinations, until one of the guys makes the "head exploding" gesture.

Okay, okay, I know: even someone as square as I am knows that Denny's is a favorite late-night haunt of those for whom weed is not something you pull out of your tomato patch. But it creeps me out a little to see Denny's seemingly embracing that...I suppose the next run of ads will feature crabby old people wanting dinner at 4:30 pm.

Then there's the Jack in the Box ad, with the guy at the DRIVE THROUGH. Yes. Stoned and at the drive through. Nice.

Stoner guy drives up, wants 99 tacos for 2 cents. The minimum-wage employee behind the microphone says they don't have it. Stoner guy argues. (I suppose it's a good thing it wasn't meth-head guy; he would have just punched through the wall to confront the person directly). Finally, the Jack figurine "talks" to the guy and explains it's 2 tacos for 99 cents, not 99 for 2 cents. "Wow....that's even LESS." (I guess pot interferes with your math skills?)

I don't know. I realize I'm a big prude and an overly-straight straight arrow, but it bugs me to see a guy who is acting like he's supposed to be stoned in a drive-through window. (Though I will say, I've never known the jack-in-the-box ads to suffer from an excess of good taste; there's one that essentially implies Jack's parents use an ED medication).

I don't know. I don't eat at Jack in the box partly because their food isn't very healthful, but also because the commercials creep me out. (And I haven't eaten at a Denny's in years, though I will admit if you're on a long-haul car trip and you need to stop for a meal at an odd time - like, you were driving across the "nowhere" expanse of Nebraska between 8 am and 2 pm and you really need some lunch, a Denny's is usually an OK bet).

It's just, I don't know, "Eat here because the stoners do" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

don't know what to think...

(Like many other in the country, I'm home today. We got enough ice to make roads a hazard, so my university closed for the day).

I've been watching the Egypt coverage off and on. Right now, they are showing tanks or APVs going into the square, trying to round up the protestors. (I thought, "It's Tiananmen Square all over again," except, it really isn't, I don't think).

On Saturday, I said I hoped I was hearing a democracy being born. It sounds more to me like civil war, or an armed coup, now. I'm sad for the people of Egypt who want freedom. (And I admit: scared for the Coptic Christians, who will probably have a very bad time of it if the Muslim Brotherhood gets power).

I don't know. I can't watch too much of this stuff because it does make me scared and sad. I don't know if I don't have the perspective some people do...even though I'm in my 40s, I still am somewhat young - and grew up during a historically less-eventful time (well, until the fall of the Soviet Union, and that was a more positive thing).

I remember commenting to my mother how fearful I had been after Sept. 11, 2001, and how I felt for a few days as if the world might be coming to an end. She nodded, and said she had felt the same way during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (And she would have been younger at that time than I was in 2001 - younger, fairly newly-married, still not at the point of planning a family with her husband yet. I wonder if she wondered if she'd ever bring children into the world).

Part of me goes all Eeyore with news stories like this, and figures the world's done and we're just waiting for God to stick a fork in it. But part of me is still hopeful, and remembers that there's been bad rioting and violence in the past (heck, pretty much the history of Europe until 1850 or so was civil wars and a certain amount of brutality).

But I don't know. I continue to hope and pray that some good leader, some person of principle, will come forward and be chosen by the people, and that he (I think, in Egypt, it would have to be a "he") will govern well and not lead to problems for Israel or the U.S. or other Western nations. I don't see anyone like that right now, but I still hope...

Seriously, Fox News?

You make the fracking Groundhog Seeing His Shadow Or Not thing "BREAKING NEWS"?

Seriously? In a week when we've had major, major unrest in Egypt, a giant storm bearing down on Australia, the Obama health-care bill being declared unconstitutional, AND a giant winter storm affecting 1/3 or so of the U.S.?

I'm'a sending you ALL a copy of the story "the boy who cried wolf." Okay?