Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Even they think it's crazy

The topic of FERPA came up before my first class today. Several of the students didn't know what it was, so I explained it. One person asked, "If someone is under 18, can their parents see their grades?" I said I did not know but I would guess yes, because they're still technically a minor.

One of the students commented that FERPA seemed kind of "stupid," but I shrugged and said there were cases where it was useful to us professors. I brought up the issue of helicopter parents, how some parents will call their kid's professor if the kid isn't doing well in class or if the kid has some kind of problem.

And one of the women in the class exclaimed: "Who DOES that!?! We're supposed to be adults! I'm not even sure my mom could tell you the name of the school I was attending!" And one of the men noted that "People that do that need to GROW UP."

I shared the story of the mom who called up a colleague of mine, all mad because my colleague was "giving" her son a D. My colleague responded that FERPA forbid him from discussing grades, but that she might want to ask her son about his attendance in class (this was someone who was present for maybe 1/3 of the classes). She called back a week later to apologize to him.

That got a laugh out of the class. But I'm glad to know there are students who think the whole helicopter-parent-of-college kids thing is out of control. (These are mostly seniors, all pretty responsible people, all science majors).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


One of my colleagues - someone I also consider a friend - has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She is fairly hopeful; it's a non-aggressive form and was apparently diagnosed early. She's decided to do chemo for it. (Not sure if she has had/is having surgery....I don't think she has, at least, she hasn't been out any length of time).

She came in this week with a wig. It looks much like her natural hair but the coloring is subtly enough different that I knew. (I didn't say anything. I never know whether or not to say anything. I tend to come down on the side of "let the other person bring it up if they want to." I know when my dad had cancer he did NOT want to talk about it, except with his doctors). She's started the chemo and has started losing her hair. (I know, people say "it's only hair" but I can see how that would be unsettling to traumatic to a person.)

She says she's counting the weeks until January, that's when she's done. But it's going to suck for her - she teaches a heavy load and a couple of the really important classes in the department, and her specialty is such it would be hard for someone to cover for her if she was feeling too unwell to teach. (Then again: I think I would rather go to work and teach if I at all could, rather than sit at home and think about what was going on in my body). At least she has got less of a load of committeework, and she's close to retirement, so she's not really doing research - so she can focus on teaching and on getting better.

But yeah, cancer can F off and die. I know way too many people fighting it right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tired of the snark

I'm just tired of it.

Can't we be grownups and discuss issues? I mean, seriously, if I listen to some of the people around me, it sounds like I have a choice of voting for an empty chair or a binder on November 6th.

I know, politics has always been ugly, and insults have always been hurled, but it seems like there's less substance and more insults of late.

To me, the election comes down to: Do you want someone in favor of increasing the size of government, increasing the dependency of people on the government, and (as a result of that second item) increasing the level of control government has over daily live, or do you want someone who will maybe shrink government a little bit, and will try to encourage people to be less dependent?

All the rest of the stuff out there is just clutter. Yes, I'm annoyed by how the Obamas act at times. Yes, I can understand the concern over the Romneys not "relating to" the average person. (Though is there any politician out there who is an average Joe or average Jane? I think not.). But what it comes down to, I think, is this: How big a role do you believe government should play in your life?

And that's how I'm basing my vote. I confess, I haven't even really watched the debates....and I tend to change channels when the news shifts to campaign talk.

But I'm so tired of the insults and the snark and the people saying, "If you vote differently from me, you're an idiot." I can't see the rift in our culture healing any time soon, and I hate that. I wouldn't be surprised if, 20 years from now, we were actually two (or maybe three) countries, rather than one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interrupting cow

I posted that joke the other day partly because I have a chronic interruptor in one of my classes. She'll wait until I'm midway through an explanation, and then ask an out-of-left-field question.

I don't think it's a emotional/mental disease issue - though it could be; I've had this person in class before (in other classes) and don't remember interrupting behavior. I don't know how to delicately broach the "could you possibly have OCD or something?" topic without upsetting the person. There's actually no really good way for a faculty member to delicately let a student know, "You are behaving a little strangely, is something wrong?" Or at least I don't know a delicate way. (If it's actually super-disruptive, like someone getting combative and potentially violent in class, yes, we have a way of quickly and silently notifying campus police. Not sure how fast they'd show up....but then again, I've got enough big strong Conservation guys in most of my classes that a freaking-out student would probably be jumped and held down pretty quickly. (A lot of our conservation guys are either former military or have done stints in law enforcement of some kind, so they know how to do it).

This is more just garden-variety someone-being-a-little-annoying. I commented this morning that we were going to collect data next week to test a particular hypothesis, and this student blurted out 'That hypothesis is CRAP. It's not true."

I took a deep breath, not wanting to confront (but, oh, so wanting to say, "Oh really? Every class I've tested it with before has shown it to hold. And that's ten years' worth of data....") and said, "We will be TESTING the hypothesis next week...."

I get the sense that this is someone who is a little full of themselves. (They're a senior. I should probably check to see if they've been admitted to professional school yet - that might explain some of the attitude.)

But I have to admit: now I really, really hope the data we collect this year follows the trend and proves the hypothesis to be correct; it will be a little fun to have Ms. That Hypothesis is CRAP eat a little crow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Something I've noticed of late...

Maybe I'm watching shows/listening to radio that is aimed at a different demographic than I actually am in, but it seems to me that the anti-aging bandwagon has really ramped up for men.

I mean, women have gotten it for YEARS, with the cover-the-grays hair color ads, and the various-gunk-you-put-on-your-face ads, and now the take-this-thing-that-we-can't-really-claim-does-anything-because-we'd-have-to-go-through-the-FDA-but-we're-going-to-imply-it-will-speed-weight-loss pill.

But men were largely left alone, or so it seemed. Yeah, there was "just for men" and that beard-darkening stuff....but now there seem to be LOTS of ads for stuff that claims to "recapture youth" (mainly, it seems: raise testosterone levels. And while they don't come out and say, "we'll help you get a stiffy in a jiffy," that's implied, in among all the other "it will improve your energy and mood, and make you build muscle and lose fat" claims.

And, I don't know. While I don't judge people who choose to dye their hair or stuff....I don't want to feel pressured to do it myself. I don't feel like spending the time and the energy to, and the hair I have that's going white is actually going WHITE, and one of my grandmothers had white hair later in life....and you know? It was really pretty. And I think I would look better at 65 or whatever with white hair than I would with the best dye job I could get in my small town. So I'm not going to do stuff to slow down my "apparent" aging. And I do have the luxury of being able to do that - I recognize that as a college professor, I'm unlikely to be pressured out of my job, or not get work, because I look "old." I know not everyone has that luxury to choose whether to dye or not, whether to Botox or not. I wish they did.

And it bugs me that men are getting that pressure now, that women have had for years. It seems to me it used to be "more OK" for a man to show his age - a bit of gray around the temples suggested wisdom. Frown lines could denote a certain seriousness. And guys weren't expected to be as buff and trim at 45 as they were at one had time for that kind of hours in the gym, other than the marathon runners.

I mean, on the one hand, don't get me wrong: taking care of your health is good. It's a good thing to exercise regularly, it's a good thing to eat lots of fresh food from a variety of sources. It's a good thing to avoid tobacco and other potentially harmful chemicals.

But dyeing your hair isn't going to slow down your aging. It just makes it look like it's slowed down. And I guess that's the crux of it, for me: the idea that there's this need to fool yourself and other people, not to admit that aging happens. We all age. There's not a lot we can do about that. Yes, maybe getting a healthy level of exercise and eating a good diet can slow it down a bit, or prevent chronic diseases. But at some point, we all age. And it seems wrong to me to treat aging as a horrible thing that we should fear....though some of the ads I've heard for  the "male booster" or whatever they call them products seem to suggest that, just as the weight-loss-for-women-over-40 products seem to suggest.

It bugs me that some seem to want to deny the existence of a natural part of life. I'm sure it's wrapped up with the fear of death, and the fact that, for some, "right living" has become the thing believed in as giving immortal life.....and some of the people who follow "right living" make it an obsession. I have seen people exercise at levels that are really excessive, several hours a day when they're not training for a marathon or's almost as if they are trying to "outrun death."

I don't know. Maybe because I had a fairly lousy adolescence and wasn't even all that happy in my 20s that I have no issues with leaving that period of my life behind. But we don't need a culture of adolescents! And sometimes it seems that that is what our society is pushing for.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm'a just gonna leave this here....

Presented without further comment:

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Interrupting cow."

"Interrupting c...." "MOOOOO!"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oh no no no no no no no no no no no

God give me strength.

I'm going to have to repeat that every day next semester. I just came from a meeting with my Chair. She wanted to give me a heads-up on a student I will be having.

"She has more ADA accommodations than I have ever seen," my chair said. "And she has had some medical issues, and refuses to walk up staircases or even inclines. She is threatening to sue the university because she had to walk up an incline to get to an office and she says it injured the site of a recent surgery."

Apparently she has not one, but two, lawyers on retainer. And she has the Dean of Students on speed-dial. And she's not afraid to call people up and complain when her "needs" aren't met.

This is not going to go well. I am happy with what I consider reasonable accommodations but some of the things she demands (oral exams with a scribe but then she doesn't show up to take them, because there's in incline to get into the building where they are given, so....I don't know what they do then) go to the point of Making The Professor's Life Miserable. I realize I sound insensitive here, but I had someone last spring who just broke me - I gave all the accommodations he was granted, but then he began to demand extra stuff. And come to my office and whine at me when he didn't get it.

I've been warned I may need to do "totally alternate" labs for her. Okay, fine. She can write short papers for every dang lab she can't do. I'm okay with that. (I'm not okay with other students going "It's hooooooot out. I want to write a paper like she does instead of lab" and I am bracing for that.)

But, I've also been warned that she continually threatens to sue, reminds the person she is speaking to about her lawyers, and then proceeds to button hole the person with tales of her victimhood.

And I HATE the whole victimhood mentality. We all have stuff in our life that constitutes a "bad hand." True, some people have worse hands than others. But I've known people with really very "bad hands" in life who worked hard and managed to get ahead - managed to do quite well, in fact. But the people I've seen who cried "I'm a victim!" invest so much energy into that that it's harder for them to get ahead. Or, they'd rather sit back and let other people serve them.

Which is what I suspect is going on here. I asked the chair, "Speaking frankly, do you think her whole "I'm suing" thing is her hoping she'll get a jackpot out of the university so she won't have to work again?" and she nodded and tapped her nose. (The dean of students remarked to my chair that "I wish she'd just sue and get it over with, and stop coming in and harassing us.")

But this is one of the things that makes me crazy: this person is gumming up the works for everyone. Yet, no one has the balls (and I am not in a position to, I'm just the lowly prof) to tell her: Get out. Leave. Yes, go ahead and sue us, I hope you choke.

This person is wasting everyone's time and everyone's goodwill. When an administrator who is known for her sympathy towards students (the dean of students) is over someone's nonsense and wants them gone, that's just bad.

Well, at least I'm forewarned. So I'll know not to blow up at her. Know to do the smile-and-nod thing I perfected with my "victim" student of last year. Know not to take it personally when she threatens to sue.

But, dear God, it's 1% of the people that give me 90% of the headaches.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Some good teaching stuff

I know I gripe a lot on here about entitlement-mentality students, so I have to report a couple of incidents that show the opposite:

1. I had a guy in my basic, non-majors class thank me the other day for handing back exams so quickly. (One of my goals, even though it damn near kills me sometimes, is to give them back the next class meeting, or at least within a week). He said, "This is a refreshing change from some classes where the professors sit on the stuff for a month before handing it back."

Frankly, I just want it done with and out of my life, but the fact that the students get quick feedback on how they're doing is a bonus as well.

2. I realized this morning in my stats class that some people were TOTALLY lost, so I backed up a couple days and did a complete review, starting over from scratch. One of the guys (he is an international student and is a good student) thanked me after class because he said he understood it much more clearly now.

3. One of the women in that class asked me if we could "discuss" her last exam, which always puts me on alert, because some students use "discuss" to mean "I'm going to gripe at you and demand more credit."

Well, in her case, it was more, "Please show me what I did wrong on these things I missed." And in the process of doing that, I realized that while she had done one problem "incorrectly," she had set it up in a way that was fundamentally correct - and therefore, not deserving of losing the full ten points, so I gave her back five points on the spot. And she was happy to see her mistakes were mostly minor ones (one was that she transposed a few numbers) but her fundamental understanding of stuff was solid.

I've also learned that I can joke around a bit with students. One of the big shocks to me about moving to the South - though people warned me - is that "people will tease you when they like you." I've finally gotten used to that. I'm not always good at giving it back to them (which is the best response), and in a few cases I've gotten between two students whose teasing of each other seemed to border on hostility (but really wasn't, and I overinterpreted it). But anyway. Bow hunting season starts today, I guess, and Wednesday one of my students asked me at the end of lab, "So, is class cancelled Friday for bowhunting?" And I laughed and said, "Nice try, no." and he laughed and said, "It was worth a shot."

My Friday F-off

I belong to a particular women's group (well, I belong to a couple, but I'm talking about one group in particular). They are service oriented organizations.

I like most of the women in this group. And what we do (raising money for local scholarships - we do service projects) is important to me.

But, oh heavens, one or two of the people in that group.

There are different forms of privilege, you know? I openly recognize and own that I came from a background that was privileged in many ways: my family had enough money that the necessities and some of the desires were covered (but not so much that my brother and I got everything we wanted; I think that's also bad for a kid). And more importantly, we came from loving parents that taught us responsibility and common sense and who valued hard work and education.

And I recognize that, and I'm grateful for it.

But. There are a couple people in the group I'm talking about who have had lives where they've never had to work outside the home (and they had cleaning ladies, and in one case, a nanny, for the children, so I'm not convinced they worked nearly as hard as the average stay at home mom did). They have always had someone else to be the breadwinner.

And they SO DO NOT GET what it means to be a single woman supporting herself. They SO DO NOT GET what it means to work full time (and then some) at a career. They don't understand the fact that I bring work home with me at night, that I work weekends, that I sometimes work on the few "days off" we get (No, we don't get every freaking Federal Holiday like the post office does - in the fall we get Labor Day, in the spring semester we get MLK day, and in the summer, we get Independence Day - but other than that, Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty much it. And even now, now when they do assessment activities on the student, we are made to do "professional development" - sit in a room and be talked at by some "expert.")

So these women don't SEE the 18 different things I'm juggling. They don't see that I am juggling the metaphorical equivalent of three flaming chain saws, a couple axes, and a bunch of tennis balls.

They only see the metaphorical tennis ball I happen to drop.

I forgot one piece of (relatively minor) information I was planning on bringing to the latest meeting. I finally blew up at one of the women when I got tired of sitting there and listening to her sotto voce snarking about it. And I told her: Look, I have been juggling a lot of things. I am teaching four grading-intensive classes this fall. I have work at church and other places. Yes, I was "stupid" to forget that paper and if it bugs you so much, give me fifteen minutes and I will drive back to my office and get it.

She demurred: no, no, we don't want you to have to do that.

Then wench? SHUT THE HECK UP. (No, I did not say that).

I get so tired of the undercurrent of criticism that some people just have going on towards other people. We're doing our damned best, most of us, and it doesn't help.

And yes, I know: some people are just like that and you have to just "deal" with it.

But you know? I'm EFFING TIRED of dealing with it. This Atlas is getting ready to shrug. If I quit all my volunteer responsibilities tomorrow, there'd be a huge hole in a couple of local groups. And it pisses me off that people don't seem to notice that - all they can notice is the stuff that goes less than perfectly.

Oh, and the critics? How much duty do they do? A little, but it's not the same as some other women in the group. And incidentally, the people carrying the heaviest loads? Have never aimed criticism at me for doing 999 out of 1000 things, but not getting that thousandth thing finished.

I mean, I get it: To each person, the particular thing that impinges on them is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DO. Even if it really isn't, compared to, oh, I don't know, teaching my students stuff they need to know to get into med school. Or getting my grading done so my students have feedback on their work in a reasonable time frame. Or being one of the very few Youth Group leaders at church.

And here's the thing: if they think I'm doing it so badly, they can take the task away from me. It's not like it's something (like teaching statistics is) that takes a specialized skill-set.

But of course, no one ever suggests that, because it's much more fun to watch the overwhelmed person flounder a bit and then criticize them for not being 100% perfect.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Oh, spare me.

Okay, I know he was "joking," but I didn't find it all that amusing.

Apparently, when asked about debate prep, Obama remarked "They're keeping me indoors all the time. It's a drag."

Um, Mr. Obama? There are some days, especially towards the end of Daylight Saving Time, when I don't even SEE the sun all day, because I'm working from 7 am until 7 pm. There are people who work even longer hours and under less pleasant conditions than I do. And I'm ostensibly a field biologist but it's jolly hard some months to get out and do the field research I'm SUPPOSED to do, because of my other responsibilities.

And you know, you're kind of the leader of the free world? Maybe you should be working hard? Maybe it IS supposed to be a drag? (Maybe you should go on the chat shows a little less?)

I don't know. Every time he came on the news this afternoon (I was grading my hugacious class' multiple-choice exams and needed background noise) I found myself thinking: "This is the smallest violin in the world, and I'm playing it just for you, Mr. President."

I mean, maybe he'd rather be golfing, but there are a lot of things I'd like to do, but my responsibilities prevent me from being able to do them.

Monday, October 01, 2012

TSAgent top ten

So apparently it's all over the news that there is a fair amount of theft on the part of TSA agents.

I don't fly, so I'm going to make a little light here:

Top Ten Reasons Reported why TSA Agents Steal Stuff:

10. We don't get paid enough, so we're using our version of the "five finger discount."
9. The gnome that lives in my head told me to.
8. Why should the people who do the body-cavity searches have all the fun?
7. I feel disrespected, therefore I deserve a free iPad.
6. Somebody is trying to frame me! They PLANTED that stuff in my house.
5. **I** didn't steal it. My wife/kids/parents did and it just turned up in my house.
4. I'm just redistributing wealth! Those rich travelers don't DESERVE that kind of nice stuff.
3. I was just holding it for them, so they wouldn't lose it.
2. "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

And the top reason?

1. "What else do you expect from a governmental agency?"