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Archive for the ‘Campus Life’ Category

If you are traveling for Thanksgiving and want to listen to something that will make you feel better about your place of employment, try this month’s first bonus episode of Welcome to Night Vale. As its website explains:

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

Turn on your radio and hide

This episode consists of the reading of the minutes from a faculty meeting at Night Vale Community College and takes place outside of the normal continuity so you can enjoy the subtle and not-so-subtle tweaks on life as a faculty member without needing to be familiar with the show. Then, because Welcome to Night Vale is amazing, you can start with episode 1.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about the glow cloud (all hail the glow cloud) via your news feed.

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A Facebook friend recently asked for advice about how to make friends after grad school. Because this is something I’ve struggled with since starting my first job five years ago, I couldn’t respond with any sage advice. In the few weeks I’ve been at my new institution, however, I’ve noticed a number of differences that have led me to wonder if it is possible for institutions to do a better job of fostering these relationships among faculty and staff. So far, these are the differences I’ve noticed:

-I previously lived in a town with a college but my new location better fits the definition of a college town. The town is also much smaller, meaning that there are not that many places for faculty to go. At dinner the other night, for example, I saw two different groups of faculty getting drinks. I can’t remember any chance encounters like this in my previous city.

-My new town is not only smaller, it is also more isolated. There are still faculty members who live in other cities and commute, but there are a lot of faculty members who live in town. Institutional practices also make it easier for faculty members to live in town. A large number of faculty spouses and partners have also been hired in some capacity, whether as visiting faculty, adjuncts, or staff members.

-The institution also makes other efforts to promote interaction between faculty during business hours. One of the biggest is a course schedule with a common lunch hour, allowing faculty members time to have lunch together. There is also a faculty dining area, which my previous institution did not have.

-The final major difference I’ve noticed so far is in the composition of the new faculty cohort. At my previous institution, my cohort was fairly small and was also heterogeneous in terms of age and location. At my new institution, my cohort is quite a bit larger (the institution itself has about 1000 more students, leading to a larger number of incoming faculty members, but orientation also included new administrators and adjuncts) and the age of full-time faculty members is more homogenous, with more young-ish people who are interested in making friends in their new town.

Together, these factors have resulted in a completely different experience as a new faculty member. I am not exaggerating to say that I have done as much with colleagues off-campus in the past few weeks as I did in the previous five years at my former institution. Colleges and universities obviously can’t change their locations so that faculty members can more easily make friends, nor can they force faculty to live nearby or refuse to hire employees who aren’t in their early- to mid-thirties.

On the job market, these factors are largely influenced by luck. Institutions can, however, do things to encourage faculty and staff to engage with each other on campus through social gatherings and in faculty dining rooms. Unfortunately, social gatherings are probably among the first to go when schools face budget constraints since they don’t clearly contribute to the bottom line. Common lunch hours are probably also related to budgets, since schools with cramped facilities don’t have the luxury of leaving their classrooms unused for five or more hours per week.

So far, these changes have made me hopeful for my social life in this town. I have to remember, however, that finding and keeping friends still demands effort. Rather than sitting and waiting for people to contact me, I need to be proactive about inviting people to get lunch or coffee on campus and dinner or drinks off campus. We’ll see how it goes.

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Today, for the first time in what feels like months, I sat down at a computer to do some long-overdue work. While I usually don’t accomplish as much in the summer as I hope to at the outset, this summer’s move to a new institution has left me feeling particularly behind. It turns out that I vastly underestimated how the lack of an office for two months would affect my productivity. Having a place to get away from the comforts and distractions of home is apparently important for somebody who is easily distracted. This time period has also served as a reminder about how important it is that contingent faculty members receive office space where they can sometimes just close the door and work.

Now that I’ve relocated, with ASA coming up next week and the beginning of the semester quickly approaching, I am hoping to be able to settle in and make some progress on my summer goals.

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In any given class, I have some combination of first-generation college students, students whose parents have professional degrees, lower class, middle class, and upper class students, students who are engaged, students who are not, students who can learn on their own, and students who cannot. One of the most difficult parts of my job is teaching in a way that works for as many of these students as possible. I recently wrote about my belief that massive open online courses (MOOCs) are not a good match for my institution. Yesterday’s editorial in the New York Times makes the point that MOOCs are also unlikely to be a good match for many of my students.

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A recent campus e-mail asked for interested faculty to contact the administration about developing a MOOC, or massive open online course. Rather than traditional online courses at, say, the University of Phoenix, MOOCs are provided to (potentially thousands of) interested students free of charge and bear no college credit. Brad Koch’s* recent argument was similar to that of some of my colleagues. Koch states:

The difference between MOOC’s and liberal arts colleges is like the difference between televangelism and an old-timey tent revival; the message is essentially the same, but the experiences are worlds apart.

When institutions like Georgia College uncritically float along with the shifting tides of higher ed, they misallocate resources and dilute their brand. We cannot–and should not–compete with MOOC’s. We should instead own the value of our unique identity and fill our niche.

Serendipitously, an article by Will Oremus at Slate this week describes the failure of a MOOC on how to successfully plan and carry out online courses. Oremus quotes pupil Jill Barshay’s account of the course, who stated:

Within hours, things were going awry. Neither the “Getting Started” tab nor the “syllabus” tab offered much direction on how to begin the class. I wasted an hour taking surveys on my personal learning style. (One said I was a visual learner. The other said I wasn’t).

The biggest problem was breaking our class of more than 41,000 students into discussion groups. Dr. Wirth asked us to sign up using a Google spreadsheet. The only problem was Google’s own support pages clearly state that only 50 people can edit and view a document simultaneously. I was one of the thousands who kept clicking, but was locked out. When I finally got in, it was a mess. Classmates had erased names, substituted their own and added oodles of blank spaces. …

In the meantime, the video lectures were mind-numbing laundry lists of PowerPoint bullet points. A survey of educational philosophies left me no more enlightened than before I watched it. The readings were a bit better. One of my favorites, Teaching with Technology: Tools and Strategies to Improve Student Learning, linked to a hilarious PowerPoint comedy sketch about the stupidity of reading PowerPoint bullet points. …

Maybe this MOOC should have focused on irony! (Real irony, not the commonly misused meaning of “a strange coincidence.“) For more on MOOCs, Koch provides helpful links to some posts at Orgtheory available here, here, and here, and an article about why the campus experience still matters here.

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In the wake of shootings that involve classrooms, whether elementary, middle school, high school, or college, I ask myself what I would do in a similar situation. I have been fortunate to never have a a student that I was genuinely afraid of, but that is no guarantee against violence. Claire Potter, a.k.a. Tenured Radical, has had such an experience and discusses the possible ways that the situation may have played out:

So because I knew nothing, except that this had occurred in a small town near my old rowing club that I had driven through multiple times to get to I-84, what I thought about was the campus shooting I experienced on May 7 2009. On that day, a young woman at Zenith was gunned down in front of her friends at the campus bookstore by a man who had stalked and threatened her for several years.

And on that day, the campus went into, as they say now, “lockdown.” We had very little information about what had happened, or what might happen next. My office was in a small building: we locked all the doors and gathered upstairs. I, at least, was well aware that if the gunman proceeded up the hill towards the main campus, ours would be the first building he got to.  As we waited, for hours, I turned different scenarios over in my mind. Most of them had to do with running away: how thick was the front door? If the gunman entered our building, could we all escape in good order through the back? And as Director of the building, would it not be my moral duty to help everyone else get out in front of me, be the last to leave, and assume the greatest risk?

In case you have never had this experience, these are the kind of things you think about as you are waiting to see if you are going to die you are going to become a casualty. After a bit, my co-teacher, a young postdoc, and I quietly confided to each other our worst fear: that the shooter was one of our students, a young man I will call Jack. Jack’s eccentricities had morphed, week by week, into what both of us believed was a full-blown psychosis, resulting on odd to scary behaviors.

Suddenly, the front doorbell rang: we looked out the window and — it was Jack. What to do? If he was the shooter, could we keep him out? If he was not the shooter, he was in danger, and as his teachers, we had a moral obligation to help him. What if, floridly psychotic or not, murderer or not, he had come to us for help?

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As somebody who likes to break down the events of songs and TV commercials and somebody who is lazy, I enjoy when others do the analysis for me. Because of this, I was thrilled to see that Rob Delaney at Vice.com has tackled Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night.” Thrilled, at least, until I actually read his analysis and thought about the song. Before reading his analysis I’d heard the song and seen the video, but I’d never given much thought to the lyrics. That, I suppose, is the danger of catchy pop songs about party rape. Reading the whole thing doesn’t take very long, but here are a few excerpts from Delaney’s analysis:

There’s a stranger in my bed

Uh oh! Already scary. You should know everyone in your bed with you. Rape is already a possibility, unprotected sex has almost definitely occurred.

Is this a hicky or a bruise?

Hold up! There’s a huge difference. Also, in the video for this song, the hicky’s on your neck. Did the aforementioned “stranger” punch you in the neck while raping you?

It’s a blacked out blur

This is serious. Blacking out can be a symptom of alcoholism. Most people don’t black out. Do you display other symptoms? Call me.

But I’m pretty sure it ruled

You are a terrible detective with limited to no self-respect.

Beyond the fact that all of these things are seen as normal and depicted in a video that is intended to be humorous, I think the contention that “it ruled” is my biggest problem with the song. Artists like Katy Perry are perpetuating the idea that young people must drink alcohol to the point that their ability to make decisions is obliterated in order to have a good time. This idea surely contributes to the party culture, and accompanying sexual assaults, that exists on college campuses across the country. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t rule.

 

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I like that spring break coincides with the first weekend of the NCAA tournament but this also makes it unlikely that I’m going to accomplish anything outside of the exams I graded and some important things like reading, yard work, and washing my car. I guess that I don’t completely identify with Female Science Professor (in every other way, obviously, we’re the same), who spends spring breaks working in her office and wonders why graduate students don’t want to do the same.

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A few weeks ago I received an e-mail asking me if I would accept a nomination to run for chair of a campus committee in the upcoming faculty elections (reinforcing my belief that being known on campus can be both good and bad). I have been on the committee for the past two years and I think it is an important job but I absolutely did not want to serve as chair. On some campuses, there might typically be competition for elected positions, but on my campus the average number of people running for open positions tends to be one. Because of this, I did not want to decline the nomination outright and leave nobody to run for the position.

My first attempt at avoiding the nomination was asking if the current chair was running again, since I didn’t want to run against him. Unfortunately, the current chair was not running and had nominated me. My second attempt involved e-mailing the current chair to see what sorts of duties the job involved. He confirmed by suspicions that the position was a lot of work and then said that he hoped I would run (hence, I suppose, the nomination).

Reluctantly, I accepted the nomination and headed to the most recent faculty meeting desperately hoping that somebody else would be running against me. When we reached that point in the agenda I was happy to see that not only was somebody running against me, the person running against me was infinitely more qualified than I was. The other nominee won in what I assume was a landslide (we do not reveal vote counts for elected faculty positions, only the winners).

In the end, this outcome was the best of all possible worlds; those who are in charge of things like tenure and promotion got to see that I was willing to run for an important campus position and losing means that I don’t have to actually hold an important campus position. Responsibility averted!

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