Friday, October 21, 2016

On-Line Catalog

I got an email from a colleague today, asking about one of the requirements for an interdisciplinary program (for which I chair a committee, so it made sense).  I looked at my print out of the requirements, and then I looked at last year's catalog.

And then I answered with some confidence, both that this year's catalog and last year's catalog agreed about the requirement.

And then I got to thinking: we've gone from printed catalogs to printed and on-line catalogs, and now to only an on-line catalog.  I have a partial shelf of old catalogs, which have been useful at times because here, at least, catalogs work as a sort of contract.  Students enter under a "catalog year" and have to fulfill the requirements outlined in the catalog for their catalog year.  If we changed the requirements, they don't have to do new requirements, even if they changed their major after a new catalog.  (Students always had an option to move to a newer catalog year, which makes more sense lately because we've been reducing requirements in a lot of ways in an effort to raise our four and six year graduation rates.)

So, as an advisor, it was helpful to keep several years of printed catalogs on hand to be able to check requirement changes and such. 

So how are we going to figure out if, say, a student comes in under the 2016-17 catalog, and then we change a major requirement in 2017 at some point.  We won't have back catalogs to check (nor will students), and requirements can now change at any time during the year (rather than just once a year when the catalog went to print).  That gives the university lots of flexibility, but seems like it has potential to cause advising nightmares.

The nightmares will probably be minimized if we keep going on our current trajectory or reducing requirements, of course, since it will always be "advantageous" for a student to move to a new catalog.

Has anyone out there been using only on-line catalogs for a while now?  (It makes a lot of sense in many ways, of course.)  How does your school track changes in programs so they're visible to students, faculty, and anyone else?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trusting the Process

In my writing class today, students had an optional journal due, and about half the students turned one in.

It was also revision day, a day for taking the responses from peer editors and working on revising papers.  We talked about revision a bit, talked about writing mini-conclusions for paragraphs, using transitions not at the end of paragraphs, but at the beginning of paragraphs, and also about writing conclusions.  The journal was, in one sense, a possible rough draft of a conclusion, though they didn't necessarily realize it until we were talking about writing conclusions and one student asked if they could basically use their journal.  Yes, I said, that's what it's for.  And several of them laughed.

And once again, I told them that the journals for class should help them with assignments in some way or other.  Pretty much all the journal assignments feed in, give them practice, or have some building relationship to the larger writing assignment. 

I think some of them get it.  Tomorrow, I'm going to talk to them about learning to trust the process of education. 

That trust, it's really difficult.  It's difficult as an instructor to earn the trust, and probably more difficult to give it to an instructor.  But if you can build that trust at least somewhat, build a sense that what the instructor is asking the student to do will build skills, is do-able with work, and will contribute to their overall learning, then (I think?  I hope?) students will feel like there's more of a partnership, more mentoring rather than judging.

And I'm back to violin lessons again.  My teacher suggests I try X.  And because I've consciously decided that I trust her teaching, I try X.  And by golly, X is hard.  But when I get a bit of a handle on X, then it helps me do Y, something more obviously musical, perhaps.

X this week is a D-minor scale.  It's a bit hard.  But I trust that it will help me when I start playing the D-minor part of the next Suzuki piece.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

That Went Fast

The past week just blew by.

I got and graded a big stack of papers, and some small stacks (journals, rewrites).

I've been to endless meetings (well, it feels like they're endless, even if they're good meetings).  And student conferences; I've met with every student in my writing class at least once since 8am on Thursday.

I spent most of the weekend in grading jail.  Except I went to a concert that my violin teacher was playing in.  Way good!

Today, I don't teach, so I slept in, and am about to practice, and then start to grade a big stack of papers.  Then, around noon, I'll go to campus for a meeting and then conferences with students.

The stack of papers I turned back in my Shakespeare class have led to some worried students wanting conferences.  And my writing students are working on a paper which they'll do peer revision work on tomorrow in class.  This is a hard assignment, and I think most of them are on track (since I've talked to them all in conference, I have a pretty good idea where they were).  But several want more feedback before peer revision.

Violin is especially fun right now.  I'm about to work on "The Two Grenadiers," a song by Schumann in D-minor and D-major.  So I'm working on the D-minor scale, and since you can shift a string and do basically the same thing in a different key, the G-minor scale.  I find scales weirdly satisfying, I think because I can practice them and achieve a basic level of doing them fairly quickly.  (That doesn't happen with most pieces I'm learning.)

I seem to have an especially heavy committee load right now, and can I say, when you work with someone on a committee, you get a different sense of them.  I'm on one committee with an administrator, and while I respected her before, my respect has redoubled.  She's fantastic at facilitating discussion and progress. 

And I'm on a committee with a young faculty colleague, and I'm astounded by how set in stone she thinks things must be.  For example, we came up with issue X, and she said that she's heard that at some schools, issues X is always handled in Y way.  And more experienced committee members said, yes, that's true at some schools, but we don't, because handling issue X in Y way may mislead people and thus be hurtful.  And she insisted that at some schools, issue X is handled in Y way, and she wanted to make sure we knew that.  And once again, other folks said, yes, we know, but we don't because doing that is problematic.  She came back to the Y practice two or three more times, as if she couldn't quite believe that we'd rejected Y practice for reasons we believe are good.

And it was like that for several issues.  Color me unimpressed.

Yesterday, I went to a recital by a university string student my teacher teaches.   (If you want to learn an instrument, one helpful thing is to pay attention to other people who play.  At the least, you get a bit more familiar with some repertoire.)  The student did a really good job.  Really good. 

And once again, I was so impressed by how poised our music students are, at least the ones who give recitals.  (I'm sure there are some music students who aren't so good, etc.)  But the ones at this recital, the pianist, a chamber group, they're so good at looking confident and comfortable on stage.  It's not that they don't make mistakes, but they're poised. 

And watching the chamber group, it's so cool to see how closely they attend to each other, looking, listening.  Way cool!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Last Hurrah

I went camping up at a State Park this past weekend, probably the last hurrah of the season.

So, naturally, I took some pictures.  It was (according to WU) 26F at night, and boy is that cold.  But the morning was totally worth it!

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I'm reading job applications, and got one from someone who did their degree at a for-profit, on-line outfit.  Everything about the application makes me feel like this person got ripped off and doesn't really realize it.

I feel sort of sickened.  We're searching for a, let's say, Mathematical Forester, and this person is getting a degree in Underwater Basketweaving.  But somehow they think they're a good applicant for our job.

It's not like I can sit down with them and tell them they got ripped off.  And if I could, what good would it do them at this point?  None that I can think of.

Yeah, so I'm feeling a bit sick at this point.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Stick Figure Lit - What's the Poem Today?

I taught a poem today, and now I did some art.  The poem seemed fitting for today.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday Evening

I came to my office to take care of a few things, finish some prep, enter grades, the usual.

And, yes, to check what I'm teaching in my intro to poetry class tomorrow.  "My Last Duchess."  What a sweet thing to read on my syllabus!  What a glorious poem to teach!

Color me happy.

Of course, most of the poems I teach in the class make me happy; I'm sure I'm not the only person who teaches a lot of favorites in intro courses, right?

I still have several more hours of grading, reading, and prep for tomorrow (I've spent much of the day grading already). 

4 more in a stack of 20.
One Shakespeare reading (two chapters)
Some reading for the writing course (boring, but I don't know it well enough to not do it)

I have to send in my description of my senior seminar for next semester and order books for it and Shakespeare this coming week.  (Heck, I'm probably already late on the book orders; they've changed systems yet again, so I dread trying to figure it out.)

I get a small stack of grading on Monday, and another on Wednesday (different courses).

I have one biggish meeting to chair.  Another meeting to prep and attend.  Three obligatory (well, two obligatory and one a joy) campus social events.

Busy week ahead.  Back to prepping!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Observing Class

In my role as a tenured member of my department, I observed a colleague's class the other day, and wrote a report for that colleague's file.  We do our observations according to a sort of plan.  Before the observation, we're supposed to meet with the person we're observing to learn what they're working on in the class, what problems they're finding, and so forth.  Then we observe the class and take notes.  After the class at some point, we meet with the person again to give them verbal feedback.  Finally, we fill out a report template which asks us for some basic information, then asks for a narrative of the class observation, a short section on the strengths we noticed, a short section on suggestions for the person, and an overview giving our conclusions.  The idea is that the report shouldn't be anything you haven't already talked to the person about, so there shouldn't be anything unexpected on that end.

And then when the people writing the letters up the line (either letters from the tenured members committee recommending for/against renewal, or for/against tenure and promotion), they can quote from the observation report as part of the evidence about the person's teaching. 

I really like observing other teachers, as a rule.  As a committee task, it's not usually difficult.  You have a nice chat with a colleague, sit and take notes for an hour or so, have another chat, and write up the report.  If you see things you think you can make good suggestions to help with, you make those suggestions. 

My most recent observation was like that, except more, because the colleague is a stellar teacher, and I really enjoyed watching them do their thing.  It was like watching a really good artist at work; you might not realize what the person is going to do with the blob of white paint they just put on their brush, and then they do something with it, and it works really well, and you think, "ahh, that person's an artist, and I can see their artistry."  And then you take away a little better understanding, and you can use that in your own teaching.

Times like this, I'm grateful for my colleagues.  We're so lucky to have this colleague, in particular.

(I can, of course, imagine nightmare scenarios, with unfair, unkind observers, or with inept teachers.  But even the least apt teachers I've observed, I've felt like I could offer one or two concrete suggestions to help them develop as teachers.  And I try not to make those quirky suggestions based on what I do, but real suggestions that will be helpful.  On the other hand, maybe some of the people I've observed felt like I was unfair and/or unkind.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hiring Faculty of Color and the "Five Things" Article

Today, this article came across my facebook page: :The five things no one will tell you about why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color" by Marybeth Gasman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

In short, the article argues that institutions of higher education don't hire more faculty of color because "we don't want them.  We simply don't want them."

She then talks about the ways hiring works against faculty of color, starting with "quality," which she says is code for having gone to the right elite institution and worked with a prominent person in the field.

The second excuse she says hiring folks use is that there aren't enough people of color in the pipeline; she argues that schools using this excuse need to create their own pipelines, mentor people of color in their fields, and then, even if they don't hire their own graduates, cooperate with other elite institutions to hire from their pipelines.

Third, she says, is that faculty will bend rules to hire their preferred white candidates, and hold to rules to avoid hiring people of color.

Fourth, according to Gasman, is that faculty on search committees aren't trained in human resources areas, and too often look for "fit," which tends to mean that they hire candidates who feel comfortable, often because those candidates look like the members of the search committee, do similar work, and so forth.  Thus, a committee of white women would be more likely to hire another white woman than not.

And finally, Gasman says,
if majority colleges and universities are truly serious about increasing faculty diversity, why don’t they visit Minority Serving Institutions – institutions with great student and faculty diversity – and ask them how they recruit a diverse faculty. This isn’t hard. The answers are right in front of us. We need the will.
As I read this, I found myself nodding at times, and feeling irritated at times because she seems to be only thinking of elite institutions.

So, I want to ask, what about institutions such as my own? 

I've been on a lot of search committees, and I can't think of any time we've taken a candidate off a list because of where they got their degree or who they worked with.  I can, though, think of a time when one of the search committee members argued for a candidate based on a strong letter from a prominent scholar in the field.

I don't know what to make of the pipeline argument.  I've been on searches where we had a limited number of candidates apply (think of where I am), offered the job to the strongest candidate (on paper and in the interview process), who happened to be a person of color, but then had the candidate turn us down because they'd gotten a better offer.  To be honest, we often get turned down by our first two or even three top choices.

So I know we've made the pipeline complaint.

We don't have a graduate program turning out PhDs, so our only way of contributing to the pipeline is to work harder to attract and mentor students of color, and to send them up the pipeline, hoping they get into a strong PhD program.  We don't do nearly as much attracting and mentoring students of color as we should.  (I'm more ambivalent about anyone going on to a PhD in English these days, but I'd like to see real equity there.)  But the most elite PhD programs seem to mostly take students from their elite pals, leaving our students to get PhDs from strong state schools, which leaves them out of the elite candidate pools (but should make them great candidates for our own hiring, eventually).

I think the third and fourth reasons are closely related, and I think they're where our problems here come in.  From things I overhear, I know we hire for "fit" and that when we do, "fit" often means good old boys, or white folks, or people from the upper Midwest, especially more local, straight folks, and so on.

I'm intrigued by Gasman's fifth point, which seems more a suggestion than a reason why we fail to hire faculty of color: we should go visit institutions that do successfully hire faculty of color, institutions which are historically Minority Serving Institutions.  But even there, I'm a bit at a loss.

Say, I'm on a search committee right now.  And there are maybe 6 other search committees on campus right now, all separate, all in different fields.  Do we all independently send folks out to visit Minority Serving Institutions? 

And in this budget crunch, how do we do that?  And would a visit work?  There's got to be something here, but I think it might be sort of backwards.

What if we, as a campus, hired one or two deans from Minority Serving Institutions to come here and hold some workshops (say over two days, four workshops, afternoon, evening, morning, afternoon)?  And what if our administrators said that only departments whose chair and personnel committee chair both attended a workshop would be allowed to put in for a new hire in the following year?  And what if our administrators said that they'd look at requests for new hires more favorably from departments or programs who had a greater percentage of faculty attend workshops?

All our departments are pretty desperate for faculty (budget hell), and many faculty really do want to find ways to hire more colleagues of color.

We'd have a chance of making us more aware of our implicit biases, get ideas for increasing the diversity of our candidate pools, and have the potential to give a broad range of faculty some knowledge and tools to use in searches directly (as committee members) and indirectly (asking the right questions of search committees and such).

Could it work?  Would it work? 

(Of course, the next problem would be to retain our faculty of color, to help them feel welcome and comfortable here, to mentor them, and to not be jerks to them.)