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.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Not My Circus

I've been hearing this saying lately, and I like it, "Not my circus, not my monkeys."  It's a good reminder that there are things we're responsible for (my monkeys), and bigger things we're responsible for (my circus), but in the grand scheme, there are things we're not responsible for.

Committee stuff is still shaking out.  I may end up a bit overwhelmed for the year.  I can deal with that.

I'm chairing one committee, that interdisciplinary program one.

I joined a campus task force on undergraduate research, because I want the humanities represented (and it looks like I'm the only humanities person).  We met yesterday, and it was a really good meeting, and I feel hopeful.  The leader is someone I respect a lot, and the other folks are smart, and have good ideas.  So I think we'll figure out some stuff that will help us and our students.

I may end up on the university senate.  If I do, then that will also involve a subcommittee.

And I'm on a very low service (meets once or twice a semester) university committee (that earns me points with at least one important person).

I'm on a departmental area committee. (In smaller areas, everyone in the area is always on their area committee; in lit, we rotate.  It's my turn.)


The area committee person who seems to be in charge, at least for now, sent out a note about figuring out meeting times, and sent out a doodle schedule link thingy.  I hate the doodle thingies, but I dutifully filled it out (I hope I did it right; does checking a box mean you can't meet then, or that you can?).  And noticed that the person with two afternoon courses and a course reassignment for research has marked off every single morning (at least, I think that's what the red means).

And there's one person who sent an email saying that he can only meet at these specific times, basically a one hour slot late in the afternoon.  Yes, exactly during the times that the other person has late afternoon classes.  And I read that email, and thought, "not my circus, not my monkeys," and was very glad it's not my responsibility to try to find a time that works for everyone.

I totally get wanting to block off time for research, reading, writing, and grading.  But it seems to me, given that we all teach a lot and have service obligations, we should work those blocks of time around our teaching and service commitments.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Minor Irritations

I serve on an interdisciplinary program committee; in fact, for the past year or so, I've been chair.  I offered to become chair when I did because the person who's primary service responsibility in this program and committee, the person who had been chair, irritated the heck out of me when they were chair because they wouldn't prepare an agenda (until I told them they needed to, and then the night before) and thus would introduce something half-assedly into a meeting and expect us to all be ready to go along with their idea without having a chance to think about it or whatever.  In other words, we'd have X business to do, and an agenda would come out the night before saying we had X business to do, and then in the meeting, they'd want to start with Y.  (Let's call this person the Slacker.)

It's not that I'm a super stickler for agendas or something, it's that when I get an agenda for a meeting, I look at the materials ahead of time, try to find answers to questions I have, make notes, and am prepared to discuss the issue.  So if there's an emergency or something really urgent, by all means, let's introduce it and see what we can do.  But if it's just bad planning, then let's talk about what we've prepared to talk about.

The corollary, of course, is that the Slacker never bothers to prepare for meetings.


There's the background.

This semester, the Slacker has backed away (probably legitimately) from other service, and so is only serving this interdisciplinary program on a couple of committees.

I, on the other hand, am chairing a search for my department, serving on several other committees, and the usual.  (I'm not doing anything extraordinary, but keeping busy.  I thus have a legitimate reason to say I'm not going to chair the interdisciplinary program committee this year.  Everyone would nod in agreement about it being someone else's turn.  And there's one person who might step in (but who's at their limit already in service in a BIG way), and would do a stellar job just because this person always does a stellar job.

But, my guess is that the committee would turn to the Slacker, who's service is all in the interdisciplinary program.  I don't know if they'd refuse or not.

I have to decide, because I can do 2-3 times the work as chair, or I can be possibly irritated for the rest of the year by this Slacker's learned incompetence.  (I think the Slacker could be totally competent; they are super competent about their own stuff.  But in service, not.  All big talk, no actual work.)


I have to decide, because if I offer, the program leader would be much happier, and everyone else on the committee would be happier, and I may actually be less stressed than if the Slacker chairs.


Side story: this committee does some work that goes to a college committee for their decision; some of that work is assigned by the college.  Paperwork A takes about an hour of a committee member's time, and then the committee looks at it, and takes maybe 10-15 minutes max, approves, and passes it forward.  We split up this work so that everyone on the committee does one or two iterations of Paperwork A.  (There's also Paperwork B, C, and D, which are way more onerous.)

Okay, last year, the slacker was assigned Paperwork A for X issue.  Everyone else on the committee did their Paperwork A issue.  Near the end of last academic year, we had a Paperwork B issue for X, and someone else on the committee did that, and it got sent forward to the college committee.

This week, the Deanling who runs the college committee emailed me to thank me for the Paperwork B we'd done for several issues, and then said that she'd done Paperwork A for X issue as well, because it had to be done before Paperwork B could go through, and she'd used the information for Paperwork B to fill out the Paperwork A form.

So the slacker put off Paperwork A for the year, and now never has to do it.  How's that for a reward!

(The Paperwork A stuff is 90% bullputty, and 10% meaningful, and normally, I'd be all over someone avoiding the bullputty part.  But I'm already irritated at the Slacker, so I'm more irritated now.)

(This is my last year on this committee, which I think is good.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Worrying Student

As in, the student I'm worried about, not the student who worries a lot.

I met recently with a student in one of my lower level courses to talk about an assignment based on some readings.  As I looked at what the student has worked on, and talked to the student, I realized that they didn't understand the vocabulary they were reading (this isn't, say, Shakespeare, but modern English, an essay aimed at first year students).  But when they read something aloud, they substituted similar looking (but often different meaning) words, and read along without realizing.

I'm sort of at a loss.  I suggested that the student slow down when they're reading, look up lots of words, and such.  But it seems that lacking a basic vocabulary would make the world incredibly hard to navigate, so I worry about this student not only as a student, but as an adult, trying to work, make decisions, vote, etc.

My understanding is that kids who read a lot tend to develop a way better vocabulary, and that kids who don't, don't develop as strong a vocabulary.  But it seems like the person who already doesn't read a lot is at a double disadvantage; they haven't developed the vocabulary, and they haven't developed the habits that are likely to help them develop a stronger vocabulary.

I don't know quite what to do.  It seems almost punitive to send a note to the central advising office, doesn't it?  I've suggest to everyone in my classes that they make regular use of the writing office, tutoring offices, etc.  Should I make an extra point with this student?

What do you folks do?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bullet Journal Win?

I got an email yesterday from the new director of the Special Interdisciplinary Program (I'm the Curriculum Committee Chair for the program, and was also last year) asking me about a course we've removed as a requirement of the major and minor.  (It was being taught, unsustainably as an unpaid/uncompensated overload.)

So I remembered that we'd done the discussion and voting on it relatively late in the year, and went through some meeting minutes, finding that discussion/vote on the second try. 

Then I looked at my bullet journal, the one I wrote about starting here (and here's a link to the bullet journal site) for that date, and the dates following.

So that's a win.  I was able to find the action we'd taken in the minutes AND to find what's basically my to do list for that date and the following days.

But, I didn't write it in my to do list.  Since I'm pretty good at putting stuff on there to get me to do it, that means I either totally didn't do it and should have, or that the previous director had said they'd do it (the minutes, alas, don't say; they should).  So that may be a bullet journal loss.  I don't know.

I looked at the on-line curricular forms program, but I don't see it there.  What's further, I don't see other things there that I remember submitting, either.

So that led me to call the office of the deanling in charge of curriculum, at about 8:10 this morning.  The phone got answered, but neither the deanling nor their admin assistant was in (either could probably answer my questions easily).  The admin assistant who answered the phone said they'd have whichever of the two got in first return my call.

I prepped my courses for the day, did the reading I needed to get done.  And now, over an hour later, still no call.  And no response to my email to the previous program director, but that's to be expected since they're back to full time teaching and either sensibly sleeping, prepping, or doing something else useful rather than answering email.

The bullet journal, though.  I don't use it as fully as the site suggests, because I keep a separate calendar and have lots of stuff on there, too.  But I'm really glad I started the system, because it helps me not forget deadlines, and know things are coming up much better than before.  It's especially better for longer term stuff, like when a deadline is a couple months out; I still write it in, with a reminder on the monthly task page, and then I remember, know when it's due, and can start working on it.

I have a colleague who's also a bullet journal person, but hers is way more colorfully decorated than mine.  I'm boring and tend to use just black ink.  But it's still helpful!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Starting Strong, or Just Starting

I've already graded a set of small assignments (I got them Thursday, turned them back Friday), and I have a set from another class (also small assignments) to grade this weekend.  And lots of reading and prep to do. 

I can't bear to do the math to figure out how many assignments, big or small, I'll be grading this semester.  I'm already feeling overwhelmed.

I went to a faculty art show opening on Thursday, and it was very good.  And then I went to an art show opening in a nearby community yesterday, and that was also good.  There's a concert tomorrow, and some friends and I are all going to a movie tonight.

Getting some Cultcha!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Trigger Warnings?

NPR did a segment on trigger warnings for All Things Considered recently, "Half Of Professors In NPR Ed Survey Have Used 'Trigger Warnings'"'  They sent out a survey and received 800 responses back (last fall); so it's not randomized or anything, nor is it super representative.  But it is interesting, in part because they concentrated on public universities, the sorts of schools most students attend.

I tend not to give specific trigger warnings, more because I'm forgetful than because I think they're problematic.  I do spend some time at the beginning of literature type courses asking students to think about the making of art using violence, and I'm pretty up front that the literature I teach often represents violence in a variety of ways.  And it represents non-consensual sex.  And those are things we need to think hard about, including asking ourselves why it is that we humans seem to enjoy aesthetic representations of violence (including non-consensual sexual violence).


My local public library has electronic lending now, and I've started "taking out" audio books.  The other day, I loaded one up based on the title (which was something to do with a leopard or ocelot or something), and without carefully reading whatever blurb was available. 

I listen to these at night, to help me fall asleep.  So I tend to start them as I'm in the final stages of getting ready, taking out my contacts, stretching, changing for bed.  (Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to go back to find where I remember from the night before.)

Anyway, this one started with a scene of torture.  And I found myself simultaneously horrified and weirdly captivated.  And then I turned it off.  I didn't want to go on.  (Instead, I found what's turning out to be a very good book by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth.)

As you can probably guess, the character being tortured was female, and the torture was somewhat sexualized.  (Less sexualized than, say, in the tattoo books.  Though, I think this one, when I looked later, was also set in Scandinavia.)


It seems to me that (and maybe this is based on the popularity of the tattoo books, which I listened to on CD while driving) we've gotten a lot more interested in the past few years on really graphic representations of torturing female characters, especially in highly sexualized ways.  We're taking more pleasure in graphic representations of specific violence towards women.

And I think about the representations of violence in, say, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Spenser, etc, and there's certainly a fair bit of glee to causing characters' bodies pain (think Titus or "The Prioress's Tale"), the enjoyment of causing characters' bodies pain seems way more of late.


So, there I was, wishing I'd realized that the audio book was going to be so violent, and knowing that I wouldn't willingly listen to that violence.  In other words, I'd have liked a trigger warning, and would have avoided the audiobook altogether if I'd had one.

I think for me, I'm less comfortable with really explicit, graphic representations, less comfortable with sexualized torture, especially aimed at female characters, and relatively more comfortable with direct violence in battle.  I get teary during the Hotspur death scene, but I don't turn away.  I can manage through the Gloucester blinding, even on stage. 

(I don't go to scary movies, and don't watch TV that's scary; I have a pretty low tolerance for scary, and have since I was a little kid and wouldn't stay in the room while my cousins watched monster movies from the 50s.  I can recognize that Breaking Bad was artistically amazing, but I gave up watching it pretty quickly.   Yet, I've read quite detailed accounts of torture of POWs in Vietnam, and so forth.  I think I'm less tolerant of torture as I get older.)

What I wonder is how we (as teachers) decide what we'll teach and why?  How we as consumers of culture decide what we'll consume (and thus support)?  How do we help students think productively about their own decisions?


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Those Panicked Emails

One of my colleagues stopped by my office this morning, and mentioned her irritation that a student had sent her a rather panicked email about what the assignment for today actually is.

And I got one or two emails between teaching yesterday and waking this morning asking for clarifications.

We faculty types think we're being utterly clear, of course, so it's faintly irritating when someone doesn't understand.

But from the other direction, these emails reveal a couple things:  first, and most important: the student wants to do well.

second, they aren't yet afraid to ask

and third, someone has scared them already.  Either they've gotten in trouble for messing up an assignment at some point, or someone has made them feel bad for misunderstanding an assignment, or something.


My goal for this semester, modest though it is, is to answer these questions and emails with those three things in mind.

And the bonus is: I've already had a student come see me (by appointment) to check her draft of a journal assignment due Friday.  So she's already read the poem, done some thinking and writing, and asked for feedback.  I have to applaud THAT initiative!

(For the record, the colleague's description of the assignment she'd given did sound confusing to me, too.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Violin and Writing

My new song on violin, the "Hunter's Chorus" from the opera Der Freischutz, is in 2/4, and has quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes.  I'd been practicing it for a week, and when I had my lesson last week, my teacher noticed something, and had me step with the beat, at which point I, too, noticed that I was playing the quarter notes and eighth notes with the same time.  Oops.

The thing is, I'd been practicing wrong for a solid week, so unlike just learning something, I need to unlearn and then learn again.  She suggested some strategies, including working with a metronome. 

The first day I tried it, I had to adjust the metronome about 10 times to find a speed slow enough for me to hit the sixteenth notes.  Let's just say that my speed is rather more dirge like than the allegro the music calls for.  (I'm playing at 55 beats per minute, and allegro is more like 120 beats per minute.)

The sixteenth notes are hard, with bow crossings, and holding a finger down on the D string for one note, then crossing to the open A string for the next, without picking up the finger on the D string (so it has to be clear of the A string, something that's not easy for my fingers).

So, I'm practicing along with the metronome, super slowly, and looking at the music, and while I may be getting the tempo, everything is goes to hell.  My fingers aren't quite hitting where they should, and the bowing's messy.  (I'm also working with the metronome on scales and broken thirds, and they're a little less messy.)

I'm beginning to "get" the time, so at the end of the practice session, I stop the metronome and try to play in time, and everything else improves a bit.  The sixteenth notes aren't as smooth as they should be, but my fingers hit the strings closer to where they should, and the bowing's not quite such a mess.

What does this have to do with writing?

With violin, I'm trying to pay attention to a number of things at once (and that number will increase as I improve, of course): fingerings, bowings, music, time.  It seems like I can really get one or two of those things at a time.  So if I've memorized the music, then I can focus on fingering and bowing much more.  But if I add in being really attentive to time, with the metronome, the fingering and bowing suffer.

Similarly, in writing, students are trying to pay attention to a lot of things, and when they're working on writing about new content, then everything else pretty much goes to hell.  That's especially true if the content is challenging for a given student.  For me, the timing is a big challenge right now.  For a student, Foucault may be the challenge, or partial pressure across a membrane, or describing mouse teeth.  So they're focusing on that hard content, writing in order to understand the content, but also, in our system, often to demonstrate some degree of mastery of the content.

And everything else falls apart, spelling, sentence structure, paragraph structure, it all goes to hell. 

Now, given time and guidance, the student can get the content in order to learn and demonstrate a degree of mastery, and then go back and work on making paragraph structure strong, making sentences work, catching typos.  But that all takes time, and realistically, it takes guidance from a teacher to get them to take that time, and to teach them to see how paragraph structure works, how sentences work, and how to effectively revise those, and then how to effectively proofread.

So that's what I'm thinking about today, as I start classes, realizing that my students are learning hard stuff, and separating out writing for learning from writing to demonstrate learning, and providing time and guidance for paragraph and sentence revision, and for catching typos.

Here's wishing myself a good semester, and wishing those of you also starting today a good semester, and wishing all of you who've been at it for a bit already a continued good semester.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Family Bonus

I was wandering through the HR site yesterday, and came upon a benefits calculator.  You type in the salary you estimate, and whether you're on the single or family health plan, and whether you're on a local or national (more expensive) health plan.

At a given salary, the Social Security and retirement benefits are the same for both.

Not so the health plan.  Here's the single plan and the family plan (local health plan):

Employer part             Employee part
$8,011.08                   
$1,032.00


$19,900.68                  $2,604.00


That's right, people on the family plan pay about $1600 for the extra person/people on the health plan (it's the same if you've got a single extra person or a number of extra people).

Our employer, though, pays an extra $11, 000.  That's an untaxed benefit of $11,000 extra.  Wow.

When we talk about benefits (say, in union discussions when we're fantasizing), folks with kids often complain that they should get free or subsidized tuition, or free childcare or after-school care (child care is subsidized on campus: 7am-5:30pm costs $40/day for up to 3 year olds, for faculty; it's cheaper for students, more expensive for community members).

Benefits are part of the costs to employers that they have to figure when they're employing someone, and so, in reality, we get less take-home pay because of our benefits.  That's fine.  At least, it's fine inasmuch as we all have access to benefits.  It would be nice if we had more equal access.

But an extra $11K for family plan folks?  I blame the patriarchy. 

(And it's only very recently that same sex married folks could claim the untaxed benefit, though there was a time when same sex partner could get the benefit if they met all sorts of qualifiers that married folks didn't have to meet, but they had to pay taxes on it because they couldn't legally be married.  I'm not sure how it works for unmarried partners now.)

It would be nice if I could get my hands on an extra $11k untaxed benefits.  Maybe they could put more into my retirement?   (Think how much faster that would add up!)

It's hard for me to think of another benefit that would be as helpful to a non-family benefitting person here.

(Yes, I realize I'm privileged to have a job, and I'm happy to pay my taxes, especially for schools, libraries, roads, social services, and such, happy to support subsidized childcare on campus.  And I would be super duper happy if we'd move to a single-payer non-employer linked health insurance system!)