Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cement Boots in Quicksand

Somebody shoot me. Please. I've been writing my tenure letter for the past three hours, and I'm only on section three of six.
--Surely, Fluff, that indicates that you've been carefully crafting your prose, and that the sections you have written are lovely and a study in clarity!

--Why no, actually, it's just a vomit draft, thus far.

--Then obviously, Fluff, you have been consciously selecting the most important parts of your teaching, research, and service and describing the import of these for committee members who may not be conversant with the conventions in your discipline!

--Actually, I'm sort of winging it, writing my way into the relevance of any of the elements that I'm describing.

--Well, Fluff, if nothing else, there's precious little trouble you can get into when you're tied to your computer all day!

--Tell that to the empty candy wrappers that surround me.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Holding Pattern

It's like this: every time sit down to write, I get stuck trying to focus on a single subject. That's not just because I should be blogging more often; it's also indicative that there's too much going on right now. So what's the solution? Bullets!!

  • First and foremost: thanks for the kind words, all. I'm much calmer now about the whole tp situation (in fact, thinking of the binder as toilet paper, and it being used for similar purposes, helps tremendously). I was lucky enough to get talked down by at least three different sane and empathetic people. But let me say this: there is an administrator on campus who has always irked me, in large measure because she has a voice like a foghorn and she's not afraid to use it. But she's also the one who was willing to give me a read on my cv on a Sunday night. So, note to self: take back everything bad you've ever said about her, and don't get distracted from people's innate competencies and compassions by petty outward characteristics.
  • Second: you know departmental life is bizarre when you find yourself watching 300 late at night and drawing comparisons to meetings. This is not Sparta, and I'm am certainly not sporting Gerard Butler's abs, but damn if it doesn't feel as if we're being asked to kneel and acknowledge the godhead. [This is made even more apt since the party in question once told me that she had always wished she could be "one of those really tall black women." My department: all about cultural awareness, us.] This week, we'll enter round four of the same "conversation" we've been having since last semester---one that has been effectively wiped from the meeting minutes twice. It's clear that the granny mafia is in full-effect; one refuses to look at me when I speak, and another is actively doing research to "disprove" claims about the content field in question. In my best moments, I have to hope that this is the death throes of an empire that can no longer stand--death throes, in fact, that make its manipulations ever more visible. After all, one of my most sedate and even-tempered colleagues said to me, in the last meeting: "She is evil. I see it now." In my worst moments, however, I fear that the longer it's dragged out and the more tactics employed, the more likely it is that they'll find a chink in the armor. Stay tuned.
  • Third: You all perhaps remember teaching? The pasttime for which I got into this gig to begin with? The one that technically pays the bills and shit? Well, two out of three classes this semester are rocking my world. The poppiest of pop culture classes is off to a running start, and who knew that giving them MORE theory would get them on board faster? And, the class that was giving me the most agita---the seminar with too many requirements that I couldn't pick novels for---those kids are rocking my world. They're excited, they're funny, they're engaged. They're making fun of themselves for "geeking out" and finishing the novels before they have to. They're using quotes from the novels on their Facebook pages. They're talking about Nixon era politics and pornography and courtly love like gangbusters. Even the bane of my existence student---the serial plagiarist---asked a good question yesterday.

It never ceases to amaze me that the teaching is the thing that makes me love my job. For all of the complaining and griping that faculty do about their students (insert cliche characterization here, e.g., "kids nowadays..."), I'd rather face a mob of them any day over the vast majority of my colleagues. And as that is my constant and ever-present refrain, I'll stop here.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Paranoia May Indeed Destroy Ya

It's Sunday! It's a beautiful (if humid) day outside! I've completed a few onerous tasks that have been hanging over my head, and have some less taxing ones to go, but in general, less work than I should! I'm teaching an incredibly dirty book on Tuesday, and my students are all excited! Life should be super!!

Instead, however, I've spent the entire weekend bouncing between a state of panic and one of resigned exhaustion about the status of my tenure file. The first wave hit me two weeks ago, when I realized that I didn't actually have all of the documents I needed. A quick email to the department secretary and a graciously resigned-and-sent document later, I was all set. And feeling pretty good---until I attended the tenure q&a that the school schedules yearly at this time.

Now, let me just say for the record that since I'm at a teaching institution (and one with a fairly significant load), the story has always been that your work in the classroom and your service to the college were the benchmarks. And luckily, I've got that stuff pretty decently wrapped up. The second part of the story, or at least the way that I've always interpreted it, was that any scholarly work you could manage to do on top of that was good. Going to conferences, maybe an article, all to the good. Here again, I thought I was on top of it. And then I fell down the rabbit hole.

It should be noted that this meeting was populated, primarily, by scientists and social scientists, and so the terms of engagement were disciplinarily specific. There was one voice that noted that the research criterion is written with the singular---as in one---as its default. From there, however, the discussion moved to questions of refereed journals, the importance of multiple authors, and the possibility of a point system (?!!). While this last was denied by the tenure committee member, it did point to the fact that there is an operant hierarchy of research in the minds of the committee. What the crap happened to "it's all to the good"?!! Did I miss something along the way?!!

All of this is complicated, of course, by the fact that one of the pieces of the file I must submit---a piece that contextualizes the work represented in the file and attests to the stuff that doesn't necessarily appear in it---has to be written by a specific administrator. Which is fine and good, except that the person currently inhabiting that role has been there for precisely two months, during which she's met me twice. And during our first meeting, she had no idea how our tenure system worked, but assured me that "someone told her that research was most highly valued." [Oh, wtf, my friends. Wtf, indeed.] She was also in the meeting above, during which she confused two related, but separate processes leading to reappointment and tenure. [In her defense, it's a confusing system, but she has about two weeks to figure the whole thing out.] And lest you suggest that I make one more appointment to discuss this with her, let me let you in on a secret: she's just not a listener. She's charming, and she insists that she's an expert on particular things. But she also seems bound and determined to make her previous experiences the context in which our local procedures are read. Which would be fine, if her previous institutions were teaching colleges with 4/4 loads and high service expectations, and not Research 1 universities. I'm just saying.

If I had my druthers, I would greatly prefer not to be the fodder of an administrative turnover. Of the times in my career when I could really use someone to go to bat for me, this would be a big one. Barring that, I'd settle for someone that has a sense of anything that I've done over the past five years of my life. If that's not an option, how about just a person who isn't holding me to a completely different standard than those that my colleagues experienced? I'm not completely helpless, just in case you were wondering. I'm sending out gentle feelers to other administrators, etc., just to get on the radar in the event of the worst-case scenario. Not sure what all they can do, but here goes nothing...

The four-month window between submission and decision announcement is a long span in which to sweat, folks. Keep your fingers crossed.

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Monday, September 08, 2008


You know, it's not that I haven't written posts since I saw y'all last. I write them, but they're both unfocused and banal, whinging without being specific, and I don't want to read that, so why would you?

In the sea of weirdness and disappointment that was the second week of classes (beginning to prep the tenure materials, meeting--twice--with a new administrator, following up on the progress of an a leftover proposal from the ACUN that's now 2 and 1/2 years old), there was a gem. I had dinner over at my colleagues' house, and it was delightful and tasty and relaxing. At the end of the night, the two of them were fussing over sending home leftovers with me, and debating who would perform which of the doggie-bag-packing tasks. One turned to me and remarked: "We're still trying to figure out which of us is the control freak. Right now, we just trade off." Now, these two could not be more calm and easy-going if they tried. Often, I feel guilty for my Eeyore-inflected, angry/resentful/sarcastic vibe and its possible long-term effects on both of them. Control freak?! I wanted to say. I'll show YOU a control freak!!

In a nutshell, that's what my last week boiled down to: all of the many things that I have little to no control over. I'm far from my best in these situations, and I think I have a terrible tendency to continue on, even as the signs read "stop." Worse yet, the bleaker things look, the harder I push. I'm only a few years away from being that screaming harridan that every faculty member hates. Need a visual? Try this:

Let that be a warning to all of us. My new resolution for the week: the only thing I can really do is articulate what I think (and most of the time, I can't even do that. Ba-dum-dum! Take my wife...please!). I can't hold back the tide, nor change what people think, nor sneak up behind them in a dark alley and hit them over the head with a trash can lid. To embrace the cliche of the day: the only thing I can control is myself (but only with a whip and a muzzle...Thank you! I'm here all week!).

Someone remind me that I said all of this as the week of contentious meetings begins.