- I am grateful that I have a draft of my K'zoo paper. It's 13 pages long and thus needs to be cut, but I'm sure there's a bit of repetition in there that can easily come out. And 2 pages are a long passage of primary text that I won't be reading but referring to. I get a whole stack of final papers from both my classes tomorrow, but I can handle editing and grading at the same time.
- I am grateful for my friends across the blogosphere and the academic world.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
I'm having a heckuva time concentrating on shaping my K'zoo paper. I'm now convinced it's kind of dumb, but perhaps I'll cycle out of that stage in a day or two. But anyway, the writing process, followed by grading jail starting on Thursday, means that you might not hear much from me this week.
By the way, if you missed, Another Damned Medievalist is the host of the blogger meet-up for this year's K'zoo, and it was decided to do the same early morning official meet-up as last year, with some unofficial, less rigidly organized go-out-for-drinks meet-ups throughout the conference. Here's the post where she discussed this.
And because I could use a dose of levity around here...You know how purebred show dogs all have ridiculous long names, starting with the name of the breeder (I think), and then also have a family nickname that may or may not be suggested by the formal name? Well, over the course of the last month and a half, here's what I've decided Pippi's full name is:
Longstocking's Pippington Gertrude Cottontail McLovin, called "Pippi"
Ok, back to work I go!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Last night was the awards dinner for all the winners of Stupendous Achievement in Excellence, and Poet Guy read the stuff I wrote for him. Funny note to that: turns out he didn't expect me to *write* it for him -- he just wanted information so *he* could write it. But he was grateful I'd misunderstood him and did the work for him! Plus, as he joked, "I'm a creative writer; I probably would've made stuff up." Heh heh. That's him alright. In fact, his wife claims he routinely makes stuff up! But what was kind of surprising was how soft-spoken he was at the mike. He's a gregarious guy and a professor, so I didn't expect him to turn so diffident. It was kind of endearing, actually.
But the biggest surprise was that *I* was supposed to say something after receiving my award. Wha?? No one told me that! So while everyone was getting their dinners, I hurriedly scribbled something on the back on my program. Thanks goodness for The Swain's suggestion in this comment, since I used that as the backbone of what I said. And it made a nice companion piece for what I wrote for Poet Guy.
Bullock said the Provost was much more attentive to what Poet Guy and I said about me and my classes than she was for any one else's comments. I definitely could see her nodding vigorously out of the corner of my eye, and the vibe felt genuine. I don't know what that means. Is she secretly *not* in league with President Newfangledness? Or does she think I'm on their side? Or does she just fail to act administratively on her real ideals about education, perhaps because she's being pressured to do otherwise? Who knows.
For posterity's sake, here's what Poet Guy and I said, with some edits not to reveal too much. And for the record, neither of us began with "Hwaet," despite the Pastry Pirate's wishes, made known here. But I did unconsciously start my comments with "OK," which made me smile, because I'd just been explaining "Hwaet" to Bullock earlier, and talking about other 'quotative' words like "So" (Heaney's translation of "hwaet") and "y'all" (as used in the way described by LLCoolCarl here).
First, here's Poet Guy (the last sentence is all his):
Dr. Virago – or V, as we know her in the English department – joined us in 2003. She teaches medieval literature and language, from the 8th to the 15th centuries, as well as other courses for majors and non-majors. Her first book, [insert title here] published last year, addresses [a scintillating topic!], while her new project, tentatively titled [something stupid that's really just filling space], focuses on [another subject in the same period, involving the same social strata of readers/audience]. Both of these research projects address the literary culture of [a particular social strata in a particular era of late medieval culture]. As she has written in her narrative of professional activity, "While this may seem a strangely obscure area of expertise, it is actually a period of great relevance to who we are today as readers, producers, and consumers of books and other narrative entertainments." V. brings this expertise and this ability to see the connections between the present and the past to the classroom every day, and helps students to see their own connections to medieval literature and language and as well as to scholarly conversations about it. She writes that she sees students as "junior scholars learning how to do what medievalists do, not as passive receptacles for what's been said and done," and so she teaches students how to do research and make arguments about medieval literature and its scholarship. "They may never study medieval literature again in any professional way," she writes, "but they come to an understanding of how knowledge is produced and research undertaken – lessons that they might adapt to other fields and endeavors. And perhaps more important, they stretch their minds and imaginations, and move out of their intellectual and experiential comfort zones." She says she takes great pride in teaching "tough" subjects that "challenge students to test and develop their abilities, to broaden their worldviews, and to find new pleasures and value in unexpected subjects." And we in the English Department are very proud to have her among us.
Then I accepted the award, posed for a picture with the Provost, and said the following:
When I tell people I'm a medievalist, I get a variety of responses. Confusion is a common one. [Pause to tilt head and imitate a confused person: "Medievalist? What's that?"] My favorite response, though, was from [a director/actor & sibling to a more famous actor from a Chicago family of actors]. His response to my saying I'm a medievalist? "Coooooool." [Accompanied by slow nodding of the head.] But a frequent response is consternation -- people tell me of the struggles they had to understand Beowulf or Chaucer in high school or college. I've always wanted to say to them, "Well, you've clearly never had me teach you medieval literature." But I thought that was perhaps too arrogant or presumptuous to say -- I only just thought that. Now, however, maybe, just maybe I can say that; clearly the students of RBU enjoy studying medieval literature with me and value it. And that really says something about them -- about their tenacity, their intelligence, and their ambitions. To them I am grateful ...[here I paused because I was getting a little teary, and I actually said, "Excuse me, I'm getting a little verklempt" -- yeah, I don't know why I invoked "Coffee Talk," either]...and I'm touched and moved by this award. Thank you.
A couple of footnotes to all of this:
I was the only person from either arts or humanities getting an award, despite the fact that there were four categories of awards (teaching, research, advising, and outreach/community engagement). However, the law school prof who also won one of the teaching awards is an honorary humanities person, since he works with our interdisciplinary undergraduate program that addresses issues of law and society, and also because he has a Ph.D. in history.
And also, said lawyer came up to me afterwards and said in a jovial way, "I have to say, in all the years I've been saying 'I'm a lawyer,' no one has ever responded with 'Cool!'" Hee hee.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Now I've gotten the President's letter approving my application for tenure and promotion, too.
Well, sort of.
The President decided that the last three weeks of school -- right after making a state of the university speech in which he promised to turn RBU's curriculum into something totally different and inferior to what it is now without consultation with the faculty, and before finishing contractual obligations like signing off on tenure applications -- would be a good time to make a trip to another country to recruit students from our sister city.
So, I got a second letter from the Provost, in which she speaks for the President. Since the President's approval is part of the contracted process, I'm not sure this is kosher. But as long as the board of trustees signs off on it, he can't reverse it on some technicality, since they hold authority over him.
But I'm not celebrating until I have that BOT approval and it's official -- which, unfortunately, will be after K'zoo, not to mention two weeks after the end of the school year. Sigh.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
So at the end of this week is the award ceremony where I get my "Most Stupdendous Super-Awesome Teacher" award, along with the other awardees in the categories of teaching, research, and advising. Normally my chair would be there to introduce me, but she'll be at a conference and so has passed on the duty to the associate chair. And *he* has passed on the duty of writing the damn thing to *me*.
Now, normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. Normally, I'd do it just like I do it when conference panel chairs want to know how I want to be introduced: a few words about my affiliation, my research and major publications, and the areas I teach. But the Provost is going to be there, and she's the eyes and ears of President Newfangledness. (President Newfangledness is out of town, so he won't be there. I'm both relieved and annoyed.) So I want to Make. A. Statement.
I've already made a bit of a statement in the article that the official PR/news publication of the university put out. They asked for a short statement of teaching philosophy, and I did a somewhat less dramatic summary version of my "Speaking for the Dead" post, along with a dash of "Why I Teach Medieval Literature."
But this time it's not really me speaking, it's Poet Guy, and it would be weird for one of my manifestos to come out of Poet Guy's mouth, especially since he's not a manifesto kind of guy. But I still want him to say something about the value of what I do, and about the significance that students nominated a teacher of medieval literature and language for this award. And I especially want that because this year I am the ONLY person in the arts or humanities combined to be getting one of these awards. The rest -- two advisors, three researchers, and three other teachers -- are all in the sciences or professional schools.
So, what to do, what to do? I'm working on it right now but probably won't send it off to Poet Guy until tomorrow, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Use yourself as a model for example's sake, if you like.
Friday, April 18, 2008
while watching TV(well, Bullock was watching anyway)
This is how we all feel around here these days. The last two weeks have been utterly exhausting and there's still more exhausting stuff to come, in addition to the usual end-of-the-semester / getting-ready-for-Kalamazoo craziness. And Bullock and I are particularly exhausted because Pippi has decided she's a morning dog. A very early morning dog. She wakes us up at 5:30 now. Anyone have any hints for getting a dog to sleep in later?
Monday, April 14, 2008
OK, so I've volunteered to teach my colleagues how to make their blog into something that people outside of RBU will want to read, but that also discusses what's going on here. I also plan on showing them ways of getting it wider attention and readers. Obviously, nothing's guaranteed, but I have some ideas.
On the writing front, they should talk about the specifics here but with the framework of the larger problems for higher education in general -- especially public education. They won't get readers and links -- especially not from Inside Higher Ed -- unless what they write speaks to a larger audience. And they should mix posts that speak to fellow academics and general audience readers.
On the marketing front, these are the ideas I have: register with technorati; read other blogs and comment on them; send an e-mail to the "Around the Web" editor at IHE when there's a post they might be interested in; register with SiteMeter to see what traffic you are (or aren't) getting; register with a local blog who collects Rust Belt blog links and categorizes them; create a blogroll (which may get the attention of those bloggers checking their links); and....um, what am I missing?
Does anyone have any other ideas?
It's hard to grow a blog audience overnight, I know, but it's worth a try getting some wider audience, I think. And also, once the trustees sign off on my tenure and it's a done deal, I'll link my colleagues' blog here, so eventually they'll have at least one link!
PS -- I've told my colleagues that I have a blog, but I haven't told them which one.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Morgan is an enabler. She's gotten me totally addicted to an online word puzzle game called Funny Farm. It's a word association game in which you try to guess all the words in a section of the puzzle, and when you get words that overlap the boundary of that section and another, the new section opens up. But not all the associations are literal or direct -- that's the maddening part.
For example, when you start, they give you the center section, which has the theme "on the farm." So when I started, I entered things like "cow," "pig," and "chicken," and they all appeared, along with blank boxes related to them. For chicken, three of those boxes were obvious: "rooster," "hen," and "egg." But what the frak was the fourth, three-letter word. Turns out it wasn't a word at all but an acronym: KFC. Ugh. And "pig" overlapped with the neighboring section on "religions," so of course "pig" connected, ironically in a way, to "Judaism" and "Islam." That was pretty obvious, but a couple of the other farm-religion connections were more groaners.
I pretty quickly hit a wall, but then I joined up my puzzle with other people's puzzles, and got some answers and was able to proceed in the new sections and open up even more. But now I'm stymied again. Even Google and Google Sets aren't helping now.
I dare you to play and not get addicted yourself. If you want to try it on your own, click the Funny Farm link above and give it a go. If you want to help out with my game in progress or join it up with yours later, use this link to get to my game. If you click on "Save Game" on your game, you get the unique URL for a game in progress. Past mine into yours or vice versa and you'll have a combined game. As long as you have cookies operating on your browser, your computer will save your game after every guess and you'll always come back to where you left off.
Anyone want to help me with my game in progress?
Update: If you get totally frustrated and just want all the answers, just google around and you'll find discussion boards with hints and even total keys. (I found the latter at lazylaces.com.)
Or if you just want a few hints to get you going again, follow the link to Morgan's blog and combine your game with some of the links there -- they're not too far along at that point. I'd post another link to my game in progress, but I'm nearing the end and it might spoil some of the fun.
Update 2: I have now finished the game. Yeah, I cheated a lot, but I also did a bunch myself. So if anyone just wants to get on with their work and stop obsessing -- as I did -- let me know and I'll send you the link for the completed game. The meta-puzzle answer is a single word, btw, and if you type it in, the text at the top says you've completed the game. Not very exciting.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
The craziness at the university in the last week has made getting work done very difficult. Great management technique, don't you think?
But never mind that for the moment. Here's my other, more pleasant but nevertheless work-defeating distraction:
Friday, April 11, 2008
The Provost has finally approved my tenure and promotion. Since said Provost was hired by Pres. Newfangledess, I'm assuming the decision isn't anything he wouldn't approve of as well, and that from here on out things will proceed smoothly, swiftly, and positively in my favor.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I've been kind of planning to "come out" as a blogger in some way after I got tenure (which I once thought inevitable, but now that the Provost is a frakkin' *month* overdue on all the T&P cases, and rumors are flying, I'm not so sure). I've been thinking about moving that up a bit, despite the fact that my T&P file still resides with the Provost, and despite my worries about that. There are a number of reasons why I've been thinking about this, and if/when I do it, I'll still make Dr. Virago my pseudonym but make it clear who that pseudonym belongs to, so that Dr. V. still represents a body of writing different and separate from my academic writing -- just as I sign personal letters with my nickname but publish under my full first name plus middle initial.
But anywho, the main reason why I'm thinking about coming out right now is that I just discovered that the Arts and Sciences faculty council here has a blog! And of course it's all about Pres. Newfangledness and his cockamamie schemes. It also happens to be frequently *hilarious* and I so desperately want to link to it. Of course some of it is "you had to be there" hilarious, so maybe it's just as well. But, omg, I have very funny colleagues. And I really, really want to comment on it. If I commit to outing myself as Dr. Virago I could do that without having to remember to sign in with a different nickname.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
This is in response to Tenured Radical's call to end tenure as we know it. As much as I think TR rocks on many things, I think she's dead wrong on this one. Without further ado, here are the three main responses I have.
1) TR thinks unions are better than tenure. Oh yeah? Well I see your union, TR, and raise you tenure! Ha! Seriously, you *can* have both. We do. And one reinforces the strengths of the other while making up for potential shortcomings of each system as well. For one thing, a union negotiated, open-records tenure process like the one we have (read about it in this post) protects the academic freedom and job stability of junior faculty -- one of TR's main worries. But a union can't do it alone; having a tenure track with the goal of tenure in such a system reinforces the idea that a *successful* tenure process is the goal, for both the faculty member going through it and the department/college/university that hired them. Renewable contracts won't replace that.
2) TR's idea of renewable contracts rests too much on the assumed benevolence of administration. In an institutional environment with the history, prestige, and stability of TR's Potted Ivy employer, maybe it's safe to make such assumptions. But in my world, where President Newfangledness wants to re-make the university in his own myopic image; where it will be all hi-tech extreme basket-weaving all the time if he gets his way; and where he and his hand-picked lackeys are seriously trying to negotiate a new contract that says the administration can reorganize the university at will and faculty who don't fit their vision of extreme basket-weaving will be "retrained" or given "severance packages" (as in "Hey, here's a bus ticket -- toodle-loo!") -- well, in that bizarro world renewable contracts would make us even more screwed than we already are. At least now we have certain contractual rights, including tenure and the heavily documented tenure process. That means that if -- for argument's sake -- President Newfangledness doesn't think that medieval literature fits his vision of extreme high-tech basket-weaving, he can try to deny my tenure, but since nothing in my statement of expectations, the current contract under which I am employed, or the four previous annual evaluations said anything about the necessity that I teach or research in the fields of high-tech basket-weaving, then the union will be on him like white on rice. And they will do so in order to protect my academic freedom as both the junior faculty that I am now and also the tenured faculty that I seek to be. That may sound like that's all about union protection, but it's also about the system they're protecting: tenure.
3) Finally, here's my more universal point: tenure provides stability for the individual faculty member, for the students, and for the institution. The first is a private good, but it's not to be discounted. Given all the sacrifices academics make to get the tenure-track job and then to get tenure, as beautifully detailed by Squadratomagico recently in this heart-felt post, and given the fact that we don't make all that much money, especially relative to other professions requiring advanced degrees, there has to be some incentive and reward for people to enter the profession. Yes, I do love my job, but it's not a calling or vocation; it's labor. I expect some return for that, and if it can't be the big bucks -- for reasons I understand -- then there has to be some other reward for the years, money, opportunity costs, and labor I've given. Tenure and its job stability is it. But tenure is not just a private good for me and every other individual faculty member. It's also a public good, because the incentive it provides attracts talented people to the profession, particularly the kind of people willing to make long-term commitments to a profession and a discipline, and, more often than not, a particular institution. And that long-term commitment is good for students. TR's students finish in four years, I'm sure. Mine can be around for years and years. They drop in and out, study part-time, and take time off. They need me to be around 5 or 6 years later when they want a letter of recommendation, or when they simply want to take another class with a teacher whose style suits them or subject matter interests them. And that last point -- subject matter -- is of importance here, too. If President Newfangledness gets his way and turns us into Rust Belt Institute of High-Tech Basketweaving, the students of greater Rust Beltland won't have the opportunity to be English majors (or history majors or fill in the blank of your favorite non-applied science field here) at their inexpensive local university, where they can live at home and work jobs they've already secured. Tenure creates a stability for the disciplines in which we work, and that provides opportunities for discovery and learning for our students. Get rid of tenure, and in places like ours you'll get rid of opportunities for students.
So I think I'll keep tenure for now. We'll see how I feel if President Newfangledness really does mess with my tenure application.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
This is what Pippi's early morning routine has started to look like (prior to her "walkies"):
1) Rattles her crate to wake us up, usually around 6:30 am; gets ignored for awhile and only let out when she's quiet (so as not to teach her to give *us* commands).
2) Gets let out in back yard to do her business
3) Gobbles her breakfast
4) "Kills" one of her toys by violently shaking, whipping, and tossing it around the room.
I've never known a creature to wake up with such blood lust. Should I be worried? Or should I be thankful that if she does manage to catch a squirrel or chipmunk in our backyard, that she'll finish it off handily, instead of leaving us to put it out of its misery?
And speaking of our own little wild kingdom, on our walkies this morning I saw one of the campus falcons kill and carry off a robin. It was both disturbing -- the robin tried to get away and nearly did -- and also kind of cool. Pippi wasn't the least bit interested. Some bird dog. She'd rather get all the squirrels.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Setting: At the dinner table. Context: discussing the possibility of purchasing a dream house on 9 acres of land 40 minutes outside of the city for a ridiculously low price (it's being sold by the bank).
Bullock: A 40 minute drive to work is not green.
Me: No, it's not. Neither is a 5000 square foot house.
Bullock: And that drive means an hour and 20 minutes taken from each day we go to campus, which is less time for Pippi, for running, for the goats and the chickens...
Me: Wait, chickens? We're going to have chickens?
Bullock: Yeah, why not?
Me: They're pretty nasty creatures.
Bullock: Yeah, they are. And I guess they don't go with Pippi very well.
Me: No, she'd probably kill them. But a goat would make a nice friend for her.
Bullock: And she'd probably be OK with the pig, too.
Me: Oh, there's a pig now?
Bullock: There has to be a pig.
Setting: breakfast. Context: everything going on at our university.
Me: I don't know what's going to happen to our TAs if they take away that space from us.
Bullock: After reading President Newfangledness's state of the university address, now I know why the administrators need all that space.
Me: Oh yeah, why?
Bullock: Because that's where they'll put the instructional technicians who are going to operate and maintain all the Teaching Robots.
[OK, maybe you need more real life context for that to be funny, but I thought it was hilarious.]
Thursday, April 3, 2008
I just heard today that I'm being awarded one of the four university-wide teaching awards. Since you must be nominated by students, this means a lot to me, especially since a student must be motivated enough to go out of their way to write a nomination application. After that a committee made up of previous winners secretly gathers intelligence on you. OK, not really -- I think they just talk to the chair of your department to get more info or something. At any rate, I didn't even know I'd been nominated, so this came out of the blue in a very frustrating and demoralizing week and raised my spirits immensely.
And also, there's a significant monetary award. I was excited even before I knew that, but it was definitely icing on the cake since I'm saving for a down payment on a new car and I'm really, really lusting for one of these in chocolate with silver accents. Maybe now I'll get a cutesy vanity license plate, too. But first my tenure has to be finalized, because it's going to be my tenure reward.
And really, truly, I'm most pleased that I was nominated by my students. I wish I knew which ones, so I could thank them personally. A mass thank-you will have to do (remember, some of them have probably figured out where I blog):
Thank you students!
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
New Kid tagged me awhile back for the 6 word memoir meme, and it's been driving me crazy ever since. But, after writing the last post, I figured out the *perfect* 6-word memoir for myself. Granted, all but one word of the following belong to the inimitable Dr. Seuss, but that's part of the point -- it's a literary allusion, see?
Here are the instructions for the meme:
1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere. (Note: I have no idea who the originator was, but New Kid was tagged by Dr. Crazy.)
4. Tag five more blogs with links
I'm going to tag two bloggers I know haven't done this yet -- Tommy at Macerating Shallots and also The Pastry Pirate (because I'd like to see her try to fit *her* life into six words! hee!) -- and if you haven't either, consider yourself tagged if you wish.
*Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
As Bill and Ted would say, things are most bogus and non-triumphant at Rust Belt U these days, my friends. There is chaos at the top and it's pretty much unbloggable, especially since my tenure file still sits in the Provost's office, now weeks overdue for a decision. I'm actually thinking of alternative careers because the atmosphere here is so demoralizing.
This is partly why you haven't had a substantive post from me in awhile. The other reason is Pippi, who is utterly time-consuming in the most wonderful ways. I could write more, but I'm pretty sure you don't want more "why my dog rocks" posts, unless it's Friday dog blogging. But I will say that those alternative careers I've been thinking about include animal-related ones, though I had thoughts about such things long before Pippi. Once upon a time I wanted to be a zoologist, but I got frustrated with basic level science, even though I was good at it, because I wanted to move on to the Big Questions, but you don't really get to do that at the undergrad level very much in the sciences. And I wouldn't even get to the zoology part until graduate school. But now I'm day-dreaming about doing those basic science classes so I can get into Vet school. The one in our state has a joint DVM-PhD program, and I'm thinking about the areas I was once interested in in zoology -- animal behavior, in particular -- but now in more pragmatic terms of the behavior and well-being of domestic and/or zoo animals. The joint program would allow me to be a practitioner-researcher, and open faculty positions as an option, too. Imagine having options! Imagine having a range of possible careers! I could even teach a class on medieval bestiaries and animal fables to DVM students -- and I'd bring Karl in as a guest lecturer! (Well, I suppose I could do that now, except we don't have a Vet school at RBU.)
But that's all a daydream at the moment. And really, do I want many more years of school on top of the ones I've already spent? Really? (Though if I did it, I might start a new blog called Doctor Doctor Doctor Virago. Hee!)
But back to our most bogus adventures at RBU...I'm trying to work out ways to talk about it, because I want to do so in response to Tenured Radical's call to replace tenure with unionization. The long and short of it is, at our university at the moment, if we had only 5-year contracts and a union, instead of having a tenure system *and* a union, we'd be totally screwed. Well, those of us not in the applied sciences and professional schools would, anyway, and I'd already be working on my pre-vet pre-reqs because I probably wouldn't have a job for next year. Seriously.
(Btw, Pippi proofread this post. She tried to get in my lap, stared intently at the screen, and then got down.)