the Mammal Chronicles: May 2006

when it comes right down to it, ya lactate or ya don't.

Monday, May 29, 2006


School, thankfully, is almost over. One more week of classes, a week of intense grading, graduation, then summer. Ssssssssssummmmmmerrrrrrr.

Not that there's not a lot of work to do even during the summer, but it's not the same kind of grind. And, until then, more facepainting (or arm painting, as is the case most often) helps me keep my spirits up:

Monday, May 22, 2006


We've established sufficiently I think, via previous posts, that life can be depressing. We've also established that I've had some of that "can be" of late. Actually, there's been even more of that "can be" than I've posted about herein. I won't bore you with the details. Instead, it is time to establish that life can also be Snazarooo!

Snazaroo, as far as I know, is not an adjective or a state of being, but it may as well be, for you see, I have a new hobby: Recall several posts ago that I volunteered for Literacy Day at our university Downtown Center. Recall how amazed I was that there was such a thing as professional face paints. I don't think I mentioned it, but that day I had more of a blast facepainting than I did storytelling. Something about the way it made the kids light up.

So, being that life "can be," I decided I needed a bit more of that "can also be," and I ordered myself Snazaroo's "Walk-Around Palette" of professional face paints:

Since they arrived a few days ago, every evening when I'm ready to call it a day after grading papers or doing class prep, I break out the palette and start painting my arm or my legs -- any body part within sufficient reach (which, on occasion, is my husband's):

It makes me surprisingly happy, and now I have something I can offer up when I volunteer at events or just pull out when kids are around.

Those that know me from years back will remember that there's one image that I used to doodle incessantly. Life can get you down, but down deep I'm still the same girl:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Imprisoned in my Ivory Tower

I'm tired. There's a throbbing behind my eyes from crying. I don't feel like ranting about all the specifics, but suffice to say that academic life sometimes squeezes all the dignity out of you.

I think it is built into the system. Graduate school was sometimes rewarding but often wrenching. A friend who just finished her MSW thought that her graduate program's oppressive atmosphere was attributable to her program specifically and that if she went on to get a ph.d. elsewhere it might be different. I had to tell her that it was pretty much the same everywhere, that the nature of an academic career was having your soul crushed.

Oh, I talk big. If I actually told you the details of what happened yesterday, you'd roll your eyes and tell me it was a minor slight at worst, but these things accumulate like lead weights. Worst of all, the blow was dealt by one of the few people on campus I thought I could count on. It makes me feel very lonely.

I work on a beautiful campus. I have wonderful students. I have the coveted "tenure-track" job. I wish I could just put blinders on and not let this other stuff get to me.

I've never been very good at not letting things get to me.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

doing a 180

One of the committees I serve on here at my IHE is the academic senate general education subcommittee. I'm not on the actual senate, just a subcommittee of it. I ran for senate on kind of a whim, and lost, which was probably a good thing. I had eight votes to my competitor's twelve: voter turnout is clearly overwhelming among us highly educated types. Actually, it may have been nine to twelve or eight to thirteen, except that one voter apparently did not fill out their ballot correctly. Smart as whips, aren't we? But that's all beside the point (if, indeed, there is one).

This is the first year I've served on this committee. Each year, the University Tenure Police has requested that I perform university-level service, by which they mean not any university-level service, of which I had scads, but specifically joining the senate or a senate subcommittee. Serving the students of the university through organizing cross-cultural events apparently didn't count. So, each year I've complied by dutifully filling out the senate subcommittee volunteer form but had never actually been appointed to serve. It was sort of circular and senseless in the way that these things tend to be. Finally, this year however, I was CALLED TO SERVE and, actually, the General Education subcommittee suits me nicely. I enjoy the people and the discussions, and, from what one senate member on the subcommittee tells me, we've got a good thing going because being at some of the other subcommittee meetings is "like watching paint dry." It may all change to paint drying next year for all I know, because each academic year the composition of these committees can change drastically.

As a newbie, I'm still sussing out what exactly our role is. Here's how it works: faculty members come up with extended outlines for courses they would like to be approved to count for general education credit in a specific category. A subcommittee within our subcommittee agrees to look it over (about now is when my blog post starts to read like paint drying). They make suggestions that address issues ranging from minor typos in the outline to ways the assessment of the course could be clearer. After going back and forth with the writer of the proposal, they report back to the larger subcommitee. If there are no further problems, the larger subcommittee votes to send it onto the Academic Senate itself. If there are more significant problems, challenges regarding whether or not this is truly suitable as general education for example, the larger subcommittee discusses it some more and probably votes not to send it onto the Academic Senate. We're essentially one of several minor but unavoidable cogs the course and its author must muddle their way through before going onto the real decision makers.

A side note: Most people who don't work in academia think that the job of a professor is to teach. They think that we show up a couple days a week for a few hours at a time and blather on to students, hand their assignments off to teaching assistants to grade, and go home. They think we have it easy and rail against the evils of tenure. My students think this, even my mother thinks this. The truth is we are overworked. A colleague joked that she once figured out what her salary would be if she factored in all the hours she actually works and it came to 39 cents an hour. It's not far from the truth. In order to finally get the blessed status of tenure, junior faculty (after over a decade of college we are still considered "assistant" or "junior" somethings) are required to file a massive annual report which documents their accomplishments in three areas: teaching, research, and service. The requirements for each are far from clear, and so most of us end up working way too hard scrambling to make sure we have enough of each. And that thing about handing off assignments? In a state system we have no teaching assistants and a larger class load to boot.

So one of the issues that often makes us subcommittee of the subcommittee cogs rankle is when a proposed course tries to double count -- ie, it is a class that is clearly for majors only but is being proposed under their general education column (this is legal in some instances, which I have issue with as well, but I won't get into that). When challenged about this, a frequent response is that our Chancellor, that administrator from on high, has decreed that all departments must strive to have their degree programs completed in 180 units or less. As a result, one of the only ways to meet this mandate is to have courses moved to the general education column. It seems to me anyway that this is not a valid argument, but then I don't happen to think the Chancellor's mandate is a good one either.

There's a big push to get students in and out of college in less time. For example, students are offered the opportunity to make a "four year pledge." If they do so, they get perks like early registration appointments. The four year pledge strikes me as a bad idea. I have one very smart student who has even made a three year pledge. Sure, she'll probably graduate in three years, but what will she lose? Students at a Polytechnic are already more driven by career goals than learning goals. Where's the room to explore areas of knowledge that might inspire them to forge off into heretofore unpredicted directions? Where's the time to listen to the promptings of their soul?

I understand that these aren't privileged students at private liberal arts colleges who have the time and money to learn for learning's sake alone, but I speak as one of them: I was a working class student paying her own way through a state university, but if I hadn't taken five years to complete my b.a. I would have been all the poorer for it. Neither would I have ended up where I am now. Working class students with limited funds and exposure to ideas are exactly the population that need to take a little more time, as hard as it is, and bathe in a world of ideas, not do a 180 away from true education.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Still waters run shallow

I aspire to great things. Well, decent things at least. I do hope to make a small difference in the world, to contribute to society, to inspire my students, and to instill worthy community-based values in my offspring. In the end, however, I find that I am also shallow.

Oh, I'm 39, soon to be 40, and I've become used to the fact that my dog gets more attention from passersby than I do. I like to think that I am adjusting well to age, that I embrace both the crone and willendorf goddess within (and inevitably, without).

Today, however, they were holding Associated Students elections on campus and some overworked poll monitor asked me to vote. Ah, it was probably that I was walking fast and their eyes were tired, but it pleased me, and ironically it simultaneously saddened me that it pleased me. How's that for conflicted?

So, I have some inner work to do, don't I?

it's a MISTAKE!

You'll recall a couple of posts ago I reported that the University Tenure Police had requested that I "increase the scholarly level of activity." I spent the better part of a week worrying, complaining to peers, getting advice from my chair, from the union rep, and crafting my official two-page reply to that single phrase (it was originally four). Overkill, perhaps, but there are big things at stake. In the end, my mind was completely confused by the barrage of competing and sometimes conflicting advice until I didn't know what to do. After three or four wildly different drafts, in flew my chair like a superhero and rewrote the letter for me. That was fine with me -- I sent it off.

Today she pulled me aside and told me, unofficially, that she's heard from a member of the UTP committee that it was all a mistake. A MISTAKE. They will apparently revise the statement.

Of course, I shouldn't count my UTP statements before they hatch (like bug eggs, probably, rather than like chickens), but still I'm breathing a sigh of relief. And victory. A small, cheap, petty victory perhaps, but I'll take them where I can get them.

postscript: Upon reading this, my husband informed me that "In flew my chair" sounds like I threw an actual piece of furniture rather than what I meant, which was "the nice lady who serves as our department chairperson intervened." I'll leave it in there, however, because I like the image of a flying chair and liken it to an ottoman emperor as a ruling footstool...