the Mammal Chronicles: January 2008

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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Their desperation, my gain

Here's what the scoop was:
When I became interim director, it was because the university had done a national search for the position, asking for a tenured faculty member who would serve a 12-month, non-teaching appointment. They didn't get any applicants they wanted, so when I, a non-tenured junior professor with really limited experience in this field, raised my hand, they said "Sure" and let me have a nine-month 50 percent administrative/50 percent teaching appointment (to be technically accurate, it's a .533 administrative/.466 teaching-service appointment). I didn't get any extra money for doing it because they argued that it was the same workload, just divided differently.

Here's what the scoop is:
My interim contract was for two years. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like while I had convinced them it was important for a director to teach, they were going to list the permanent position as 12 month and conduct a national search. If it were 12 month, I'd decided I wouldn't apply, but even if I did, while at this point I'd be competitive for the position, there was no guarantee I'd get it. Then came the budget cuts. Searches cost money. Twelve month appointments cost money. Really academically sexy candidates from afar cost money. So my search was canceled and they asked me to be interim for another year. In addition, they offered me a stipend on top of my regular salary to do it. It's small -- I dont' know how much just yet, but they said it'd be something like what department chairs get, probably a couple hundred dollars a month. Still, I'm happy, because it's at least acknowledgment that doing this job requires more than a standard teaching contract. And, there's hints that when they do the search for the permanent director next year, it will be an internal search, which means I'm much likelier to get it.

Then and now: Their desperation, my gain.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

mid-morning thoughts after working...

Sure enough, get me here before 7 a.m. and I rock. I knocked off things on my to do list, prepared for class and meetings, even planned for the presentation I have to give this weekend.

I work in what was once the administration building back before they built what everyone merely calls "the pointy building." There's some architectural story behind the whole thing -- each corner points to something significant in the university's past -- but in the end it's just big and pointy, appended by a massive concrete square that looks like a parking structure. Appropriate, actually, since they just built a parking structure in front of the whole complex that effectively blocks your view of anything that could be called architecturally interesting.

In any case, in the old administration building, the bathrooms are a long corridor away from my office. Walking in that direction I often pass by class in session just across the hall. The classroom is huge -- it must fit at least a hundred students -- and as a result, the folks who tend to teach in there usually PROJECT their voices. It's compelling -- makes me peer inside to see if it might at all be interesting. Today it wasn't (powerpoint charts make me glaze over), but I did reflect upon how lucky I was that none of my classes are ever that large. At most I have 30 students per section. I can't imagine what the load must be like if you have to teach three classes per quarter that size. Of course, I'm guessing that large classes probably aren't writing intensive like my freshman intro courses, so maybe they have lower grading loads overall, but even so it's so much less intimate. How can you get to know your students with enrollments that large?

So, if I do have to return to three classes a quarter next year (right now with my administrative gig I only teach one per quarter), I still think I'm luckier than most. Yes, I read loads of bad writing, but I get to know each of the writers enough to care that they do better.

Monday, January 21, 2008

mid-morning thoughts when I should be working

The problem with my work at home days is that it's a bit harder for me to get in gear. It would probably be different if I set up one room as a dedicated office. As it is, my husband's computer is in the middle of what the realtor would call the dining room (the chandelier above lending credence to that theory), my computer is in the guest bedroom, and the laptop generally sits on the coffee table in front of the t.v. It's also somehow harder to get motivated to hop in the shower and get myself at a desk without the compelling allure of the "holy grail parking lot" -- which explains why when I get to work later in the day instead of before 7 a.m. like I usually do, I likewise find it hard to get in gear. Half the day seems gone and I've lost the parking battle, my punishment looming ahead of me as a lengthy walk at day's end.

Then there's the fact that I tend to schedule doctor's (and homeopathist's and therapist's) appointments on work at home days. When I know I have to hop in the car and go someplace mid-day, I can't seem to mobilize to finish tasks before my departure (which, today, will be at 9 am to make it to the homeopathist in Pasadena).

Of course, all of this is merely my attempt to explain why I am blogging this morning instead of doing course prep or attacking my to do list...

You buy any of that?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Achy body, achy mind

The new yoga teacher is *hard*. I went to yoga only twice this week but my whole body hurts. I've been sitting on the couch hugging a heated flaxseed pillow and taking tylenol for days but I still hurt all over.

The question is though, how much is stress-related? Remember the staffer who announced her same-day departure on thursday? Well, when I called my boss to strategize next steps, she said, "I hate to break more bad news to you, but you have to cut next year's budget by 20%." Had to know this was coming I guess, but our budget was already cut significantly this past year. Among the programs we cut were 20 grand in mini-grants to faculty. Next year I have to probably cut staff: do I re-fill the staffer's position or cut student workers? Each decision will decimate programs.

Of course, I don't know why I let myself get so invested -- someone who accidentally got on the email loop for the search committee for my position says they are still leaning toward having the job be a 12 month contract. Oh well. It's been a good run -- I'll miss this job. I'll miss all the community members I get to interact with, I'll miss my staff, I'll miss the camaraderie between statewide directors, and I'll miss most of all the sense that we're all in this together to facilitate change for the greater good. But you have to have a balance: time to teach, time to rest, time to be with family, time to pursue a diversity of projects. I can still connect with people and make a difference on another path.

In the meantime, I'm taking some time to renew my body. I complained my way to a free massage certificate at the club and I'm cashing it in. And speaking of connecting with other people, my two lone readers out there (you know who you are) are we getting together this weekend or not? Call me. I shall be refreshed and ready for you.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back in Crisis Mode

As it turns out, there's a reason why administrative types are usually in crisis mode: crises happen!

We've had persistent staffing problems in the office where I am interim director, and the tricky part is, whenever these jobs are in flux, someone, often me, has to pick up the slack.

  • one staffer is on maternity leave (which isn't a problem per se, but see above about slack picking)
  • we had a grant-funded position a couple months ago that was really difficult to fill. Then, the first candidate who we hired called in an hour before she was supposed to start to tell us she wouldn't be coming. Eventually I filled it with someone I knew through other circumstances and the crisis was averted.
  • Then, there was a new staff position which we listed as permanent, full-time which midway through the search they changed due to budget cuts to temporary, part-time. We hired a *great* person who started about a week and a half ago but this morning she told me that she was offered another job that starts next week (the offer is permanent, at a higher rank than this one, and offers full tuition reimbursement for her ph.d. program -- I really can't fault her for taking it). So now I'm scrambling to fill it again.
  • I also have a part-time faculty position to fill. By the day of the application deadline, we only had one applicant but she looked fabulous on paper. Unfortunately, when we called her for an interview, she said she'd changed her mind. We extended the deadline and now I have what looks like might be an equally good candidate who I will interview friday. I'm crossing my fingers.

There's something about this office...Even with my own position, I became interim because they had such a hard time with the national search they did for this two years ago. Maybe it's bad university mojo: currently we have no permanent provost and five of nine colleges don't have a permanent dean. If I'm in crisis mode, the president is probably more so.

As for my job, there's still no firm word on when they will re-announce the search for the permanent director or what form it will take. There's rumblings that it will be a 12 month position, in which case I definitely won't apply. But there's also a hint that it might be 10 month and then I'll have to decide whether or not I'm willing to go from a 9 month contract to 10 month.

Heck, it may depend on how many fires I have to put out between now and then.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How to Annoy Colleagues 101

First, tell your colleagues they need to go on a business trip.
Second, tell them they can't bring their families because they will be

  • Working long hours
  • Housed at a retreat center so far from the nearest hotel that there will be no point in having their family stay nearby

Third, don't tell your colleagues until they arrive that

  • Cell reception is limited to Analog Roaming
  • The closest place to get internet connectivity is a rainy walk a mile or so away via dirt paths
  • They will stay in a cabin all to themselves with four beds, and thus would have had more than enough room for their families if they had come along

Yep -- that's how I spent Wednesday through Thursday night. It was supposed to be through Friday but by Thursday I couldn't take it anymore and caught an early flight home (the retreat center was so remote the shuttle company charged $80 for the ride to the airport).

Still, the trip, such as it was, was productive. I actually came up with some good ideas that I'm excited about implementing. Per their intent, they successfully redirected us from focusing "solely on the urgent while forgetting the important." You know how you get in that constant putting out the fires crisis mode of day to day management that you forget the larger vision? Nevermind the larger vision -- where you forget about the fun? So I'm back to the fun -- at least in between crises.

And after work? It has nothing to do with the "retreat," but I can now bend over without bending my knees and put my palms flat on the ground. Cool.

Monday, January 07, 2008

commencing toward commencement...

Today is the first day of the rest of your quarter!

I'm feeling a bit more optimistic after getting some work done on Sunday: xeroxing syllabi, scanning readings, and doing a surface clearing of my office space so that it at least has the pretense of organization. My husband and daughter came with me, playing in the quiet of the office reception area while I worked. Just having them there helped me to focus a bit, though you'd think it would distract me.

This morning I arrived before 7 am, grabbed prime parking in what I call the "holy grail parking lot" behind our building, and started things on the right foot. My new staff member starts today, and the other position I've been having trouble filling received an applicant today -- one who is actually qualified. Things are looking up. I've also had two cups of coffee, which never hurts.

Still, I'm counting the days toward summer, marked in celebratory fashion by commencement. Not sure why they call it commencement -- it's the end of the year, the end of their education. Perhaps what is commencing is the rest of their lives -- and my summer of course, bastion of leisure (as long as I don't over-commit myself, something I admittedly have the tendency to do). Summer will be followed by one quarter of work, and, hopefully if my application is approved, two quarters and one summer of sabbatical. Hallelujah!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The need to be...: Jobdentity

I suffer from a massive need to be something other than just myself. I see it as one of my key shortcomings -- an obstacle to everything from contentment to spiritual enlightenment. Some examples:

This morning while reading hipmama, I found myself not just reading but consulting the submission guidelines. I find myself not able to simply enjoy reading but instead feeling guilt that I no longer actively submit work for publication.

In college and a bit thereafter, I worked in the crafting industry: first for a company as a demonstrator, then as a freelance instructor, finally writing a small book published by an academic press. I haven't done those crafts professionally or for pleasure in years. If I wander through the craft aisle at Target, or pass by a craft store, I find myself more than a bit nervous at all the advancements in crafting that I've not kept up on.

If I go to an academic conference in my field, I find myself fascinated by presentations on other people's research while I simultaneously plague myself with regret over not doing more research myself.

When I ponder the thought of leaving my position at the university I teach at, my first worry is about losing money, insurance, etc. My second worry is that I will be nothing without my identity as "professor" (worse yet, that I leave before I can call myself "professor" without the modifier of "assistant" or "associate" -- far better to flee with the honorable and permanent modifier "emeritus" to salve my feeble sense of self).

Even when I pursue spiritual practices, I find myself investigating ways to publish in that arena or get certified, initiated, stamped with external validation of internal growth.

Some might observe that I have a remarkable ability to transform personal interests into professional activities -- something people often dream of: making work your passion. Instead, I manage to transform passion into work.

My identity is a piece of paper (more like 5ish pages of curriculum vitae). There is nothing behind it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Random Thoughts on Low Health

My husband recently pointed out that we have never managed to come home from a Christmas trip to Alabama without coming down with colds. With nine siblings (his, not mine) and their offspring, and their offspring's offspring, you can't help but find yourself in a veritable stewpot of germs. Now here we are back at home making our own little nuclear stew. This gets problematic because I've put off work I need to get done for the new quarter until the last minute and so, health permitting or not, will probably be going into the office tomorrow (Sunday). Not fun.

On Wednesday I have to travel for work and am not looking forward to it. I'm just tired, sick and want to rest and stay at home with my family, not go to a retreat center with work people.

Only January, and I'm longing for summer.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Random Sleepless Thoughts on Low Meds

What is with these sleepless nights? I awoke at 3 am thinking about work. What really bites is that I often have insomnia when I really have to motivate myself to work the next day and thus need to be well rested most of all.

I am having a bit more anxiety lately since reducing my meds from 75 mg to 50 mg. I am hoping I am just in an adjustment phase, but if it persists, I will return to the higher dosage. My therapist gave me a cd yesterday to listen to, and I suppose I should be doing that now instead of blogging and shopping (The Body Shop online is at 75% off -- hurry, hurry! And there are rumors that Target B&M will go to 90% today).

Still no takers on the Coral Reef Rotating Nightlight -- c'mon, dontcha want it?

My calendar, by the way, says that today is the day my husband and I met in person for the first time eleven years ago (we had been corresponding online for about six months). Somehow I have the 3rd in my head as the date, but I guess it was the 4th? Either way, happy anniversary honey -- I love you.