May 20, 2013, 1:48 pm
As I read Robert Zaretsky’s recent post, “What’s at Stake with Grade Inflation,” in which he notes how poorly his history students write, I couldn’t help but recall a confrontation I had several years ago with a business professor at the college where I was teaching at the time.
I was walking across campus one bright, sunny day (this was in Florida, where almost all the days are bright and sunny), when I saw this colleague coming toward me on the hedge-lined concrete walkway. He and I had enjoyed a cordial relationship over the years, occasionally stopping to chat about children and vacations and such when we ran into each other on campus, so I smiled as he approached and prepared to greet him.
Then I noticed he wasn’t smiling.
In fact, he looked downright angry. And as he got closer, I could see that he was indeed livid. Before I could ask what was wrong, he stopped directly in…
May 13, 2013, 1:21 pm
(Blogger’s note: Regular readers should consider this the third and final installment in my brief series on using forms of “to be,”
the other two being which also includes “‘To Be’ or Not ‘to Be’?” and “To Be Clear.”)
There’s a conversation I have with my first-year composition classes almost every semester, usually triggered by a student’s question about one of the many things they were warned in high school never to do in an essay: Use first-person pronouns, use second-person pronouns, begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “because,” end a sentence with a preposition, and so on.
Can they do that in my class?, they want to know.
My answer is that there’s literally nothing they can’t do in a piece of writing, if they have a good enough reason—although if they’re going to use the F-word, for example, or an ethnic slur, they had better have a darn good reason. The corollary, I …
May 1, 2013, 3:41 pm
Academics are notoriously bad at what other professionals call “networking.”
That’s partly because we tend to be loners and introverts by nature. The whole idea behind networking—meeting people just to say that we’ve met them, cultivating relationships based on self-interest rather than on mutual interests, making “contacts” instead of actual friends—is foreign to those of us who have spent our lives in libraries or laboratories, working alone or in small groups.
But we also fail at networking in part because—let’s be honest—we tend to regard the whole business with distaste. Getting to know people just so that one day they can help us out—and then calling on them when we need their help—strikes us as calculating, undignified, perhaps even unethical.
Having spent all our lives in a supposed meritocracy, we prefer to rely on more empirical measures of ability and…
April 22, 2013, 1:28 pm
Friends of mine say that I’m loyal to a fault. They don’t know the half of it. The truth is, I have many faults, and I’m loyal to all of them.
OK, so that’s an old joke. But it helps me introduce a difficult and highly fraught topic: the loyalty that institutions show, or fail to show, to the people who work for them—particularly the part-time faculty.
Several weeks ago, I went to a high-school basketball game in my community. It was Senior Night, the last home game for the host team, when senior players and their families are honored at halftime. Another Senior Night tradition is that the seniors get to start the game—or at least play significant minutes, if there are more than five—even if they haven’t usually logged much playing time.
This team had six seniors, two of whom were regular starters. Two others were in the rotation, meaning that they usually played a good…
April 15, 2013, 12:31 pm
“Do upper-level administrators have to take CYA classes,” my wife wondered aloud the other day, “or is it just instinctive?”
“CYA,” of course, stands for “cover your a**.” Note that the question came from someone who has been a keen observer of administrative behavior for more than a quarter century. She and I also have four kids, the youngest a ninth grader, so we’ve been dealing with school administrators for about as long. And she still hasn’t figured out whether butt-covering is a job requirement, a primal response, or an art form.
Frankly, neither have I.
For example, there’s the administrator I used to work for at another institution who had adopted “CYA” as a kind of personal motto. I’m not kidding. She used to say it all the time, constantly admonishing us to cover ours and never missing an opportunity to follow her own advice. Rather infamously on that campus, she once …
April 2, 2013, 12:45 pm
By now, very few people in the known universe haven’t heard what happened to the college football star Manti Te’o.
Back in December, the all-America linebacker was publicly humiliated when it was revealed that his girlfriend, whose supposed death during the season received national media attention, not only hadn’t died but had never existed.
In other words, the person with whom he thought he was communicating all those months, via cellphone and text messages and social media, wasn’t really the person with whom he was communicating. He was the victim of an elaborate hoax known as “catfishing”—which, according to UrbanDictionary.com, occurs when “internet predators … fabricate online identities in order to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships.”
But isn’t that the essential problem with all forms of interpersonal communication conducted solely via technology—you…
March 18, 2013, 3:03 pm
According to a recent article in The Chronicle, a state senator in California has sponsored a bill that would establish “a statewide platform through which students who have trouble getting into certain low-level, high-demand classes could take approved online courses offered by providers outside the state’s higher-education system.”
In other words, students at California’s public colleges who are unable to enroll in regular classes due to overcrowding will instead be steered into MOOCs, or massive open online courses.
That strikes me as a massively bad idea.
Admittedly, I’m an outsider. I don’t live in California, and I’ve never worked in that state’s higher-education system. Maybe I just don’t understand what’s going on.
Apparently nobody else does, either. According to The Chronicle, “right now SB 520 is just a two-page ‘spot bill,’ a legislative placeholder to be amended …
March 7, 2013, 3:08 pm
One important difference between a faculty-job search at a community college and the research-university version is that the former rarely allows for individual negotiations.
Starting salaries at most two-year colleges are determined by strict schedules, which in some states are the result of union contracts. Traditional benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions are usually standardized as well, while other benefits or perks, such as reduced teaching loads and research funds, are essentially nonexistent at two-year colleges.
I was reminded of that difference recently when I read a discussion thread on one of The Chronicle’s Forums. The original post came from a reader, “lucyr,” who was panicking because she had received a tenure-track job offer, attempted to negotiate the terms, and then seen the offer rescinded. She was trying to figure out how to salvage the…
February 26, 2013, 1:19 pm
Ironically enough, a few weeks after writing a blog post defending the use of linking verbs, I was taken to task in another post for—you guessed it—using linking verbs, or forms of “to be.”
In “What Makes a Good Leader?” I argued that faculty members don’t necessarily mind being led; they just want to be led well. Here’s the sentence with which one reader took issue: “Being led is one thing, but we don’t want to be dictated to, we don’t want to be treated like wayward children, and we don’t want to be sold a used car.”
“How many forms of the verb ‘to be’ does one sentence need?” the reader demanded to know. “Wasn’t it William Zinsser who taught that verbs are the wheels of writing, and that they turn slowly when writers clutter sentences with ‘be’ verbs?”
OK, let’s get something out of the way. I’ve read Zinsser’s On Writing Well a couple of times. Liked it a lot. I’ve also …
February 19, 2013, 3:12 pm
My experience with college faculty members is that, while they don’t particularly like being told what to do, they abhor a leadership vacuum.
Years ago, the college where I teach employed deans over each major discipline: humanities, social science, science, etc. Faculty members used to grouse about their deans’ decisions and complain that they didn’t have enough input. Then the administration changed the structure, replacing deans with committees made up mostly of faculty members—and people complained that there was no one to go to with problems, no one to make a final decision. Now we’re back to discipline deans.
So the problem is not that, as faculty members, we mind being led. Indeed, on some level, we want to be led. It’s just a question of what kind of leaders we’ll have, and what kind of leaders we’ll tolerate. Being led is one thing, but we don’t want to be dictated to,…