Thursday, May 19, 2011

Training for the Dark Side?

From Kalamazoo to a workshop where I am supposed to be learning to be an administrator, my life takes me such wonderful places. Exciting! One day between, spent mostly marking with colleagues. More on that later, but let's just say that it helped to demonstrate why some colleagues are so adamant that double-marking is a bad thing.

In between, I've been becoming ever more conscious of what it means to be an introvert. For example, it's pretty late, and I am finally winding down enough to sleep -- and I have to be up early to lead a discussion. So tired. But can't wind down.

But enough of that.

I'm learning the ways of the Dark Side. Mostly, I'm learning about my colleagues and myself, and how we take different things away. For example, a colleague in another department went to a similar workshop and came back with a new and enlarged chip on hir shoulder. What zie learned was that other low-level administrators all had it better than their colleagues at SLAC, and that SLAC sucks. It doesn't, as it happens.

What I have learned so far is that SLAC is pretty weak in procedures and a few other things. Also, I've been able to listen to other people and it's helped to re-set my reality scale. It's been nice to hear so many non-SLAC stories, most of which are not about dysfunctional departments and divisions. Some are, and I think it's not all sunshine and roses out there: too many heads nod when someone tells a story that sounds painfully familiar. I've also learned a lot of things about data, how universities function, and how, even though department and division chairs at SLAC have very little power, we are given so much more information than many of our colleagues. That information is something that, if you can make sense of it, can itself be somewhat empowering. Or maybe it's just me -- when I understand things, I feel much more secure! There have been frightening moments, though. I am far better at understanding the big picture than I like. I don't think departmentally; I think institutionally much more often.

Midway through a session today I was reminded of how many medievalists I know who are really very good at administration. And since it was well into day two, and my mind was wondering, I started thinking about the pedagogy panel at the Zoo, and how a colleague there reminded the rest of us that, where our modernist and Americanist colleagues' specialties are generally no broader than 50-75 years in one place, medievalists are expected to specialize in a thousand years, and at east 2-3 geographical areas. On top of that, we have the killer arsenal of mad skills. Sure, we tend to focus our research a bit more, but when we teach, we teach a LOT of content, comparatively speaking. Moreover, the content we teach is not just "history" -- we include literature and art and material culture -- lots of stuff. I wonder if there is a connection between our interdisciplinary training and an ability to look beyond our very narrow fields/departments/divisions. Or not. Just a thought. Anyway, it was interesting to hear the stories of colleagues and also to hear the occasional shock at some of the suggestions made in some discussions: one colleague seemed to say that hir program generally wrote job ads so that hir school's graduates would be the best candidates for those jobs. There were gasps, too, when I suggested that perhaps a way to deal with grade appeals was to ask someone else to take a copy of the rubric and the exam or paper and have them regrade. Threats to autonomy, dontcha know...

Wonder what I'll learn tomorrow..

3 comments:

Jonathan Dresner said...

Dead on about the challenge of being an area studies person: Asianists are like this, too.

The problem with reasonable solutions to ocassional problems is that people are afraid they'll be regularized, routinized, required.

The flip side of that, which I think we're seeing more and more, is student intolerance of ambiguity in requirements. We just went through a massive and frantic round of discussion to produce a standardized set of instructions for one of our graduate assessment options (and we're not done, as they were a bit rushed); all well and good, but it means that we're now locked into a model that may or may not work for some of the students who chose that path in the past.

I've become a fan of what I'm calling "strategic ambiguity" but it requires a certain level of trust that you and your colleagues will maintain standards.

Susan said...

I suspect you're on to something about intellectual breadth and the ability to see the big picture. Looking at my colleagues who can do this, there are some common themes -- they are intellectually generous as well as intellectually curious. And they are intellectually flexible. Rigidity is a bad thing in this context....

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I wonder if there is a connection between our interdisciplinary training and an ability to look beyond our very narrow fields/departments/divisions.

I would have thought, yes, but possibly just because we have a natural rapport with the people who are interested in similar things. For medievalists that may well be more people outside history proper than late Western modernists. (Sorry, any late Western modernists reading.)

There were gasps, too, when I suggested that perhaps a way to deal with grade appeals was to ask someone else to take a copy of the rubric and the exam or paper and have them regrade. Threats to autonomy, dontcha know...

If it's any comfort, that is exactly what Oxford history does with double-marking conflicts. In fact we possibly resort to it too easily so as to avoid having to hurt feelings by forcing an agreement.