Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oh, FFS, Chronicle!

Oh, FFS, Chronicle

When will you stop publishing complete and utter shite like this??? Making room for younger people to have jobs is the stupidest damned reason to end tenure I've ever heard. There are lots of things that are wrong with tenure, and some of them have to do with an aging faculty. But until universities start paying faculty enough that they can afford to retire at 55 or even 65 (and as a single woman academic, this is a real issue -- female academics tend more to be single than their male counterparts, and they tend to start at lower wages, which means our pay rises are correspondingly lower and compound more slowly, and frankly, we might need to work longer), it is a bit much to claim some sort of nebulous moral obligation to retire for the sake of our juniors -- says the junior faculty member.

In regards to the idea that departments can get 'tenured in' -- well, that's a cultural thing as much as anything else. Colleagues in the UK seem to move around with each promotion. That's a bit problematic here, where university administrations regularly try to save money by refusing to replace senior people with senior people, and where much of the time faculty avoid retirement in part because they are hoping that their line won't be eliminated altogether. And we all know that happens -- and that administrations will lie. I know of one senior medievalist whose department was promised his endowed chair would stay intact when he retired, along with a second middle-ranking post in the medievalist's specialty. Yeah, right. One position in a department that seems to have no problem finding lines for incredibly narrow modern specialties, each of which wants its own PhD. If there are no jobs for senior faculty to move to, why on earth would they want to move?

And then there's the deadwood question. And yes, there is a problem. Not everywhere, but you know, there's been at least one person in every department where I've studied or taught that probably should have retired long before I met them. But that's a problem with the interpretation of the tenure system. Tenure is supposed to protect academic freedom and give a certain amount of job security. But there's no good reason not to have post-tenure review, perhaps to overlap with sabbatical applications. As long as it's based on clear requirements for research, teaching, and service (not necessarily in that order), I'm not sure why it would be a problem. The best faculty I've ever worked with stay active, even if they might slow down a bit. Obviously, as senior people may take on different duties, more administrative work, etc., the standards might be different than for people at the associate level, but as I said, that's not an insurmountable problem.

What does seem insurmountable is the amount of idiocy in people who seem to think that there are a glut of medievalists in academic departments, or that -- again -- people in the arts and sciences, and especially the humanities and social sciences, should first take lower salaries because we understand that money needs to go to retain faculty in fields where industry jobs pay much more, or because we understand that we need to pay more for the athletic departments because they being in more paying customers students; and then we should retire early, while we're still productive, because we owe the next generation? Like hell. I worked damned hard to get where I am, and I'm not planning on retiring until I feel I can't or don't want to do the job. And that would be true even if I were paid as much as an ex-college president like Trachtenberg.

Thanks to Caught in the Snide for the heads-up.

Haskins bleg again

So I booked a room for Haskins, rather than staying at a friend's house. So if you know of a female person who has not got around to booking a room and needs to share, and you know me well enough to ask (or to recommend a grad student or whatever), let me know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Something to cheer you up

Something to cheer you up

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Carnivalesque 44

Carnivalesque 44

Carnivalesque 44, an Early Modern edition in the most interestingly gangrenous fashion, is up at Mercurius Politicus. November's edition, an Ancient/Medieval one, will be hosted on or about November 20 at The Cranky Professor, who I think might never have hosted one before.

To submit nominations either email to crankyprofessor AT gmail DOT com, send a message to the carnival email address (carnivalesque AT earlymodernweb DOT org DOT uk), or use the nomination form.

More hosts needed!!

Potential hosts should be regular bloggers with some knowledge of and interest in pre-modern history (though not necessarily academics). If you are interested in hosting an edition of Carnivalesque, please send an email to the carnival address above, noting whether you are particularly interested in early modern or ancient/medieval, and telling a little about your background and historical interests.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What they don't teach us in Grad School-- management

What they don't teach us in Grad School-- management

I would like to be working on a book review, but I'm sitting in a loud airport, where a passel of teenagers have decided to make louder the almost-quiet place I'd found. So, here we go on a new topic! This is something I've noticed a lot lately. It wasn't such a big thing at my old campuses, which were unionized on both the faculty and the staff side. One of the benefits of union contracts is that there are few grey areas -- and some might say that's one of the disadvantages, too. It's also something I've noticed because I had all that time being a not-academic, part of it as admin staff with people who reported to me -- and I didn't know what the hell I was doing at first, so the signs seem kind of familiar.

When we're in grad school, I think it occurs to us some day that we might eventually be department chairs, or deans, or even have TAs and RAs. It's part of the package, but I don't know anybody who really gave much thought to what that might entail. Mostly, as I can tell, it means moving into a new mental space called 'management'. As grad students and junior faculty, we're pretty much labour. We're at the bottom of the totem pole, and are either busy trying to follow the direction of our departments, deans, etc. We get put on committees, told what we need for comps or portfolios, have ... supervision. But at some point we don't. Moving from being supervised to independence as scholars is a different post, and anyway, I think we kinda figure that out in the last stages of the thesis or the early stages of the first job.

But what about that other stuff? I mean, we all know that there are four basic contingents on a college campus -- students, faculty, staff, and administrators. In many campuses, there is also a lot of encouragement for a democratic approach to interpersonal and work relations that tends to appeal to much of the younger professorial set, not least because its members can think back to the days when admins were called secretaries and were expected to bring coffee and cookies, make and collate copies, etc. Treating the admins and maintenance guys as equals who do important work and keep the place running is just natural for us -- or for those of us whose heads aren't too far up our academic asses. Pity the new faculty member who starts ordering people around like servants!

But here's the thing: sometimes, these people report to us. We are responsible for signing their time cards. Their jobs might actually included doing work that we give them. This is especially true of our work study students. And that means we are, whether or not we like it, whether or not we all treat each other as equals, bosses. One of the things I've noticed in my current position is that none of my colleagues wants to be a boss. A couple want to do the "fun" things, like control budgets, and sign off on travel requests, and have the words, "director of institute X" or "Department Chair" attached to their names and CVs, but when it comes down to employee relations, they suck.

I think part of this is about avoiding confrontation. But I also think part of it is that no one ever pulls us aside and tells us what it means when we are given some sort of supervisory duties. So sometimes, work study students start to show up whenever they want, calling in sick or busy with no notice, and there's the faculty member, not wanting to be mean, or to act like s/he's being a dick because it's wrong to give orders. And it can get worse. Sometimes the person who reports to the hapless junior academic is an adult, a friend, a co-worker. And possibly someone older than the hapless junior academic, who has quite possibly never had a position where they were supposed to supervised someone. Or, equally possibly, the hapless junior academic isn't bothered, or hasn't really noticed, or worse, has just started doing someone else's job, too. At some point, wheels will come off, balls will be dropped, someone's shit won't get taken care of, and then, one of the conflict-avoiders will lose their rag, and Mean Things Will Be Uttered and Things Will Never Be The Same.

So I have to ask -- given that we academics will likely all serve as management at some point (well, if we're any good at all at our jobs), why isn't this part of our training? I mean, ok ... lots of us were never trained to teach, or to mentor grad students, either. But at least we've seen it done and have good and bad examples. But not all of us -- probably most of us -- have never worked in the kind of position we're supposed to be supervising, so we might not have the examples. So what do we do?

Well, I kind of think it would be nice if someone took us aside and told us the following things:

  • Somebody has to be the boss. That isn't a bad thing, unless you are a crappy boss. But realistically speaking, your time is more valuable than the office staffs'. That's kind of why we have administrative assistants and work study students -- because it's their job to free us from some of the grunt work. It's not an easy job, and an admin with institutional knowledge can be worth her (or his, but that's still really rare) weight in gold. But this is one of the cases where that framed diploma makes a difference. Deal.

  • If you are given an administrative position, and no one tells you what your job entails, then it is your job to find out. I know we academics hate looking like clueless idiots even more than the average bear, but this is "how to hold down a job 101"

  • Speaking of which, the minute you have an administrative position, even if it's part of your service, you have a non-academic job, at least part of the time. This means that all those perks of academic employment, like flexible hours and sometimes being able to just hide from your colleagues and students when you really need to get stuff done, just can't apply to you as much as before. That might be why you get that course release.

  • Work Study students are supposed to be getting valuable work experience along with the crap wages. That work experience does not have to be relevant to their major -- it just has to teach them something, even if it's only how to perform well in a low-paying job and to appreciate the work that others do. Not giving them direction means not giving them that experience. It's bad pedagogy.

  • People are generally happier when they don't have to negotiate tons of grey areas just to get through a work day. If you're the boss, it's your job to help make sure there aren't too many grey areas. This doesn't mean that you turn into a martinet. It doesn't mean you have to start ordering people around. But it can mean that you need to communicate more clearly and follow up on things.

And you know? It is often uncomfortable at first, but in the long run? it's nice to work with people you can trust. And that's true for everybody. Or I could
be wrong.

ETA: Dr. Virago points out that asking the support staff for advice on what you can ask for and what you should be passing on to them is a really good way to do things, too. This goes back to my point that good support staff, like good NCOs, are the people who run the place. I used to be one of them, and it really is kind of true. I know I wouldn't be in nearly as good a position at SLAC if it weren't for the help, advice, and support I get from the support staff in the Dean's office.

Friday, October 24, 2008

On pricey hotels

On Pricey Hotels

Ok, before you say anything, I know that the prices are set for business travelers on expense accounts. Perhaps no one has noticed that even business travelers may be feeling the squeeze these days? And anyway, it's an academic conference.

But here's the thing. It's a hotel. People probably don't stay there more than a couple of nights, unless on vacation. And frankly, I get really cranky that business hotels charge for:

  • Internet connections -- wtf?
  • use of a refrigerator for personal items
  • even picking up anything from the minibar (apparently, there's a sensor that tells the front desk) -- even if you replace it, unused. This is especially sneaky when they stock things so you can't see the labels). no, I did not get caught on this one
  • double prices on mediocre food. Not to mention the price of a coke. Or a cup of tea. I've paid less in London with a 2:1 exchange rate.

Also, when it takes 25 minuted to get online with the expensive internet, and only because the customer knew more about the internet problems than the person at customer service (which didn't pick up for 10 minutes), they should pay me for my time!

Monday, October 20, 2008

carnivalesque Reminder

Carnivalesque Reminder

The next Carnivalesque will be up on October 25 at Mercurius Politicus. Please feel free to submit interesting posts on things Early Modern!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It lives!

It Lives!

I know it's been sparse around here, but yours truly is putting together a T&P file, due soon. Back when that's done.

OH -- but congrats to Dr. Sepoy, while I'm thinking of it.