Monday, December 29, 2008

Uhm, this is awkward…

…but, I can’t really concentrate. What was that you said you wanted to suggest at the next faculty meeting? Something about undergraduate recruitment? Huh? I can’t concentrate in here, can we talk in my office, because, how do I put this politely? Your office, well, it’s a tad on the disorderly side. Hhhmm. You are laughing, I don’t think you understand. I’ll be blunt, your office is a fucking disaster. Did you hear that? I know you can only see the very top of my head peaking out at you over these stacks, of what I will very generously refer to only as “stuff”, but I tried to direct my voice up and over the obstacles. There are well established degrees of office messiness, from a little messy to really messy (Mr. Clean 2006:21). But this? This goes far beyond really messy into a frightening realm of messiness. It is the kind of messy that causes me to question your sanity (and the structural stability of these stacks). I really don’t know what to make of it. I mean, please explain the following: a). How did this happen? b). What constitutes all of these piles? c). Have your workspaces always looked like this? d). You don’t find this a tad bit, well, uncomfortable?

To begin, let’s explore how this happened. I’ll have to make a few assumptions, primarily that anything that enters your office never leaves (which I should point out, gives me concern for my safety). Why would that be the case though? You do realize that every night our trash and recyclables get taken away simply by placing them in clearly marked bins? A fabulous service really. It means that all of those campus fliers in our mailboxes, meeting notes, lunch detritus, and that manuscript you printed out but then realized you forgot to put page numbers on, can ALL be whisked away every single night. I must also assume that the invisible force-field that prevents all materials from leaving your office is self installed. My office is very similar to yours and I did not have a force-field option when I moved in. Therefore I must make the associated assumption that you want this stuff and are actively preventing its escape (yikes, I’m still here after all). Perplexing.

I already mentioned a few materials contributing to this mess, but there are clearly more. I spy a few packages, articles, exams, journals, unopened mail, books, and what appear to be term papers. No doubt there is more, but that appears to be the majority of stuff. By grading and returning assignments to students you can get rid of a lot of detritus. Voila, and it’s off your desk! (I mean, you can provide quality feedback to students in a timely fashion). Aren’t you curious about the content of those packages? Are they pre- or post- Unibomber? Again, I have safety concerns, I need to stay focused. Oh yes, give the assignments and exams back to your students, throw the mail away, put the books on the shelves, put the articles in the filing cabinet, put the journals on the shelf too (note: those numbers on their sides make them really easy to place in chronological order), and place a call to the FBI and have them send in a robot to retrieve those packages.

Your office must have looked this way for some time. Based on few quick calculations, admittedly these are rough, I would guess that your office reached the frightening stage of messy approximately 4.2 years ago. If you could dig out a calculator, I am sure there is one (possibly many) in here somewhere, I could more accurately identify the moment you crossed the sanity barrier. Considering the sheer bulk of materials (taking into account the average rates of mail, reading material, and class stuff accrual), its average volume, and the size of your office, about 4 years seems accurate. Mind you, prior to that time your office was solidly in the really messy stage. Or, is that assuming too much? Maybe this is some steady state, an equilibrium reached between your sanity and all this stuff that occurred even longer ago? That would imply that you did not install a force-field. Now I am really perplexed.

As for the discomfort all of this is causing (not felt by you, but experienced by everyone else that enters your office), I would really rather talk in my office. Can we do that? Will the now, admittedly questionable, force-field allow me to exit? How long have I been here? Is there food in here? Beverages? Can you hear me?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

ATTN: Wiley-Blackwell

What makes you think I would be interested in a free preview of the journal Plow Science? Why are you sending me emails about it? What have I EVER done to make you think I would be in the least bit interested? Is something exciting happening in the wide, wide, world of plows? Something we all need to know about? It took me many years to recover from the shock of the steam-oxen plow and the motorized-coach plow, I doubt I can take any more plow advancements. Do you honestly think that the mere act of publishing in one of your journals means that I am now interested in all of your publications? You likely publish a journal dedicated solely to email marketing, you should read it. Look at your subscription data, it should be clear that subscribers to Plow Science also read Acta Oxen and the Proceedings of the British Plough Society. Consequently, I am not your ideal audience since I have never expressed the slightest interest in any of these publications. So, stop with the endless emails regarding random journals. And while I’m at it, all of you people organizing pseudo-conferences with titles like “Technology, Science, Teaching and Communication” in far-flung utterly boring places stop with the mass email invites. You are really starting to piss me off. If you’d like me to give a paper at least make the conference appear slightly more legitimate and hold it somewhere with a beach… and palm trees.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is That You Jean Teasdale?

Yes you girl in the third row over there on the left. Is that some kind of snowman on your shirt? You, the one with stringy hair, rapidly settling into a future lifestyle involving a menagerie of holiday-themed sweaters, a Family Circle magazine subscription, and cankles. How can you be such a stereotype at such a young age? I look at you and I see your future. It is not good. There is a molded concrete “basket” in your yard with ridiculously fake flowers in it (accompanied by a series of “flags” for various seasons), you have a blanket on your couch with a giant eagle on it (purchased from a parked van situated at a prominent intersection of major roads), you collect figurines of some sort, and most egregious of all, your emails end with an inspirational quote…please, don’t make me elaborate any further. It is not too late. You can still become an interesting human. Please, I encourage you to ditch my class today. Grab your wheeled luggage bag (why do you need that by the way? Do you catch a flight to campus every morning?), abandon that stupid purple pen you like to use, and head directly to the nearest bar. Wait, make a quick stop at home first. Hop in the shower and wash your hair (is that Mickey Mouse on your shower curtain? Ugh, we’ll deal with that later)— now get dressed, jeans will be just fine, but do you have a shirt that lacks “embellishments”? Note, no air travel was involved…again, the whole wheelie bag thing is really mystifying me. OK, now get yourself to the bar. Look, I am not trying to turn you into an alcoholic or anything, but you need to get out of this comfort zone of yours. Have some college experiences. Go ahead. Order a drink, flirt with some bar guys, order a couple more drinks. Next week we’ll work on getting you stoned, and then getting you laid. Not at the same time, you are not ready for that yet, but I have big plans for you Jean. I take my job as an educator very seriously.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dear Dr. No:

Excerpted below are comments from five external reviewers in your tenure and promotion case. These reviewers all hold tenured positions at doctoral institutions more prestigious than ours, and all are considered to be far more respected than you. I have edited the letters to eliminate identifying information, although I have included just enough personal information that you will spend an inordinate amount of time limiting their identity to a small cadre of suspects. You should refer to these comments in your self-assessment and should consider spending a significant portion of the next few weeks plotting fantastic revenge against them.

Reader 1
I am very impressed with the candidate’s publication record. In fact, of the articles I actually read and could comprehend, I would consider the candidate a brilliant thinker and writer. While I myself have not made a significant contribution to the field in 12 years, I am an authority on their work. Admittedly, I am a bit dismayed at the candidate’s sparse publication record in regional journals and the associated excess of publications in national and international venues. Their absence from such premier journals as Square State Science, Annual Review of Descriptive Reports, and Meaningless Tables of Measurements is unfortunate. While new fangled outlets such as the International Journal of Quality Science may carry some significance among the newer generation of practitioners, they lack the hallmarks of a prestigious and longstanding journal of high esteem (primarily they lack staples in their bindings and home-basement offices). However, the candidate tackles some very important and complex issues for which they should be applauded. I should know, since I essentially solved all of the issues they write about in my 1978a ASC (Awesome Science Conference) presentation (widely available).

I have personally attended numerous conferences at which the candidate was present. As I sipped wine at various hotel venues surrounded by my small elite group of fellow authorities, I did notice the candidate was present in the room. Further, on some occasions I took the time to explain to the candidate that their ideas were clearly drawn from my 1978b presentation at the ASC’s (widely available). Clearly the candidate deserves tenure, they would certainly be awarded tenure at my own institution (although I would personally have seen to it that they were never hired because the candidate would end up making me look bad).

Reader 2
Wow. The candidate is truly a major contributor to our field. Sure, prior to receiving their materials in the mail I had never read any of their work. But, after reading their impressive array of publications and realizing that their PhD advisor was my graduate school roommate, I have a newfound awareness of their impact on our field. I have since added the candidates name to the small list of authors whose work I am willing to read and will allow my students to read. As the candidates’ views are consistent with my own theoretical leanings, I wholeheartedly support their tenure case. In fact, all researchers trained by my old roomie and myself deserve tenure and big fat raises. We are the only true heirs to the illustrious theoretical perspective developed by Dr. Blah (may he rest in peace) and his wife Dr. Miss-Blah (what did he ever see in her?). As such, as long as the candidate continues to flatteringly cite Dr. Blah (Blah 1985, 1985a, 1985b; Blah & Miss-Blah 1988) their reputation in the field will continue to grow. Further, the candidates participation in service to their University and Community is outstanding. While I have absolutely no means of assessing their service record, I am confident this is the case.

Reader 3 (hand-written comments transcribed by Department Office Assistant)
What mean this shiny disk? I have received by parcel post a letter requesting my assay of the candidate, yet included was only a shiny circular disk. Consequently, I have insufficient materials to adequately address the topic. Back in my day a professor’s work could be evaluated by the cut of his jib. Just because I am 97 years old it doesn’t mean jib-cutting is out of fashion. P.S. I would like to note that the candidate appears to have a lady name, is the candidate’s wife up for tenure?

Reader 4
I have carefully read and evaluated all the materials sent to me. I take my job as an outside evaluator very seriously because I take everything very, very, seriously. I am a very serious scholar you see, I like to talk about work ALL the time. I am not the type of person to evaluate anything succinctly and intelligently, I like to go on and on about minute and irrelevant details. I think it makes me sound very, very, serious and very, very, scholarly. Perhaps you have been subject to one of my grant or publication reviews? Surely you have, I accept all offers to review anything and everything. They are very long. At first glance you think “look at all that commentary, this review might be insightful”…but then you realize I spend half the time pondering your font choice in Table 3.4. But really, did you mean to invoke the hegemonic influence of Helvetica? I read a paper about the influence of font choice (I didn’t actually read it per se, but I overhead a very, very, smart person talking about it once), and I thought since I didn’t really understand the data, your methods, or conclusions I’d bring it up. I will now discuss each publication in chronological order and in nauseatingly irrelevant detail.

In Proceedings of Arcane Topics the candidate analyzes 239 data points and reaches (I think) the conclusion that a previous study (that I didn’t understand either) that looked at 25 data points is incorrect. That’s important I guess, but let’s talk about data point number 42. Is that accurate? Surely it is too high. It really looks a bit inflated. In fact, I have duplicated Figure 2.1 below, and if you move data point number 42 down, say 1 cm into its proper location, it completely changes the picture. A darker shade of grey would also convey the distributive properties of the scatter more accurately. Also, you reference Blah 1985b for data point 42. I am sure there must be a more recent citation; in fact didn’t I hear that someone gave a conference presentation about old number 42 just last week? Just because you wrote the manuscript 6 years ago is no reason not to cite the most recent literature.

******************edited for length******************

The most recent article in International Journal of Quality Science is intriguing. I question the discussion section beginning on page 12, paragraph 3. While the author clearly responded to my suggestions provided in my initial 8 page review of the submitted manuscript, I am still dissatisfied with the published version. I made numerous utterly tangential and gratuitous suggestions for how the “Discussion” section could veer completely off-topic. My suggestions would have made clear the imaginary links I see between the authors work and those of the little known but highly influential scholar Friar Læhenschtaģë. As I so painfully documented in my initial review, the works of this eminent theologian, wheel-smithy, and barber are sorely missing. In sum ******************edited for length****************** I believe the candidate has met the criteria for tenure.

Reader 5
Uh, yeah. I vote for tenure. Sorry this review is so late. I am really busy. Looks good. Thanks for all of those reminder emails, I usually get things like this done on time. But you know, I am just so busy this semester. I had my GAs look over the articles and they said they were good, which is good enough for me (I mean I have them teach my classes, run my lab, and write papers for me— so I can trust their opinion).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Conference Dorks

Seriously. What are you doing? Have you not noticed that this conference is being held in a tropical location? Do you not hear that pleasant noise? It’s coming from the ocean, you can see it from your hotel window. Or better yet, if you walk straight out those doors of the “Main Ballroom” where Whatshisface is currently droning on about some random idea he had back in grad school, you can actually be IN the ocean in less than 20 short steps. You realize this hotel has a pool, surrounded by palm trees, with a swim-up bar? I’m sorry, perhaps you work at the University of Hawaii…jaunting off to surf after class every day, or holding office hours in your pool. But you don’t look like that’s the case. You like kinda tubby and pale, larval really- a swim would be good for you. In fact you look downright silly in your “conference outfit” with your nametag dangling around your neck 10 feet away from the beach AND a swim-up bar? Seriously, stop being a conference dork. Most of us stopped at the registration desk, got our nametag, abstract book, schedule and assorted conference crap, dumped them in our room, put on a bathing suit and fled the scene. Sure, we’ll try to hide our tan and hangovers long enough to make it through our own presentations, but that’s it. Hell, 50 bucks says even Whatshisface will be in hammock sipping pina coladas within the hour. Loosen up. You, and your fellow dork gaggle, are bringing the nerd quotient of our profession up to an embarrassingly high level. Please, at least take the nametag off and put on some sandals (without socks please).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dude Who Never Comes To Class

Who are you? Every time I enter a test, assignment, or quiz grade there you are, a slowly filling row of zeros. Why have you not withdrawn? Are you the embodiment of the recurring dream we’ve all had? The one where you completely forget about a class for the entire semester and then somehow realize your horrendous mistake two minutes before the final exam? And you go to the test and have no idea how to answer any of the questions and wake up absolutely panic-stricken. Are you living that dream? If so, that really sucks dude. Maybe being a student is just your cover. Perhaps you actually have some highly secretive and thrilling spy career. More likely, you have opted to forgo class attendance in favor of something else, like drinking beer with your buddies. Trust me, if this is the case, it will NOT seem cool a couple of years from now. It would take all of two minutes to fill out the class withdrawal form, you can do it online. Really, just enter a few pieces of info and you can go back to looking at internet porn, playing fantasy sports, or whatever, and I can put a stop to the relentless chain of 0s accumulating behind your name. Alternatively, if you are nightmare-dream-student, don’t forget to bring a blue book— make that 5 blue books (there will be a shit ton of essays and some very long math equations and I’ll want to see your work), and don’t forget to bring your final project (a handmade musical instrument), oh, and I’ll expect your essays to include figures and citations. OK then, I’ll see you “dude who never comes to class” at the final exam next week, Room 380 at 10:15…or is it at 6AM in that secret faraway building? Good luck, don’t be late.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Annual Tenure & Promotion Self Assessmnent

In the following paragraphs I will walk a fine line between outright bullshit and quasi-honesty. Ultimately, we both know that my teaching “philosophy” does not matter. What does seem to matter is that this assessment appear lengthy and is sprinkled with catchy educational jargon for the skimming eyes of Deans, T&P College Committee Members , and other University officials to catch. In that vein, I strive to create an open and Socratic environment that promotes semiotic fluency. With numerous years of teaching experience, I can now provide concrete examples of my curricular enhancement. For instance, when constructing course syllabi (or as I like to see it, deconstructing course specific navigational milieu) I have learned the benefit of designating one “reflective” day per class per semester. Indicated on the syllabus as “Class Canceled” such days provide students with much needed time to quietly reflect upon the magnitude of intellectual insights they have gained from enrolling in my course. With great personal sacrifice, I spend such days sitting at home drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. I am of course searching the news for relevant global events for integration into future class discussions (I find the Sudoku, crossword, and occasionally the Word Jumble to be particularly worthy of my attention).

Perhaps you may also like me to address the breadth of my teaching experiences. Well, while I do not subscribe to the concept of ability groupings and strive to maintain an inclusive educational control locus (those are for you Dept. of Ed. Committee member)— I have taught everything from Introductory “I am taking this to fulfill a general University requirement and my only prior knowledge of the discipline is derived from a movie character” to graduate level “I have to read how much, can we watch that movie instead?” seminars. From the naïve to the delusional, downright stupid to brilliant, stoned to sober, I attempt to penetrate the neural forests of all. I teach such a broad array of courses because I enjoy the unique challenge adjusting of my teaching style to meet the needs of a diverse student body, not because my status as a junior faculty member has left me no choice but to teach the courses no one else is willing to take on. In fact, once I am granted tenure I plan to bestow at least two of the courses in my current repertoire (or teaching toolkit as I like to call it) to untenured members of my department so that they too can be enriched by these teaching experiences. In sum, I am an awesomely proficient educator. Not so awesome that I will not continue to grow and improve in my post-tenure years, but just awesome enough to earn tenure. Oh, and not so awesome as to make my more senior colleagues feel bad or to set too high a standard for my more junior colleagues, as I said, just awesome enough.

I average at least 50 years of boring meeting time per semester, oh sorry, I meant 50 hours. I have gained from these meetings an intimate knowledge of the carpet designs, lighting fixture variability, and chair styles of numerous meeting facilities on campus. I can assure you that the Union, fourth floor “Redwood” room is far superior to all other facilities. In addition to University decorating styles, the meeting time I have logged has enabled me to instantly spot the presence of a talker. We all know the characteristics of a meeting talker, their unfailing ability to develop instantly strong opinions that they simply must voice, their incessant jabbering about the mundane, and their compulsion to say something, anything, about every single agenda item. However, what you may not know about the talker (knowledge I have gained by pleasantly smiling at them while I imagine shoving my coffee cup down their throats) are the following characteristics: 1)Talkers bring way too much stuff to meetings. All that is needed is a pen and some paper for pretending to take notes. The average talker however, is likely to have a disheveled stack of file folders, maybe even a binder, with them. Multiple pens (usually of different ink colors) may be in their possession. Some sort of bag or tote, loaded with books, will likely accompany them. They will frequently have food, not just a snack purchased on their way to the meeting, but some odd edible thing. The exact form this odd food item takes is variable, but you will inevitably think one of the following; What is that? Who eats that? What is that smell? 2)Talkers wear ugly shoes. They are usually not only ugly in style, but heavily worn. Why is this? I do not know, but I promise to spend my post-tenure meeting time dedicated to this mystery.

I would be remiss not to mention the truly not boring and highly inspirational meetings I have attended that were led by a prominent person deciding the fate of my tenure case. Hi Dr. College Dean! Those meetings were in fact a privilege to attend. Remember that incredible PowerPoint when Dr. Dean used that canned slide format with the mountains in the background? And that clipart Microsoft dude would indicate super insightful Dr. Dean ideas with a light bulb over his cartoon head? Wow. That was life altering.

This is the important part. Please turn to page 2 of my vitae in your T&P packet. Find the heading “Grants” and sum the dollar amounts listed. Do you have the number yet? OK good. Now, take my current salary and multiply by 6 (the number of years I have worked at this institution). Humanities faculty: please consult a member of the “hard sciences” you hate so much and ask for mathematical assistance if needed. .. As you can see, the “Grants” number is bigger. Now, count the number of publications (vitae pages 3-6). Divide by 6 to obtain an average number of publications by year. Please refer to the “Tenure Annual Publication Standards” document someone appears to have written in 1973. Which number is bigger? That’s correct, mine. Thank you for awarding me tenure.