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Monday, August 29, 2016

General update

The semester hasn't even started yet, and I feel like I have a few too many balls in the air, or plates spinning, or whatever analogy you like. So, I'll try to provide general updates.

As for the student who wanted the letter of recommendation--the one I originally misidentified: I did write him a very diplomatic e-mail withdrawing my consent to write a letter for him, and I got a reply that started, "Well damn I didn't think you'd cop out..." and asked if my decision was because he had been so slow to respond to my request for information (and a readable copy of his play). But then his message turned into a wild meandering riff on his idea for his play (produced on Broadway, with a jazz concert instead of intermission, in a series of plays, a new one produced for each season...), wondering if such a thing had ever been done or would work. As Ed pointed out, not only does he not have any sense of the frankly ridiculous grandiosity of his ideas, he doesn't know anything about live theater, hasn't paid enough attention to know what has or has not been done, or what happens on Broadway, or anything about the business. In any event, I wrote him a slightly less diplomatic reply--beginning with a statement that I rather took exception to his characterization of my decision as a "cop out"--but also suggesting that perhaps he needed to get a little discipline over his life and his art before he starts thinking his work is going to get produced on Broadway.

As for the student who had one more paper to finish to fulfill her incomplete: I have decided the ball is definitely (or defiantly, as my students would write) in her court. I've left her several messages--both by phone and by e-mail--saying that I have not received that last paper. She has until December to contact me, but I'm not putting any more effort or energy into trying to rescue her.

Turning now to the domino chains of scheduling: Bruce and I managed to find someone for every unassigned course, at least provisionally. (A few hadn't responded with a yea or nay by the time I left the main office to come upstairs.) A few classes are still "on hold," meaning we haven't canceled them, but there aren't enough students in them yet for them to run. But Bruce has officially sprung me from any further involvement in the final clean up. I think he was very grateful that I could come up with a few three-way swaps that got things covered--though of course I'm now sweating that we screwed something up somewhere. We already nearly did: we had assigned the same class to two adjuncts, but mercifully, one of them declined it, saving our bacon, as it were. And several people that we called turned out to have a lot more availability than we knew, so we could give them and additional class. Bruce is always terrified we won't have enough adjuncts to cover everything, but we always do somehow. I do feel bad for the ones who wanted classes but didn't have availability when we had classes to distribute. Ah well. We can't please everyone.

In terms of my own classes, the SF and one of my 102s are filled to capacity: 32 students (plus two senior observers) in SF; 28 students in the earlier 102 section. The later 102 is filling nicely--primarily because it's one of very few left with seats still available. It was briefly at 17 (it's capped at 27); when I checked a minute ago, it was back down to 16--but that's still more than I had this morning. I'm holding off making copies of the syllabus and other multi-page first day handouts until I have a better sense of how many to get--but the number could continue to shift all the way through next week, as the add period doesn't end until midnight on Sept. 7--after I've already met with the classes.

That said, although I know the other classes won't stay full, it is nice to know that the specific students may change (someone drops so someone else quickly adds), but I can't have any more students in either of those sections than I have now. (And we know that by the middle of the semester, I'll have significantly fewer.)

I should note, too, that I've already been in e-mail contact with a student in the SF class who has severe visual impairment. He contacted all his professors by e-mail, and we've bounced a few messages back and forth. I think he's going to be a good addition to the class: his e-mails are certainly articulate, and he is proactive about his responsibilities, so that's good. On the other hand, I also got an e-mail from a self-professed "helicopter parent," the father a student in one of my 102s who wanted to know what books his son will need so he--the father--can buy them in advance. I really wanted to say, "You know, it's your son's responsibility to get his books or not. It's time to fly the helicopter off somewhere else." But I didn't. I did, however, tell him about the mentoring program and suggested he encourage his son to sign up. Still, I hope the parent doesn't turn out to be a problem--or the student either, for that matter. (As a slightly mysterious side note, I looked on my roster for the student and saw no one with the father's last name there. I mentioned that to the father. It will be interesting to see if I hear more or if there was some kind of mix-up there.)

Even though Bruce has officially sprung me from my administrative duties, I will be coming to campus on Wednesday for a meeting of faculty interested in teaching our relatively new comp course, ENG100. In terms of progression through the comp sequence, it is the equivalent of 101--but it includes an extra 50-minute lab, on top of the regular 2.5 class hours, and up to now, it's only been offered to faculty with demonstrated success teaching both 001 and 101 (and a few who were part of the initial pilot but have never taught 001)--and the content was very rigidly controlled. I talked with a colleague who loves teaching it (everyone I know who teaches it loves it), and he said that a lot of those rigid rules were disappearing. So I figured I'd find out more about it to see if I can do it the way I'd want to: essentially, exactly like my 101s, same topics, same steps, but more one-on-one time in the lab component. I think it's the wave of the future--more students test into it every semester, it seems--so it behooves as many of us as possible to learn to ride that wave. Especially as 102 may become a thing of the past: a lot of the schools our students transfer to don't require two semesters of comp, and a number of our discreet degree programs can't require it as it would interfere with licensing regulations.

And speaking of waves of the future, I'm still plugging away at getting the online version of Nature in Lit ready to roll. I don't want to do a whole lot of actual course construction in Blackboard until I know it's been approved--or at least the approval is in progress--but I'm working my way down the checklist of what needs to be prepared and how it needs to be shepherded through the approval process.

So, one of the decisions I have to make is whether to come to the office tomorrow--to help down in the office with the tail end of contract signing, make copies for the later section of 102 perhaps, work on another chunk of the paperwork for the Distance Education Equivalency forms, or whether to stay home and simply do the last of those, plus continue rereading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I'm finding that much more interesting to reread than Frankenstein was; I'm seeing a lot more thematic material than I did before. Next up: at least a leaf through Oryx and Crake so I can help students understand the interwoven timelines.

And classes start Thursday. I still can't quite wrap my mind around that.

I should also note--just in terms of expressing gratitude whenever possible--that I announced to the department (via e-mail) the publication of my story "Birds in the Head" in the online journal The Belmont Fiction Review, and I have gotten extremely generous congratulations and praise from my colleagues, some of it quite humbling. I do work with an amazing group of people, and I am deeply, profoundly grateful for that--even when one factors in the occasional pain in the ass colleague.

Now, if we can just figure out who would make a good chair when Bruce retires--who would also be willing to do it. The people who would be best at the job have already respectfully declined even the suggestion. Interesting times ahead.

And what's ahead for me is toddling off campus and heading for my evening of life maintenance. If I'm in the office, I'll post again tomorrow, very likely (and possibly even if I'm not in the office). And apres Thursday, the deluge.

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