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Thursday, April 27, 2017

End of day (and week) swerve into trepidation

I just read the concise, cogent, and insightful precis of today's special meeting of the academic senate about ratifying a change to the bylaws that effectively makes faculty utterly powerless in determining anything at all about this campus, including matters of curriculum. The vote is not a surprise, but the tenor of the meeting, as described by my colleague--who is extraordinarily level-headed and fair--sounds bitter indeed. One of the things he reported is that our VP for academic affairs said that faculty senates only have the authority to comment or "recommend" but not to enact (or veto) because "that's what they do." It is so because it is so. Forgive me if I don't accede to the tautological reasoning.

Somehow, this is all exacerbated by the fact that one of the buildings where the English department has historically held classes is being shuttered--perhaps permanently--and another will be closed over the summer for "renovations," though its long-term fate is also insecure. This whole side of the campus is has been the center for most of the humanities departments and their classes; the fact that we're being squeezed out in terms of the "real estate" (as the Registrar called it) seems to reflect a desire to squeeze us out entirely. (I just checked, and two of my fall classes are still scheduled to meet in the building that will be closed, and the other two in the building that may be closed.)

There has been a new dean appointed, for the area "General Studies." We do not yet know whether our department will be fractured so that all of our composition courses are moved into that area and the few electives we are allowed to keep are maintained under the Humanities umbrella, or what else might transpire. It doesn't feel good.

In fact, I feel unwelcome on this campus. I feel my contributions are seen as meaningless, my expertise as valueless, and my discipline as irrelevant. I doubt I'm alone in feeling that way--and I recognize that the feeling will wax and wane. As my students make clear that they value what I have to offer, I will feel like I still have a place, but I truly fear that it won't last long.

And today my students did make me feel that they value what I have to offer. For one thing, most of them still hanging on to the end of the semester: I no longer routinely experience 50% attrition rates. More to the point were the emails I got from two students in the 1:00 102 class. Both of them plagiarized their homework--one badly enough that what she copied into her work didn't even make sense--and after class I nailed them both to the wall. I didn't let them speak; I just told them they'd plagiarized, that their homework would get a zero, that whatever confusions or life challenges led them to want the short cut, it was cheating--and did them no favors when it comes to writing their essays. I told them they should consider withdrawing, and I told them that--should they decide to stay--if I get even the tiniest whiff of plagiarism from their final essays, they will fail the class.

Both wrote emails apologizing, saying they want to stay in the class, that they like me, like the class, want to pass, will do better. And the emails certainly seemed sincere; both young women are not the type to be two-faced with me (or with anyone) about something like this. Fair enough. I let them know that I was content to let them do their best with their final essays, and we'd let the chips fall where they may.

I also had a nice face-to-face interaction with another student in that class. She was horrified at her grade on her second essay (she'd missed the last few classes, so she hadn't seen it before today). She wanted to talk about what she could do, and as we started to talk, she started to cry. She's another of those students who is potentially very good but utterly overwhelmed and thus unable to do the work she's truly capable of doing. I looked over her grades, and I made an agreement with her: if she gets at least a B on the final essay (something well within her grasp), I will allow her to re-revise her second essay. I'll give her an incomplete, and calculate the grade when I see the re-revision, as it was clear she was under time pressure and didn't devote the attention to the revision that she could have.

My conversation with a student after the 5:30 class was a little more difficult. She really shouldn't have been passed along to this level: she should have had to repeat some of her previous courses. But she doesn't need to pass a literature class for her degree, so I offered her a "mercy D." I don't know if it will be much of a mercy in the long run: I don't think at this point that she can write well enough in English to do well in her chosen major. She's plenty smart, and for all I know, she's an excellent writer in her native language, but not in English--not yet.

But it wasn't an unpleasant conversation; it was just rushed and unfinished, as she had to get to her next class. I told her we didn't have to decide right away, but that she might want to consider whether she wanted to put the time and energy into her final essay, knowing she can't get a good grade out of the class. We'll see what she decides.

Even though that was my last encounter of the day, it was one of those days when I walk away from my final class, thinking about my manner in dealing with the students and feeling very dissociated from that persona, Prof. P. Here I am, just little ole me, but in the classroom, I suddenly have this authority and confidence and clarity. Where the hell does that come from? I almost feel I'm channeling something way beyond myself, the way I felt one or two times, millennia ago, when I was on stage and almost split into two: an almost out-of-body me who was watching my performance, and the character, who had a life of her own. The character I "play" now is this professor. I am more used to feeling like a fraud, as one of my grad advisers suggested would be the case, but every now and then, I am astonished that I can so readily fool everyone, including myself.

On that rather odd note, I will toddle off into the weekend. This will be a weekend when I take zero work home with me, which feels like an enormous reprieve. I still have plenty to do next week even before the student essays come in (and part of me thought--briefly--that I should at least write up the adjunct observations tonight before a saner part of me took over and said "Quit pushing yourself"). But I can have a weekend that is something approaching an actual weekend. If I work, it will be because I want to, not because I am driven to. The only thing I'm driving to is my riding lesson tomorrow...

So, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

2 comments:

  1. As my regular act recedes towards the wings (primarily the left one of course), I find myself too more and more aware that the lights are dimming (as they did in Notth at 5:30), the feedback from the mics is ear splitting, and the screens are mouldy. Like you I notice the fragmentation of my consciousness of the audience and the brusque insensitivity of the house management. It feels more like Woodstock 1965 (Under Milk Wood or The Skin of our Teeth) than like off Broadway or even New Haven. The big city critics have panned the last 14 of our performances and we're getting signs our run may be cancelled. The voice is already calling from the gallery that the light is out. With infinite regret at leaving half the company to struggle on, I take my leave -- to go on the road forever. Keep the house lights dim but lit for my sake-- for all my sakes. B

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  2. For all OUR sakes. Mea maxima culpa.

    ReplyDelete