The new semester is off to a rockin’start. Let’s see. . . Several of my senior colleagues with whom I have worked for the past two years introduced themselves to me for the first time the other day. They also asked if my move to Midwestern Funky Town had gone well over the summer. It was nice gesture even if it made it clear that they had absolutely no idea at all who I am.
Still, I can’t fault them. The department is massive. Heck, if one of us were kidnapped in the middle of a department meeting, it would probably take several days before we even noticed.
In other news, somebody that we shall call "Little Mister" is really pushing my buttons these days. It's probably unfair on my part, but for reasons I can't fully pinpoint, Little Mister really sticks in my craw. Such irritations almost always say more about you than the person who irritates you, no? Thus I have tried to take a positive attitude into our conversations, but I can't help thinking that Little Mister is just kinda rude. At a recent party, he spent twenty minutes lecturing me on the finer points of the subject of NERPoD.
Now, there are many, many things that I really don’t know about the history of this planet -- seriously. At another recent party I realized that my memory of the succession of all those Roman emperors gets a bit fuzzy: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula (Bootsy to his friends), Claudius, Nero - then, um, that guy with the big nose and ... uh, that one from the Gladitor movie?
But there are two things that I do know backwards and forward: a) Wonder Woman’s three under-appreciated seasons on television; and b) the history within NERPoD. So I was less than impressed to be “informed” on the topic as if I had no idea that such things had ever happened in the world. I mean, I don’t try to give lessons to Little Mister about the things that he knows inside and out. You don’t see me telling him the best ways to act like a pompous idiot. No, no – I say, “GayProf, he is doing a fine job of that all on his own. He needs no pointers from you.”
Of course, to be fair, he hasn’t ever bothered to find out the subject of NERPoD. That would have involved acknowledging another person in the same room as himself. Ugh – It’s going to be a long year.
All of that pales, of course, to the fact that Big Midwestern University is finally acknowledging that the local/regional/national/global economic collapse will indeed impact our day-to-day operations after all. Last year the administration instructed us to don green-tinted sunglasses before setting foot on campus. Even though every major industry collapsed around campus, we saw only gumdrops and sunshine. Now that the little girl in the gingham dress has arrived with her yipping dog, there are some big cuts heading towards us.
Lean times mean lean budgets. I understand that. Everybody’s making sacrifices. People are driving less and taking fewer vacations. Working people are cooking meals at home more often than eating out. Banking executives are settling for last year’s multi-million dollar renovation of their toilets. It’s tough times all around.
So if the university puts some caps on expenses until things stabilize, I am cool with that. I also thank the goddess that I am fortunate enough not to be working in one the bankrupt California universities. Budgets have been cut so much there that the faculty are loitering around crime scenes hoping that they can score some free chalk once the cops finish tracing the body.
What does have me a bit anxious about my current university is the increasing scrutiny that we are facing in terms of our class sizes. The university bureaucracy has devised lots of nifty formulas and algorithms that they use to determine how much funding and bonus prizes each department will receive. They want to ensure that the ratio between university “resources” (that’s us, the faculty) and “revenue” (that’s the students (or, more accurately, the students’ parents’ money)) is at the right level. It’s the most cynical view of higher education since Lynn Cheney proposed replacing freshman U.S. History with reruns of Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.
Big Midwestern U is certainly not alone in pushing to make their profs mini-sales agents. I do “get” why having a class of three people should be canceled. That’s costly. But how many students is enough? 50? 100? 400?
My enrollments are fine, but my classes aren’t exactly standing-room-only (despite my obvious appeal). I feel a certain pressure to keep the students who signed up in the class at least until the official “drop date.” This past semester more than others I found myself trying to use the first few lectures to convince the students that the entire semester was going to be a fifteen-week tickle fight. Rather than outlining course assignments and expectations, I proposed that my class’s subtitle should really be “The Happy Sunshine Good Time Hour.”
Students, as many of us have observed, already expect that classes should be another source of entertainment rather than a place to acquire new skills and knowledge. This past week (and this is not a joke), one student asked me if he absolutely had to do the required reading because he “found it really boring and hard to follow.” He then asked if he could substitute watching a few films (which I could select for him) instead of the reading.
That sound you just heard was dozens of humanities professors’ jaws dropping to the ground. Really, though, should we be surprised by such a request? The pitiful student evaluations that universities administer (along with those crude on-line course selecting web pages) have all contributed to making the classroom seem more like a daytime talkshow than a place for students to work.
I have therefore been brainstorming some ways to keep students from dropping and thus lowering my personal revenue:resource ratio. In my favorite genre, here is a modified list of things that I am thinking of promising my students if they stay enrolled:
* If they look under their seat, they will find that each and every one of them has a new car!
* By the end of my class, at least one of them will have a recording contract.
* Instead of lecturers, I will be interviewing numerous guest celebrities.
* Multiple choice exams will be replaced by connect-the-dot and color-by-number.
* My course is actually the recruiting center for a secret army that will be deployed to fight the agents of darkness.
* During the semester, I will reveal several new weight-loss techniques.
* Each and every week, students will have an opportunity to vote off one of their fellow classmates. The last one standing will be declared one of life’s winners.
* Every student will receive a Snuggie©.
* I will consider updating their Facebook status as equivalent to attending class.
* I will teach class wearing star-spangled panties.
* I won’t teach class wearing star-spangled panties.
* At least one class per week will be devoted to matchmaking between students.
* Bar service will be available during classes starting after 1:00pm.
* Personal opinions, regardless of their basis, will be considered “fact” for the purposes of this class.
* With the purchase of any two of my classes, they will get the third class free!
* Instead of submitting a final paper, students can Tweet their ideas about U.S. History.
* Taking my class will guarantee them admission to the law school (or medical school) of their choice.
* Rather than having to suffer through reading historians’ complicated (read: boring) interpretations of World War II, students can substitute spending an hour playing any video game set in Nazi Germany or occupied France.
* If they bring in their current boring prof, I will give them a rebate towards the purchase of a more fuel-efficient new prof.
* Class lectures will be available as podcasts.
* My classes will now include 1/3 more discussion of vampires and their romantic foibles.
* Grades will be determined based on the same scoring as Uno.
* If they stay enrolled, I won’t blog about the astonishing requests that they make.