Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sell It!

Like all good little professors, GayProf can be found on campus these days. He has been working hard at the start of the semester. He hasn’t, though, given up referring to himself in the third person.

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.


Frank said...

Is Little Mister a grad student or a colleague?

I know I'd take your courses if you taught in star-spangled panties. But, then, I'm pervy like that.

Mel said...

You're teaching in spangled panties? Sign me up!

I believe I may have mentioned that I'm not so good at the wholesome thoughts.

Sisyphus said...

Awesome! And some of those have already been implemented over here at UC. (sigh.)

I love the idea of students voting each other off the island. Ditto the bar service (profs get in on this too, right?)

dykewife said...

heh...i wonder what they would choose if you gave them the list to pick one of.

Java said...

Of all the classes I'm enrolled in this semester, only one of them is infested with freshmen. I mentioned something about how I loath freshmen to my adviser last week. I asked her how she puts up with them. She smiled and said she only deals with them in class, after which she goes home. She did admit to an occasional desire to smack one or two of them upside the head.

I used to think I wanted to teach in a university setting. I've changed my mind.

Doug said...

Re: the panties. Did I understand correctly that you'll start class with the panties on, and by the end of class you'll be pantie-less?

(This is how history gets mangled: mis-interpretations).

Historiann said...

Frank, my guess is that Little Mister is a new colleague. (Just a hunch.) But the upside to having an irritating colleague is that one can avoid him more easily than a grad student, and generally without consequence! So GayProf, you've got that going for you.

As for soft-pedaling your first few weeks: to some extent, you get the students you deserve, which is why one of your students felt that it was acceptable to ask for a list of DVDs he could view instead of reading the books. (Is that really true? Or are you just exaggerating for humorous effect?) I'd give them the smackdown from the start, because if you end up having low enrollments you can point to your rigor and seriousness. If you end up having low enrollments in your ticklefight classes, then you've got nothing to point to to justify your existence. I always have a bunch of students who drop when they realize that there are weekly papers plus longer midterm essays and a final exam. (I also get it that my classes don't work for every student, every semester--sometimes they're just looking for a course in which they can coast until the midterm and final come around.)

My sense is that you teach in a proud department, and I know you teach at a proud university, so they'll go to bat for you if you kick ass and take names.

Clio Bluestocking said...

You think that you jest about the podcasts.

I think that I know Little Mister -- a few of them actually. The longer you know them, the worse that they become because they have a negative capacity for learning. That is, as more information about you and your NERPoD are introduced to them, the less that they know about both. Yet, they continue to pontificate.

rosmar said...

I love my students, even the one who told me it was okay that he wasn't paying attention because he could look it up on Wikipedia later. And I love my job, pompous colleagues and all.

That said, this is one of the funniest things I've read in a while.

GayProf said...

Frank: Well, I have to maintain the pretense of plausible deniablity for Little Mister. All I can say is that he makes life in MFT a drag in ways that it hasn't been in the previous two years.

Mel: I do teach in star spangled panties, except when I don't.

Sisyphus: Well I don't know about you, but I implemented bar service for profs years ago.

Dykewife: Hands down, the majority would choose admission to law or medical school.

Java: I jest in this post. Most times, I really enjoy the students. It's a small minority who are unbelievably entitled, but they get a disproportionate amount of attention.

Doug: I think that if I ended class sans panties, I would have a 100 percent droprate.

HistoriAnn: A real student indeed proposed substituting films for reading (like documentaries). I use lots of films in my classes already, so maybe there was a feeling that it would be okay. I give credit for being so bold.

My classes do actually require a pretty extensive amount of work, especially reading and writing. You are right that I am in a proud department. Nonetheless, that department (like almost all history departments across the nation) is facing declining enrollments and the loss of majors. The administration is putting pressure on all of us to raise those student numbers (which will come with cash prizes if we do).

Clio: Little Mister can be found in many, many circumstances across the nation. Sadly, I know that much of his annoyingness probably stems from pretty basic insecurities on his part (coupled with an innate rudeness). I have no doubt, also, that he gets under my skin because of my own personal insecurities (and because he is just plain rude).

RosMar: Last year I had students looking up material on Wikipedia in the middle of my lecture. These kids today -- With their clothes and their hair.

shaz said...

laugh out loud, as usual.

Re: colleagues pleased to 'meet' you two years later: at least they don't continually confuse you with another, shall we say, well-endowed, woman in the department. And I had thought it was my sparkling wit that made me stand out.

Re: Little Mister: I turn such encounters into (more of) a joke: make it a contest to see how long he can go or how many times before (a) talking about his brilliance and expertise; (b) self-referencing everything about anyone else back to (a). Then I'm eager for the formerly-cutting comments, cause the more there are the higher I get to count! Takes the bite out of it by turning him into a game.

Ink said...

I'm exhausted from the emotional roller coaster ride of the post. Whew! First, I couldn't get over the fact that some of your colleagues were all hey, welcome, newbie. Was totally indignant on your behalf. But then, the list of your new teaching style items had me LMAO. And I'm loving the new avatar. Spangle panties? Brilliant.

tornwordo said...

Well now this I get. Coming from an ESL standpoint, I'm more an entertainer than anything else in the classroom. Why? To keep them signing up for more.

The tickle fight line made me laugh.

StinkyLulu said...

Ah, yes, podcasts...

And the "connect the dots" line? I hadn't realized until, like, right now that that's what I've done with one section of my final exam... Hmmmm. How to add "color by number"?

(BTW: Did you hear? Our mothers recently had lunch together?)

dpaste said...

It took me two readings to realize what NERPoD stood for.

I hope you subtly humiliated those two senior colleagues.

GayProf said...

Shaz: My personal new game is to see how long it takes before Little Mister mentions the name of his undergrad institution. As far as I can tell, he works it into almost every new encounter.

Ink: The avatar totally reflects the actually shape of my body, too.

Torn: I am starting to think that I need to hire joke writers for my lectures.

StinkyLuLu: Indeed -- A small world after all.

David: The senior colleagues are forgivable, though I do suspect that they actually thought I was somebody else entirely.

susurro said...

well if you didn't entertain your students or Little Mister @least your list entertained my overworked _ _ _. Do you think these lists will one day get you a snarky book deal like other blogs. I think it should. :)

PS.@least one of my classes does include 1/3 more discussion of vampires; yet somehow Carmilla rings so much less entertaining to them than Edward. yawn. Suppose I should have gone w/ Warhol

PPS. I linked to this on evil twitter

Tenured Radical said...

Fabulous post: I am tempted to send it to our campus budget priorities committee to make it up to them about my memo arguing that limiting the tuition benefit for colleagues with children is ok because the benefit is homophobic anyway.

We are all taking off the green glasses this semester I fear -- particulalrly those of us on campuses that bravely went ahead with hires last year.

Oh and by the way: one of my colleagues apparently walked into the first department meeting of the year and welcomed a colleague of color who has worked with us for 18 years (who had shaved his beard and mustache) to the university. No one is sure *which* new colleague she thought he was, but apparently it was a real meeting-stopper.

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