Saturday, June 20, 2020

Our plans aren't firm, but yours had better be

There's a steady drumbeat across the land. Do you hear it?

It's called "what are you doing in the fall?" and unlike the university, which has an infinity of time to make up its mind, we instructors are supposed to make ours up tout de suite.

What we still don't know:

1. Whether and how obvious steps like providing masks for everyone are going to happen.
2. Whether we're supposed to teach in masks or those face shields. I have an issue there with face shields, because I can't have anything on my head or I get a raging headache (even winter hats and headphones bring this on).
3. Whether modifications are going to be made to the open toilets in the bathrooms so that they're not spewing virus.
4. Ditto door handles--can we get something better that doesn't require you to wrestle it to a standstill with both hands?
5. Where our classes will be held. This is kind of a Catch-22, and it's not all the university's fault; they can't assign rooms until they figure out who's going to be on campus. But by the same token, we need to know if we're going to have to teach in a poorly ventilated--i.e., no windows--classroom for up to 3 hours at a stretch.
6. What's going to happen if people do show up with a temperature. This last is extremely concerning, because by that point, the person may have already infected people, including people with vulnerable family members. (Raises hand.) Checking to see if people are sick: good, but not enough. This isn't the flu, where there are treatments. People often die or are disabled by this disease.
7. What magic fairies are going to clean the classrooms often enough to make a difference.
8. Where the additional recording equipment, cameras, and helpers for the in-person and online recorded materials are going to come from. 

What we do know:

1. We instructors need to let them know what we're planning in about 10 days.
2. We are strongly encouraged to teach in person for the good of the university.
3. We need to let them know what our concerns or conditions are if we are not going to teach in person.

To back up a minute: in Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes or one of his other novels, one character is  talking about the "smoking may be hazardous to your health" warnings on cigarette packs.

One of his friends comes in and says it ought to be more blunt: "Smoking will kill you f**** dead."

My "concerns," in a nutshell?

"Covid can kill you f**** dead."

Friday, June 12, 2020

Departmental divides?

Like faculty at most universities, we've gotten some mixed messages about next fall that for sheer vagueness must have been crafted by McSweeney's:
After careful deliberation, we are pleased to report we can finally announce that we plan to re-open campus this fall. But with limitations. Unless we do not. Depending on guidance, which we have not yet received.
 We've been told that we should prepare to teach online, or in person, or some combination, TBD.

We've also been told that we can opt out of teaching in person. Some universities are apparently requiring doctor's notes (!), but as best I can interpret from the vatic utterances being issued on a regular basis, we don't have to do this.

I'm wondering what will happen to the cohesiveness of departments, though, if some people teach in person and some do not. (Bardiac mentions this in her most recent post.)
  • Obviously the most vulnerable will be contingent faculty. How can we protect them from feeling as though they have to be there?
  • In terms of logistics, will there be enough classrooms that will permit social distancing--and, if so, how will they be allocated, assuming people are going to teach in person? 
  • Also, on a practical level, I'm discovering that I'm just not as loud when I talk with a mask on. How's that going to work in a big room with no microphone?  
 But also important is this:
  • Will there be a departmental divide between the two groups? 
  • Will those who teach in person be considered differently (as more present, more engaged, more concerned for students, more productive) than those who teach online? 
  • Conversely, will those who teach online be seen as protecting students' health?
  • Will that difference extend to how instructors are considered by their students? By their colleagues? Both? 
  • What's going to happen to those little hallway exchanges? Is the group that's able to do that going to bond more effectively than the ones who are teaching from home? 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Current events

Gwinne has a post up that says it better than I can. The  racist actions that led to George Floyd's murder and the ongoing attempts at a military coup by the Dear Leader are beyond horrifying.

Like Gwinne, I donate, learn and teach about the racist history of this country, and do what I can. I write letters. I vote.

All I can do now is support in every way as much as possible.

It's not enough, and it's not going to be enough. It can't be enough until there is substantive structural change.

I'm sorry. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Minor mysteries of pandemic days

  • Why are virtual conferences, seminars, and scholarly get-togethers of all sorts springing up like weeds on my timelines & in my inbox? Why would adding Major Conference Stress, writing a paper frantically amid Covid distractions, and taking the whole circus to Zoom be appealing to so many organizations right now? I get that the lovely people behind all of these are trying to continue a scholarly community, but honestly, having even a small amount of time to think about actual writing WITHOUT Major Conference Stress is one of the few silver linings to this whole situation.
  • I nominate the following as the major genre of writing these days: “Our days are full of despair, and I in particular am completely undone by it. Can’t work at all. And oh, by the way, I’m thrilled to announce that my new 5,000 word article on Vox or Medium or the following journal about my despair and undone-ness has just been published.” 
  • Does anyone share a House Hunters’ Hate-Watch level of interest in what may be called the Scholarly Influencer syndrome? I’m not on Instagram, but my understanding is that Influencers are paid handsomely by ordinary people with apparently oodles of money to show what kind of of pillows and nail polish they buy, or something. The Scholarly Influencer exists, too. I’m not talking about people who share and bond over experiences, liking and congratulating others for achievements and creating a value-added sense of community by posting information that’s not about themselves. I’m talking about the kind that immediately jumps on Facebook or Twitter to announce publications and promote themselves but can’t be bothered to respond to others and be part of the community on either. 
  •  Is anyone else either (1) amused or (2) irritated by the flood of emails telling you of their vast concern from companies you may have ordered something from once 15 years ago but first you have to log in using a password, which requires the whole Password Authentication Dance? 
  • Edited to add: why so many think pieces telling me that baking bread (which *ahem* some of us have been doing for many decades) is pleasurable and comforting? Where’s the follow up piece explaining that water is wet? 
What minor mysteries are puzzling you right now?

Saturday, May 02, 2020

A useful parable, or story, or something, about returning to campus this fall

Dame Eleanor asks about what we're thinking will happen in the fall--online or not?

Well, we are supposed to be back in person. I'm not giving it any more thought than that because summer is when I have to make up for all the writing I didn't do this spring.

If we go back, I will get ready for it, I hope. If we don't, I'll get ready for it, I hope.

One of my favorite ways to think about a situation like this is a joke or parable or story that I heard on a TV drama about Henry VIII decades ago. It goes something like this:
The king--oh, heck, let's call him Henry VIII-- was extremely fond of his favorite horse--let's call him Bucephalus, because that was not his name. However,  he had become really disenchanted with one of his advisors. Let's call him Cromwell, because that is not his name.

Really disenchanted, as in Anne of Cleves disenchanted, Tower disenchanted, thinking about the rack disenchanted. 
 Henry was about to send Cromwell to the Tower. Somehow he got wind of this and sent word that he had a great thing to tell Henry. He met up with Henry walking in the gardens.

"Your majesty, if you give me a year, I can teach Bucephalus to talk," said Cromwell to Henry's back.

Henry turned around. "You can?"

"Yes. If you give me a year, I will train Bucephalus to talk. But it will take the entire year."

"If you do not teach him to talk, you realize that you will be hanged, drawn, and quartered?"


"Very well then. A year from today."

Cromwell bowed his way back from the royal presence. A friend who had been watching stood there with his mouth open.

"Are you insane?" he hissed. "You can't teach a horse to talk. No one can."

"The way I look at it is this," said Cromwell. "A year is a long time. In the space of a year, many things may happen." 
"I may die."
"Or the king may die."
"Or the horse may die."
"Or," he added, "the horse may talk."

So while I can think about the contingencies and the likelihood (or not) of teaching in person in the fall, so far, I'm hoping that the horse will talk. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

To resign or not to resign from admin? that is the question

I don't know. Maybe I should quit this admin job. Maybe it's time. (If you don't want to read complaining about something that's not covid, look far away from here.)

 It's not about the work, even though it has taken over my life because as Dame Eleanor said in the comments of my last post, those tasks are easy to knock off.

It is kind of about the hours, because they're eating up all my time.

But really, it's about this. The people I'm working with are good people, but we definitely have different approaches:
  • I'm a systems person, in that I like to have things set up so that they're fair for everyone. With a system, you can point to a way that things work so that they're fair and work within it. It frustrates me when others say "but what about X person?" and don't consider how decisions are going to affect Z and A. Thinking about the individual isn't bad--I don't mean that--it's just that operating in the moment like that leaves a lot of fallout for someone else to consider, and that someone else is often me. It's just a different way of operating, but for me it's exhausting.
  • Also in being a systems person: if you believe that something is going to be a clusterfail, do you let those chips fall where they may? Can you do that and be a good person? I guess I don't think you can, because I keep giving my opinion about how to fix certain things that I know about when asked. The person whose job it is to answer these questions is off doing scholarship or something, and I'm putting out fires that are not my fires to put out. 
  • Or sometimes I'm trying to put out fires but failing to do so. Example: being asked "How do we solve A?" and answering "well, we can do B and C," only to hear "Right, right--I guess there's nothing we can do about A, then." I can see problems or barriers and explain them, but if people aren't listening to that, it really is a waste of time.
  • The people for whom I'm spending all these many hours solving problems absolutely do not care at all that I'm doing it. It's invisible and thankless work. Sure, I can look in the mirror and say "problem solved--well done, you!" but that's about it. It seems petty, and it is, but there you have it. This is the only thing that's brought me to tears in these many months, and while I know there's a lot of displacement here (my mother's death, covid, etc. etc.), that's still saying something.
The other conclusion I've reached is that maybe the problem is me. Do you remember the "it's a mystery" exchange from Shakespeare in Love?

Henslowe: "Strangely enough, it all turns out well."
Fennyman: "How?"
Henslowe: "I don't know. It's a mystery."

Maybe it'll all turn out well in ways I can't anticipate. Maybe I could "unhand that man" and everything would still be okay.

And maybe I could ignore my email until noon every day at the very least, since that's a practical step in the right direction.

Edited to add: And this is why I love blogging and all of you. I can't share this with anyone else.

Edited to add: it’s completely understandable that no one would notice the work because they have much bigger things on their mind right now.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Random bullets of still glad to be here

Here's how things are going so far:

First of all: yes, I'm grateful for being able to stay home and for having the supplies I need. Yes to all that.

But like everyone else right now, I'm distracted, unable to concentrate, and feeling exhausted.  If I wake up at 3:30 a.m., well, that's it for the night's sleep. This is so even with studiously ignoring all the dystopian fiction and plague novels being relentlessly pushed on Twitter (why? WHY?).

What I have been able to do is keep things going in the administration part of my job, although I've been spending a good 35-40 hours a week on it. That's far above what's in my contract, but it's what's needed to get everything done. Teaching is second, and research right now a nonexistent third, although that's the majority of what I'm supposed to be doing.

The problem is that administrative tasks are something that people notice only if they don't get done. It's invisible work. It's not valued. It's also exhausting to explain how systems work to people who aren't interested and ask the same questions over and over. With my collaborators, after three years I quit trying to get them to participate in a common system that would save us work because they said they wanted it but then ignored it. With administration, that's not so easy. I would like to "unhand that man," but then there would be real consequences.

Here is the covid-related part of this: the best part of being in administration is the connection you get to make to people, but if you're not doing that, it seems thankless in addition to being time-consuming.  I can't quit in the middle of this crisis, but I can think that there are other ways to live once it abates.