An Illumination on Robert Boice, 3

Time time. The pain I am in every day is in part about being kicked by time and interpretations of time, exhortations about how to squeeze time. I know how to use time but after becoming a professor I lost confidence in my perceptions, as it was at that point people began to assume I would not know how to use time and began exhorting me.

For example: I have a lot of freshmen to teach and managing the complex course materials takes some time (there are two  required, very complex web sites, not designed by me, in addition to a labyrinthine  set of printed materials, DVDs, and CDs). Talking to the students takes time, as does coming up with ways to make class go well. I have a great deal of fear and guilt associated with this because I was exhorted so much, for so long, never to spend time on these courses. I know, it will never get me anywhere. I know, I have been told, I know.

Those teaching other sections, however, give themselves the amount of time they need and feel happier than I do. The time I save by rushing is time in which I am exhausted. Yet if I do not rush, I live in fear of exhortations about time. I must rush. If I cannot show that I am rushing and have rushed, I will meet certain doom.

So I teach these courses in the shadow of two conflicting fears:
1) what will be said of me if I do well at it, namely, that I am fit for nothing else, or that I am interested in nothing else (this is a primordial fear)
2) what will be done if I do not bend over backwards to keep said freshmen completely happy at all times (this is another primordial fear, that conflicts with the first).

I literally feel as though I had two police officers kicking me to death, one from each side: one because I am spending any time at all on this project, and the other because I am not spending all my time on it.

Is it possible that my extreme unhappiness in the kind of academic job I have usually had, and the amount of energy I have to put in each day to keep that unhappiness enough at bay so as to function at a minimal level, makes it impossible for me to put myself in a position to do the kind of academic work I would really like to do?

That is the conclusion to which I arrived years ago but everyone else said:
a) nonsense, you can do it and you should/must, or
b) this is your fault, you committed the sin of getting a PhD and now you must atone for it — in the name of those who did not get jobs, and also because you were told you should not do a PhD and you did it anyway, so this is what you get.


32 thoughts on “An Illumination on Robert Boice, 3

  1. So it appears I have experienced a great deal of “tough love” (which isn’t love, it’s abuse) about how I should not be research oriented. Check.

  2. You may not be asking for feedback, and if so I apologise. I have never had the situation be as bad as you describe, but I have certainly wondered if it was actually possible for me to get out of the academic half-light given that my various responsibilities stole any time I might use to actually improve my CV. A friend of mine (I hope she is a friend) is even worse mired than I was, because the day-work I did was para-academic. She has various teaching slots in a couple of universities and works the other days of the week as a bookseller. She has very little spare time, she has very few publications and because of the former she cannot change the latter, and is in any case demoralised by her situation. I don’t see how she gets out.

    But, in as much as I got out and as she may ever, it was only done and will only be done by cutting whatever else you might want to do and somehow getting stuff out to be published. (Which of course you may do and have done, at which rate I am lost.) So orient towards the research at the temporary cost of much other kind of life, appears to be the lesson I have to preach. Sorry.

  3. I like feedback !

    The more research the better but here are my difficulties:

    – it won’t get me out of the suburbs or out of foreign language teaching on any kind of predictable timeline (hasn’t yet and there’s no guarantee ever, even if I got a job at Duke or somewhere like that I’d still be in a freakin’ suburb)

    – before I even started kindergarten or could even read, worried assistant professors started giving this advice, and I associate it with drinking and verbal abuse

    – foreign language teaching is so defeating and discouraging to me that I have taught myself to dissociate in order to do it — then it takes a long time each day to bring my mind back to my body

    – every academic piece I have ever written could have been a legal brief that made an actual difference.

    So, while I like my research projects, I’ve sacrificed too much of the rest of life for too long, I think. I’m senior faculty but I identify with the undergraduates, I want to graduate too at some point, explore career options and a grownup life…

  4. So anyway, now that I’ve started, here’s the thing. I am mega traumatized by stuff that has to do with current reality but isn’t current reality:

    – the family, very upset that I went to intellectually oriented university, did PhD, became professor, and so on, I am terribly guilt ridden about this
    – my first job where there was a lot of violence, I got away but I am still reacting to this about two decades later, i realize
    – the psychotherapy I went to to deal with the family, which said they were right: I “shouldn’t be” able to all the things I was doing given what the family was like, and if I were healthy I would not be hiding myself in research (that is ridiculous, but it was traumatizing at the time)

    The reason I rail against Boice is, I have tried to use him to cure all of this, and it is misplaced…

  5. The background stuff sounds really difficult. I’ve always been conscious, and faintly guilty, about just how much of an advantage growing up in a house where there were bookshelves in literally every room gave me over people whose parents thought learning was a waste of time. On the other hand, I’m yet to be convinced that an academic career can be done with genuine mental health (whatever the heck that looks like). That says more about me than about the profession, though, I think. I more incline to a view that academia is the best place to put the dysfunctions I have.

    I don’t know enough about your work to do more than sympathise about the foreign language teaching. Could you not aim to work in the country of the language(s) you would otherwise teach?

    Or, of course, leave academia. The real-world help incentive, I suppose belongs in the other thread but as I began towards saying there, with contacts in the right think-tanks or NGOs, anthropologists and activists and whatever, even academic work can make that kind of difference or inform people who want to. Is there no hope of aligning what you’re already doing, pace all the elements of struggle and discouragement above (but you’re beating them? without the aid of drink or violence? you are in fact the best evidence you have for the non-generality of your own terrors?) with what you would ultimately like to do in this way?

  6. “Could you not aim to work in the country of the language(s) you would otherwise teach?”

    I do think of this and it is not a bad idea. It wasn’t feasible in the past due to job markets (there aren’t academic jobs in Spain to speak of, that’s why half of Spain is over here) and economies (Latin American jobs typically do not pay a salary, but an honorarium-style wage, you have to be married to someone who makes real money or have some of your own, or have two jobs, or have inherited a house so you pay no rent, etc.). BUT that’s now changing, to some extent

    “Or, of course, leave academia.”

    This has been my other idea. I enjoyed doing my PhD and it was good for me, and I’d fit well in at a Big 10 type school (R1 public, with good PhD programs in all my fields) and be very happy. But I never really intended to be a professor, just got swept up into that; my ideas of places to work were UNESCO, Ford Foundation, SSRC, places like that.

    At this moment I do not have the right resume for that, I claim, but perhaps I am selling myself short. A lot of those jobs are not feasible, though, if you have any financial responsibilities or needs, which I now do. I’ve also been weak on actually doing this because of my depression combined with no savings combined with everyone else’s horror that I would consider leaving. I am trying to change to having a more empowered attitude.

    I’ve also long wanted to go to law school. I haven’t been able to swing it: I mean, I get into decent programs, with scholarships, but even then the amount they are willing to lend won’t cover you if you do not have other money. My sister in law went to medical school post PhD, for instance, and her loans were enough to live on because my brother was working full time. I’m working on ways to do this still.

    I’ve also thought of things like, going to law school in Mexico / Brazil if there were a way to fund it. Meanwhile I’m retaking the LSAT since I’m expired on it, and visiting the US schools I’d target on this round of applications.

    “Is there no hope of aligning what you’re already doing, pace all the elements of struggle and discouragement above (but you’re beating them? without the aid of drink or violence? you are in fact the best evidence you have for the non-generality of your own terrors?) with what you would ultimately like to do in this way?”

    Well, I do believe I never gave myself a chance in some ways. I am trying to learn to do at least that.

    I think I engage in some forms of psychological self-harm. I learned it from the family, unlearned it in college and graduate school, relearned it in my first job, unlearned it in my second, relearned it in psychotherapy, unlearned it in my third job, relearned it in this one … although I stop instantly any time I leave the city limits, so I know I can.

    Despite present difficulties I really think the answer is, take better control of the current situation. I have a friend from here, who has moved to Houston; she alleges that one cannot improve while still in Louisiana and I see her point. But the point of the blog is to therapize myself such as to make it possible anyway, and you’re helping! 🙂

  7. …you are in fact the best evidence you have for the non-generality of your own terrors?

    That is an astute comment and it may unlock something (why aren’t actual psychologists this intelligent?). I could speculate based on that but I’d rather just let those words of yours ring.


    I’m trying to figure out how to manage things in ways besides the standard advice. “Hole up and publish” is true except if you are in a situation that is really painful or where you have no control or where you can’t be an adult. That’s why I rail against the Boicean advice, again. His suggestions are fine and they work, but:

    – I, for one, couldn’t have even gotten the grades and scores one needs to get *into* a good university had I not already known how to work Boicean-ly;
    – could not have done well in college or graduate school had I not known;
    – could not have done well as a professor, at the times when I have done so, had I not known.

    And I just don’t think “hole up and publish” speaks to hostile workplaces, untenable financial situations, or living in deserts. I know it is supposed to, you “work yourself out of it,” but that is not always the case; many become major figures but still cannot move.

    Also, just publishing does not pay the bills – not if you’re in a no-raises situation or if you don’t get to move. Faculty in business, engineering, and architecture consult on the side at high prices. I would feel a lot calmer if I were not so choked financially.

    This is not an anti research rant, though, because if you don’t maintain your research focus, and if you don’t write up your ideas and send them off, shed them so you can get to the next layer, you sort of starve while your material goes septicemic or something — if these images are not too lurid.


    On publishing your way up and out, it happens, but does it get you home? No control over that. I have never had a permanent or potentially permanent job offer somewhere I’d really be happy to live and it is not for lack of trying, or for lack of doing my very best to enjoy the different places I’ve worked. I do enjoy them as a tourist, but I long to live somewhere I feel at home, as opposed to on a perch.

    Many people in my field live here in perches but have pieces of real estate at their research sites that they inherited from their families. It’s the South American way, you know! They have a lot of frequent flyer miles and they are always rushing off to their real lives. This puts them in a good humor while here and keeps them exotic, which is their shell of safety. I’d like to be like that.


    I have also never been able to just ignore everything and work. I think hostile or draining work environments need to be addressed not ignored. I think a lot of your more standard academic guys doesn’t have this situation: work environments aren’t hostile to them and they don’t care where they are, since if they have their lab that’s all they need. And then the old style humanities guys, with their faculty wives and so on, have a certain situation. Me, I want to live somewhere where I can live as me, and that has the things I need both to enjoy life and work. I’d then be better able to deal with hostile work environments, if any, or boring ones. I need something around, other than one’s imaginary research worlds, that can be regenerative.

    I have such a bad time with foreign language teaching partly because it is so repetitive and boring (to me — I am considered entertaining and inspiring by others) but partly because of having to deal with the unreconstructed Tea Party types who rule those courses and who are the “customers” we must “serve.” Fortunately we have a new administrator who is less supportive / tolerant of these people than has been the custom in the past.

    Anyway, I think that regardless, of plans, the thing to do is live well now, start now, stop succumbing to that environment now. I’m not sure how and I haven’t found it possible before, but it has to be done. I guess just not with Boice, because Boice isn’t addressing the things I am. I go on these campaigns to not succumb but I feel sometimes it is a losing battle.

    Thanks for helping me think, Jonathan!

  8. This is new and important. It occurs to me I might make a list sometime, perhaps not here for all to see, but a list in reverse chronological order of the things / ideas — all from others — that I react to, and also benchmark reactions from me that seemed to mark or exacerbate what I call my decline. Getting tenure was a bad moment. Before that, agreeing to take on the service burden I did. I like the idea of going backwards in time, removing my most recent blocks first. The fact is that some of the post tenure ones have been removed, by me but also by others, and not even at my request.

    Reverse order is important because I keep searching for first causes but I don’t think any are strong enough. Also, they were long ago and thinking about them leads to too much speculation. It was after “Reeducation” (i.e. that psychotherapy) that I started reacting to the family things from long ago, to who they had been in the 50s and 60s or so, and being defeated by them, because it was “denial” not to be defeated. Reeducation was very bad. My first job had also been, and so had my family’s reaction to my being in that job, but the fact to remember is that I had gotten over those things when Reeducation came in. It was only that which really disabled me; the justification would be that it pulled the wool from my eyes but I disagree. Still, afterwards I kept improving before declining further. A whole lot has to do with this job, circumstances at this job, and I blame myself — “I just didn’t handle that quite right,” “I just didn’t quite understand how to work in this profession” [that’s a lie], etc. And proof of this is that my colleague the Blackguard, with whom I do not often see eye to eye, had the same problems and also the confidence to say they were features of the situation and not of his. I want to recover the sense of professional integrity or at least dignity that I lost completely after succumbing to this situation.

    So that’s how I’d organize thinking about those issues, from Reeducation outwards, both backwards and forwards, in a non linear configuration. But the reverse chronological order, things I submitted to or signs of submission, would include in this century:

    … the moment I decided to withdraw a certain manuscript because I felt too weak to finish (I see today: because, due to the way people in my unit were treated here, I didn’t think I was good enough any more to speak to colleagues elsewhere)

    … succumbing to requests here for service and teaching, that I resented yet resigned myself to since this seemed to be what was in fact required.

    And I have ENORMOUS numbers of unfinished mss. and all of them are unfinished because while I was working on them, some sort of other event happened that destroyed self respect and when I got enough of it back to continue writing, the deadline was past (and I was also quite upset to have let things get the better of me, too, which made it all worse).

    This is why it isn’t a writing problem per se that I have — I’m behind on grading, class preparation, administration, everything, not more behind on research than on anything else, truth be told. It’s a general unhappiness problem: if I could have the freshmen and sophomores under control and live somewhere less desolate, then I wouldn’t have to spend the time and energy that ought to be going into research into healing myself from freshman and sophomore behavior and then quelling my claustrophobia.

  9. And so I feel I am making some progress in thinking about this. These answers to Jonathan Jarrett are indiscreet but I am leaving them up for a little while because I truly need to study them.

    My phobia is freshmen, and freshman and sophomore courses, because of the way the students act (here and at my first post PhD job). It is traumatic and it is replicated in a junior level course that is required for some people in other colleges. How do they act? Rude and to me, scary. And I feel sorry for them. So sorry for them and scared and also outraged at rudeness and worried for them academically, how to reach them, how to give them the skills they so badly lack and so need.

    Then there is the block here, the way in which my main subunit, for years, kept being obstructed and then told it is our fault or that we wanted it that way or that it was impossible to fix when it was not. That is not the current situation but I was a combination of irritated, cowed, guilty, outraged professionally, embarrassed, apologetic, and angry about the tenor of daily life for years.

    These two things, the plethora of a certain type of student and the block, are what literally bled me. They had me increasingly depleted, and all the while I kept beating up on myself, why can’t you be inspired and just write? But it was the quality of daily life that really had me so far down.

    Current situation, though, is that we’ve got much better administrative support for both the general situation and the general education courses. I just sustained a lot of damage during those other years.

    Hm, all this came from Jonathan Jarrett’s questions, so I will have to award him a gold star for good academic coaching — even if that was inadvertent. 😉

  10. And now I have figured out what the “misery” cited in this post is — field. I’m from Comp. Lit., not a national language department, and if I weren’t from Comp. Lit. I’d be from Ling. or Latin American Studies. There are huge disciplinary differences between Comp Lit (which is NOT English) and any national language discipline, and not because (in my case) we know less about the relevant national language programs but because we do different things. I’m also not from any kind of US ethnic studies program, which makes me very different from some people I am expected to resemble who speak foreign languages but are situated in English. I am situated in points South and it is a whole other … disciplinary perspective, again.

    So, fitting into other disciplinary needs, that is the definition of at least one layer of my problem. It is a revelation!!! And the reason I can only really feel at home in large R1s isn’t arrogance / need for R1 prestige, it’s because that’s where I can be who I am from a disciplinary point of view. So eat that, suckas, and I will eat it too and see to what extent I can grab onto this identity in terms of practicalities.

  11. That makes a lot of sense from what I have observed of Comp Lit departments at 2 major universities and what happens to their graduates. You make me glad I did not go into CL though that was something I contemplated & which some people recommended to me. Maybe now you have identified enough components of the problem to be able to solve it? I hope so, anyway. My situation is different from (better than?) yours but close enough that I recognize a lot of what you say about the time and energy it takes to keep yourself going.

  12. Yes. And many from my program were and are brilliant, and few did well. It is sort of striking, since we all should have. Faculty thought we didn’t do well because we were spoiled, and we thought it was because the program had exhausted us already. But my illumination is that because we had a disciplinary view that really doesn’t fit national most language programs. I think Span/Port is the best of the national language departments, the best to be in if you’re in one, I love it, I’m still Comp. Lit. in terms of perspective.

    Ideal jobs for me, I see now, would be in the Literature program at UCSD or Literary Theory / Comp Lit at the U of S. Paulo (Brazil) or UNICAMP (also Brazil), and other programs like that. Or perhaps any program in what is called “Letters” in the Spanish or Portuguese speaking world. In theory, any job in Span/Port in a place that also had some sort of Comp Lit or interdisciplinary humanities program is fine, and I have one such. But I can also explain why it is a problem from a disciplinary perspective, in terms of Time Management (you can’t be who you are). The disciplinary perspective issue is actually profound and I have only recently understood why.

    But, management here has changed a great deal and I think there is hope even on this front – just because we are allowed so much more say about topics to teach, and permitted to control our classes more, than we were earlier on.

  13. MY GOD THERE’S BRAIN EVERYWHERE, er, I mean, that’s a lot of heavy analysis (and not a little of it personally identifying, I would caution): more than I can hope to keep questioning, though I’m very happy to have helped as much as I may have. Sorry to be out of the thread for a few days, but I was, you know, flying to another country. I haven’t yet had the chance to greet Barça for you properly but I will.

    My main thought on what you say is the unhelpful, ‘wow, you got a bad deal on that psycho-therapy’. I’m also almost but not quite afraid to ask what it is that is so guaranteedly transinstitutionally awful about student behaviour in your experience and, more usefully, what others may be doing to combat it, since it looks as if that’s the immediate millstone round the neck. (When properly used, of course, St Brendan will tell you that a millstone can be a means of transport, and the boring historians will tell you that this is only because a coracle benefits from round ballast but it’s still true. You need a teaching coracle. I may have been drinking.)

    Where is the horror coming from at the idea that you might move on? Inside the faculty? Even though others have? Is it that they really don’t want to have to farm out your work between them, or what? Or is the institutional ego just that huge? You may not wish to answer this online but I just raise the possibility that self-interest may drive their horror. They may also, you know, like you or something, I am guessing that’s possible, especially if you talk with the passion with which you write.

    Latin American law school anecdotal evidence: a friend of mine married a Colombian lawyer who moved to the UK (where they married). She did a Master’s to retrain in UK law and could still get nowhere with her starting qualifications. I’m not clear whether she ever did in Colombia either, mind, just saying that there may be problems transporting this qualification.

    I agree that ‘hole up and publish’ is only so much use if what you want is not simply another academic job. I also agree about the research IV being pulled out of one’s life arm being very very bad. I think your ideal job would be an exciting cross-disciplinary social project at the CSIC in Madrid, where I know one USian working so it is possible, but I have no idea what they are currently recruiting for.

    I have a bunch of unfinished MSS too, but only really for one reason: my phobia is that there will be something I should have read that makes me look an idiot, or that invalidates my argument. I come to realise, however, firstly that this is almost never what review catches, even though we’d like to think it should, and then secondly it is simply not possible to anticipate what reviewers will object to so one may as well write it for oneself and fix it up for them afterwards. Why yes, I did get such a report today. So it all goes round.

    Lastly, I don’t really know how to live well out of the box either, but let us know how you get on!

  14. WOW, you are writing this in Barcelona? How exciting! I love the place and I hope you have a good time. I love Girona, too, and the coast, and Perpignan, and Seu d’Urgell in Lléida. It has this Romanesque cathedral you come upon all of a sudden, so still and so not Gothic. I am so glad I have seen these things.

    OK, on your points in sort of reverse order. What I am about to say is the part that could really be personally identifying and also indiscreet. Also, I deliberately falsified some chronology and geography above to throw sleuths off the track. But I’ll edit above: make the posts more concise and oblique.

    Unfinished mss., I don’t fear rejection, just send it out again or whatever. My reasons are more primordial and I could explain them but it would be long. Since that therapy, I have PTSD flashbacks associated with all academic work. This makes me inefficient. I could say more but what it comes down to is, managing my guilt and emotional pain takes time and also emotional and intellectual energy.

    CSIC Madrid I am sure that is excellent. I wonder why all three or so of my Madrid friends aren’t working there, actually. I will look into it and similar things.

    Horror at the idea I might move on: it’s not my institution but my parents, about whom I feel very guilty for the primordial reasons alluded to above, and some academic friends and associates’ reaction the time I really did almost leave. How could I do it, I who have so much to offer. I who went and got a PhD against all good advice.

    (“You made your bed so you must lie in it.” “You just do not want to work at all.” “All members of our family are unemployable.” “You will not be good at anything else.” “You chose this, so it is your fault if you do not like it.” “If you think this is problematic, stay home with children — then you will truly suffer.” “You only want to make money.” “Middle class bitch.” “Radical.”)

    Law school, you have to go to school where you want to practice, or go to a nationally ranked school in the country where you want to practice. It’s hard to transfer countries in law or medicine unless you’re really famous, or work for some binational entity. Law school is a doctoral program and you must go to the right one for your purposes.

    Student behavior: I can’t answer fully for reasons having to do with discretion. But we have at a couple of levels a type of student who is really destructive and pushy. Depending on who you are / what sort of power you have, you can (a) deal by being hard, (b) deal by being easy, or (c) deal in my way, which is to negotiate. I have my reasons but it means I have to deal with manipulative and intrusive people. This activates my PTSD flashbacks so I am in a lot of emotional pain all the time.

    You have to have backup on student behavior, I find, when you are teaching people who do not want to be there. TAs have it but when you have [a certain kind of political situation] professors do not. The climate here is changing on this, however, for a lot of reasons. On good days I have hope.


    My student problem for today is someone I was kind to because I thought he was merely anxious. He is that but he is also belligerent and disruptive. This combination — empathy re academic and other problems, and the combination of outrage, panic, and dissociation I experience when dealing with belligerence and disruptiveness (or passive agression, for that matter) is a lethal cocktail for me and I drink it daily in some classes. Other people, who do not have the same primordial issues as I have, would be less kind on the one hand, and less steamrolled on the other. It would seem that those two things go together – be less kind and you will be less steamrolled – but I find they are two separate issues. Kind, it is me, I do not really want to change. Less susceptible to steamrolling I need to be, but I have been trained that you must accept that because if not, you will have complaints, which will be really dangerous. That is the part which is no longer true. But I allowed steamrolling for years just so as to stay out of the line of fire. That worked, I kept my job when others did not, but it was also very disabling.

    The primordial issues are: guilt about the impaired, terror of belligerence, and knowledge that if I do not satisfy the carnivorous impaired with by donating 90% of my being to them, the belligerent will slay me 100% and they will do it now.

    1. I am writing in Vic, which is closer than Barcelona to my peculiar kind of action. I’ve never made it to Seu d’Urgell, it’s one of my great desiderata. Romanesque is the greatest, well, no I mean Gothic is lovely almost by definition but it’s at its loveliest when shaped by Romanesque ideas that shape is more important than ornament etc., or so I think. Today I saw Santa Maria de Ripoll, which makes everything I might want to say about Romanesque seem true.

      Primordial stuff all better addressed below but I just wanted to say here, anything in that parenthesis that has ever been really said to you would IMO absolve you from considering the sayer’s opinion seriously ever again as they are clearly not interested in you or your situation when they say such things.

      I would not say I’ve never had student belligerence, but I obviously get a lot less of it than do you; gender must be some of that, Americas vs. UK the rest I suspect. If I was faced with more than I get, or anything really aggressive, I suspect my reaction would mainly be to laugh in the face of it, not out of super-confidence but out of a feeling that someone trying to conduct a student-teacher relationship on those terms has effectively ‘left the building’, in as much as actual learning is evidently not their stated aim. This may say a lot about my institutional culture, but even in the student-as-consumer paradigm, these people have misread the packaging, and need to be reminded that where they saw the words ‘pay’ and ‘degree’ there were other words between those, about their commitment. I suppose back-up is an obvious need if one wants to try this, but it may just be that my natural position of retreat is the moral high ground (which would be *my* parental legacy). I try not to do this in personal situations as it’s obnoxious but when someone else is on the attack to turn the tables seems legitimate to me.

      1. Vic! Santa Maria de Ripoll! Yay!

        That parenthesis, yes. One knows but my sin is having heard what was said and remembering it. I’m like a freakin’ torture victim that still has shakes. Or put it like this: I am still somehow IN that abusive relationship, or I would react to those sentences and to the world more as you do.

        Students, I used to react that way but this is what I mean about backup: when you do that, and they go and report you, and if your immediate supervisor supports their views, you have a problem in that you will be given instructions to do as they say. The department chair we now have in that department actually consults us if he gets complaints he has questions about, rather than take weird action. And, he has the strength of the program at heart, so, he’s interested in facilitating a harassment free workplace for everyone and not just for his friends.

        Look at the facade at Ripoll, y’all: Comme c’est beau!

  15. Also, I like the idea of the teaching coracle! At present I have it in the form of some solidary colleagues and a department chair who is interested in the integrity of the program and will defend faculty against disruptive students. In the past it has been more difficult. It was a political situation.

    I’m also almost but not quite afraid to ask what it is that is so guaranteedly transinstitutionally awful about student behaviour in your experience and, more usefully, what others may be doing to combat it.

    Actually, in my experience the poor behavior is new, less than ten years old. But transinstitutionally as well as intrainstitutionally, everyone is talking about it. I blame:

    – 9/11 and the second Iraq war
    – social rewards to George W. Bush
    – NCLB
    – “learning styles” and too much accommodation for anxieties
    – absent and helicopter parents
    – the war against teachers
    – US anti-intellectualism (although I have colleagues in France who complain about the same problems, and cite them as new)
    – Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, Oprah, and some other shows like those
    – Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck
    – the requirement that everyone go to college … I say everyone should be able to, but not obliged to
    – the very stressful high cost of education
    – the fact that everyone knows the economy is sinking
    – the customer service model of teaching and education (very important)

    To combat: my best bullet so far is a department chair who backs faculty the way a TA director or program director will back TAs and will not let problem students undermine courses or programs.

    Also: the many students who are NOT behavior problems.

    Also: grades. It went out of fashion to fail people for a while but I see it is coming back in.

    1. Some of my students are hard to reassure that to fail is almost impossible. These are, invariably, the highest performers. Others take a certain amount of incentive from the relative embarrassment of a low-graded degree. There remain some who don’t deserve the degree they will likely get, all the same, but so far I am still waiting for the day when I am told my marking is too tough. It must come.

      1. Many of ours are hoping to graduate with the lowest grades possible and are not interested in school. We need their tuition money, however, and we are to get these students through the courses somehow. If your drop rate is too high and you are a problem teacher for that reason, you can have problems at third review and certainly tenure.

  16. And/but: you and my colleague the Blackguard are right: the teaching situation in the problem courses is the absolute key.

    I also think that for professors to get ahead, we cannot be teaching the skills building courses. English composition, foreign languages, and calculus are the worst since peoples really have to learn skills they are not prepared to acquire.

    It seems to me that in other disciplines you can, even in introductory courses, teach to the best and fail the others. That is because you are teaching content. If it is skills you are teaching you are in trouble.

    That having been said, a colleague in a science was removed from an introductory course because he failed too many on the first midterm exam.
    He gave reading comprehension questions about science – you would understand the question if you had studied for the test, but you also had to be good at reading – and it was considered anathema.

    1. I think it is a mistake, myself, to separate skills and content in teaching. Obviously one needs content on which to grow skills; is this to be useless to the students elsewhere? Must that not necessarily slow them down? Better, surely, to select content at low-level courses that provides good growing ground for skills. That doesn’t help you if your institution feels differently, of course, but perhaps resentment in these courses can be weakened by choosing content that looks and feels like free help with other courses. Maybe this is so obvious that you were doing it already. I’d be with your science colleague, really.

      1. My point is that the students are not prepared to learn at this level and are not prepared to become prepared, and so we have to deal with a lot of harassment from them until we can finally fail them. It is problematic since this type of student is about 65% of some groups, that is to say, you’ll have only 35% of any class actually ready to be there just in terms of classroom behavior. And, they have to be in class to pick up their financial aid checks, but they are hell bent to disrupt whatever they can, and we are not allowed to throw them out. That is why it is better not to have to teach those courses.


    The main one is this: academia for me means taking abuse and never escaping my parents, about whom I have bucket loads of guilt and pain. It is not a place where I can be an adult or be treated like one.

    These things are my inner truths because I have so much trouble fighting back the flashbacks on my parents, but they are external as well if you are in a sexist / racist workplace.

    A lot of what bothers me, too, is all the condescension and blame. “We will spit at you and beat you up, and then stomp on you if you crumple or cry. Bitch. Who do you think you are. You really think you are someone, don’t you. I’ll show you, vicious bitch.”

    1. I am not a good person with whom to have a balanced discussion about parents, because I was estranged from mine for about a year at a crucial point in my life and found it ridiculously liberating; they never had such a hold on me after I’d had to manage without them. Nonetheless, it seems to me that biology only confers so much of an obligation, and such as it confers must be reciprocal; it is probably fair enough to expect children to pay some attention to their parents, though there may also come a point when the child is beyond where the parents have anything useful to say, but the parents ought also to be expected to love and nurture the child. I think that where parents do not behave like that, their moral claim on the loyalty and attentiveness of the child is collapsed. A parent who does not want the best for their child, and for that child to be happy, whatever other aims and wishes they may have for them, but would rather the reverse so that they can feel better themselves [they order this grammar better in Latin], how can this be considered love or worthy of return?

      But, if it must be negotiated, and perhaps for sanity’s sake and continued home-cooked dinners it must be, the way through must be to align your current situation in your presentation to them of the new plan, when it may exist, as being a progression from, not an abandonment of, the old one, i e. you couldn’t go on to do this new thing (which will make them proud) without your shiny doctorate etc. Just like the students, they have to be managed, and you control the information flow.

      (I feel like I’ve grown horns and a tail over the course of that comment.)

      1. Ah, yes, but it’s my own guilt, not anything they will do now. I’m concerned about things they did and said long ago! What you suggested is what I tried and failed to do when I was younger. I am much more screwed up than this, you realize — I have PTSD flashbacks and they scream at me in them. It isn’t something they do now!

  18. PS and of course, my responses to these comments are darker and starker than they would be if completely accurate — it is the only way I could figure out how to express my points without exposing things I shouldn’t.

    I mean, the whole blog is so revealing that in field you can really tell who I must be, already. But still, one can keep some limits to protect the innocent and partially innocent.

  19. And also: I have figured out how to articulate my reasons for having this whole Boycean issue: I am behind on everything because of trying to manage and contain deep emotional pain, and that is it. It can be looked at as a time management problem or a writing problem but doing that just compounds and complicates the pain because it’s the wrong solution.

    1. So OK, then what? A better therapist?

      (I remembered your request while stooging round the Rambla looking for the Institut d’Estudis Catalans’s bookshop, and did my best to greet the old Hospital and the local apartments in Catalan for you. If you get any new readers who appear to be, you know, buildings, that’ll be my fault.)

  20. New readers who are buildings, that will be great! 🙂 I can feel the Barcelona air wafting over here right now!


    Better therapist, after some effort I have found one, but the problem is that on a normal day during the day I’m not in touch with that pain and it is hard to describe / explain. So I therapize myself on this blog each day, sometimes while in one of those pain states (the blog was started with the idea that I would post poems and songs to overcome those states) — in hopes of remembering well enough how they feel articulating that well enough to be able to report upon them. Here comes auto-therapy, not a Boicean reflection:

    The question has been how to define all of this and what to do, which is why I also discuss it on the blog. I’m told I might do this: … you have to figure out what you want to be desensitized to, exactly, as in images, scenes. I seem to have gotten a better idea of what to pinpoint over the last week or two.

    Unpeeling the whole thing you’d have, going backwards in time, these key points:

    1. Me now: going into these fugue states after having dealt with belligerent people (this is why I don’t like freshman courses). Calling it writing problems when really it’s a work problem but it’s not a time or task management problem it’s a dissociative fugue state it takes work to come out of that I don’t give myself credit for.
    2. “Reeducation”: taught me to accept bullying / had these tenets, give up authority, cognitive power, control over own life, etc. So it exacerbated what it was supposed to fix which is —
    3. Traumatized very early on by space invaders, so to speak. Before point 2, I was recovering from this but due to point 2, the flashbacks took over; this was not identified well and I didn’t understand what was happening, nobody knew anything except that I was less efficient and under more stress than I had been (I still *seem* normal and vibrant, so it is hard to get people to realize), so I decided I had just lost time management skills or something. So I rail against Boice because I have a different issue.

    I am not sure but it is pretty clear to me now, the images I have about what I’m calling the space invaders and the guilt. The antidote to letting them take over involves addressing those things directly but also taking back the things lost in point 2.

    I’m already improved by not trying to call those fugue states “writing problems” or “procrastination.” Calling them by their name means they can be addressed as what they really are. I have some difficulty saying I go into these fugue states since it seems so self indulgent, but I do. I also have difficulty recognizing some kinds of poor behavior, or addressing it in ways other than fleeing (dissociating slightly if I cannot actually depart).

    Having been able to name these things and delink them from work is good. Very good. There’s an overlap – but it’s really me reacting to invasion, projection, manipulation and not thinking I can respond or escape, and that’s all. I.E. it’s addressable.


    How I can apply Boice here: I can name these states for what they are, and I think learn to send them away when they arise, schedule a time of day to deal with them just as Boice would, make them wait.

    1. That all seems fairly rational—although my natural scepticism has me worried about a therapy that is confined to its own institute—and actually has me thinking about my own head, for whose behaviour fugue is a word I have sometimes used, though in my case the roots and symptoms are very different (I’m probably, though reluctantly, glad to say), being more along the lines of reacting to stress by putting everything into a OCD-style to-do sequence and not, in extreme cases that I almost no longer have, eating or leaving the house until already much too late to be effective. With your case, meanwhile, I feel as if I’ve been offering ideas about the wrong problem, i. e. the Boicean `writing’ one, but it sounds as if you are already kind of arranging your own cognitive behavioural therapy, i. e. recognising the states and setting up processes to minimise their impact on you. To which, then, I suppose it is worth saying that a trad. Freudian analysis would say that shunting these things aside and not dealing with them where they occur is storing up trouble for later. Your experience as described here would, though, suggest that it is precisely trying to accept the situation that has left you with a string of constraining hang-ups, and I think at the very least it could be argued that the trad. analysis did not help you now much (though did it then?)

      I’m thinking out loud here but it seems to me that what you are aiming to reach is a state where you can not sweat the petty stuff, as the saying goes. In that case yes, identifying what is petty and what is important is of primary importance, no?

      Barcelona air: quite petrol-laden but arguably still more pleasant than Vic, which is in the middle of a big big pig-farming area. At some of the castles above the Riu de Ter, though, there the air is sweet and heather-laden and there will eventually be photos.

      1. It is probably very important that I admit that I have only the very sketchiest grounding in psychotherapy, i. e. a few general studies classes in my final year in school, and have never been in treatment (despite well-meant suggestions that I should seek it) so much of what I say above may be either wrong or out-of-date or both and it should definitely not be used as medical advice. Just thinking tools.

      2. Barcelona air, yes I love the fumes of leaded gasoline (reminds me of big old bad cities, I love them) but there, there’s also this dry smell of old stones I like.

        Therapy, yes, I am not convinced about this EMDR stuff, it seems gimmicky. And I’d go for humanist therapies rather than CBT. And actual, traditional analysis would be what I’d be interested in more than anything. Most US therapists are interested in getting people to feel “happy” and be “functional.” Morose though I may sound here, I’m actually the joyous type, and much though I may say here about not getting enough done, I’m actually the practical type. Analysis, from what I can gather, would be about freedom, and that is what I would be interested in getting from therapy. We’ll see. I’d like to find somebody really alternative by US standards, like maybe a Reichian. It’s one more reason to spend more time in Latin America, because in sophisticated towns like Mexico City, S. Paulo, Buenos Aires, and possibly also Lima it is a lot easier to find someone serious / not industrialized-medicalized, but intellectual-politicized than it is in most parts of the US.

        The original therapy wasn’t analysis at all – unfortunately – it was supposed to be some sort of humanist / feminist / family systems thing but as I finally figured out by complaining about it on this blog (keyword: “Reeducation”) it was really just souped-up Adult Child of Alcoholics B.S. – he was running 12 step theory on me and that is just fundamentalist Christianity dressed up as therapy. I was trying to take it seriously and figure out what was happening, had no experience with 12 stepping or that kind of Protestantism so didn’t recognize what the man was doing. He was also convinced I was a victim of infantile sexual abuse and wanted me to get hypnotized and recover memories. Off base, beside the point, and a real mess. Also, in many US therapies having an intellectual orientation and skills means, to therapists, that you are cold / cut off from feelings / prone to self justification, so one has to defend against those accusations or else really search to find someone willing to believe you can be both intelligent and tactile, both rational and in touch with instincts, etc.

        But you’re right, what I am doing is very CBT-ish, and that has serious limitations / pitfalls. It’s what the US has to offer at the moment and it’s why I like to discuss therapy notes with people elsewhere.

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