Monthly Archives: September 2012

That Writing Group, Again

I can already tell what my report will be, I did nothing all week but grade furiously, work for courses that bring memories I would rather not have. I did figure out how, for the first time ever, to give a seminar next fall that will both fit departmental needs AND student interests AND my research project. This is one of the things we are supposed to do but that is not normally possible.

We sat in the library café (we have a library now, and it has a café) and came up with a rocking title, to wit: STATES OF RUIN: VIOLENCE AND IDENTITY IN LATIN AMERICA, 1810-1930. Elements in it that I might not have fit in, but that are there by student demand are the films Camila and Krik Krak, corridos and narco-corridos, music and hegemony or music as it arises and is deployed in moments of conflict to form or consolidate resistance identities, and perhaps Tina Rosenberg’s book Children of Cain.

Obviously, I will have to have a book prospectus to teach this course. I will also have to have a better idea than I do now of said book prospectus’ actual contents by the time we order books in the spring, and I will have to decide whether the book is now to be written to this title or to the currently alleged one which has the word race in it; so there, something of research and the blocking out of a manuscript plan has been accomplished this week.

Axé.

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Et encore

The other post would be a description of a workplace dominated by lower classmen terrified and resentful about the language requirement, new assistant professors concerned about research and teaching evaluations, and serious about the language program and worried about tenure, and instructors and adjuncts resentful that there were any assistant professors at all and who had discovered that the best way to get them to leave was by destabilizing their classes, which they could do and which was a very effective form of harassment. Add to this that the library was closed for renovations at this time, post hurricane.

Consider all the people desperate for survival: students, surviving courses they resented; instructors, concerned about their survival as a partially ruling class; assistant professors, concerned for teaching evaluations and research in a situation where neither were within reasonable reach. Each group feels terrible, each group is struggling, and the victory of one always means the defeat of another. This is what I mean when I say, an atmosphere that is antithetical to research and which does not leave one enough peace of mind to make a good LSAT score.

Axé.

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Don’t translate, compose!

I should have a flyer placed surreptitiously under everyone’s door saying “Don’t fret — organize,” but I will have a sticker made to put on student compositions and it will say:

DON’T TRANSLATE, COMPOSE!

Axé.

 

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And now: against adjuncts, and against counselors and student affairs officers as well

I do not have time to say why these population groups are also to be criticized much more than they are already but I owe you posts of vitriol against adjuncts, student affairs officers, counselors, and psychotherapists, especially in our region, and I will give one anecdote to explain why:

My student was recruited by Swarthmore and told not to go because it would be too dangerous to be that far from family: if there were an emergency, they would be more than two hours away. He was browbeaten by family, friends, advisor and student affairs officers into this and I rest my case.

Axé.

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Why I spend so much time trying to recover from the brain injury it is to deal with too many really immature, manipulative, and irresponsible people.

I really have spent years in frozen silence over these and similar non-issues, unable to think entirely clearly because I had been essentially hit over the head. With every new indiscretion about this I improve, so this weblog will be very outrageous for at least the rest of this week.

My trauma here at Vichy State (N.B. Vichy State is a post-apocalyptic agglomeration of Louisiana public institutions located in Port Allen, LA, which is why I moved to Maringouin, up from New Orleans after Katrina) — my trauma here at Vichy State has to do with assistant professors, instructors, and textbook representatives having decided before my arrival that I would surely be interested in the first year program and take one of their sides in a war or start my own, and the department chair’s having told me that to mediate in that situation was key for me and was my job, and my watching people who did not in fact mediate well enough, lose jobs. I simply could not believe that any leader would allow this to happen, much less foment it. At the same time I could see that it really was happening and in a very, very serious way.

Another key trauma has to do with assistant professors shouting and crying at my first job. These foolish Easterners, Southerners and Spaniards were desperate for social life and did not know how to get to know a new city; instead they stirred up strife among themselves so they would have an excuse to get on the phone.

Everyone, everywhere, was also shouting about how we must go faster and faster, hurry up, leave our lazy ways, move faster. I have never liked the assumption and projection that I am not going fast enough, I am already fast and I hate to hurry. I have been hounded to rush occasionally by second rate minds and poor dressers who did not know me since the middle of graduate school. But the endlessly ugly assistant and full professors existing East of the Mississippi, who should be speaking for themselves and taking some of their own medicine, are the ones who most natter and shout about rushing and the fact that you must suffer. I hope they are suffering now, those incompetent Yankee and low-down Confederate fools who say things like, “You could not know how to work because you are from California.”

I have been far too kind about these things and as you can see, I have a great deal of anger about them and the toll they took upon my life — one I could not see a way to avoid paying, at the time. I have decided to broadcast this and insult entire swaths of overprivileged and overrepresented cultural groups on this blog, because it makes me far more capable in daily life to say what I actually think of both Eastern American and Western European academics, ridiculous personages that they are, somewhere, in an exaggerrated fashion.

Axé.

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On why obedience was survival

They hired three people and gave us difficult circumstances. Soon our question each day was this: what will we find we have done, in the normal course of doing our jobs and also attempting to create conditions in which our jobs can even be done as specified, that will turn out to have offended the instructors (who had hoped to be promoted to professor because of seniority) in some truly mortal way — what will we find we have done wrong just by being who we are? And they voted on us and outnumbered us, so it was serious, and had friends in the administration, so it was more serious.

We started to do less and less because this was a survival strategy but even so, only I am left standing. Then one of the departed was replaced, but the new one got walking papers soon, and the same reason. I keep thinking it must be me, it must be only I who succumbed to this situation, because it sounds so odd that it must be the figment of someone’s imagination or a projection from my own prior traumas which it also was, for me. Then I remember how many other people also wrangled with this.

Axé.

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This is the kind of low-level drama I so dislike

…and part of why I used to start shaking when my building on campus came into view.

Scene: Today, my office with me behind schedule, coming from meetings, getting ready for class, not finished grading, trying to make some executive decisions on how, exactly, to handle the six hours of classes I was about to give.

Door (ajar): Knock.

Me, thinking it was a student I could talk to quickly: Adelante.

Extremely Pushy and Many Times Evil Textbook Representative: It has come to my attention that the contract on your basic language textbook, from another publisher, is ending. I am here to discover your requirements in textbooks so that I can make suggestions to you.

Me: The faculty has not even talked about meeting to discuss the question of contract renewal and I will not now discuss this matter with you or with any other representative. The last time we chose a textbook I was interested in one from a different company and you insisted I tell you why. I explained politely and listened politely to your spiel, and then said no, I would not commit, to you, then and there, to change my list of suggested textbooks or move yours to first place on it.

You, then, went and told the other faculty that I had made a decision I was going to impose and would be able to impose due to my tenured status and my state of non-war with the department chair. These faculty members then went to the department chair and said that I was planning to impose a book. I then got a visit and a very worried letter from this department chair, and there was much that had to be clarified. I learned from this that I am better not to disclose my views to you, even for the sake of polite conversation.

I am very uncomfortable with the idea that I should discuss matters internal to this unit with you before I do so with my colleagues, and with your self appointment as message bearer among us. Therefore please do not attempt to pump me for information. If you have a book to promote later on we may hear your presentation but you are not a member of this department and once again, I do not intend to hash this decision out with you, but with my colleagues.

LATER

Whiteman: It is part of your job to help the textbook representative do her job by entertaining her visits to your office. She has a job to do, too, and a right to do it.

Professor Zero: Not at my expense or at the expense of this unit, she does not. I will not relinquish the right to discuss professional decisions with colleagues before I do salespeople, I am very sorry.

COMMENT

You have no idea how terrorized I used to be by the situation of which this event is a symptom, and it would be indiscreet to explain. It makes no sense at all to me now that the situation could have been real but two people did not make tenure and two others were not promoted because of it, which shows that the repercussions were real for other people besides me.

NOTE

I really, really dislike invasive people.

Axé.

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Coda on obedience

You have to obey, obey, obey, do exactly as you are told, because we know the method and we also know the culture and we are sure that only if you obey, obey, obey, will you not be tossed out in the street. The idea was always to learn to obey better, and if you had any problems it was because you needed to learn to obey still better.

If you look at my vita, you will see the results of having followed those instructions and I have really had it with professors and their endless repetition of basic and standard academic advice, everything is always your fault because you did not follow instructions closely enough.

This repeated statement is so intellectually and pedagogically lazy, it is a shame. It and its proponents are incredibly uninformed and wrong.

I repeat, all you Fascists bound to lose. You are complicit in the destruction of higher education as well, and when the system finishes being dismantled around that head you have so firmly buried in sand, you will deserve it if you are crushed under the debris.

Axé.

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Insights Four to Seven

I am having more realizations than I have time to explain but I will note them so I do not forget.

4.  On making it fun by taking authority and making it work for you. Anything that seems like drudgery has to be reformed, and if you are stuck on your project, there is something wrong with it  — it is not just that you should “stop being lazy” and go faster.

5. On how I got lost, or how I resemble, in some ways, one of those green graduate students that never got their sea legs, as it were. This is kind of important because from the beginning I have been supervised and judged by people who never figured out how to work themselves.

6. On how, again, “procrastination” does not exist; some people just do not have the page they need in an instruction manual (which does not mean they need the pages they do have shouted at them again), and others, facing huge and oblique obstacles, are only trying to find the place where they can be effective.

7. On how, again, you really can break your large task into small pieces and do them, but only if you have some authority in that task; and that is what abusive institutions beat out of people.

I knew all these things and more but everyone kept saying that if I did, I was lying, I could not know them yet, or if I did, it was wrong for some reason. I should not know how to work or rather, it was monstruous that I should.

I have heard it again and again: I was paid to teach, not do research (what about that fat percentage dedicated to research in my contract?), I did not know how to teach, mega-service was needed from me to “save” us, and mostly, if I had control over my life or volition or interest in my life I was in a state of sin and I was also hurting people by not serving them completely enough, not sacrificing myself completely enough.

I am going to so écraser all of these fools; all them fascists bound to lose.

Axé.

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Insight Three

I never got comfortable teaching certain kinds of classes for the same kind of reason as some people, on purpose, do not learn to type: they do not want it to be their destiny. It would be easier if I got comfortable anyway. How to do this is the question, how to make the person who teaches those classes look like me? There are other issues and I do not have them named yet.

I have to think about this, it is one of the places my class prejudice or whatever it is shows, I am not comfortable with all the smoke-filled clothes and tattoos and religious attitudes and so much else that is rough and American and Southern and alien and that that comes and goes with freshmen. How to make the person who teaches those classes be me?

I have not worked these issues out but it all has to do with feeling comfortable teaching those classes and it may all come back to the theme of the last post which was authority. Meanwhile, if you think research is hard, try grading. Note that there is a reason they put people on Scantron and autograde, and do not let them write anything until junior year.

Really, though, my fear of these classes is this: they are not supposed to be important, and yet they are. I am not good with cognitive dissonance. In the jobs I have had where we did not have them, it was such a relief.

I have to get comfortable with them and say they are me; my student says the reason I do not is that there are so many people hostile to the material in the course that, if I have deep interest in the material, I would of course not want to associate with them. This is the direction where the truth lies.

Axé.

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