teaching: January 2005 Archives

I promise that these kinds of posts will decrease in frequency as the novelty does, but for the moment, you're stuck with me.

Anywho, one of the big tasks I have to manage over the next 2 months or so is graduate admissions. That is, we have a small number of slots available for incoming graduate students, and the Graduate Committee, annually, reads the applications, comes to a consensus on ranking them, and we settle on our incoming class for next year. As with any application process, we get to say "yes" to a few people, and "no" to many more, and those decisions are pretty important--we affect the lives of our applicants on both sides in significant ways. Grad school, for better or worse, plays a huge role in shaping the lives of its students--in our field, at least, you're talking a 4-5 year investment of time, an association that will follow you and inform others' perception of you for years after that, and decisions about your areas of interest and specialization that potentially affect your position in the field for your entire career. It can be a pretty big decision.

So, our deadline is this week, and yesterday, we sent out emails to all of the applicants, letting them know either (a) that their applications were complete, or (b) what we had yet to receive. My attitude here was that it's better to have information than not. There was also a disclaimer at the bottom explaining that, since they send materials to a separate office on campus, we may not have received materials already sent.

I won't quite say that this was a mistake, but apparently, we got just about as many panicked replies today as we sent out emails yesterday. Now there's a big surprise. I can't blame them, because it is a big decision and all, as discussed above. Our admissions process at SU is centralized, which makes it really hard for individual departments to set deadlines and stick by them, because a student may meet the deadline without our realizing it until a week later. But our deadline gives us less than three weeks to make some initial decisions about funding, in terms of fellowships and the like. It's a really messy system, with different people responsible for different steps, and no awareness of how the requirements of their step affects the rest of the process. And ultimately, we in individual departments are responsible for negotiating a mess not of our own creation. Ugh.

Lesson #1: What looks at the time like a blessing for your clients/constituents may quickly turn into a curse for you.

When I'm teaching, I think of this as the Transparency Principle: it rarely pays to be entirely transparent as an instructor. For instance, it was vogue for a while to engage one's students in discussions of how potentially arbitrary grading can be. I've done it plenty of times. And yet, all they remember, later on, is grades = unfair, which is an entirely different argument, but one they're willing to deploy if their 4.0 is in danger from the A- you've given them on a paper. All too willing.

And I think that each of us wants the bureaucracies we encounter to be transparent. Or rather, transparent for us, because we (and I'm no different in this regard) don't usually stop to think what a nightmare a truly transparent bureaucracy would be. Like "accountability," transparency is more a "preaching virtue" than a practice one.

Wow. I'm going on and on. Done now.

Day 1 of ...

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Here's a little advice for all you job marketeers: on your first day in a new position, it's often best if you wield your newfound power and influence with reckless abandon. No one likes a shrinking violet, after all. Strut around your department, make declarations, and, as D&G might say, effect incorporeal transformations.

With school and the program officially in session, I decided that it was a good time to pass some resolutions, which may or may not make their way into policy at some point down the road:

House Resolution 1302A: A Resolution Declaring Canteloupe the Official Fruit of the Graduate Program

House Resolution 2914: A Resolution Declaring Junior Mints the Official Movie Snack Food of the Graduate Program

and my last example I'll include in its entirety as a sign of my pride in its wisdom:

House Resolution 632C: A Resolution for the Designation of an Official Tool for the Graduate Program

1. Whereas, in close consultation with Webster's 5th International Unabridged Dictionary, it has been determined that the word "circular" both contains all 3 initials of the CCR program, and contains them in order, and

2. Whereas, through painstaking empirical study, it has been determined that "circular saw" is the single best, tool-related phrase for the purposes of demonstrating an exaggerated East Coast accent not unlike that used by comedian Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live in his recurring "Coffee Talk" skits,


3. From this moment forth, the circular saw shall be known as the official tool of the graduate program, and accorded all the rights and privileges associated herewith.

Brilliant stuff, I'm telling you.

Okay, so maybe my day wasn't quite that exciting. Advising appointments, a missed meeting (oops), a little bit of chimney sweeping, and my failure to remember to leave campus earlier than 6:30 when there's a basketball game scheduled for 7:00 (double oops). SU beat Georgetown, but the Hoyas took us to overtime.

That is all. Maybe tomorrow I'll follow up on my campaign promise of forming an ad-hoc committee to study the fiscal viability of designating an official graduate program candle scent. Stay tuned.

The House of Graduate Direction

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Which, I suppose, could also involve flying daggers. But not at the moment. I've been pretty mum about this, even though it's not so much of a secret anymore. As of tomorrow, I'll be taking over the position of Director of Graduate Studies in our department, a move which I can only describe using words that begin with the letter A: anxiety, anticipation, administration, et alia.

So, anyway, that means a new office, which I've partly moved into (the outstanding order for shelving units having not been completed yet, which means my boxes are yet to come). And I present to you, for your viewing pleasure, my new digs:

the CCR grad office

Ahh, you say, this doesn't look so bad, even if the lighting is a bit yellow. Well, wait, there's more. This is merely the reception area. I need to remember to bring in old copies of Highlights magazine for those who have to wait for me to see them...

That door at the back? That's my office door, which leads to a room that is neater right now than it will be at any point over the next 3 or 4 years:

my actual office

And yes, that is a G4 Cube on my desk, designed to provide a contrast with my (fairly) new flat-panel monitor. When the new Mac Mini grows a little older, and pages through the old, yellowed black-and-white photos in the Mac photo album, it'll see a picture of the Cube on the deck of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, full of hope as it leaves its family behind to make a new life for itself at the turn of the century. Umm. Yeah. I may keep my Cube forever.

So it's not such a bad office, or at least it won't be once my shelves arrive and I can let my eyes wander over my Big Wall of Books. And I can hear you thinking, well, at least he has a window...




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This page is a archive of entries in the teaching category from January 2005.

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