Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another Meeting, Another Depressing End to the School Week

This week's meeting wasn't quite as bad as last week's, but was frustrating.

We talked about assessment.  What do you know, most of our majors are doing okay or better.  Wheee.  At one point we were told that we shouldn't have too many of our majors doing better than okay, because then we'd have to change what okay means.  And you could tell some folks obeyed, and so their part of the major had students who were mostly okay, and a few better.  And some folks resisted, and their part of the major had students who were mostly better and a few okay.

And we all acknowledged that this is pretty useless and meaningless, and we're just checking boxes.  But we still have to do it.  And then we talked about whether there's a way to make it at least minimally useful to us without adding a lot of work, and we basically came down to: we need to have time to talk about what we're doing in the classroom, what we're seeing students do, and what we're looking for.  That's probably another meeting, but at least it has the potential to be useful.

It won't be useful to the administration, though, unless we put numbers somewhere.

Some people want to know how students perceive, say, their ability to do research.  In my experience, most of our students think they're brilliant researchers because they know how to search googlebooks, even if they don't read carefully or deeply enough in the 1950s book they found to realize that it's incredibly racist in its assumptions about, say, Othello.

Then there was another meeting at which we talked about colleagues, and that was good, because our colleagues are stellar.  My little part in this was praised, as were other peoples', and rightly so all around.

And then we talked about what search we'd like to do on the off chance that anyone gets to put in a request to do a search, and that was long and frustrating because it's unlikely we'll get to do a search, and we really need two positions at least.  But pretty much every department across the university is in the same boat.  And the dean's criteria (at least he gave us some for this) are basically, "shiny, new, not just replacing people to be able to teach your curriculum."  So if you lost a historian of antiquity, you can't say, well, we really need someone to teach ancient history because it's important in our curriculum.  Instead, you need to find some shiny, new thing to ask for, and hope the eventual hire can also teach ancient history as well as digital histories or whatever.  Because shiny!  new!

At least my colleagues are generally good people to work with.  We disagree about some things, but we were able to do so productively and decently, and that counts for a lot.

By the time we finished, it was 5pm, and I had dinner plans at 6, so I didn't bother to go home, but just graded, recorded grades and stuff, and now I have only one thing to grade for the weekend, and it shouldn't be onerous.

And I get to read and prep Gawain, and that makes life good.

In way better news, I had a really good violin lesson this week.  I'm working on the first Seitz concerto in Suzuki Book 4, and it's quite hard at my level.  I think Suzuki does a really good job of putting pieces in that make me work hard, but not impossibly hard to play them.  Part of this piece has a section of slurs that cross strings with fairly fast fingerings.  And practicing them, in order to play them all on one bow, I move the bow fairly slowly.  And on the violin, if you move the bow too slowly, you sound scratchy.  So all week practicing, working on the slurs, I've been sounding scratchy.  But I knew why, and so knew I just had to work to the point where I could play the slurs all on one bow more quickly.  But I wasn't there in practice.  I also realized that I could move the bow a little faster, and thus less scratchier, if I consciously used the whole bow.

When my lesson started, I pulled out my music and said I'd really been focusing my practice on these two difficult areas.  And I played one, and Strings helped me with it.  And then I played the slurred parts, and amazingly, and for the first time EVER, I sounded better in my lesson than I had in practice!  I shocked myself!  So Strings was able to give me some more help, and then we worked on some of the things I hadn't done so much work with, and Strings gave me some help on those, too.

And I got this new scale thing, almost more of a key thing than a scale thing.  It's called a one position scale.  The idea is that working within the notes of a scale, you play every note that you can within one position.  So, for example, if I start with the C scale on the violin.  I can start with G, then A, B, C, and so on, all the way up.  So unlike a regular scale, you don't start and end on C, but start and end where you can in that position, with any note in the scale.  It's weird, and sort of hard, but I'm starting on C.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Taking Notes

The tenured folks in my department had a big meeting on Friday about our Review After Tenure (RAT) process with one of the semi-big-wigs over in the Fort, the big administration building that looks like, yes, a Fort.

Basically, RAT feels like you're going through tenure again.  There are three possible outcomes, though, instead of just one.  1.  You exceed expectations and get a bump or raise (associates get a one-time bump, fulls get a raise.  For associates, RAT comes the year before you can go up for full.  So you get to do a big review process again the next year.  Yay.)   2.  You meet expectations and get a tiny one time bump or little raise.  3.  You get does not meet expectations and get "remediation."  If there's a problem with remediation, you can get fired.

A bunch of us were reviewed this year for RAT, and since we all put in basically a new tenure file, our colleagues working on the post-tenure committee had to do pretty much full tenure reviews on about a third of us.  (It was the biggest cohort.)

The reviews use criteria laid out in an official document which has been approved by the Dean and Provost's office.  So it should be meaningful, right?

The department, so far as I know (I was away last semester) gave us all "exceeds expectations" letters and votes.  The chair weighed in, and gave us (so far as I know) all "exceeds expectations" reviews.

And the Dean knocked all but one of us down to "meets" and sent a little note saying that not everyone can exceed expectations.  He didn't provide any criteria.

The common belief is that there's a designated and limited "pot of money" for these bumps and raises, and the administration has to limit the "exceeds" numbers to fit the pot.  The semi-big-wig denied this, and said that there's no pot of money for these bumps and raises, but they come out of this pot of money for salaries and such... so, there's no pot of money, except there is.

So basically, we have a new big review every five years, which can result in losing one's job or not, and yes, it feels like tenure is dead.

I made this mistake of offering to take notes when the committee secretary who was chairing the committee in the absence of the usual chair asked if someone would.  The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and it wasn't the sort of thing where the notes could say "discussion ensued" so it took a fair bit of time to type them up.  (I did it right after the meeting so that things would be as fresh in memory as possible.)  My notes ran 5 pages.  Ugh.

So, my morale about my job is quite low, and I'm not the only one.  As I was typing my notes (with my door open, and my computer screen placement has me facing the open door), several colleagues stopped on their way out to commiserate and share their own sense of unhappiness and low morale.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Keeping Books

As I noted before, I've become the treasurer for the union local at NWU.  We had a session where we went through things:  the state union draws money from peoples' accounts or credit card, and then sends us a check, and then we send the state union dues and then the national union sends us bills and we send them dues, and so on.  It's a bit complicated, but not impossibly complicated.

So yesterday, I had a block of time and started trying to figure things out.  After two or three hours, I was sort of at an impasse, and needed to get email information from people who had already gone home (quite reasonably), so I started back on it this morning.

In the process, I learned that the previous treasurer was, well, less well-organized than one might wish.  I found a check from 2016 that he hadn't cashed.  I can't find where he wrote a record of a check he wrote just before handing things over to me.  He didn't pay the state dues for November or December.

I'm pretty sure he didn't embezzle any money (there's not that much even if he'd wanted to), but things are a mess.

So today, I wrote a couple checks, sent some emails, and generally got things mostly organized.  The unrecorded check will show up soon in the on-line banking system, so I can get a record from there.

The on line banking at this local bank is a mess.  It took me far too long to be able to get into the account, and then it wanted a security question answer about what the previous person's favorite author is.  And, of course, the previous person didn't remember.  And then I somehow got around that and reset things.  (So I emailed the president, who also has banking access, the information in case I'm not available at some point.)

My goals for being treasurer are: not to mess things up, and to leave things so that the next person doesn't have to do any extra work to figure things out.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Student Research Assistants?

We have a small MA program, and one of the ways the department tries to help these folks financially is with research assistantships.  Faculty apply for help, and get a student assigned for so many hours.

I've tried in the past, but I don't really know how to use student time well.  When I was a grad student, I had a research assistantship, and my task was to independently find everything written on a given text (which I also read), make photocopies, read and annotate/summarize them, and then prioritize them for my supervisor so that he'd know which I thought were most important or interesting for his work.  Then I'd hand over the hard copies.  I also read his works in progress and gave feedback.  I learned a TON doing the research, because it was in my field and his work is really interesting.

I tried to have past students do that sort of work, but it didn't really work out.  They had a harder time finding appropriate resources, and they don't want to take time to read original texts, aren't interested in the field, so don't really feel a benefit to themselves.

I'm thinking of applying for a research assistant this year, and hoping you folks can give me ideas for using their time wisely and well.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Back to Beginning Book Four

Before I left last summer, I had my Suzuki Book 3 test, and started working on the first piece of Book 4.  But then I didn't practice while I was away, so since I've been back, I've been relearning, starting with Book 1, and then my Bowing book, and now my shifting book.  I still have to get my double stop book and fingering book into my practice routine.

Today I had a lesson, my second since coming back, since Strings was away for a bit, and I played the last piece in Book 3, got plenty of help, and then Strings said I could start back on Book 4!  So I'm almost caught up!

There's so much to work on, but I'm excited to start working on this new piece.

Tomorrow is Friday, and that will be one week of classes done.  I feel like things have been going well so far.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Off and Running

We're now well into the first week of classes.  I taught all three of my classes (including a 5 hour a week course) on Monday, ending with three hours of the Choose your own Early Brit Lit Adventure (the course I talked about here).

I sent the students Sidney's "Apology" (well, a good chunk of it) ahead, with some discussion questions to think about, and that was good.  We talked about how we know what's worth reading, what's worth spending our time on.   And I put them in groups and gave them their assignment for next week, which is to choose what they want to read (from my list) and be ready to explain and argue for their choices (so the Sidney lead into that, sort of).  I gave them time in class to figure out a group strategy, exchange contact information, and so forth.  I think they're ready.

And this evening, not yesterday (Tuesday) or even during working hours today, this evening... I got an email from a student who missed class on Monday.  I'm sure the reason for missing was totally good, but, um... well, there's a spanner in the works, as British folks would say.  So now I've emailed them back with the syllabus and calendar, and emailed the class asking if a group is willing to add a person who missed class on Monday.  (Which is basically a whole week of class, of course, given that we meet once a week.)

I'm hoping some group is willing to add a person and they let me know pretty quickly.

Today in my other two classes, I started by asking for questions on the readings.  And then I handed out an open notes, closed book quiz.  But surprise!  It wasn't really a quiz, but a fake quiz to make them realize that they really DO need to read carefully and take notes.  And then I handed out a copy of my own notes for the reading in each class (different, naturally, since they're very different courses) and we talked about taking notes as we talked about the readings.

The one reading in the first year writing course was about reading "rhetorically" and talked about how to read and take good notes.  But, being first year students, most of them didn't translate that into actually taking notes.  Hopefully, they'll do better in future.  (That's why they're in college, after all!)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

And Here We Go!

The semester begins tomorrow, and after several hours of work at the office today, I'm ready.  I still have plenty to keep me busy tomorrow, but I'm ready to walk into two of my three classes tomorrow morning, and only have to print out and make copies of the course syllabus and such to be ready for the third.

I was not the only person in the office today, either...

But why is it that I only see women in the office on Sundays?  (Mostly, with rare exceptions...)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Look for the Union Label

I decided after the election last year that I was going to be more politically involved because I need to.  So I ran for an office (treasurer) in my union local.  And I won, because no one else was running.  But then we arranged for me to put off taking over because I was away.

So this week was take over week.  There've been meetings.

And what I noticed: leftist men talk over me just like non-leftist men.

We are all white (officer group).  We need to change that.  Every single officer would agree.  But no one had taken even the minimal step of offering support at the community MLK day event.  Or at the Juneteenth event.  (The list goes on.)  First, the union should be there offering support because we should support these events.  Second, the union should be there offering support so that folks see that we're there.  Because we should be supporting these events.  And so on.

Being new, I seem to have some energy that time has worn out of the others.  I should take advantage of that while I can.

I did, in fact.  I used my new connection with staff folks (I had lunch with the person I met at the professional development day) to ask who's in charge of new faculty/academic staff orientation, and emailed that person asking if the union could have 10-15 minutes of time, or at least if we could set up a table to introduce people to the union.  The person in charge responded enthusiastically.

The union has no actual power because of state laws.  But we can do things that would be helpful to people.  For example, we can help organize people to work on phone banks, and the union temple in town has equipment and so forth.

It took us an hour to go to the bank to do the signature hand over, and we couldn't actually do it because the prior secretary and current president didn't think to ask what paperwork we needed (and neither did I), so we didn't have the paperwork.  Duh.

At any rate, I expect I'll be blogging a bit about being more active in the union now.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Massaging Numbers and Dishonesty

I just got one of those cheerleading emails from our public relations folks, the sort they send out pretty much every week.  This one had a blurb that said that our [Program] was rated in the top five on the US News and World Report thingy.  It had a clicky link, so I clicked, and it took me to a blurb on my uni's website, that pretty much said the same thing.  But there's no link to the actual US News article or site.  So of course, I googled it.

And for [Program] we're actually tied for a teen #.  That's good, heck, great for our regional school.  But it's not top 5.

But you can add limiters, so I started playing with them.  And yes, if you add a specific limiter, there we are, top 5.  But the blurb doesn't say anything about the limiter which is totally reasonable, and could have been honestly clarified with one more word in the blurb.  And honestly, no one reading the blurb would have worried about the limiter.

But as it is, we sound dishonest.  I hate that our PR folks feel like they need to be dishonest, to make us try to sound better than we are.  (And we're pretty good at what we do.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Trouble Getting Started

For some reason, I'm having real trouble this week getting myself to start practicing violin.  Once I've started, I'm quite happy plugging along.  But getting started is a whole different thing.  I need mojo!

I'm slowly coming back to where I was when I left in August.  I'm really rueing my lack of practice while overseas.  But, what's done is done.

I can do scales and broken thirds again, including scales in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th position.  I haven't practiced the left hand moving between positions much (the actual shifting), though.

I've been working on the bowing technique book, from the beginning.  It's slow going, and it takes a lot of concentration.  I need to start back on the fingering technique book, the shifting book, and the double stop book.

I'm in the midst of Suzuki Book 3 again.  Book 1 was sort of hard, then things got easier with Book 2, I think because my hands started remembering what they were supposed to do again.  And with Book 3, I'm sometimes surprised at how I can read through a piece and do okay even the first time through, and then with some attention, get it sounding pretty decent.  Both Book 2 and Book 3 pieces took me a fair bit of work the first time, and I think the memory of that work is slowly rebuilding.

I need to start working on the vibrato thing again.  I was at the point of beginning to try to move my wrist slowly and such.  It's going to be slow going, I think, because it's sort of a weird motion.

Sometimes I watch youtube videos of Itzhak Perlman or Hilary Hahn, and their hands look so relaxed and soft on their instruments that it's a wonder everything doesn't just fall.