academic work · accomodation · commute · family · free time · inconvenience · kid stuff · open letter · parenting

4:30 is the worst time in the world

Dear Academic Scheduling Powers That Be,

It has come to my attention that you continue to schedule visiting speakers, and assorted other events where I have to sit down and take notes, at 4:30 in the afternoon, usually for 90 minutes.

This must stop.

You see, 4:30 is the worst time in the world. There are a number of reasons I can imagine that this time slot appeals to you; however, as I hope to convince you, these are outweighed by several more compelling reasons why this is absolutely the worst time in the world.

I know you think that 4:30 is kind of the Luxembourg of time slots. It aims to offend no one, and split the differences in the most innocuous way possible. I can almost hear you puzzling it out! Most people are mostly done teaching at 4:30. Administrative meetings, too, don’t tend to be scheduled to run to the bitter end of the standard workday. 4:30 seems innocuous research-wise, as well: who is still writing at that time? They’ve had a full day to live the life of the mind already. I know that it seems like 4:30 forestalls all those faculty objections of too-busy, I’m teaching, it’s a research day, I have lots of meetings that seem to diminish attendance to embarrassing levels. Surely loads more people will be able to attend a talk if we stuff in a time slot that’s mostly taken up by commuting and staring bleakly into space!

But. Consider: with this 4:30 time slot, are you not, effectively, suggesting that attending this rigorous and demanding research talk is not part of the work day? And thus not part of work? Is this a discretionary, fun activity? Like a cocktail party that would traditionally substantially overlap the time period in question? The French call these “cinq à sept”, because this kind of party runs from five until seven–note carefully, please, that there is booze and nibbles generally served at this time, which is never the case at these talks you’re scheduling at 4:30.

I think attending research talks is part of my job. Your scheduling thus confuses me on this front. Do I do a full day of teaching and research and meetings and then this too? Or am I doing this instead of something else? Is it part of the work day, or not? You know, I’m here in my office most days by 9:15, and I stay until 4:45 or 5, having eaten lunch at my desk while reading or grading. By 4:45, I’m kind of not really smart enough to take in a lecture. I need booze, and nibbles, and possibly to put on track pants. If I’m being perfectly honest, 4:30 in the afternoon is an absolute ebb, energy-wise, mood-wise, and metabolism-wise for me: I am tired, and crabby, and hungry then, you know, from going full tilt on the life of the mind for a full day by that point already.

Also, I really didn’t want to mention it, but you might not be aware that most daycares close at 5:30 or 6 o’clock. Maybe I could pick up my daughter early, like at 4? Then bring her to the talk with me? If only there were juice and nibbles, it might be possible! And if my husband goes to pick her up, I have no way to get home: we commute together. And if I take the bus home, leaving here at 6, if the talk ends on time, which it never does, I’m not there until 6:45, and who’s going to make supper and do homework in French with my kid, or get groceries or have time to go for a run or walk the dog or do my yoga homework before bed? I know it’s unseemly to have a personal life, but it is nevertheless the case that we must, as a family eat, and sometimes my husband likes to go to the gym, and I like to attend yoga classes, and we would all like to meet these basic needs and still be able to get to bed before midnight.

I’m sorry to be so troublesome about this, I really am–I know you’ve probably also heard loads from my colleagues who drive in from great distances to be here during the work day and would prefer not to spend the rest of their night in traffic, or to have to stay in a hotel. It’s just that I don’t want your feelings to be hurt when the same pitifully small number of people show up for the 4:30 talk as showed up for the 2:30 talk.

In conclusion, then, I ask you: is attending this talk work or not? If it is, please schedule it during the workday. Also, 4:30 is the worst time in the world.

Sincerely yours,
Aimée

faster feminism · open letter · sexist fail · teaching

Guest post: Rape Culture, Social Media and Pedagogical Responsibility

Today we have another guest post. This is by friend and colleague Andrew Bretz at the University of Guelph. Andrew’s post reminds me of how we ‘celebrated‘ International Women’s Day last year.
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Last year at Yale, Delta Kappa Epsilon, a major fraternity on campus, was formally reprimanded by the university for leading new pledges through campus chanting pro-rape slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal!”  As a feminist and a member of a university community, I was disgusted by the actions of the fraternity, but at the time I attributed it to a misogynist Greek culture that dominates university campuses in the United States.
Until recently.
A pro-rape chant, delivered on a late night bus and not simply repeated on Facebook but expanded upon by students at the University of Guelph, forced me to take a good look at the state of rape culture on my own campus.  I couldn’t do nothing, but neither am I in a position to enact direct change myself.
I wrote a blog post about it.  Given that my blog is largely inactive (with perhaps two dozen pageviews over the past year), I thought that this would be my rant into the ether and nothing more.  My post, however, has started something well beyond what I could possibly have expected.
You can read my original post here

I posted a link to my blog on my Facebook profile and figured that would be the end of it.  Within the next 48 hours:
·      My blog had been viewed over 3000 times by places as far away as Lithuania; 
·      The discussion on the original Facebook page exploded and was eventually removed altogether:
·     The president’s office was drafting a response, now available here;  
·      The Central Student’s Association had an emergency meeting to draft a response to this situation;
·      A letter writing campaign to The Ontarion had been launched regarding this issue;
The posting had spawned a discussion board on Penny Arcade.com, available here
·    I had been interviewed by CFRU, the local campus radio station, bringing attention to the issue, available here (Starting 26.20).
I followed up the initial post with a second one that commented upon the storm of criticism that has occurred in the wake of the event.
So what is the take away from all of this?  The dialogue has begun.  The problem of rape culture on university campuses is not limited to any nation or any single campus.  At Guelph, the administration has been exceptionally supportive in their condemnation of such actions as were described in the Facebook post and has begun to take steps to ensure that students are made aware of the effects that their words have.
On a personal note, I find it horrifically fitting somehow that this happened all during SAFE Week (Sexual Assault Free Environment) here at the University of Guelph, which, by the way, has an undergraduate body that is mostly female.  Also, I have learned first hand about the incredible and instantaneous power of the internet for raising awareness, something that I intend to work into my pedagogy as I move forward from this event.
But again, this isn’t really about me. It isn’t about the individual students who wrote the chant down or added to it.  It is about the fact that as a community, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that sexual violence against women is not normalized or excused.
I hope that we can continue to talk about this over on my blog or here at Hook & Eye.
-Andrew Bretz
PhD Candidate, University of Guelph

academic reorganization · canada · change · open letter · slow academy

The Pedagogy of Comprehensibility

When I was in the last year of my PhD the current graduate chair at my alma mater decided to initiate a new professionalization course. Unlike the research methods class I took as an incoming PhD student, this course was entirely voluntary and meant for those of us in the finishing stages of the degree. We learned how to write job letters (there’s a formula!) We learned how to prepare job talks. We delivered job talks to mock interviewers and then after the interview we as a group discussed how the candidates did: what questions were answered well and why? Which questions need more thought, and how might the candidate do a better job of presenting her or his project? What exactly does one ask when given the opportunity to pose a question to the interviewing committee? We even discussed what one should wear to an interview (general consensus is still a suit) and whether one should have a drink at dinner (yes, but only one).

Of the many invaluable things I learned in this professionalization course the discussion of the CV has stuck with me. We work-shopped our CVs for organization, font, and design, and we were given the invaluable and simple advice to update our CVs regularly. It makes sense: in the course of a few months immense amounts of CV-worthy things can happen. Book reviews get written, conference papers get accepted, service is completed and (holy grail) articles get published. The short point of this post is to encourage readers to write everything down. Keep your CV up-to-date as conference season approaches.

But there’s a more theoretical and complex point I’d like to make, and that is one of what I’m calling the pedagogy of comprehensibility. Each time I revisit my CV I consider whether or not I am comprehensible to potential hiring committees (though you could insert admissions committees, tenure and promotions committees, granting agencies et cetera here). On the one hand, I’m not comprehensible (file this sentence under is-this-too-dangerous-to-write-about-since-I’m-an-LTA?). I don’t yet have a manuscript publication, I teach, research, and write about poetry and poetics, gender, race, urban space, collaboration, and experimental writing. I’m on board with one of the most phenomenally innovative digital humanities projects in the world. This can look like a lot.

On the other hand, I do my research under the umbrella of being a Canadianist. Here’s what I’ve come to think: whether I am in a contract position or (one day) a tenure-track position I’ve come to see my job as one of facilitating comprehensibility. In other words, it is my job to teach committee member X to understand my areas of research interest.

There is much to worry/complain/rage about in this profession, and taking on the responsibility for change is a tiresome burden. However, what I learned from Dr. Ellis’s professionalization course is that it is my responsibility to teach you how to understand me. More over, I learned from that course that we can’t do this alone, we need networks and communities and small classrooms of people who are willing to mentor all stages of pedagogical comprehensibility.

What about you? How have you been taught to teach others to understand your CV?

Speaking of teaching others how to understand the necessity of our work, don’t miss Donna Palmateer Pennee’s open letter regarding the academy and the upcoming election. Professorial vote mob? Count me in.

equity · ideas for change · job market · open letter

An Open Letter to the Baby Boomers

Please, when the time comes, retire.

Three things prompted this post:

1. A longstanding concern for several young scholars whom I admire enormously, and the accompanying desire to be able to wave a magic wand and create them the jobs they deserve.

2. Recently, I attended a conference on Canadian Studies, themed to the 1960s. As an historian, I’m unaccustomed to having the audience be both scholar and evidence; but there were those in attendance who commented on papers about Michael Snow, federal drug studies, or Rochdale by recalling their own experiences (or their own entries into university-level jobs before I was born).

3. News items, particularly this one from UPEI this summer, about how universities (and other institutions) are grappling with the implications of the court rulings that deem mandatory retirement a rights violation as discrimination on the basis of age.

I do not argue that many older scholars remain absolutely capable of continuing to do their jobs and therefore it may be unfair to insist that they cease and desist. I do, however, insist that this is profoundly discriminatory in its own way: discriminatory and prejudicial against younger scholars.

When older scholars refuse to vacate their teaching positions with opportunities for tenure at universities, they are violating both a philosophy of institutional renewal and, more gravely, a principle of generational justice.

First, institutional renewal. I secured an academic appointment in 2005, after a postdoc and a year in limbo (also known as ‘working for the government’). My department hired three Canadianists in the space of four years, thanks largely to two retirements. I like and respect those two senior professors enormously, and they remain active in research and in public fora, but there is no arguing that the three hires brought new ideas for research and teaching, and new national attention to the department.

It was a healthy step. As an historian, you might expect me to argue more strongly for institutional memory than for institutional renewal. As the story above suggests, I would argue that balance is key. There are many features of the university structure that serve to protect institutional memory already; change is often slow, and highly considered, and that is a good thing. There are fewer features that guarantee renewal and – ironic for an institution that deals with teaching young people – the entry of younger scholars.

Which brings me to my second point: generational justice. This is a phrase a colleague of mine uses in our co-taught class, Introduction to Environment, Sustainability, and Society. In that context it generally means deferring costs we incur – whether economic debts or greenhouse gas emissions – onto subsequent generations. But it would seem to apply here, too.

If we believe that the university exists to generate new knowledge and to communicate past discoveries, then that assumes we need, and need to create, young scholars. After all, every serious research institution will defend to the death its graduate programs, as one means for generating new knowledge. But we then owe those graduate students the right to employment, to let them do precisely what we’ve trained them for. This generational question pertains to those of us hired recently, too, in a different way, since many of the same universities facing the ongoing costs of mandatory retirement are also citing fiscal crisis brought on by pensions plans. At a faculty association meeting last summer on the pension crisis, the man reporting on pensions negotiations ended his remarks with a grin and a shrug, saying something to the effect of “I don’t have to worry about this, since I’ll be retired by then.” Ha ha.

Whether by continuing to work or retiring, those in their fifties and sixties have far greater financial and professional choice than emerging scholars in their 30s who usually are carrying substantial financial if not personal costs derived from their educational path and career choice, and I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Why is not emeritus status enough? The university signals its respect for professional accomplishment, and offers an ongoing relationship (that allows for part-time teaching and supervision, library privileges, etc; although at my university, no one – not graduate students, CUPEs, or emeriti have enough office space). The senior scholar can continue to research, publish, consult, and engage in the scholarly life of the community. If s/he does not wish to retire gently into that good night, or into an (as I – still thirty years away – imagine it) Elysian fields of leisure, golf courses, and Snowbird migrations, they are free to continue – on a pension larger than the full-time salaries of sessionals! – to work as they wish.

(One caveat: Please, work is not the only thing here; again, balance. A few years ago, a retired member of my department flew up to Ottawa to visit his daughter for Christmas. While there, he was waiting for a bus when he suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died. To my mind, one of the tragic elements of this story is that he was waiting for a bus to take him to the national archives.) Many of us – including your humble correspondent – feel overworked and under appreciated. And we worked hard, and often sacrificed, to obtain the positions we have. But at the same time, we have been incredibly fortunate: beneficiaries to some extent of historical circumstances, of situation, of timing, of fluke. We have a duty to share that fortune with the younger scholars.

So please, think about making room for someone else.

Claire Campbell
Associate Professor of History, Program Director of Canadian Studies