Friday, January 30, 2009

My roster trumps your PDA

Today has been full of important things and not-so-important things. Some good, some bad, some frustrating, and some worthy of jumping up and down and yelling for joy (if that didn't hurt my head).

The Bad
My students either did not show up today or did not come prepared. Out of 46 students that should have been there, only around 30 bothered to come to class; out of that 30, I would say only about 4 were actually prepared for class. In once section, only two students brought their books, and only one person knew anything about the reading or lecture. I gave one class a pop quiz due to their lack of preparation from last week. It looks like next week every one of my classes deserves some punishment. Bah. It's awfully early in the semester for such awful behavior. It's only the third week of class!! This gives me grave doubts about their ability to survive the next 13 weeks....

The Funny
We have the ability to administratively drop students who do not attend class. My boss and the TAs decided that we would drop anyone who missed 2 out of the first 3 Friday sections. So this past Wednesday, I went through my rosters and ended up dropping 3 students from the lists - one from each class. I emailed the names and section #s to my boss just in case the students threw hissy fits and told one of the new TAs that I have never had a student who had been dropped actually show up. I spoke too soon.

I arrived at my first classroom and started unpacking and getting set up when a student I didn't recognize asked if I had a syllabus. The rest of our interaction went something like this:

Me: "Were you not in class the past two Fridays? I handed the syllabi out two weeks ago."
Student: "Nah, I wasn't here."
Me: [looks skeptically at student] "What's your name?"
S: "My name is _____."
Me: [recognizes the name as one that I dropped, but not from this class; the student had been registered in my 11 a.m. class, not the 10 a.m. class] "I'm looking at my roster, and you are not registered in this class."
S: "Yes, I am."
Me: "No, no, you're not. I'm looking at the official roster. You have never been in this section."
S: [comes over to me and whips out his PDA] "Yes, I am. See? This is my schedule. It's right here! So I have to be here."
Me: "That doesn't matter. You are not registered in this section." [Am logging into my rosters as he continues to shove his PDA in my face, as if the PDA trumps all] "Look - you are not on these rosters. If you were not here the first two weeks, you were administratively dropped from the class. But you were never registered for this section, no matter what."
S: "Well, I was registered for some class.... How do I get back in?"
Me: "You will have to speak with the professor." [Then ensued a few minutes of trying to explain the idea of "office hours" because he didn't understand that my boss is not sitting in his office every second of the day. Then he said that he's on the baseball team and can't go speak with the professor anyway. *sigh*]

When I got home this afternoon, I saw an email from my boss. The student, who did not know either my name or the professor's name, emailed him saying that had gone "to his correct section" and had been told he wasn't in the class anymore and wanted to know how to get back in. My boss explained kindly that he had explained the attendance policy in lectures, on the syllabus, and it had been explained in sections, and if the student had come to any of these he would have been aware of these facts. As such, since he had already missed so much of the course, the professor could not break his own rules and let him back in.

See? My roster trumps your PDA any day of the week! :-p

The Good
I went to a massage therapy session this afternoon. I have been in so much pain lately that I was getting desperate. I had to try something before I gave up. So after trying to do some research and getting no help from the health center, I decided to try a therapy place about 1/2 mile from my apartment. I researched the therapists there, and about 1/4 of them are members of the American Massage Therapy Association, and all of them are licensed and certified. They do all different kinds of work - deep tissue massage, swedish massage, pressure points, shiatsu, and about 5 others that I don't know anything about. So after work today, I came home and went there for a 30 minute appointment. It was a little weird at first, since I'm not used to being that not-dressed with anyone, but I was really comfortable with the therapist they paired me with. She's not much older than me, and reminded me a lot of the physical therapists I've worked with in the past. She even showed me some neck stretches to do for the tightness there. It was all very professional and very relaxing. I'm still really tight - as I knew I would be, considering how many migraines I've had lately and how tight I was to begin with. But it was really nice. I will absolutely go back. Soon. I just wish it was a bit cheaper. It's around $30 a session, which isn't terrible at all. It's just that I have no money. So we'll see. Maybe in two weeks I'll go back, to try to help me get through comps stuff.

The VERY Good
And, finally, the very good news... I got an email today and learned: I made it past the first round of the Fulbright!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Me = relieved beyond belief. If the email had been bad news, I would probably be in a little ball of stress trying to figure out what in the world to do with my life and how to survive financially once the paychecks all stop in May. So, yay, national committee for passing me along to Spain! Now comes the long, long waiting period. God's will be done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Roughest of Days

Today has been a very hard day.

It started out far too early, waking up at 6 and feeling poorly, and then facing unpleasant weather (which only exacerbates my health problems). I drove to work and had a decent morning, my first two classes surprising me by coming fairly prepared and working really hard. I was feeling better when I went to lunch.

I rarely do this, but I got out my laptop while I was eating my sandwich in the union, and thought I'd check my email. I found an email from one of my old friends from my undergrad, asking if one of our mutual friends had passed away. She was asking based on comments being left on our friend's Facebook page.

Our friend Brooke, like her father and grandmother, had Marfan Syndrome - a genetic disorder that causes a whole host of problems, but can cause especially devastating troubles with the heart and circulatory system. Both Brooke and her dad had been suffering from aneurysms over the last five years. Her dad almost died from a heart aneurysm our freshman year of college, in 1999, and eventually passed away from another one this past year. Brooke herself almost died twice while attending seminary and working on her M.Div, and had told me that she had constant aneurysms and could die at any time if they didn't catch them in time.

I immediately looked at her facebook page and saw the messages that had alarmed our other friend, but was not able to do anything more because I had to go teach my third class of the day. On my way to class, I called my mom back East, knowing that she has been resting at home after pulling a muscle. I couldn't believe I was forming the words, but I asked her if she could get on the computer and see if she could find an obituary for Brooke in Kentucky, Tennessee, or Mississippi (the three states in which she had lived). I confess that I could have cared about teaching that next hour, but I focused on my students, and then as soon as I was out of the building again, I called Mom back.

She told me she had found what I feared. My dear, dear friend passed away yesterday after undergoing surgery for an aneurysm. Her surgery went well, but her one remaining kidney failed and she did not pull through. My dear friend, whom I love, joined her daddy last night.

Within 30 minutes, I had talked to both of my college roommates, gotten a call from my friend Bethany (who had gotten a call from Brooke's college roommate as well), and had contacted as many friends online as I could think of, sending them the funeral information Mom had found for me. Then I had to go sit in an hour-long meeting about the budget crisis and learn such depressing things like our department's budget comes 97% from state funds and other such stuff, so we are inordinately affected by any and all state cuts, etc..

I love you, Brooke. I will always think of you when I talk about Marfan's, when I speak in sign language, when I see anyone drinking from a bottle of Pepto Bismol, whenever I see any Heath Ledger movie, when watching Steel Magnolias, when admiring a beautiful painting (for your paintings were breathtaking), whenever I think of people who inspire me, and when think of friendship.

On the way home from work, I was struggling to not completely bawl. It was the first time that I had the chance to cry, other than when I sobbed in the bathroom before the meeting. As I was about ready to let loose, K pointed out a double rainbow in the sky. It was beautiful. For the entire ride home, I felt as if Brooke was with me. When I got home, I looked back at her FB page again, and saw one of her other friends' comments, which ended with the words, "You are my rainbow."

Yes, yes she is.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Budgets and facts

I am in no mood to work, thanks to extreme amounts of pain that greeted me and has not quite gone away. So I've been reading about the university. I'm considering sitting in on the Regents' meeting this afternoon, partly out of curiosity, partly because I hate rumors, and partly because I find people fascinating.

People have all sorts of strange ideas about funding, which colleges are strong or weak, who gets paid what, etc. I learned a few interesting facts today:

1. The All Funds Budget for the university for 2008 is estimated at $1,879,734,300

2. The state funds as a percentage of the total state appropriations has dropped over the last 20 years from 16% in 1998 to around 9% in 2008. And, of course, the legislature wants to cut more in the next few weeks/months.

3. In 2007, the university received around $33 million in grants for instruction; $237 million for research; $39 million for public service; $2 million for academic support; $27 million for student services and administration; and $562,000 for institutional support.

4. Most of the above grants are restricted in nature - they can only be used for the project they were given for. So, for example, research money given to the CS department cannot then be used to pay the English professors their salaries. Or money given from the federal government to pay for an outreach program to Native American students cannot be siphoned to pay the Art professors.

5. Most of the instructional costs, administrative costs, and "institutional support" come directly out of state funds, unless there are specific gifts/grants given for those aids.

6. If the $100 million cut goes through, added to the $20 million the U already cut this year, it would be the equivalent of cutting 15% of the overall budget.

7. In 2007, Grad students made up 20% of the university staff; Faculty, 19%; "Classified staff," 40%; Professional, 19%; and Administrators, 2%.

7. In 2007, the U awarded 7,782 degrees - 5,568 Bachelor's degrees, 1,382 Master's, 461 PhDs, 17 Specialists, 161 Law degrees, 74 Pharmacy, and 119 Medical degrees.

8. Of those 7,782 degrees, 1,863 came from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (my college). That means that SBS graduated around 24% of the total graduates in 2007. 1,572 were undergraduate degrees, 219 were MAs, and 72 were PhDs.

9. Aside from the college of management, which graduated 1,200 students that same year, SBS graduated the most undergraduates by over 1,000, in most cases. Whoo-hoo, go SBS! (Maybe they won't eliminate us, then, yeah???) Where SBS falls behind a bit is in the graduate degrees - which makes sense, since our programs are typically much longer, often struggle to get funded from anywhere, and require intense, original field research that can take one to two years on top of coursework, plus writing a 300-page book. Science graduated 84 PhDs in 2007, and SBS 72.

10. The U's investment income dropped 90% from 2007 to 2008. Yay, economic downturn. :-/

Interesting stuff, really. I wish I understood more of the economic crapspeak so I could get more out of the more in-depth financial stuff. I hope that SBS' fairly large teaching load, and successful graduation rates, will keep the college safe from any drastic action. You never know, though.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Education woes

After so many people had such joy and hope yesterday with the new inauguration (which I'm commenting on not as a political commentary, but as a historical one), today has been a day of doom and gloom around here.

But first, a slight side note. While the university in which I work tries to convince itself that there is no widespread alcohol use problem among the undergraduates - especially the minors among them - today my lunch experience was just one example of the problem. I went to the union to get my $3 lunch special. Every Wednesday about half of the the university food places offer a special meal for only $3 plus tax. So I picked up one of the specials and sat down to eat. I ended up on the other side of the wall from two young women. I ate silently, but for the entire 15 minutes that I was eating my sandwich, this one girl spent the entire time relating her alcoholistic exploits. She was regaling her friend with literally dozens of stories of how she and her friends had gotten their hands on bottles upon bottles of gin, whiskey, beer, vodka, and who knows what else. She talked about how she had done 16 shots in a row the night before. She then started reminiscing about her long-ago high school days (which, from her conversation, was only a year ago), when she used to steal all of her parents' alcohol and was downing entire bottles of vodka with her friends and lying about it. Now, who knows how much of her story was true and how much was her trying to impress her friend (and anyone else who could hear, for that matter). I was sickened by the fact that this girl seemed to really think that the one way she could gain prestige was to talk about how drunk she could get, how much she could steal, and how wasted she had been when she got caught. But no, there is no alcohol problem on campus. Right. There's just a value problem.

Anyway. The state of education in my state is, well, dire, to say the least. I might have mentioned before that the state legislature has proposed a $900 million budget cut to public education, with a $300 million cut to the three public universities for this fiscal year alone. (AKA, this would only be to get us to the end of June, 2009.) At the universities there is, of course, major uproar. The approximately $100 million that my university would need to cut for the rest of this fiscal year would amount to around 25% of the budget. We already cut $20 million for this academic year, and that was pretty painful. So yesterday there were protests coordinated at all three universities, with faculty, graduate students, and undergrads protesting the slashing of educational budgets to make up for fiscal irresponsibility in the legislature.

Of course, the Republican legislators who are proposing the cuts are insisting that the cuts are the only possible move (though they seem to think that we should still be able to teach larger numbers of students, graduate more students faster than we have been, and provide them with better quality educations than ever before all without funding). Yesterday, our faculty had an emergency meeting to discuss things, and then we got an email from my advisor, who is also the director of graduate studies. He told us that the head of the department was informed that 20% of our graduate funding is being taken away (to start with), and so we are going to have a big meeting on Friday to talk about how the department is going to deal with that. Some possible options include:
* Only funding current PhD students, and leaving all MA students and incoming students out in the cold
* Not accepting any incoming students at all for 2009-2010 to make the above option less dramatic

In reality, there aren't many other options. We don't work like the sciences - grad students do not get paid from a professor's grant money. The 33 assistantships that the department has funded for the last few years are the *only* support we get, aside from tuition waivers through the graduate college while dissertating. So while we were all trying to digest the fact that, despite being assured only three months ago that the university would not take away our graduate funding, the university is taking away 1/5 of our measly graduate funding, I heard some more disturbing news today. Two of my good friends are in the College of Science, and it seems that both of them got a memo, from different people, regarding information given from the dean of the COS to the heads of the science departments. I think this email speaks for itself:

"At yesterday's Heads and Directors meeting the Dean asked us to convey two important points to our respective departments.

1. In the next few days to weeks entire colleges and departments will be closed before the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2009). Lay off notices for both faculty and staff are being prepared (tenure doesn't count when an entire department is closed). [The Board of Regents] is coordinating the closures system wide so that College X is not simultaneously closed at all three universities.

2. The Administration is committed to preserving COS, so no closures are expected in our college. In fact, the 5% cut I discussed yesterday might be the last we see, including July '09.

These are the long discussed (highly) differential cuts. [The university] will not be the same when the Fall semester begins. [The dean] was not at liberty to reveal the details, but he did say "trust me - COS will be OK".

"Environment", very broadly defined, is the university's top priority so my advice is to try to stay calm. If the administration succeeds in preserving the best [the university] has to offer then we might indeed be leaner and stronger in a few years. In the meantime, it's going to be very ugly so please spare a thought for your friends and colleagues elsewhere on campus."

Now, I'm not panicking, because I can't imagine that they would eliminate my department. Supposedly there is something in the land-grant setup that requires that there be a history department and that we provide historical education. But it's interesting that my department is looking at a 20% cut - and was told that is probably just the beginning - while the entire college of science is told to expect only a 5% cut. Of course, it is entirely possible that their starting budgets are so much larger than ours that a 5% cut in the chem budget is equivalent to a 20% cut in the history budget, since we have no money to start with. And, of course, many of their graduate students are not paid by university funds to begin with - they are paid from grants and so are not affected by budget cuts anyway. It is also a very disturbing thought that the board of regents is preparing to close "entire colleges and departments" across the three state universities. Which ones we don't know, but this is scary. Who decides which departments get cut?

I am preparing for the fact that my department can't help me after this semester. Even if they wanted to, they'll only be able to fund a little over 20 grads, and I've already received 4 years of support. It wouldn't be fair to expect anything else. So if I don't get grants or fellowships for the next two-three years, I have no idea how I'm going to finish my degree. If I don't have funding, I'm not sure where I would live, or how I'd pay the rent, or what job I'd get.

Wow, the world seems so... uneasy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Day

On Friday, I met my new group of students for the semester. I was supposed to have 54 students in 3 classes, but 10 did not show up and one came to add the class, so I only actually met 45 students. For the first time since I started teaching, I am *not* teaching at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning. It was kind of nice, not having to get up super early (in order to account for biking to work, getting un-gross, changing, etc.).

My first class is across campus at 10, and I got over there a few minutes early. About half the class was there already, sitting perfectly silent, with those funny, only-students-can-have-that-look gazes. My room actually has technology, so I started to get out my syllabi and set up the computer/projector so I could show them a few important things. They remained silent. I finally said that were under no obligation to be silent before class began, so they could absolutely talk to each other while I got things ready. It felt as if someone had released air from a balloon. The tension released immediately, and they all started chatting, introducing themselves to each other. Just based on first impressions, I would predict that this class will probably be a fun class to be with - they seem to be exceptionally comfortable talking with each other, and so as long as they come prepared, I think we should probably enjoy the time together.

My second class is in the same room at 11, and so there is a whole new problem when they walk in. You see, for whatever reason, when undergraduates come to a classroom, especially on the first day, they seem to be terribly nervous if the instructor is already in the room. It doesn't matter how much bravado they put on for the rest of the year - if they come to their classroom 10 minutes early and I am already there, their eyes get big, their mouths clamp shut, and they sit staring at the floor until class begins. Again, I tried to remedy this situation, but this time when I told them they didn't have to be silent and could talk while we waited, no one blinked. They all just sat there. The makeup of this particular class is very different from the first class. I have four or five girls who I think you could perhaps classify in the punk or alternative group. I hate to admit it, but at first I couldn't tell if a few of them were male or female. I was a little surprised when one of them said her name, as I was expecting a guy's name. Added to this group of no-nonsense girls are 7 students from India. I would venture to guess that a bunch of them, all computers/science/engineering/ majors, needed a core class and decided to take one together for moral support. There are 6 males and one female, and all of them speak terribly softly and at least two of them seemed to have a great deal of difficulty understanding me at times. I'm going to have to try to talk a bit slower and make sure I'm enunciating well, I think, until they get used to my (non-specific) accent. I also have a student from Lithuania in this class as well. Depending on how well they write, I wouldn't be surprised if this class is my best in terms of grades, but my hardest to deal with for discussion. We'll have to see.

Oh, one fun tidbit concerning the classroom: when I walked in the room, I saw on the board this odd groupings of words and scribbles, but clearly in the middle was the name of one of the other history grads. I presumed he taught in the room at 9 and went to go erase the gibberish so I could write some key info of my own on the board. Except... it didn't erase. In fact, it was like I didn't touch the words. I look back at the desk with the computer and see a marker, pick it up. As I roll it over in my hands, I see the dreaded words: Permanent Marker. Yep, he used a permanent marker on the board. I can only hope the someone will be able to clean it up so 1/4 of the board is not ruined for the term.

I have an hour in between the second and third class. Unfortunately, that hour is noon - meaning getting lunch somewhere might be tricky each week. But this time it worked fairly well, since I managed to both get my food and find a place to eat without much trouble and with plenty of time to get to my final class. My third and final class of the day is in the building that houses the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. So, take a minute and imagine all the beautiful, expensive technology this building has. When you walk into the south entrance, the entire southern section of the hallway is filled with millions of dollars worth of computers, scanners, printers, projectors, wifi, and other lovely things used to teach, learn, and design. My classroom should rock, right? Not right. My room is this teeny, tiny room that's situated in the farthest corner from the entrance, next to nothing, and is angled on a diagonal. It has just enough seats and desks for exactly 21 people - which is good, since my class is supposed to have 20 in it, plus me. As for technology? Well... it has a dry erase board... and an overhead projector anchored to the wall so it can only move about 3 feet away, which isn't actually far enough to show anything large on the pull-down screen. As for the screen, if I pull it down, I seem to be wholly incapable of pulling it back up. But that's it. No projection system, no computer, no nothing.

Anyway, this class has one kid from Hong Kong, and only 12 others actually showed up. So I'm missing around 7 students, assuming they didn't drop. There's one kid in this class, as in the last, who is already sending out major "I hate being here and I'm going to assume you're stupid" vibes with their body language and facial expressions. I've got some pretty vocal girls in this last class, though, so I'm hoping that they'll be ones I can count on to keep things moving if and when discussions lag.

Overall, it was an interesting day. I had to go request some *real* technology for my third classroom. I told each class that being here and teaching them is my passion, and that this class is the area of history I love the best. I also told them I'd let them know when my exams are scheduled so they'll have a head's up for when I'm going to be incommunicado. And I asked them to give me 50 minutes of their week, and to give me their best, since I'll be giving them my best. Hopefully they'll come through. I have faith!

I'm always on a bit of a high after teaching, though it didn't last very long. I had woke up feeling sick, and by the time I fiddled with paperwork back in my office and drove home, I was getting a major migraine. Unfortunately, it lasted the entire afternoon/evening, and even with medicine I woke up at 2, 4, and 6:30 and finally just had to get up because my joints were throbbing so much (a side effect from my triptan). As a result, I've been in migraine fog the rest of the day, and my mood plummeted along with it. I've done nothing productive other than cook. Of course, I also haven't had any human contact since I left my office yesterday, which doesn't help when I feel awful.

Here's to hoping this next week is better. I have to face my advisor and talk finally about scheduling my exams... and I am not looking forward to that at all. I just don't know...