Category Archives: WTF

The Dean and his Trophies.

This is a story that happened last spring, but since every morning I am gloriously reminded of it, I thought I might share it with you.

I have no real idea what our Dean does, except that occasionally he has to rubber-stamp decisions that have been made by our Chair.

This one time, he came to a meeting with the department during which he was very gung-ho about how we all had to hire students to do research projects for us. When asked where these students might work in our already rather cramped for space environment, he was momentarily stumped, but then suggested that perhaps they could be squeezed in to some of the cozy shared offices. You know, like during times when faculty were in class or whatever. One of my colleagues helpfully pointed out that maybe he could go fuck himself on that front. It might have been Prof Darwin, who, according to the previous Dean, has single-handedly turned our shared office into a fire hazard.

I whispered to my awesome chum that maybe since all the Dean did all day was go to meetings, he wasn’t using HIS office all that much, and so maybe these research students could use his office. Instead of, like, mine. Awesome chum immediately stuck up her hand and repeated my suggestion, attributing it to “anonymous sources”.

One other thing the Dean does is spend money. Last spring he spent an amount of money, large enough to be described as “inordinate” at a Faculty Council Meeting, on some trophies. And a case to put the trophies in. The trophies mostly involved expensive crystal, and the case a lot of glass, including glass fronts, and shelving. This is an important plot point. (FORESHADOWING.)

I don’t know about your campus, but on our campus, when you want to build something like a drop box for assignments, or a case for your inordinately expensive trophies, you have to go meet with a lot of people, including (I swear I am not making this up) the University Carpenter. Assignment drop boxes requested by regular faculty need to go to at least 3 committees, and the process takes enough time that “progress on the drop boxes” becomes a regular item on the Department Meeting Agenda. The Dean, having more time to go to meetings, manages to get through all the meeting hoops in less than an academic year, and in due course manages to get his trophy case carpented.

The case is strategically placed outside the Dean’s office, such that it displays the trophies in all their glory to anyone entering or exiting the elevator. You have to pass them if you take the stairs also, but elevator riders get the whole framing effect. Whooosh, the doors open, and voila, trophies. I have a gimpy knee, and the stairs have an annoying tendency to fling me down them, so I ride the elevator, and thus was witness to a good deal of the drama I am about to relate.

Over a period of some days in the spring, the trophy case was constructed. It did have a slightly fancy-ass trapezoidal shape, and hinges on the doors, as well as a lock (security, which was to prove ironic). The University Carpenting Team works at about the speed of me grading a bunch of essays, which is to say quite slowly with a lot of breaks for browsing reddit. During the time of the trophy case construction, they were also replacing the doors to one of the main buildings, a project they worked on for about an hour a day for 6 weeks. Thus there was plenty of time for the regular elevator-rider, going to work 4 days a week, to observe the progress of the trophy case.

Finally, there came a morning when it appeared complete, whereupon it sat empty for several days. Glue drying? Trophies getting a last minute polish? Who knows. (As it turns out, the pause may have been related to the guy who was meant to do the last couple of jobs going on vacay, or an extended lunch break. MORE FORESHADOWING.)

A few days later, then, I was enjoying a pre-class chat with my awesome chum, minding our own business, and heading leisurely in the direction of possibly getting around to going to class, when there arose an ALMIGHTY SMASHING NOISE. It was a noise like when you are in the bar and a barmaid drops a big tray of glasses, except it went on for approximately 3 times longer than that noise would go on. Like maybe there were 3 barmaids, and they each dropped a big tray of glasses one after the other, domino-style.

“Man, I am glad that is not my problem,” I said to my awesome chum, as I gathered up my books for class, and she concurred. We walked in the general direction of the elevator, in time to behold the Dean, standing amidst the ruin of the temple to his vanity; smashed glass all around him, and a sad, dented trophy plinth atop the pile, its crystal doohicky contributing to the general tower of destruction.

What had transpired, as I am sure you have gathered, astute reader, is that the glass shelves had been insufficiently secured to the sides of the trophy case. When the Dean, in his pride, had come out to place the biggest and most crystalline trophy on the highest shelf, the edifice had given way, and each subsequent glass shelf had increased the momentum of the avalanche of glass as they fell through one another and finally on to floor, which, in the event, was rather unfortunately hard stone tile.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the smashing noise, when I got downstairs (3 flights down) to my classroom, the students in the room asked “Do you know what that giant crash was?” To which I answered in the affirmative. I also gave my permission for them to go and gawk at it, which a handful proceeded to do. “JFC” was the general consensus. Also snorts of derisive laughter.

Two hours later, when class ended, I went back upstairs, whereupon the elevator opened, rather like the curtain in a theatre, on a scene of the Dean berating an assortment of subordinates. The words “paid a lot of money for this to be built” were issuing from his mouth, along with a bunch of indignant sputtering. I loitered shamelessly to enjoy the show. When he got to the point of saying “AND I COULD HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED” I could not resist a quiet “Dude” expressing chagrin at his hyperbole.

The broken glass was eventually cleared away, and the trophy case stood empty both of shelves and trophies for the rest of the semester.

On the second day of Fall semester, I was witness to the final act of the drama of The Dean’s Trophies, when the elevator opened on the scene of the Dean placing the replacement trophies on the renewed shelves. I lingered to watch him place the largest one on the top shelf, holding his breath, but sadly there was no repeat catastrophe.

The question on all of your enquiring minds, is, of course, “What does the Dean have trophies FOR?” If you are envisioning a mug with “Best Dean Ever” on it, I shall chide you for lack of grandiosity in your imagination. They are all chunks of glass (possibly crystal), or silver cups (safer, although possibly dinged up in the Grand Smash), set upon black plinths. The trophies bear titles, such as “Comprehensive Colleague,” “Outstanding Attempt at TeamWork,” “Most Improved Teaching” and “Best Attempt at a Beard”. The plinths all sport an array of shield-shaped silver plaques upon which can be engraved the names of the awardees. None of the shields is, however, inscribed with the name of any awardee, a fact which I find perversely satisfying. Kafka would get it.

On Not Poking the Crazy

So there’s crazy, as in “hur, you so crazy” and then there’s the kind where you walk away slowly. I had three salutary examples last semester, which I shall now share with you.

This first one, I admit, I kind of poked it. This is what you don’t do, folks. So, there’s this student, let’s call her Edgy Ellen, and she asks a LOT of questions. You know, like “when you say 750 words, do you mean 750 words, or can I have 753? I can cut those 3 words if it’s a problem.” And I say, “no, that’s fine, word limits are a general guideline”.

Another time, when I had my students evaluating source materials, she sent me an email about the essay on the 123Write My Essay For Me site I had sent them to. “It says you have to pay to see the whole essay. Did you mean to send us to this site? Do I have to pay to complete the assignment? I don’t think I can complete the assignment without paying, but I don’t think you should make us pay. Are you sure you want me to pay?” and so on. The question I had asked was “would you use material from this site in your essay? Why/why not?” Which, I pointed out, was clearly answerable without paying, since she had essentially answered the question in her email. I was punished for this puckish japery by another set of questions in a subsequent email. “What do you mean I answered your question with my question? You still didn’t say whether I should pay or not. What do I need to put in my answer? I can’t see the list of Works Cited for this essay, so how do I decide?”

Following this barrage, I read some of her work, which really was very good; interesting ideas, mostly well-written, that kind of thing, but she continued with the tightly-wound questions. At this point, I made a serious tactical error. I suggested that the student relax. I said “You are doing fine, and I think you just need to relax a little.” OMG. Well, then I got an email saying, “What do you mean relax? Do you think I am anxious? Did you mean to make me self-conscious about my anxiety? What if I need to ask a question? Can I still ask questions?” Then we had to have a MEETING.

At this meeting, the student chided me about “attacking her personally” and “suggesting she had an anxiety disorder” and “being insensitive to her disability” (what disability? Being a psycho? Where’s the paperwork?). I had to spend half an hour explaining to her that I see a lot of students (mostly, but not all, female) who get really worried about the quality of their work, and what I was trying to communicate, from my perspective, was that she was doing fine, and that she didn’t need to be so worried, and YES, she could still ask me questions, but that she could also trust her own judgement, because she seemed to be DOING FINE.

In my other class, I had Martha the Mormon, who managed to work her mormonity into every single thing she wrote, and occasionally into class discussion as well. After a while, I was getting pretty tired of it, but before I could say anything, she had this massive outburst in class, where she said, “IN MY OTHER CLASS MY PROFESSOR SAID A SWEAR AND WHEN I OBJECTED SHE SAID WE ARE AT UNIVERSITY AND WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR AND IF IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR THEN I THINK IT IS OKAY TO TALK ABOUT MY RELIGION AND PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE OFFENDED BY MY TALKING ABOUT MY RELIGION IF I WANT TO BECAUSE WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND SWEARING IS OKAY.”

Tempted as I was to respond, “well bugger me,” or “no one in this class told you to shut the fuck up about being a Mormon,” I held my tongue, and suffered silently through a presentation about how reading the Bible was more important than reading her textbooks, and 1500 words on how she was keeping herself pure for marriage.

The universe rewarded me for my patience in this wise: Last week I saw Martha sitting on a sofa with a boy (who I know from a previous class is NOT in any way a Mormon), and he had his hand quite firmly on her ass, and she seemed to be quite comfortable with the position of said hand. I made eye contact, at which point she went red as a beet. A laugh not unlike that of Mrs Krabopple’s may have escaped my lips.

The last, and craziest, was Bus Girl. Bus Girl had a generally quite chippy attitude, often interrupting me in class. One time, when she interrupted me mid-sentence, I said “Yes, I will get to your issue in a minute,” and she responded, “Well, you don’t have to be RUDE.” So there was this history of contentiousness. To be fair, I had her tagged as belligerent rather than certifiable.

So, then we were in the lab preparing for an in-class writing assignment, and I offered the students the option to come up with their own topic. “Pick something you can take a firm opinion on,” was my instruction. Various ideas were tossed around, and then someone came up with “Transit,” in other words “Catching the Bus SUCKS,” which was a theme with instant popular appeal. There was a chorus of groans, which I took to mean general assent to the topic.

Bus Girl said “This is not fair. What if you have never taken the bus in this city?” I responded by offering her the opportunity to think of an alternate topic, and gave the room another 5 minutes to brainstorm. At this point, I called for suggestions. Bus Girl had none. I called for a vote on the topics suggested, and the bus topic won with a huge majority, Bus Girl abstaining. She made some more mooing noises about unfairness, and I pointed out that she had had ample time to think of an alternative. I refrained from pointing out that she had used her brainstorming time to complain, rather than think, and thus deserved the consequences.

I gave the class the rest of the instructions for their task, and set them to work. Bus Girl sat at her computer for a few minutes, then abruptly stormed out of the room. O-kay.

Class continued; the peaceful clickity-click of keyboards occasionally interrupted by quiet conversation as students consulted one another on why Mr Spellcheck persisted in putting a squiggly line under “definately” and “relateable”. I sat at the teacher’s desk on the high chair, doing important pop culture research (aka reading Gawker), and occasionally casting my eye across the room to ask “is that hand up to ask a question, or are you just stretching?” Peace reigned; work was getting done.

Some time later, Bus Girl appeared in the glass panel of the door, gesturing to me to come outside. I obliged. She looked agitated, and, on closer inspection, somewhat cried on.

“I feel like I owe you an apology,” she said, and I did not disagree. “The thing is, I have PTSD, and this is one of my triggers.”

SO MANY QUESTIONS, dear reader. I feel you may also be asking them. This, what? The BUS? Or being disagreed with? If it’s the BUS, then what kind of trauma does a person get into on a bus? Was the bus in Afghanistan? I am sure you can think of several more.

Unfortunately, I cannot supply you with further details. Seeing the crazy, I declined to poke it. Instead, I said “It sounds like you need to go to Student Counselling right now. You go do that, and I will excuse the assignment.”

Google Dox should reward me for all this free advertising.

Another triumph for the technology this week.

I made an assignment which was a list of questions for my students to answer, and I shared it with them as a google doc, giving them write access so they could copy the questions into their own document. Which was maybe a mistake, but I have done it before.

They are working away on it in the lab, when I notice that Question 8 has MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARED.

Revision history to the rescue! I can not only restore it, I can name and shame the deleter. All the students got really mad when I told them I had restored it, too. They were like “Can’t we just do the 9 remaining questions?” To which I replied, “Sure, if you don’t mind getting a score no better than 9 out of 10”.

Update on the schedule on the door thing.

So, today I am back at work, and stop by to say hi to our department secretary, and she asked how my trip was, and I said “so awesome I didn’t even mind answering a ton of student emails while I was away.”

And then she said “only one student came looking for you,” to which I replied, “well I told them all in class I would be out of town and to email, but I guess maybe someone didn’t get the message.”

And then I said, “there was one who emailed about not understanding the notices posted on the door.”

And she goes, “Yes, that was him. He stood around and worried about it for so long that I actually walked him across the hall to your office and explained the timetable to him.”