Ooh. Recently happened upon this interesting list of to-dos for male academics on the multi-authored Tenure, She Wrote blog, of which I am a fan. An interesting debate broke out about item #19 in the comment thread. One commentator also took offense at the use of the term “mansplain,” saying it was the anti-male equivalent to “feminazi.” 

While it is hard for me to pick my favorite item on the list, I certainly found the most provocative item to be the last entry, in which the author, Acclimatrix, says that men who actively seek to arrest and diminish sexist behavior in academia should not expect to be thanked, but should merely do so because it is the right thing to do.

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While I have been absent from this blog for a long time (race to the tenure clock finish line fast approaching– ARGH!!) I did want to repost this wonderful (and frustrated) blog column from Anne Thériault’s blog, Belle Jar in which she responds to a male professor’s rant about how he loves no female writers and therefore excludes them from all his syllabi. Seriously. Thériault’s response is exasperated, and extremely satisfying. That is all.

Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days.

August 9, 2012

There’s a certain inevitability to the academic summer. It’s never as productive as the May-version of yourself thinks it will be. As soon as August creeps up on us and September is in sight, the regrets begin and we start to blame ourselves for being ambitious to the point of ruination, destining ourselves to fall short of our goals and thus, wallow in the paralysis of impossibility. Self-loathing and accusations of laziness may be part of the formula. Time seems strangely unaccounted for: just where, exactly, did the first half of June and the middle third of July go? What do I have to show for it?

Before I start down the slippery slope of self-loathing and accusation, Professor Rottweiler is going to take a left turn at the traffic light and redirect her energies. How about, this summer, instead of hating ourselves for what we didn’t do, we congratulate ourselves for what we did do? So may be you couldn’t start checking off your task list until well nigh the end of June. So what? Have you ever noticed how utter exhaustion and fatigue set in mere moments after that last grade is turned in? It’s because you’ve spent an entire semester pouring generous energies into teaching, planning, classroom management, assessment, advising, lecture writing and lesson plans (and that doesn’t even cover all of the research activities you keep up with, and the service requirements you fulfill). It’s no wonder that when the teaching semester ends, all of the strain and anxiety of keeping your s&^t together for the classroom gives way to recovery time. Check recovery off of your list. It had to happen. Without recovery time, none of us would ever step back into the classroom come the fall, let alone have enough energy or wits left to write a single word towards those oh-so-vital pubs that will seal the tenure deal.

And while one may not have accomplished everything on that to-do list, one has to think of summer plans sort of like running a race. (Warning: here comes a silly analogy that takes its cue from the Olympic season and all). When running a race, the runner runs full out to a point beyond the finish line. Think of the summer task list as being a good distance past the finish line. If you cross off a good half of that list, you’ve made a significant distance. No one does everything on that summer task list. And let’s wring a couple more comparisons out of our racing analogy, and emphasize that a strong finish is important. WIth a few weeks left till the semester starts, there is still time and sufficient motivation to get through a few more tasks. 

So how about it? Load up your playlist with some of your favorite tunes and start pounding the pavement. Whether the task is whipping Fall syllabi into shape, polishing up a chapter, starting a new project, building a bibliography or otherwise catching up on literature, or even squeezing in that one last all-important vacation so you’re tank is full when the teaching season begins again, there is still time to cross the finish line in top form. 

Here I sit in surprise that this year’s blogging amounts to the equivalent of punctuation— one paltry opening parenthetical of a post and now this closing parenthetical (still remains to see whether it will be a meager post or something replete with, err, wisdom, or humor, or just, well… best not to set the bar too high, I think).  Year four on the tenure track turned out to be one long slog of a temporal paradox– simultaneously maddeningly quick, frustratingly slow, and dense and, hey!  Where’d all the time go?  I didn’t think it would be a two-blog post kind of a year, but here I am, a couple of days after having turned in all final grades, no papers to grade, no student emails to respond to (now that the grade grubbers/whiners/whingers have been dispatched) with the summer stretched out ahead of me. For a few moments, I get to feel calm. It will be a few weeks more till the panic sets in and the realization that my ambitions for the summer are utterly unrealistic hits me.

As with any good doggy (as in, tenure track assistant professor), this summer comes with pre-set research must-do’s. A conference to attend (and a new paper to write), a grant to submit (and pilot research to wrap up re: said grant), a chapter to finish. There will be research and writing and living life to the fullest in the in-betweens. Summer is when Rottweilers delude themselves with the notion of achieving work-life balance, in which there will be dedicated time to play and relax, and then research intensity of the likes heretofor unseen. I will cling to this fantasy until the summer blows past and it’s August.

At present, however, I am full of good intentions. I am also accepting that while I am surprised that I’ve had zero time to blog, I shouldn’t be. This year was the year of the third year review, in which your department analyzes your scholarly record since your appointment and decides whether or not they want to give you another three years to make the big run up to tenure. But it was year four at Midwestern U., you say?  That is, if you have been paying attention. Ah, but with a new addition to the Rottweiler household last year, a year was added to my tenure clock, so I essentially get a do-over of year three.  Those of you who think that Midwestern U. is a benevolent and thoughtful employer with this awesome policy of adding a year to the tenure clock to tenure track parents (be they of the maternal or paternal persuasion) are both correct and incorrect.  You are correct because this is an awesome policy and every university should give such gender-blind considerations to the tenure trapped [like that?  It’s the fantasy sitcom title Schnauzer and I picked out for our hilarious series on the lives of faculty– Tenure Trapped, coming soon to a blog near you].

But the thing is, if a university is willing to give you year to “make up” for the loss of time you will experience upon becoming a parent, then you’d better believe that you are going to have WAY MORE GROUND TO RECOVER.  Particularly given that most of us faculty types relocate to wherever the job may be miles away from friends, family, and other support structures that will help ease the burden of child-rearing.  Grandparents, uncles, aunts, childhood best friends whom you would trust with life and limb…. we have many of these folks in our lives, but few to none live within hiking distance of our family. So this was a very busy year because it meant getting back into the teaching, researching, publishing, advising swing of things while simultaneously taking care of a growing little one. And let me just say that one can anticipate what it means to care for a child, but never in my life have I ever shared the responsibility for caring for someone (or thing, for that matter) 24/7. There is no off-duty when you are parenting, EVER. Even when you aren’t on duty, there is always a possibility you can get tagged in.

Somehow within the 24/7 world of being responsible for another human being, I put together a mini-portfolio in which I fashioned a narrative of modest academic success (some articles out, a completed book manuscript under review, a new project in the works, “solid” teaching evaluations, “interesting” courses taught). In order for this modest success to be truthful, it meant that I had to get my book manuscript in shape and shop it before I submitted my materials, which made the Spring semester an awful lot of fun. I sharpened up the first two chapters until they were in acceptable form, and then polished up my book prospectus and sent it out, thinking it would be weeks and weeks before I heard from anyone. Instead, one editor swiftly and politely rejected the manuscript, another has not bothered to even acknowledge the submission, and a third turned around and said, “Send me everything you’ve got NOW.” This last prompted much excitement and panic on my part and lead to another rather intense period of manuscript revision (this is where my Spring Break went).

In the mean time, the parenting continued and the youngest Rottweiler seems to be mastering bipedalism and not displaying any signs of sociopathy, which is all you can hope for.  The summer lies ahead, a hazy set of days through which I can continue to blaze an insane pace or, if I choose, slow my speed, re-evaluate, and may be, if the forces that be cooperate, write a couple of blog entries now and again.

Time to aim high, or low?

August 30, 2010

It is that time of year.  The semester starts off for many of us professorial-types.  Some of us may be full of noble aspirations for the classroom this year (I will write more interesting lectures; I will integrate a new service learning module into my course; I will never look like a slovenly sot in class; I will not crack lame jokes to which my students do not respond) while others (over here!) are settling into a year with lowered expectations (I will show more films in class; I will leave the lame jokes in; I will eliminate one writing assignment so I have a little less grading to do).

First, let me clarify that my lowered expectations are for myself, not my students.  I will still be holding them to the very high standards that make them narrow their eyes at me in rage.  Starting year 3 on the tenure-track, my lowered expectations for myself in the classroom stem from several realizations that have sunk in over time.  First and foremost, whether I spend 3 hours or 30 minutes preparing my class, the students seem not to be able to tell the difference.  They get as excited (or bored) by a lecture I sweated over for hours as they do over the ones I outline in 45 minutes.

Second, now at a point (temporarily) where there are no new preps (no new preps!) I am teaching courses with which I am more than passing familiar, and all of that cumulative preparation has paid off.  So no big changes, complete overhauls… the time has come to tweak, to finesse, and, though unrealistic, to perfect.  There will be some changes to my courses, but they are of the minor kind, requiring me to write two new lectures, to substitute a few readings for others, and to demand a wee bit more from my introductory students who I think are capable of producing more in my big ole lecture course.  And of course, to show an extra movie in each class (though I have recently learned from the very smart Schnauzer not to list these on the syllabus ahead of time and just surprise the students with them in class– it turns out they are more likely to come to class this way.  Who knew!)

The final realization that drives me to leave my courses as they are (more-or-less) is that in the third year I will face the dreaded gauntlet of the Third Year Review.  This is a common phenomenon at many institutions of higher learning in which junior faculty’s three years are evaluated in terms of their progress towards tenure.  In theory, my senior colleagues could decide that I am a miserable bet on the tenure track and choose not to renew my contract and send me packing.  In our case, the third year review also sets us up to be competitive candidates for sabbatical funds (pre-tenure sabbaticals are not guaranteed at Midwestern U.)  The take-home message of the impending review is that while teaching counts, research is what really matters.  I’d love to be tenured because of my teaching, but this is not the take home message of the institution for which I work.  So this year, I really have to put my nose to the ground, polish off promised manuscripts, and shove a couple of more things into the dreaded pipeline.  It will be dazzling.  It will be stupendous.  It will be utterly terrifying and exhausting, but hey, it’s what I signed up for… isn’t it?

With one week and finals left to the term, I must say I am very deeply appreciative of student presentations.  I am having presentations in my senior class and apart from the fact that they are actually interesting and it looks like my seniors actually *GASP* learned, it also means I don’t have much prep or grading to do at present.  Roll over to my introductory lecture where, yes, I still have to give these twice weekly hour+ lectures, but as I am now teaching this course for the third time, I am actually able to get through them with relatively little investment of prep.

So, for the first time since starting the tenure track, I find myself able to WRITE during the academic year.  Amazing.  And I don’t mean revisions, I mean new stuff.  I am one of those folks for whom the writing of new stuff is difficult, so this is a big fat deal for me.  With two big deadlines in May, this is a good thing.  I suspect that finals week, with the 99 exams, and 109 papers to grade, will throw a wrench in my writing works, but I’ll cross that miserable bridge when I get there.