Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ah, Humor, Thy Name is "Anonymous"

A bit of backstory:

In 2006, I wrote a post that included photos of Lucas, who had fallen and hit his head, both before and after my husband took him to the ER.

Fang Bastardson left this comment on that post:

Your husband is obviously a bad, bad man and an unfit father. If I ever run into him, I'll kick his ass clear on back to last Thursday on principle.

I swear to God, you have to have a license to have a dog...

Have you alerted CPS, or shall I?

Here's the funny thing: Fang took those photos. He's my husband.

If Fang has mastered one quality, it's self-loathing. And he's terribly witty about it.

Fast-forward to the present day. My beloved Fang just received this comment on his blog:

[A]s for the nasty comment you left about a post on The Clutter Museum wherein you castigated a dad for taking a picture of his son's bleeding head before taking him to the ER, not only are you illiterate you're mean spirited and hateful. I happen to know the gentleman in question and he is an attentive, devoted father.
You, on the other hand, are a poser and a jerk.

This kind commenter (who I hope was writing with tongue as firmly planted in cheek as Fang originally was) also pointed out that Fang misspelled "dewclaw" in his bloggy bio. Let me assure you all--including Anonymous, if s/he is reading--that Fang is an immaculate speller, and that "doo-claw" is an homage to his favorite dog, whose nickname was Doo.

Ah, blogosphere, how I love you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A snippet of scorn

As I'm writing and endlessly revising my job talk for this coming week, I've come across some gems from the archives that I know some of my women scientist readers in particular will enjoy. I may share others, but this anecdote is particularly galling to me right now.

In part of my talk I'll examine ranch owner and businesswoman Susanna Bixby Bryant, who founded the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden on part of her ranch property between Los Angeles and Riverside. Bryant wanted to create an arboretum of native Californian flora, and she wanted it to be both comprehensible to the public and useful to scientists. California's botanists were thrilled to have a wealthy landowner demonstrate such support for a botanical project, but some were not so enthusiastic about letting the public tramp around the garden.

How bad was their scorn? Pretty bad. Willis Linn Jepson--you may know him from the Jepson Manual if you've ever botanized in the American west--had this to say in a 1929 letter when he learned that Bryant planned to be director of the garden she founded, provided land for, and hired and paid the staff of:
We have then, in that case, a problem presented which has many difficult aspects. You have not only had no training in the scientific field of botany, but the professional ethics and canons governing intercourse among botanists, a code several thousand years old, is a closed book to you. When you stepped from the field of business and society, where you are quite at home, into the field of Botany you were delighted to find certain privileges awaiting you (privileges quite foreign to the ranch or office) but you do not realize that with those privileges go heavy obligations. Frequently you do things in the name of Botany from which you would naturally refrain in the world of business.*


I couldn't find an image of an older, wiser Bryant glaring at Jepson, so the following will have to suffice as my interpretation of her likely response.

* Jepson to Bryant, 16 Feb. 1929, Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden archives, folder “Willis Linn Jepson,” no letter #.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prepping for the job interview: hilarity ensues

To-do list for campus interview prep:

Flight plans in place? Check!

No-fuss haircut? Check!

Wrestling the job talk into submission? (sort of) Check!

Catastrophic laptop failure? Check.

I'm typing this on a new laptop. I spent about 10 hours today shuttling in the rain between the Apple store (a city over), home, Best Buy (another city over), the Apple store (again), and home, then moving data around so everything works. Before those trips there was hemming and hawing over where to buy the laptop--the Apple store, where I can get the education discount, or Fry's Electronics, where I know from (sigh) experience they'll give me an identical loaner computer, complete with data transfer, if something goes wrong with the machine. And because there's a chance I'll be living someplace different in the next year, I was cautious and did some research: ends up the university city where I'm interviewing has neither an Apple store nor a Fry's. Damn. (Of course, neither does my current burb, but having both within driving distance is nice.)

But in the end, it really wasn't so catastrophic--except for the unexpected expense--as I rescued all the data, but I lost an (reserved! emptied! weekend!) day of interview prep. Somehow I doubt the other candidates spent today twiddling their thumbs. . .

In other news, I'm wondering, the Chronicle's advice aside, how one balances potential snow showers with interview shoes. . . Fingers crossed that the 10-day forecast for sunnier weather holds, lest I develop hypothermia and require toe amputation. Wouldn't that be a great campus interview cautionary tale, forever immortalized in the Chronicle's online career column archives? I'd be right up there with the guy who showed up for an interview in a Tweety Bird t-shirt, or the candidate who ran from the room to throw up from anxiety. Or that woman who blogs about goldfish constipation even though she's on the job market.*

*As evidence I have been thinking about museums, I offer "What's your museum's 'cello side'?" from Museum Blogging.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thanks for all the fish

As if to exact revenge for my using its brethren as a metaphor and allegory in a recurring dream, one of my fancy goldfish today insisted on swimming upside down.

Which, even if you've never owned a goldfish, you know isn't a good thing.

But it enriches the metaphor. Piggy's upside-down antics first sent me into a suck of despair--I can't stand to see animals suffering, or appearing to suffer--and then to the web, where I learned (and here's where the metaphor gets enriched exponentially) that upside-down swimming is not necessarily a sign of imminent death.

It's usually constipation.

So I spent the morning learning about how to make a goldfish poop, and then anxiously waiting for said poop and for Piggy to just start swimming upright dammit.

Piggy, in her hospital bowl--upright

And if you're ever in the market for goldfish laxatives? The secret is shelled peas.

Storm basin

A couple weeks ago when I walked by the local storm basin a few blocks from my house, I noticed that the water levels were way down, with many large islands showing. Today I happened by there and wow! what a difference a storm makes. These photos aren't taken from the same location, but they give some idea of the change in water level. (They're taken with my iPhone, so the quality's not too great.)



After (click to embiggen--it's pretty!):

Friday, January 22, 2010

Too many fish

We have four fish, two bettas in separate bowls on our kitchen counter and two fancy goldfish in a 10-gallon tank on a table between the counter and the dining room. I can hear the gurgle and hum of the tank's air pump from my desk, which occupies a corner of the dining room. And while I ostensibly bought the fish for Lucas, really they're my fish, as I'm the one who cares for them, changes the water and cleans the tank, and spends the most time watching them. Between caring for the fish and hearing the air pump's hum, these four fish take up a bigger amount of my mind-space than maybe they should.

I have this recurring dream--I hesitate to call it a nightmare, though it certainly verges on that--where the bowls and tank develop cracks, and I have to very quickly find new homes for the fish, containers where they can live for at least a day or two until I can get to the store. And of course at the moment I need to rehouse them, all the appropriately sized bowls are being used for something else essential, and in the dream suddenly all my flower vases are tiny or narrow bud vases that tilt at odd angles, and the fish are too big for water glasses.

Clearly the dream is rich in metaphor and allegory. I have too many responsibilities. I'm trying to do too much. Everything is cracking and leaking. I don't have sufficient resources. I'm a lousy parent. I'm a fish out of water.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Everyone has been asking me about the job interview

. . .but I didn't know what to say. I felt a connection, but I thought maybe it was just that I'd had too much to drink and they really weren't all that into me.

(I kid!)

But as you might intimate from this comment by Anonymous on my job interview prep post, I'm flying out in a couple weeks for an on-campus interview. I've made the final three.

I'm thrilled, and not just because OMG an honest-to-goodness tenure-track academic job, but because it looks to be an awesome position doing what I really love to do--gender history and public history and museum-y stuff and democratizing knowledge--at an interesting institution in a part of the country I'd like to get to know better.

Kindly keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Happens in Class Stays in Class?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

Today, I began my Seminar on College Teaching by having the grad students and postdocs enrolled in it draw a picture that served as a metaphor for higher education today.  Images of violence figured prominently in a few doodles.  My students depicted the research university as a guillotine, a hunting lodge filled with trophy heads, and--perhaps most graphically--as a meat grinder into which students are fed like cheap steak destined to be hamburger.

Should I be telling you this story?  Did I just violate my students' trust?  What might they say if they read this blog post?  Does it matter that I didn't provide students' names or identifying details?

Profgrrrrl recently considered issues of trust and confidentiality in the classroom.  "When I teach," she writes,

I feel a sense of intimacy with my students. I tell them stories that are meant for their ears, not stories that will be broadcast for all the world to hear. (Obviously I don’t tell them things I couldn’t stand for all the world to hear, but there’s a sense of context here; I tell them things that I wouldn’t stand up and shout out to passersby at the student union.) We have a negotiated relationship that is affected by topic, time, and space as well as a host of other contextual issues.

She feels uncomfortable, therefore, when students discuss other professors' classes or assignments in front of her.  She explains,

I never start these conversations, and I do my best to be minimally participative unless the student needs advice about how to best approach another professor. I don’t want to be in a position to pass judgment on a colleague, even if I don’t agree with things that the colleague is doing. However, I overhear an awful lot (students talking during break about other classes, things posted to Facebook and Twitter* about other classes, students coming to me directly to discuss other classes — and I always know who they’re talking about even if they don’t name names). The whole experience is both awkward and fascinating. I feel kind of like a voyeur, like I know things I should not know. Most unfortunately, it is the not-so-good things that are overheard in this way.

Her post raises questions about confidentiality, privacy, and student-faculty friendships.  Should we talk about our students with our faculty colleagues?  Should we friend our students on Facebook?  Should we let them follow us on Twitter?  Should students comment on faculty members' personal or professional blogs?

The answers to these questions vary, of course, with context, depending on institutional culture, the discipline (in my experience, humanities classrooms tend to be more touchy-feely), the nature or topic of the course, and the individual faculty and students involved.

I know of one course on AIDS where students would discuss sexuality, and because their classmates might reveal their own sexual orientation or health, students were required to sign a confidentiality agreement.  And in this human rights course at Franklin & Marshall College, students were required to sign a confidentiality agreement by an organization working with the class.

Blogging—by faculty or students outside of class—raises another set of issues.  Recall the case in 2008, for example, of a professor who was fired for naming on the (public) class blog six students who committed plagiarism.  Or Anonymous Professor's 2006 post "I hate my students," which provoked this reaction from Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass:

AP is using his anonymity as a screen to protect him from precisely the sorts of repercussions that his post about hating students would bring if he blogged under his own name. But this is short-sighted and self-defeating. In other words, AP knows very well that his posting style is unprofessional and self-discrediting, and that's why he won't put his name to his blog. But if AP--and other anonymous academic bloggers like him--respect themselves and their profession, and if they want the respect of others, they won't yield to the temptation to put up posts such as this one. At a moment when academics are under fire for not doing enough teaching and for putting politics and personal convenience ahead of expertise and hard work, personae such as the Anonymous Professor only make the professoriate look worse to the general public than it already does.

Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor also reminds pseudonymous academic bloggers that even if they're disguising certain details, there still may be repercussions:

Blogging about students, colleagues, and administrators raises further questions; I suspect,  for example, that we are all familiar with non-anonymous bloggers who purportedly "anonymize" their colleagues, even though their actual blog posts make it painfully easy to identify who is who.

Clio Bluestocking offers some thoughts on when it's appropriate to blog about students.  She writes that it's not okay to write about students to blow off steam, but that such blogging might be useful in another scenario:

[...] to try to understand what they are thinking and why they are behaving the way that they do. I don't mean the second rhetorically. Ultimately, I see many of my frustrations with students as stemming from our differences in ages, backgrounds, and positions in relation to one another and the institution. I want to understand and minimize or utilize those differences. The focus has to be on the interaction and on my process, not on the individuals on the other end.

Definitely click through to read her thoughts about professorial prerogatives and power when it comes to blogging about students.

What do you think?  Should the classroom be considered a relatively private space?  Should students be encouraged to sign confidentiality agreements in courses on sensitive subjects?  What has been your experience?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Lucas the Photographer

On Christmas morning, Lucas decided he wanted to use my digital SLR to take some photos. I have yet to look at his pictures, but here's one of my four-year-old photographer in action.

That's me he's trying to photograph. Also on the couch with me is my "little" (almost 6' tall) sister, who I recently learned is not just a dean, but rather supervises the dean, at the vocational college where she works. (She's 31. Gah.) Between Lucas and me is my grandmother, who doesn't look even close to 86 years old, and my youngest aunt.