Saturday, November 28, 2009
Mental Illness in Academia
Instead, you should read these really excellent reflections on mental illness in academe by a schizophrenic professor. She's saying some incredibly important things.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
I explained the reality to him--that we'll still see Serena occasionally, but he won't be seeing her every day--and he took some time to process it. Then tears began to well up in his eyes: "But I like Serena." He swallowed another tiny bite of yogurt and then added, "My kids will be sad."
(That's what he calls the other children at daycare; apparently they're his posse.)
The boy's lower lip started to quiver and his chin to wrinkle. I called Fang out into the living room and we comforted Lucas, who was even more upset about the impending transition than I am. And we all cuddled together. Even the dog (the damn dog, another post in itself) showed empathy for the first time since he arrived 16 months ago, resting his head quietly on Fang's arm and Lucas's lap, absorbing our sadness and resignation.
Even as I understand its growing necessity, I hate this change.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
A fierce and mortal green
I've always been a sucker for songs and poems about place, and a big part of that passion comes from wanting to be grounded, but also frequently from a sense that I'm about to lose the place where I am. I experience, then, a cognitive dissonance of place, where I let myself fall in love with a place even as I'm plotting to leave it.
This feeling is also native to parenthood, but particularly, I think, to motherhood. I love Lucas so deeply at every stage, even as I know that each beloved stage will pass before I even fully recognize it as a defined moment. And as he has moved from fetus to newborn, from infant to toddler and now to little boy, I can feel the changes in my body, even now when he's four years old.
It's a similar sensation to being grounded in a place, but that place is Portuguese Bend, where the ground slides into the Pacific, so much so that pipes are above ground and the main road is under almost constant construction. You're standing on what feels for a moment like solid ground, but you know at the same time that you're headed inexorably to the sea.
There's something about that last verse of Williams's song that always gets me, even as the "you" of the poem shifts for me from being a person to being something unnamed and temporal:
Once I had everything—I gave it up for the shoulder of your driveway and the words I've never felt.The intersection of motherhood and my nostalgia for place is a complicated one. It's very easy for me to look at the cost of living here, my imperiled employment (thanks to the clusterfuck that is the University of California), and myriad other indicators of the quality of life and to think I should reserve a moving truck for next week. And because I spent the most intellectually invigorating and emotionally formative years of my adult life in Iowa, it's to there my mind wanders, as if I could recreate the sharpness of mind of a 22- or 24-year-old; the freedom of being a young, highly educated, single white woman; or the optimism (always oddly tinged by depression) of the college or university student who has always been told she has all the smarts and talent and drive she needs to succeed as an academic, or indeed in whatever endeavor she pursues.
And so for you I came this far, across the tracks, ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt—and I'd do it again.
For tonight I went running through the screen doors of discretion,
For I woke up from a nightmare that I could not stand to see:
You were a-wandering out on the hills of Iowa, and you were not thinking of me.
As if I wouldn't be freaked out by fears of Lucas freezing to death when my unpracticed hands bundled him up each morning for icy sidewalks and wind chills of 30 to 60 degrees below zero. As if I wanted to worry about snow collapsing the roof or tornadoes or whatever it is Iowans fear beyond losing their grown children to sexier locales or letting the literacy rate drop below 99 percent.
As if I could easily move Lucas after he starts public school in less than two years. Tick tock.
I feel I'm at this huge, sad crossroads, and no two things I value lie in the same direction. My parents, my sister, and my mother's family are all in Southern California; many friends, beloved colleagues, and some of the best public K-12 schools in the nation are here in this town; better opportunities for work definitely lie elsewhere. And let's not forget, of course, that I'm married, and Fang's various dreams and fears further muzzy any attempts at mapping a future.
I've been on the edge of tears all evening, not just because of the complexity of being a working quasi-academic mother and wife, but also because of our decision to move Lucas to a different preschool because a slot opened up there for December. His current daycare/preschool provider, whom I've called Serena in this space, truly loves Lucas--not just as a teacher might, but as a surrogate grandmother. He has been at her in-home daycare for three years, and he has two beloved friends--one age four, one only about 16 months old but wise beyond his year--there.
But many of his peers have moved on to more conventional preschools, and Lucas is now the oldest child there. He's not as social as many kids his age, and when we take him to birthday parties where he doesn't know many of the children, he plays by himself in a corner, never quite joining in play with the other kids. I know some kids are slow to warm up or are shy, but Lucas's reticence is, I sense, much more profound, and he needs to be with a slightly larger group of kids his age.
When I talked today on the phone with Serena, we were both crying. After all, she has been so instrumental in Lucas's development and in making him feel loved in the world. She has introduced or exposed him to so much, from letters and numbers to Nepali and Hindu cuisine, from yoga to (through her own life and those of her assistants) Hindu and Muslim cultures and practices. His life has been profoundly enriched by her attention, dedication, and love--as have ours.
Complicating matters is that Serena's son has been sentenced to prison for more than 378 years, probably unjustly. (Seriously, explore the advocacy pages at that link, and then write a letter or make some other small or large meaningful gesture). Fang and I have attended rallies and written letters and commented on blogs and forums and have been, I suspect, far more involved in the campaign than have other parents. Indeed, today Serena told me that we are not like other parents, that we are exceptional in many ways. Her daycare business has declined lately, partly out of coincidence that her students were aging out of daycare (though she does offer preschool up to age 6, I haven't seen any kid stay until age 5) and partly because of the pall that fell over the house after her son's unexpected conviction. Serena and her family have paid a tremendous financial and emotional toll over the past six months (and, unbeknownst to most of us at the daycare, for three years prior to that), and I know that on top of all this chaos and sadness, losing Lucas is at once a relatively small thing and yet no small blow.
One of my favorite lines in all of poetry--"it glowed a fierce and mortal green"--comes from Richard Wilbur's poem "The Pardon." It's a disturbing and raw poem that narrates the death, decomposition, burial, and--in a dream--resurrection of a 10-year-old boy's beloved dog. Recently, all my nostalgia about the past, as well as my mourning of the future I thought I'd have but won't, has been colored not gray and black--as depression tends to shade things--but rather the fierce and mortal green of Iowa in early August, when the corn is tall and the soy rolling like an ocean in a summer wind.
It's the green that comes only from soil enriched with crap and death.
I expect something will emerge from this glowing green that tinges the borders of my vision. Whether the future that approaches will be--to borrow another of Wilbur's lines--"clothed in a hymn of flies" or a bumper crop of something to be desired, I don't know.
I do know that I'm profoundly sad about what's passed and passing. For now, maybe, it is sufficient to feel anything at all.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Not with a bang but a whimper
This one's brought to you by the Academic Jobs Wiki. Perusing it this evening for the first time in a while, I discovered that, if the other posters are to be believed, most of the schools to which I applied--including those which I felt were the best fit--have requested additional materials.
I have received no such request.
And this is my third year on the market. Short of not having a book contract (I'm working on that and have received some interest), I'm scratching my head over what the hell is missing from my CV. I mean, really--I have three graduate degrees, peer-reviewed publications, invited papers, presentations, and ten years of teaching experience at four different kinds of institutions and a good balance, I think, between undergrad and grad courses. I've overseen 13 M.A. theses, so I have evidence I can advise grad students, too. I have admin experience launching, running, and evaluating programs, and a ton of service, including now serving on two committees that advise the UC systemwide president. And if the letters I saw from previous years are any indication, I suspect I have rock-solid letters of rec as well from top scholars in their fields. Profs who looked at my application materials say they're very strong.
I suspect, therefore, that it's not what's missing from my CV that's a problem, but rather what is on it. It may be that damn interdisciplinary Ph.D. from a second-tier UC--such degrees are becoming a dime a dozen with all the humanities graduate groups springing up everywhere, and--surprise--no one needs to hire anyone to actually teach in those programs. They're looking for disciplinary folks who occasionally teach interdisciplinary seminars as a hobby.
Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.
But between three years of being on the academic job market, with only one (substantial) nibble for a job running a new teaching center, and the news that the California state budget shortfall will be $21 billion this coming year, it's definitely time to be looking very, very seriously at other options.
While I'm not completely giving up hope, I'm not optimistic about my prospects in academia or at UC Davis. So there are a few things I'm experimenting with in the evening and on weekends. I'm expanding my reading, learning about what it means to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century without selling my soul and while still effecting meaningful change in people's lives. I'm reading Havi Brooks's thoughts on destuckification over at The Fluent Self and learning to cuss more fluently while perusing Naomi Dunford's irreverent advice at IttyBiz. I'm reading--gasp!--business books on consulting and web copywriting and LLCs.
During grad school, I did quite a bit of freelance writing and editing, and I'm not looking to do that again--I want to make my own stuff this time and to apply the specialized knowledge and skills I've developed over the past several years.
Everything is still very, very rough, but I'm testing the waters in a few different ponds:
1) Consulting on professional and organizational development. A colleague of mine at UC Davis and I are looking to launch a partnership/LLC next year called Eager Mondays. We have to do something with our furlough and campus closure days, yes? (I've already earned 19 hours of furlough time. Woohoo.) We're turning staff development on its head by encouraging companies to teach, rather than train, their employees. We will help business owners and managers shift the culture of their companies so that they encourage employees to be not just competent, but also curious, creative, and confident. We've already had productive, heartening conversations with two potential clients. I've already received some terrifically positive feedback from this post on using social media to improve professional development in museums. If you're interested in what we're doing, sign up for our very occasional newsletter--there's a general one and one targeting the museum field. I suspect we'll add more niche newsletters in the future, maybe one on improving writing--and deploying it more thoughtfully—in the workplace.
2) Pursuing a growing interest of mine: urban agriculture. There's nothing but a pretty banner up there yet, but I'm working on a site at Urban Farm Resource. I'm hoping to nurture my own commitment to living greener, direct others to opportunities to learn more, and create (read: sell!) my own resources on a number of niche urban farming topics as I learn more about them. I've been reading a lot about niche and keyword research, info product creation and marketing, and about affiliate marketing as well. (Want to learn more about affiliate marketing, content creation, and passive income streams? I highly recommend Lynn Terry's friendly, definitely non-smarmy, and very accessible blog ClickNewz and, if that interests you, signing up (as I did) for elite membership at her forum, where you get access to all kinds of small business owners with terrific expertise in business and internet marketing, including the very generous Lynn herself.)
3) Posting more regularly (I took a year's hiatus) at The Multicultural Toybox, another passion of mine. Over there I write about issues surrounding multicultural learning and point parents and teachers to toys, books, and games I find at places like Etsy, Amazon, and Powell's.
None of these is going to replace my income anytime soon, but I like having a contingency plan and projects I can work on instead of rather aimlessly surfing the web. I probably won't end up writing about them too much here, but I just wanted to let you know what's been brewing.
So, to sum up:
Academic job market = sucky
Entrepreneurialism = the new black
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
University of California tuition to increase 32 percent
Today, a panel of the University of California Regents—the ten-university system's governing body—approved a proposal to increase undergraduate "fees" (UC's word for tuition) by 32 percent over the coming year. Should the full board of Regents consent to the increase tomorrow, students will see a fee increase of more than $2,500 by fall 2010.
Needless to say, this is a huge leap. (By comparison, when I was an undergraduate a little more than a decade ago, tuition at my (non-UC) school increased by 2-4% a year.) Coming on top of all the cuts being made to education and to supporting units at the UC, the increase is brutal.
The university community isn't taking this news sitting down--unless you count sit-ins. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports,
Fourteen protesters were arrested at UCLA when they disrupted the meeting and refused to leave. Protesters then stopped the meeting several times, shouting "Whose university? Our university!" and chanting "We Shall Overcome." Hundreds of students and staff members also gathered at Berkeley and UCLA to begin a three-day protest of the tuition increases and faculty and staff furloughs.
University leaders have argued that the fee increases are necessary to compensate for severe cuts in state support. Mark G. Yudof, the system's president, said three out of four students would be shielded from the effects of the tuition increase by additional financial aid.
What Yudof is really saying—despite assurances elsewhere that the university system will raise grants to subsidize students who demonstrate financial need—is that students who can't afford to pay tuition up front will now have the privilege of taking out even more loans. College has become so expensive that paying back such loans--particularly if a student goes on to grad school--can become a decades-long commitment. (Me, I'm paying off my UC graduate education on a 20-year plan. It's like the mortgage I can't afford because I work at the University of California and live in a UC town.)
Jenna Benty explains the impacts the budget cuts already have had on financial aid. She focuses in particular on a program that was recently cut from UC Irvine, Student Academic Advancement Services, "which helped support low-income, first generation or disabled students." Benty continues:
Ironically, the program SAAS was recently eliminated due to budget cuts, considering these are the students that are largely affected by the budget cuts and tuition increases. When talking to past SAAS students and now ex-coworkers, Deborah was shocked to find “the students were rationing their food in order to fight the termination and tuition increase just so they could have the opportunity to study abroad.”
Low-income students have now taken the budget problems from both ends, not only will they have to pay a higher tuition; important programs that assisted them in financial aid are being cut. Former SAAS student Leandra Ordorica states “SAAS has helped me find resources to be able to pay for UCI. Every time I applied for a scholarship, there was always someone there to write me a letter of recommendation.” These small amenities make the largest impact on the low-income students where finances are constantly a concern. Not only did the SAAS program assist in finding low-income students scholarships, “each counselor sat down personally with a student to see what their specific needs and goals were. After assessing each individuals students ambitions, they would personally find a type of aid that fit their specific needs,” according to Deborah Lee.
The office of the student Regent (an undergraduate who serves on the UC board) liveblogged today's Regents panel vote. From the first post on the event:
9:35AM – [UC systemwide president] Mark Yudof is trying give his board report, but the crowd keeps interruppting and booing him. the chant is “take a stand.” yudof: “regents have to act. in the end of the day, it’s your job to blaance the budget. the budget on the table is the only budget out there that will balance the budget.” Yudof ends his speech early – asks the people that are distrubing the meeting to leave or be removed form the room. police have just entered the room and are waiting for the protesters to remove themselves. students please be safe!
These tuition increases are coming at a time when the UC campuses are actually reducing the number of courses they're offering, and when the quality of education at the university is at serious risk of deterioration. UC is firing lecturers (contingent laborers, unlike tenured faculty) in droves, and the professoriate is loath to pick up the classes the lecturers had been scheduled to teach. Worse, although UC may now authentically say that undergraduates have more contact hours with honest-to-goodness professors, many of these professors have not taught large classes (and large-enrollment courses of hundreds of students are increasingly replacing smaller ones, tripling or more the size of some classes) for a very long time. Teaching very large classes is an art that few have mastered; after all, how does one employ best practices in undergraduate learning (e.g. interaction with and among students, activities, ongoing assessment) in a class of more than 500 students?
Democracy Now recently convened a discussion with a number of UC stakeholders to help people better understand the crisis. I think Professor Ananya Roy of UC Berkeley's department of Department of City and Regional Planning put it best:
I think there is a very real crisis in California, where continuing budget cuts have devastated the infrastructure of public education, and we have a governor who continues to call for deeper and deeper budget cuts, even though there is nothing left to cut. So we’re clearly fighting for the ideal of public education. We’re fighting for the opportunity of Californians and Americans to get a decent education. But we’re also fighting for the future of our particular university, the UC system, and we’re fighting to be represented by leaders who believe in and can defend the mission of public education.
That bit about leaders may be a reference to UC President Mark Yudof's interview in The New York Times, which is widely regarded by UC denizens as both a disaster and symptomatic of the UC administration's profound misunderstanding of the history and values of public higher education in California. In that interview, Yudof said he feels like the "manager of a cemetery," admitted he gets about a $10,000/month housing stipend from the UC (his total compensation package is $828,000/year), and admits he doesn't know how he got into education: "It's all an accident," he explained.
In response to that interview, two Berkeley professors wrote a letter to the NYT that included these paragraphs:
These missions of access, excellence and vision have been the essence of California’s Master Plan for Education since 1960. Yudof also says that he fell into education as a profession by “accident.” In contrast, each of us came to Berkeley deliberately, because we believe in the importance of the public research university as an institution — one that provides an outstanding education that is accessible and affordable. We are proud that for decades, our students have gone on to become the next generation of educators, researchers, business developers and public servants.
Yudof’s joking remarks about finance speak to the lack of vision and leadership in his administration. As faculty, we fear that it is not only our present but our collective future that is being destroyed. We need executives who will do more than preside over the collapse of the finest public university system in the world.
In the Democracy Now discussion, moderator Amy Goodman asked Laura Nader, a professor of sociocultural anthropology at UC Berkeley, to explain what she meant by a call for transparency in the UC budget--and suggests it's time for the university to reconsider its priorities:
LAURA NADER: We need transparency about such things as intercollegiate sports, which is a problem all over the country. And Brian Barsky and Alice Agogino, these are people in computer studies and engineering, they can add the figures, and the figures don’t make sense.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
LAURA NADER: The figures, it’s supposed to be—intercollegiate is supposed to bring in money to the university.
AMY GOODMAN: Sports.
LAURA NADER: In fact, they’re in debt, intercollegiate sports. So we’re subsidizing, the student fees are subsidizing intercollegiate sports. And we’re closing libraries. So we had—the libraries are supposed to be closed on Saturdays. There were some students that sat in, professors that spoke. And a wonderful donor, anonymous, gave money to keep the libraries open on Saturday, but the university didn’t fall into line and open the libraries on Saturday. So these are issues of transparency and accountability, fiscal accountability, that are very important today.
Because I earned three graduate degrees from the UC over a period of seven years, taught undergraduates and graduate students at the UC, and have served as a staff member there for more than three years, I've been around the UC block once or twice. But I've never seen anything like this, nor felt such an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, frustration, and anger at any of the five other universities where I've worked or been a student. One word comes to mind again and again: clusterfuck. It's the perfect compound word for the situation.
Really, there's no one person or agency to blame for getting us into this mess, but there are definitely people and offices and agencies who could be working more thoughtfully and transparently to get us out of it. Because a 32 percent tuition increase in a single year? That's criminal.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Most of the mantids I see around here are light green, so it was fun to find a brown one.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
On the current situation at work
I. The freshman seminar teach-for-free controversy
My comment on Tenured Radical's incisive post "And If You Give Us A Full Book Of Green Stamps, You Can Teach Macroeconomics", which responded to this article in the UC Davis student newspaper, which in turn reported that our vice provost of undergraduate studies, along with the director of the Teaching Resources Center, invited freshman seminar faculty to return their stipends to the program:
Oy. I work for the UC Davis Teaching Resources Center as a teaching consultant and programs coordinator, so you might imagine I have some thoughts about this issue.
First, please note: My comments here are mine alone, and are not intended to represent my employer's stance on any issues.
I didn't know about this letter, or the budget info mentioned in the article (that first-year seminars will be the last program cut from the unit), until I read the student newspaper this morning.
I have very mixed feelings about the vice provost's request. I don't work directly with this program, so my comments aren't as well-informed as I'd like them to be, but probably better-informed than those of people outside the unit. :)
On the one hand, the program does attract a lot of senior professors from the sciences who are excited about the opportunity to actually teach a small class that requires very high student participation--as opposed to lecture courses whose enrollment has ballooned to 900 students in at least one case (a subject for another blog post).
If the participating faculty really enjoy teaching in the program and aren't hurting for research funds, then I have no problem with them returning stipends to the program. It is a VERY lean budget year, and honestly, I'm scared the center won't be around much longer if we have further cuts--but I haven't seen the latest budget numbers, so unfortunately I can't speak with any certainty. I do know that unless we find grants to pay his salary, I'll be losing one incredibly talented and thoughtful colleague at the end of the academic year.
On the other hand, I suspect there are also lecturers and humanists (I'm one of them) who use the program as you describe--to have access to research funds they might otherwise not get, and it's not fair to apply any pressure on them, and sending out a blanket letter does, I think, pressure these faculty. For that reason, had I been asked about it, I would have advised they send the letter first to only full professors.
As it offers approximately 200 classes enrolling ~15 students each during the academic year, the program itself represents a very inexpensive way for the campus to lower its overall faculty : student ratio, so from a labor standpoint, any outrage might be better focused there.
I will say that it is an incredibly strong program, with very high quality classes taught by faculty who are passionate about teaching (too rare at any research university)--or who become passionate through the experience of engaging with first- and second-year undergraduates. The program holds faculty to rigorous pedagogical standards. For more information about it, see the first-year seminar faculty toolkit (PDF).
It's sad to see the teaching center connected with this controversy, as the Teaching Resources Center really is a fabulous resource and increasingly an intellectual hub on campus--and we run it on a shoestring budget. (We're small but mighty.) The office staff and graduate student researcher who coordinate and evaluate the first-year seminar program also do really terrific work, so it must be especially frustrating for them to see its administration depicted in an unflattering light.
II. Again with the freshman seminar controversy, but also in response to commenters' calls for reductions in administrative pay:
And then, on Eric Rauchway's post at The Edge of the American West:
Remember one of the reasons the first-year seminars are there in the first place: they provide a very inexpensive way for the university to lower its instructor : student ratio–even more cheaply than having grad students teach might.
I get a little bit antsy when people start talking about reducing “administrator” salaries, both because my own salary may or may not fall under that category and because after three years in the staff trenches, I’m keenly aware of the faculty-staff caste system.
Yes, there are many administrators whose salaries seem inflated. But the line between “administrator” and, oh, “program coordinator” (ahem) can be a blurry one. Staff like me have already had our salaries frozen for years, even as we support faculty who have continued to receive merit increases. With the furloughs, I’m now making less than when I started working at UC Davis, and 14% less than I would have made had I received my merit increases. It’s incredibly demoralizing, especially since these slights are coming from the exact university that supposedly readied me for an academic career.
I sat in a meeting w/a top HR admin at UCOP a few weeks ago, and I asked him point-blank if there would be any relief for staff soon, or if things would continue to deteriorate. His response was that “faculty attract people and resources, while staff don’t”; ergo, staff are dispensable. His remark about resources is a gross generalization, of course–it assumes, for example, staff aren’t writing grants, raising funds, or otherwise helping to recruit, support, and retain faculty.
Today a Staff Assembly e-mail claimed it’s not fair to compare staff and faculty salaries, that it’s like comparing doctors’ pay with lawyers’. But when you have countless lecturers, postdocs, and staff with similar credentials to faculty (PhDs, research agenda, publications, etc.), I don’t think that’s a fair analogy.
III. The Staff Assembly madness
As if the freshman seminar controversy wasn't enough to deal with today, UC Davis staff also received--as I reference in my comment on Eric's post--a Staff Assembly e-mail that featured a link to this article.
Needless to say, I couldn't let that stand, so I sent an e-mail to the author:
While I appreciate your reminder to staff (at http://staff.ucdavis.edu/News/not-the-time-for-assumptions) that we keep our heads when all around us seem to be losing theirs, I must take issue with one of your claims: “Comparing staff compensation with faculty compensation maybe more like comparing a doctor’s compensation with a lawyer’s compensation. These are different fields with different expectations and skill sets.”
This is a terrible generalization, as there are many, many staff on campus who have the same credentials as faculty (PhDs, teaching experience, peer-reviewed publications) and the same expectations (teaching, research agendas, grant writing, committee service) and skill sets (writing, teaching, intellectual engagement with academics and the wider world), but who are paid half as much as faculty—or less. My colleagues and I in the Teaching Resources Center, for example, are expected to stay current with trends in pedagogy, research and publish, and teach--only we’re expected to do the same for far less, and to manage multiple programs and projects in addition to the responsibilities we share with faculty. I’m on at least eight committees on campus and systemwide, and I chair several of them.
A few weeks back, I was in a meeting at UCOP, and when I asked a top HR administrator if staff would continue to feel budgetary pain out of proportion to our faculty colleagues, he said, “Faculty attract people and resources, while staff don’t.” Ergo, staff are dispensable—even if we write grants and help to recruit, support, retain (and, in my and my colleagues’ case, train) faculty. To say that faculty deserve better compensation than staff because of different “expectations” is too easy; it’s a capitulation to the campus’s continued denigration of staff and contributes the UC’s erasure of the incredibly high-level work many staff are doing.
So yeah, that's about where I'm at right now. How about you?