Fear And Trembling

It might not make any difference in my working life at all … so this is more likely gonna be a grumble than an outright rant … but there was a rule change announced in the new Schedule Request forms (for the Learning Center where I typically make about a third of my living). The faculty member doing the scheduling (a thankless task, I’m sure … one hopes that it at least earns her some big Service To The Profession points) asks that we file our requests whenever we know our (classroom) teaching schedules for Winter Quarter. No problem there, of course. Perfectly reasonable. She goes on to stress some words to the effect that we should wait until our schedules are unlikely to change. And all by itself, this doesn’t create a problem either. Trouble is, she also indicates that she’s planning to start slotting people into their chosen spots right away in a first-come-first-served way—which creates a disincentive for waiting. Now, I’m usually one of the last to know—or anyway, I used to be under the previous Chair—because (1) unlike almost everybody else in this cockamamie job, I’m making my whole living right here in this Department and (2) I can teach any class in the Catalogue (and, moreover, have until recently been willing to). What’s worse, and this is under the new regime, I’ve recently (the current quarter, for example) had last-minute schedule changes (on the order of “two days notice”), for pretty much the same reasons. So: which is it? Do you want me to sit by while you put everybody else into the best spots on the schedule, or do you want me to lie and pretend to believe that the first offer I get is likely to be the real one?

Now, the comical part of all this is that if, which obviously G-d forbid, I should ever have to make up such a schedule, I’d be as silent about my methods as I could. Even if I intended to play it as fairly as I knew how. Why invite the kind of second guessing I’ve been indulging in here? Anyway, everybody’s going to assume that we’ll play favorites. And, dammit, we should play favorites, at least in the sense that we should be trying to put the best tutors available in the busiest slots. You’ll just have to trust me to do the best I can.

It used to be called “being a College Professor”. Administrators wouldn’t confuse themselves with Mangagement and would stay out of the way instead of creating all manner of contradictory rules requiring Faculty to spend large portions of their workweeks creating mountains of documents lying about our process.

I’ve said “our” here because, while I am by no stretch of the imagination a College Professor, I’m sure as hell Faculty. (OK, you saw this coming. Casualisation is wrecking the industry. Who knew.) They (and we know who “they” are … right?) don’t have any idea how we do our jobs and don’t want to know. And why not? Probably because they’ve got a pretty good inkling that if they did know, they’d soon have to admit that they can’t switch us around like the batteries in the Fucking Graphing Calculators and it would more or less wipe out their entire Money Can Buy Anything epistemology.

Management will always push in the direction of “teacher-proof” courses: spell out what’s going to happen every day and stick to the script. Luckily this is impossible (luckily for me, I mean … I’d be out of a job pretty quick). Teachers can no more teach math by following a script than students can learn it by reading the damn textbook. Meatball doesn’t work that way.

If they want classes as empty as the TV news, they know where to get it. Namely, at Diploma Mill “University”, just down the street, where they’re doing a thriving business selling courses in pointing-and-clicking. Because, don’t get me wrong. The culture around here is pretty sick, but it’s probably not deathly ill. Things could be a lot worse. Sure, the new boss I mentioned a little bit ago is oriented much more to the Project Method (“make up a poster about one of the exercises and we’ll pretend you’ve learned something about what all these doggone numbers mean”) than I’m comfortable with. But, first and most of all, he is an actual academic, with lots of recent classroom experience (there exist comparable Chair-of-Department positions occupied by outright Managers with no academic credentials at all, as horrifying as this is to me [and I wish it were to you]); moreover, he doesn’t appear to have any intention of imposing such tactics on the Mathematics Wing of the Math Department (which redounds much to his credit—like I once told Dy/Dan, “if I should ever grade my students on Presentation, may my right hand forget its cunning”.) There’s more wiggle-room in one’s choices of how to run one’s own classes than we probably have any good reasons to expect.

And, more or less obviously, in the present curse-God state of affairs, we can’t very well expect to get any guarantees of Academic Freedom in writing. I feel like I’m taking a horrible risk even telling tales out of school as I’m doing here; it’s damn lucky hardly anybody reads this stuff or they’d probably crush me like a bug. If I had any sense, I’d just keep posting links and keep my opinions and observations to myself. Okay. It was a rant after all.


  1. I schedule my school. People get screwed. There is a list, and it happens to you when it is your turn. Being open about exactly what is happening invites short-term grumbling. Then, because there is a fairness at play (plus contractual rules), the grumbling dies down.

    When I tried to do things without sharing information, the grumbling was loud and lasted the full year.

    Maybe it’s a different environment, different experience, but I cast a tentative vote for being open about methods, guidelines, and decision-making.


  2. definitely a different environment.
    for example, we serve at the whim of the chair
    (there are *no* “contractual rules” to protect us).

    if i could deal with the level of bureaucracy
    that you (jonathan) have to work in daily,
    i’d work in a public school and have things
    like a decent salary and health insurance.
    that will never happen.

    the *only* thing that’s kept me in this job
    (or others pretty much like it) since i got fired
    from my one-in-a-lifetime Grownup position
    is the autonomy: they tell me which class to do
    (and what book to use, and about what schedule …)
    and *let me do it* and if i turn in grades on time
    (twenty-five years or so thus far without a blot)
    and there aren’t too many complaints,
    they figure i’m doing it right and invite me back.

    if i can’t do this anymore, i won’t be responsible
    for my actions.

    whether it’s better or worse for this department
    that the learning center scheduling process
    is more transparent (or pretends to be)
    i don’t claim to know … that was really just
    an excuse for me to hint at some topics
    too sensitive to call by their true names.

    that, and when i picked up the memo
    it set off my internal grumbling mechanism
    something fierce. if i could just reset *that*,
    i’d have a *much* more comfortable life …

  1. 1 cut & paste | the livingston review

    […] Fear And Trembling scheduling; politics12/18/08 Why Live (x^4 + x^2 + 1) tricky factoring12/24/08 Jeremiah 6:14 peace, […]

  2. 2 Vlorbik On Math Ed | the livingston review

    […] 12/02/08 Fear And Trembling scheduling; politics 12/18/08 Why Live (x^4 + x^2 + 1) tricky factoring 12/24/08 Jeremiah 6:14 […]

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