Friday, April 29, 2011

30 Minute Miracle: A Measure of Faculty Time

I went up for tenure last July. In these last 18 months I have worked harder and got more done than I ever thought possible. I did it 30 minutes at a time.

This is what 30 minutes means in my day:
  • freewriting 400 words on a research/writing project
  • writing 100-200 words on an article draft
  • grading 2 response papers
  • reading / commenting on 8-10 pages of grad student draft writing
  • reading 15 pages of a textbook, or 6-8 pages of an article
  • revising 2 pages of my own writing
  • preparing for a meeting by reading all provided materials
  • copyediting 10-12 pages of my own writing
  • reviewing 3 grad course proposals
  • reading 5 online news articles, from my Twitter feed
  • reading / commenting on 3 blog posts
  • meeting with one grad student or two undergrads
  • ordering 1-100 books on Amazon :-)
  • prepping a repeat 80 minute class
  • writing half a peer review of an article
  • answering 5-10 emails (depends on complexity)
  • book a flight / a rental car / a hotel and fill out a reimbursement form

In the process of working to get tenure, I saw what happened when I really made use of my time, its wee little increments, 15 or 30 minutes at a time. For me, this is what a year of 30 minute increments looks like:
  • create and teach a new first-year course in my area, with excellent reviews
  • revise and teach a grad course, with very good reviews
  • revise and teach 200 pages of writing handbook MS to my editor for a new edition
  • write three articles and had two published
  • co-author a short piece for University Affairs with Heather and Erin
  • give four conference presentations (two invited, two international)
  • give one invited academic presentation at another university
  • give two hour-long public lectures
  • apply for and won a SSHRC Standard Research Grant ($58K)
  • teach a week-long workshop at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute
  • supervise an honours thesis
  • supervise an MA Major Research Project
  • peer-review four journal articles and one book MS
  • serve on department-level graduate and appointments committees
  • serve on two university-level committees, and was appointed to a third
  • write something upward of 30 blog posts for Hook and Eye

I have learned, through this incredibly productive year, that 30 minutes is actually a pretty important unit of time. I've learned that even 15 minutes have real substance to them, and that my day, week, semester, career is actually made up of a vast but not limitless series of 30 minute increments. Now here's where it gets interesting: because I have discovered that I can--and do--get a lot done in these increments, I have recently come to see my time as valuable

This insight has been both incredibly empowering, and incredibly guilt-inducing.

(Of course, right?)

As a junior faculty member, out of an aim to ingratiate myself and out of a general tendency to be very social and with a further predilection towards saying yes no matter what the question, I said yes to everything: need it right away? Sure, I can drop what I'm doing. You're going to be 10 minutes late? I'll just sit here. Of course I'll come to campus for a 20 minute meeting. Oh, someone screwed this up somewhere and now it's a rush? No problem. No one else wants to be on this committee? Yeah, I'll do it.

But this year, I transformed my career by saying no to things I used to say yes to: those yesses were hindering my ow productivity as a researcher, as a teacher, as a colleague, out of some misplaced agreeableness. Now I say no: No, I can't meet you today. No, I won't be able to attend that event. No, I can't answer your email within two hours of you sending it. No, I can't serve on that committee. No, I can't supervise that thesis / project / reading course. No, I'm not willing to be nominated for Senate. No, I can't work extra fast to make up for your missed deadline. No, I can't just drop what I'm doing right now.  


I feel kinda like a bitch, frankly, insisting in the ways that I now find myself doing, that my time is valuable and I will split my 40/40/20 to maximize my own productivity. Before I give it away, I measure my time by what I could get done with it: if a 20 minute meeting on campus means 30 minute commute each way, then I know I could read an entire article, or prep two classes, or write 1000 words of freewriting--is the meeting that important? Or can it wait until I'm already on campus and it will 'cost' me less time? Or, better, can we do it over the phone?

I know that I was saying yes for maybe the wrong reasons and to little purpose, and that no one wants to take advantage of me, or watch me martyr myself on the flaming pyre of my own career, but saying no still feels like a really hard thing to do. I try to treat my own time with as much respect as I hope I have always treated everyone else's. But I still feel selfish and awful about it, at the same time as I feel so great about what I'm accomplishing in all areas of the job.

Dammit. How do you protect your time? What can you get done in 30 minutes, and how do you make sure you get to keep those minutes? And can you do this and still feel like a 'nice' person?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Loud sing cuckoo

Is there any sweeter concept in the academic year than the prospect of summer? While most of the world thinks of lakeshore cottages or resplendent gardens, trips-of-a-lifetime or lazing in a hammock, homo academicus dreams of redemption. This will be the summer I finish start (read) that dissertation, revise that book, tackle those articles, restore work/life balance. By summer's end, I will be back to myself, albeit a better read, harder working, fully conferenced, widely published and more disciplined version of myself.

I think this is what we mean by wishing each other a "productive" summer.

We at hook&eye respect (and need) this summer pace too, so starting next week we're going to slow things down a bit. We'll still be here, every Monday morning, and on other sporadic occasions too. We are still open for guest posts (hey, there's a self-improvement project for your summer!) and we would love to run one last "This Month in Sexism" column before we all scatter to the four winds Congress. So please send your stories to sexism[at]hookandeye[dot]ca, preferably by May 3rd.

And if you find yourself bemoaning your progress in the doldrums of summer, think back to the old English poem. Sure, summer is part "the seed grows and the meadow blooms," but the real evidence for the turning seasons is that "the bullock stirs, the stag farts." Manageable goals, people. Manageable goals.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Pedagogy of Comprehensibility

When I was in the last year of my PhD the current graduate chair at my alma mater decided to initiate a new professionalization course. Unlike the research methods class I took as an incoming PhD student, this course was entirely voluntary and meant for those of us in the finishing stages of the degree. We learned how to write job letters (there’s a formula!) We learned how to prepare job talks. We delivered job talks to mock interviewers and then after the interview we as a group discussed how the candidates did: what questions were answered well and why? Which questions need more thought, and how might the candidate do a better job of presenting her or his project? What exactly does one ask when given the opportunity to pose a question to the interviewing committee? We even discussed what one should wear to an interview (general consensus is still a suit) and whether one should have a drink at dinner (yes, but only one).

Of the many invaluable things I learned in this professionalization course the discussion of the CV has stuck with me. We work-shopped our CVs for organization, font, and design, and we were given the invaluable and simple advice to update our CVs regularly. It makes sense: in the course of a few months immense amounts of CV-worthy things can happen. Book reviews get written, conference papers get accepted, service is completed and (holy grail) articles get published. The short point of this post is to encourage readers to write everything down. Keep your CV up-to-date as conference season approaches.

But there’s a more theoretical and complex point I’d like to make, and that is one of what I’m calling the pedagogy of comprehensibility. Each time I revisit my CV I consider whether or not I am comprehensible to potential hiring committees (though you could insert admissions committees, tenure and promotions committees, granting agencies et cetera here). On the one hand, I’m not comprehensible (file this sentence under is-this-too-dangerous-to-write-about-since-I’m-an-LTA?). I don’t yet have a manuscript publication, I teach, research, and write about poetry and poetics, gender, race, urban space, collaboration, and experimental writing. I’m on board with one of the most phenomenally innovative digital humanities projects in the world. This can look like a lot.

On the other hand, I do my research under the umbrella of being a Canadianist. Here’s what I’ve come to think: whether I am in a contract position or (one day) a tenure-track position I’ve come to see my job as one of facilitating comprehensibility. In other words, it is my job to teach committee member X to understand my areas of research interest.

There is much to worry/complain/rage about in this profession, and taking on the responsibility for change is a tiresome burden. However, what I learned from Dr. Ellis’s professionalization course is that it is my responsibility to teach you how to understand me. More over, I learned from that course that we can’t do this alone, we need networks and communities and small classrooms of people who are willing to mentor all stages of pedagogical comprehensibility.

What about you? How have you been taught to teach others to understand your CV?

Speaking of teaching others how to understand the necessity of our work, don’t miss Donna Palmateer Pennee’s open letter regarding the academy and the upcoming election. Professorial vote mob? Count me in.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In praise of copyeditors, and editors, and reviewers ...

Copyeditors. I love them. Actually, I love all editors who engage in a sustained way with my writing (so that leaves you out, rejection editors!). I guess I have to admit I even like peer reviewers too. (But only the ones that accept, or at least revise-and-resubmit me my work.)

As you know, I hate writing. Writing is the means by which I discover what I am thinking, and thus the type-laden screen is the medium wherein I almost immediately thereafter come to see that most of those ideas are half-baked, malformed, inadequate, too scary, derivative, under-theorized, over-theorized, too jokey, or just garden-variety awful. Naturally, I seek to avoid this. However, the writing eventually must and does get done, little by little, day by day, until either a requisitioning editor or a fed-up husband demands that it must be sent off. For review.

[months pass]

Why I love peer reviewers: they catch my errors of thinking, of reading, of citation, of methodology. This is invaluable. On those occasions where I think their suggestions are wrong, my writing and thinking get sharper in the act of defending my own stance. Usually they're right: I've been immoderate here, slap-dash there, pulled a punch on my main point, hidden my conclusion in the middle of the third-to-last paragraph, not stated my Big Idea loud enough or soon enough. It might seem paradoxical, but knowing that reviewers are going to catch most issues of substance makes it easier for me to first put .docx file to email attachment: if my deepest fear is that my inadequacies as a writer and thinker will be exposed to the world, it is in fact reassuring to know that two or three people stand at the edge of the precipice, ready to arrest my hurtling dash over the side. They only sometimes seem to stick their feet out to hasten my flight to oblivion, and sometimes ... they're right.

Why I love editors: they allow me to turn writing into a conversation. I'm revising a big, mainstream, legacy writing handbook, with the mandate to liven up the tone and to bring the research and writing sections into the Internet age. My managing editor answers all my questions about why something needs to be there twice, or if I dare to end a sentence with a preposition at. She catches my booboos (and rampant informality). I don't feel alone, because she not only demands that my drafts appear with regular frequency, but also indulges me in author-editor conversation. This boosts my confidence immeasurably: she'd tell me I'm a total doofus well before I get all 500 pages done, right? RIGHT???

Why I love copy-editors: they see the verbal tics I don't realize I have; they find the ideal writer-me in the dross of my overworked prose. That is, they clean up my writing of repetitions of phrasing, idea, grammar, and more. That is, they save me from the blindness I have around my own writing, as a practice of setting particular words on a page in a particular order. (See what I did there? Can you guess my tic?). Just tonight I got a copy-edited version of an article back from an editor. It was gorgeous; it was all the copy-editor. Sentences deklunked! Tics softened! Ambiguities eliminated! He probably made 40 small interventions in an MS of 8000 words. I accepted every damn one of them. Thank God: I like this new version so much better, even though it still sounds completely like me. Only without so many semicolons, and without so very many 'that is'.

All writing is collaborative, even our sole-authored projects. I would be sunk without reviewers and editors. The genius in the garret without these supports is a rambling loon; with these supports, she is a published writer.

Amazing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And now, a word from the majority

Whether it's the stalkerish behaviour ("stop putting pictures of yourself in my mailbox - it's creepy"), the questionable people skills ("you make my dad laugh ... even when you're being serious"), or the fact that he just spends our money behind our backs, Canadian women are breaking up with Harper this year.

They're breaking up in Ottawa (this one's by PhD students: props to you!).

They're breaking up in Edmonton.

And they're breaking up in Hamilton, where the whole brilliant project started - and continued.

Why? Could be cuts to women's groups, could be the long-form census, could be other Shit Harper Did. At any rate, we're looking for a new pick-up line.

Hey, Harper: it's not us. It's you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rage against "the powers that be"

Remember my rant about empty buzzwords, from a couple weeks back? Let me introduce you to Unsuck It, a web based translation service to turn corporate jargon into normal language. (Props to The New Yorker for blogging about this.)You input the term ("low hanging fruit," say), click UNSUCK IT, and out pops the translation ("easy goal"). If the term isn't in there, you can crowdsource a definition (twitter link: "Hey, Lazyweb. Help me define silo #unsuckit"). If you find your obnoxious term, you can "Email the douchebag who used it."

(Sidebar: is "douchebag" a sexist metaphor?)

There are not enough terms in the Unsuck It dictionary yet (hey, lazyweb: ditch "enhance" #beforeilosemymind). What was particularly disappointing to me today is that there is no entry for "the powers that be." Because if I could excise any particular phrase from the academic lexicon, that would be the one.

My first objection is that "the powers that be" is vague. Consider its 73 synonyms from the Moby Thesaurus:
John Bull, Rasputin, Svengali, Uncle Sam, VIP, Washington,
   Whitehall, access, bad influence, big wheel, bureaucracy, court,
   directorate, eminence grise, five-percenter, friend at court,
   good influence, gray eminence, heavyweight, hidden hand, hierarchy,
   higher echelons, higher-ups, holdover, incumbent, influence,
   influence peddler, influencer, ingroup, ins, jack-in-office, key,
   kingmaker, lame duck, lobby, lobbyist, lords of creation,
   man of influence, management, manipulator, ministry, new broom,
   office-bearer, officeholder, officialdom, open sesame, prelacy,
   president-elect, pressure group, public official, public servant,
   ruling class, ruling classes, sinister influence,
   special interests, special-interest group, the Crown,
   the Establishment, the administration, the authorities,
   the government, the ingroup, the interests, the people upstairs,
   the power elite, the power structure, the top, them, they,
   top brass, very important person, wheeler-dealer, wire-puller

Whenever you're blaming Whitehall and the wheeler-dealer, you know you've lost your rhetorical way.

But my real objection is that "the powers that be," in a university context, eviscerates an entire tradition of collegial governance. It's a lazy shortcut, an abdication of intellectual and political responsibility that lets you bitch about - whatever - without making even the slightest effort to understand where the objectionable policy / procedure / rule / requirement comes from. I've worked at a university for a long time and I have yet to see any curriculum, spending, research, outreach, teaching, administrative, intellectual, or financial decision conveyed in an email from Jesus@HeavenlyKingdom. It may feel like "the administration" is ruining ___ [insert fail] ___, but the complaint at the heart of the usage can almost always be traced to specific decisions made by actual people in an institutional context at a particular historical moment. That doesn't mean the decisions are good, but they are historical and therefore subject to change.

Our tradition of academic self-governance is precious. Canadian public universities are not corporate structures, but there are some worrying trends in that direction, and they are often conveyed through objectionable policies, procedures, rules and requirements. Object to them - please: do it for yourself, do it for your students, do it for the ideas you care about and for the common good. But please also do it as smartly as you can.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I wanted to say something but...

Lately our numbers have been down, or at least it seems like they have been. We've been getting less comments, and I'll admit that while I can think of many likely reasons--end of term, too much grading, hope of summer--ultimately I find myself fretting about it. I find myself thinking, what's the point if we're/I'm not garnering commentary? And more generally I find that I start turning my concerns onto myself: am I not pulling my weight? Should I bow out? Forge a new writing style? Have more links? Spend more time crafting my posts? Spend less? Am I going to regret publishing a post? Will it come back to haunt me? Worse, will it go unnoticed? These are just a few of the questions that run through my mind on a Sunday afternoon.

Granted, I worry about most everything, and I've worried about letting readers know that I worry about whether or not you're reading. However, I find it reassuring and incredibly interesting that Sina Queyras aka Lemon Hound who, in my opinion is one of the most important women currently blogging, has expressed concerns about taking up public space on the internet. Here's what she wrote in 2005 under the heading "Women blogging women"

Back in September I posted a note that said I was likely going to end my blogging adventure. Clearly I have decided not to. There are a number of reasons why, but the most important one may be--dare I say it--a question of gender. Tired old dialogue that it is, I noticed there are not enough women engaged in the discussion of poetry and poetics. Over and over again the voice seem to be male, shouting about this or that school or lineage...deciding what is important and what not in such confident and reductive tones as to shut out more cautious or considered voices.*

Now Queyras is obviously writing about discussions of poetry and poetics, and she's writing this in 2005. Much has changed, certainly, but I cite her here to underscore some things that haven't. Namely what she calls cautious or considered voices. Are those women's voices? Queyras thinks so. In answer to her own question 'where are all the women?' she writes,
I have my theories. Look to the deletions, the hesitations, the reflective responses... the women are still out there thinking, their voices not quite up for the bombastic and instantaneous responses.

Hm. I'm certainly slow to respond most times, even here on a space I've helped to create. I'm still wondering how to agree and encourage and consider Heather's post about post-term tristesse, or how to respond to Aimée's most recent post about the performance of gender in a male-dominated field. It seemed relevant that my partner, who is a car enthusiast, send me a link to the latest Waterloo gender debacle from one of the car sites he reads, but I wasn't sure how to work it into a pithy consideration of the post. In fact, I remember when Sina invited me to write a post for Lemon Hound; I very nearly backed out because I didn't feel I had put enough work into it. She encouraged me (which I'd say falls into categories of both unpaid emotional work and mentorship), and she also told me to speak up.

Creating a space for dialogue and community is a collaborative act. Here is what poet Emily Kruse Carr has to say about it:

Collaboration is the most sincere form of adaptation.

By which I mean: vulnerable, requiring blind faith, solicitations for admiration, involvement, reciprocity, empathy. It is something like being in love: as a strategic mode of aesthetic presentation & performance.

Social coherence versus coherent self identity. Ok. That’s the problem.

Collaboration holds these tensions in play, rather than wistfully papering them over or simply & improbably wishing them away. It destabilizes the individual into an assemblage that is spatially & temporally contingent.

Collaboration is adaptation as animation: to move mentally, to excite an action at the neurochemical level. A waltz, for example, or a molecular mosh pit. Hypothesis building on the level of synapse.**

Which is to say that comments or no, there is no telling what kind of collaboration is happening here. And that it exciting. Or, to put it another way, perhaps fast feminism sometimes appears to be slow in the way we want the academy to be: considered.

But if you're hesitating to join the conversation because you feel like what you have to say is unimportant, obvious, or passe, let me tell you: we're here, and we want to know what's on your mind.


*You can read this post and more in the beautifully produced Unleashed which was published by BookThug's fantastic Department of Critical Thought.

**This is an unpublished excerpt of a collaborative project Emily and I are working on entitled The Sonnets Project.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This is not the female empowerment you are looking for

Well, the shit has hit the fan, gender-wise, at Waterloo. Again. Please go read the news coverage to know what I'm talking about, and then come back. Let me just say there are bikinis, and Formula One racecars, a dean of engineering, and some corporate sponsors.

Wednesday's headline: UW shuts down student car team over racy photograph

Thursday's headline: Car sponsors decry UW decision on bikini photo

My reaction to these stories is complicated. Issues of money (corporate sponsors, the charity), power (the university, the engineering faculty), academic culture (grades and teamwork and academic integrity involved in facility use), sex (she's not wearing coveralls in the photo), gender (the discussion of expressing femininity in a male-dominated faculty), and even feminism (the university's efforts at equity and at female recruitment and retention, successful or not) intermingle in ways that are hard to disentangle, let alone understand.

I've tagged this post "righteous feminist anger," but I'm not altogether sure who I'm angry with. I've tagged it "sexist fail," too, without being able to say quite who has failed.

Overwhelmingly, though, this makes me sad. Here's why:

  • I am sad that this student needs explicitly to look for an outlet to express her femininity--engineering is still a gendered course of study, I guess, and that gender seems to be male. Having part of yourself necessarily suppressed every day to fit in can make you wiggy.
  • I am even more sad that this expression--this self-expression!--of femininity takes as its form the the most clichéd of sexualized postures/costumes for the pleasure of the male gaze.
  • I am sad that the shoot was for a charity: how awful that the best thing a female engineer can contribute to charity is an image of her own hypersexualized body? 
  • I am sad that if we're going to celebrate our beautiful bodies, we twist and contort them (hip jutted out, back arched, breasts out) instead of showing their strength and power. By way of contrast, this is beautiful and strong together, I think.
  • I am sad that I don't know her name: out of delicacy, her name is deliberately never mentioned in the reporting. Her body we see, but her name is veiled. Is this to save her some anticipated shame at being exposed, while we are nevertheless entitled to enjoy our collective titillation, on the front page of the paper, over our morning coffee?
I don't know what to think. 

I do know what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominate field. I started my academic life in a male-dominated field--computer science--and I hated it. I felt alienated, and unheard, unimportant, and disregarded. Sometimes, the teachers made fun of me. I quit and moved to English, where I felt freer to be myself. How brave, how strong, do you have to be to stay in one of those fields? What kind of daily strength and perserverence might that take?

I also know what it's like to be a young adult--a young woman--testing out the boundaries and contours of what it means to be a woman in a world where that ... is second best. I think I was 25 before I felt comfortable being called a 'woman'--it seemed to me I was more a 'girl.' It's hard, growing into this role, this identity, this putatively second-best self. 

I know what it's like, too, to test out the limits of self-presentation in this overdetermined body: in my early 20s, I went goth, and the bikinis I wore in public were made of PVC, paired with combat boots and blue lipstick. There were photo shoots. Did people stare, look at my boobs, make rude or lewd comments? Sure. And I tried to feel like I was in control of that. At 38, though, I tend to side more with Stacey and Clinton: people read you according to the scripts we share as a culture. 

Don't get me wrong: I like bikinis. I like high heels! I don't, however, see much empowerment in wearing them together, for a camera, while someone aims a gas-powered leaf-blower at you for that wind-blown effect. The clothing, composition, genre says object of the gaze, rather than subject of action. And aren't we, girls reluctantly become women, finally ready to be the subjects of our own narratives, rather than the (leggy, nameless) objects of someone else's?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Post-term Tristesse

I've just finished my OMG 18th year of teaching at the UofA, and still, at the end of the semseter, I feel an agonizing sense of loss and regret when I walk out of the classroom for the last time.

Loss, because it's over; regret, because I'm sure I could have taught them just a little more. I can't help feeling I should have written fuller comments on SB's map assignment, spent more time in my office, commented on more blogs, sought out PT after class. I should have been less focused on the meeting I had right after class (every class, it seems) and made myself available for ... whatever. These students - already no longer "my" students - accomplished amazing things this term. One of them produced a video featuring his own car being broken into and used it as the basis for a critique of the Edmonton Police Crime Map (no white collar crimes reported). RS, who came into the class saying he was heading for Toronto as soon as the term was done, wrote a meditation on the arbors in downtown office buildings: he just sat in the lobbies, he said, until he saw things differently. Another student took on alternative city futures by mapping the Mill Creek Trails, and one woman - a first-year student, if you can believe it - created a two-sided, multi-panel, metre-long found poem on the High Level Bridge. She went on to give a presentation on the city as a Deleuzian assemblage. Smart? Jesus.

Teaching only becomes more poignant over time, as I realize that much of what's just happened will be forgotten - by them, by me. Their early-term comments are already fading; in six months I'll remember only half of their names. They head off in all directions, into their lives (wow, to be 21) and I carry on in mine, and we all just take it on faith that what we did, here, together, mattered, even though we can't know how or why.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Higher Learning

About a month ago readers were outraged to learn about the hate campaign targeting women at the University of Waterloo. A good deal of my own shock came from a naive assumption--proven wrong on a regular basis, mind you--that the university is a bastion of enlightenment. Or at least a place that people come to work towards higher learning. But what does "higher learning" mean? According to he UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, "higher education" is education that "shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education."

The term "higher learning" conjures two images for me, and they are both spatially-oriented. Firstly I imagine it as a place that facilitates the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences for the purpose of thinking in an open, discursive fashion. Secondly, I think of the 1995
film of the same name. If you haven't seen it the film depicts a year in the lives of students at an unidentified American university. It didn't shy away from depicting the insidious sides of a university. Rape, racism, homophobia, violence, and harassment were all depicted plainly. Not the subtlety required of great film making, perhaps, but the film made an impression on me. The spaces of higher learning need constant work, self-reflexivity, and care.

Still, the overwhelming and popular imagination (based on my experience and not research) is that the academy is a space of higher learning in the first sense. And when it isn't working, it is--or should be--a place where due process is upheld, right?

Wrong. I admit I don't generally keep track of what is happening at the Ivies, but the goings on at Yale over the past few weeks and, really, years, have caught my attention. Here's a few highlights: In 2004 Naomi Wolf wrote an article for New York Magazine about her sexual harassment by the infamous H.B. While I certainly don't agree with a lot of what Wolf writes, I am grateful for her very public consideration of what harassment did to her self confidence as a student. Just this past week the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights went public with its intent to open an investigation into Yale's "its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX." According to several news sources the legal complaint includes

The complaint includes personal accounts from five students, along with descriptions of these well-publicized incidents:

  • Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges chanting "No means yes! Yes means anal!" on campus in October 2010.
  • A September 2009 "Preseason Scouting Report" email, which was written and circulated by a group of male students. The email ranked 53 freshman women in the order of how many beers it would take to have sex with them.
  • Pledges from Zeta Psi surrounding the entrance to the Yale Women's Center in January 2008 with signs that said "We Love Yale Sluts."
  • Fraternity members stealing t-shirts inscribed with accounts of sexual assaults from the Clothesline Project in 2005.
What can we learn about one example of what is clearly a decades-long failure at only one space for higher learning? We can keep lists, and for the record I mean all of us because women are by no means the only group subject to harassment and violence. Further, since Heather's pithy post on the ways in which jargon obscures meaning I've found myself thinking about some of the terms that circulate in the academy. Some of the news articles circulating refer to the "alleged misogyny" that occurred on campus. Alleged? We can create space for frank dialogue about systemic injustice. Finally, though I hold on to the hope that the spaces and places of higher learning will become the 'equally accessible' spaces of rigorous intellectual exchange they can be--and often are--we need to take note of examples like the current issues happening south of the border, and remain mindful that there is still much work to be done for all of us.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle?

I'm in Maryland (well, when you read this I'll be in Maryland. Right now I'm at the airport in Cincinnati, of course) for a conference. We'll be Theorizing the Web all day on Saturday, and my contribution is a paper on the privacy practices of personal mommy bloggers.

I've been joking that what I've been creating this week, in preparation, is a "Frankenpaper": parts of Saturday's 15 minute conference paper is built from text I created for a public talk in the Digital Media Series at Stratford, reworked for a lecture celebrating 50 years of the Faculty of Arts at UW, and then reframed in a minor way for an invited lecture hosted by the MA in Humanities at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Incidentally, those talks all revisited ideas and prose I first considered and wrote in 2005, for the Reader's Forum of English Studies in Canada. Still with me? Okay. My conference paper is also built from an article I've recently submitted to Biography--which was written from the ideas I pulled together for a different conference paper for last summer's International Auto/Biography Association conference in Sussex. Oops, I did pull stuff right from the conference paper, too, that I had removed from the article version of that research.

The Keynote slides draw from the Stratford/Arts/Sudbury presentation, as well as from the IABA presentation.

Basically, the only strictly-speaking new writing in Saturday's conference paper is in the transition sentences between the ideas. (Although, arguably, those are the places that evidence is turned into argument.)

What I've been really thinking about lately is this: how much reusing and recycling of our work is appropriate here?

I used to build absolutely everything from scratch every time. Have a look at my CV: one article on 80s video game movies. One article on email in romantic comedy. One article on mid-1990s rhetorical posturings in Internet manifestos. One book chapter on blogging in literary studies. It is exhilarating and exhausting to write like that.

Lately, I've changed practice: I've got one article published, one forthcoming, and one submitted, all on personal mommy blogging. I've given three public lectures this year, on largely the same thing, but to very different audiences. I'm giving two conference papers reporting on one survey, to two different academic communities.

Is this 'cheating' somehow? Or is this what depth of engagement looks like? Is this purely strategic maximization of lines on the CV? Or is it better dissemination of research results in an interdisciplinary field?

Basically, is this reduce (effort), reuse (the same materials), recycle (my ideas)? Or is it, to switch metaphors, back to yoga, deepen (my knowledge by repeated trials), broaden (my scope by bringing different theories to bear on one set of practices), and open (by sharing my work more widely and frequently)?

How much reuse is good? Or is it all bad?

What do you do?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ten-cent budget

My grade 9 homeroom teacher, the fearsome Mr Uzwyshyn, taught me to eschew obfuscation. Actually, that's not exactly true, because he taught me never to use a ten-dollar word where a ten-cent word would do.

(Also, he taught me to avoid cliche, so I should probably reword that last sentence.)

The point is: Mr Uzwyshyn, may he rest in peace, would have a stroke if he worked at the university today. And by "university" I mean mine and, I'm willing to wager, yours too.

For one thing, Mr Uzwyshyn did not believe in actioning things. In those days, we barely accessed things, and we certainly didn't incentivize behavior. I cannot imagine what would he make of trending toward research constellations (a group of stars?) instead of hiding in our traditional silos. We did not blue-sky in grade nine homeroom. Low-hanging fruit was an insult, not an easy win. A win-win in Mr Uzwyshyn's class meant explicitly not ramping it up, since taking things to the next level meant a visit to the principal's office. (You can bet we hit the ground running.) He would not have understood the concept of synergy nor the constituency "stakeholders"; he was entirely uninterested in cultivating success on the bleeding or any other edge. His idea of competency was to teach us to speak in a way that did not cause anyone to shudder unpleasantly. That was, you might say, his vision and his mission.

Mr Uzwyshyn explicitly taught me to distrust the verb enhance. I can still hear him. He'd call one person up to his desk to read their essay aloud (sorry, Mr U, but non-sexist simplicity trumps noun-pronoun agreement) while the rest of us beavered away at grammar exercises on our own - yes, you read that right: no deliverables, just quiet grammatical work. In the midst of this silent toil, his impactful voice: "Say what you mean!," he would boom at some luckless classmate. "How does the diction 'enhance' the meaning of the poem? Does it make the meaning clear? Say so! Does it make the poem stronger? How? Does it improve the quality of the writing? Demonstrate! Enhance is an empty word. Go back to your desk and rewrite your essay from the beginning!"

Good ole Mr Uzwyshyn. Never big on student engagement. But a helluva teacher.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bouyant Plans: More Notes from the Non-Tenure Stream


One of my self-described roles here at Hook&Eye is to be a voice from the non-tenured stream. While I certainly don't pretend to be the voice of or a voice for CLTAs, LTAs, and sessionals I did make a goal for myself to speak as frankly as possible about my life as a limited term appointment who is on the job market. As I discovered in one of my earliest posts, being frank--especially in public!-- feels risky. Honestly, sometimes I worry that speaking as a non-tenured faculty member will pigeon hole me as the non-tenured faculty member... But I digress.

So let me fess up: in the last month or so my deliberately cultivated and self-preserving pluck has been worn a bit thin. I've been down, both bogged down and blue. Part of this is March, which is a notoriously difficult month for many of us. Part of this is the resounding number of rejections I've received in the last month (jobs, grants). Part of it is the ennui that comes with thinking "what has all this work accomplished?" And part of my pluck has been worn down by things I can't write about on the blog despite the fact that they might well be the most informative and useful for others in a similar limited term position.

But, as my dear friend and mentor reminded me earlier this week, it gets better. As we head into the last week(s) of the term I find my spirits lifting, and part of that lifting is due to the "free time" that is factored into my current contract. I'm on a 10-month contract that ends next month, and while a new contract begins in August, for the months of June and July I am technically unemployed. Why "free"? Because in the meantime I'll be busy working on the research and writing that is quite difficult to maintain when teaching an overload. In the coming months I'm aiming to revise and resubmit an article, write three (lengthy) book reviews, prepare a book proposal, and write three conference papers (one of which I intend to turn into an article). Oh yes, and plot out my lectures for fall. And have regular picnics at the lake. Ooh, and finally take a photography class so that I can take pictures like this one by Eric Johansson! Hmm. When typed out that looks like quite a bit.

Back in September I wrote a post about resolutions for the new school year. Most of these resolutions had to do with maintaining a a regular writing schedule (er...), keeping class preparation to a reasonable amount of time (hah!), and keeping myself healthful and active (not bad, actually). Readers, it is time for me to revisit those resolutions.

In the next several weeks I'll be planing out my summer plans, the work as well as the play. I wonder if, like me, you have grand plans for both? How do you intend to both refuel and produce over the summer months? How do you manage your non-teaching time?