I’ve written about this issue before; that I’m a Bad Female Academic for having administrative ambition, but also how it’s a difficult position to put myself in because I am not on the tenure-track, thus it doesn’t “count”, nor am I afforded the same protections. Nonetheless, and despite being warned, I volunteered to be an “Early College Mentor.” What does this mean? Well, our college offers early college credit courses in the high schools and I will be mentoring the teachers in the high schools who are teaching these classes.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I used to swim and coach swimming. I received news the other day that one of the swimmers I coached in the past got a head coaching job. This past year, a girl I used to coach (when she was, like, 6) qualified for the the World Championships. I felt a tiny little bit a pride in seeing these two swimmers succeed in swimming. Here are two very, very successful swimmers in two different areas of the sport.
I don’t think I need to go back over for any readers of this blog the push in education, both K-12 and higher education, towards standardization, concrete learning outcomes, and return-on-investment. One has to look no further than what is currently going on in Texas to see that what we do as professors/instructors/educators is under some heavy fire. Increasingly, my job is about counting and measuring.
- You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
- You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
- You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
- You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.
There is a pernicious belief in higher education, perhaps even more dangerous than believing that if you are a good researcher than you can’t be a good teacher and vice-versa. That belief is that good academics don’t want to be administrators or can’t be good administrators. Especially for those on the tenure-track, administrative responsibility is often the kiss of death, because of the politics. Being a position to make decisions very quickly can made friends into enemies. And once you get tenure? Well, why bother?
Another reason that administrative ambition is met with distaste is that faculty are increasingly disillusioned by the university administration and administrators. As an increasing number of classes are being taught by part-time, underpaid adjuncts who are off the tenure-track, the number of full-time administrators is growing even more, and beginning to outnumber the faculty. And the relationship, through budget cuts and skyrocketing administrative salaries, is causing an increasingly adversarial relationship between the faculty and administration. A good academic doesn’t want to do anything with the increasing corporatization of the university.
When I was a PhD student, because of various organizational difficulties, I decided to become president of the Graduate Students’ Association. And, I loved it. Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to be at a university where the students (both undergraduate and graduate) were respected and an integral part of the decision-making process. Maybe it’s because I was in Canada, where presidents are academics and not from corporations and we don’t have high-profile/high-money sports. And I know that I was following a long line of serious, highly effective GSA presidents who set up a wonderful set of expectations for me to fulfill. Regardless of the reason, I came away from the experience motivated to move up the academic ranks with the goal of eventually going into administration in order to work to try to make the university better.
But even before my PhD, I would get involved, usually through student government. I was taught that if you didn’t like how things were going, you figured out how best to make them better. So, I did. And I always liked it. I figured that academia would be a great opportunity for me to do research, teach, and…be an administrator.
Yes, I am a bad female academic.
My dirty little secret. I have ambition, and that ambition involves moving up the administrative ladder. This, as I have outlined above, can be a dangerous thing to admit. Between the idea that true academics shouldn’t aspire to administrative positions and the idea that, as a woman, it could be seen as threatening to express any sort of ambition, I’m pretty much waving the white flag. I’m either going to be taken advantage of on the lower rungs, make too many enemies, or burn out. Or maybe, just maybe, prove that you can be a good faculty member and a good administrator.
The major roadblock to my plan? I’m not on the tenure-track. By choice. But that will be for next time.
I have been thinking about this post and summer series for a while now. It fits in well with what I write about both here and for the University of Venus. I was planning on doing these posts on Friday, but it looks like Mondays it is. Makes more sense, as I will have the weekend to write them. Although, over the summer, every day looks a lot the same (take care of kids in the AM, write and research in the PM, rinse, repeat).
What is this weekly feature? Every week, I will look at all the ways I am a Bad Female Academic. Some weeks, it will be about why am I a bad academic more generally, sometimes about how I am a bad female. Other weeks, it will be why I am a bad combination of the two. I specifically want to deal with the ways in which our communities (large and small) try to limit who I am and how I am allowed to view and understand myself. The pressures academia places on me are well-knows, as are larger societal messages about who I am supposed to be as a woman, mother, and wife. When these two worlds collide…
I am inspired by two people in particular: Her Bad Mother and Worst Professor Ever. But unlike Worst Prof (and more like Bad Mother), I tired to leave academia and found myself pulled back in (OK, so once you have kids, you’re pretty much stuck with them, but you get the analogy, right?). In my mind, the work of breaking the stereotypes of what it is to be a “good” mother and a “good” academic (which, in my mind, sounds an awful lot like being a “good girl” – actually, go and listen to the Barenaked Ladies song, you’ll see what I mean). They are chains hanging around our necks and I want to really take a long, hard look at them.
But mostly I’m just tired of all the things I should or shouldn’t be doing, worrying about what everyone else thinks, and just be who I am, which is, apparently, a Bad Female Academic.
Whenever I read Cathy Davidson, I am find myself moving from being inspired and invigorated to very, very depressed. Take her latest, for example, “Going Interactive in a Big Way: How Can We Transform the Lecture Class?” I read it and thought, yes, this is what I want to try and do in my classes! This is, indeed, the future of education! We should be asking our students to think critically about the Internet and electronic medium(s)! Why can’t students take responsibility for their education in my class? Onward and upward over the summer in order to reimagine (yet again) my classes!
And then doubt starts creeping in. I remember all of the requirements and limitations that are imposed on my because I’m teaching general education courses. I remember that I don’t have tenure, nor am I on the tenure-track, so I am in a vulnerable position, making it that much riskier to be daring in how I teach my (supposedly) standard and increasingly standardized courses. I also fear letting go of control of my class, allowing my students more input and control. I fear giving up lecturing, the only way I really know how to teach, after all. And, above all, I fear failing.
I realize that it is a total failure of imagination at this point that I either can’t conceptualize how to make my writing classes more interactive, or I can’t imagine it being successful. Which is total crap because I know that it works. But there is a persistent message about the students that I teach, which is that they aren’t prepared to learn this way or that it doesn’t really benefit them (hence the increasing standardization of the curriculum). They don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know what they need to know, so it is up to us to preach it to them. But in a writing class, where the goal is to improve reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, won’t just about anything do?
Other challenges that I am trying to overcome are that a) the classes are lower-division and b) required. In my mind (and, again, this might be totally false), upper-division classes that the students willingly chose to take are easier to make interactive because the students are more experienced and there because they want to be. Convincing these students to be innovative would appear to be less work. A freshman who has no idea who I am, what college is about, or what to expect (or the wrong idea of what to expect) might not look to kindly on a teacher who walks into class and says, we need to learn how to write, how do you want to do it?
I feel like an old dog. Can I learn and teach these new tricks to my students? And why do I think that my freshmen/sophomore non-traditional/first generation students are any less capable than upper-division students at highly selective colleges? Why am I helping to perpetuate the myth that innovative teaching is only good for the best and the brightest? I want to be braver, and I am ashamed that I am not. I talk a big talk, but when it comes time to walk the walk, I falter. I pat myself for the (minimal) work that I have done, but when confronted with the reality that I am just simply repackaging the same old pedagogical framework, I am left unable to respond.
My students deserve an innovative and non-standardized education as much as anyone else, perhaps more. One of my projects for this summer is figuring out how I can combine the requirements that are imposed on me and my desire to do better for my students. I know it’s going to be a struggle, but I have to try.
After mecifully not having too many grade grubbers last semester, this semester, they have come out of the woodwork. I have one particular student who has sent me multiple emails (starting about three weeks before the end of the semeser) begging me for bonus work because the student knew that s/he was far away from getting an A. I don`t do bonus work, but I did allow the student to hand in an assignment that s/he had missed. It was only worth 5%, but, as the student figured out, those 5% assignments add up quickly. The student actually wrote to me that s/he received A`s on all of the major writing assignments and refused to get a B in the class because of some “stupid” 5% quizzes and assignments.
And this is where things start to get a bit tricky for me; there is a significant portion of the grade in my class that is based not on what I have assigned and developed, but things that I have been forced on me because of` “accountability” and “student learning outcomes.” I have tried to minimize the impact that these assignments and quizzes could have on the students` final grades, but inevitably, they add up.
So I`m torn; part of me wants to just round everyone`s grades up if they completed the “required” portions and be done with it. But part of me also wants to write that a) it was clearly outlined on a syllabus that these assignments would be worth something and b) they should be grateful that I am technically not following the guidelines by making these assignments only worth 5% each (they are supposed to be worth 10% each). And still another part of me wants to say, look at your homework grade. That`s where you lost your A.
But this situation raises a great deal of questions for me. My students` know that certain parts of the course are not of my doing nor are these parts what I want to be doing or evaluating. And I resent the fact that so much of my students` grades are based on elements I have absolutely no control over. As we increasingly stadardize college courses, particularly general education and writing courses, what are we really accomplishing other than simply collecting “data” and undermining the authority and autonomy of the individual instructor? Students are not stupid; mine have figured out the weakness in the process and are exploiting it for their own benefit.
And I feel powerless to stop them, really. I am tempted to really commit career suicide by recommending to the student that if s/he is unhappy with the grade I assigned, then they should take it up with the Provost, the person responsible for all of these “assessement” measures. I know it will get kicked back down to our department, saying that we were “free” to develop whatever assessment measures we wanted (just as long as they fit into this long list of requirements that have nothing to do with our dicipline).
Maybe this will help students understand and fight back on this move towards standardization in higher education. Because the faculty certainly aren`t getting anywhere.