Skip to main content

Still a curmudgeon (#1149)

Topics/tags: Rants

As I mentioned recently, I decided to attend the Faculty Meeting on Tuesday, 18 May 2021. I’m not sure whether or not that was the right decision. It’s scary how much I fell back into my old habits. Some of them were good; while I can’t greet everyone, I do tend to try to reach out to some of the too-many folks I know and say hi. Some folks do the same to me. And I do say the occasional useful or positive thing.

But others are less good. Bad, one might even say, at least in some cases. What’s bad? First of all, there are the minor things. I’m too compelled to type comments, sensible and silly, in the chat.

What does Moved back mean?

And THANK YOU to Gina for running the Clickers when we’re in person.

Can we have a Qualtrics form to express our congratulations? [1]

THANK YOU for everything Lesley!

Can we get a summary of what the Trustees talked about at their meeting? I know diversity and equity was a priority, as was the budget. Were there other things?

Okay, those aren’t so bad. The first is a clarification. The next three are the traditional silly or semi-positive Sam. The last is a reasonable question. At least I think it is. Raynard used to give us an overview of the meeting that was more detailed than the outline-like summary we traditionally receive via email. None of these are so bad. But none were necessary. I need to learn to stay silent. In any case, I said that I was curmudgeonly. So let’s move on to that.

We’ll start with the athletics schedule. I support our varsity athletes. I think they know that. And I appreciate that our PE Faculty work hard to ensure that our athletes prioritize their academics. But I look at the athletics schedules and I worry. One team has all of the departure days and times listed as TBD. How can we approve something we don’t know about? Another team has three departures that wipe out all Friday afternoon classes on those days. Is that appropriate? What are our general principles? Is there a late bus? Even though I’m teaching a MWF afternoon course, I decided to stay silent. So I guess that’s a positive change. And someone else asked about the late bus. But I thought about all those issues, which means that I still have work to do. I shouldn’t worry about such things.

When someone said something like We’ve all made it through a difficult year, I wanted to say Not all of us. But that seemed rude. And self-centered. I looked for a friend who might sympathize with the snark; although I had many friends there, I didn’t think anyone would take it the right way. Does it sound better in a musing? I’m not sure. It’s still rude, but it’s also the way I reacted. And I know others feel like I do, if not as severely. It’s been a really difficult year and it builds on a difficult culture that harms many of us. As I said, I’m a curmudgeon.

There was a lot of great news at the meeting. The President has lifted the cap on tenure-line positions [3]. We’re getting a 3% raise. As importantly, the staff are getting the same raise. So why did I want to remark,

Hmmm … you’ve decided that we’ve all done a great job this year and are giving everyone the same raise [4], why not make that the regular policy? Grinnell has excellent faculty and staff. Why have a policy that makes half the folks on campus feel bad because they got less than the median?

And why did I think to myself,

If it’s that easy to lift the cap on the number of tenure-line positions, why didn’t it happen under President Kington? [5]

Somewhere during the meeting, we talked about the search for the new Dean. Perhaps it’s that I’m burning out, but all I could think was I hope that we don’t hire a new Dean that wants to put their stamp on the institution. Mike’s Opportunities for Research for All still has some fairly severe and inequitable lingering burdens associated with it. I’m not sure Anne had time to create an initiative. But each thing a Dean decides to do is another burden on the faculty. And that’s a horrible way to feel. I want a new Dean who is creative and enthusiastic; I just want there to be appropriate levels of faculty support to undertake their creative ideas.

Even when President Harris was talking about the need for more sensible workloads among the folks on campus, all I could think was [Valued colleague] says we need to tackle it as a public health issue, not an individual issue. Are we thinking about things that way? Jen Jacobsen has been gone for more than a year. Why don’t we have a new Wellness Director, which would help? Why is the Wellness Committee still on hiatus? At another point, when she acknowledged how hard it is to cut back as a faculty member, I wanted to write to a friend and say,

It was easy for me. I had a heart attack. That’s made me realize what’s important and what’s not.

See? I’m a curmudgeon. I’m a curmudgeon in so many different ways.

I’ll admit that my curmudgeonliness seems to have changed. There were traditionally three primary motivating factors for my past curmudgeonliness. First of all, I care deeply about this institution, and I worried that we were making decisions without considering implications or while ignoring history or past practice. Related to that was trying to get folks to admit some of the mistakes we’ve made. Second, I’ve encountered so many changes to interpretations that I now find myself insisting that we spell things out carefully and correctly. Third, I worried about the under-resourcing of the CS department and its effects. All affected my behavior. But now there’s a fourth [6,7] factor [9] at play.

That under-resourcing, combined with careless or just plain bad policies, helped bring me to the state at which I had a heart attack. Those aren’t the only things that contributed; my weight and lack of exercise make a difference. However, those are arguably also consequences of having more work and more stress than was reasonable. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven the institution [10]. How do I? It sounds like things may get better, but it’s taken too damn long. And what’s that they say? Impact trumps intent. I don’t necessarily agree [11], but it’s hard not to feel that way. Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is probably necessary. Oh well, I guess that’s something to discuss with my therapist.

There were other curmudgeonly things, too. I don’t recall what all of them were. I’m not even sure I want or need to share the ones I do remember. So I’ll leave it there and take it as a step forward that I didn’t feel compelled to make comments. Perhaps I can stop thinking about the negatives, the potential problems, the rest.

At least there are some positives. When we heard about the new faculty positions, I didn’t ask Where will you house them? Better yet, I didn’t even think it. I’ve asked the question before, multiple times. In each case, an administrator said Don’t worry, we have capacity. I’ll assume that we do. Isn’t it sad that I consider my failure to be curmudgeonly a positive? Oh well. I was also positive in my interactions with others and my enthusiasm for the promotion and tenure notifications and such. Those are the more important positives.

Despite the positives, I find myself asking whether or not I will attend meetings again next year, when we’re back in person. I’m not sure. If I do, I’ll hope that my hearing aids work appropriately. And I’ll try to stay silent. My time of speaking out needs to be done. But if I don’t speak, do I need to go? It’s nice to see others; I’ll go to the first faculty meeting of the year to see people in person. But the rest of the meetings? We shall see.

Postscript: Here’s another positive. In general, writing rants makes me upset [12]. This one felt much more neutral; I was just reporting on what I felt. I regret being curmudgeonly, but writing about these issues doesn’t make me any more upset about them. Progress!

[1] To the faculty who were promoted and/or tenured [2].

[2] Yes, we had at least one who was tenured without being promoted.

[3] Yay! Thank you, Anne! And thank you, Elaine and Vida and others, for your hard work helping President Harris understand the issues at play. And thank you BoT for agreeing!

[4] Not quite, but close.

[5] I’m not sure that there’s an acceptable answer to that question. There is an obvious one. And that one is not acceptable.

[6] Or perhaps a zeroth, if you count like a computer scientist.

[7] Not Forth. That’s a programming language. [8]

[8] Or perhaps an adverb, as in Go forth, Grinnellian!

[9] Are they multiplicative? I’m not sure.

[10] For that matter, I’m not sure I’ve forgiven myself.

[11] Musing forthcoming.

[12] Okay, more upset.

Version 1.0 released 2021-05-19.

Version 1.0.1 of 2021-05-19.