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Mood swings

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

Today’s been a weird day. There was a period of time today that I said to myself That’s the last straw; I’m fed up with Grinnell. But there were also times that I felt a bit better, perhaps even much better.

The day started well. I slept in a bit [1]. I planned a musing. I went to water aerobics. I managed to strike up a conversation with someone I didn’t know, which is hard for me. I got some time in the hot tub. When I reached campus, there was chili with cinnamon rolls. I got a thank-you note for chocolates I’d given to someone. All in all, a good start of the day.

Then things rapidly went downhill.

First, as I was looking for some information about Kate Walker [2], I found a press release from when we hired her. That press release indicated that

Grinnell has become one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students […].

That number seemed low to me compared to current enrollments, so I went to check. Our current Grinnell at a Glance page says that

About 1,700 students attend the College.

Since Kate started in Fall 2013, that would represent a growth of about 100 students in five or so years. Since President Kington and the Trustees have been unwilling to allow the faculty to Grow, I was all set to write a rant about the issue.

But that wasn’t the low point.

During today’s department meeting, I learned that students have been signing in for CS Table and then not attending. Some went so far as to forge the names of alums or to put in humorous names, like Tony Stark. I guess it may feel like a victimless crime to the students, but we regularly over-spend our CS Table budget and have to use our restricted fund. I’m the second-largest donor to that fund, and I would much rather the funds get used for other purposes then feeding random students [3]. It also bothers me because it’s dishonest and a violation of self-governance.

Surprisingly, there was a positive aspect to the CS Table discussion. One of my colleagues raised the issue of students who are food insecure, and we spent some time talking about how the institution can and should support such students [4].

But the CS Table thing feels like a betrayal. The department spends time and effort to arrange CS Table because we believe it provides an important educational benefit to our students. To help our limited funding for CS Table go further, the CS faculty pay for our own lunches rather than charge them to the department. To have students charge us, not attend, and treat it like a joke, hurts. It makes me want to stop spending the time and effort doing things like this for students [5].

After the department meeting, I wandered over to the Registrar’s office to talk about my innovation fund proposal to have students write more substantive declarations of majors and defend those declarations and their four-year plans. While I did not receive funding under the Pilot Project model, the Committee did suggest that I do a Planning Project and I thought it would be good to talk to the Registrar about some of the ideas.

When I was there, I learned that Curriculum Committee is discussing doing away with the major declaration essay, the essay that I was making core to my project. Even if we ignore my project, I think of the major declaration essay as one of the primary times we ask students to reflect closely on their liberal education, and it strikes me that we are abandoning core values if we get rid of it.

All of that put me in a horrendous mood. Then I went home and managed to slip on the ice. It wasn’t a minor slip, either. I ended up on my back. At least I didn’t break anything. Nonetheless, adding bodily pain to mental anguish is not a step forward.

After that, I had lunch with Michelle and Youngest Son and we chatted about a variety of things, and I felt a bit better. Then I came home and, in a better frame of mind, reflected on the things that I thought had ruined my day.

I know that the enrollment numbers that appear in the College’s press releases aren’t always accurate or consistent. There are a lot of ways to measure enrollment; for example, how do you count students studying abroad? So I went online and checked the data through IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. I found that our full-time equivalent fall enrollment in 2018 was 1,694, or about 1,700 students. In contrast, our full-time equivalent fall enrollment in 2012 was 1,638, which is a bit more than 1,600 students. It’s not a growth of 100 students, but it is a growth of about 56 students. Since we have about a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, that increase would suggest hiring another six faculty members. However, I also know that the numbers fluctuate. I’m sure that there’s a sensible way to get time-series data from IPEDS, but I could not figure it out, and Carlie wasn’t available. So I looked up the data for Fall 2008, the first semester after Noyce 3rd was completed. Back then, our full-time equivalent fall enrollment was 1,659 students. And I’m pretty sure that the College has added tenure-line positions since then. So perhaps things aren’t as bad in this area as I’d thought [6].

I’ve made an appointment to talk to the Associate Dean who chairs Curriculum Committee. Tim’s thoughtful and someone I respect. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a good conversation.

What about the CS Table issues? I don’t have an answer for that. The department is going to have to find a new process for CS Table. I think we should involve our SEPC, since it feels like an issue in which self-gov has failed, and we repair self-gov through student action, not faculty action. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel quite as betrayed as I did when I first heard about the incidents.

So things were feeling a bit better.

Then Michelle and I started our give to charity instead of giving presents efforts. We were working with a charity that claimed that it made it easy to print out cards to send. But the electronic cards [7] they sent us (a) did not have the recipient’s name, (b) did not have the gift-giver’s name, (c) did not list or describe the gift given, and (d) did not print in any reasonable size. Who has envelopes for 5.5x8.5 inch cards? It doesn’t help that our HP Wireless Printer is not particularly cooperative these days [8].

But Youngest Son is a whiz at these things. So we turned the task over to him. I’m not sure that the hour spent re-doing the cards in another program was a good use of his time, but at least we now have cards to send.

Were there other good things today? I got a hug from a valued colleague when I was feeling pretty grumpy about all of this. I enjoyed looking at one of the painted rocks in the snow. I got to muse. And then there are all the other regularly wonderful things in my life: my wife, my kids, my job [9], my friends and colleagues, my quality of life. Plus, at least one of my colleagues had no idea who Tony Stark is.

Were there other bad things today? Of course. But none live up to the sense of betrayal associated with CS Table and the sense of abandonment of responsibility associated with the declaration of major. I wasn’t productive, and that frustrates me. But I accept that there are unproductive days.

In any case, here’s hoping that tomorrow goes better. If not, I expect that you’ll read a lot of rants this week [10].

Followup: Things did get better.

[1] My family kept me up late watching Crisis on Infinite Earths.

[2] I saw Kate on Friday and I was reminded that I wanted to muse about her.

[3] I don’t object to feeding random students. I also donate regularly to the College food pantry. But our CS Table budget is to support student discussions.

[4] Just to be clear, the fact that students experience food insecurity is not a positive. The fact that our department cares and that Grinnell provides resources are positives.

[5] My experience with MINK-WIC also puts me in that frame of mind. I spent a lot of time arranging the trip and the department used funds to pay for student attendance. However, multiple students just decided not to attend and couldn’t even be bothered to notify someone. Our departure was delayed while we tried to figure out why they weren’t there in time for the bus. I’m glad that the students who attended had a good time, but the students who abused the opportunity made me furious.

[6] I’d still like to see the College increase the number of tenure-line faculty. It’s just that I no longer have the annoying feeling that the College added one-hundred students and won’t add faculty.

[7] PDFs!

[8] Have I mentioned that I hate not only computers but also computer peripherals?

[9] Even though it doesn’t feel that way today.

[10] Come to think of it, you may read a lot of rants even if I’m in a better mood.

Version 1.0 released 2019-12-16

Version 1.1 of 2019-12-17