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Maybe I’m not a curmudgeon

I call myself a curmudgeon. I seem to have all the requisite traits. I’m an old white [1] guy. I complain a lot. Isn’t that what a curmudgeon is? Let’s see … Merriam-Webster says that a curmudgeon is a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man [3]. Hmmm … crusty.I don’t think that I’m a pie, so I should see what else crusty means. Ah, giving an effect of surly incivility in address or disposition [4,5]. Yup, anyone who has seen me talk to certain folks at a faculty meeting would say that I have that effect.

However, I’ve had a number of recent experiences that make me question my curmudgeonly credentials.

I was talking to a faculty member at another institution about the large rise in administrative positions at our institutions, a rise that is particularly frustrating because our institutions would both benefit from more faculty and it is clear that the budget can’t bear both more administrators and more faculty. I’ve generally accepted the claim that We had deferred administrative and staff maintenance; the world is a much more complex place than it was twenty years ago, and more administrators are needed to handle additional regulations and student expectations [6]. In contrast, my friend, in a faculty meeting in which they were discussing what to do about the rise in administrators, said something like Maybe they could all just die. I don’t think I’d ever say anything like that.

Even at Grinnell, I seem to be a bit calmer about particular changes. Our office of Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) has expanded by more than a dozen people in the past few years. My response? We should be paying attention to our students’ ability to get jobs, particularly if we want to continue to support students from a variety of economic backgrounds. So I support the growth in CLS [7]. And when a colleague says something like Student affairs is engaging in empire building, I respond with My experience is that the folks in student affairs care deeply about our students and are doing what they think is right.

These days, I seem to rant less, even when I have things that I should be curmudgeonly about, like the Dean’s office failing to forward a response from the Dean about an urgent question (even though he responded promptly) or someone’s failure to forward along important paperwork to a committee, thereby setting off a series of complicating delays [9].

Even at SIGCSE, I generally acted as the good cop of the pair of student-volunteer coordinators.

Maybe I’m not the curmudgeon that I claim to be.

Oh well. I’m still keeping my name tag.

Postscript: While I was writing this musing, I received notification about an absurd expectation that the Dean’s office is now placing on departments. It appears that my curmudgeonly self may return. And I still have the curmudgeonly Usurping faculty responsibilities musing to write. Perhaps I won’t call myself a curmudgeon in those situations. And maybe I won’t call them rants. Perhaps I’ll just express them as necessary concerns about the state of this institution I love. We shall see.

[1] Given that the white supremacy movement does not consider me white, I’m beginning to question whether I should continue to describe myself that way. I tend to have the privileges associated with a light skin tone. But I also have encountered people who assume that I’m Jewish [2] and treat me differently because of that assumption.

[2] I am, at least culturally.



[5] Why did they use crusty in the definition of curmudgeon. Couldn’t they have just included the concept? An ill-tempered, usually old, man who is surly and incivil in address or disposition.

[6] I do wish that the increase in administrators led to a decrease in administrative burden on the faculty, rather than an increase.

[7] Nonetheless, I do not accept President Kington’s unsupported assertion that the growth in CLS is responsible for growth in applications and applicant quality. I’m working on a piece that suggests that the quality of CS has a more direct impact. After all, it’s not the phrase Careers that people search for most often on the Grinnell Web site [8].

[8] We were recently told that the most frequent search term is Computer Science.

[9] Does mentioning them in this musing raise my curmudgeonly status? I’ve only commented vaguely.

Version 1.0 of 2018-02-27.