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Going on hiatus (#1105)

Topics/tags: Meta-musings, rambly

I have an amazing family. It’s been great to have them home or nearby since Father’s day.

I have wonderful students. I especially appreciate my summer research students, who brighten each day. I also love being able to work with Youngest Son, who is once again contributing to the MIST project.

It’s not just my research students; I also appreciate the other students I’ve taught at Grinnell. And I’m looking forward to teaching my Tutorial students, or at least the portion of my Tutorial students who arrive this fall.

I’m thrilled by the many graduates I know, wonderful students who have become even more wonderful adults. I appreciate their willingness to engage in discussions and dialogue from time to time. I even more appreciate their support for current students. And I like seeing their accomplishments.

I am so lucky to have such wonderful colleagues in the CS department.

I value the many colleagues I have across campus. I include staff, faculty, and even administrators in my list of people I consider colleagues. As I said in a workshop today, I seek advice from many of them and trust that advice.

I feel lucky to have Elaine Marzluff as Acting Dean. Despite my frustration at President Harris’ recent letter, I feel fortunate to have her as president. As I’ve noted repeatedly, I find her thoughtful, articulate, and someone who can move Grinnell in new and positive directions.

I’d like to continue writing musings of thanks and appreciation to all these groups.

But I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t stay positive while working the equivalent of two unpaid nearly-full-time jobs (preparing Tutorial for the fall and Chairing a Department) while also having a life and supervising my research students. I’ve worked between twelve and fourteen hours each night this week. It’s too much.

I can’t stay positive while having to repeatedly argue for the things I and others need to successfully teach online, to have to argue for bandwidth, and software, and iPads for my colleagues, while ITS seems to think that we are lucky to receive webcams and headphones and microphones [1]. What good is any of this if faculty don’t have the bandwidth for reasonable-quality video conferencing? And what kind of institution thinks it’s worthwhile trumpeting the webcams and headphones and microphones to parents as the great technology we are providing to faculty to ensure successful online classes? I can’t deal with policies that regularly interfere with my ability to teach, to do research. As I’ve said, I appreciate the staff in ITS as individuals. But the big picture? It’s flawed.

I can’t stay positive when my college president fails to defend faculty, fails to call them in rather than call them out, as a colleague says. I probably shouldn’t have written a public response to her letter. It’s clear from some notes I received that it will damage my ability to achieve some of my goals, particularly my goals of diversifying my department. It may even damage my department in other ways. But someone had to speak out.

I can’t stay positive when virus cases are increasing rapidly and I see people in my town unmasked, unconcerned, expecting things to be fine.

I can’t stay positive when all I can see for November is a Biden victory and then a Trumpian declaration of martial law. Or maybe a Russian hack of the Republican-promoted electronic voting machines.

I can’t stay positive in a society of systemic racism, a society that denies that systemic racism.

Maybe I shouldn’t think so globally. If I do so, I’ll never be able to cope. Let’s return to the local.

I can’t stay positive when I’m not sure that a year from now we’ll have the staffing we need. Or maybe I can be optimistic about that. Perhaps if the other issues were not at play, I would be.

I can’t stay positive watching the treatment of colleagues who have given decades of their lives to this institution. And no, it’s not just those from President Harris’ letter.

I can’t stay positive amidst the repeated microaggressions against me or my discipline. A trustee who says Why would a computer scientist care about the humanities? Colleagues who ignore my discipline when discussing the sciences [2]. Colleagues who suggest that other faculty could teach our introductory course; after all, it’s just programming and anyone who programs can teach programming [3]. Guess what? It’s not. Intro CS is a way of thinking. And it’s a very different way of thinking. I see far too many people who learned to program but not to think computationally.

I can’t stay positive dealing with an administrator who spent the second half of the spring telling me that technological minimalism was essential, without ever actually realizing that Blackboard Collaborate only shows a few people at a time. How the hell am I supposed to teach if I can’t see my students’ faces? [4]

I look forward to seeing the College enforcing this minimalist approach for all disciplines. Chemistry gets oxygen and hydrogen. That’s enough, right? Art History gets Thomas Kinkade [5], painter of light. Why would one study anything else? We don’t want to put too much stress on our students. Linguistics can teach about three-letter one-syllable words, nothing more. And they must also restrict themselves to such words in what they say to students. Keep it simple, minimalist! English? Dick and Jane should suffice. Music? C-major, one octave. That’s incredibly generous. Art? One purple crayon per student. I guess that’s one case that might succeed; you can create a world with one purple crayon [6].

I can’t stay positive knowing that we consider this has 80% of the features you need in your software to be a close-enough match.

I can’t stay positive knowing that classes start in one month and one day while considering the huge number of things I need to do that have nothing to do with getting ready for those classes.

I can’t stay positive when I get called out (or is it called in) by an administrator for telling a student that I feel sorry that the College treated you poorly [7].

I love to muse. It helps me learn. It helps me think. It helps me connect with others. It helps me express appreciation. It helps.

But I know that these days, if I muse, I’ll rant. If I rant, I’ll burn more bridges. I’ve probably burnt too many already. I likely burnt more in the text above. They may not burn as brightly as the comet overhead, but I’ve burnt them nonetheless. Perhaps I should care. I don’t.

So the musings are going on hiatus. For how long, I do not know. I may still write. But I will not post. It won’t do you good. It won’t do me good. Or maybe I won’t write. I have a lot of time I need to spend on those unpaid jobs. Or, better yet, I could spend more time with my family. We’ll see [8].

See you sometime.

Postscript: You know how song lyrics regularly enter my mind. As I was editing this, I kept hearing the first two lines of Cat Stevens’ Can’t Keep It In.

Oh, I can’t keep it in.

I can’t keep it in; I gotta let it out.

If only my brain moved on to the next two lines.

I gotta show the world, world’s gotta see.

See all the love, love that’s in me.

Unfortunately, that second line (or perhaps my ability to express that line) is being drowned out by the noise from everything else.

[1] Okay, having high-quality microphones is important to make sure that those with hearing impairments can hear me clearly.

[2] You may consider that minor. Since I’ve seen our students lose opportunities because CS is not a science, even though CS students are explicitly eligible for those opportunities, I consider it a huge problem.

[3] Yes, I know that our Statisticians experience the same bias.

[4] I am not suggesting that all faculty need to see their students’ faces. Certainly, those with limited or no sight teach successfully without seeing those faces. But I am accustomed to seeing my students’ faces and hearing their responses. The silenced voices are bad enough. Loss of both voices and images is like teaching to a blank wall.

[5] Is that like Kool-Aid? Or something to help Ray and Dave?

[6] I guess I can still find some places to be positive.

[7] That happened a month or two ago.

[8] You won’t. I will.

Version 1.0 released 2020-07-23.

Version 1.0.1 of 2020-07-23.