Behold the power of a fully operational Spring Semester! The week zipped by without my even noticing that I hadn’t done much blogging this week. Allow me to remedy that.
Classes got rolling Wednesday morning as I met my freshpeeps, and my upper level kids made their debuts on Thursday. All the classes are at least somewhat oversubscribed, but I’ve had semesters with more kids in the past, so I’ll manage. It just makes grading a little more of a drag.
In fact, everyone in the English program is oversubscribed this term — when my friend and colleague John Carenen (whose new Thomas O’Shea mystery will be arriving soon — watch for it!) retired a couple of years ago, the position was attrited, so we now have five folks doing what six used to do. Add a growing enrollment to that, and add the fact that one of my colleagues directs the Honors program while another (the department chair) has a load that’s 50/50 teaching and administration, and we all wind up pedaling as fast as we can and then some.
All of that is to say that, like most other areas of employment, we’re running leaner — fewer workers doing the same work, if not more. But it reminds me of another strategy we’ve used here at Mondoville in the past: Deferred maintenance.
We’re a small school, and even our Alma Mater attempts to make a virtue of necessity (the first line is “Though small, nor rich in worldly goods”). In practice, this means that historically, we haven’t always been able to afford maintenance on college buildings. Of course, this in turn has meant that sometimes, things decline to the point where Major Malfunctions occur. (For example, our current Dean once had to take photos of his collapsing office ceiling before the then-admins would fix it.)
I would suggest that there is a human equivalent. It’s not like Mondoville has a karoshi problem, but just as the object of deferred maintenance declines before the total breakdown, when faculty are overworked, the work will suffer — particularly when one of the expectations of a small liberal arts college is faculty-student interaction and mentoring. The scandalous treatment of adjunct faculty has been the canary in this particular coal mine, and we’ve been surrounded by dead canaries and burned-out adjuncts for a while now, and I wonder if anyone is going to do anything about the fact that the air is getting a bit stale.
Still, I remind myself that it beats hell out of selling tires and batteries, and because I take pride in what I do, I’ll keep doing the best job I can. As I said, I’ve had significantly larger student loads in the past — I’ll manage. But I wonder how long we may have to.
In at least one respect, I have a bonus this term. The Spawn is in my creative writing workshop, and last night we were talking about the workshop sessions that are to come. We briefly considered a scenario that, while… well, evil… would instantly become the stuff of campus legend.
SCENE: Fiction workshop. The PROF, the SPAWN, and 14 OTHER STUDENTS, gathered around a double horseshoe of desks. The SPAWN finishes reading a new story she has shared with the class. There is silence. A couple of the OTHER STUDENTS make neutral-to-approving comments. The silence resumes, until
PROF: [Spawn], this is what — your third creative writing workshop?
PROF: And do you think this is your best work?
[She nods again.]
PROF: [Scornfully]. If this is your best, I’d hate to see your worst. This is execrable. I’m sorry — you probably don’t know that word. It is kaka-poopy-doo-doo. Your characters are shallow; your dialogue, wooden; your plotting, plodding. This is vile, it is rancid gibbon shit, and I am ashamed that you would think so little of this class that you dare to pollute my classroom with this appalling display of anti-talent. I feel regret that you were ever taught to read and write, because this clearly demonstrates that your complete illiteracy would have been a boon to all mankind. I would rather you have brought Transformers fan fiction to this class than the waste of time you have offered us. In fact, I encourage you to do exactly that in the future, but I insist that it be Transformers fan fiction written by someone other than you, as I might want to read it without despair.
[He swings a bearlike left hand and sweeps her laptop from her desk. It hits the floor and breaks, as the screen separates from the keyboard and skids a couple of feet farther along the tile floor. The SPAWN wobbles on the edge of her chair, not knowing whether to pick up the wreckage of the computer or act like none of this is actually happening. The PROF resumes.]
Well, at least something good has come of this — that computer won’t host any more of what you laughably call “creative writing.” Pick up that garbage and get out of my classroom. And consider having your tubes tied; you’ve already shown that you’ll never produce anything worth keeping.
[She gathers the rubble of her computer and scuttles into the hallway. Her footsteps fade.]
Right, then — who wants to go next?
I’d never have an oversubscribed class again.
A friend from the History program recommended Anthony Maara’s The Tsar of Love and Techno to me yesterday morning, and I spent a chunk of last night getting going on it. It’s a novel-in-stories with a connecting thread of a minor painting by a Russian artist, and the stories focus on the lives of the people through whose lives the painting passes. It’s quite lit’rary, but thus far it’s also a damned good read, with heartbreaking portrayals of life in the Soviet Union and in the post-Soviet states, leavened by a certain humor. I’m about a third of the way through, and will likely finish it later this evening (after the Kentucky game). If Maara can keep it up, he will have done something admirable indeed.
Well, it’s time for lunch, so I think I’ll wrap this one up. This is another one from the Hillbillies in Hell album, a nifty piece of Western-style proto-rock with really tasty fiddle and guitar solos. Billy Strange is the artist, and I’m not sure if he’s the one who was in the Wrecking Crew, but the dates seem to work, and the fretwork indicates someone who could have played those gigs. In any case, from 1952, here’s “Hell Train.”
See you soon!