How I Lost my Voice: On Anonymity and Academic Blogging

Author: Psyc Girl
Original: Stressful Times


I haven’t been blogging much lately. And yes, these navel gazing posts about blogging and voice can be really irritating. For those of you who don’t want to read further, here is the TL;DR version:

I miss blogging, but I don’t know who my voice is anymore, and I miss true pseudonymity. I’m not sure what to do about this. 

A big part of the slowdown is the fact that several people I know IRL read my blog now – that means when I write I picture them sitting at home in their track pants reading my inner thoughts and feelings. Things that I might or might not want to share with actual people I interact with face to face on a regular basis. It’s like being tapped into my frontal lobe and I’m not sure how I feel about that all of the time.

There are also readers who know who I am from the blog – they don’t interact with me in a face to face manner on a regular basis necessarily, but they could follow the rest of my life online if they wished. And I follow their lives. All of these things I don’t really get that bothered by (I don’t have a lot of choice in the manner even if I was bothered, let’s be honest) but it does censor my writing, compared to 5 or 6 years ago when I was literally sending pseudonymous words completely into the unidentified blogosphere.

What if someone who reads the blog outs me at work by accident? What if someone decides they don’t like me anymore and they out me on purpose? What if that angry post from 3 years ago comes back to haunt me because someone is upset with me? I can’t help but think these things.

There is also the delicate balance between blogging the details of my “real life” vs. my pseudonymous, general writing. For example, early on I made the decision to never blog about my actual research area. Thus, Agricultural Psychology was born – I focus on cow studies, corn growth, and chick studies. These give me helpful labels with which to communicate the overall process of being a researcher – but it limits the exciting things about my research I can really discuss.

I also try my best not to blog about something I’ve said in person to strangers who could accidentally stumble across the blog (who I don’t want to). If I make a joke on twitter, I don’t make the same joke in class. If I tell a story to a colleague, I don’t tell it on the blog. And vice versa. Sometimes this level of censure gets difficult – but as I develop a more offline social network of professional support, I find myself preferring to turn to them in person vs. the blogosphere, if I have to choose.

Third, there are things I want to blog about that are very important academic causes to me – but doing so would make me more identifiable.

Both of these last two points relate to the idea of whether or not pseudonymity remains important to me. It gives me a great deal of freedom in my writing. And as much as people can say academic blogging is dying, I disagree – I know of 2-3 academics who, in the past year, switched from identifiable to pseudonymous blogging so they could have more freedom in their voice. And I know identifiable bloggers who will not touch many topics on their blog because they cannot (for whatever reason) attach their name to their opinions.

What do I want? I don’t know. I could remain the same. I could lock down any additional disclosures of my identity. I could be more loose with my pseudonymity and not care if I’m identifiable. I could blog under my name. I have been wrestling with all of these options since I became a faculty member – the only thing I seem decided upon is not blogging with my real name displayed. There are many topics I no longer write about – teaching, graduate student mentorship, my medical concerns, my love life – because I no longer have complete pseudonymity.

Fourth, I realized about 12-18 months ago that I was spending more time online than I wished. I wanted my focus to turn to my offline life. It was hard to really take a look at how much time I was spending attached to a screen and to let go of some of the online interpersonal connections that were very important to me. Twitter, in particular, has a short memory – after a year of less activity on twitter, including deleting twitter from my phone, I have much fewer interactions online. I miss them. But my offline life is a lot more consistent with the way I want it to look. I’m sad to have made one sacrifice for the benefits of the other. Less time online = less blogging.

Last, my career has changed. I still have issues and experiences related to academia that I think are helpful to others – I have no intention to quit blogging altogether – but I’m spending a lot more time crafting my career lately. I’m removing things, adding things, and reconstructing things. I suppose one could argue that I’m welcome to blog about those experiences. I’m finding, instead, I need to do a lot of these changes alone. I’m not discussing them with others, but instead quietly reflecting and tweaking solo.

To summarize: I don’t quite know where my blog is going. I know that I want to be blogging more. I think as my career changes, the things I have to share change. But my personal life will probably stay in the closet, at least until I figure out which voice to wear.

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Interviews: How to Handle Tricky Questions

Author: Steve Joy
Original: Early Career Blog


This post is a companion to my last piece about preparing for an academic interview [and is a re-posting of my piece on the Guardian Higher Education Network‘s website]. I’ve trawled the archives to pick out common yet tricky questions, and I offer some ideas for how to handle them.

Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list. You will always get unexpected questions. The trick is to take a deep breath and let go of the anxiety that you need to find the “right” answer. Interview questions have countless plausible and convincing answers, but what sets good candidates apart is their ability to deliver structured answers, to articulate their thinking clearly, and to speak to the concerns of their interviewers.

1) Why do you want this job?

It’s amazing how many people struggle to give sensible answers, which creates a dreadful impression – particularly if it’s the opening question. Prepare your response, which needs to be confident, specific, and well structured. For example, “There are three main reasons why I see myself as a good fit for this role”.

When it comes to the content, avoid being generic (saying the same as everyone else). And don’t sound selfish: the panel want to know how they will benefit from having you on their team as much as, if not more than, how you will benefit.

2) What’s your best paper?

This might be your highest-impact paper, but it doesn’t have to be. What counts is that you give a sound rationale for your choice. Perhaps you’re proudest of the paper which marks a transitional moment in your research or your career. Or perhaps it’s the paper that you know had a direct, positive impact on someone else’s work. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve thought it through.

3) Why do you work on X? Surely, Y is more important

Try not to interpret this sort of question as an attack. Fundamentally, interviewers want you to address their concerns. You work on gibbons – I work on gorillas, so how is your work relevant to mine? You study Shakespeare – I study Marlowe, so what can I learn from you?

Take a structured approach: “Let me break that question down into two. The reason why X is an important topic is […]. I understand that what Y is trying to achieve is […]. What I think that the two studies have in common, therefore, is […].”

4) What will you do if something goes wrong?

What happens if your hypothesis is wrong? Your experiments fail? You can’t get access to the archive you need? Your grant is unsuccessful? Don’t pretend that your research is impervious to failure. Doing so will probably come across as denial or, worse, a lack of self-awareness. What matters is how you handle setbacks, and how you plan to overcome predictable hiccups.

5) Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Lots of people tackle this question by naming the job title which they hope to have attained, for example: “10 years from now, I want to be a professor.” This is OK (provided you can explain how you intend to get there), but it’s awfully predictable. Think about achievements rather than status. This question also gives you an opportunity to show that you have a vision for where your field is going. What’s the next big question that, in a decade’s time, you expect to be working on, or even to have solved?

6) How does your work fit with the group/department/university?

Interviewers don’t recruit candidates who see themselves in solipsistic isolation. So, based on all your preparatory research into this employer, identify the specific ways that your work aligns with their needs and priorities. Think about: particular specialisms, research clusters, possible collaborations, undergraduate or graduate curricula, interdisciplinary links with other departments, outreach initiatives, etc. Don’t turn this into a conceptual answer – ground what you say in a couple of specific, tangible examples.

7) Describe a course or topic that you would teach

Too many candidates talk about prospective teaching as if its value were entirely self-evident, or they simply lean on the intrinsic intellectual interest of the topic. Instead, think in terms of outcomes and learning objectives, because evaluation is integral to good teaching. What will the students get out of the course? What work will you set, and how will it be assessed? What skills will they acquire? How will it complement the rest of their studies?

8) What does collegiality mean to you?

Panels are recruiting someone to work alongside themselves or other members of their institution, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that working relationships are on interviewers’ minds. In truth, some people are simply not good colleagues. So, what kind of a colleague do you intend to be? How are you going to help others to be successful?

9) If we offered you this job, would you accept it?

This isn’t a trick question, and the best response isn’t necessarily just to say yes, without hesitation. There are innumerable factors that could have a bearing on what you might say, not least the vexed issue of waiting to hear back about other applications. But let’s not assume that being honest is always a bad thing. The crucial point is that, before you get in the room, you should take time to think through whether you would accept the job, and to discuss it with peers and mentors.

10) Do you have any questions for us?

This will almost certainly come up and is generally taken as a measure of how interested you are in the role. You should therefore be prepared with a couple of questions. Bad types of question to ask are: essentially selfish (e.g. asking about benefits, annual leave, sabbatical entitlement); ill-informed (i.e. things you could have found out for yourself if you’d spent a few minutes on the employer’s website); or downright naive (e.g. “Would you say that the Research Excellence Framework is important to this department?”).

Redefining “Success”: On Self-Care, Balance, and Overwork in Academia

Author: Raul Pacheco-Vega
Originals: RaulPacheco.org  [ 1 | 2 ]


By some people’s standards I could consider myself a very successful academic. I have a job I love at a prestigious, internationally-recognized institution, I have a low teaching load, have successfully raised extramural grant money to execute projects, I have brilliant students, both undergraduate and graduate. I absolutely love my research and have fantastic collaborators worldwide and wonderful colleagues at my institution’s campuses.

 

Yet, I can’t help but remind myself that definitions of success vary. I’m not a fan of “publish-or-perish”, and sometimes I defy the old canon by refusing to engage in it. Yet other times, I just can’t stop myself from writing about a research topic because it really ignites a fire inside me and I’m passionate about it (ask me about my recent work on water privatization, for example, or my career-long scholarship on wastewater governance).

However, I should also admit that this time a decade ago, I was just happy to be alive, and I considered that a success. I had just broken up with my fiance, and my world was crumbling underneath my feet. The pressure of completing a PhD, plus my own personal goals shattered by the loss of the person I thought I was going to marry, were overwhelming. Yet I survived, thrived, completed my PhD, managed to publish a few things and now have a fantastic position, and a research trajectory that fascinates me.

In the current environment of higher education, with funding cuts, loss of tenure-track positions, increasing pressure on graduates to find jobs, and grave mental health problems in academia, we can’t afford to measure success the same way for everyone. For many academics who face disability challenges, just reading one page or writing 100 words per day should be considered a success. Heck, being alive is success.

 

For many academics, success should include being able to balance their personal life with their professional one. Or having time to spend with their children. OR having time for themselves. Success is such a personal component of life that I find associating it with the professional side ends up hurting us more than helping us. For me, because I was so ill at ISA 2014, success meant having the physical energy to participate in my own panel and comment another one.

 

 

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may know that I ended 2014 extremely sick. I was under an impossible amount of pressure (finishing two project reports, my Mom was in the hospital undergoing cardiovascular surgery, and I also had a negative reaction to the flu shot). Overall, these conditions combined leading to me being sick for two weeks. As in, my physician told me “you need to rest or you’re going to die”. Those are not the words you want your physician to tell you, at any point in time.

I understand why I ended up this broken. We have 3 holiday periods at CIDE: April (3 weeks), July (3 weeks), and December (2 weeks). I didn’t take any holidays last December, nor this April, nor in July. Not even statutory holidays and long weekends. Which means I was on 24/7, 365 days. No human being is capable of sustaining this amount of pressure for an extended period of time.

Yes, I do schedule self-care every day (I go out with my friends, with my parents, I schedule naps). But even daily self-care isn’t enough in academic life. Because it’s not a job that is 9 am to 5pm, as most jobs would be. In academic life, you are on 24/7. Your brain is always thinking about your research (at least, mine is).

This amount of pressure isn’t something my institution brought on to myself. Much to the contrary, all senior faculty at CIDE insisted “you need to slow down” in late 2013. And to be perfectly honest, I *thought* I had slowed down. I was learning to say “no” to requests, I said NO to many conference calls, and invitations to participate in academic seminars, etc. BUT (and here is the big BUT), all the planning I did ended up being screwed because there were things I didn’t foresee (like my parents’ poor health, which is something you can’t schedule or plan around).

So what did I do in 2015, with all this learning I just gained?

1) I tried to not answer work-related emails on weekends.

2) I took almost all weekends off, and I did take all statutory holidays and my allocated vacation time.

3) I tried to erase any commitment that didn’t bring me forward in my career. This meant book chapters, Spanish language publications and edited volumes.

4) I made a commitment to my own health and well-being public with my institution (which I have to admit, is incredibly supportive and human), with my colleagues (who are simply amazing and understanding and caring) and with my own students (who are fantastic), and with my international colleagues (who are outstanding scholars who understand the need for self-care).

5) I went home for the holidays. I miss Vancouver and Canada like crazy and 2014 was the first year I hadn’t gone home for the holidays. I did go to Toronto in 2014, but I miss my own home and my friends.

Let’s redefine success in academia not only based on books, book articles, chapters, but on what is really relevant to us. My research is policy-relevant. I’m doing what I love and getting paid for it. And I am spending time with my parents, my friends and my loved ones.

To me, that’s success.

What Parents Need to Know About College Faculty

Author: Joseph Fruscione
Original: PBS NewsHour


It was a nice spring day in 1999 — my second semester of teaching. I was walking past a campus tour group and saw one of my students leading it. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: as I was passing them, a parent asked if all university faculty were full time. “Yes,” my student said. I was taken aback, because I’d told my classes about being adjunct, as well as a bit about what “adjunct” meant and how many of us there were in the English department alone teaching freshman writing.

The next day, I pulled him aside after class and asked him about it. “I’m not mad at you; I’m just curious: Your class knows I’m a graduate student, not a full-time professor with tenure. I don’t even have my doctorate yet. Why did you tell that parent all university faculty were full time?”

“That’s what the university wants us to say to parents,” he replied.

This is one of many moments in my career I’d like to revisit with the knowledge and dedication to activism I have now. Granted, things have improved a bit since then: another former student told me in 2013 that tour guides tell parents the school employs a variety of professors, and that some of them teach at other schools. This is slightly better, but still not ideal at a school whose tuition is among the highest in the country — yet whose senior administrators receive CEO-level compensation.

I’d love to visit as many colleges as possible during spring tours and back-to-school move-in time. Fifteen years of adjuncting — six as a Ph.D. student, nine as a scholar and hopeful jobseeker — has given me a lot of rich, sometimes troubling experiences that I’d want to share with parents and students. I wish, for example, a parent was with me that time I was in the elevator with my department chair, who quasi-complained about having to teach one class in a semester when I had four first-year writing courses across two schools. (To be clear: I’m not questioning how much work and how many demands chairs have. I’m questioning the myopia of this person’s comment.) “I guess I shouldn’t complain about this to you,” the chair said. “Yes, but it’s fine,” I said. “I manage, and I’m gaining good experience.”

Had some parents been with me, I could’ve added this: “Maybe you can explain to them why the university thinks it’s good to give students — especially freshmen — a string of part-time professors who may be teaching at other schools to make ends meet. Can you or one of the provosts meet with their children while I’m teaching somewhere else to approach a livable wage?” At the time, I was playing nice because I’d hoped (naively) that I could move up the ranks in the department to a full-time position. Perhaps I should’ve damned the torpedoes and just spoken my mind. Playing nice rarely helps adjuncts move up at any school.

We are all a part of higher education’s culture of contingency, regardless of whether we’re students, parents, staff members, graduate TAs, administrators, professors, former academics, and so on. The precarious working conditions on American college campuses mean that adjunct and other non–tenure track faculty must often choose between their desire to teach and their desire to deal with the financial realities of what is, fundamentally, full-time part-timing. In such cases, students suffer when their adjunct professors have to curtail office hours, spend more time traveling between campuses than preparing lectures, grade and comment on writing assignments when they have 70-80 (or more) additional students across several campuses, and otherwise splinter their time and attention.

If you’ll indulge me, parents, I’d like to assign some tasks to any of you both interested in learning more about your children’s schools and willing to help change American higher education. (After 15 years of teaching, I apparently can’t resist assigning homework.) Ultimately, you have every right to know exactly where your tuition dollars are going, how university administrations and policies are harming your children’s learning conditions, and how your children’s teachers are not always treated professionally and equitably.

Want to be more active and engaged in helping improve your children’s college experiences? Think your voice needs to be heard? Here are some simple yet effective ways to get started:

  • Help my fellow advocates and me petition David Weil, the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor, to investigate higher education. (I wrote more about our petition in this previous Making Sen$e post.) We hope to reach 10,000 signatures by Labor Day.
  • Read (and then share) these recent pieces by John Warner and Mary Grace Gainer about what you should know and you can do.
  • Encourage your children to know more about the contingency of their adjunct professors, as well as how that status affects their learning environment. Remind them that financial necessity leads many of their professors to teach at other schools, and perhaps do extra tutoring and editing on the side to make ends meet.
  • Ask your children to contact the university newspaper about writing stories or op-eds about their adjunct professors. (If they need a model, have them read this nice piece from a freshman at my former school.)
  • When your school is trumpeting the new facilities (but perhaps not telling you about those for their leaders), the newly hired star professors (who probably won’t teach undergrads), and view campus “business” as that of a luxury cruise (huh?), ask instead about the working conditions and job stability of their non-tenure track faculty — i.e., the likely majority of professors your children will have. (You’ll get some sample questions in a second.)
  • Follow the advice from other professors (see below) about what you need to know, what you can do, and how you can do it. Learn more about these and other writer-activists dedicated to improving American higher education. Share their work with other concerned, tuition-paying parents whose children might be facing record levels of student debt after they graduate.

The next time you’re on campus, you can ask someone in charge — dean, provost, admissions director, and so on — questions like these:

  • What percentage of your faculty are adjuncts? Approximately how many of your faculty have to teach at other schools?
  • How much do you pay adjuncts per course? How do adjuncts’ salaries compare to those of full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty?
  • How many, if any, tenured professors teach first-year students?
  • What are the salaries of the school’s upper-level administrators, and how many (if any) courses will they teach this year?
  • How is there funding to install posh new facilities or pay star professors who probably won’t teach my freshman, yet not enough to pay the majority of our children’s professors a living wage or give them meaningful full-time positions?

You can also ask campus tour guides these questions, but remember most of them are undergraduate students making a little extra money; they’re not the ones remaking higher education in a corporate, almost anti-intellectual image. If anything, they’re victims of the new college campus, not the creators of it.

Even if you’re not visiting campus, you can call or email the school. You might get the truth. You might not. You might get some spin or adminspeak about “valuing all faculty equally,” “financial realities,” and “some faculty teaching at multiple schools.” If you contact your schools, take notes about whom you’re speaking with, what he or she says, and so on. Then, let me know what happens, so I can write a follow-up piece. When more of you start asking these kinds of questions, university administrations will realize that their actions to undermine higher education are not going unnoticed.

I’m far from the only person eager to talk with you. I asked my professional network what they’d most like to say to parents. I got some smart, wonderful responses:

Natalie Dorfeld: I’d ask them how they would feel if they knew some of their children’s professors were on food stamps.

Brianne Bolin: I’d tell them that at my school, 78 percent of classes are taught by adjuncts who get 8 percent of the extortionist tuition that they’re shelling over. I’d also ask them if they were more concerned with an education or a piece of paper.

Debra Leigh Scott: Don’t blindly send your children to college without informing yourself about the corporatized university of 2014. Don’t apply to colleges without getting the real numbers of adjuncts who will be teaching your children. Know that the universities lie about this. Look at the adjunct-run lists, and get the numbers and the details from somewhere other than the universities themselves.

Desirée Sunshine: Don’t go into debt. If you can’t pay as you go, it’s not worth it.

Gordon Haber: Parents should lock their kids in the basement rather than let them attend for-profit colleges.

Miranda Merklein: Do not send your kids to schools with a pattern of low-wage contract labor, budget cuts to faculty (reduction in costs to instruction), and tuition increases. That pattern demonstrates a lack of concern for education.

Amy Lynch-Biniek: Ask about labor conditions; insist that working conditions equal learning conditions.

Seth Kahn: Make the effort to understand contingency. Know the differences among different kinds of academic jobs. Senior administrators (president, provosts, chancellors and deans) and faculty are very different; there are ranks of faculty even within tenure track, and those titles mean some concrete things.

Melissa Bruninga-Matteau: Absolutely know the ratio of tenure-track faculty to adjuncts, and ask what percentage of classes are taught by non–tenure track faculty, including if there are any grad students teaching classes.

Amy Leggette: Discuss the purpose and expectations of higher ed: i.e., is it job preparation? An “experience”? Or something else?

“Parents need to know they are getting state-of-the-art stair machines instead of well-compensated professors.”

Professor Never had even more to say: As a parent of a rising high school senior, I have found touring colleges with my son a sort of revolting experience. I wasn’t the rebel I’d planned to be on the tours as I found the all-smiles-come-to-our-college/resort atmosphere sickening and oddly oppressive. While I was disappointed in myself for not doing a better job of educating the other parents on the tours with me, I take every opportunity I can to educate all the other parents I know who have kids of similar age about how universities are spending their money. Parents need to know they are getting state-of-the-art stair machines instead of well-compensated professors. They need to know they’re getting luxury dorms instead of professors who have office space and health care. They need to know most universities care more for attracting students than they do about educating them.

Touring colleges should be a lot of things, but “a revolting experience” should never be one of them. (Ever.) These pieces of advice are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Remember, this comes only from people in my social network. Surely, the tens of thousands of non–tenure track faculty across the country would have more to say. The more you encourage your children and fellow parents to follow your lead in asking tough questions, the more American higher education can change.

Parents: college students and faculty need you on their side if higher education is going to change. Know where your tuition dollars are going. Know more about how the “budget shortfalls” at your children’s schools affect their learning but not senior administrators’ bloated salaries. Know also how many of these administrators are making efforts to further erode professors’ job stability and academic freedom through restrictive social media policies, rejections of tenure cases, and controversial decisions to rescind job offers. Ask the questions your children’s schools may not want to hear.

You can help, parents. A lot. College semesters are starting up again. You might be on campus to help your son or daughter move in, or you might be figuring out how tuition payments are affecting your yearly budget. Either way, you can help fix higher education by following the above advice, asking questions, and otherwise taking an active role in understanding the truth about your children’s education. Students and faculty are on your side; they want you on theirs.

On Student-Shaming and Punching Down

Author: Kevin Gannon
Original: The Tattooed Professor


A few years ago, trapped in the midst of final exam grading, I started posting some of the real howlers I got as answers on Facebook. I didn’t use students’ names, and I don’t “friend” students on FB, so this sort of venting seemed like an OK way for me to keep my sense of humor during the end-term crush.

I have felt guilty about doing that ever since.

Now, I vent plenty on Facebook and (especially) Twitter. PLENTY. But I deploy my snark laterally, or upwards–not down. Not any more. If I am the advocate for teaching and learning that I say I am, then I need to walk the walk. If I argue that failure is not a defeat, but something on which to build successes, then how can I use others’ failures as fodder for cheap laughs?

When I was doing my Ph.D. work, our department had a graduate lounge for our exclusive use, and I used it plenty. Frequently, a certain one of my fellow Ph.D. students would come into the lounge after leading a discussion section and, without fail, just go full blast on his students. THEY DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! THEY CAN’T WRITE! THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND HISTORY! And then he’d get personal. “Student X is a slack-jawed yokel,” that type of stuff. And I would think: Dude, if you’re that cynical now (we were both in our mid- to late-twenties), then I want no part of you when you’re forty.

Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then; hell, the internet was still fairly novel. But I imagine that guy, and others like him, probably LOVE the “Dear Student” series done by the Chronicle of Higher Education on its Vitae site (which is geared toward job-seekers and grad-school, early-career academics). And, to be sure, some of the behaviors in these columns’ sights might look like easy targets–just like the laugh lines in those student final exams I decided to publicly make fun of back in the day. However, it’s one thing to vent by trading stories and frustrations among trusted friends and colleagues. It’s another thing altogether to vent to vast swaths of the internet. And when it goes beyond venting, there’s a real problem. The “Dear Student” columns are mean. They punch down. They inflate the pedantic into the problematic, and then humiliate rather than empathize. And I’m certainly not the only one who has this reaction; yesterday, Jesse Stommel wrote a magnificent and eloquent essay on why “Dear Student” is such an awful idea. The entire piece is a must-read, but his point about the climate this type of student-shaming work creates is worth repeating:

Everyone that comes into even casual contact with Vitae’s “Dear Student” series is immediately tarnished by the same kind of anti-intellectual, uncompassionate, illogical nonsense currently threatening to take down the higher education system in the state of Wisconsin…Giggling at the water cooler about students is one abhorrent thing. Publishing that derisive giggling as “work” in a venue read by tens of thousands is quite another. Of course, teachers need a safe place to vent. We all do. That safe place is not shared faculty offices, not the teacher’s lounge, not the library, not a local (public) watering hole. And it is certainly not on the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, especially in Vitae, the publication devoted to job seekers, including current students and future teachers.

He’s absolutely right. As one who has been particularly concerned with the (mis)uses of power in academic settings, Stommel’s admonition hit home for me. He put into words much better than I could have why I still feel guilty about my previous Facebook venting.

Again, this doesn’t mean the end of snark and sarcasm. But punch up, not down. Powerful tenured professor berating students or misusing his power to make life tough for female, LGBT, or African American faculty? There will be richly-deserved snark. Political leader who adapts a belligerently ignorant stance to justify depriving others of basic rights? You will be roasted on Twitter, and I will applaud and retweet. But calling out students–giving examples of their mistakes or missteps? No. As educators, we are the ones with the power. Student foibles are temporary. Our reactions to those foibles can be permanent–for both us and them.

Consider the following Twitter feed:
Twitter12 Twitter5Twitter3Twitter4Twitter9Twitter8Twitter1Twitter11Twitter7

 

All of these, actually, represent some of the “highlights” of my own undergraduate career. If my professors had been on Facebook or Twitter, and thrown these out on the internet (and it’s not like any of this crap I did was in private), what would have happened if I saw or heard about this “venting?”

Would I have gotten it together and kicked ass in my (second) Senior Year?

Would I have believed what some of my professors told me, that I should try for graduate school?

Would I have gotten in to a Master’s program, then completed it, then gotten into a Ph.D. program with a fellowship?

Would I have asked for the help I needed to address my increasingly deteriorating “lifestyle choices?”

Would I have been lucky enough to be in a position like I am now, where I can teach teachers and students? And in doing so, experience daily growth myself?

I doubt it.

I don’t like shame. I run and hide from what makes me ashamed, and do my level best to stay hidden.

I don’t know if my professors joked about me at the coffee pot, or traded stories about me at cocktail parties. But I do know that they took an interest in helping a student who was trying to get his act together. I do know that they helped build academic confidence for a student who may not have always been receptive to that help. I do know that they offered advice, perspective, and support–as well as references, recommendations, and cheerleading–to a student who wanted to pursue their field of study at the graduate level. I do know that they did this even at the times when I didn’t look or act as grateful as I truly was.

The simple truth is that I am where I am today–in all senses of the term–in part because others did not shame me for the things about which I was already ashamed. I was the “Dear Student” who the Vitae series has dead in its sights. What might we lose tomorrow as a result of shaming today? What do we do to ourselves, our colleagues (present and future), and our students if we revel in punching down at folks who may not even know they’re targets? What–WHO–gets damaged?

We all do.

So, I humbly offer a revised column:

Dear Student:

You’ll get better at this. So will we.

Faculty (a.k.a. former students)