David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
April's Cruelty

April 25, 2022

If you see your favorite college/university faculty member or administrator this month, either give them a lot of space and/or a lot of love. We are really beat down.

This week, for many of us, culminates a long academic year, full of celebrations, coronations, and excitations all tempered by the exhaustion of just trying to keep up. April, overall, ends up incredibly unforgiving, even less forgiving than a racquetball court wall when we lunge for a shot.

If you are a faculty member or college administrator, your calendar for April is splattered with so many events, some good, some not-so-good, and many just routine but feeling particularly draining given everything else. At SMC, we have in April multiple Honors ceremonies, featuring some of our best students and alumni, all presenting themselves in ways that make us feel extremely proud. I know I want to give each one of them a few minutes of my time one-on-one to show my respect. 

Faculty members, if they can get to those, can then simply add those student presentations to the 50 or so they might be seeing as final projects within their classes. Not all of those will be stellar and instructors then have the onerous task of trying to justify why some weren't quite up to speed.

Similarly, we end up with the end-of-the-year events in the creative arts. SMC featured an amazing collage concert, our annual merging of choir and bands in a seamless 100-minutes of music, ranging remarkably from opera to pop to fight songs.  Meanwhile, elsewhere on campus, we have a much more private Open Mike/Creative Writing event. I rue that I failed to put it on my calendar and forgot about it. Those more solitary creative moments are just as important to see as the 100+populated collage concerts.

We try to fit in Employee Recognition Events also during this month. While it mostly falls on Human Resources, we try to confirm achievements among the faculty and staff for presentation. Inevitably, someone almost always gets forgotten, no matter how thoroughly we thought we had been.

Of course, all of this is building up to Commencements, which are often in the plural. The big universities might have 5 or 6 Commencement ceremonies, one for each School. At SMC we have to do two because of limited space for seating. These ceremonies represent all that we do, but their planning falls on much of the staff, all of us gauging weather, while smaller groups of faculty and staff seek out student speakers, something always easier said than done.

All of these annual events are exhilarating even if exhausting.  Others are mostly exhausting, even if there is some potential for inspiration.

Final grades have to be processed as the result of final exams, presentations and/or projects. Faculty stare at pages of materials to grade and inevitably ask themselves, "why did I assign all of this?"  Whatever grades are submitted, inevitably faculty, chairs, and deans can be ready for some level of pleading, whining, threatening from upset students. Faculty inevitably ask themselves, "why did I sign up for this?"

Faculty have annual evaluations usually processed in April. Every word the administrator weighs carefully in the final evaluation will likely be speculated with even more weight by the individual faculty member. Add to that the need to do outcomes assessment so that we all can say by the end of the academic year that our students are learning or aren't learning (the whole time not wanting to admit that we really aren't sure) and all of us are asking, "why did we sign up for this?"

Meanwhile, our regularly scheduled meetings go on: board, foundation, retention, and so forth. There is no rest for the wicked, apparently. If you work at a community college in much of the country, April is book-ended by the Higher Learning Commission conference at the beginning and the American Association of Community Colleges conference at the end of the month.  By the way, did you know that April is Community College Awareness month? (You couldn't pick ANY other month?)

Throw in Administrative Assistant days/weeks for one more meal.  (Honestly, couldn't they pick ANY other month?). Dressing in April, at least for those of us in the upper Midwest, is already difficult enough: parka on Monday, polo shirt for Tuesday, rain slicker for Wednesday. Now, we have to add in weight gain: "Hmm, I have gained 6 pounds by Thursday. I wonder if I have time to run out and buy a bigger pair of pants?"

"April is the cruelest month," wrote T.S. Eliot, as academic a poet as the world has ever seen. I always figured that line was an inside joke for those of us with the funny-looking hats.

Eliot began his epic The Waste Land, from which this line comes, with a section called "The Burial of the Dead." You can see the full original here, but I suggest the opening gets a re-write. Here's the original quatrain followed by my more modern academic quatrain.

The Waste Land                               

For Ezra Pound                                   

I. The Burial of the Dead                     

April is the cruelest month, breeding    

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing       

Memory and desire, stirring                 

Dull roots with spring rain.                  

Winter kept us warm, covering            

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding           

A little life with dried tubers.       


The Wasted Land

For Extra Pounds

I. The Burial of our Heads

April is the cruelest month, bleeding the

Liquor out of our desk drawers, mocking our

Memory of desire, staring

Dully at us through the split roots

That Winter washed out while covering

Earth's forgetful students, feeding us

A little lie with tried truisms.

Eh, maybe not so what I had hoped? Perhaps I should have gone with Eliot's The Hollow Men instead.