David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Still Just A Rat In A Cage

May 11, 2021

As the spring semester runs down, SMC typically features projects from our Honors' students.  Usually we hold the so-cleverly named "NoTed Talks" and students present their research, sometimes with an accompanying poster.  Thanks to the pandemic, The "NoTed Talks" are notably missing.  Instead of having a poster session in a large open area (usually our Art Gallery) with the students presenting, we have succumbed to social distancing challenges and are featuring just the posters in our library.

I mention this, not just to brag about the quality of work being done by college freshmen and sophomores, but also to express concern that I may be on display more often than just the 4264th Zoom meeting this week.  One student's project might be about me. Its title: "Sources of Stress and its Effect on Animals in Artificial Environments."  Uh, yeah, I might be that pacing lion in its cage, or more likely that frantic rat in its maze.

Let's break the topic down to show I am the research topic:

Start with the basics. Am I an animal?  Last time I checked, I believe I fulfilled all those requirements. I am no Elephant Man. I know what I am.

Do I exist in an artificial environment?  If academia isn't the most artificial environment, then what is?  Evidence abounds just outside my window, where facilities' staff are setting up chairs for our Commencement ceremonies (this year we are having to do two because of social distancing). Commencement is the best day of the year for academia, everyone loves it.  And it is truly symbolic.  Students cross the stage, receive a blank diploma case, and wait to see if they passed their final semester classes.  Inevitably, faculty are leaning over in their chairs, whispering to each other, "that kid is going to be surprised."  Conferring of actual degrees is not really done this day, no matter the number of dignitaries, the weight of the presidential medallions, or the volume of good feeling.

In addition, much of my time today was spent on coordinating "Outcomes Assessment" days for next week. These are end-of-the-semester days when faculty and academic administration assess student performance and learning.  It is full of such "natural"-sounding words like "formative," "embedded," and "rubric."  I doubt we see those words out in the wild much.

Do I have sources of stress? Hmm?  External accreditors; high school partners; university partners; student complaints; faculty complaints; budgetary challenges; enrollment issues; collective bargaining agreements; strategic planning; board presentations; ADA compliance; personal vendettas; professional vendettas; inter-office politics; politics-discussed-in-the-office; office space; eliminated positions; unfilled positions; resigned positions; meetings that run too long; meetings without a point; hell, just meetings on Zoom.  I feel like Alex DeLarge being battered by tons of psychological tests all to stress me out.

That leaves whether there are any effects of these stresses on this animal in this artificial environment.  Let's see, I drink too much, sleep too little, overeat, and have too short of a fuse at home.  Nice to see a much shorter list on this side of the research study.

So many causes, so few effects. Good luck finding an independent variable. I'm hungry. Who moved my cheese?