David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Week Seven

October 19, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Seven (day thirty-four)

One of the trends in student evaluations of courses these days is to ask students what grade they expect to get in the class.  This is done as a kind of barometer, to see if students' perceived grades reflect the trends and patterns in their other responses.  It is becoming a fairly predictable and acceptable question on student evaluations.

Now, imagine an institution that asks students to say what grade they expect to get in a class, but the student has received absolutely no feedback from the instructor through the whole course.  The student might know, from upper-level students who have taken the class, that when final grades are done, students almost inevitably receive a passing grade.  However, that doesn't really make it any easier--or fairer--to ask them what they expect to get.  You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who would support this practice.  A) How can the student predict anything? B) More importantly, what is gained by the institution in practicing this strategy?

Similarly, imagine a prestigious graduate-level degree granting institution.  They have a formal, elaborate application process.  At some point, they ask their applicants, what will be the specific topic of your dissertation?  Prospective students know the institution is top-notch, highly reputable, but they don't know much about the courses they will take, and even less about the professors they will study with.  They put down some kind of topic for dissertation in the hopes that it resonates with the admissions' review committee.  They would prefer to put down some general range of topics--the high cost of education--but because the computer program forces them to be more specific, they end up pigeon-holing themselves.  They enter "the high cost of education at private liberal arts colleges in New England."  The student isn't even sure the institution has courses or professors aligned with that interest, but they know that in general this kind of topic is usually what admissions' officers want to hear.  They also don't know, for instance, that perhaps the university has a great program regarding public institutions in New England.  As with the above, I think very few people would put up with this process.

And yet everyday this is the kind of inane process that job seekers must go through with the inevitable, "please tell us your salary expectations" question on application forms.  These are usually the same companies and institutions that haven't listed a salary range for candidates.  Poor job candidates can do as much research as they want on the company, can look at industry standards, and generally know the ballpark figure they should enter.  However, more times than not these days, one can't enter a range only a specific number.  Nowhere is there even the capability to enter, "other benefits may help offset if this salary can't be met."

Look, I know most everything is weighted in the employer's favor these days with the economy and unemployment so devastated across the country.  To me, that seems all the more reason to build in ways to allow for explanations about salary and benefit explanations. I can only wonder how many great candidates, incredibly flexible in their salary and benefit needs, are overlooked because a salary figure has been put down that eliminates them from consideration. Why isn't this one of those areas where there will be great outrage?  Because all may be fair in love and war, but nothing is really fair (with all due respect, EEOC) in job hunting.

I'm thinking of a number between one and a thousand.  The one who guesses it gets  a lovely parting gift.


October 18, 2012:  Inside the Head--Week Seven (day thirty-three)

At SMC we are deep in the middle of our Academic Speaker Series.  As a way of introducing our speaker today, on zombies and popular culture, I referenced Apoctoberlypse, as we follow up zombie dude, as we called him, with Mayan dude in a couple of weeks, in which he will talk to some degree about the Mayan belief that the world will end December 21.  We also had a political speaker on campus a few weeks ago, and if the modern political campaign isn't armageddon, I don't know what is.

More importantly, though, as I listened to the talk on zombies in popular culture, I realized that in such topics lies the dormant academic Dave Fleming.  Have I missed a calling that would truly cause others to say, "you really get paid for this?"

So, what would have been my popular culture topic?

My most likely candidate:  You know you're really famous when you are mythologized in a Warren Zevon lyric

  • Frank and Jesse James ride against the governor, never asking for a word of thanks.  Robert Ford "steals" a James' life in exchange for his parole;
  • Baseball player Bill Lee resists sitting on his ass and nodding at stupid things;
  • Elvis Presley goes walking on the water with his pills;
  • Boom Boom Mancini challenges the hypocrites who make judgements after the fact;
  • Charlton Heston walks around with the tablets of the law claiming it's still the greatest story;
  • Patty Hearst hears the burst of a thompson gun and buys it;
  • Liza Minelli rakes leaves at the detox mansion.

Who wouldn't want to be mythologized by Warren Zevon.

My second most likely candidate:  Class Warfare in Columbo.

  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy psychiatrist;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy lawyer;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy writer;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy photographer;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy corporate chairwoman;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy police commissioner;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down wealthy pop star;
  • Rumpled, perceived socially inferior, Columbo takes down spoiled, wealthy college students (one of my all-time favorites)

(And people wonder why I love Columbo.  It's a recipe guaranteed to please me EVERY time.)

Not sure I have a third candidate for my research interest.  The first one is probably a tad too narrow, the second is probably a tad too obvious.

Oh, well, off to listen to "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School" and then to watch "Any Old Port in a Storm."


October 17, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Seven (day thirty-two)

A typical, and maybe even actual, conversation that can consume too much of a day.

"We need a videocamera* set up for the guest speaker tomorrow."

"The videocamera guy won't be able to do it; he's videotaping a focus group at that time."

"There is a videocamera in marketing. Let's see if they can do it."

"We don't mind using our videocamera in Marketing, but we don't have time to edit it.  Apparently, the main videotaper can't edit."

"What do you mean?  The video of the last guest speaker has supposedly been available to students for a couple of weeks."

"No, it was never edited."

"O.k., then maybe we just don't videotape tomorrow's guest speaker."

. . .  later . . .

"The main videotaper is all set up for taping both events tomorrow.  He has people helping him."

"Apparently the main videotaper can get someone to edit."

"So, do we know if the last guest speaker ever got captured in an edited video for students to see?"

"Don't know.  There weren't even microphones at that last videotaping, so who knows what was heard?"

. . . later . . .

"Someone who will help videotape the focus group is wondering if the videocamera will be there."

"I have confirmation from the videotaper that the camera will be set up."

"We just checked the focus group room and there is nothing there yet.  We start first thing in the morning. We just want to confirm that there will be videotaping."

"I have verbal confirmation that there will be videotaping available."

"No one has any written confirmation.  No one can find the videotaper."

"The videotaper is knee deep in another project that is due by tomorrow.  That's why he hasn't gotten back."

"We'll track him down."

. . .  Later . . .

"Uh, you may not have a videotaping tomorrow for your guest speaker.  There is doubt as to whether we can be there with the camera."

"Anyone want to videotape me blowing my brains out?"

* For the purposes of this script, please bear with the fifty-year old administrator who long ago forgot the most current term for filming.  I know I am showing my age with "videotaping."



October 16, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Seven (day thirty-one)

I have been recruited! And I am kind of excited.

SMC hosts a Writer's Day event where high schoolers interested in writing come to campus and attend sessions that talk about different elements of careers in writing (yes, I know that is an oxymoron).  Apparently there are many more students interested in the subject than they thought; thus we have run out of writing faculty and, gasp, the chair turned to administration to see if I could lead a session.  I have about two weeks to prepare.

I volunteered to talk about blogging.  It fits, theoretically, our professional communications track.  I have no idea yet what I will say.  In that way, blogging is already the perfect symbol.  I usually don't know what I want to say as I sit down to start writing.  (No comments from the peanut gallery, please!)

My main points will almost certainly be trying to figure out what to say, as well as how to find your voice, in the wilderness that is blogging.

Of course, I ponder immediately much more important things than my main points for the day.  Like, what is a punny title I will use?  Here are some options.  What do the denizens out in my wilderness think?

  • If a b-tree falls in a forest and the b-log makes a sound, does anyone hear it?
  • Everyone needs a guide blog
  • The air of the blog that bit you
  • Blogger:  Navigating the information superhighway (replete with bad Frogger graphics.  I know that is redundant.)
  • Being recognized among the blog hogs in cyberspace
  • Haven't I met you before?  Blog my memory
  • On a bloggy night
  • A boy and his blog
  • Captain's blog (too Trekky; I refuse to go there)
  • Yuletide blogs . . . and other seasonal writings

I doubt any of these will even resonate with high school students.  Hmm?  Maybe they need a lesson in some good old cultural literacy at the same time?

Why do I have the feeling this is the last time they come to me to help out with Writer's Day? 


October 15, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Seven (day thirty)

Today's topic barely seems to fit the concept of an administrator's daily diary, but I did come across an interesting Forbes' article while eating lunch.  First, trust me, I am not that pretentious.  Reading Forbes is not a daily activity for me. I simply saw the headline scrolling through my LinkedIn headlines and couldn't resist seeing the potential hilarity of this happening in higher ed.

First off, the original story.  Forbes reports of an executive being "kidnapped" by the owner/billionaire of his business.  Even if it is not kidnapping, I can think of better ways to call someone on the carpet for potential illegal actions and then terminating him.  Leaving him in an SUV and taking him to the Denver airport instead of the Aspen airport.  Oh, the horror!

So, how might this play out in academia?  First off, even with some gaudy salaries, no university president is going to be able to take this termination to the same kind of ranch/resort atmosphere, no matter how much E. Gordon Gee makes. (For those who think I am picking on Dr. Gee, I am simply citing the press that reports him as still the highest paid University President.)

No, instead of a Colorado ranch, think of a swanky Hilton Hotel for our setting:

Executive Vice President Nobody:  Wow, thanks for the limo ride, Mr. President.  I have never seen this city at 2:00am.  Why the sudden need to see me?

President N. Charge:  Sit down, Nobody.

EVP Nobody:  Yes, sir.

P N. Charge:  Care for a Scotch?

EVP Nobody:  Well, thank you, sir, that would be lovely.

(EVP Yesman, replete in customary polo shirt bearing university's logo, appears from behind a curtain, holding a glass of scotch.  Nobody and Yesman barely exchange glasses.  Yesman retreats to corner and listens intently.)

P N. Charge:  You comfortable, Nobody?

EVP Nobody:  Why, yes.  Thank you very much, sir.

P N. Charge:  Good. 

(All of a sudden, Charge explodes.)

P N. Charge:  What the hell is this expense report?  How many faculty lunches can you possibly sponsor?  Just how often have you been reimbursed for driving to the casino?  And what about all of these textbook buybacks?  I have videotape of you in the parking lot with that greasy-haired, skittish bookbuyer. There is something fishy here.

EVP Nobody:  I don't know what you are talking about, sir.

P N.Charge:  Nobody makes a fool of me, Nobody.  Nobody!

EVP Nobody:  (Confused) Uh . . .

P N. Charge:  I'll fire you for this, Nobody.

EVP Nobody:  I don't have to listen to these Charges, Charge. I'm getting the hell out of here.

(EVP Yesman steps in front of Nobody and grabs him by the arms, holding him back.)

EVP Nobody:  Let go of me, Yesman, you bastard. If you want to fire me, do it tomorrow at my office.

P N. Charge:  You're not going anywhere, Nobody.  We're going to keep you guarded in this room until we can look through your office tomorrow.

EVP Nobody:  You can't hold me here against my will.  That's kidnapping. 

P  N. Charge:  Don't cite LAW101 text, Nobody.  We are within our legal rights to keep you under surveillance until we make sure you haven't stolen things.  We're going to check your computer files.  We're going to rifle through those boxes and boxes of papers and books that clutter your office.  We're going to check your own phone messages.  I.T. can tell me about every email you have ever sent.

EVP Nobody:  You're insane, President Charge. 

 P N. Charge:  (Laughs maniacally)  I'm N. Charge, not N. Sane. 

EVP Nobody:  (To Yesman)  Get me out of here, Yesman.  I swear to God I will call my lawyer.   (Reaches for cell phone)  What the hell is wrong with my cell phone?

P N. Charge:  It has already been arranged to cut off your service.  Remember, that phone is university property.

EVP Nobody:  You really are determined to do this, aren't you?  What are you going to tell your buddies on the Board?  They are bound as fiducaries of this university to make sure you don't get away with this.

P N. Charge:  Nobody quotes Finance 221 to me, Nobody.  Nobody!

EVP Nobody: (Confused) Uh . . .

P N. Charge: We came to an agreement. It's what we always tell the board.  They don't care.

EVP Nobody:  Fine, keep me under freaking surveillance.  See if I care.  Just take me home.  I'll set up a cot for your buddy, Mr. Yesman here, and he can watch me from there.

P N. Charge:  No way.  Not going to happen.  You are going to stay here in this swanky hotel room until all the termination papers are written up.

(Nobody lunges at Charge.  Yesman pulls him down to the floor and sits on him.)

EVP Yesman:  You're not going to move, right, Nobody?  You don't really want to leave this nice hotel, do you?

EVP Nobody:  Don't try Psych 100 reverse psychology on me, Yesman, you freaking suck up to Charge.

EVP Yesman:  Don't cite as an illustration Management 120 to me, Nobody.

P N. Charge:  Don't quote English 103, Yesman.

EVP Yesman:  Yes, sir.

EVP Nobody:  Can I at least get room service?  Can I get a pay-per-view movie?

P N. Charge:  No, and don't even think of getting anything out of the mini-bar.  Yesman, watch him closely.  I'll be back in the morning with the papers.

(Nobody starts sobbing.)