Friday, July 22, 2005


Summer Registration

I love the smell of registration in the morning…

Summer in-person registration is a different animal. The students (all too) frequently come with their parents, treating those of us working registration to a disturbing glimpse into family dynamics. (I once saw a mother slap her daughter on the head while the daughter was filling out her schedule. What are they thinking?) Some of the 18 year olds apparently have mistaken the college for a beach, judging by their clothes. Students let down their guard at summer registration, often using a disarming frankness in saying things like “I don’t want any hard classes,” “I’m usually too hung over for a morning class,” or “I’m just taking classes to stay on my parents’ health insurance.” (All true quotes, all said to my face.)

(Come to think of it, the last quote may be an argument against national health insurance. If we keep private health insurance too expensive for the young, unless they’re in school, they’ll go to school! Hmm…)

Faculty make a point of blowing off summer registration, but reserve the right to complain about any decisions made there. (My favorite, which wasn’t even a complaint: last Fall, one professor dropped by to thank me for stocking his classes that semester with good students. Apparently, I’m a game warden, and students are trout.)

This is when I get blamed for not being psychic. Why didn’t I know that we’d have a sudden groundswell of demand for Urdu, and why didn’t I know that Anthropology was suddenly going to flatline?

(A close variation on that is the emergency request to build a new lab. “All the bio sections are full. Can we add some?” Sure, I’ll just dip into the spare several million I keep around the office, draw up some blueprints, put it out to bid, clear the permits, break ground, process the change orders, hire the faculty, and have it all up and running in six weeks. No problem. Would you like the power of prophecy with that?)

It’s tricky, too, because we start making decisions about which sections to run and which to close. Since students stubbornly refuse to take the classes that would be most convenient for us, we have to trim our sails to what the market will bear. (Don’t try mixing metaphors like that at home.) Inevitably, that entails changing some faculty teaching schedules. Oh, the hue and cry! How could you possibly have me come in on Tuesdays? I never come in on Tuesdays! (Unspoken, but desired, answer: yeah, full-time jobs are like that.) You’re taking my course away from me! (what do you mean, your course?) Given how many of our classes are staffed by adjuncts, sometimes we have to base decisions on when the better adjuncts are likely to be available (and their schedules can get pretty idiosyncratic). That creates the odd dynamic of moving a full professor’s schedule around to make room for an adjunct. I can justify it on the grounds that it’s best for the students (and, for what we pay the adjuncts, we’re lucky if they show up at all), but the tenured types have long memories. I get accused of autocratic tendencies, since I didn’t run the decision by a committee first. (Of course, if I assembled a faculty committee in July, the ‘autocratic’ accusations would get even worse.)

This is also when the department chairs’ special pleading starts. Can we run this class with an enrollment of five? Sure, it’s small, but Professor Longdead is really looking forward to it, and his health isn’t what it used to be…

The advent of online teaching has complicated the picture, since relatively few faculty have tried it so far. If one of the regulars has to switch out, we frequently don’t have enough depth on the bench for a replacement. (And it’s tough to use adjuncts, since different schools use different web platforms – webCT, Blackboard, e-college, etc. -- and adjuncts can’t make it to training workshops.) Similarly with the half online, half in-class ‘hybrid’ courses – if someone with one of those classes gets switched out or disappears, staffing it at the last minute is a nightmare. It’s an entirely different preparation, even if the content is familiar.

Alas. If it were easy, anybody could do it…

"How could you possibly have me come in on Tuesdays? I never come in on Tuesdays!"

HA! How do you not meet that with a hearty "Bite me?" I'd be hard-pressed not to laugh.

Man, I wish I had a tenured type of job. But no. Stupid regular career. I can't say something like that, because it would have consequences. Like being fired.

To think that for every fussbudget faculty member who kicks up a fuss at having his traditional mid-week days off tampered with or his long vacations interrupted, there is a vast pool of hungry adjuncts who could very capably replace him. Sigh.

How frustrating.
As a cc faculty member, I feel I must protest at least a little bit. I worked registration this week and last: I did not blow it off, DeanDad!

However, I see much of what you are saying. I teach in a department that insists on running numerous 200-level courses that simply will not fill, and my department chair regularly goes on his knees to beg for a class of five students to run. He (and the faculty scheduled to teach them) have no understanding of the financial realities of running courses. Unfortunately, my president often gives in, and the result is a faculty member with a full-course load of less than half the students I have because I willingly teach our required writing courses. Trust me, deans aren't the only ones who get peed off by this!
Ooh, my school is a bit different. They pay us as full-timers about the same as adjuncts for summer, and they wonder why many of us choose to pass. Then, they bitch when summer classes have low enrollment. Since it costs like $1.50 to pay the staff, why not run it at ten students? Eesh....that's too logical. See, they want to bend us over on pay AND scam in full class tuition. Tres annoying.
P.S. I'm at a CC, too, so I know the politics involved, but really!!! Dean Dad, you need to clean up the BS over here at Dream School.
Harvey -- Yeah, it's hard not to laugh sometimes. Last Fall, on the first day back, one tenured professor complained bitterly that he'd had a miserable summer, since he only got to spend one month on Cape Cod. I stifled the urge to say "poor baby!," but it took some effort.

Cindy -- you're right, I should have said 'many faculty.' My bad. To be fair, some did show up. It's just that the same programs blow it off over and over again.

I was surprised, though, to hear that your department chair goes straight to the president. Nothing in between? No dean, no vice president? Yikes! Part of my job involves intercepting absurdity before it climbs any higher, since people at higher levels have so much on their plates that they'll sometimes say 'yes' when they should say 'no,' just to make someone go away. Getting rid of those intermediate levels pretty much guarantees arbitrary decision making, just by dint of overload.
In saving money on staff lines, they'll waste money on bad decisions. I'd rather spend it on staff.

Russian Violets -- I should have clarified that in-person summer reg. is for Fall classes. We also pay a flat rate (very, very close to the adjunct rate) for summer classes, but we don't complain when f-t faculty won't teach them. Oddly, small classes seem to be less of a problem in the summer. As a cc, lots of our summer students actually attend other colleges in the Fall and Spring (they're just home for the summer, catching up on some credits on the cheap), so we pretty much know the classes they'll want.

Truth be told, I probably wouldn't mind cleaning up the B.S. at a cc in the Midwest. The Northeast housing prices are backbreaking.
We're in a bit of a transition period: new president, acting academic and administrative deans. So what has been happening this past year is the department chair sitting down with all three, the deans saying that the financial reality is we need 15-17 bodies to break even, and the new pres ignoring them and running things anyway.

Maybe it seems treasonous for me to say this on as a faculty member on a dean's blog, but the reality is that the people teaching these classes can't get them to run. Like it or not, faculty have to build a good reputation with students to get upper-level classes to run at a CC where most students are interested in career training, not 18th century British Lit.
Doesn't sound treasonous to me! I have one professor (a senior, tenured sort) who insists on running his boutique electives every semester, but I let it go because he absolutely beats the bushes to find students. He finds them, and the classes are academically solid, so what the hey. I've tried to hint to some others that this is a good way to make sure their classes run, but some folks just can't be bothered.

I'm very, very glad I'm not deaning at your school. I've worked before in environments in which the folks above me used to submarine my decisions, and it was unbelievably stressful. Long term, it's guaranteed to fail.
Thanks so much, as usual, for providing the administrative P.O.V.

Yeah ... I had an interesting experience talking with a long-time (we're talking 15 years, the woman has not gone on to get a PhD or taken any other classes, and bitches regularly about how she's continually passed over when they hire TT people -- part of me says, "get a clue!" and another part wonders at the wisdom of a union contract that gives adjuncts with seniority priority for classes, since it creates some kind of expectation of permanence ... but no matter)

At any rate, she was complaining because our one tenured faculty member in a required area chose to teach a summer class. Partially from France, as it's online. Said instructor is very good. Adjunct was irate and couldn't believe that I would defend funding FT faculty with "extra" money from the PT fund pool. Apparently, an adjunct shoulds have been found. Er, no.

I say this as someone who is barely not an adjunct this year (yay, one-year contract!), but who is constantly amazed at people willing to put up with the system when it's to their advantage, PT-ers at my old school are very active in the union, but they are every bit as hierarchical as they claim the FT-ers are -- except that they actually have a vested interest in trying to keep out talented new people.

So imagine the fun this year, now that the (please be outgoing) fiarly disgraced president has decided to make up a million dollar budget shortfall by cutting service courses across the board. Not that those courses have a purpose. Not that they are the ones the state pays for ...

The deans are going apeshit. I pity them. Good thing it's summer and most of the faculty don't know ...
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