Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dorsal Fin

It’s that time of the summer. Now that the rest of the world has passed “shark week,” we academics can see the dorsal fin in the water. It’s almost September.

We aren’t quite there yet, happily. By about 3:00 in the afternoon, the campus is pretty much empty. But you can make out the silhouette on the horizon.

The telltale signs are there. Back-to-school sales are popping up. Afternoon thunderstorms are becoming more common and violent. The visitors’ parking lot is suspiciously full.

In administration, this is the season of last-minute decisions about which low-enrolled sections we think will climb, and which we have to cancel. (No matter how you do it, this is guaranteed to annoy somebody.) Invariably, we have at least one unforeseeable, bizarre personnel emergency between mid-August and the start of classes. Some years it’s a medical issue; some years it’s a last-minute offer elsewhere, and some years, people just vanish. You don’t know exactly where it will hit, but you know it will.

I’m also starting to get frantic calls about adding sections of popular classes. I’d be happy to, if we had spare classrooms laying fallow and faculty sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Since neither is the case, the frontline staff is doing its usual heroics to help students fill out realistic schedules that don’t violate prerequisites or require superhuman feats of timing. This is their worst time of year.

Campus collegiality tip: be particularly nice to the financial aid staff in August. For them, August is pure hell. Cut them some slack if they seem flustered. They’ll relax in October. Right now, just be glad you aren’t one of them, unless you are, in which case, my condolences.

On the home front, the deliciously empty evenings are starting to fill with commitments again. Kids’ sports tend to take the summer off, since it’s impossible to field a consistently among all the vacations. They return with a vengeance in the Fall. We’re also signing the kids up for music lessons this year -- The Boy chose guitar, and The Girl chose piano -- so that’ll add to the chauffeur duties. At least this year we’re skipping soccer and gymnastics. It doesn’t get really punishing until basketball season starts.

Only a couple more weeks of relative calm. Our major vacation is behind us, and it went beautifully. (Befitting my Presidential campaign, we made the trek to New Hampshire. If you were there you might have seen me -- I was the white guy.) TW convinced me of the wisdom of leaving a buffer day on either side of the trip. So with a week off, instead of leaving on Saturday and returning on Sunday, we left on Sunday and returned on Saturday. It made a world of difference. Having that extra day to sleep in your own bed, do laundry, buy groceries, and just shake off the cobwebs makes a difference.

So now it’s time to clear up the last few loose ends and put on a game face. The shark isn’t here yet, but I can hear the music. People on shore are starting to point. I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.