Thursday, July 21, 2011

The King's Dean's Speech Email

I got an email from my Dean last week. The email went out to all of the College's non-permanent faculty and says that we might get a raise starting in the Fall. I was like, that sounds pretty good. The email goes on to point out that there are potential problems, as of course we all knew it would. For one thing, the legislature could put the kibosh on it. For another thing, the raise is contingent on whether the school meets its enrollment goals. The Dean concludes the email by pointing out that we all have an interest in ensuring that the students have an obstacle-free path to enrollment.

I realize, of course, that most Deans are incompetent psychopaths. But what the hell is that supposed to mean? Does the Dean imagine that the temporary faculty spend their summers putting obstacles in the paths of students who are trying to to enroll? What influence could he possibly think I have over this process?

The more I think about this, the more angry I get. I teach a lot of classes--many more than my colleagues (this calendar year, I will teach 10 more classes than a typical TT person in my department; this figure includes summer school courses, which are elective). I work hard to do a good job. My evaluations are above average for the department and the College, I get good feedback on my classroom visits, and many of our best majors have come to the department through my intro classes. This school makes such extensive use of non-permanent faculty that it could not function without us and our hard work. And this guy emails us not to say, thanks for all the hard work that keeps this institution of higher education running, but the vaguely threatening you better not get in the way of us meeting our enrollment goals or you won't get a raise.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

We suspect you have been hoarding the #2 pencils the students need to fill out our primitive enrollment forms.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I wouldn't get so upset, given that you have no idea why the dean said that. First, s/he could've had some specific situation in mind that involved specific individuals, and they know who they are. (It's hard to imagine what such a situation could be of course.) I suspect more likely, it's possible that the dean didn't really mean much of anything by it. Sort of a throw away sentence, without much thought put into it. Probably s/he shouldn't have said it, but nothing was really meant by it. With so many things for you to be angry about right now, should you waste your rage on this?

Anonymous said...

What your dean is saying is: don't overlook ways in which you might help recruit students to courses in philosophy/humanities/our broader division (i.e. whatever the dean is a dean of). In other words: help us get and keep our numbers up!

You'd be amazed how departments, schools and divisions compete for students. Or not amazed, once you appreciate how enrollments provide the basis (fair or not) for funding decisions. Visitors often don't see this side of things.

Tying the request to your raise is another matter. But perhaps your dean is understandably that desperate...

Anonymous said...

My rage is unwastable. I have a bottomless supply.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the dean is telling you that you ought to be willing to over-enroll your courses. Or be willing to up caps without complaint. S/He would avoid saying that outright, being an administrator, and being likely a coward. It has the a standard administrative logic: possible good news, obscured new burden.

But yeah, spending a moment on resentment about an email like this--or the time to post, is not likely worth it. It may not even be directed at you and your classes, but might reflect some fight that's going on behind the scenes that you aren't even privy to.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like administrative double-talk for retention. Our chancellor came right out at the end of last term and said "Think twice before you commit to failing students--they might not come back next semester, and we need their tuition dollars!" While I appreciated his sincerity, I still question whether we professors should be passing students in order to achieve retention goals. That undermines the integrity of the entire educational enterprise, doesn't it?

Mr. Zero said...

I guess I sort of agree with the person who has a bottomless pit of rage. I don't think it "wastes" anger to get angry over something like this. I mean, I mostly don't even bother to read the (many) mass emails the Dean's office sends out. I read this one because the subject line said something about a raise. It's not like I expect him to thank me for my hard work--I don't expect that. I know he's too clueless to think to do that. But if he's not going to thank me, the least he can do is not bother me with vaguely insulting bullshit.

And I think it was worth my time to post about it, if for no other reason than to see if the Smokers had any insight into what the fuck he's talking about. In this respect, the discussion has been helpful, I think. I think it is likely that this was either unintentionally thoughtless or else aimed at someone other than me. And it is helpful to know that anon 7:24's chancellor is much more of a tool than my dean.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:24 has it right. Your dean means: "Don't fail any students, it might deter others from declaring a major in our school, and then you won't get a raise."

That's just making explicit what everybody knows anyway: No-one in the university has an interest in maintaining standards if they're high enough for some students not to meet them. The campus probably gets state money for every student graduating within four years, and the school aims at high enrollments because that means more money from the university. As an academic with a conscience and a commitment to merit-based grading, you're alone.

Anonymous said...

'Dean' here is not a proper noun, as it refers to a generic position and not a specific person. If you wrote 'the Dean' with no qualification such as 'of my school' or 'my,' then it would be a proper noun, and would deserve capitalization.


I got a nice email from Obama, who is the president.

I got a nice email from the President.

Anonymous said...

8:44, interesting. That's not how the NY Times does it. The Times capitalizes 'dean' when it is affixed to a surname, as "Last week Dean Memorandalot asked us not to obstruct students from enrolling in our classes." But never otherwise, thus: "Next week the dean will probably ask us not to hypnotize prospective freshmen." That's how the NYT does it. (Similarly for 'president'.)

WV: impho
1. Abbr., in my personal humble opinion.
2. An impish female sex addict.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like administration is trying to get teaching faculty to think about ways to improve retention, but has no specific ideas himself how to do so. This is pretty common, and over the years I've seen similar emails (or heard similar speeches, etc.).

What I would be angry about (and what I am angry about in my similar situation) is that it sounds like the dean is asking teaching faculty at your institution to pick up some of the work of the admissions office. At my university last year, teaching faculty were asked to volunteer to personally call applicants and give a short 5-minute spiel on why they should study here. The dean noted some study that indicated how students who received such a personal call were more likely to attend that school. "Isn't this part of what the admissions office does"? I asked. I was told that teaching faculty were being asked to help admissions, because they were so overworked. "OK, but my course caps just went up. Who in admissions will help me with my grading?" I did not get an answer to that question.

OK, that was long. But basically, I'm starting to see a variety of ways that administration is trying to add work to teaching faculty.

Anonymous said...

11:27 am: your long gave just the short of it.

Mr. Zero, your anger is justified. Many public institutions like mine now are effectively privatized with public funding sliding under the 20% line of costs. As one former Chancellor of my insitution said, invoking the Clinton campaign of the 90s: It's the enrollment stupid. Now more so than ever. Those on this thread who say that's what your dean meant are entirely right. And that fact that (i) faculty are not hired to recruit students and (ii) no faculty should be expected to weaken academic standards for some "serpent-windings" concern for the bottom line and (iii) non-TT faculty should have NO expectations put on them beyond teaching students, and then only a fixed and merciful number of them--all these combine to say your dean's image should adorn the latest issue of The Journal of Scatological Proctology. Or at least be in a lineup of suspects charged with felony insensitivity and misdemeanor callousness.

wv: subble: subtlety that pops when touched

BunnyHugger said...

Seconding Anon 6:46. This may be code for "be willing to sign overrides" (or whatever your school calls over-enrollment permission forms). I refuse to grant those on principle, myself, but that's another topic for a future thread, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

The Dean is probably just trying to encourage faculty to help keep students enrolling at the university, whatever that means. I work at a private that costs like 32,000/year. Each student we enroll means lots of dollars: 32,000 x 4yrs = lots of dollars (minus whatever discount we give). So it really adds up to huge amounts from our budget if, say, we miss our enrollments by even 50 students. So we too as faculty have been asked to make calls and stuff to prospective students to encourage them to come. At first I balked, but then I said what the heck and sent a group of them emails. If we make our enrollments (or close), then it becomes very difficult for the Dean to later hedge on raises because she has no excuses then. So, as bad as it sounds, faculty and admissions are all in this together.

Word verification: boota
When an old person gets a flat ass; cf. bootie, of young people.

Anonymous said...

11:27 here again.

"So, as bad as it sounds, faculty and admissions are all in this together."

That's exactly how administration puts it. "Well, we all work here, so we should all work together." That's all well and good, but it almost always means "the teaching faculty need to do more." Teaching, advising, researching, university service...not enough? And let's keep in mind that, until tenure, teaching faculty also have to continually justify their positions in pre-tenure review/reappointment. We now should "help out" administrative departments too?

When teaching faculty are overworked, there is no attempt at sharing the load because we're all in this together. This is particularly true for non-TT teaching faculty, who are always the first to be fired, the first to absorb increased enrollment, and never given the kind of job security or benefits packages that are afforded any of the full-time administrative staff. To even suggest that a non-TT faculty member should now step up and do extra work because "we're all in this together" is terribly obnoxious.

When I see one member of the administrative staff asked to in any way help "share the load" of the teaching faculty, then I'll buy the "we're in the same boat" bullshit. We could make university service less demanding on teaching faculty by requiring administrative staff to do it as well. There's no reason why they are any less qualified than philosophers and historians to sit on a University Goals and Planning committee. They can also easily learn the university general education requirements and advise freshmen during what should be their lunch breaks. But no, that would put too much work on their precious shoulders.


Anonymous said...

If we make our enrollments (or close), then it becomes very difficult for the Dean to later hedge on raises because she has no excuses then. So, as bad as it sounds, faculty and admissions are all in this together.

Um, don't you mean tenure-track faculty and admissions? Because when "later" rolls around, the adjuncts have since left and/or been replaced.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one who said not to waste your rage on this. But if it's really about retaining students who deserve to flunk out, then rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Anonymous said...

8:15 here again.

Anon 8:49 wrote: "So, as bad as it sounds, faculty and admissions are all in this together."

It's a fallacy to infer from the fact that both faculty and administration have an interest in high enrollments that faculty have an obligation to support administration in reaching or maintaining enrollment goals. Faculty--whether TT or not--have a commitment to do research and to teach, and to a lesser degree, to help self-administer faculty affairs. Anything else is the administration's job.

wv: "grabatio", as in "Latin for the act of touching someone in inappropriate places"

Mr. Zero said...

I don't think the Dean was literally asking me to make phone calls to prospective students. For one thing, he would have to tell me who to call, and the email did not contain any list of phone numbers. I guess it's possible that he was hoping we'd all write back and ask how we could help, and then he'd give us the phone numbers.

And it would be pretty wrong to do that. You can't say to your most overworked, underpaid, and job-insecure faculty that they should voluntarily do extra work on behalf of the school in their free time because they might get a raise if they do a good job. I'm not saying he literally wouldn't do this--based on what I know about him, he would--but that would be a highly shameless and despicable thing to do. If you want people to extra work, you have to actually pay them for it. You can't be like, "I'll pay you more for your actual job later if you do a bunch of work that isn't your job for free now." You can't.

I don' think it's at all unlikely that he was trying to tell me to go easy on my summer school students, though.

Anonymous said...

I love, love, love 9:06's idea of insisting that deans, division chiefs, provosts, chancellors, presidents, etc. carry a load of undeclared major advisees, since, you know, we're all in this together. I think they should also volunteer to help out with the grading for all the students they want me to accept over the cap, too.

Anonymous said...

8:49 here.

My comment seems to have rankled a few people, so let me try to reply. First, I did not anywhere say that it was OK for administration to simply overload teaching faculty because there is some need for help. I agree that faculty are already working very hard and that admissions should be taking the ball on this. But, as a matter of fact, I'm told that personal calls from faculty (specifically) are often especially influential with students (personal attention being better than informal letters). So the point was merely that "this is an effective way of increasing enrollments and since it affects me as faculty I'm willing to contribute despite misgivings." It is not simply a matter of capitulating to administration's demands. Second, I was only thinking of tenure-track faculty here. At no time were non-TT faculty ever asked to help. It was only chairs and program directors primarily. Finally, in reply to 7:32, I never said there was an "obligation" for faculty to contribute. It is only a matter of self-interest. Personal calls appear to help increase enrollments, and higher enrollments means more funds coming into the coffers.

Anonymous said...

"higher enrollments means more funds coming into the coffers."

That's important if the university is currently not meeting its projected enrollment. But most universities I know are turning away students. So long as universities are turning away students, I don't see why we should worry about enrollments.