Saturday, September 22, 2012

Corporations are people

Well, kind of

Nothing is more important to the continuing success (or failure!) of an organization than its hiring process. Bring in the wrong people and you're doomed. Bring in the right people and you have a fighting chance. Hence I never pass up an opportunity to serve on one of my college's hiring committees. Despite the onerous task of wading through dozens of thick application packets, it's worth it in order to participate in the selection of my future colleagues, supervisors, and support staff. It's also educational.

As you might imagine, some applications make more interesting reading than others. Each candidate's personal statement of interest strives to distinguish the candidate from other, supposedly less qualified, applicants. The candidate has to tread the fine line that separates persuasive self-promotion from repellent bragging. One must also take into account one's audience and do the necessary homework to research the target institution. I have quite lost track of the number of letters addressed to Large Community College that say, “My lifelong dream is to work at an educational institution as excellent as Medium Community College.”

I presume that was a search-and-replace failure while preparing different packets for LCC and MCC. Proofread your submissions, people!

Of course, there are more subtle errors than merely getting the college's name wrong. One particularly fascinating example springs to mind as a perfect illustration of a candidate that did too little homework in preparing his application for a faculty position. Here's a paraphrase of the key paragraph:
In an era of shared governance in community colleges, I have vital hands-on experience that prepares me to be especially effective and productive as a professor at your institution. While serving as department chair at Country City College, I was tasked with the job of providing instructor-perspective input to the Dean of Education in creating faculty assignments. Although the actual responsibility of making faculty teaching assignments rests with the Dean of Education, it was frequently necessary, in order to meet semester deadlines, for me to present the Dean with detailed faculty-assignment proposals as a fait accompli. I thus, in effect, did a significant portion of the Dean's job during the four years I was his faculty advisor and therefore possess actual administrative experience at the management level that should enhance and inform my contributions as a new faculty member at Large Community College.
As the members of the LCC hiring committee sat around a long conference table and passed around the application packets for comment, several of us took special notice of the unique qualifications of the candidate from Country City College. Imagine—we could hire someone who had actually done a big part of his ineffective supervisor's job!

We were not prepared to make any decisions at that point because the hiring committee was awaiting the arrival of its chair, who had to wrap up a prior meeting before joining us for candidate screening. When he arrived, the application from the CCC professor was on top of the stack at his end of the conference table. He spotted it and immediately picked it up.

“Well, here's a name I recognize! He was a faculty rep on my advisory team when I was Dean of Education at Country City College!”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sean Hannity is right!

Extreme right—but in this case also correct

As a rule, I do not listen to Sean Hannity's predictable right-wing blather. He's a Seanny One-Note who harps on Obama's supposed misdeeds and can be readily summarized by “liberals bad, sufficiently crazy conservative nutbags good.” Today, however, he delivered a priceless nugget while self-importantly explaining the universe to his dutifully credulous listeners. Not having subscribed to his podcast (I'm not completely crazy), I may not have captured his words with perfect verbatim fidelity, but this is very, very close:
Perhaps in the future some young people will look back and remember this period of history. I name it for you now: the Era of Radical Extremism.
Couldn't have put it better myself, Sean!

As you might have guessed, he was pontificating on the excesses of the thin-skinned Muslim rioters (and the extremists who used them as cover to attack our embassy in Libya), but the Era of Radical Extremism perfectly characterizes the Tea-Party-drenched cult that is today's Republican Party. Eisenhower would be read out of today's GOP for his boldness in denouncing the military-industrial complex. Goldwater would be repudiated for embracing gay rights. Ronald Reagan would be in danger of getting blacklisted for his signature on a series of tax-increase measures (both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.), but that would be too inconvenient, so today's Republicans prefer to worship a carefully edited icon of Reagan, the awkward bits of his history consigned to the memory hole.

Thanks for the nice label, Sean. I hope you wear it proudly!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too cool for school

No royal road to algebra

Although its hours have been trimmed by the current state budget crisis, my college's Tutoring Center continues to serve as a lifeline for many of our students. Each semester, therefore, I make a point of ensuring that my math students are aware of the facility's existence. I don't just tell them, I show them. Thus it was once again that, during the second week of the semester, I gathered up the entire class and took them on a “field trip.”

It puzzled my students when I announced it, of course. I told them to leave their books and papers behind in the classroom, which I would lock behind them. We would take a few minutes to stroll down the sidewalk to the Tutoring Center, which was only a couple of buildings over. Short field trip. Once I mentioned where we were going, some students nodded their heads in comprehension, grasping my purpose. Other students, however, had a different reaction.

One came up to me, backpack in hand, clearly ready to make a break for it.

“Is this required?” he inquired.

“We're all going to the Tutoring Center,” I said, in oblique response.

“Yeah, but do we have to? Is it an assignment?” He was nothing if not persistent.

“We're all going to the Tutoring Center and we'll be back in a few minutes to start on the next topic,” I said, demonstrating a charming obtuseness.

I don't think my student was charmed. He got to the point.

“Does this affect our grade? Are we getting participation points?” he asked.

I looked right at him, allowing my surprise to show.

“‘Participation points’? In a college class?”

He fell silent but unrepentant. He wanted points if he was going to go to the Tutoring Center with his classmates. It was finally obvious I wasn't giving any. He trailed along behind the rest of the group and I expected him to lag increasingly until he took a “wrong turn” and vanished toward the parking lot.  I was thus mildly surprised and pleased to see that instead he stuck it out and hung at the periphery of the group as I introduced them to the instructional assistant who managed the math tutors in the Center and walked everyone over to the area where drop-in tutoring occurred. Now that my students had been physically present in the facility and had met the key personnel, I figured it was much more likely that they would feel comfortable about returning to it when they needed help.

We returned to our classroom and launched into the lesson for the second half of the class period. The point-grubbing student sat quietly in the back, apparently ruing his decision not to skip out. At least I assume so, since in the next few days he developed a habit of nonattendance or early departure. When our first exam came along, he achieved the class's low score, missing a D by several points. (In fact, his score in the thirties might reasonably be characterized as an F-minus-minus.) He had never come to my office hours and he had never darkened the door of the Tutoring Center again.

I guess he really needed those participation points.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Dad goes to the dogs

Who let them out this time?

Like a mischievous child with poor impulse control, my father just can't help it. When things are too quiet and too civil for too long, he has to poke someone in the ribs or otherwise pick a fight. Fortunately, he prefers a verbal brawl to a physical one, preferentially in the form of e-mail. Although he knows I don't welcome (and, in fact, disdain) his habit of forwarding crude right-wing messages, every so often he “forgets” and accidentally includes me among the forwardees. I am not amused.

In his most recent display of execrable taste, he sent out the following:
My Dogs

This morning I went to sign my dogs up for welfare.
At first the lady said,
"Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare."
So I explained to her that my dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddy's are.
They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care.
So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify.
My dogs get their first checks Friday.

Damn, this is a great country.
I managed to read the entire thing without bursting into good-natured laughter. Imagine that. I guess I can't take a light-hearted joke, can I? Dad knows that I will not keep silent in the face of such noxious trash and can be relied upon to use “Reply All” in response. Not wanting to disappoint him (even while understanding that I was feeding the troll), I fired this off:
Yes, it’s a great country, and perhaps in Obama’s second term it’ll become a still greater country in which overtly racist humor is even more disdained than it is today.
Despite years of combat, I am still unable to predict which bright and shiny thing in my ripostes will attract Dad's attention. Would he blow up at the thought of a second Obama term, a notion that haunts his nightmares? Would he take umbrage at the charge of racism? He chose the latter, and replied with wounded innocence:
Tsk tsk. Not the dogs, old man. You.

Antics like these unpleasantly remind me of early harbingers in the days when my father was not so overtly a right-wing nutter. Even back then he couldn't always keep it tamped down. I recall some forty-plus years ago when I was sitting at the kitchen table, painstakingly filling out a college application. In those days many schools required that you attach a wallet-size photo to the finished packet. Dad peeked over my shoulder as I carefully glued the photo in the indicated spot.

“What's that for?” he asked. “Do they want to make sure you're not a nigger?”

Several seconds went by as the rubber cement set and I silently rubbed off the excess from the margins of the photo.

“Hey,” said Dad. “I asked you a question. Didn't you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you,” I replied with a brittle voice. “I was ignoring you.” (In my brain's playback mechanism I can hear myself archly saying, “I was doing you the courtesy of ignoring you,” but I'm pretty certain that's the fictionalized version that came to me later via l'esprit de l'escalier. Maybe I'll save it for a book.)

My remark was following by more silence. Then Dad gave a short laugh and strolled off. And a few months later he did not balk at coughing up the outrageous tuition at the private school to which I was admitted. I owe the old so-and-so the world.

But he presumes. Damn, but he presumes.