Alright, that title is certainly hyperbolic.
Here I am, at the conclusion of another semester. This Fall brought some great experiments in the classroom with TechnoLit and some sobering reflections about the need for exams in my upper division literature courses. The semester also heralded leftover news from previous semesters: as often happens, academic publishing takes time and over the Summer a few of my grad students took their work to the next level with a peer-reviewed publication. Huzzah! Another Humanities student (whom I don’t know) won one of the Norton Recitation Context prizes for her rendition of a Shakespeare sonnet. Another hearty Huzzah!
But, the end of the semester and the last day of my grading frenzy for 105 students brought me some frustrating news to which I felt compelled to jump back into the political fray of SJSU and respond through official channels. Our President is under… investigation? censure? I’m not sure what, but the Academic Senate asked the CSU Chancellor to step in to investigate the draconian budget practices being enacted on our campus. Seriously, people. We can’t have at least two good years before the shit hits the fan again? Boo!
My upper division British Romantics course (on Madness & Romanticism!) was cancelled due to low enrollment, as was next semester’s version of TechnoLit. But, wait. Let me clarify. We haven’t even reached the deadline for registration. TechnoLit, a general education course, usually won’t fill up until the last minute. The British Romantics course was about 11 or 12 people full — for some reason, our department has major issues will filling our upper division courses. We need to fix that, make the catalog copy much sexier. I mean, who wants to take a class that’s generically described as “Study of major British authors and poets from 1780 to 1837, tracing changes in philosophy, religion, society, and culture represented in their works.” Egads! Here’s my version of the course:
In this survey of the British publishing and literary industry 1780-1837, we will investigate the demarcations of madness in poetry, novels, short stories and historical accounts. We begin with Thomas Arnold’s Observations in which Arnold proposes that the British are more susceptible to madness (or insanity) because its citizens are allowed to better themselves by “acquiring opulence.” All of the usual literary authors will appear but will be discovered through the use of digital tools and assignments.
Well, I was given 150 words to describe the course so not as sexy as the full description appears. But still! Those students who know me know that we’ll do cool stuff like tweeting as a character and touching 19th-century materials. Oh well.
TechnoLit is a derivation of our “Great Works of Literature” course, but with other forms of media included. This semester, I enrolled 50 and finished the semester with 42 students. 42 students! That’s a good attrition rate for our university. Here’s why:
Technology has completely overtaken our lives, from interaction between and manufacture of human beings to the daily use of technology. How has this shifted our culture, our literature, our legacy? This semester, we will explore literary representations of biotechnology (mad scientists!), society’s reactions to technological impositions (Luddites and punks!) and techno un-literature (hyper-textual madness!). Along the way, we will discuss literary elements, historical context, readers’ reactions, and the techno/digi/cyborg world of Techno Literature.
But, again, that’s not the catalog copy. GE students need to know to find my description on the English Department website. Alas, lack of good PR?
Oh, the good part is coming. In light of these TWO class cancellations, I will be assigned two more sections of a composition course. With my already assigned section, that brings my total to SEVENTY-FIVE FRIGGIN’ COMP STUDENTS. SEVENTY-FIVE! Plus the lower division British Literature survey, I’ll be managing 110 students. People, I’m a tenured Associate Professor who is expected to sit on lots of committees, do professional service, produce scholarship, direct one MA thesis and second-chair two others, finish my monograph….on and on and on. I’ve taken a hiatus from getting involved in my university’s politics. The situation is always dire…for nine years…always. And the ship is sinking, the sky is falling, someone hates someone else, someone is screwing someone out of tenure, someone got something someone else deserved. Enough! But, this workload is unimaginable. So, I asked for an official plan, blueprint, clarification about how I am supposed to manage these students, conform to the student learning objectives, AND help my very deserving students become educated people (and not just vocational robots).
Because I’m such a stinker and don’t believe that this kind of stuff should be kept quiet, here’s the text of my email to the powers in my department. I sent it today after a string of tweets that voiced my opinion with some sarcasm baked in. Maybe I’m stirred up because of the recent decision by the Kansas Board of Regents on the use of social media and academic freedom. Not sure. Some of these people are my friends, but I find in these official communications that I need to be, well, officious. Let’s see what happens, dear readers:
Hi [appropriate department committee chairs],
I just got word that 2 of my 4 classes for Spring 2014 have been prematurely cancelled, and I will be assigned 2 comp classes in their place. English 10, the general education course that was cancelled, typically does not fill up until very close to the deadline. For the Fall semester, 25 students were enrolled in English 10 by the premature deadline for cancelling courses, but on the first day of class the fully-enrolled course was filled with 15 students requesting to be added during the first meeting. By the conclusion of the semester, 42 students completed the course. It’s a shame that we are forced to cancel Engl. 10 in the Spring; the students are all non-majors who could be enticed to join our major in some way especially since the topic ranges into gaming towards the conclusion of the semester.
The revision to my schedule forces me to teach 3 sections of composition in addition to 56B. I’ve already emailed my union rep about violation of workload (Contract 20.3 (b)(c)). In addition, I’ve contacted the Academic Senate’s Professional Standards Committee to discuss workload issues and was referred to a 2002 Academic Senate report that urges SJSU to address these very workload issues: http://www.sjsu.edu/senate/docs/SS-S02-6.pdf: “Quoted in that report from 2002 is the WASC report of 1994 that excoriates SJSU for not dealing with workload issues.”
Forcing me to teach 3 sections of composition also violates the Department Policy that tenure line faculty teach only 1 composition course per semester. (I’d cite the most current revised policy, but it doesn’t seem to be available online, nor are the current committee assignments from what I can tell — hence why I’m sending this to ****, who I think is chair of the Policy Committee. Though the chair of Retention, Tenure & Promotion should also be in on this conversation because it has to do with advancing through the ranks of promotion, I have no idea who that is.)
I realize that these are extreme times, but they’ve been extreme times for 9 years and more. Since this practice of asking tenure-line faculty to do more with less will continue, I propose that Curriculum revisit the requirement for 8000 words of formal writing and 6 essays in Engl. 1A and 1B. (The Senate has yet to pass the conversion of 1B, so we have to operate on the existing structure for 1B.)
I could tally my daily and weekly workload for teaching 3 sections of composition this Spring to demonstrate that meeting the student learning objectives *and* the word count requirements is impossible for a tenure-line faculty considering all of the other requirements for service and scholarship. And, since I’m on track to apply for Full Professor in a few years, this kind of workload impedes that progress, a stalling of progress that the Academic Senate railed against this semester and faulted as the primary catalyst for losing tenure-line faculty.
The news about cancelled classes and shifted course load came today when I’m just about to complete my grading for this semester’s 105 students. Next semester, I will tackle grading for 110 students in lower division courses without the help of a TA even with the increased technology that will be used in 56B (since that course was awarded a spot in the Incubator Classroom this Spring).
Consider this an official request that requires some form of official response: I ask that the chair of RTP, Curriculum, and/or Policy provide me with a structure or plan for handling this type of workload while still fulfilling the SLOs for each course, participating in university and professional service requirements, and furthering in-progress scholarly commitments to complete a monograph, two peer-reviewed articles, a major digital project with the MLA, and 3-4 invited talks at universities across the US and other locales.
Codicil: For those who will inevitably critique this post as a whining Humanities prof who lives in the world of privilege, do you really want to send your kid to me with the hopes of a good education that will make him/her competitive against the Berkeley and Stanford kids who are flooding the Silicon Valley market? Every student that I teach is a valuable individual full of potential; how would they feel being rubber-stamped by a prof who’s too tired to notice them? I thought not. Now, stop that bombastic critique and help me fix this profoundly broken system of higher education! For the record, I think our literature students should be working side-by-side with our engineering students!