Department chairs have tough jobs. Scheduling a hundred classes every semester. Student complaints. Budgets. Recruitment. Promotion. Tenure reviews. Hiring new faculty. Not killing people. You get the idea.
How do I know all this? I help run a department. Yeah, I’m more than just a pretty face on campus. I also know that department chairs make almost twice as much as their faculty at some places. And they teach half as many courses. Not a bad trade off, I’d say.
Are you a college professor? Maybe an adjunct, or a TA? If so, I apologize. I’m afflicted with a case of academia, too. Let’s help each other. If the job weren’t hard enough, we suffer from rating anxiety. Not just semester evaluations, no. RateMyProfessor gives students a platform to say whatever they want about us to a wide public audience. Students are so judgmental sometimes. You make one small mistake in November, like showing up hungover in a cocktail dress with puke on it, and that’s all they can remember. Forget all those hours you spent grading their awful papers, pumping up their egos, telling them shit like, “You’re on the right track. But maybe some sources would help?”
On the other hand, a lot of professors genuinely suck. I’ve lived some true horror stories. One of my professors accused me of plagiarism before he’d even read my paper. He made me write another one, then he emailed me to change his mind. “I’m sorry,” he wrote. “Your title looked familiar at first. But when I read past the first paragraph, I realized it was clearly your work.” Another professor used an entire 2-hour class period to show us funny YouTube videos that had nothing to do with the course.
What was he doing? Trying to pump up his RateMyProfessors score probably. You see, I’m fine with that site. But they’re worth making fun of. After all, they don’t really foster an atmosphere of respect for education. Do they? They’re trying to gain traffic and sell ads. The more salacious the comments, the better. A few years ago, they even added a platform for professors to “strike back.” They could upload video responses to their students. Fun. I imagine that would go over well during my tenure review, a video of me mocking my students.
You might think professors lounge around on leather recliners sipping brandy in the afternoon. Not true. My workday doesn’t stop, and I work from home a lot, including evenings. Why? Because when I’m on campus, I’m barraged by students. Not mine. Other people’s.
Proof? Just an hour ago, a lady wandered into my office with a confused look. She showed me a crumpled map, asking me how to find a building on campus. I left my desk and led her outside, pointing toward a brick block in the distance. She smiled. I returned to my work.
Five minutes later, she came back. “It’s just that I don’t know where my classroom is, either. It doesn’t say on the schedule I printed out. Can you help me?”
We logged onto her student account, using my computer. It’s a good thing I wasn’t watching porn. I leave that on in the background sometimes. Yeah, I like to live dangerously.
Why am I constantly interrupted? Maybe because I don’t look like a professor. I look like a secretary, or a student aid. Pay no attention to my diploma or all my shelves with big heavy books. I don’t have two courses to teach, or articles to write, or committee meetings to show up late for, or a blog to piddle with. I’m here to handle every little trifling problem you have.
Van Halen nailed it. I love that song, and it’s so true. That chili pepper on RateMyProfessor feels great, and we secretly yearn for that little icon, even though it has no bearing on tenure at all. That’s too bad, because I wish I could mention my chili peppers during job interviews. Yeah, the better part of me wonders about encouraging the sexualization of professors by their students. But this is my secret blog, and I’m tipsy, and also extremely vain, so fuck it. If you’ve ever clicked on that chili pepper for a professor, know this: She saw it, and she grinned. She probably texted her boyfriend, and she probably humble-bragged about it over cocktails.
One time a guy was flirting with me and he said, “You’ve got a chili pepper, don’t you?” I looked away and brushed my hair behind one ear, biting my lip. “Yeah,” I said, looking down, embarrassed to smile. “I’ve got one.”
We all hate job searches, but they make for good stories if you do them with reckless abandon. For example, try running a job hunt from Europe. That’s my advice. I’ll spare you the usual complaints about academic job season. Yes, it’s cruel. I applied for 60 or so jobs all over the world. New York, Wisconsin, Iraq, Lebanon, China. Even North Dakota. For some reason, I decided to travel through Spain for a month right in the middle of my job search. I drank cafe solo every morning while scrolling through my emails, praying for an interview. I also stopped off at more McDonald’s locations than I care to admit, because they always had the best wifi.
My trip began in late November. Stupid. Somehow I managed to cancel the last week of my classes without getting fired from my TAship. My dissertation was drafted but not revised. I didn’t take any of my books with me on the plane. Instead of writing or doing job prep, I went running along the Mediterranean coast every afternoon and went to flamenco concerts and drank with undergraduates every night. I partied with people who would’ve been my students under normal circumstances. I toured ancient palaces and fortresses. My professors thought I’d lost my mind. One of my committee members emailed me as much:
You’re in Spain??? What the fuck are you doing there???? I just read chapter four of your dissertation, and it needs serious work. And your final grades are late. Honestly, I don’t think you’re going to finish this year. You need to think about taking out some more loans.
So I dragged myself to an Internet cafe and entered my grades over a spotty wifi connection, then took a bus downtown to hang out with my new friends. I had four besties: all 19-21 years old: German, British, Polish, Japanese. They accepted me as their older sister.
Some students sure do beg and bitch a lot. One semester, I finished all my grading early and decided to sleep in late. Really late. So there I was enjoying my coffee around noon…when our department office manager called to relay a message from a panicked student (and his mom). The message: He’d been stopping by and emailing all morning and couldn’t get a hold of me. Well, obviously. My grading was done. Classes were over. Did he think I’d come to campus for fun? I mean, I like my office, but I have one of those at home–a better one where I can wear my jammies and drink espresso. Nevertheless, this sad young man was depending on me to grade his paper so he could keep his scholarships.
I glanced at my clock. “The grade deadline’s in an hour,” I said. “I’ll just give him an incomplete.”
The office manager replied, “He told me he’ll lose his financial aid if he gets an incomplete. He emailed you his paper.”
“Let me check.”
As I opened Firefox the office manager added, “And his mom’s been calling a lot, too.”