Classes start up again this week. Don't get me wrong--I love teaching and I love being in the classroom and I am very fond of my students (Most of them.)---But the end of summer does bring a few changes, not all of which are welcome.
Other than the calendar, the first sure sign of the start of a new school year is the traffic in town. About 10% more cars double the noise---and damn near triple the number of accidents in town as a lot of teenage drivers---suffering under a massive overdose of testosterwrong---suddenly return to the town's streets. The noisy combination of large engines with small mufflers is evidently the basis of the mating cry for the flowers of American youth: Blooming Idiots.
Enema U is buzzing with the usual "new" news:
We have a new coach, Kareem de Blé, who has promised that all of the university's problems will disappear as soon as we win a few games---and this can be easily achieved with just a little more funding. It is the same old story---the team needs more funding if it loses and deserves more funding if it wins. (Not that we know much about the latter).
Fresh from the unqualified---or at least unmeasured---success of online education, Enema U has a new program that we are eager to implement ASAP: Speed Teaching! Students will spend five minutes per classroom---more than enough time for the professor to hand out printed copies of the PowerPoint presentation and a list of readings that the students couldn't care less about. When the bell rings, the students have ten minutes to either make it to the next class or simply skip the class as usual and get another cup of overpriced coffee from the increasingly misnamed bookstore.
And we have New Regents! Nothing improves a university more than fresh political appointees from the governor. Experience has certainly taught us that political appointees are at least as competent at leadership as lapdogs are suited for hunting.
There has been a flurry of self-important email pronouncements from on high, or as the university quaintly calls them, the Lukewarnings. Most of the Lukewarnings are short announcements concerning important campus activities such as yet another parking lot closure, the library holding a book burning to raise funds, a progress report on the Biology Department's ongoing quest to breed fat-sucking mosquitoes, and the Department of Internet Control Kabal (ICK) holding yet another class on Effective Teaching Online. That course, of course, is only taught in a "bricks and mortar" classroom . Mainly, the Lukewarnings reveal the recent appointments of several new executive vice-presidents
You would think, in an institution where hundreds of faculty members are desperate to publish one more article dealing with such weighty topics as "The Social Mores of Post-Industrial Female Irish Bartenders", lest they, too, should perish, that we could could change the rules just once and grant tenure to the first faculty member who succeeds in writing a program identifying the name and job function of all of the university's currently existing vice-presidents. Or at least complete the first volume.
Most exciting of all, this time of year, the calendar begins filling up with Committee Meetings. I can never sit through the beginning of a committee meeting without remembering the old story about one of President Eisenhower's Cabinet meetings. After the meeting had been underway for a few minutes, Eisenhower suddenly slammed his fist down on the tabletop and exclaimed, "Goddammit! We forgot the silent prayer!"
University committee meetings are usually the reverse of this---there is a lot of silent praying going on---usually for an early adjournment. Unfortunately, there is not much chance of any committee's either coming up with any new ideas or even reaching a decision. Committee meetings never actually achieve consensus---the talk just slowly dwindles after everyone becomes engrossed with playing the mental game of "Whom Shall I Strangle First" and stops talking over one another. This is the universal signal for adjournment.
And, of course, after a summer where we were constantly a few flying monkeys short for a faculty meeting, we suddenly have a quorum. There are many, many, great faculty members at Enema U---but there are only two types: Those whom you would like to have a drink with, and those who make you want to drink---a lot!
I have never really understood the need for faculty meetings, so I only show up because of an undying hope that we will "vote someone off the island". One candidate I definitely would vote off would require a rather large barge, but in the meantime, with 7 billion people on this planet, I simply refuse to let one jackass screw up my day as often as he does the faculty meetings.
But even surly-undertoned faculty meetings, where overly-polite professors are too tolerant to stifle perennial rudeness, have given me a valuable insight that I should share:
No matter how bitter I sound right now, I'll get over it all as soon as I get back into the classroom.
***A small note. Recently a kind and wise president of a state university passed away. This man, who had given the better part of his life for the betterment of the university, rode the elevator up to heaven with a recently deceased pope. When the elevator got to heaven, a host of angels singing hosannahs picked up the scholar and carried him through the golden streets of heaven, which were lined with former students, each cheering the man's entry into his just reward.
The pope, feeling a little neglected, asked God what all the fuss was about.
"Well," God said. "We get popes up here all the time, but we rarely see a teacher like that man."
He is missed.