There’s a small flock of deans where I work. They’ve decided to offer a regular time on a regular basis when they’ll make sure one or more of them is available to hear from folks about whatever those folks have on their minds. That sounds pretty good. It shows a desire to make communication easier. I don’t think they really want to hear what’s on my mind—and they don’t make it a fair risk to tell them—but, on the surface at least, it’s a nice gesture. There’s something to be said for that.
The result was a flurry of e-mails. One person saw the invitation as an occasion for bluster, and the “reply-to-all” button on their email client as a convenient megaphone.
I’m not against “reply-to-all.” It has its uses. And I’ve no problem with soap-boxing. I’ll stop to listen if the voice is a compelling one. But I do like having the choice to move on and be done with it should that voice strike me as hollow. “Reply-to-all” makes that nearly impossible. It turns the public street into an endless loop. I have to come back again and again if only to read enough to know that it is that same windy thing I want to delete.
The fellow had his withers swelled about grade inflation. It’s not a new subject, so he must have felt it was one not taken seriously enough. The invitation from the deans was to walk over and tell it to them, but that requires legwork. And it’s private. He wanted an audience.
All right. Even if I never bought the rap about grade inflation enough to care about it in the least, I figure the guy has some congestion to clear. I can live with that. And if he has to be rude and mean-spirited, I can let that pass, too. I’ve been there. Let him blow it off. Then maybe he’ll pour himself a drink with a little bite to it, put on some music, and let it all go away. That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t type it and hit “reply-to-all.”
The professoriate is a wreck. It is hidebound. As winkered by procedure and atrophied presuppositions as any rankist clergy. Sure, it will change. Everything is changing now. Technology is ahead of us. And whether you think we’re caught in the web or at home in the cloud there’s no going back unless we tear it all down and start again. More and more, the professoriate puts on the uniform of the corporate structures it serves. Some members pay lip-service to resisting that direction; others welcome it. Those in opposition don’t fight too hard. The bargaining table is a Brahmin picnic where everyone is afraid they’ll go hungry and no one is aware of how fat they are.
Of course, the blowhard’s rant didn’t die. “Reply-to-all” is electronic chum. Fish gather.
In the itty-bitty frenzy of back and forth that followed, someone from the “hard” sciences “replied-to-all,” claiming her department does not have to be concerned about grade inflation. Half of their students are failing. That was a mark of pride. Of solid pedagogy and high standards. “How easy,” I thought. I did not hit “reply-to-all.”
I feel pretty good about my students. And though my job is a temporary one, I’ve been at this place for better than ten years. I’ve met good folks. Both on faculty and in administration—even a dean or two. Ones I admire and like. There are some loons about, too, and that pleases me. And sure, there are plenty of others who are forgettable except in their own minds, and a few who are a curse on everything living. I don’t care. Just stay out of my mailbox.
I’m not sure what it is that made me want to write this rather than spend the time working on a song, but there you have it. It might have been the invitation to talk which, while well-intentioned, was in essence personally meaningless. Maybe it was all the grade inflation nonsense—the problem has never been in the classroom. Maybe rising grades are a symptom (and I’m not swearing to it) of something else but, if so, the fault is elsewhere. Or maybe it was that “weed-them-out” mentality that reeked of a discredited (one would hope) Social Darwinism. But I’m betting it was just that “reply-to-all.” Get a blog, for God’s sake.
It could be that windbag did me favor. I’m looking around. I’m looking at my wrists and ankles. I’m smiling as I type.