Remember the “African proverb,” “it takes a village to raise a child,” Hillary Clinton borrowed for a book title? One would think this month that the village wise men and women would be out in force to congratulate the children they have nurtured with their tutelage. One would think. But one would be wrong.
My last post, about faculty workload, landed me in deep doo-doo with the academical set, some of whom resorted to ad hominem attacks when my arguments left them sputtering (check out Chandra’s comments). So rather than offering opinion on the matter of faculty failing to attend Commencement, I’ll let the professoriate speak for itself.
First, though, I’ll credit the source, David Galef’s essay “Showing Up” in the May 27 edition of Inside Higher Ed. Galef takes on the growing number of faculty who don’t bother showing up to watch their students graduate; he enumerates and handily dismisses the reasons faculty offer for their behavior. Since he is a seasoned academic Galef I am sure was 100% prepared for deluge of criticism that came his way.
Leading the charge was “erinna,” who self-identifies as an award-winning “highly rated faculty member”:
I don’t go to graduation for several reasons. First and foremost, I just don’t want to. I find it pointless, and I feel like a crowd extra in a biblical epic — there’s masses of people and I’m just one more. So I don’t feel like this is an impactful use of my time.
… the graduation ceremony ….[is] purely symbolic with no real use.
Finally, my school has repeatedly expanded the scope of my duties without expanding my pay. When you do that, people will start to pick things to dump that are not not important to them and for which there will be no reprisal. Ceremony is at the top of that list for me.
I’d love to know what (award-winning) Professor erinna teaches; given her take on symbols I’m guessing (hoping) it’s not mathematics or a humanities or social science subject.
I’m also wondering what constitutes an “impactful use” of her time, and my guess here is that it’s probably the hours she spends deciding which of her “duties” she can “dump” without “reprisal.” Like the self-respecting and award-winning academic that she is, erinna takes principled action—skipping out on the one ceremony in the academic calendar that has real meaning–only when it won’t get her in trouble. Admirable.
Next, “20-year adjunct” pats herself on the back for attending Commencement:
I did go once because I had a student graduating. It was a miserable experience. We sat in the football field on folding chairs. The wind blew, it was hot, the process took too long, and I felt like wallpaper.
Since my husband and I share a gown, we do not have to pay rental costs. But I got tired of staring at the board of trustees, few of whom even have a graduate degree, handing out diplomas, and the administrators, most of whom are new to their job, overpaid, and have not earned my respect.
If I had tenure-level pay, maybe I’d show up more, but so long as I am seen as a temp, I am not really motivated to spend an afternoon sitting like a lump when there is still grading to be done.
Usually I have tremendous sympathy for adjunct faculty. They do the heavy lifting of intro courses for laughable pay and no respect whilst their tenured and tenure-track colleagues fret about missing the last episode of The Jersey Shore. But in “20 years”’s case I’ll curb my feelings. She attended one graduation exercise and was so fatigued by it that she vowed never to set foot on an athletic field again. I understand her point of view, though, after all the newly minted baccalaureates she so recently taught didn’t “even have a graduate degree” yet, so why get all hot and bothered? Admirable.
At least Steve Thulin, professor of history at Northwest College, doesn’t cite lack of eye candy on the podium as his reason for ditching Commencement. “I have worked at a small college here in Wyoming for over 20 years and until recently would not have missed a graduation,” he boasts, then delivers his zinger, “But I did this year and last because my administration crammed our finals ‘week’ into a ‘Wednesday-Thursday-Friday’ format (it was convenient to their needs?) and insisted that graduation would be on a Saturday morning — and grades are due on Tuesday. Some of us did not even get most of our finals until the day before graduation — and for myself, I was still under a pile of term papers when they arrived anyway.”
It’s hard to untangle Professor Thulin’s stream-of-consciousness rant, but I think it boils down to he’s mad because Commencement takes place on Saturday morning. God forbid a faculty member be asked to show up on the weekend. Thulin also takes a gratuitous shot at those vile 9-to-5 Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday administrators. They had the temerity to schedule a six-day work-week for themselves so that families members of the working class kids whose ranks make up Northwest’s enrollment could watch their sons and daughters graduate without the fear of lost wages.
Thulin goes on to say he’s watching Commencement on TV from home, where he’s correcting papers so his grades can be turned in on Tuesday. Admirable.
But leave it to a greybeard to sum things up. “OldCommProf” takes aim with the most predictable arrow in the faculty quiver—he blames somebody else for his behavior:
I’m considering skipping graduation, even though we’re encouraged to go and know all the arguments about honoring the grads. And I’ve been to 28 of the 32 that have been held since I’ve been here.
The reason I’ve come to this point is that it has lost all sense of decorum and dignity. The kids do handstands on the stage, hoist the chancellor in their arms instead of shaking his hand, hold up the line as they take multiple pictures with their pocket digital cameras (the let’s-get-our-faces-really-close kind that that they usually take in bars and at parties) and sometimes even kiss him.
It’s a mess and I’m embarrassed to be part of it.
With seconds to go before they never have to deal with the likes of erinna, 20-year adjunct, Thulin, or OldCommProf again, is it any wonder graduates are turning handsprings?
Before we put the Pomp and Circumstance CD away for another year, let’s let JE, Prof at Private U, have the last word, for his is a call to civility:
I think what is lacking in this discussion is a mutual respect for people’s individual decisions- faculty and student alike. I admit I don’t attend ceremonies. I didn’t as a student and I don’t as a faculty member. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this decision regardless of my reasons, just as I do not think there is anything wrong with choosing to participate in or even enjoy ceremonial events on the part of others.
In JE’s private universe “mutual respect” is defined as: “I do as I please. The rest of you can sod off.”
Sometimes I think Thomas Hobbes wasn’t writing about all of mankind. Just the professoriate.