The last third

Late August/early September is the beginning of the year for academic-types. Just as summer is ending and normal people begin to think about fall and the year winding down, academic-types are thinking of starting again. Though this new school year finds me in a place where “starting again” isn’t quite what’s happening. I’m more imagining the last third of my career, give or take.

I’m not teaching this fall because I have a Faculty Research Fellowship from EMU, which is basically a “sabbatical light” sort of award. It’s a good thing and I am busy working on a book about MOOCs, but it also means I’m not getting ready to teach classes for the first time in like 29 years. Dang, I just did that math, but I think it’s right: I started teaching as an MFA student in 1988, and while I had a winter semester sabbatical and some other breaks along the way, I’m pretty sure I have taught at least one class every fall since 1988 as either a grad student, a part-time instructor, or a tenure-track faculty person. Until this year.

Plus I am beginning this semester as an “uber” or “fuller” professor. That’s not what it’s really called, but “salary adjustment promotion” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This was one of the good things the union did a while ago (with the last contract?) that helps deal with both the problems of salary compression and motivating full professors to stay active. In a sense, it isn’t that big of a deal because everyone in my department who has done the paperwork and process for this promotion has gotten it. Like tenure and promotion more generally at EMU, it is more about “time served” than demonstrated excellence, though I think there’s a good argument to be made about why our system is both more humane and more empowering for faculty who take their scholarship seriously than what happens at most universities. But in another sense, it is a big deal because it is a significant pay raise and because it does tick off another career milestone: I’ve been a full professor now for 10 years.

Oh, and given the low bar for scholarly productivity at EMU, I’m pretty sure that the stuff I’ve done this year that didn’t count this time (presentations and a chapter in a book on MOOCs that just came out) plus my MOOC book (knocking on wooden things) will be enough in my scholarship bucket for me to get a second one of these salary adjustments in 2027, even if this MOOC book I’m working on is my last scholarly project. This assumes both the salary adjustment promotion and me are walking the earth in 2027, of course.

Plus PLUS there is the ongoing mess of course equivalencies and the generally bad and/or in-over-their-heads administrators at EMU right now, everyone from the President all the way down. I don’t have a lot of confidence in any of these people, and I don’t think my opinions about the administration are all that unusual.

Plus PLUS PLUS I turned 51 this year. I don’t know if that is that important of a milestone or not, but it seems a bigger deal to me than 50 was, maybe because of everything else that’s going on.

So the bad news is that career-wise, I probably have no choice but to ride out the storm at EMU. Never say never, but I’m too old and too senior and I don’t have the academic pedigree to compete for most of the tenured professor positions that might be coming about this year. Besides, we’re a package deal. Annette (also a tenured full professor) and I long ago decided that a “commuter marriage” wasn’t a good idea. So sure, we might look at the job market a bit more than we have in the past, but more than likely, we’re stuck.

Mind you, being “stuck” at EMU isn’t all bad. While the working conditions might be getting worse in different ways, I am pretty sure EMU isn’t going to be closing its doors in the foreseeable future. It could be a lot worse; I mean, I don’t worry about losing my job. I like my students and my colleagues. I like southeast Michigan. The pay and benefits are still pretty good (though it’ll be interesting to see what gets clawed back with the next contract). And as I’ve seen before, the working conditions at EMU (and most universities, actually) can turn from good to bad to good again on a dime. It’s bad now; it could be totally fine next fall.

But yeah, I’m not feeling particularly rosy about this new school year.

My friend and colleague Bill Hart-Davidson wrote a relentlessly positive Medium post here about his start to the new school year at Michigan State University, newly promoted to both a full professor and the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Letters.  The post is called “Like an Oak Tree” because he tells the story of an oak tree he has in his front yard that appears to be dying. In reality, that tree is becoming “reborn” by providing a “home” for the various woodland creatures feeding and living on/in it while simultaneously it is healing itself with new growth.  You should read that. It’s inspiring.

But right now, I am reminded of  T-shirt slogan I have seen before, “50 isn’t old if you’re a tree.”  And as an academic who is feeling kind of “done” and pessimistic, the metaphor of “dead wood” seems somehow more fitting.

I don’t think too frequently or specifically about retirement. Usually, I think “retire from what?” I mean, I still like what I do, it’s not exactly back-breaking labor, and I’ve gotten to the point where I really can take a long break in the summers. But sometimes (especially when the morale and environment is like it is right now), I think “how soon can I get out of this?” Either way, the start of this school year has brought into sharp focus for me that I probably am entering the last third of things. Thinking about retirement doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched now as it did even a few years ago.

Anyway, my new school year resolutions:

  • Finish the MOOC book. And finish a draft of it before my FRF wraps up this fall.
  • Go to the gym more.
  • Let go and find something else “to do” besides by EMU. What I mean by this is as I unplug from various service and quasi-administrative duties and instead focus on my teaching and me, I need to find things that provide value in my life that don’t have to do with EMU and my work. I’m not entirely sure what that means yet and there are people close to me (like my wife) who say I am not going to be able to “let go.” But I got to start trying.
  • Finish the book.
  • No really, finish the book! Which (more knocking! more knocking!) really is entirely possible.
  • Stay “out of it.”
  • Plan early enough for winter teaching– though I will of course need to know what I’m teaching in the winter more than a week before classes start, which will not necessarily be the case.
  • Start writing something else that has nothing to do with my “career.”
  • Okay, have a little fun, too.

A blog post that will substitute for now for working on various MOOC projects

I am in the midst of what I have dubbed “sabbatical lite.” I finished up my quasi-administrative duties as program coordinator this summer and passed that baton on to Steve Benninghoff. This semester, I’m only teaching two classes because I’m getting a course release (more like payback) for MA projects I’ve directed over the last few years. Both of these are undergraduate courses and one of them is online. This is all setting the stage for my sabbatical proper, which will begin in January and go until next August.

It all makes me very nervous. I have had this song going through my head for weeks now:

 

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The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed MOOCs (and other pre-sabbatical thoughts)

I’ve been re-reading The Sun Also Rises lately as my just before sleep reading, so hopefully some Hemingway folks will understand my reference. Anyway, I find myself with some MOOCs not taken regrets and some MOOC plans that might be more unbought stuffed toys.

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The conference gets less and more mysterious

Let me first be very clear: this mystery conference in Jacksonville has actually turned out to be a pretty good thing. I went to some good panels this morning and this afternoon, I had some nice chats with various folks, mostly from the community college world, my presentation went pretty well, and I got to catch up a bit with at least one friendly face I recognized from the computers and writing conference world. So it has been a much better conference than I had expected, and I am looking forward to some of the sessions tomorrow.

But it has still been kind of weird.

First off, the sessions this morning that I attended had some pretty small audiences– which is fine, frankly. That’s typical for academic conferences, and I just kind of assumed this is kind of a small conference overall. But when I went to the luncheon banquet, I was rather surprised to see a rather large ballroom with somewhere around 800 or so people in it, complete with a big dais of distinguished people. It was odd; I was just wondering where the heck all these people came from.

Then there was the mini-monolith. Before the keynote speech by Marc Prensky (the first 20 minutes of which were pretty good; the second 20 minutes which were kinda problematic; and the last 20 minutes of which were probably unnecessary), they announced the awards for the conference. Now, one of the reasons I was sent by folks at EMU to this conference in the first place was that I was the EMU nominee for an “Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology.” So I knew I was going to get something, and I also knew that there was 40 or so other winners. But I wasn’t expecting this:

Mini-monolith 1

Mini-Monolith 2

This trophy is pretty cool, but it seems rather dangerous. It’s made out of marble, it’s about eight and half inches high and about three and a half inches in circumference, it is cut so it has a rather sharp point at top, and has got to weigh 10 pounds. Gian Pagnucci (a fellow winner, btw) and I were talking at dinner about this, and we both seriously wondered if you could actually take this thing onto an airplane in carry-on luggage. I mean, I have no doubt that you could most definitely brain someone with this thing if you really wanted to. I’m a little worried about what kind of damage it’s liable to cause in my checked suitcase.

Well, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Tomorrow, more mysteries await.

Some multi-tasking and links at the mystery conference

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m at this something of a mystery conference and listening to a guy talking about a laptop campus program at Cal State San Bernardino. It’s potentially pretty interesting to me because while CSU-SB is a lot smaller than EMU, the profile of what the school is like is pretty similar to EMU. I think this is a guy I should talk to at some point. One of the points he just made: the main complaint that various powers-that-be on his campus (e.g., faculty senate, tech committees, provosts, etc.) was concern about that one poor student who just can’t afford a laptop no matter what. So the solution they came up with was they collected old but still decent laptops from other institutional resources. So far, they’ve loaned out one.

Another fun-fact: 70% of the students at CSU-SB are on financial aid. At the same time, some huge percentage of students had computers, over 70% had high speed internet access where they lived, and over half of the students already owned a laptop before they were required to buy one. Again, given that CSU-SB has a similar profile of students at EMU, I bet that a survey would be about the same.

But a couple of other things I came across via my feed that kind of connect to the conference and that’s just kind of interesting:

Jacksonville and the mystery conference

After I updated my Facebook status by pointing out I was in Jacksonville, Florida, my friend emailed me via Facebook and asked why. Good question.

Well, for reasons that are too complicated to go into now, the short version is that I’m at the 19th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning because EMU said that they would pay my way. So I figured it’d be a chance to represent EMU and get a trip to Florida near the end of my quasi-sabbatical.

So far, the trip has been kind of a mystery. Jacksonville has to date struck me as kind of a strange place. Most of the conversation with the cab driver from the airport to the hotel revolved around the cab driver’s love of soup. Downtown Jacksonville seems kind of like a cross between Richmond and Detroit in that it is a bunch of big office buildings– banks, telecom companies, insurance companies, etc.– and some weird and seemingly failed urban revitalization efforts. Just down the riverfront from the hotel is a “mall” that reminds me a lot of this place in Richmond that had a reasonably successful food court and a bunch of empty store fronts. There is a Hooter’s, though. And– I swear to God this is true– there’s even a monorail. I might take a ride yet this trip.

As for the conference itself: well, I’ll get a better sense tomorrow, but right now, it too is a real… mystery. I had never heard of this conference before I got myself involved in it this year, and I don’t recognize a single name in the program. I went to a little reception thing this evening, and I very much felt oddly out of place. There is some interesting abstracts in the program, and I guess I’ll find out more about this whole thing tomorrow and Thursday. Though I am also looking forward to finding out more about St. Augustine, which is my trip for Friday. Stay tuned.

FAQ on Krause sabbatical lite

Not that anyone is asking, but Deb Hawhee got me to thinking about it. For those unfamiliar with what I mean by “sabbatical lite:” see this post and this category on my previous official blog. In brief, I am splitting a half-year sabbatical up over a full academic year.

Q. Was the sabbatical lite a good idea?

A. In hindsight, no. Now, I still think, given the situation at the time I asked my department head if this was a possibility, the sabbatical lite was a good idea. But for those faculty-types out there thinking about doing the same thing as me: don’t do it.

As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure that the one semester sabbatical in general is that good of an idea either. At least one senior colleague told me that the one year sabbatical is the way to go because it can take a good three months to unplug from all that is involved with the day-to-day world of a faculty person and it takes about that long to get a good start on a research project of some sort. The tricky thing though is that full year sabbatical comes with a 50% salary cut, and not a lot of people can afford that.

So the next time I do this, which I guess will be in another 7 or so years, I’ll try to figure out a way to take the full year. Assuming that they’re still offering sabbaticals in 7 or so years….

Q. Have you got any writing and research done?

A. Sure. I mean, haven’t been able to get as much done as I had hoped/planned, but I probably had overly grand visions of what I would be able to get done in the first place. My blog survey is going well, I am back to actually writing stuff (how useful it will be remains to be seen), and I am starting to once again think that my main goal of having enough of a project done to circulate a proposal to publishers by the beginning of the next school year is not out of the question. Plus I think I’ve done some other little side projects that I don’t think I would have been able to do had I not been on quasi-sabbatical.

Q. Any fun stuff? Any Steve time?

A. Not as much if I had taken the half year, but yes, absolutely. My recent Alabama trip wouldn’t have been possible without sabbatical lite. In the fall term, I hit the gym quite a bit– not as much this term, unfortunately.

One thing that I didn’t do (because I just didn’t think I’d have time) that I would recommend that anyone on a sabbatical try to do is to learn something/take a class about something completely new and different. I thought about doing something like taking an art class or guitar lessons or something, and if I were to do it over again, this would be part of the formula.

And now, back to the work I’m supposed to be doing on sabbatical….

Alabama Roadtrip, part 1

As I type this, I just got done looking through some materials for my online class while at the condo my parents have rented in Orange Beach, Alabama– aka, the Redneck Riviera, or, if you believe that it is only the panhandle of Florida, near it. A few thoughts/highlights so far:

  • We didn’t get as far as we would have preferred on Thursday because a) it was Valentine’s and Will was not about to leave school and miss out on the candy, b) Survivor was on at 8 pm (must-see watching for Will), c) Lost was on at 9 pm (must-see watching for me– and I thought it was excellent), and d) traffic in Ohio really sucked.
  • I was rather surprised at the number of accidents and other emergency vehicle personnel I saw on the road. Of course, considering that I drove just shy of 1,000 miles in two days, maybe it isn’t surprising.
  • Possible stop on the way home: Jack Daniels. Just for the tour, people.
  • The only real photo op so far was at a rest stop near Huntsville, Alabama, where they made these rockets:

    Rocket

    I also like Will next to this proclamation:

    We dare

    Apparently, it’s the state motto. But shouldn’t that be “We dare to defend our rights?” Am I missing something here?

  • Biggest food screw-up of the trip: passing on the local BBQ place in Birmingham in favor of what I thought would be easier and faster to eat while driving food at Burger King.
  • You know, I see plenty of older cars like mine with lots and lots of bumper stickers on the streets of Ypsi-Arbor. You don’t see as many on the Interstate. And you don’t see any other Darwin stickers down here, either.

Anyway, a combo of some fun and some work for the next few days. I’m sure there will be more updates.

Sabbatical Lite– it ain’t over yet

Loyal readers of my official blog will recall that I was on what I referred to as “Sabbatical Lite” last term, an arrangement in which I was taking one semester sabbatical and splitting it up over two semesters. It had its ups and downs in the winter term, it was beginning to feel like it was slipping away from me this term, and my conclusion was that doing this was basically a bad idea.

But I’m starting to rethink this, at least a bit. It probably wasn’t a good idea, but it might not have been a bad idea, either.

For example, I am starting to get into a routine this term where I am able to devote much more time to research stuff for four or five days of the week (including weekends, of course). Not that I’ve been incredibly productive as of late, but I’m still probably doing more on the BAWS project than I would have been able to do under normal teaching load circumstances.

Example #2: roadtrip.

Since I am teaching but one class online and since the administrative stuff has kind of settled down for the time-being, Will and I are embarking an epic journey to see my parents, who stay this time of year on the gulf coast of Alabama. The way I figure it, I will have pretty robust Internet access the whole time, meaning I can still teach and do most of my administrative duties. And as far as the canceled office hours go: well, that’s part of the release I get for being on sabbatical lite.

Annette, since she is not enjoying the pleasures of sabbatical lite, is staying home. She’ll have to work obviously, but I’m sure she’ll get her own “vacation” of sorts from Will and I.

Expect some photos and videos from the road, btw.

“To Read or Not Read”– a bit late for my teaching, though….

It figures that I learn about this podcast, “To Read or Not Read,” right in the midst of the week of English 516 where we’re talking about this very issue. Because it came now, I’m not sure how many of my students will get a chance to listen to it; I’ll probably try to download it tomorrow and listen to it at some point on my trip south this week (more details on that later).

What I do find reassuring and kind of interesting though is that my students, who are a mixture of high school teachers, college teachers, tech writers, MA students, etc., etc., don’t have a lot of faith in the NEA report that (I presume) is part of what is fueling this discussion. I’m not entirely sure I understand why this is the case, but it seems that the scare tactics of the end of reading as we know it isn’t working, perhaps precisely because ours is a class that is exploring different ideas of literacy and “reading.”