Historiann has a man-date. . .


Dr. Mister Historiann

. . . and unlike other Democrats, who shall remain nameless, I sure as heck know how to use it!  I’m off to a lovely weekend in Boulder with Dr. Mister, who is taking me out to the fab “new” restaurant we’ve been talking about going to for years now, but have never thought far enough in advance to get a darned reservation.  Well, this summer he did–and yum!  I can’t wait.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d let you know that the discussion about “Outcomes Assessment” this week inspired by Clio Bluestocking has spurred some other contributions.  Sisyphus at Academic Cog questions the value of quantitative information in evaluating humanities teaching.  She asks, “[s]o is outcomes assessment just another part of the factory university speedup? The whole point of humanistic study is to read and think in depth and then to talk about it, and to train our students to read and think in depth as well —- and then to communicate what they have discovered through writing and speech.* That’s it. It’s a model that doesn’t lend itself well to Taylorization, rationalization and efficiency.”  Then Dance at Prone to Laughter chimed in with a useful idea, “enhanced grading,” which would offer more information about student effort and achievement than a bare letter grade or G.P.A. without being too burdensome for each faculty member: 

[M]y department could create, say 5 characteristics that we value—1) mastered the content 2) generated original and creative ideas 3) showed real talent in writing 4) made discussion better 5) worked very hard—and professors could give students a rating in each of these, probably on a 1-4 scale plus Not Applicable—or, even simpler, just “strong/adequate/weak.”

And, don’t forget–Another Damned Medievalist, who offered a spirited defense of “Outcomes Assessment” in the comments at this blog and at Clio Bluestocking’s, has promised to deliver a post of her own this weekend on this subject.  Meanwhile, check out her very thoughtful post on the incredible awesome awesomeness of tenure (not?):

Yesterday, as I processed in borrowed regalia, a junior colleague (in the sense of still a probationer, rather than age or time at SLAC — there are several people who have been here as long or longer than I, but haven’t gone up yet) said, “Ah, ADM, it must be a wonderful feeling!” “What?” “You have tenure (or its equivalent)! You have no more worries!” “You know? It’s not like that.”

I can’t blame hir for thinking this, though. We’re trained to think that we are simply jumpng a series of hoops, with tenure as the brass ring* — oh, it will be great after coursework! No, it will be great after comps! No, it will be great after the thesis is done! Oh noes, everything will be fantastic as soon as I get a job! Oops! Maybe it will all be perfect when I have tenure and promotion!

Somewhere along the line — I think about halfway into my probationary period, it occurred to me that the brass ring, didn’t really exist. Instead, each hoop is a gate, or door, that grants us access to another set of possibilities, for success AND for failure. Before you think I’m going to get all self-help-y, don’t — I’m not about to start saying that we need to look upon stress as an opportunity for growth, or any of that crap. But anyway, back to the wonderful feeling.



(Emphasis Historiann’s.)  I think that’s exactly right–academic careers, like life, are about the journey, not the destination.  We’re like sharks–we always have to keep moving, or at least, find a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  Besides–tenure and promotion are just one stop on the “Stations of the Cross”–there’s promotion to Professor, then there’s that fancy new job, then the feeling that you have to justify having gotten that fancy new job, then anxiety about winning that NEH grant/Macarthur “genius” Grant/National Book Award/Pulitzer Prize.  Priorities, people!  Priorities!  Back to work, all of you.

Well, maybe it can wait until Monday morning.  Have a great weekend, kids!  You know I will.  Cheers!


0 thoughts on “Historiann has a man-date. . .

  1. Enjoy your date, Historiann!

    I appreciate the extended discussion on OA that’s been ongoing here. I really like Dance’s comments about the multi-part grading system and think that I might employ something akin to this in my senior class but, given the ballooning enrolments, I doubt that I can manage this with my two survey courses.


  2. Harry–scotch is not his drink. Bourbon is–and he’d agree that it’s nix on the ice. I just thought that it was more appropriate than a martini glass, which really isn’t his style.

    Janice, I’m glad you liked the convo. I will have to click on over to ADM to see what she’s up to. I agree that Dance’s idea is a good one–although it would be more powerful if it were institutionalized on our unis’ transcripts. (I agree with you that you’d be nuts to do it for your survey courses! Especially two sections thereof…)


  3. The “multi-part grading system” is very much akin to what high school teachers know as a rubric. I use one for grading student writing at intro level and encourage my TAs to do the same. It can make grading both quicker and clearer. It’s basically a grid: on one axis are areas that we grade: thesis, argument, organization, evidence, writing–this might vary depending on the paper) and on the other axis are letter grades. Then, in each box of the grid, is what you have to do to get that grade. For example: under “Evidence,” A = “Argument supported with textual evidence, clearly explained”; B = “Much of argument supported with evidence; much of evidence clearly explained”; C = “Some use of evidence, clearly explained”; D = “Some evidence,” F = “No evidence or only misused evidence.”

    This rubric is distributed to the students in advance, so they know what I am looking for. Then when I grade a paper, I attach a copy, with the appropriate box in each column circled. This does not replace individual comments on the paper, of course, but it replaces the generic ones. I find that it saves time and means fewer students asking “Why did I get this grade?”

    We don’t do it with course grades, but I don’t think it would be especially time-consuming if it did. Especially as we now enter grades on line, there could be a drop-down menu for each student on each issue. It would provide more information than a grade, and would be a lot more useful than a lot of the hoops that faculty have to jump through.


  4. I use rubrics … ones that show what skills I’m looking for, e.g., supporting an argument with specific evidence from primary sources. I find that my grading is more consistent, although sometimes I find a really well-written that doesn’t necessarily follow the rubric, and then I have to look at the assignment, and then the rubric, and then the essay, and ask myself if I really created an assignment that asked for what I was looking for. And usually? it’s a well-written essay that doesn’t actually answer the question I asked.

    Will be writing that post tomorrow, as my team lost today and I shall be drowning my sorrows hanging out with a colleague!


  5. Thanks for the link and commentary, Historiann!

    Re my Enhanced Grading idea—Ruth, actually, it’s not a rubric. Or that is, it’s a rubric for the entire university, and would *only* work if institutionalized and is really only valuable in the aggregate—eg, the student whose transcripts shows a very high average across many classes for “generated original ideas” but yet has C and D grades—well, that communicates a lot more than just a GPA, and maybe the animation studio wants to hire that person over the A student. It was a response to the “no one knows what a A means! A’s mean nothing! every professor has different criteria for an A!” critique as linked/discussed here:

    I posted it via Academic Cog because I thought it offered some brainstorming on how the university might quantify/communicate the more qualitative things that we do….I am unfortunately not as allergic to Taylorization as I probably ought to be.

    Janice, I will have to ponder using it in individual classes. Had not even thought of that. Sounds like it would work better if it were a “check box if student is exceptional” rather than rating each student.


  6. ADM, we can wholly agree on both of these point. Rubrics actually helped my grading, too, making it both faster and more uniform and therefore fair. I also figured a way to work in an indication that, if they do the bare minimum, they receive the score of x, the quality of their answer will move them up or down from x. That quelled much of the “but I turned it in, where’s my A?” protests because they could figure out what I was looking for much more easily.

    On the other point, I remember in grad school realizing that this, what I was doing at that moment in trying to write a dissertation, and teaching a full-time load scattered across three institutions, and having to show up for whatever meetings or job talks were requires was exactly what the rest of my life would be. Somehow, I had slipped into the thinking that, once I had graduated, life would be easier (provided I found a job). Then, I realized. Maybe some of the benefits and privleges would be better, like having more job security or simply health insurace, but the work was the same, I’d just be working toward tenure, and after tenure, someething else. So, I had to love the work itself and not just do it for the supposed goal. The goal was to be employed doing something that I loved so that I could continue to do what I loved to do. Sure, I complain — a LOT — but I wouldn’t trade what I do for the world; and I don’t even get tenure where I am.

    Now, on the grading, I have a question because I can’t find much on it: I remember, way back in the 1980s, meeting students who had gone to Berkley. They said that, there, they hadn’t received grades, but evaluations. Has anyone heard of that?


  7. Clio, I was a graduate student/TA at Berkeley in the 80s, and we didn’t do evaluations instead of grades. But UC Santa Cruz has a long history of doing that — I think they still do. Perhaps the students you met were from there?



  8. I couldn’t disagree more re the assertion that tenure is just one of many stages. Only a tenured professor would say that, and one with a rather short memory, to boot.

    Anybody who’s paid attention in an academic department can pick out the untenured faculty. They’re the ones who never object to anything and who do anything they’re asked to do even if it means getting less than four hours of sleep a night.

    That changes after tenure. Certainly, people then have further goals, but they can no longer be fired as easily as an illegal day laborer. Don’t tell me that’s not a huge difference.


  9. Quixote — That’s fairly insulting and implies that tenured faculty are somehow removed from reality. This stint in academia started with five years as contingent faculty and then the last three in a T-T job. I *just* got not-really-tenure last spring.

    Basically, this is not true where I work. I think that’s a lot of the impression, though. I’ve had two tenure files in my career: one where I taught as a visiting person, but on a long-term appointment, so union rules required I be observed as if I were tenure-track, just in case, and one where I am now (although we don’t have actual tenure). I would have tenure at the other place, too, had something happened to the person I was replacing. I said no to things then, and say no to things now. In both positions, I had a reputation for being outspoken, but also thoughtful and willing to back up my arguments with facts. I have certainly clashed with The Powers That Be.

    I was also department chair here before actually getting tenure-like-thing. Most of my friends are senior to me, and they are mostly chairs of their departments, running search committees, on Faculty Senate or its committees (me, I’m on a major university committee, chair, a faculty liaison/trainer person for a new software program, in charge of freshmen advising for my department and two others, unofficially in charge of setting up faculty mixers, on the governing board of one professional organization and my dean has just put my name forward to be on the board of a journal in our field — and none of that counts the ad-hoc meetings I’ve been called into by our Provost in the last three weeks, which would be 2 plus writing up FAQs for new faculty). I have an average load, and many of my tenured colleagues have similar ones. We have lots of committees on which junior faculty cannot sit, so that takes some of the load off them.

    To be sure, some of this is having a dean and provost who want junior faculty to do well and stay here. My colleagues in the professional schools are more likely to go through what you are describing, but even then, I’ve never worked anywhere where there was a guarantee of employment after contract OR the ability to fire without cause. But my institution can refuse to renew my multi-year contract at any time. So I feel no more job security than I ever have.


  10. Quixote–I don’t think either ADM or I were saying that there’s *NO* difference, just that the way you feel each day when you go to work is pretty much the same. In other professions, getting a “promotion” means getting a new job, and having new challenges presented to you. In academia, getting a promotion means that you are permitted to continue doing pretty much the same job. It’s up to you to find the new challenges, and that’s sometimes a daunting (and disappointing) surprise to people who have just won tenure.


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