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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments
March 21, 2014 - 3:53am

I’ll get my academic blogger card revoked if I don’t say something about the rescinded job offer for the philosopher at Nazareth College, so here goes:

Sometimes, you just have to say ‘no.’ 

I understand the emotional appeal of rejecting someone before she rejects you.  It’s psychologically healthy to outgrow that phase.  Yes, it’s frustrating when a candidate you’re trying to hire comes in with unrealistic requests.  But sometimes grownups have to power through the disappointment.  Here’s a phrase I’ve used in turning down unrealistic requests:

“No, sorry, I can’t do that.”

I’ll give a couple of examples from previous colleges.

In one case, a candidate asked -- during her interview -- if we’d be willing to cover her classes every October for her annual European tour.  I kept as straight a face as I could and responded that the point of hiring for the position was to cover classes during the Fall and Spring semesters. 

In another case, we were hiring for a math faculty position.  The curriculum ran from arithmetic through college algebra to calculus, but was bottom-heavy.  The candidate indicated that he mostly enjoyed teaching differential equations and linear algebra, but would be willing to go as low as Calc I once a year or so as a goodwill gesture.  The department liked him, and lobbied me to somehow resolve the contradiction.  I contacted him directly and let him know his likely schedule.  He withdrew his application.

I’ve lost some good candidates that way, but it’s a cost of doing business.  And the moment of disappointment fades when you’re able to hire someone else who is also terrific. 

Go ahead and say ‘no,’ Nazareth.  But do it like grownups.


Last Saturday I took The Boy to the Massachusetts Science Olympiad at Assumption College, in Worcester.  He competed in the “boomilever” event, in which the kids build boomilevers out of balsa wood and compete on the basis of how much weight they can hold.  He didn’t win, but he did pretty well, and he enjoyed hanging out with his friends and being goofy in the way that twelve year olds can.

It was my first time spending an entire day with a gaggle of twelve year olds since I was one. 

I was struck at how much more gender-integrated the group was than I remembered mine being.  The hormones were palpable, but everyone behaved, and some of the kids were quite funny.  (One girl, who could easily have been the daughter of Daria or Janeane Garofalo, put up drawings on the whiteboard that looked like anime, but with voice bubbles saying incredibly inappropriate things.  It was hard to maintain parental dignity while stifling laughter.)  They danced to Miley Cyrus songs and visited cruel fates upon Justin Bieber.  And they bonded fluently and easily across racial and gender divides in ways that just didn’t happen when I was twelve.

The kids are alright, America. 


Is there an effective way to explain to a dog the idea behind a chew toy?  The Dog takes them gratefully, but then wanders the house, crying, looking for a place to bury them.  We’ve even caught her trying to bury them between pillows.  At some basic level, she just doesn’t seem to grasp the concept.

I know that dogs aren’t inclined towards theory, as a general precept, but I’ve had dogs before who got the “chew toys are for chewing” thing immediately.  Wise and worldly readers, is there a trick to this?


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