Humor/whimsy

College president signs Valentine's card for each person on campus

At New College of Florida, the president has a wish for each student, faculty member and employee today.

The Assessors Are Coming! The Assessors Are Coming! (essay)

It’s that time of decade again, when randomly selected departments at U of All People are faced with assessment. The administration brings in a posse of NAAAAAA experts with credentials bought from the people who sell fake IDs, and has the faculty entertain them for three days while they poke their noses into everything, including Professor Winkle’s Dryden seminar, which no one has disturbed in years. Here’s how the process works, at least in the English department:

Three months before the assessors arrive, the department is galvanized into action by the chair, acting on directives from the dean, obeying the orders of the provost, who bows to the president. “The assessors are coming, the assessors are coming!” shouts the chair from the comparative safety of the rostrum at the semester’s first departmental faculty meeting while everyone else dives for cover. After this warning shot comes the collective indignation of the faculty -- How dare they judge us? We’re in the humanities! -- as the professors go through the Kübler-Ross stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

When everyone has settled down (except for Professor Winkle, who’s settled in for a nap), the chair starts planning the arduous task of self-judgment. The task consists of recruiting three faculty members who blinked at the wrong time, including Professor Winkle, who opened his eyes after his nap. The disgruntled three are assigned to gauge how much the students aren’t learning from the department’s courses.

What are the standards, criteria, methods? The Renaissance contingent proposes noble goals, such as achieving wisdom and learning to appreciate a Shakespearean sonnet, but no one wants to set the bar too high, or the assessment will be that this department needs to pull up its socks.

The faculty debate setting the bar absurdly low: for instance, that students should learn to read, but there’s no guarantee of students passing that bar, either. After several more meetings and the formation of a committee to oversee the assessment committee, the proposal is that each student should be familiar with the terms literature and irony; must know how to put together an argumentative essay proving that Shakespeare was a great writer; and should have enough literary history to realize that 1800 came after 1564, and that both are before 1922. These arbitrary criteria, once insisted upon, achieve a solidity as satisfying as trompe l’oeil papier-mâché walls.

The methods for data collection are decided by the assessment committee, eager to pass on responsibility to other, unwilling faculty. The methods involve snatching away student essays for disappointed analysis: counting how many times the words in my personal opinion and irregardless appear in the essays, seeing whether the arguments hold water (Professor Winkle performs that job over the sink in the fourth floor men’s restroom), and checking for spelling and grammar, assuming that the faculty are up to it.

As an extra concession, the department tracks alumni/ae to see whether anyone actually used the English major to wangle a job; and contemplates giving an exit exam to department seniors, though the offer of free pizza to anyone who’ll sit for the exam gets only three takers. The sample questions include references to periods, movements, literary terms, authors and works, and seven questions on Dryden. The sample size of all the data varies from a dozen to one faked reply by Professor Winkle.

Other creative assessment methods involve tossing the student essays downstairs to see which go farthest, and throwing the I Ching. To tabulate the results: charts with percentages look good, as do bulleted lists, though the superimposition of one over the other is probably (too late) a poor decision.

Tension mounts till the assessors arrive, at least one in a rumpled brown business suit, all looking as if they haven’t slept since the start of the fall semester. The assessors ask a lot of questions, visit classes, and interview people whom no one ever thought to talk to previously, including Clarice, the custodial supervisor for the liberal arts building. Eventually, they write up a report that recommends a 15 percent reduction in adjunct labor, greater funding for core courses, less departmental internecine warfare, and more attention paid to Dryden.

The report is circulated down the ranks until, months later, it reaches the English department faculty. Since the administration has ignored the implications of the report, the department restricts discussion to only 17 hours, spread out among four faculty meetings.

What rides on all this? Not much till next decade’s visit, when the department scrambles to recall what it did the last time.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

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Conference Connoisseurs visit the City of Brotherly Love (and cheesesteaks)

Our conference-going gourmands check out the culinary treats of the City of Brotherly Love.

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A campus official assesses how zombie students are faring (essay)

TO: Senior Administrative Staff

FROM: Institutional Research

RE: Student Engagement among Zombie Students

In an effort to better-understand differences among student subgroups, the institutional leadership requested an analysis of engagement levels among Zombie students.

Analysis of institutional data indicates that students who self-report as Zombies also report statistically significant lower levels of engagement across a wide range of important student experiences. Many of these lower levels of engagement on specific student experience items are also negative predictors of Zombie student satisfaction.

Zombie students report lower levels of participation in class discussion despite higher satisfaction with faculty feedback. Further investigation found that these students often find it difficult to raise their hand above their heads in response to the instructor’s questions.

Zombie students also report that their co-curricular experiences had less impact on their understanding of how they relate to others. Additional analysis of focus group transcripts suggests a broad lack of self-awareness.

Zombie students indicate that they have fewer serious conversations with students who differ by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or social values. Instead, Zombie students seem to congregate and rarely extend themselves out of their comfort zone.

Interestingly, our first- to second-year retention rate of Zombie students is 100 percent, despite high reports of tardiness and absences. Yet our six year graduation rate is 0 percent. While some have expressed concern over these conflicting data points, the Commencement Committee has suggested that the graduation ceremony is long enough already without having Zombie students shuffling aimlessly across the stage.

Finally, Zombie students report an increased level of one-on-one student/faculty interaction outside of class. However, we found no correlation between the substantial drop in the number of evening faculty from last year (108) to this year (52) and the number of Zombie students enrolled in night courses. Strangely, the Zombie students in these courses did indicate an unusually high level of satisfaction with the institution’s meal plan.

Mark Salisbury is director of institutional research and assessment at Augustana College, in Illinois. He blogs at Delicious Ambiguity, where a version of this essay first appeared.

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Dog's degree disappoints a cat family (essay)

The news that the BBC-sponsored dog named Pete, using the alias Peter Smith, has procured an online M.B.A. from the American University of London has sent our household into a literal tailspin.

It is not the first time that our cat, Finn Segal, has disappointed us by failing to live up to our expectations, but this may be the last straw. Perhaps most disconcerting is that even now he shows no concern and has stubbornly assumed his usual meatloaf position in a sunny spot.

It’s not that Finn, with a little training, could not master the computer keys. He is already adept at stepping on the capslock and delete buttons. And he darn well has a working knowledge of the internet; it’s just that this slacker would rather spend 8 hours a day watching cat and chipmunk videos on YouTube than applying himself to “International Finance.” 

Especially galling is the fact that not only could our cat have been a contender, but he also let slip through his paws the definitive answer to the time-honored question of “Just who’s smarter: dogs or cats?”

In fact, I will wager a six-month supply of Revolution Parasiticide (for fleas, ear mites, and heartworm) that Finn was the first to complete an online class. Just last winter, we enrolled in an online course in "Introduction to Poetry." While it is true that we registered under my name alone, Finn was with me every step of the way.

Moreover, I am now willing, given the present circumstance and dismaying news about Pete, to come forward with an admission: Finn logged more hours than I did. By the fourth lesson, he had moved into the alpha chair in the study, freeing me up to take care of other tasks around the house and the town. I have many warm memories from that time, when I would peek into the study and see Finn curled up on my desk chair, quietly napping as a soothing voice read from the works of John Keats, Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens.

As of today we are instituting a new instructional regime for Finn. He will still be allowed to go outside and he will still be permitted to watch YouTube -- but only after he has completed his M.B.A.-related coursework for the day.

After all, if he could complete a session devoted to the poems of John Ashbery, Finn should have no trouble at all with “Taxation and Accounting.”

Carolyn Foster Segal is professor emerita of English at Cedar Crest College. She currently teaches at Muhlenberg College.

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Harvard's $6.5B Campaign. Bill Gates. A match made in heaven? (essay)

{Ring…ring…ring…}

Bill Gates: Oh, come on. Pick up!

{Ring…ring…}

BG: Last chance!

Fund-Raiser: Hello! Office of development, Harvard University. How can I help you?

BG: I want to speak with a fund-raiser.

FR: Speaking!

BG: Great. This is Bill Gates. You know, THE Bill Gates. The Microsoft guy.

FR: Yeah, O.K. Like I haven’t heard that one before.

BG: No, really. Don’t I sound like Bill Gates? Should we Skype instead?

FR: Uh, sorry, Mr. Gates. What can I do for you?

BG: I just attended Harvard’s campaign kickoff event. Very impressive stuff. $6.5 billion is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you say?

FR: The biggest ever!

BG: Well, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can help. I’d like to begin discussing a gift.

FR: That’s fantastic! How much… er, what are you interested in supporting?

BG: I’m not sure. I’m a bit of a techie, you know, so computer science and engineering pique my interest. But if I were to go that route, I might as well donate to MIT.

FR: {nervous laugh}

BG: Kidding. I’m also into social causes and international concerns, so perhaps something at the Ed School or Kennedy School could be interesting. But of course I’m a businessman at heart, so I kind of gravitate to the B-School.

FR: Perhaps you should speak with the president or the business dean.

BG: In time. For now, I’m just exploring options. I could fund scholarships for undergrads. I did attend the College, you know.

FR: For about a week, right?

BG: Something like that. And I’m a proud alumnus.

FR: We’re proud too.

BG: In fact, I’m thankful enough to make a really significant gift to your campaign. I hear these mega-campaigns get 95 percent of their money from only 5 percent of the donors. Is that true?

FR: Absolutely. We’re not raising $6.5 billion a hundred grand at a pop.

BG: And what’s the highest gift you’re expecting?

FR: Lead gifts can total 15-20 percent of the goal.

BG: So that’s, let me see… carry the four… about a billion dollars?

FR: Suppose so.

BG: Wouldn’t that be a record too?

FR: Sure would!

BG: Hmmm…. So back to the B-School. What if I gave half a billion to rename it?

FR: Say what?

BG: The Gates School of Business. Think it would fly?

FR: I… uh… don’t think so.

BG: Why not? I could rename Cleveland for that amount.

FR: Harvard Business School has more brand cachet than Cleveland.

BG: A cool billion? Would they go for it then?

FR: I’m not sure the name is for sale. Even for that sum. We have too much brand equity at stake.

BG: But I’d be adding value to the brand! Gates… Harvard… business. Come on now! I bet my pal Warren would think it’s a great idea.

FR: Get him to match your gift and maybe we’ll talk. Meanwhile, how about naming a building?

BG: For a billion? Must be one hell of a building. How about the Gates Campus at Harvard Business School?

FR: Sounds like we’ve built a fortress to keep people out.

BG: Nah… I still think naming the school is the way to go. Everything has a price.

FR: That’s for others to decide.

BG: Two billion… Gates University… hmmm…. Sorry, was that out loud?

FR: I’ll patch you through to the president’s office. Thanks for calling, Mr. Gates!

BG: How much to rename the Ivy League? Hmmm….

FR: Transferring!

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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Short-term courses for maximizing learning -- and revenue (essay)

The administration at U of All People is nothing if not financially expeditious (some faculty have put it another way, not printable in this periodical). Jacking up students’ expenses is unpopular, for instance, but extracting extra tuition money can be accomplished in subtle ways. Starting a few decades ago, U of All People set the minimum credit hours for graduation two courses over a full course load every semester. That way, students had to take extra classes, often during the summer. This concept was shamelessly copied by other schools.

In fact, the short-term courses were a hit, since the workload was lighter, and the school could get the same amount of money in less time. Then one day, the Dean of Others’ Affairs had a bright idea: if students were willing to sign up for an eight-week or even a four-week course, why not offer a three-week course? Thus was born Wintersession and Maymester, a concept that other schools shamelessly copied.

Now that earnings are flat in this economic climate, the innovative folks in Long Hall have come up with a new plan, Pack-It-In Pedagogy, a term invented yesterday by our newly appointed Time Management Expert. To expedite the plan, each department has been tasked to come up with at least one course offering. Eventually, we expect other schools to shamelessly copy the concept. Meanwhile, below are just a few classes to maximize student learning while also boosting revenues.

WinterInterSplinterSession: Three Days That Can Change Your Life

English 1.25: Shakespeare: The Play. Students read Hamlet one day, see the film the next day, and take the final exam on the third day. “The key is to be representative,” says Professor Bowdler. “To expose these students to a great work — isn’t that enough?”

*

What Are You Doing This Weekend?: Special Two-Day Courses

Chem Lab 9.5, in which students carry out one experiment. “It’ll be a reaction that gets to the heart of what chemistry is all about,” says Professor Boom. “Bunsen burners, Erlenmeyer flasks, yellow and red powder — the works!”

History 10.5: Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Students eat bread one day and attend a circus the next. Instructor: TBA.

*

Give Us a Day, and We’ll Give You a Grade: One-Day Workshops

Geology 1.1, where students split open and examine one basalt rock. “The universe in a grain of sand,” is how Professor Geode puts it. “It’s fascinating, what one can glean from a single work of nature.”

Psychology 2.3 (online): the students each read a different chapter of the textbook on Blackboard and give their opinions of it in a discussion group. Together, by the end, they’ve gone through the entire book. No instructor; peer review.

*

 

60 Minutes: Hour-Long Intensives

Math 24.1. Students tackle one difficult equation. As Professor Quad, this year’s winner of the Pretty Good Teacher Award, notes: “Why clog the syllabus with problem sets that just repeat? Less is more.”

Spanish 0.2: Students learn three verbs and two nouns, then use them in conversation. Access to language lab included. Independent study. Monitor: TBA.

Astronomy 0.6, in which students creep outside to look at the stars. In case of clouds, students will draw zodiac pictures for a portfolio. “The sky’s the limit!” — Professor Centauri

Phys. Ed. 1.23: Really tough Zumba class; warm-up not included. Staff.

Art History 8.3 (hybrid): Students receive a PowerPoint lecture on various paintings and then compare them to other paintings online. “Put some art in your life!” says Professor Sfumato.

*

MOOCs in a Minute

Videotaped lectures are run at eight times the normal speed. In advanced classes, the speed jumps to 16x.

---------

The U of All People administration is delighted with our proposals and is moving ahead with all possible dispatch. All we need now is a slogan for advertising these new courses.

“Got time for a quickie?” is the current favorite, but without the suggestive accompanying graphic.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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A special syllabus for graduate students for the course 'Social Theory Through Complaining'

Sociology 710: Social Theory Through Complaining

Fall 2013, Tu 9:50am--1pm.

Course Description

This course is an intensive introduction to some main themes in social theory. It is required of first-year Ph.D. students in the sociology department. Each week we will focus on something grad students complain about when they are forced to take theory. You are required to attend under protest, write a paper that’s a total waste of your time, and complain constantly. Passive-aggressive silence will not be sufficient for credit.

Course Schedule

1. Introduction: This Has Nothing to Do With My Research Interests

2. This is All Just Obfuscatory Bullshit and Empty Jargon

3. It’s Not Like We Can Even Predict Anything

4. Isn’t It More Complicated Than That?

5. Aren’t These Things Mutually Constitutive?

6. But What About Power?

7. We Could Easily Fix This Mess With Some Basic Math

8. This Field Is Sexist and Racist to Its Rotten Core

9. What is Theory Without Praxis?

10. THANKSGIVING BREAK. If You Can Call It a Break

11. Look, If Everything Is Socially Constructed, Then Nothing Is

12. Can You Believe We Didn’t Read Any __________?

13. Conclusion: This Whole Project Was an Exercise in Symbolic Violence

Kieran Healy is associate professor of sociology at Duke University.

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Universities deal with extreme heat

At colleges in regions unaccustomed to the extreme heat, students and employees try their best to stay cool.

U of All People's highly detailed campus crime report (essay)

U of All People is a crime-free campus—or so the administration for years wanted you to believe. This past November, the assistant football coach’s assistant was found breaking into female students’ dorm rooms in Long Hall to secure what was later described as ladies’ footwear. But the crime was concealed until game season was over, after a losing record and shrinking budget would have forced the assistant’s assistant to leave, anyway.

When the campus police chief finally broke the news last month, many women students (and a few boyfriends) were outraged and marched on the campus security office. “Hell, no! We want accountability!” they chanted without rhyme or meter. In an effort to placate the protesters, the provost, who has a nasty habit of interfering with everything, has ordered campus police to fully disclose every incidence of crime on school grounds. Below is the first U of All People Police Report, for the month of May.

5/2/13

            An unidentified student was found intoxicated and rotating in a dryer in the laundry room in Over Hall. Waving his hands in a menacing manner, he spilled a cup of Jack Daniels and Coke into the detergent reservoir of a nearby washer.

5/3/13

            A male student’s wallet was stolen from his dorm room in Dunn Rick Hall and returned the next day with $50 more in it than it originally contained. The student remains uncertain whether to press charges and has left his wallet in an open area in case the thief makes a return visit.

5/5/13

            Two female students were arrested in Watta Hall for possession of drug paraphernalia, though they claimed that they didn’t even know how to spell paraphernalia and that the bong in question was just a large, misshapen Lucite vase.

5/5/13

            A female student was issued a warning for jogging the wrong way on a one-way street. This matter is under investigation.

5/10/13

            A female student in Winnertek Hall reported an act of simple assault, but upon the advice of her pre-law roommate upgraded it to complex assault with intent to do mischief, creating a nuisance, disturbing the peace, loitering, and littering.

5/12/13

            A misguided male student was arrested and charged with harassment, though he appears to have been alone at the time. The student is due to appear at municipal court for reasons that remain odd.

5/15/13

            A female student was arrested for driving without a license or a car. Police are investigating the incident.

5/16/13

            A male student reported that some unknown person or persons had scrawled perfectly harmless non-racial epithets on his door that proved hard to remove.

5/17/13

            Two male students were brought in for indecent exposure in student parking lot C, but not before enduring fifteen minutes of laughter and taunts from the witnesses.

5/19/13

            The Dean of Students, Chet Whitey, has been charged with not having the students’ best interests in mind. The investigation has been shut down by the Office of Student Affairs.

5/21/13

            There were no criminal actions on this day, we thought you’d like to know.

5/22/13

            Some little wise-ass bastard keyed the chief of police’s cruiser. An arrest is pending, as soon as some culprit is found.

5/25/13

            Two women in Long Hall reported a man who said he was from the athletic department, trying to sell ladies’ footwear, later identified as stolen goods. The women were doubly annoyed when they found it was their own footwear.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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