Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well, I wish it were a jet plane, but I fear it may be a propeller plane for at least the first part of my travels to MLA 2011 in Los Angeles.

I’m done complaining about the date change (and yes, I know not everyone is complaining, but at least some others concur) and I’m ready to leave the icy chill of winter and experience the relative warmth of L.A.

Instead of an MLA blog this year, you can follow along with what’s happening via Tweets. And no, you don’t have to enter the Twitter world to follow. Just go to the MLA home page  or to the #MLA11 Daily  to see what’s happening at least amongst the Twitter elite.

Or just read Inside Higher Ed. Or the Chronicle. Though I’ll be curious to see if the change of dates means less media converage: the MLA is no longer going to provide titillating humor for a slow news week not that the world is back on schedule post holiday.

Since I’ll be missing classes while gallivanting in LA, I’ll probably use my free time to say many Hail Mary’s, bury myself in the prep and committee work I would be doing if I were staying home, and attending as many sessions as possible to justify to all my colleagues why I must miss the first week of classes.

Besides, it seems a cab to the beach costs $57.00 and a bus ride can take several hours for the 15 mile trip.

Instead, I believe there are some Starbucks near the Evil Hotel That Still Charges A Ridiculous Price for Wi-Fi, in which I can nurse my non fat chai latte for as long as it takes.

And while I may not be blogging the MLA this year (well, unless I hear/see something really juicy), I certainly will attend all those social media sessions that seem to have taken over the MLA Program Committee this year (you can see a non password protected program here). I’m so looking forward to meeting Roxie’s Typist!

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Deconstructing A Calendar Change

It’s a big deal, this change from late December to early January.

Not that you’d think it was a big deal if you read  this article, which, while fun to read,  is more of a tongue in cheek series of quips about the biggest change to happen within the MLA since, well, ever.

The annual convention is now held during the first week of January, rather than right after Christmas. This is a fabulous change for the vast majority of MLAers who, on a traditional semester system have most of the month of January off anyway; however, for those of us on the quarter  or early starting semester systems, the convention happens during the first week of classes. 

The article quotes one person, a graduate student, as dismissing this as a minor inconvenience:  “the first week is probably the best week to have to attend a major academic conference.”

Well, perhaps that’s true if you are a graduate student and perhaps your professor cancels the class because she, too, is at the MLA, but if you are the professor? And if you are a non tenure track professor working quarter by quarter at the will of the college that pays you?

I’ve arranged for experienced instructors to sub for me during the classes I will miss, but I still will have to deal with the fallout of missing the second day of classes for three sections.  The first week of the term is when we are required to take attendance, drop non attendees,then  deal with the wait list of students who want to add the class: administratively, the first week is a mess. The colleagues subbing for me know how to deal with the pressure we get from students during week one, and they are not at all looking forward to dealing with MY student pressures, as much as they care for me. 

Then there is the need to establish a tone for the class, create a class “culture”: this is what happens during that very important first week, especially when the term is only 10 weeks long. 

And about those 10 short weeks (not including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, and the inevitable snow day): in a composition class, and I have three winter quarter, I need to get students started on the work that leads up to their first major assignment, the challenging rhetorical analysis, argument evaluation essay.  Because I did not want to make my subs lecture, I’ve created an in class group assignment that at least moves students in the direction of analyzing and evaluating an article they will read for day 2: the subs will facilitate (in some ways much more exhausting than lecturing). 

Now at my college, getting a sub requires begging other full time colleagues in my department (and the sub needs to be someone who has the credentials to “teach” the class) to sub for me with bribes of wine, cookies or return subbing. Sometimes, especially when I teach at a prime time, getting a sub within my department is impossible and I just cancel the class (something I simply cannot do during week one). 

But, I still get paid.  

For part time and adjunct faculty, missing classes means missing the pay check. And, unless they can get a full timer to sub for them, that’s what happens because if a part timer subs for anyone, that part time is required to be paid by the department, which, of course, is not encouraged, especially in a department that is usually overbudget by November.

This has led to a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” system where we sub for each other under the radar.  It has been working, but for those off the tenure track, it’s a risk. 

Should my college make allowances so that part timers/adjuncts/all faculty can attend the national convention of our discipline as part of our professional improvement? Well, that would be nice. But, there are other conferences we can attend, conferences that do not happen during the first week of a quarter: it’s difficult to argue that attendance at THIS particular convention is vitally important. 

But, you ask, what about those faculty members, TT or NTT, with job interviews at the MLA?

Oh, that’s right, there aren’t any.

There are other changes that I’m all for: sessions at the annual convention this year will now end by 6:30, allowing us all more time to get inebriated, and, presumably, more time to change the stereotype of MLAers as more interested in scotch drinking than sexcapading.

So there’s that.

Community Colleges: Canaries in the Coal Mine

MLA’s president Sidonie Smith has posted an article to the MLA blog titled “One MLA Serving All Faculty” in which she explains why the MLA should encourage more community college members to join the organization (there are currently about 800 out of the 30,000+ members). 

She begins by acknowledging the need to articulate with those colleges where the majority of students begin their college educations.  Then she warns her readers that community colleges are the canaries in the coal mine–they foreshadow the horrors that will trickle up to the more illustrious institutions of higher education. At the same time, those community colleges actually have, you know, jobs, so “our” graduate students need them. 

The MLA has been reaching out to community college faculty member since the 1980s;  in the 1990s I was invited to a breakfast for community college faculty. The Committee on Community Colleges was established to provide a forum for our members to become involved in the work of the MLA. In recognition of our minority status, the Delegate Assembly has special interest slots for two community college members so that our perspectives are represented within the governance structure.  The MLA offers incentives for local community college faculty to attend certain convention sessions for free, recognizing that many of us do not get professional development funds. Two years ago, there was a pre-convention workshop for community college faculty members.

We are certainly not being ignored. In fact, we are being courted.

I’ve enjoyed attending conventions for the last 18 years, and have  felt included in the professional organization in which I’ve chosen to invest my time, energy,  and money.  I’ve presented papers, I’ve participated in roundtable discussions, and each year, I take pages (pre-netbook) of notes on new books, new ideas, new classroom activities that I learn at this annual convention.

So, this article surprised and disturbed me.

Professor Smith does attempt to seek common ground with her first reason: we need to work together for the sake of all students.   However, after that,  the article is clearly addressed only to the 29, 200 members who are NOT community college instructors.  It sets a tone that is, unfortunately, not inclusive.  It was written ABOUT us, as if we weren’t in the club.

This is undoubtedly not intentional.  And perhaps, silly me, I shouldn’t have read it until after I finished grading final essays and dealing with stressed out students.  I may, admittedly, have my own inferiority complex.  But this article from the President of my professional organization seems unfortunately condescending when that is not at all her intention.

I need to craft a detailed response with specifics (the article is posted on a blog after all) after I’ve finished dealing with the essay that is 71% plagiarized; after I finished grading the remaining 45 essays on my desk; after I finish some work I have to do for the MLA Convention in LA.  A rational response, that doesn’t ooze with the angst from that chip on my shoulder.

Final MLA Musings

Bev of the fabulous head scarves learned much at the 2009 MLA; and Flavia (who immediately mapped the two very important “b’s” (book exhibit and bar) ponders the social meet ups that are a big part of the MLA.  

What did I learn?

  • I learned that when one hangs out with friends from graduate school, that it’s a bit too easy to revert to the fabulousness of being 20-something.  Of course, since it’s the MLA, such fabulousness is limited to drinking just a wee too much (the MLA signature drink this year, the “125”: prosecco, a splash of Canton Ginger liqeuor, and a twist of candied ginger) and enjoying some harmless flirting.  But that’s it. As the old story goes, “All [MLA-ers] do is talk. Never saw so much talking, so much drinking, and so little screwing in all my life.” ***
  • I learned that I definitely prefer sessions where the presenters are lively and passionate (whether or not they read from their papers is almost irrelevant), and that workshops where I can be actively engaged are very rewarding  (I can’t wait for more of those next year).
  • I learned that on the last day of the convention, everyone, everyone, looks damned tired. It’s not a good day to plan breakfast or lunch dates. It’s probably not a great day to have a session. It’s not at all a good day to have a craving for Starbucks  [note: I did finally get my pumpkin latte around 3pm today at a Starbucks that was NOT in the Marriott).
  • I learned that walking the mile to the Rodin and Philly Art Museums on a very cold, windy day feels like 5 miles. But I enjoyed my visits to both museums, despite the missing “Thinker” (seems he is being cleaned up) at the Rodin.
  • I learned that I need to just plan on shipping stuff back at an MLA in a world where checking luggage is now expensive and, with a 3-plane trip ahead of me, any checked luggage may not even make it.
  • Finally, I learned that I still enjoy the MLA: the trick is to find ways to make it feel more like a smaller conference (going to related sessions was very helpful since I saw some of the same people and always had someone to chat with–that’s ONE strategy)  rather than the big, intimidating controlled chaos it can often feel like.

*** [The quote comes from a 2007 anonymous blogger who immediately contradicts the old story, as does a recent InsideHigherEd, blurb].

Sleepless in Philadelphia

Ok, not exactly sleepless, since I haven’t been to bed yet, but it’s terribly LATE for Annie Em to be awake especially since she’s usually asleep by now PST!

But I’m awake.

Had a lovely, hectic, productive, interesting day at MLA 09.  Spent the morning at the hotel Fitness Center with about 8 other folks who thought it a good idea to work out at 7am ish.  Then had my biggest breakfast ever in the hopes that I would be nourished enough to last the day’s panels and the possibly very long MLA meeting this afternoon. That sort of worked (luckily, there was cake at the Book Exhibit and a colleague brought snacks to the really Very Long (but, as always, fascinating) Meeting this afternoon).

Went to a panel this morning that was not the best I’ve attended this session, mostly because it was an overview of professional issues that I am, as I belatedly realize, fully aware of now. But the young grad student next to me was not, and her thought was to learn all about the politics of the profession she was soon to enter. Brava to her. We chatted about that briefly before the session began.

We both snuck out soon after..

I chatted with several grad students today, including one who said that she had no interviews, but also hadn’t considered EVER teaching at a community college: instead, her plan was to “sell” her  barely finished dissertation to a publisher.  You see, she and her hubby have a lovely house south of San Fran on the ocean that they bought a few years ago. Yes, on the ocean. So she was sort of place- bound.   I wished her luck. You know, some grad students have it really tough.

Then I met others who had 5 interviews, 3 of them that went very well. And other grad students who were very concerned that they may soon be required to teach 2 courses a semester instead of 1. And I was really feeling very  badly for their plight. 

Luckily, I eventually met a few graduate students who seemed to be living the life I did  (those who were teaching at 3 different schools, while writing their dissertations, and searching for jobs all over the country), and I sighed with some relief because you know we full profs really want to replicate ourselves.

But seriously: it is not a good time to be the graduate student waking up from his/her 7-sort of-year slumber to realize that the climate has changed even more drastically than a few degrees.  I don’t envy them. Well, I do envy the one with the oceanfront property, but that’s all, really.

But I did have a lovely evening, after the Very Long (but fascinating) Meeting, dining and catching up with a friend from college.  Catching up with other colleagues. Learning that I prefer sauvignon blanc to pinot grigio when I’m going to drink for several hours. And if you are eating at the Marriott’s “13” tomorrow, I highly recommend the Cobb Steak Salad: it was large, yummy, divine!

A friend of mine asked me to list the names of funny, mockable panels, and I can’t find any. Really. This must be the year of the mundane conference panel titles.  Am I missing one?

I’ll sleep on it.

MLA and the 21st Century

So this is the LAST December MLA covention (an announcement that got a round of applause at the Presidential Address Monday night).  I truly understand the reasons behind the change (how crazy is it to have a major convention right after Xmas?), but for those of us on the quarter system, the switch to the first Thurs-Sat in January means we miss several days during the first week of the quarter (except for those years when we begin the 2nd week of January–all depending on when Jan 1st occurs).

Anyway, that’s not the only change.  There are more pre-convention workshops on engaging/participatory topics (this year there was one on Women and Academic Leadership, which was so popular that it filled up quickly despite an extra fee).  There are more sessions geared specifically toward community college faculty thanks in part to the work by the Committee on Community Colleges (and of course there is the resulting debate about whether more cc-sessions are preferable to more major, i.e. presidential theme- panels that include cc-faculty).  I heard that in Texas, over 50% of ALL college students are currently at community colleges:  it’s a good time for the MLA to try to entice those potential new members to their national disciplinary organization.

There are more panels on digital humanities.  And more panels on the practical aspects of teaching, including one on “Reading as a Teacher: A Workshop for Teachers of Literature”–an experimental workshop session, one of the various types of sessions that will be encouraged in the “new” MLA in an attempt to get away from the “reading a paper” model more common at a typical MLA panel.

The book exhibit also seems more compact and comfortable (though maybe that means less attended?) allowing for more casual discussion with publishers (and more access to the free wine and cheese at cocktail hour, but that’s really not the point). One publisher told me that fewer folks are buying books or taking the freebies because of carry-on luggage restrictions (I”m in that category) which may mean that fewer folks are giving in to temptation by visiting the exhibits? 

One irony: NYU Press was offering a drawing for a free Amazon Kindle (with the submission of a business card, the better for them to send us ads for the rest of our lives no doubt): I chatted with the sales person (or editor?) about how amusing I thought that was, but he wasn’t biting: instead he claimed that over 150 of their books were now available on Kindle (however, the winner of the Kindle would not get one pre-loaded with NYU books).  One NYU writer I talked with balked at the idea that his book would be available on Kindle interestingly.

 I also noted that for the first time, there was no line of computers available in the exhibit hall for folks to check email for free: in the past, I stood in that line daily.  Now, I have a netbook (taking up the space of at least one hard cover book).  I wonder how many folks were disappointed by the loss of those freely available computers?  I saw so many people, including presumably poor graduate students, with e-mail capable phones, however, that I may just be living in the past (and damn, I want one of those phones!).

I’m feeling the love: these are positive changes at the MLA at a time when job opportunities for those looking for 4-year college/research university positions are shrinking (and it will be interesting to see in winter/spring how many new positions become available at community colleges), when the fiscal health and membership figures for the organization are still strong, but not quite as rosy as in the past.  I know that smaller, more nimble groups (such as TYCA , Two Year College Association) began to offer new formats for their conference sessions years ago, and it’s exciting to see the MLA adopt the strengths of the smaller conferences while maintaining the variety and energy of a large, national conference.

Gonna Fly (and apologize) Now

Woke up to a sunny, almost spring like day in Philadelphia, and went for a little run.  Ran to the museum (there’s the Rocky statue), then through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River Trail for a few more miles (if you were there, I was the one smiling tourist-like at all of the amusing statues along the way, and saying “good morning” to the other runners, who either smiled back or looked at me oddly).  Did you know you could run all the way to Valley Forge along that trail (20 miles)?  Maybe next time….

Then I treated myself to 2 scoops of ice cream (cookie dough and peanut butter swirl): really, it’s that warm outside (in the sunshine).

I”m now at the Convention Center picking up my plastic badge holder and using the free (and fast) wi-fi along with about 30 or more others dressed in various shades of black, just as I am, and I must use this opportunity to apologize to Rosemary Feal and all those Twitter fans who I believe were annoyed at my previous Twitter-doubting post of just a few days ago.  Clearly, it’s easier, faster and actually a little fun to post status updates while traveling. My FB friends are loving those quick updates  if we can go by the comments already posted there  (a lifelong dream to visit Philly? why did you get boring cookie dough? where is the picture of YOU with Rocky).  And for those that don’t know: status updates are pretty much the same as tweets (though I can go on longer than 140 characters, thankfully). 

Blog posts, however, just take longer to compose, and really, I haven’t said all that much more.