Thursday, March 26, 2009

Goin' Zombie

Everybody here is bitter. The students are bitter, the faculty are bitter, the instructors are bitter and the staff are bitter.
Now it is possible that the weather has something to do with it. Two days ago we had more than 10 cm of snow in a storm that closed the schools but not the university. No, we have a large residence population, so our classes can go ahead no matter what the conditions. This was the view out the lab windows ...

So the cruise ship Bitterness is still looking for a harbour. I had to sit in on a meeting with a dysfunctional Biology department late last week where one of the things that needed to be resolved was the stealth Biochemistry prerequisite to almost all the upper level Biology courses. It turns out that the Biology department was founded by two faculty that were confirmed molecular reductionists. So now that we have Biologists that have a more organismal philosophy they want to avoid the heavy lifting of Biochemistry. What was amazing was a) watching the two sides talk past each other for two hours b) the escalating rhetoric and c) the clumsy politics. It was absolutely classic faculty communication "What I said was pure genius so if you don't agree with me then I must repeat what I just said ... but louder". Sometimes I hate being Head.

My History of Science course went zombie on me. The lecture was on the transition between Newtonian Mechanics and the Quantum Universe. About half way through the lecture the class lost all symptoms of interest. Oh, I have drained the joy of learning out of a class before like some kind of academic vampire but this was something different. Usually there is at least one student in all my classes, driven by the monomaniacal pursuit of marks, that will at least feign interest because they know when the class descends to apathy the merely competent student suddenly shines. No, the whole class started looking into the middle distance and became totally unresponsive. I tried to adjust by breaking the class out for a discussion and a it fell flat and they never came back intellectually. This long grinding winter has to end before the center falls.

And then there is the staff. We are in the long straight run towards the end of semester. The staff have got to step up to their A game and it is just not happening. Our Administration, in their wisdom, decided that in the middle of a financial crisis we need to go on a building campaign and have deflected the attention of our development personnel towards an all-encompassing Capital Campaign and we in the faculty have been told that the cornerstone of the campaign is the ability of the campaign staff to say that the faculty were the first to step up with significant donations as evidence that we believe. Oh yes, I had them reach out and touch me last Friday. We will need to raise the first million dollars just to pay for the fund raising campaign. And yet, helpful suggestions from the faculty to enhance efficiency are met with near hostile indifference.

Oh yes, I am ready for this to end. On the research end of things I just got three crystal structures back from the crystallographer but the graduate student that did the initial synthetic work has moved on from his post-doc and disappeared into the chaos that is Mainland China without a forwarding address or contact info. So what do I do? Hold off publication until he surfaces? Proceed to publish only the structures without the synthetic details and with only an acknowledgement of the student's work? If I can't get his signature on the author list I can't publish his work. Oh well, three more weeks of classes ... just three more weeks of classes. If the students can go zombie then so can I.

1 comment:

Chemgeek said...

Oh, the doldrums!!! After a fantastic Spring tease, Winter returned to Minnesota as well, albeit, much less dramatically.

I've seen my share of zombies around my school as well, but so far, only a few.

We press on. We are professionals.

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.