|From ardenswayoflife flickr stream|
I'll let you decide if I'm out of line here - three examples:
ONE I went to a keynote address at the conference I attended last week on reforming doctoral education where I found myself increasingly confused and then angry with the speaker. The session was to be a little over an hour long and at the 45 minute mark, she had yet to address the topic of the talk. The beginning of the talk rambled on about digital humanities and its connection to doctoral education was never made clear. Then she rushed through the primary claims she was making and entirely skipped over many potential solutions.
The one suggestion that she did give was that if we shortened the time to completion for doctoral students, we would have fewer sessionals. ?! I think she was trying to make the point that fewer of those sessionals would be ABD, but getting them through faster isn't going to translate to them going anywhere - you'll just replace ABD sessionals with PhD holding sessionals. There's no jobs for them to be moving to.
I found myself angered at the simplicity of thinking behind this one suggestion and the poor organization of the talk which meant there was nothing substantial presented regarding changes to doctoral education. There was to be a short Q&A, and maybe she addressed these things then, but I was trying to get to a different keynote and I left.
TWO Given how angered I was, I had high hopes for the next keynote which was to be on cinema, images and geography; at least, according to the title and abstract it should have been. It instead seemed to be mostly about medieval religious beliefs with a very short connection to a contemporary film at the end. The presenter had no visuals to supplement her soft-spoken voice and got lost in her notes three times - enough so that the audience started to murmur as she rifled through them. I found myself alternately bored and angered that the presenter was doing nothing to try to engage me as an audience member.
THREE I get an email from a colleague from another department last week asking to meet for coffee. I have two students in my class that she knows and we might want to chat about them. I immediately suspect who these students are but I think it may be a talk about academic integrity because both have skirted the boundaries of what's proper and I've had to explain it to them.
No. It's about how these young men, both members of a visible minority, have had it rough trying to learn as ESL students and how we should not hold them to the same standards as our Canadian-born students. Because, you know, she was concerned that I might not be appropriately sensitive to the needs of ESL students.
When I told her I'd worked for one of the immigrant aid societies in town, she was shocked, stating that I certainly must know more about this population than she does from just encountering two members of it. Yes. I would. And I find it deeply insulting for her to assume that I do not know or am insensitive to the struggles of these two students (who are just two of a class of ESL students from a number of cultures). I also have difficulty agreeing with a change in standards just because of a student's position, but I didn't enter into that conversation because of the power relationship between us.
And that brings me to my anger. You see, the connection between all of these incidents is that each of these people is Associate or Full Professor somewhere. They are paid a decent salary and do not have to constantly worry about whether/how much they will work next semester. They are paid to research instead of trying to squeeze it into the gaps in a heavy teaching schedule.
The first two, having the support for their original research provided by their institution, as well as their costs for the conference as plenary speakers provided by the conference, phoned in their presentations. They did not practice them. They did not polish them. They did not attend to their audience. I can't help but read that as a kind of arrogance; they couldn't be bothered to worry about whether the audience was engaged or interested - they were invited speakers so they could do whatever they wanted in their presentation (including not planning it properly).
As a contractual sessional instructor, I don't have the luxury of phoning in a conference presentation. Anything less than my best could result in a lost interview if one of my future interviewees is in the audience. (Heck, even my best might still result in that loss, but that's something I have no control over.) I also squeeze my research and presentation preparation in between a very heavy teaching schedule, which means if I want to go to a conference, I'm putting in lots of hours on weekends and evenings.
I also thought it a bit arrogant to think that I needed to be educated on how to teach students with sensitivity. While I do realize there was no way for that professor to know who I am and what kind of teacher I am, she did make assumptions in asking to meet. And then she asked me to change my classroom practice.
Lowering our standards is absolutely not acceptable. I realize these students are struggling to write in English and that the university does not have great support for ESL students. But if I send them out into the world unable to write with our school's degree in hand, I cheapen that degree for everyone else. A different standard, yes, I can understand. I often accept work from ESL students that has non-conventional phrasing or expressions that from English speakers I might correct and question. I view their idiosyncratic use of language as evidence of that writer's voice, which emerges from their experiences as ESL learners. But it still needs to make sense to a reader, even if it doesn't always fulfill expectations regarding conventional ways of writing. But suggesting they should not be held to the same standards suggests that I robotically apply the rules of English grammar to all writing. Me. A writing teacher. From someone who is not a writing teacher.
So that's why I'm so pissed. I'm realizing that I'm being held to as high (or higher) standard than these people, that I'm just as good at presenting or teaching as they (perhaps better in the case of the presenters) and yet I have no job security and work more than they do for less money. Wouldn't you be a bit pissed too?