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Whew! Hello, abandoned and neglected internets. So... my absence can be explained by the fact that I have been running orientation and registration simultaneously for the last two weeks, which has entailed arriving on campus before 6.30am and leaving after 5 on a daily basis, other than that one day when I ran orientation for three hours, did seven hours of curriculum advice and finished signing forms at 7pm.

I have survived the following:
  • one (1) faculty admissions fubar (500 early offers of places being revoked for non-meeting of admissions threshold in final results, screwing orientation signup more than somewhat);
  • one (1) slightly above minor orientation leader meltdown (I told them to stop doing Something Bad too forcefully and they were hurt and outraged and tried to rebuke me for it, which I resisted in spades (frequent reiteration of "this is a job") because if my own job is doing anything, it's teaching me to successfully hack off at the knees the more destructively narcissistic tendencies of Generation Z*);
  • two hundred and fifty (250) extra students in my second orientation programme, resulting in 500+ students occupying a venue designed to seat 400, leading to droves of them decorating the stairs, floor and back wall;
  • several (3) outbreaks of incompetence from administrative staff resulting in the non or very late arrival of key registration elements (forms, handbooks, signage, queue marshals) to the venue;
  • seventeen (17) trips up or down my Cherished Institution's impressive selection of stairs to migrate between my office and the reg venue, in our jolly January heat;
  • one (1) intervening weekend in which I was completely unable to do anything but lie feebly on the sofa under various cats while simultaneously hosting a varied combination of aches, lassitude and brain fuzz;
  • innumerable (?) instances of the more destructively narcissistic tendencies of Generation Z*, largely manifesting as the touching belief that their particular query or crisis was clearly more important than either the universities rules/requirements or any of the other 5 things I should be doing simultaneously, and that I should be dropping everything to attend to them at length.

So, the problem, as it has manifested over the last six or eight years, is actually that neither millenials nor Generation Z* are, at base, fundamentally compatible in any way with large-scale institutions. Both are lovely generations in many ways - connected, protective, accepting of difference - but both demonstrate, by way of both upbringing and media conditioning, absolute commitment to the central tenet of themselves as individuals, unassailably valuable in their own right. That's lovely, really it is, and probably healthy in all sorts of ways, up until the point where 6000 of them (we have a large faculty) decide that their individuality is more important than our rules, policies, structures or timetables, and that they have a right to be individually accommodated. They are deaf and impervious to the suggestion that it is not logistically possible to administer 6000 special cases, and particularly not when I, a single person with no actual assistance in my academic oversight roles, am acting as the hapless conduit to this expectation.

I am, shall we say, very tired. In the sense of completely buggered. I have a week more of reg and then another week of change of curriculum, which is slightly less demanding but brings its own new and inventive brands of challenge, difficulty and upset. Then I shall crash, probably with an exciting new 'flu bug imported by a globetrotting student from some far-flung corner of the world. Then I shall look for a new job, hopefully in New Zealand or Scotland or Canada, or somewhere else cold. I am done.

* the one with the snowflakes.
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I am apparently feeling Hamletesque, i.e. melodramatic and slightly doomed, and as though my entire society is permeated throughout by futility and rot. Mood. My helltime of year officially starts tomorrow, when the first orientation programme kicks off, but in fact, it started two weeks ago, when I went back to work, the last week of which has been 10-hour days as I try to fit three weeks of preparation into two, as a result of the inscrutable demon powers of university management having randomly started the semester a week earlier than usual. Not only do I have less time, but large swathes of academia are still on holiday, so a significant proportion of vital logistics emails are dropping into the void like meringues into a black hole, vanishing without echo or response.

I am curiously unaffected by this. Usually I would be desperately micro-managing to make sure the clockwork of orientation and reg are grit-free and well oiled, and becoming increasingly stressed by non-responses and admin meltdowns that appear to threaten the juggernaut mechanism. This time I appear to be shrugging; I honestly don't care if it isn't perfect, as long as it more or less works. I am inclined, on the whole, to think that this is probably a healthy response in many ways, and indicative of the fact that, despite my state of career paralysis and inability to identify and power towards any new goal, I have at least achieved something in that I am increasingly less invested in this job's demands and outcomes. Because, hell, if nothing else, that restores some kind of balance in mirroring the extent to which my Cherished Institution is sure as hell not invested in me.

By way of balm and soothing, and incidentally my mandated Proof of Life and Cuteness to phleep&jo, her previous owners, have a cute picture of my cat. She very much enjoyed the gaps that occurred in my shelving as a result of the merry throw-out I had over the Christmas break.

duck and cover

Friday, 11 January 2019 10:44 am
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This is one of my least favourite times of year: it's the deep breath before all the crazy hits. Orientation is the week after next, a week earlier than usual owing to semester scheduling shenanigans from the Powers That Be, and I am frantically finalising orientation and registration material and logistics while simultaneously fending off almost continuous emails and phone calls from panicky students and, worse, their parents, who absolutely have to see me, only me, in advance of registration to assuage their panic. (Spoiler: they almost universally don't actually have to see me. I have a no-you-don't cut and paste paragraph for emails which I am employing vindictively and with extreme prejudice.)

I hate this time because of the continuous, niggling, inescapable sensation that there's stuff I haven't done yet which is urgent and vital and it'll All Fall Down if I don't. If I operate true to form I'll almost certainly line up all the necessary ducks with military precision in time for Big Giant Events to run smoothly, but the fact that said waterfowl are not yet all locked down assaults me on the astral plane. I am not sleeping well, and having my characteristic recurring dreams about missing vital objects which are leading me to bumble somnambulistically around my bedroom at night, fumbling blindly with cats and cupboards and bedside tables trying to find them. Since they have been, in order over the last three nights, a massively valuable emerald ring, the heavily barded horse for that jousting tourney, and the documents required for my departure into space, there is no actual way I will ever find them, so I seem doomed to sleepwalk fruitlessly until further notice. Or, at least, until the Big Giant Event actually begins, at which point my stress levels, weirdly, go sharply down, as if I haven't done it there's no real point in worrying about it.

On the upside, the undergrad admin office appears to have reconstituted itself as an engaged and functional entity in most particulars, so I hope this will be a Better Year than last year. Oh god it has to be.
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Life feels a bit apocalyptic at the moment, I will probably be having more of those dreams. While it's pleasantly damp and cool in Cape Town and water restrictions have been relaxed a bit, the equal and opposite reaction has been Eskom running out of power - again - and implementing load shedding - again - without warning - again. I mean, they publish it on their website, which no-one ever reads until the lights go out, or at least once the lights have come on again after going out. And they randomly switch between Level 1 and Level 2 - also without warning - which is particularly rife with complication given that the WhatsApp group for my street is prone to excitably and incoherently giving each other conflicting information about which zone we're actually in, which when read off against shifting load shedding statuses can completely obscure all logic and sense for days at a time. Honestly, my immediate environment could probably be serviceably choreographed as French farce right now. I try to plot when the lights are going to die, which they reliably don't when I expect it and do when I'm not expecting it, at which point I sigh, grab a torch and/or the gas stove for tea-making purposes, and hope to hell that the fanfic up on my Ipad at this precise moment is at least one of those 80-000 word epics which will keep me going for a bit.

Load shedding also, of course, happened on campus bang in the middle of our exam committee frantic period, giving us two and a half key hours in which administrators couldn't upload progression codes. Fortunately the essentially reactionary and analogue checking process involves giant printed board schedules and a pencil and the building has large windows, so some aspects of the whole edifice remained functional. But it's an index to the essential insanity of the season that I am, for once, grateful that my annual rant about how this whole process should be done more accurately and less exhaustingly by computers, has never borne fruit. We'd be completely screwed if it had. As it is, I am at the stage of slurring and noun loss which has forced me to reassure three separate colleagues this week that I'm not actually drunk, promise, just extremely fatigued, but the whole thing has been organised with ruthless efficiency and we are on track for final committees tomorrow.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic whole, it's been particularly surreal to watch the abstract collapse of Tumblr, which has been my fandom and media home, if only in a strictly onlooker capacity, for six or seven years now. The venal and ham-fisted incompetents who contrive to run the site in the teeth of their own unfitness have banned NSFW images, with NSFW being defined in essential heterosexualist, gendered, puritanico-capitalist terms and implemented by an automated algorithm apparently conceived of and executed by actual chimpanzees. They want, of course, to make sure they keep on making money out of the site by selling ads and having the (awful) app in the Apple store. They have shot themselves in the foot with a small tactical nuke, taking out as collateral damage a whole thriving, interconnected and delicate ecosystem of fans, artists, small businesses and social-justice-focused communities who have made Tumblr into a vital living space despite everything the owners (Yahoo) have done to try and sabotage it. Not everyone on Tumblr is into porn or erotica or explicit fanart, but its free expression is a weirdly important thread in the whole ideological identity of the site.

I mean, capitalism is stupid and short-sighted, we know that. It goes for the easy short-term profit in defiance of long-term damage. But what the hell are these idiots even thinking, to alienate their user base like this? They are ejecting, effectively, their actual product. People are making migration plans in droves. (Many of them are coming here to Dreamwidth, which is a silver lining for me because I prefer to blog in this sort of environment and have never quite dared fling myself into the Tumblr stream, it scares me). There is no point in being "safe" for ad sales if the 10 million users have evaporated in shocked distress. Tumblr has its issues, with its community identity as much as with its owners, but its flow and focus and discourse are unique, and they broke it. I am very sad.

(My subject line is New Model Army, because the current state of my personal zeitgeist is tending a bit to the post-punk).
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Oo, er. The Strange Case of Starship Iris is an extremely good sf podcast to which I have not been listening, but the transcripts of which I have been devouring illegally at work. It's funny and acute and political, something like a more enlightened Firefly with aliens and actual diversity. Recommended. I will probably listen to the actual podcast this weekend, while madly sewing new curtains because Jyn ate mine. (She tries to climb through the light cotton privacy half-curtains I have on the front window, they're in shreds). Podcasts or radio shows while sewing are a Good Thing, TM. Last sewing binge it was Cabin Pressure. Also recommended.

I am illegally devouring podcast transcripts at work because work is very quiet: exams are over, and the last-minute rush of students frantically signing up late for summer term courses has died down. As it bloody should, summer term has been running for four days already. I am very tired, as is traditional for this time of year, and managing to do orientation prep only in a desultory, intermittent and procrastinatory sort of fashion.

Exam committee season, the annual trigger of my annual rant about the flawed and time-consuming stupidities of manual board schedule checking, hits next week. The committees have all been scheduled and members hunted down by me personally, which has seen an above-average incidence of academics reeling, writhing and fainting in coils in an effort to dodge the duty, but I have been inexorable and implacable. It is a continual amazement to me the degree of passive-aggressive chill I am capable of infusing into a two-word email salutation of "Dear colleagues" when it's the fourth re-send and they still aren't answering. It's all in the punctuation.

All I need to do now is survive checking three board schedules in a row, which is one worse than the two I did last year, and shows an inexorable creep in my workload from the one which has hitherto been standard, but at least it's contenting my obsessive-compulsive need for quality control. That's three committees I know will be done properly, two of them because I chair them, and the third because I can browbeat the chair into consistency.

And then I shall go on leave for three weeks. Heh. A student informed me yesterday that I was seen as "the mother of the faculty". Five thousand teenagers to raise is a bit much, is all I can say. I need my vacation. (My subject line is Bowie's "Starman", because descriptive, and let the children lose it, and also I rather wish an alien spaceship would arrive and take me away from all this).

true and correct

Monday, 5 November 2018 02:41 pm
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I'm a Commissioner of Oaths in my employment capacity, as a result of the fact that my Cherished Institution requires CoO certification for anyone above a certain payclass. Generally I don't have to do much with my Madly Official Stamps, since, while the institutional Powers That Be do generate a list of available commissioners, they only seem to advertise it in a locked filing cabinet in a basement somewhere behind a sign saying "beware of the leopard", with the net result that few tragically uncertified students actually work out I'm available. However, there's been a slightly odd rush of certification requests in the last few days. Either they've fired the leopard, or something about the approaching end of year brings people out in documentary hives.

The certifications of copy are dead routine, and, as I just said to the nice young man whose certificates I stamped, probably among the easiest things that students could possibly ask me to do. What is more difficult is the commissioning of a document, which is the whole sworn oath thing where I'm attesting that the signature on the document is that of the person in my office who is also the person appearing in the identity document they've given me as proof. Which is a madly ritualistic bit of legal wossname where I actually have to administer an oath, and always makes me feel as though I should be wearing a gown and wig and breaking out the more cumbersome sort of legalistic jargon. (Even though I always, without fail, default to the "truly affirm" version rather than the "so help me God" one, on the grounds that someone else's relationship with God is none of my business, and also that the invocation of a deity doesn't assist the integrity of my participation in the slightest being as how I don't believe in him).

I don't have to commission documents too often, and at least two of the occasions where people have arrived in my office with a commissioning request, I've had to gently decline. Both were fellow staff members, who wanted me to commission a document on behalf of an absent family member, and both of whom, while they didn't say anything explicit, managed to convey by generally huffy body language their annoyed incredulity at the fact that I wouldn't just stamp the damned things already, good grief, despite the inarguable absence not just of the vital personage concerned, but of every sort of verifiable element to which I'm supposed to be attesting.

Lawful Good doesn't work like that. I have a stamp which says I've verified things to my own satisfaction, and a quite clearly written and unequivocal guideline document which lays out exactly what I'm supposed to be verifying, and I'm quite frankly buggered if I'm going to make a mockery of the system by using my powers for anything other than their intended purpose. What the hell, even. How dare you expect it of me.

Dear attempted-falsifying colleagues, in that momentary drawing of lines you tried to implement, where you and I were comrades standing against the giant mechanisms of meaningless bureaucracy, you have badly misunderstood my position in the whole thing. I'm not on your side of the line. I frankly resent that you think I might be, particularly given that both of you are higher ranking in institutional terms than I am, and the whole momentary-comradeship thing elides a power balance that might conceivably be read as pressurising a junior staff member. I get that you are not attempting massive fraud, and this is convenience, and your family member almost certainly is who you say they are, and probably even signed this. But no. It might not matter in the greater scheme of things, but the integrity of my word damned well matters to me. We live in a world where, globally, systems are being systematically screwed by this sort of personal-convenience thinking. This is a tiny meaningless microcosm, but I will have no truck with it. You want my signature, you take the system on board.

I spoke into his eyes

Wednesday, 10 October 2018 11:13 am
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Feeling a bit non-existent again, so am taking this opportunity to remind myself of my own instrumentality. When suffering reality slippage, it helps to tally up the small but perfectly real motions in evidence of one's own actual impact on the world.

Things I achieved over the weekend:
  1. A load of laundry.
  2. The watering of the garden with the grey water from the above load of laundry.
  3. Chocolate cake. (this one, but I leave the egg yolk out of the icing. I have been eating it for breakfast all week with indecent satisfaction).
  4. Fancy chicken lasagne dinner for jo&stv, based on this one but without the cream, extra cheese or actual skillet. Also, garlic bread, which has given me acid reflux for the better part of three days but was absolutely worth it.
  5. Courtesy of jo's demon drilling skills, curtain rails and curtains on my front windows, which has measurably reduced the temperature of the front rooms by a few degrees, and has incidentally allowed me to retire the (cheap and nasty) blinds, thus frustrating Jyn's ongoing attempts to render me actually homicidal by trying to climb through them so she can see out. I'm deliriously happy about this, the house suddenly feels properly furnished and my nocturnal activities properly veiled from prying eyes in a way they simply weren't given the flimsy and cat-raddled nature of the blinds.
  6. Prompted by the "properly furnished" sensation in (5), above, the cleaning down and anointing with teak oil of the small teak desk I use for sewing; it was a bit water-mottled from hosting potplants and is now a glowing, beautiful thing. Wood, so satisfying.
  7. The brushing of both the cats, resulting in (a) a small inanimate tribble of astonishing dimensions, and (b) absurd quantities of purring.
  8. A metric fuckton of Skyrim, as is the traditional way of my people when faced with the unavoidable and unpleasant onset of summer temperatures.

Surprisingly large and varied numbers of things were also achieved by me this week so far at work.
  1. Number of large/annoying committee meetings survived without undue mental trauma or actual homicide: 3.
  2. Number of colleagues rescued from weird and baffling curriculum intricacies: 4.
  3. Number of students whose weird and baffling curriculum intricacy was sorted by me personally with rabid efficiency and dispatch: 5.
  4. Number of gently collapsing students rescued from their own approaching-term-end angst, despite it being too late in the semester for most sane or rational administrative mechanisms to apply: 3.

*waves Flag of Existence triumphantly*

I ATEN'T DEAD

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 09:46 am
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I may, however, have vaguely wished I was at several points over the last few weeks, on the general grounds that it might be pleasantly restful. This has been a complete hellseason for registration, I have worked a high proportion of 12-hour days for the last month, and straight through most weekends. Particular lowlights have included:
  • having to floor manage registration simultaneously with advice and orientation because the designated manager was off sick and there were no alternative arrangements or anyone else willing to take responsibility;
  • the arrival of the faculty handbooks, necessary for students for registration, with mathematical precision an hour and a half after the last registration session had ended;
  • an unceasingly flow of angry students expecting to see their degree status updated to "qualified", which it hasn't been owing to administrative meltdown in the admin office, and having to re-check and re-submit the damned things, sometimes for the third time;
  • the regular late arrival of registration forms to registration sessions because the whole responsibility has been devolved onto temps, which means my advisors twiddle their thumbs for half an hour;
  • my digestion's response to all this, which has been two weeks of nausea and a week of heartburn, including what I thought on Sunday was actual gastric 'flu but mercifully doesn't seem to be the bug which has laid low most of my staff and a swathe of students over the last two weeks, even if my version has made me feel like hell and rendered my eating minimal and pale;
  • the weird evangelical student household neighbours over my back wall intensifying their evangelical activities from "really bad singing" to include sudden outbreaks of speaking loudly in tongues with the living room windows and door wide open at 6am as well as 7pm, and I have to say, that shit - unified, continuous wordless babbling from a dozen people - is creepy at the best of times and downright terrifying when you're half asleep;
  • Jyn's new crusade, which is to climb through and utterly destroy if at all possible the front blinds, which are starting to look bent, bont and splugged, necessitating me erupting from the sofa at intervals to shout at her (she knows exactly what she's doing, she looks at me, narrows her eyes and then deliberately does it again);
  • Teen Wolf's season 3 featuring a big bad played by the voice of Dragon Age's Fenris, who is one of my favourite go-to romances and whose decontextualised appearance in the inverse moral position is giving me conniptions.
I am a piece of chewed string. Once this week's change of curriculum is over, I shall go and see my doctor, and hope like hell I can gently prod her into booking me off work for a couple of weeks on grounds of general exhaustion. And the faculty may slide gently off the mountain and into the sea in my absence, I care not.

On the upside, I have progressed to the second stage of a job application with Minerva, in that they're asking for references and what have you; while I still darkly suspect I will not ultimately be offered it, given that they have the length, lingth and longth of the oversubscribed American academic wasteland to draw from, it's obscurely cheering to feel that at least I'm vaguely competitive. 
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One of those upsy-downsy days. On the downside, the faculty office continues in meltdown, with the faculty manager still off hissy-fitting and the shattered remnants of a once-functional administrative system trying desperately to reconstitute itself in her absence, severely hamstrung by the almost complete lack of institutional memory given how many people have left in disgust in the last year and a half. I have perhaps two and a half actual allies in this whole clusterfuck, to whom I have taken to delivering, of a morning, ceremonial batches of The Chocolate Brownies of Moral Support. (They're very supportive brownies, on the same principle as an empowering lemon bun).

Perhaps as a symbolic externalisation of my designated place in all this, while I was walking down from my car this morning, one of my Cherished Institution's seething population of half-evolved starlings flew deliberately up behind me and whapped me over the back of the head for no adequately defined reason, causing me to stop dead in the middle of the path and ask it "what the fuck was that for?" in tones of pained reproach, while passing students laughed at me. It seemed symptomatic of the whole.

On the upside, the Exam Tent City appears, against all odds, to have survived exam season unenflamed or otherwise disrupted, which is frankly more than anyone expected. (Lovely argument with Jo at dinner the other night about whether or not the Tent City approach can be statistically correlated with the lack of protests, which of course it can't on account of sample size, but I am a narrative rather than a numerical creature and must have plot causality. I do enjoy exposure to other thought paradigms, though, it's exercising to the faculties). Elsewhere, I have spent large chunks of the week moving lost, unhappy students out of other faculties into Humanities programmes, which is a surprisingly low-effort sort of positive validation thingy, it's fairly easy to make them puppy-dog levels of happy about escaping the wrong choice of degree. One of them this morning, after I'd lengthily assisted him to find a path through the ridiculous snarls of the music curriculum, informed me that I was a "delightful human being". That sort of thing definitely helps.

On a sort of lateral, neither up nor down side but definitely a side, this morning I informed the Deputy Dean most nearly concerned with my operations that I was looking for employment elsewhere and might be reasonably expected to resign in the next few months, after which he clutched his head and said "oh fuck no now we're completely fucked and may as well pack up and go home". This was a worrying combination of validating and guilt-trippy, but has usefully reified this actual getting the hell out thing to the point where, well, now I have to find a new job, don't I? the Faculty Exec is discussing my departure. (I have, in a Marked Manner, completely neglected to inform my actual boss, who is the aforementioned hissy-fitting faculty manager, she can stew in her own juice until someone tells her, I care not). I feel that statements of flight are a Good Thing, overall, but it's left me feeling a weird mix of relieved, terrified, and lighter.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, to whom I have been listening a lot because reasons, partially reasons attributable to discovering their FFS album, which is a collaboration with an American band called Sparks and is a an FF-ish, louche, lush, burlesquey sort of Threepenny-Operatic sound with indecent amounts of verve and pleasing levels of piano. Recommended.
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Oh, joy, 'tis the season, fa-la-la-la-la. Not, in fact, the thrice-dratted Xmas season, although of course it is, and promptly with the dawning of November supermarkets have blossomed forth in all the usual seasonally-inappropriate merry snow imagery in the midst of African summer, glitzy Northern Hemispherical Christmas trees, and the usual quotient of bad syrupy R&B covers of hackneyed Christmas carols given additional terror by the robotic brassiness of autotune. (How Much I Hate Auto-Tune, a rant in 56 parts. I'm saving it.)

No, the season to which I refer is exam season. Lectures ended on Friday, exams start on Wednesday, and the 5 student consultations I've held in the last three hours are all logged in my logbook with "fail fear" in the "Notes" column. They're all about to fail some or all of their courses this semester. This will variously prevent them from graduating, lose them their funding or doom them to academic exclusion. I have patiently strategised a variety of responses with a variety of desperate students whose affect ranges from fatalistic through resolved to extravagantly miserable. Three of them were in tears.

To the various individual woes (mostly anxiety/depression with a side order of death in the family) is added the very general woe of, yet again, student protests. Some lecture disruptions last week, lectures suspended for a couple of days. The bulk of our departments have thrown up their hands and given up on lectures in the last two weeks of term, electing to examine an incomplete syllabus. (Some of them, cunningly predicting just this, front-loaded their syllabus and devoted the last two weeks to revision, thus neatly dodging the protest upshot). We are supposed to have delivered the rest of the semester by "blended learning", which is the VC's favourite buzzword and which is frequently deployed in a talismanic sense which utterly disregards the realities of the situation, viz. a proportion of academics utterly unable to deliver it to a proportion of students utterly unable to access it owing to a failure of both skills and technological infrastructure.

But the crowning glory is the tent. The protesters are apparently hell-bent on disrupting exams. They spent chunks of last week disrupting tests as well as lectures. Security in riot gear, with shields, have been lurking in rows outside the main exam venue all last week. The VC's somewhat bizarre response to the exam disruption threat, which he has implemented apparently in the teeth of disagreement from the entire senior leadership group and the council of Deans, has been to hire a large tent, which has been constructed on the rugby fields, and in which all exams will take place in a "controlled" environment. I think the idea is to use the rugby fields because you can completely surround and cordon off the tent, although quite why you can't do that to the Sports Centre is not entirely apparent. The Sports Centre, at least, has solid brick walls. Threats to burn down the tent apparently popped up on Twitter within an hour or two of the relevant press release.

Last night's usual Sunday dinner featured three denizens of my Cherished Institution, and we ended up rather drunkenly strategising ways to burn down the damned tent, now, ourselves, before protesters do it on Wednesday when exams start. The plan involved layers of diversion and archers with fire arrows, probably deployed from the roof of the nearest res. Its advantage is that the conflagration will happen when there aren't actually any students in the tent, because frankly we're beginning to worry that escalating protests are going to inevitably lead to grievous bodily harm and/or actual death. And you have to ask yourself: at which point in all this management fuckwittery does your own dutiful attempt to comply with management's more deranged directives actually become complicity? At which point do you simply refuse to take part? If a student is badly injured and you told them they should go to the exam, are you in some way responsible? It's not a happy thought.

My subject line is the title of my third-favourite track on the new Magnetic Fields album.
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I am apparently at a stage in my personal and professional development where I can, calmly and quietly, spent the better part of half an hour gently talking down the angry student protest leader who has come into my office to discuss his options in dropping a course. Not that he was overtly angry, it's more a sort of subliminal, simmering rage and outrage, but even with no voices raised and no overt threats I am still shaking gently in a startled-deer-trembling-in-the-bushes sort of manner, and it's half an hour after his departure. There is something a little troubling about presenting the rules as they apply to a particular curriculum decision, and being told flatly that he will not accept that, the rule is unfair to black students and will therefore be ignored. Also, that if the VC's office doesn't rule favourable on a particular outstanding issue tangentially related to the query, said angry student protest leader will be referring it back to the student body for action. I suppose I misspoke when I said there were no overt threats, actually.

The problem wasn't even the anger and denial of the rules, really. The problem was the half hour, which was the length of time it took me to get into his head the actual implications of the request he was making. It's as if the political bubble insulates him so absolutely from the world (or at least from the ideologically suspect upper echelons of the illegitimate institution) that the actual logic of the response can't permeate. I am also by this stage very good at reining in my somewhat characteristic high-speed polysyllabic babble, and I don't think it was me. It's just that my explanations were occurring in counterpoint to the polyphonic political debate going on in his own head.

I am very tired and have a headache, but he left enlightened and actually smiling, so score one for me. My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "I Die", but I promise it's not at that stage yet.
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Things that students have said in emails to me today:

"Dear. Please could you..." (I assume they meant to type my name after "Dear" and forgot, but it's rather sweet like this.)

"Goof morning!" (Followed by somewhat of a silly question, so possibly this was actually the correct designation for the day).

Things that my students have said to me in person today:

"I'll tell my personal assistant to set up a reminder to follow up on Wednesday." (he did, in fact, have a personal assistant. In tow. Kids these days...)

This week I have been croaked at by three different laryngitis sufferers and snuffled at by at least one phlegmy parent, so I am expecting lurgis incoming on my hapless form in the near future. I have scored one bar of chocolate, one bag of jellybeans, and tearful gratitude from three different students, which set against only one twenty-minute dissociated rant and blame session from an angry parent, actually puts me ahead. The jellybeans gave me a weird moment of dislocated nostalgia in that they tasted exactly like the little pink chalky cylindrical sweets we used to get as kids, which five minutes of illicit googling suggest were actually Romantics cachous, although I remember them as having an elephant on the wrapper - that might have been a mutant Zimbabwean version. They tasted dusty and pink, I have a very vivid memory of the flavour.

I am beyond dead, but it's Friday. I have not to date eviscerated any students or myself. It could be worse.
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Right. *deep breath*. So. It cannot have escaped the attention of alert witterers that I have been, shall we say, less than satisfied with my career and work life of late. Even before the upheavals caused by eighteen months of student protests, campus closures and the concomitant conditions of resource-shrinkage, my job was always a compromise: I do it well, and it has elements I enjoy and find rewarding, but they're small patches within a landscape with more than its fair share of admin swamps, uphill battles and the active orientation/registration volcano into which I am annually and ritually flung. The student protests have been the earthquake which, once the aftershocks have settled, has rearranged that landscape into one where the enjoyable patches are becoming actually difficult to locate.

I need, in short, a new job. More than that, a new career. The niche I have filled is so highly specialised that nothing else like it exists within my Cherished Institution; I have no desire to exchange my current post-student-protest difficulties for the identical or worse ones at any other institution in this country, and given that it's taken me six months and various lovely friends prodding me consistently and affectionately with sticks to get my change-averse hang-ups suppressed to the point of wanting a new job at all, I'm really not up to complicating "new job" with "new country" simultaneously. So new career it is. I am, in short, planning to shake the dust of academic from my booted feet, preferably within the next six months so I don't have to endure the bloody start-of-year volcano again.

This not unnaturally raises the difficult question of what the hell I can do instead. I have been a university teacher, researcher and administrator for my entire adult life. I have a raft of actually fairly highly honed and useful skills that go beyond the standard research/writing and teaching/counselling areas (and I'm actually damned good at those) into process management, logistics, administration, organisational insight and a variety of other potentially marketable abilities and experiences. What I lack is a sense of what the hell is out there, job-wise, that would make use of them. My experience of the non-university working landscape is so minimal that I don't even know what sort of job titles or keywords to search for.

So, when in doubt, crowd-source. A lot of you who read my blog are not in academia, or have partners or contacts or experiences outside the Ivory Tower even if you are academics. Knowing me, and the kinds of things I've been doing for decades, are there any particular roles you can think of in the non-academic world that I would be suited to? Industries, skill areas, job titles, corners where you know academic training is an advantage? Something to point me in the right direction? If it helps, I've updated my LinkedIn profile with fairly detailed job descriptions that give some idea of the individual skills my work life has developed.

I would be deeply grateful for any suggestions that would help me identify a direction for a search, because right now, frankly, the compass is simply spinning gently. Along, in fact, with my head.

My subject line is, of course, from David Bowie's "Changes", because where else?
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Between Friday and today three different students have given me, variously, four varieties of chocolate bar and a small tin of Mauritian vanilla tea. This has been a response to Friday afternoon, which was the site of the last straw: a whole bunch of students arriving five minutes before the end of the last advisor session on the last possible day, demanding everything from a quick change of curriculum to an actual, very late, registration via a form on which they had filled in absolutely nothing. I left campus at a quarter past five after an actual breakdown into hysterical tears, which I was unable to stave off any longer after the failure of my usual containment mechanisms (as a last resort, biting my own arm. Because pain does distract very nicely from hysteria. I am somewhat bruised). Apparently the downside to a chronic fatigue condition which I manage by apportioning my energy very carefully, is that there are simply no spoons left when heedless student selfishness demands that I stay an hour and a quarter after the last dribble of energy has been scheduled to be spent.

I suppose the upside of millenials is that they are sweet kids, by and large, and feel terrible when they realise that they are damaging someone else. And that the instrument of the large, faceless organisation which they are attempting to bend to their particular needs is, in fact, one very real and very overloaded human person who has reached the end of their tether with an audible "spang". I count it a victory that I simply sobbed at students rather than yelling or swearing at them. Far better for student relations, and in itself an extremely effective, if largely unintentional, guilt trip.

By way of "thanks" for the last torrid month, I, along with similar orientation/reg personnel from other faculties, have been invited to an official VC's breakfast thingy tomorrow, during which presumably platitudes will be presented re all our hard work. This is such an empty and beside-the-point response to the unmitigated dementor-infested volcanic hell-mouth of the last month that it is making me homicidally angry, and I am Not Going in a Marked Manner. I think my incipient sinus infection needs the extra hour in bed far more than it needs to be patted on the head by management droids who basically Don't Get It. The chocolate was far more acceptable and at least appropriate to the actual dementors.

My subject line is Belle & Sebastian, a song which is a particularly satisfying Up Yours, in gentle Scottish tenor, to the ingratitude of employers.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Registration and orientation are always hellish times for me; they're two large, complicated logistical processes in which I have considerable authority and responsibility in how we put 1400 students through orientation and slightly under 5000 through reg. This year was extra-complicated because the colleague who usually runs orientation with me, and who holds its logistics, was absent, having resigned last year. On top of all of the above, in between orientation and reg frantics, I was running a selection committee to replace him. During all of the above we also had to run faculty exam committees, and I also consult to the readmissions appeal committee, which met four or five times over this period.

It's been slightly over a month of seven-day weeks, with weekdays starting at about 6.45 am and finishing, if I'm lucky, at about 6pm, after which on some days I went home and worked until 10. I was putting in a minimum of five or six hours per day over the weekends. I have not seen any of my much-valued friends over this period; life has been wake up, go to work, work, home, work, eat, shower, collapse, rinse repeat the next day. To say I am a piece of chewed string is to gravely overestimate my current levels of energy, functionality and aesthetic appeal.

But, you know, the logistics were horrible, but they weren't the problem. The missing colleague was challenging, but not at all impossible, I've held this dual duty before. The problem, horribly because they've always been the consolation in the past, was the students. Registration has been a complete shambles, with not quite enough advisors and very long queues; reg sessions on some days finished at 6 instead of the scheduled 4pm. The reason for all of this boils down to a horrible equation, which is that millenial individuality + student protests = the breakdown of systems.

I don't want to broadly generalise about "millenials" or pander to howling stereotypes, but the reality is that students now are raised with a much stronger sense of their own individuality than they were even ten years ago. It's in many ways a lovely generation, with very high values in connectedness, empathy and social awareness, but they also tend strongly to the sheltered and fragile. Above all, you present them with a rule or a system which says that they should do something one way, and they immediately feel that their own personal reason for doing it differently is more compelling. Eighteen months of student protests in which student demands have not only been lengthily entertained, but frequently capitulated to, has exacerbated this tendency beyond all reason: students are now conditioned to demand things, and expect those demands to be met.

Thus, given a carefully-planned registration timetable which splits them into manageable groups on different days, they don't see any problem with shrugging and arriving three days later because that suits them better. If you insist that they leave because they are making legitimately-present students wait for hours, they get angry and write to the Vice-Chancellor. If you tell them that curriculum rules forbid them to sign up for courses in the same timetable slot, they immediately want permission to do that anyway, despite missing half the lectures for both courses. Our pile of concessions to break various rules is about three times larger than it usually is. The result of this has been registration advisors overwhelmed late in the process by tardy students, who clog up the system for students trying to register on their legitimate days; and enormously long, argumentative curriculum consultations in which students expect you to juggle their courses around a blockage instead of accepting that the rules prevent them from taking particular combinations. It's been its own particular circle of Hell.

It's also what is making me realise that I cannot carry on in this job. Part of the current horror of my work life is because the faculty itself is becoming dysfunctional, my boss is terrible, the staff are alienated and on go-slow, and we have a high staff turnover because everyone's miserable so more than half of them are new and untrained. But more imporantly, my duties are doable only if I can wrangle the system, and the student component of the system is now resisting wrangling to the point where it's no longer tenable. I also, what with millenial individualist snowflakes and/or student protesters, cannot make students happy, regardless of what I do: they want things which the system is not set up to supply. This role needs someone who is not actually quite as fond of the snowflakes or invested in their success and happiness. It's too damned depressing otherwise.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.

20170214_123506

20170214_063814

I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Whoa. Seriously narrative dream, cinematically so. I was the middle-aged schlubby white guy who was selected to be an astronaut, with a particularly large group of fellow selectees who were rife with weird rivalries and social undercurrents. I was poddling innocently around collecting the stuff I absolutely had to take into space with me (e.g. my leatherman) when I happened to look up and see the rocket launch against the sky, taking everyone else into space, because apparently I'd taken too long collecting things and had missed it. So everyone went into space without me, including, for some reason, my lover who was supposed to be accompanying me, although the rest of the team didn't believe we were really together and were nasty to him. (In retrospect, I think he may have been played by Riz Ahmed, so score there, although conversely, not a good tactical move to send him into space without me). Back on Earth, I found that every place I usually went had been rigged with explosives, including the home of my allies, who all died horribly. I have no idea who did it or why. It was a very bewildered dream.

It turns out that one of the triggers to me remembering my dreams is going to bed slightly earlier; if I turn out the light by 10.30 there's a massively increased chance I'll remember my dreams. Must be something to do with sleep cycles.

Entertaining, if bewildering, dreams are a necessary consolation, because work, aka the build-up to orientation and full reg and exam committees, is a series of exhausting micro-crises caused by factors outside my control, each of which I negotiate successfully, but the cumulative effect is horrible. (Examples: university residence opening date stuff-up suddenly landed us with a R400 000 bill. Argued management into paying it. Old link on orientation sign-up page registered droves of students for last year's dates. Hunted it down, emailed students. Several students arrived for orientation a month early. Sent them home. Potential orientation leader narked at not being selected, threatened formal complaint on grounds of discrimination. Talked him down. Etc etc etc. That was just in the last week; each instance requires negotiation and discussion and multiple emails. I'm dead).

Tonight, however, I spend a couple of hours discussing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the BBC, which should be fun. Supposing I can find enough energy for coherence. Wish me luck.

(subject line is Talking Heads, because it's been playing in my car.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gawsh, but midsummer has a terrible effect on me. It's been stinking hot for the last few weeks; today's random gentle rain had me leaping out of the house with glad cries, stoked for the day in a way I haven't been in months. (Tracy sent me an email this morning with a tongue-in-cheek closing instruction to "have a sparkly day!", which made me giggle but is possibly more relevant than it's been in weeks). I am useless in the hot weather; my brain shuts down, my energy drops, I pull in my horns and set myself to endure rather than actually living. I don't go anywhere or do anything, and find myself shying away from social engagements of almost any sort.

Part of the Reverse SAD Effect is also, I think, because of the shape of the academic year and the fact that my horrible confluence of orientation and registration duties hits me just after the year begins. It's a bit later than usual this year because of our disrupted academic schedule after protests, but in a way that's simply drawing out the horrible anticipation. Part of the reason I tend to curl up hedgehoggily and pretend I don't exist when a social invitation comes my way at this time of year is because I am internally braced for a four-week period in which demands will be made on me more or less continuously by several thousand people, and some sort of unconscious personal barrier is springing up protectively to husband my energy. It doesn't help that the demands slowly ramp up from the moment I get back, so I've been registering more or less wall-to-wall rugby players since Monday last week. (Rugby players make a really solid wall. And also, for some reason, almost uniformly attempt to register without bringing writing implements of any sort. I assume it has something to do with the size of their hands).

I suppose what all this is saying is a sort of lateral apology to my friends, and to many missed social opportunities lately: I promise I don't hate you. I'm just hoarding spoons.

(Subject line is New Model Army, "Green and the grey", which was playing in my car, but coincidentally also describes today's weather.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had to dig back through blog posts to write the Hobbit elegy, and it's both weird and strangely satisfying, to re-visit my own life like that. Words, I get high on them, and that's some good shit at times. Also, given that my personal neuroses tend towards the aargh-I-do-not-exist-or-if-I-do-I'm-not-important end of the scale, it's even salutary and probably good for the soul, to be reminded that my own experiences and feelings and insights do exist, and may be valid. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.

What did leap to the eye, though, was the association of the annual board schedule rant with flanking posts bemoaning my state of health. Because, yes, apparently I do mark the year-end process annually by picking up some sort of lurgi, which then rampages over my hapless form for anything up to weeks. I did three days of board schedule checking over the weekend and Monday with a weird intermittent sore throat, which turned on Monday and Tuesday into a full-blown viral thing that knocked me flat for most of Wednesday, fortunately neatly sandwiched between the unavoidable meetings I had to attend on Tuesday and Thursday. The whole horrible season culminated in a five-hour meeting yesterday, after which I staggered home at 6pm, ate something random, prodded the cat and collapsed into bed. I feel considerably better this morning after, ooh, count them, eleven hours of sleep. I have one final meeting on Monday, after which I go on leave for three weeks, and damn the torpedoes. Anything vital in the way of orientation and registration prep can damned well wait until January. Dammit.

Cape Town is hideously hot, I have stress eczema all over my throat, and the attendant braai smoke from today's public holiday is inflaming my sinuses. But! I have three days in which to do nothing. The garden is burgeoning, my flame lilies are in flower again, the cat is asleep on the sofa making cute meeping noises in her sleep, I have a large iced coffee on my desk, and I have randomly acquired the wherewithal to make cherry chocolate trifle for supper tonight, just because I've bloody well earned it after the last week. It's not all bad. I'll take it.

(My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "Chicken with its head cut off", the title of which is the only part of the song which is actually in any way relevant to this post.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
'Tis the season, by which I mean exams committee season, which means that it's the couple of hideous days during which I check and annotate board schedules while swearing at my life choices. I do not need to go through the motions of the annual rant, I shall simply reference it. Insert rant here. You know how it goes. In the Infinitesimal Department of Up, there are slightly more actual rumblings in the institution at large this year about automating the whole damned thing via the student database, mainly because it would be a side effect of doing it for registration purposes, and two years of student protests have rendered the upper echelons of management strangely interested in registration processes which don't actually congregate students in large crowds for protesters to disrupt. However, that's a Giant Programming Challenge Of Doom, and will take a minimum of several years even if they start now.

In the Infinitely Larger Department of Downside, the two hideous years of protests have generally had far from salutary effects. My weekend and Monday will be entirely full of board schedule checking to a far greater extent than usual, which is the product of discovering, yesterday evening, that academics had pulled out of three of the prelim committees. They apparently did this on Wednesday, and the administrator responsible for the committee scheduling simply didn't tell me. I found out last night in passing, accidentally, during the course of a query about something else. Apparently it hadn't penetrated the administrator's head that we have responsibilities for due diligence in these checks, and we can't simply truncate the committees. Someone has to take up the slack. That would be me. After a bit of a reshuffle, I now have two board schedules, the second being almost as thick as the one I was originally allocated, and which habitually takes me 8-10 hours to check.

I'm very tired and don't have the energy to be properly furious, but by gum if it weren't the end of the year I would be raging. Because, see, I do get it. It's been a year and a half of hell. Academics are exhausted, drained, alienated, pushed later into the year than they would be because of the delayed semester, and they are protecting themselves by simply saying "no". From their side it's justified: the whole protest debacle has been hell on everyone, requiring huge amounts of compensatory admin and emotional energy. But the thing is, the admin processes don't simply stop because everyone's tired. We have a faculty full of students awaiting their year-end coding fates, and we have a responsibility to maintain our processes and standards by doing the proper check. And academics are by the weird caste system of a university the ones who are more able to complacently retire into narcissistic individualism under pressure. They are protected by tenure, and the system always privileges their individuality, which is the realm of their intellectual and research life, over the mundane grind of maintaining the administrative system. So they say "no", and the system does what it always does, which is to make the administrators compensate, because they don't have the luxury of refusal.

It's been a hellish time to be in academia. We are stressing people way beyond acceptable boundaries, and we are going to see things snapping, mostly because people are simply going to up sticks and leave. Which is going to further compromise function and standards, which is going to see more people leaving. I hope like hell it isn't the beginning of the end.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, by processes of (a) alphabetical car music rotation, and (b) they're catchy. Memo to self, acquire more albums, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy them.

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