freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
OK, so one of the things I actually do enjoy about this helljob is, weirdly enough, the annual early-January bit where I have to register sportspeople extra-early so that they're all legit to play in various national tournaments. In practice, because nasty socio-cultural implications, this means registering rugby players. I've done them all this year myself, because the faculty admin melt-down has precluded sufficient advance warning to arrange a formal session with multiple advisors - this has been OK, they've trickled in over several days and it's been manageable. But I have to record the following points in re registering rugby players.

  1. Shoulders. Like, solid wall of shoulders. These dudes are built.
  2. They are, as always, extra-sweet and extra-polite, I have never been called "ma'am" more often in a short space of time. I attribute this variously to team player spirit, ruthless coaching etiquette, reactionary private school training, and strict Afrikaans upbringings.
  3. Approximately two-thirds of them arrive for paper-based registration without a writing implement of any sort. Apparently ball-handling skills are incompatible with pen ownership.
  4. Why the fuck am I only registering rugby players (well, one lone badminton iconoclast), and all men? I know why the fuck, it's because gendered sports values and cultural assumptions and resource inequalities and what have you, exacerbated by the fact that the privileging of rugby as a national sport means that it's the only one that starts its tournament activities this early, but dammit. I should be registering swim team ladies with the arm muscles, and svelte gymnasts and rowers, and soccer players of all gender stripes. There's more to sportsball than rugby. I will have some equal opportunity aesthetic appreciation of athletes. Dammit. Because this job has few enough consolations, let's face it.

Next week we embark upon a full faculty admin review, which will enable me to gently craft for the review board suitably epic snarky gems of management-undermining, couched for maximum destructive effect under the guise of sweetly reasonable concern. I am bizarrely looking forward to this. The job crisis is making me vindictive in a way that's alien to my base nature but weirdly freeing.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
oh gods, there's a coup in Zimbabwe. The military, miffed at the recent Mugabe purge of ex-military politicians who might prevent that poisonous psychopath Grace from taking power, has intervened in force and is currently holding the national broadcaster and releasing far-from-reassuring statements that Mugabe and his family are all well, we promise, they're fine! There are armoured vehicles all over Harare and reports of explosions, and Mugabe himself hasn't made any sort of statement, and I am astonishing myself with the viciousness of my hope that it's because somebody put a bullet between his eyes in the first five minutes of the coup.

I haven't lived in Zim for decades, and I don't even have much family left there any more, and you'd think it would all be a bit distant and abstract by now. But when my colleague came into my office to tell me this morning and I looked at the first few reports, it became apparent that on some subliminal level I am still Zimbabwean, and that some portion of my psyche is still bruised and traumatised by everything that despotic hell-toad did to my country, because I burst into tears. I don't usually do that in front of people, I reserve it for home or the car. It was odd. But, oh gods and little fishes, I hope he's out. I hope he's out on a stretcher under a sheet. I hope Grace is out with him. It's far beyond time.

I suppose the uncontrolled crying might also be because I am already somewhat on edge because of the protest threats on campus, and had a truly appalling night - my damned leg muscles kept cramping, waking me up in agony three times. (It doesn't help that the cats sleep heavily on my feet and contort them into weird cramp-inducing positions, although I suppose I do have my revenge in that the cramps rocket me into the bolt-upright position with a convulsive plunge which usually ejects two protesting felines summarily in something of a graceful arc). Exams started today and the Great Exam Tent Experiment seems to have opened fairly smoothly, with complete lock-down of the Exam Tent in the midst of an iron ring of police, security, campus protection, access control, dogs and an ambulance, and at time of writing a complete absence of protesters. I think that they are Biding Their Time, like a rake in the grass.

My subject line is, of course, Buffy. More accurately, the drunken pretentious Pol student in "Beer Bad". In tangentially related news, my flame lily is flowering again, at least the half of it that wasn't summarily eaten to the ground by snails as soon as it sprouted. I shall attempt to see this as a Good Omen for coups and protests and other such exuberances.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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?
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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: (South Park Self)
It's Spring! While this does tend to invoke my winter-fondling, Scroogelike, homicidal misanthropy, now with added sneezing, I still can't help rejoicing in the mad sprouting of my container garden (freesias!) and the way that the plane trees down the avenue are all leaping into that pale, misty, hopeful green. It's the first warm day in a while, and I've just walked down to the post office in front of the first spring outbreak of Jammie 101, i.e. scads of students whiling away free periods (or bunking lectures) by sunning themselves on the Jameson Hall steps.

I have fond memories of those steps. They were the site, in my second year of undergrad, of large tracts of my new, shiny, springlike social life, which I found with the roleplaying crowd after a first year composed entirely of being a mouselike girly swot. The roleplaying crowd used to colonise the bottom right-hand pillar thingy at the side of the steps, and sit there in a little gaggle of Gothy black which on a good day was clearly visible if you looked up the hill from Main Road. Since we were all pale Gothy types I'm amazed we didn't catch more horrendous sunburn than we actually did. Possibly Goth complexions actually repel light-waves.

The combination of spring-new and nostalgic was weirdly replicated in my lecture this morning, the first of the semester. This entailed the dubious privilege of 45 minutes on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without benefit of slides, as someone had left the computer set up to a dual-monitor setting which produced nothing but exciting wibbly waves on the data projector screen, and I could not for the life of me find out how to reset it. (Even subsequent Googling for tech support is coming up empty. Someone's done something very weird to the set-up). Since I was talking very much about Frankenstein as myth and visual icon, this made it somewhat challenging to rewrite the lectures on the fly to encompass the complete lack of visual aids, but on the upside I can babble enthusiastically and reasonably intelligently about Gothic lit on no provocation whatsoever so it wasn't too hard. I did lament the opportunity to show pictures of Julius Malema with suggestions that he's Zuma's Frankenstein-creature, though.

One of the slides was of Goth types in costume, as a way of linking Gothic literature to something more visual and contemporary, and like Jammie steps, it made me horribly nostalgic for the above-mentioned undergrad days. If anything at all were to tempt me back into make-up (which it isn't going to), it would be the chance to do the full-on heavy-mascara exotic-eye thing, with curly bits, à la Gaiman's Death. Because make-up isn't quite the same signifier of cowed patriarchal identity if it's performance art.

I used to be a Goth, but I got better, but sometimes I still miss it. Even if - or possibly because - it's fundamentally incongruous in the context of spring.

(My subject line, incidentally, is e e cummings, because Spring has had the damned goat-footed balloon-man on my brain all day, although this isn't "{In Just]-", it's from Spring is like a perhaps hand, which is also beautiful. I love e e cummings. I acquired him at approximately the same time that I acquired Goth and a social life. That shit is hard-wired.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things you do not expect to see on a respectable campus while trotting off to the library for your important pile of Girly Swot books (subset: crash course in African cinema): live horses. Six of them. Tethered in the shade against the columns of the old Student's Union, peaceably chomping. There's something fairly major filming on campus at the moment, the place has been a madhouse: the stairs have sprouted fake extra columns and exotic greenery and weird screens positioned with arcane precision. I parked my car next to and partially under a giant cherry-picker boom sort of thing this morning, and there are approximately three million acres of random, presumably desperately important cabling snaking down the avenue, tended by skinny grip types in Bauhaus t-shirts. Actual African film, in fact. Curiously appropriate.

It's too bloody hot for serious thought (what's with February heatwaves before Christmas? Not Cricket), so have a random linkery round-up, I need to clear these tabs.
  • If you go to the UK Vogue page and type the Konami code, extremely entertaining things happen when you keep on hitting A. Random internet easter eggs ftw.
  • For some demented reason this ridiculous Boba Fett love story really amuses me, possibly because of the way the sarlacc is drawn. The rancor BFF one is also cute.
  • Sherlock fandom is in a tizzy because of the Caitlin Moran faux pas (I never liked the wretched woman, her book is actively irritating) - she had the inexpressibly tone-deaf bad taste to pressure/trick the lead actors into reading erotic fanfic aloud at a screening. Daily Dot has a good summary. It really isn't safe these days to try and taunt subcultures you perceive as geeky and pitiable, they end up having way more power and self-awareness than you expect. I cannot help but be amused, though, at the cosmic inevitability of Moran attempting to sabotage Sherlock and failing dismally. It is, after all, simply an enactment of the Doyle plot. (Sebastian Moran is Moriarty's sniper sidekick in canon, if your Sherlock geekery is a bit rusty).
  • Random fanfic recc! I am currently actually re-reading The Least of All Possible Mistakes, which is a rather well-written and often laugh-out-loud funny Sherlock fic featuring a Sherlock given to entertaining tantrums and a Mycroft/gender-swapped-Lestrade relationship which is both amusing and real. The fandom fascination with Mycroft fascinates me. I blame Mark Gatiss entirely.

I finally sent out the Boxing Day braai email last night, after more than average levels of procrastination and forgettory. If you weren't on the list but usually are it's probably because of my cheese-brain, please drop me a reproachful line.

The subject line is the Konami Code, which as a concept and a catch-phrase as well as a random bit of esoterica has always amused the hell out of me.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
God, but horrible things happen to students. I have just sat in a readmission appeals committee for six hours, giving curriculum input on all these poor kids. Apart from the usual transition shock and the need to struggle through the challenges posed by finance, housing and travel issues and the truly appalling academic grounding provided by all too many of our schools, we have today contemplated the lives of young people suffering date rape, violent rape, assault, theft of laptops and books, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, unplanned pregnancy, serious illness, hospitalisation, AIDs diagnosis, estrangement, the illness and/or death of sometimes multiple family members, bizarre legal wrangles, learning disabilities, social stigmatisation, victimisation, stalkers, and the occasional curse. I can identify what I call a "depression transcript" at a single glance - the horribly revealing slow slide from competence into lower marks, a few fails, and finally the long, telling strings of absences. A day like that, you start wondering if anyone ever succeeds at anything at all before the inevitable nastinesses get them.

I want to have several cups of tea, a good cry, and an evening of vegging out on the sofa in front of something incredibly Hollywood and fluffy. Except I can't, because they stole the TV. It'll have to be the old fallbacks, viz. Skyrim and fanfic. Anything that distracts from the feeling of complete helplessness in the face of evil.

If I meep and tremble at odd stimuli a bit in the near future, please don't hold it against me. I have too high a bloody empathy stat for this job, is all.
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OMG it's February. On the upside, this means that the horrors of January are over; the worst of orientation was actually Wednesday. Orientation is like a giant, juggernaut mechanism that is at its most stressful in the preparation stages. You have to check it very carefully as you assemble it, because from the moment you press "Go" and it lurches into inexorable action, it's bloody impossible to either turn or stop. We count ourselves lucky if only a few bits fall off and no-one gets crushed.

If anyone gets crushed, it's usually me. When not being a giant inexorable juggernaut, the orientation/registration period is a volcano god, into whose smoking crater I am routinely and sacrificially flung on an annual basis. I have, however, changed my religion: this will be my last orientation. I have lined up in my corner a happy conglomeration of Deputy Deans and Faculty Managers and what have you, who are unanimous in their support of my waving flag which says "THIS DOESN'T WORK!" in giant, flaming capitals. Next year I will hopefully only be running registration advice, which is quite demanding enough on its own, thank you, and giving the odd orientation talk, which means that I can actually do the reg advice thing properly. The most stressful aspect of the whole juggernaut beast is that I'm an ineradicable control freak, and not being able to perfect the mechanism makes me mad. In both senses.

The whim has come upon me to instigate a monthly blog feature, namely a quick round-up of the sources for my subject lines. This has been inspired by [livejournal.com profile] pumeza's confession that she never recognises any of them, which is sad, because their context and source is often worked quite carefully into the theme of the post. (Involuted subject lines are a personal vice. You'll just have to deal.) Also, I'm an academic, and should attribute sources. January's subject lines are easy, because, after starting strongly with Firefly (still haven't forgiven Joss for Wash) and the ubiquitous David Bowie ("It's no game"), I segued off into unrelieved Goats, with one lateral foray into Buffy on the post I friends-locked in the interests of slightly sensitive orientation subjects, and another into Roger Whittaker for no adequately defined reason. Hmmm. Repetitive Joss there. Warning: I don't think I yet have Goats out of my system.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I sometimes stop to wonder if any of my readers could possibly be interested in the trials and travails of large-scale administration, and then I think that, if nothing else, there's always schadenfreude. Besides, it's an interesting challenge: if I can be entertaining about advisor timetables, then NOTHING is beyond me, the world is in my grasp! (insert Evil Overlordian cackle here as I rub my hands in Glee, the new unguent. Unguent is one of those words which looks as though it should be related to cows, don't you think? It always makes me think "bovine", probably by loose association with "ungulate". Which is a word I will never again be able to use without thinking of its dexterous employment in iambic pentameter by Adrianna at an SCA event. It's orientation and I'm exhausted. Can you tell? I'm free associating).

Advisor timetables are not in themselves interesting, unless you wish to contemplate the joyous dexterity with which I now use Excel counting functions to allocate sessions even-handedly. What is interesting is the outcome of distributing said timetable and waiting hopefully in the venue for the first session of the first day. Half the advisors turned up. Various frantic emails later, we have no less than four grovelling apologies for having misread the timetable. Advisors are either academics or senior grad students, and I have to say, it's not the grad students who are defaulting to basic first-year timetable nitwittery. Tom Lehrer is wafting gently through my head ... "ivory-covered professors in ivy-covered halls." Clearly the ivory tower is actively detrimental to certain basic competencies, she says primly, and with commendable restraint.

Today's magnificent item of administrivia is not advisor timetables, however. It's the faculty handbook. The faculty handbook is the essential compendium of information on majors, programmes, courses, timetables and curriculum rules. You cannot run registration without it. Registration starts on Monday. You also can't really run curriculum advice without it, except that I am given, as an advisor wrangler, to anxiously digesting as much information as I can think of into handy-dandy handouts, which I distribute to advisors as a sort of nervous reflex. This is fortunate, as we've been running orientation advice sessions for two days without the handbooks. The printers have failed to deliver, despite being scheduled to do so last week. They have promised delivery "today" on, at last count, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week, and every day this week. This morning we let loose the dogs of war, namely our most fearsome deputy registrar, aimed at the throat of the MD of the printing company with pinpoint precision. The upshot? This afternoon the printers delivered sixty-two boxes which, upon examination, proved to contain not the undergrad handbook, but the postgrad. Postgrad students register in about two weeks' time, and there is absolutely no use whatsoever for the handbooks until that point. Of the undergrad handbook, not a sausage.

I'd be tearing my hair out, except I'm a sort of blank, resigned space where I simply shrug, and make contingency plans. There's something curiously relaxing about a catastrophe which is not your fault and is utterly out of your control.

(We're back to Goats for subject line surreality. Goats will print itself on the inside of your eyelids in soothing pastel tones while you sleep.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Consolations of this job: spending fifteen minutes putting the fear of wossname into merry students convinced that they can combine a Student's Representative Council position with, for example, the insanely heavy demands of a PPE degree. I’ve seen a lot of these lately, because the student affairs dept has intelligently taken to requiring a curriculum advisor to assess candidates in curriculum terms and give them a stern Dutch Uncle talking to before they can proceed. I have a sinister little “your marks will drop” speech all worked out. Lots of these kids will be fine, they’re solid students evidently possessed of a work ethic as well as a civic consciousness, but others are a lot more borderline. It is my fervent hope that the ones who proceed with an SRC position in the direct teeth of my warnings will at least have enough fear of wossname percolating their systems that they might contrive to be reasonably vigilant about keeping on top of their work.

Today has, in fact, been insanely productive. This is the direct result of, yet again, giant squid gnawing on Seacom cables, which is my placeholder explanation for any failure of internet access on campus. The bandwidth chart has looked like this all day:



- making me feel mildly seasick to contemplate, for reasons quite apart from the internet withdrawal systems and more connected to inner ear fragility. However, I have been forced in the absence of web browsing to actually do some work. Bother.

I am, however, gnashing my teeth rather less than usual as I feel I’m owed a technojinx outbreak. I am still mildly stunned that, after a month of cowardly delay owing to my fear of losing internet access, I last night finally disconnected the ADSL modem to replace it with the brand spanky new wireless one. It connected first go – all the little blinky lights blinked on within about thirty seconds, enthusiastically. As an encore, Winona found the network first go, and the wireless key in fact unlocked it without any trouble other than that occasioned by my slightly hamfisted typing. I am forced to accept that when my sweet Imaginet geeks say the router is pre-formatted, they bloody well mean it. Also, Achievement Unlocked: lying on sofa watching TV and simultaneously looking up random guest stars because they look vaguely familiar).

This, of course, means that I have a spare, entirely functional ADSL router (four-port non-wireless) lying around the house, and will be very happy to put it up for adoption to a good home. Leave bids in the comments. (Not monetary ones. No payment necessary.)

down came a blackbird

Wednesday, 3 August 2011 11:51 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Goshdarnit, it would have to be the morning I arrive at work late (owing to a detour to allow medical vampires to extract their weekly quotient of blood) that a helicopter crashes on middle campus. I saw all the police vehicles milling about and deploying flashing lights as I drove up the hill, and vaguely wondered what the hell was going on. (My amorphous sort of thought was "government bigwig giving lecture", which says somethingorother about something, not sure what). Pics here. Not a hugely serious crash, no-one dead, pilot injured, but those are some extremely expensive-looking helicopter bits lying all over the road. Also, I am unrepentant about my basely but typically human desire to have seen the crash. It would have been some innocent excitement to my day.

Talking about black airborne things and disasters, I am also apparently under siege by starlings in my office. There's a large starling population on campus, and they make a good living off rubbish bins, litter and occasional sandwiches straight out of the hands of unsuspecting students. They also occupy the buildings with careless insouciance, leaving bird crap all over halls and lecture theatres, and betraying a thoroughly fiendish and unavian intelligence in their ability not to hurtle into closed windows, but to flip derisively through appropriate gaps. Possibly a junk food diet has caused unnatural mutations. Also, Hitchcock. She says darkly.

I left my window open while I was in a meeting yesterday, and a pair of starlings clearly flew into the office while I was out and had a good old explore, leaving bird crap all over student forms, important documents, my offical faculty stamp, and a random selection of Sookie Stackhouse novels I was lending to a student. (MA thesis on vampires and immortality). Miffed, I closed the window to leave only a tiny crack open, upon which the two culprits immediately spent the rest of the day sitting outside and craning in through the crack to look at me reproachfully, whistling rude things to each other about my lack of compassion. Honestly, they're more like cats than birds: that absolutely narcissistic self-will, and desperate need to be in a space simply because they're being excluded from it. (cf Hobbit outside the bathroom door). Starlings always remind me of Todal.



This is not a good photo, they move around a lot. Either that or they have stealth technology which blurs them.

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