Sunday, October 28, 2018

Week note, October ??? (Oh what the heck—last week!)

This was mentoring week for me: 

  • I had two meetings with my mentoring partners, faculty who are new to James Madison University and participate in our New Faculty Academy.
  • I co-facilitated, with my colleague Bob Kolodinsky, a new workshop on how to get mentoring relationships off to a good start, on Wednesday and Thursday. I thought it went well: Bob and I (but mostly Bob!) managed to prepare a workshop that combined ideas from the mentoring literature (Bob works on getting certified as a coach) and tips and tricks for mentors with some applied activities. We advertised the workshop a bit late—only two weeks ago—but got good participation from mentors in our New Faculty Academy program, and from department chairs who want to improve their departmental mentoring. It looks like we may be able to repeat the workshop in individual departments!
  • To go with the theme, this week’s “reading” (during my commute, read to me by Tom, one of the voices on my iPhone) was Lois Zachary’s The Mentor’s Guide. A good resource, particularly for hands-on activities for mentors. I used Zachary’s four-phase model of the mentoring process in the workshop; I think it is useful for mentors to realize that the mentoring relationship changes.

Music: The New York Times has recently been highlighting the London Jazz scene (with an embarrassing tweet to boot, which turns out to be simply an unattributed quote—or paraphrase?—of Femi Koleoso, one of the featured musicians). In any case, the music is good stuff. Listen to the Ezra Collective (ft. Femi Kolas), Nubya Garcia, and other artists mentioned in the article.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A now a three-month note???

Beethoven in the mountains. flickr photo by AABQ shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Wow, this went by fast. One thing that I’ve definitely learned this year is that I won’t get any research, writing, or scholarship done in August and September, since this is the year’s crunch time for the career planning programs I oversee. Last week I was finally able to sort through the wreckage of partly-finished and barely-started projects and do some scholarship planning. 

Luckily, I’ve been reading Rebecca Pope-Ruark’s Agile Faculty. Pope-Ruark is a writing professor at Elon University who applies Agile project planning approaches, particularly Scrum, to scholarly (and other academic) project planning. I am trying to adapt some of her approaches to my own work and toy with the idea of including some Scrum in my upcoming research agendas workshop for new faculty. (I know that I should probably conserve time and repeat last year’s workshop without modification. In other words, I’ll definitely revise the workshop.)

August and September are definitely the busiest months of my educational development job:
  • On August 20, we had our one-day new faculty orientation; I am in charge of the substantive side of the program. This year, we invited not only all new (to JMU) faculty, but also faculty who were newly tenured and/or promoted. The idea behind this change was that faculty who achieve a career milestone may want to re-orient their careers and get to know their institution anew. I should note that our new faculty orientation—we changed its name to Faculty Welcome, considering the presence of non-new faculty—is not your usual Parade of HR PowerPoints (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but essentially a mini conference with poster sessions about campus resources, a plenary roundtable discussion about what’s happening at the university, and two sets of concurrent workshops on a range of topics related to teaching, scholarship, career planning, and institutional questions more generally (this year we had a total of 12 workshops!). The program included workshops that I thought should be of interest to more senior faculty, such as a roundtable of post-tenure faculty about what they wish they had known when getting tenure and my new “How To Say No” workshop.
  • In September, we welcomed the fourth cohort of JMU’s New Faculty Academy. This is a yearlong career-planning and mentoring program for new faculty in tenure-track and renewable-term positions. Participants take monthly workshops (mostly facilitated by me) and meet with peer mentors how have extensive JMU experience. Luckily, this year we had “only” 39 academy participants (in the last two years, the numbers were closer to 50) for which I had to recruit peer mentors. Still, I spend the better part of a month recruiting mentors and matching them with mentees, based on forms about mentoring needs, experiences, and interests that we asked everybody to complete.
Reading: I’ve found that I have to use audiobooks—or at least let Siri read things to me—if I want to get any work-related reading done. I commute more than two hours on most days, and while I can’t pay deep attention when I’m driving, I can at least catch up on the gist of what’s in a book or article. That way, I have “read” over the last couple of weeks:
  • David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism. Harvey is a leftie classic; I needed a more systematic introduction to the term “neoliberalism”, which gets thrown around a lot in higher education these days, and this book did it nicely. Occasionally, a phrase has Hitchhiker’s Guide qualities. Nice!
  • Burge’s Mapping Your Academic Career, and 
  • Johnson/Smith’s Athena Rising.  Burge and Johnson/Smith were recommended by a colleague. Both are useful as starting points for further readings on faculty careers and mentoring. I did not like the tone of Johnson/Smith’s book—the origin of the book is in mentoring in the military, the readers are assumed to be men, all involved are assumed to be heterosexual, etc.—but it is a useful collection of arguments and practical guidelines for men who mentor women, though the authors do not always succeed in their evident (is it really evident?) effort to prevent mentors from being patronizing. I wonder how the book reads in 10 or 20 years.
Music: I am really getting into Schubert’s late E flat major mass, as a listener, not a chorister. Wonderful-weird music. But the highlight of the summer was participating in an ad-hoc choir performing Beethoven’s 9th in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Wintergreen. Oh yeah!

Monday, April 02, 2018

Weeknotes for March 26-30

What a weird week! No major events, workshop, or the like on my schedule, but no time at all for almost anything. Classes, meetings, and that was basically it! On the positive side, I had a number of good conversations with nice and interesting people (high five to my colleagues!), and I moved a number of projects along: our next cohort of SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Awards nominees is ready to work on their proposals; this year’s Review and Renew Your Career institute has been announced; and plans for a pilot Tenure and Promotion Dossier institute with librarians are on track.

Review and Renew Your Career (R2YC—cute, huh?) is an interesting story. For the last three or four year, we’ve invited Peter Seldin and Beth Miller to hold their one-week Academic Portfolio programs, and last year, we all decided that JMU was now ready to run the program on its own. The Seldin/Miller Academic Portfolio Institute is a weeklong intensive activity in which faculty work with individual mentors to write portfolio narratives that explain their major achievements and how they fit into an overall cohesive career trajectory/theme/mission/set of values. The result is not only that participants achieve clarity about their career purposes—what they have done in the past, what was most important to them, and what they should do next—but also that they gain a deep sense of accomplishment. When I participated in the program two years ago, I was at a point at which I had been promoted to full professor, but with a sense that I didn’t really deserve the promotion. Let’s just say that the portfolio process persuaded me that the opposite was in fact true. 

One of the difficulties that we encountered was basically branding. The Seldin/Miller-type portfolio structure does not perfectly correspond to the portfolios our tenure and promotion committees want to see. (In fact, different unit committees expect different formats.) Still, despite our explanations when we advertised the institute, most of the participants were faculty who were about to apply for tenure and who expected to write their tenure dossier. On the first day of the institute, we had to basically play bait-and-switch, and the responses were not exactly happy. Also, some past participants seem to have tried to submit their “institute” portfolios as tenure and promotion packages, to the chagrin of unit heads and tenure committees... 

In response, we are restricting the institute this year to post-tenure faculty (or, for renewable-term and adjunct faculty, to those with extensive experience at the institution). In addition, we renamed the institute to de-emphasize the portfolio product (though this will be the central activity of the institute) and focus more on the career review and mentoring aspects, which we have found are the two most important outcomes of the program. To support faculty who need to get their tenure and promotion dossier together, I am piloting a weeklong institute with library faculty, which will not follow the Seldin/Miller model but will be more focused on writing, peer-mentoring, and informational meetings with senior faculty from the unit.


I put the finishing touches on my New Directions chapter. It looks like it’ll be out in print of a sorts at some point soon. 

And I wrote a blog post on job searches. I’m trying to be cute, as you see.


On Saturday mornings, I go over blog posts of the previous week, saving those I’d like to read during the coming week. Like that, I have increasing amounts of reading materials sitting there. And I am one or two weeks behind any discussion that’s happening on the blogs. 

Never mind. This week’s most interesting item (for me) was Danah Boyd’s SXSW talk on, or against, media literacy, which caused quite a bit of debate on the blogs. Bryan Alexander has some interesting thoughts as well as a list of links to other responses.

Boyd’s talk is not that tightly argued and meanders a bit, which adds to its richness but also means that different people will take it to mean slightly different things. Boyd argues (in my reading, at least) that media literacy as she has observed it runs the risk of making students susceptible to radical right-wing narratives. As students learn to question the political biases of media narratives, they will turn that analysis on their teachers, who recommend mainstream liberal media as reliable, factual sources. Conservative students will conclude that it’s “all opinion”  (not Boyd’s quote, I think) and become open to right-wing persuasion.

Read it for yourself. There’s quite a bit more to the argument, of course, but the counter-arguments that you’re likely to think of still apply. One of the benefits of reading one or two weeks behind everybody else is that others have summarized your thoughts better than you could do it. In this case, Maha Bali and Benjamin Doxtdator pretty much say what I would have said if I had been less lazy (blog title!!!). 

One point I’d like to add: One difficulty that contemporary politics, particularly in the US, faces is the lack of a common media reality. Two decades ago or so, an oligopoly of dominant media sources defined the agenda of public discourse: the New York Times front page, the network evening news, etc. With the advent of news aggregators, social media, their algorithms, and the like, this oligopoly is essentially gone. At first sight, this is a good thing, as it may lead to more democratic agenda setting. But it obviously raises major problems as well: What issues the public should focus on is an important coordination problem, and the coordinated media oligopoly was a solution to that problem. Now we don’t have a solution, and it looks like that instead of a national public we have separate, polarized partisan publics. That’s not good. Further, the media oligopoly maintained a basic agreement on what constitutes quality information, what type of empirical support facts should have, and the like. That’s largely gone, too, and that’s not good either.

I think that Boyd’s argument is at least in part about how education can help create a functional alternative to the lost media oligopoly, or how education fails to do so. How can we establish an agreement on standards for establishing facts, how can we determine which media stories to reject, how can we create agreement on common issues to debate nationally, how can we communicate and learn across ideological lines? Or maybe that’s the direction I would like the debate to take.


Every couple of weeks I cannot resist the temptation and stop at Booksavers of Virginia in Harrisonburg. I usually leave with a couple of CDs that I never thought I’d need. Most of my CDs—mostly classical music—come like that from various thrift shops. My most recent find was a CD with symphonies by the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe. It’s the most recent CD in my Arthur E. House, Jr. collection. I don’t know who Arthur E. House, Jr. is, or was, but he used to own a fair number of CDs that I now listen to. I know that he owned these CDs because the booklets all bear a stamp with his name. Mr. House also noted in tidy handwriting, usually fountain pen, where and when he had bought the CD, what the price was, and how much he paid for shipping, if he bought it online (Berkshire Records, of course). Occasionally, he’d also add up the playing times for pieces that were split up into different tracks.

Mr. House had an interesting and adventurous taste in music. Among other composers, he listened to music by Bill Schuman, William Grant Still, and Marion Bauer, besides Vagn Holmboe. I have a number of lesser known works by Rodrigo in my Arthur E. House, Jr. Collection, as well as Elgar’s Dream of Gerontion (Britten and Pears!), as well as a few nice recordings of music by Louis Spohr. And more things that I don’t remember. Here’s to you, Mr. House!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

News from Ombudstopia

I recently phantasized about applying for a job in Central Ombudstopia and received the following imaginary letter in my Snoozle mail.


Dear Andreas,

Thank you for your application to our open position for assistant professor of Wishful Thinking, with subfield specializations in Fairy Dust and Invisible Unicorns. Since you are applying from abroad, I’d like to explain the search process here at the University of Central Ombudstopia. 

The most important thing to know about our search process is that we will invite only one candidate for a job interview, after we have made a job offer. Over the next week, the search committee will peruse all 100-or-so job applications that we’ve received. Based on the criteria communicated in our extensive job advertisement, we will select a shortlist of five candidates. We will then consider these five candidates carefully, based on the documentation that they have submitted. If you are one of these candidates, we may contact you by email at that stage, to obtain answers to any questions we may have. For example, we may ask you to provide additional evidence in support of qualifications and experiences that you list in your application documents, or to clarify any ambiguities that we may encounter in your application materials.

Based on the review of finalists, we will make a job offer to one of the candidates. If you are that candidate, you will be invited to a campus visit, before you accept the offer. The purpose is for you to decide whether our institution is right for you, and for us to persuade you to come. You can also discuss with us any needs and conditions that have to be satisfied for you to accept the offer. At that point, we are legally barred from rescinding the job offer to you, except under certain rare circumstances (falsification of supporting documentation, misrepresentation of qualifications, legally disqualifying criminal records, and the like).

If you accept our job offer, the campus interview will be the initiation of an ongoing effort to support your success at the University of Central Ombudstopia. We offer development opportunities and support services for faculty community building, professional mentoring, and skill development through workshops, institutes, and learning communities. We are committed to an inclusive work environment that will enable you to combine high-quality teaching with scholarly productivity and engagement in the university planning and administrative process.

Please let us know if you have any questions about this process. We look forward to considering your application.


Yours truly.

I am intrigued by the the Ombudstopian search process. What are its advantages? Where might the Ombudstopians run into problems?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Week note for March 19-23

Winter Office flickr photo by AABQ shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I stole the week note idea from Doug Belshaw. Thanks, Doug!

Back to the old trot

The jet leg is wearing off! Upon returning from Germany, it was nice that I could go to bed between 9 and 10, and immediately fall asleep, waking up again around 5. This meant that I could get an hour of writing in before breakfast. Unfortunately, this is getting more difficult now, though I try to keep it up. Have to go abroad for another week, I guess!

Snow days!

On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, JMU was closed due to snow and ice. This was a welcome opportunity to catch up with some work, particularly on Wednesday, since I didn’t have time for my commute. Of course, this was off-set by some time playing in, er, shoveling, snow.

Sadly, we also had to cancel a committee meeting early on Thursday, since several members were not able to make child care arrangements in time: public schools were closed as well.


I finally finished my piece on professional identities of educational developers. Even though it seemed to be almost done by late Tuesday, it took me another full snow-day of work on Wednesday to finish it. It’s not a great piece — mainly literature review with theory and discussion — it was an invited contribution, and I was so late that it might get rejected by the editors. If this happens, I won’t be mad, since it’s just fair, and the piece really isn’t great (but I am not one to aspire to greatness).

I always find literature reviews to be hard going: How do you combine summaries of different sources into a coherent argument? That’s tough! I hope I’ve been fair to the sources, have not omitted anything important (but I ran out of the allotted space anyway), and did not misrepresent any author.

Whether the piece gets published or not, I now have much more clarity in my readings. I cannot wait to carefully re-read the sources that I used, and to discover new sources that I coulda/shoulda used.


On my Germany trip three weeks ago, I finish Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Plane trips are great to get through thick books. I liked it: beautiful, well-written, entertaining, with interesting narrative tricks. It didn’t bowl me over as, say, Larry Durrell’s first two Alexandria Quartet volumes (but I’m not the same person).

In Germany I started Herman Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf, picking it up from my mother’s book shelf. I am prejudiced against Hesse, partly because of his corny and involuntarily comic poetry. Der Steppenwolf is more readable, but in many respects it confirms my suspicion that Hesse is overrated. More on this at another time, maybe.

I’ve also started Sophia, der Tod und Ich, which I bought on a whim at a bookshop. Worth it! Good example of German humor at its best. I am also giving Captain Blaubaer another try. I needed this combination, I felt: Something serious, interesting, but pretentious; something seriously humorous; and something that’s a bit of a silly romp.

Enough fun, now for some work reading:

Tragically and unexpectedly, Lee Ann Fujii died about two weeks ago. Here is her article on the lack of diversity in political science that all political scientists should read.

The Journal on Excellence in College Teaching has a special issue out on “Coaching and Leadership in Academia.”, co-edited by Jim Sibley and Susan Robison, whose work has provided me with a number of good ideas in the past. Interesting stuff! Coincidentally, a bunch of colleagues at JMU have started a conversation about how coaching and a coaching approach to mentoring can be useful in a number of ways in teaching and faculty support work. Nice!


In the Oratorio Society of Virginia, we’ve started rehearsing a piece that we’ve commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the choir: A piece by Adolphus Hailstork on a text by Rita Dove. I did not realize how thrilling it is to get to know a piece of music that nobody has every heard. The piece is titled “The World Called” and uses Rita Dove’s “Testimonial.” If you’re around Charlottesville, you can hear the piece on May 25. And here you can read “Testimonial.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

And now for some reading and reference management geek-off

Time for the confessional: When it comes to academic reading, record-keeping, and note-taking, I am a mess! When I find interesting articles online, I may save them to Instapaper for later reading, or if they come in pdf format, I may save them to Dropbox, send them to GoodReader on my iPad, or save a reference to Zotero with the tag “Read” (yea, right!). The result: a sizable Instapaper database, a mess of files in GoodReader, and random references in Zotero. The worst thing: I have a pretty bad memory, and if I don’t underline thoughtfully, take good notes, and use a well-organized database, I could just as well stop reading. So, over the last year I’ve been trying to come up with a way to keep track of academic readings, make note-taking more efficient, and be a bit more organized in my lit databases. It’s not necessarily the best way to do these things. There are other apps, tools, methods to keep track of reading (and read) materials, notes, and the like. But it works for me, and I’ve been able to keep it up for a while. Here’s what I do: