Category Archives: Administration

End of term….blues? Not really.

[With apologies to WIP, who wrote a blog post about what some professors’ ends-of-term feel like.]

When I am not teaching, I barely notice which day of the week it is let alone when classes end. I believe either yesterday was or today is the last day of classes at the University of Waterloo. However, in my admin job, nothing is different. Except. I don’t get quite so much of the flexible time as I would usually have in between semesters. I was also reminded that I am expected to be at work on the last day before the university closes for Christmas. Deans and Associate Deans are at their desks because the staff have to be. Fair enough. There will be some festive activities: a Christmas lunch hosted by the Dean, a potluck on the last day, some collecting for charity. Inevitably there will be cookies and squares.

I suppose one thing I will be doing over the next three weeks is reflecting on my first term as Associate Dean. Whereas in the summer when I took on the job things were relatively quiet and I could spend time reading reports and organizing my files. Now I have too much reading to do, too many links to follow, too many conversations to remember. My desk shows the evidence of a more cluttered work life and a less organized Lady Professor. Here’s the evidence.

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My spaces are filling up, in my head and in my surroundings.

Notes to self for this coming month:

  • You have to teach a graduate course in the Winter. Don’t forget to write a syllabus and read the materials! Oh, lecture/seminar notes too. How do I use D2L again?
  • Three-minute thesis competition. Don’t screw up the planning. And by the way, get on it NOW!
  • See that stack of books publishers have sent you because you’re on a book prize committee? Read them. At least most of all of them.
  • Take a walk in the snow.
  • Um, two PhD students have submitted chapters. You promised to get comments back in three weeks max. Do it!
  • Organize your email folders: they are in a worse mess than your desk.
  • Buy that voucher that gets you a discounted rate at a country inn for two nights. Book the dates with your sweetie, Arlequino.
  • Rank those scholarship applications that have just been dropped  on your table.
  • Get the strategic planning group that you are co-chairing moving on “action items” (ugh, can a new year’s resolution be to unlearn the lingo?)
  • Stop biting your nails! You quit years ago; why have you started again?
  • Think about Cuba in April.  Cuba. Playa Esmeralda. Mojito.
  • Call up happy memories of Salt Pond Beach, truly my happy place. . . Ahhhhhhhhhhh
  • Play more Scrabble. You hear me FB friends?
  • Put your feet up every once in a while.

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The perks of associate deaning

Yes, there are many perks; this administrative position is not just about processing paper, attending meetings, doing email, attending more meetings, making sometimes difficult decisions ….

One of the things I am really enjoying about this new position is getting to know more people at the University of Waterloo–faculty, staff, students, and other members of this huge campus network. When one is “just” a professor in one’s own department it’s great if you like your colleagues–which I do–but you tend to stay focused on your own little bubble. We become tribal. Moving to the faculty level brings you into contact with people at all levels of the university–I haven’t met the President yet, but I have met, for instance, the Vice President/Provost. But that’ s not important. I don’t really care about the real higher ups (as long as they do their level best to keep this institution functioning, or perhaps even flourishing–do not read the THE University Rankings :(). What I like are the day-to-day interactions with  people in other departments and other units whom I’ve never met before. There are some wonderful people working here: smart, funny, irreverent, sincere, passionate, engaged, cynical, optimistic, and all those qualities mashed together. I can’t tell you how much I LAUGH at some of these meetings. I can sometimes even make other people laugh. Amazing! And now when I’m out and about in town I see lots more people whom I kind of know, and that makes me feel more connected not just to the university but to the city.

Another perk is getting invited to attend more things, and now that I’m not teaching I have more time to do them. Last week I was in Toronto for a day. The week before that I was at a exhibition opening. There are and will be lots of lunches and dinners with visitors of all kinds. This week I attended a presentation made by some MFA students who were talking about their experiences working with professional artists. Not only did I learn about some really interesting contemporary artists: I also learned about how they work. But best of all, I saw and felt how truly life changing this experience was for the students. The Department of Fine Art at U Waterloo has an endowment that sends MFA students anywhere in the world to work with an artist of their choice–assuming the artist agrees. The experiences these students have over the weeks they are with the artists is invaluable. They basically shadow a professional artist every day over an extended period of time. They could be doing anything from running errands, to cleaning up studio space, to helping install or take down exhibitions, to stretching canvases, to organizing paint tubes, to preparing surfaces, to keeping track of media coverage and the business aspects of the artist’s work. They truly learn what it takes to be a professional artist.

Two other tangible things for me came out of hearing those presentations by MFA students. One, I learned about this guy’s work: check him out! Jonas Burgart. Unforgettable, monumental, epic, mythic paintings with a street art/graffii vibe.

Second, the MFA student who worked with Burgart has a family history that originates in East Germany and she, like me, is doing research and critically and creatively engaging with that history. Maybe eventually she’ll be part of the larger research project I’m planning. Wow! Who knew that a day in the life of an Associate Dean could be so rich. Not me.

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This isn’t my usual end-of-summer

Normally, unless I am on sabbatical, I’d be having performance anxiety dreams right about now. You know, the dreams in which I show up to class on the first day and I’ve forgotten to write the syllabus, or I forgot to order books, or maybe I can’t find the classroom or even the building, or maybe I arrive in class and I realize I’m still wearing my pyjamas, or I arrive in class and there are no students…that sort of dream. These are the dreams all professors experience just before the beginning of a new term. It’s about switching gears. Switching from not having to set the alarm, spending entire days reading, not having to worry about what to wear or what our hair looks like. It’s about taking our heads out of research and putting them into the courses that we must now invent and imagine all the way throughout a twelve-week term. I think those teaching dreams are prompted by worry that we’ll somehow fail to make the switch properly. Or perhaps it’s about being secretly afraid that we’re not very good teachers after all. The fraud syndrome. But it’s also about re-entering an entirely different atmosphere. Now at the end of August, campus is very quiet. It’s even difficult to find food and coffee as so many of the food outlets are closed until September. Soon campus will be abuzz.

I remember what it felt like to be the student–exhilarating! I loved the anticipation of new courses; I adored getting all those new books at the bookstore; I coveted new pens and nice notebooks. I was curious about my professors, shyly wondering if I would make new friends, looking forward to entire weekends in the library. But when you are the one who has to deliver the course, well, that’s a different story. It’s also exciting, to be sure. New works to learn alongside our students, new students to get to know, new bright young intellectuals to discover and delight in. You plan the syllabus, but you never really know how a course is going to work out. So much of it depends on the relationships you develop with the students in the course. So much of it depends on their “buy in.” I love teaching. But I’m not going to miss it this term.

I thought I would miss it. I really did. But I’ve switched into another gear. Not from research to teaching but from teaching to administration. Now my work days are made up of meetings and emails and signing things. Rather alarmingly, over the past week or so my calendar has been automatically updated as staff in various departments and units book an entire year’s worth of regular meetings–Senate Graduate and Research Council, General Group, Graduate Affairs Group, as well as the regular Friday meeting with the Dean of Arts and other Associate Deans. I am already at my desk most of every day, most days. Tomorrow and Thursday I’ll be at a working retreat (begins at 8:00 and goes all day). This evening I’ve got a work dinner with colleagues and the facilitator who will run our retreat sessions tomorrow (on Arts faculty strategic planning). It’s another atmosphere entirely and I’m still learning how to breathe in it.

So, Lady English Professor is someone different this term.

Ha! Because I know that blog posts are more interesting if there are visuals, I went to Google images and searched for “female academic dean.” What a boring array of photographs of earnest looking professors! Not a single cartoon! Please, if someone can find some witty image, I’d love to receive it. So instead of the deanery image, here’s a lady professor image, with thanks to whoever created it. Mad Men meets Academia. And yes, we do spend a lot of time talking about money.

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You say goodbye and I say hello

The day has arrived: today I moved out of my office in the English department and began the process of occupying the Associate Dean’s office in the Faculty of Arts. Goodbye Hagey Hall 270; hello Psychology and Anthropology 2427.

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As you can see, my new office is nice, big, and bright, but it’s a totally different working environment. For one thing, I am surrounded by other people, all of whom are in their offices all day long. Doors are open. Chatting happens, but also constant work. I feel a bit guilty about the fact that most of my day has been about unpacking boxes and answering emails.

There is a new desk to get used to. There is a table and chairs for meetings. There are locked filing cabinets. There are some bookshelves (not enough). I ate my packed lunch at my desk, as usual, but it felt weird, as if I’m supposed to eat something fancier or at least leave my office for lunch. I need art work on the walls, and not the posters that I usually hang. I need grown-up art work that speaks to my research and my academic interests. I need a plant or two. Maybe a coffee machine.

Email is different too. I get requests to “accept” meeting “invitations” (as if I have a real choice). I am sent spreadsheets and charts that I have to decipher. Back-and-forth emails about academic decisions.

The phone keeps ringing, but there’s nobody there….

What if I’m on Facebook when someone walks by my office? Ah, there’s the thing: no more Facebook at work. Well, maybe at lunchtime 🙂

I have never had such a spacious office. Yes, it has windows. Two of them.

It occurs to me that quite a few of my blog posts have been about space. Space and identity. Oh, guess what?: that was the topic of my dissertation and has informed most of my research in one way or another ever since. Will I be different over here? I hope I’ll be nicer, smarter, more compassionate when dealing with graduate students and faculty members. I hope I’ll be a good colleague to my new colleagues.

Exciting times! But so much newness: at home Arlequino and I have also been unpacking and rearranging and merging into a new life together. I am looking forward to some stability again. Because too much disruption plays with my head, not to mention my sleep patterns.

Carry on!

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I got the letter from the President

Yesterday I received the official letter, so I guess it’s all right to blog about this now. Yours truly is taking up a new position. Lady English Professor will be the next Associate Dean Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Arts. Yep. That’s me. Administrator Warley. The invitation came completely out of the blue, and I had to think carefully about it, of course. But I decided that it’s a good time in my career to take on this new role and, well, I kind of look forward to the new challenges. I loved being Associate Chair Grad Studies in my department; this is just the next step up. But, as Arlequino reminds me, the fact that I’m still in the Faculty Association means that I haven’t completely crossed over! It’s just a different way of doing my job as a university professor.

Ch ch ch changes….

I will move out of my office in the English department and into a newer, bigger, brighter one in the “Dean’s wing” of another building. This, I expect, will be difficult. Wrenching, even. My office is the symbol of my identity as an English professor. It’s where all my stuff is. It’s where students find me. It’s where I chat casually with my beloved colleagues whose offices are down the hall from mine. It’s where I eat my lunch (at my desk, reading something). It’s where I literally hang my hat. Or bicycle helmet! It’s where my souvenirs of trips taken and students taught reside. Drawers are stuffed with thank you cards from students. Walls are adorned with posters from Arlequino’s shows and postcards received from colleagues. Shelves are packed with my research and teaching books, as well as unclaimed student essays and about four years’ worth of final exams. Don’t even get me started on what’s in the filing cabinets. Shudder….

I’m going to need fancier clothes. More jackets. Maybe I should stop shopping at second hand shops and low-end retailers. Maybe that’s what the extra stipend is for.

I already have the new shoes.

Position begins July 1st for a four-year term. But in my heart I’ll always be Lady English Professor.

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