October 26, 2007

The Rare Case of the Interesting Committee Meeting

Yesterday, I went to a university committee meeting that was actually enjoyable. I am well and truly hornswoggled.

The thing is, university committee meetings are usually either very dull tedious affairs that go on for hours, or very interesting because there is a lively argument going on between some or all of the participants. Either way, you get sent a ton of paperwork beforehand, and whether or not you get the bunfight depends on whether someone spotted the bombshell thrown in on page 122 of the seventeenth document of the paperwork and tosses the relevant grenade into the middle of the meeting.

This meeting was different! There was no paperwork beforehand, only an agenda. The meeting had a focus on interesting topics, and people could swap tips as well as express views that could be taken up by higher-up management committees within the University. There was actually a genuine sense of "This is interesting; I would like to know more." on many of the topics discussed. This could have been because it was off-the-record, and the discourse even included various blue words tossed around carefully to amusing effect.

October 23, 2007

Student's Demands

He did it again!

There's a huge self-centredness about this student that really doesn't consider things from the other person's point of view. When he came to see me to discuss his schedule, he asked "Can I just use your phone to phone up the doctor's surgery?". Excuse me? You think it's perfectly reasonable to use my office as a source for free phone calls and I'm just supposed to waste my time waiting for you for however long they put you on hold for? I just don't understand the sense of entitlement that some students (thankfully not all students) feel. How can they be so rude?

Anyway, I was polite. I answered "No, let's concentrate on this. There's a public phone in the building across the street you can use later." In hindsight, another answer could have been "I know lecturers' offices are small, but does this look like a 'phone box to you?".

Still, he did at least express himself as being very grateful for all the advice I was giving him (he needed an hour and a half's worth), which I suppose was at least something.

October 21, 2007

Student Demands

On Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours before my advertised office hours, an email from a student arrived. He wanted to see me desperately urgently to get some forms signed. Some of the forms probably are urgent. It's so urgent that he said he URGENTLY needs to speak to me first thing on Monday morning. This isn't phrased in the kind of way that merely wonders whether I might be available on Monday morning, oh no, this is phrased with the kind of words that indicates he damn well expects me to be there on Monday morning for him at his convenience. Maybe he's not expecting that I jump to his every click of the fingers, but certainly the thought that I might not be available on Monday morning has not entered his head.

I checked his timetable. Sure enough, there were classes scheduled on Friday. I guess he wasn't planning to attend his Friday classes, otherwise why wouldn't he have asked me for an appointment just before or after his class?

So let me get this straight: he thinks this request is not urgent enough that he put aside whatever he's busy doing on Thursday afternoon during my office hours and whilst he bunks off from Friday classes, but it IS urgent enough that I have to drop whatever important thing I might be doing on Monday morning and see him FIRST THING.

I wonder if it ever occurs to him what a huge disrespect he's showing to a lecturer's time, when he behaves like that, creating the impression that he thinks his time is so much more valuable than mine?

Some students are respectful of a lecturer's time and don't assume we're available any time they want us to be, but others are exactly like this one. They want us available whenever it's convenient to them. They knock on our doors whenever they happen to be passing by, despite clearly advertised office hours and instructions to arrange an appointment at other times, and despite the largest most prominent "DO NOT DISTURB" notices. Then, when they are told that the lecturer isn't available, they proceed to whine and protest and demand time right then and there irrespective of who or what else they might be interrupting and how big or small their interruption is. I am not a milksop by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I find that in person, many students will continue their protesting and demands until you forcibly eject them. Their "It's only a quick query" inevitably turns out to be much longer to answer.

And there's never a "sorry for disturbing you". Don't tell me it's my fault for letting myself be disturbed in the first place. If I have a meeting in my office, a student knocking on the door can hear voices, and won't go away, they'll knock and knock and the meeting is already disturbed. I have to answer the door in order to tell them to go away (which I do so very politely), and it is then when they start in with the protesting that "It's only a quick query", and they don't accept it when you tell them that you are busy and in a meeting and cannot talk to them now, and to come back in your office hours or email for an appointment. No, they want to see you NOW and now they can actually see your face at the door, they are even more determined, They carry on until either you shout at them (which I try not to do) or you shut the door carefully and firmly in their face.

It's very exasperating. I don't know what causes the lack of respect at all. I checked my backside, and there's definitely no label on it saying "Kick me".

October 12, 2007

First Week Roulette Again

This time, first week roulette was a bit more diffuse, spreading from the first week into the second too. And once more the guarantee was true:

"...it's not going to be any of the things that happened to you before and that you carefully dodged this time. Oh no. It'll be a new one."

It wasn't too bad overall, but a collection of little problems added up. It was difficult enough trying to get appropriate rooms booked at a suitable time (that's a whole other post in itself), but then our local administrator had gone and printed the wrong information in the handbook as to which lecture theatre and laboratories are being used (not her fault, it was a consequence of the room booking delay).

So, to counteract, I ensured the students were emailed the right locations, I went around placing notices on the doors of the wrong rooms to redirect students to the right rooms, and then..... I still got some students turning up late and complaining at me (I hate it when people complain at me for things which aren't my fault), because they either hadn't read their email or hadn't got access to their student account yet (so couldn't read their email). And then in the second session, I didn't bother putting redirection notices up, but some students turned up late or missed the session and were cross, because they'd been ill at the first session and were too disorganised (or dozy?) to take notice of the email telling them of the room change.

Grrr. It's irritating when all you're trying to do is to teach students well, and yet little incorrect administrative details end up making you run around in circles doing extra stuff you shouldn't have to do, and some students end up missing out on some of the teaching.

October 07, 2007

Expenses Claims

Why does everything have to be so bureaucratic and petty and time-wasting? Case in point: expense claims! Here's how my latest claim went:

I submit the expenses claim to the finance person, same way as I have always submitted my expenses (make photocopies of receipts, fill in details on the form, attach carefully-numbered originals of receipts).

Two days later, it arrives back in my pigeonhole, complete with a little post-it note telling me that it's not been coded and authorised and I didn't fill in a travel authorisation form.

Travel authorisation form? Huh? One quick computer search of my archived emails later, I find that travel authorisation forms were announced to us academics as a bureaucratic hurdle for us to jump over seven months ago. However the expenditure in question occurred eight months ago. I email the finance person, pointing out that I couldn't possibly have filled in a travel authorisation form before travelling, when such forms didn't exist at the time of incurring the expenses. As far as the coding and authorisation goes, I say that I have no idea what to do about this, the previous finance person (now retired) took care of it.

Finance person emails me back, telling me I still need to do the coding and authorisation.

I say again that I don't know about the coding and authorisation, so I will have to be informed.

Finance person tells me that I need to get it authorised by my head of department.

I ask whether the head of department will know the code.


I put the form in my head of department's pigeonhole with a little postit note on it asking for a signature and the finance code.

I get the form back, signed, with another little postit note disclaiming any knowledge of the code, but pointing out that the previous finance person knew it.

I pass the form back to the finance person, with authorisation signature but no code. I explain that I don't know the code, my head of department doesn't know the code, the previous finance person knew the code but is gone now and said finance person is our best source of information for finding out the code.

Finance person finally accepts defeat (and the form), but resorts to much tut tutting that the form was not submitted by the payroll deadline this morning so it'll have to go in next month.

I. Don't. Care.