Corporate student scholarships

A couple years ago I set up a channel between my department (and my affiliated departments) and a few different companies I used to work with (and the one I worked for) to recruit underrepresented students from my school. The companies get to use the students’ faces and stories to pitch that they’re a diverse and forward-thinking company (and if they hire them they get a kick-ass student!) and the students get work in the summer and contacts in the field. With two companies, I worked with them to set up a scholarship fund. So the companies pay for a handful of students’ tuitions and they just have to keep up grades and work in a lab. I’ve been pretty proud of this, and the students love it. We’ll have lunches and/or dinners with the sponsors too when they come through town. Ultimately, the majority of students that graduate head over to industry, and since I have the contacts this became a must-do for me in my service. It’s kind of like REU, but with more money and industry-focused.

Today in a cross-departmental strategy meeting with some faculty and department heads I was asked to talk about ways to expand these programs to other departments. I started mentioning what needs to be done and I even offered to shepherd this through for the year just to be nice. There were two faculty members, one from my department and one from an unrelated department, that were vehemently against it. They cited the over-intrusion of industry into our ‘pure’ academic environment. Firstly, we’re not so pure. Secondly, they’re not infiltrating our research unless we let them. This is just a program to help place students. AND take the financial burden off of the students that we are trying to recruit. We need to help our underrepresented students as much as we can. Somehow they think that the companies will own our school? Unlike the Major-Computer-Company Computing lab we have in our building? I agree that if industry seeps too much into our research that it can muddle things. But this is specifically for the students with no overlap other than the research-bound scholarships. But the companies don’t get to pick the research the students do. These companies are investing in the students, that’s it.

Look, I don’t trust corporations. I play very carefully around them and always operate like they’re just waiting for the opportunity to stab me in the back if it means their stock will climb by 0.01%. Part of the reason I left the corporate life was because I thought it was soul-draining. But as educators, we need to prepare and entice students, especially underrepresented ones to enter the field. And for those having difficultly making ends meet, we need to help them if we can.

Positivity

We had in-person class today. For some reason a few of the students decided to wear some political gear. I don’t care if the students want to wear some gear so long as we keep any arguing outside of the classroom. The classroom is for science. That is not what happened. As I was walking into class to disinfect before letting the students in I could hear some arguing. So I told them that shit stops when they pass through my doors. It did not. There was a snarky comment when I asked for input on a biological problem and it blew up. I raised my voice for the very first time in the classroom and ended class. I had everyone leave except the troublesome students and had a freaking grade-school discussion about civility.

There’s been an air of anger and negativity since the semester started. Normally, I enjoy the energy on campus, the weather turning, and students rallying around each other for whatever sport or whatever is happening. Since the semester started there’s like a gray cloud over campus. There seems like there’s no sense of community. The pandemic, protests, and now the political atmosphere are really bringing out the worst in people and everyone seems negative and unempathetic all the time. Most conversations I have with people are negative, and I have to really try to get a rousing fun conversation going. Even my students seem a little gloomy.

So I’ve been making it a very active point to be positive. Maybe to a fault, but I don’t care. I’ll tell stupid jokes and talk about ANYTHING other than the pandemic and politics. In class I’ve been even wearing silly clothing. I’ve been throwing out so many compliments that HR is probably going to be called at some point. I don’t need to live in some kind of rose-colored world, but I want a balance.

I took my little one on a short outing (they will be backpacking as soon as they’re old enough) to a forest area I like where I can listen to the water, read a book, and have a nice cup of tea. It was a nice little pause on the gloom that everyone has been exuding. I know that it’s naïve of me to think everything will be okay, but I don’t like always being on and worrying or complaining. I’ll do my part (as I hope everyone will) in the polls, I’ll minimize my footprint on the planet (as I hope everyone will), and I’ll appreciate the time I spend with my friends and the family members I like. I know I’m maybe naïve to think this way, but there’s only so much more room for gray hair on my head.

I’m not okay with this extra teaching

So I mentioned before how I’m teaching an extra class I’ve never taught. So that means two classes this semester. I’m used to doing one class with the exception of my second year when I chose to use start-up money for my lab instead of buying out of teaching. But I was prepared for that. And I didn’t have to freaking disinfect my whole area before and after class. I’ve decided that I can’t do homework assignments for two classes so I’m trying an optional option for homework. I’ll post optional homework that I don’t grade, and I post the solutions online. And I’m limiting each class to 2 exams/class and only a handful of quizzes. Luckily, we’ve submitted some bigger manuscripts this past summer and we’re in the early stages of the next slew of papers because I don’t have time to edit manuscripts from my students with this higher course load plus manage and prepare for the next grant cycle. I have a couple big renewals coming up and can’t miss the boat on these. Especially since I’m intentionally not pursuing industry funding for the next year-plus. Luckily, I set up in my office with a small play/sleep space for the little one to at least ease my parenting load. I know this isn’t an uncommon occurrence for many faculty out there, but the last-second nature of the class is what’s tripping me up.

So then, in the midst of my panicking, our dean has announced that he wants to pull the postings for the adjuncts and the lecturers for the next semester and put it on us to teach extra. He is saying that we can’t be interviewing people during this pandemic. I call bullshit. I talked to my department head and said I don’t mind picking up slack this semester and next, but I will pull industry funding to buy out my teaching if I have to. And where will the department be then? When I was hired I was shown that it is very rare for faculty to have to teach more than two classes a year if they’re showing an active research program. I’m afraid that they are using this shortage to test the waters of a leaner faculty headcount. This dean came in from some federal agency and they were praised for their lean operation. The best I can do here is threaten a buy-out. But in the meantime, I’ll suck it up, create new lecture material and be a good little soldier for the school. The students deserve a good education and the public that fund my research deserve a dedicated researcher. We’re all used to balancing things, but if there’s a change to the status quo that we’re used to then the school, flush with funds to hire more teachers, needs to improve things. I’ll take a hit if we’re low on cash or if things change last-second (which they did). But I’m not okay with making this the norm.