Saturday, June 30, 2007

All the Small Things

Let me tell about something that happened to me yesterday. I was trying to claw my way out from under a pile of grading when I got an e-mail from a drone in some administration office. She was telling me the deadline had passed and my course evaluations hadn't shown up.

Now, the first thing to say is, there's nothing I can do about that. As I'm sure you remember from college, a student takes the course evals back to whatever office they go to. I'm not allowed to touch them. The student who'd volunteered to take them back to the right office had just flaked out. Nothing I can do about that.

The thing is, this was totally predictable. See, in the past, the student just had to walk the course evals across the hall to the philosophy office and drop them off there. The philosophy secretary would put them in campus mail, and they'd make their way to the administration offices. But this year, for the first time, the student has to personally walk them over to the admin offices. That's about a four block walk.

Why the change? Who the fuck knows? I mean, I don't doubt that campus mail loses shit. And god knows I've never been able to figure out how it can take three days for an envelope to go one block down the street. But do you really think an undergrad is going to be more reliable? Can you count on them to take a random walk, even just four blocks, when they're in the middle of the last week of classes, finishing term papers and gearing up for exams? Does anyone really think you can count on them? If anyone thinks that, they're idiots.

So I spent a panicked half hour trading e-mails with the administration drone and trying to track down the student who had the course evals. In the end, I got him to bring them over to the drone's eager little hands.

Now, here's the point of all this. In the scheme of things, course evals are a small part of of an application package. They're just one part of the teaching portfolio, which is just one part of the application. At the same time, every little thing counts, so I take every little thing very seriously. But there's a lot of little things, and a lot of them depend on stupid people making stupid decisions entirely out of your control. And somehow, that makes for a steady stream--and in the fall, a torrent--of stupid little problems that take a half hour of panicked e-mailing to solve. Days go by, and you can't figure how you can be so tired, and yet have so little to show for it.

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