Saturday, July 22, 2006

Professors and clerical work...

Over at "Dr. Crazy's" and others (still bad with the links.. sorry) there has been some discussion of the change in duties for those of us who are 'professors'. I just woke up from a strange dream in which I made incoherent comments on several blogs on this topic, so if I left some incoherent ramblings about clerical work on your blog -- sorry, I'd like to say it was a drunk-blogging incident, but all I can honestly do is blame it on several Diet Berries and Cream Dr. Peppers.

I suppose I am feeling a little defensive about asking our department (division, really) secretary to make copies and do some scanning. I feel that way because some members of my own department get pretty self-righteous about making their own copies etc... My justification for asking her to do so has several points..

1) My office time is between classes and when others are generally also teaching -- which puts us all in the copy room at more or less the same time. Her hours are during our heaviest teaching time, and as such she has access to the copier at low demand times when I do not. I also have larger sections than anybody except other philosophers and the one person who teaches 'humanities' -- so I'll clog up the copier for others if I try to do my copies myself. Thus, it is more efficient for her to make the copies.

2) At least 3 and maybe as many as 5 weeks this semester I will leave campus with a van full of debaters on Thursday at noon and not return until Sunday late at night. This means that nearly all the work I could have done to prep class between Thursday noon and Sunday night needs to be done between Monday morning and Thursday noon--- this is also when I do ALL of my teaching and office hours -- so, see #1 above... I need to be working on preparing to teach, not babysitting the copier, especially when those weekends are on either side of a very short week.

3) Each of us, when we take a job, accepts a set of responsibilities that go along with that job. My responsibilities include 20 contact hours (15 teaching plus 5 office hours) and several subjects in which I have large sections (max of 50, no TA). In order to fulfill those responsibilities I have completed a set of degrees and am working on one more (knock on wood, God willing etc...). Our Administrative Assistant's job duties include making copies. I don't ask her to do a single copy of some random piece of paper -- but, if I have 80 or 100 multi-page exams to give, it is her responsibility to make me copies or send them to the copy center. They don't include running the 'scantron' (bubble sheet reader), entering grades, giving make-up exams and a whole lot of other administrivia, so it isn't unreasonable for me to ask her to do something that is in her job description... and, since I was in on hiring the AA before this one I've seen the job description.

4) The copier sucks and breaks down often. I can easily add paper to the machine. I will reluctantly clear a simple paper jam. I refuse to learn how to add toner and staples. That is in the same zone as cleaning fish for me --(mom says don't learn how to clean fish because then you'll have to do it!). Others have really screwed up the copier via toner accidents and msi-haps with staples. The copier repair guy already thinks we pour pop into the deep inner workings of the copier -- I know this because the freak TOLD me so one day last Spring -- I'm not going to screw it up more. When the copier breaks, our AA has had some basic training via the copy repair guy, she should use that knowledge. She also has the all-important phone number for the copy repair guy and knows how to make him come take the machine apart for several days and cuss at it until it works. If she's gone for the day (she comes in early, leaves early and works less than full-time, by contract), then I have the number to call to get other help... IT hates it, but it is their responisibility to come fix the copier, so I say make them do so.

5) Just because some older/more senior faculty abuse the AA's time, sucking most of it for themselves doesn't mean that I can't ask for some of it. Just because other newer faculty don't do things until the last minute and thus need to make all their copies for class just before class when it is too late to ask for help, doesn't mean that I'm equally disorganized. In fact, when the newer and unorganized faculty are printing out a bazzillion copies of a class handout right before class, they clog up the printer so that I can't get the three page printout I need of the revised PowerPoint slides I did for class. When the AA makes a bazzillion copies, she does them when we are teaching (see #1).

6) Frankly, our AA's computer and clerical skills aren't all that great. She's a nice person and all, but I wouldn't ask her to type something for me unless it needed a typewriter. I don't know if she knows how to use Excell or PowerPoint. I wouldn't ask her to file or purge my files because goodness knows what she'd keep or toss. I wouldn't ask her to clean my office because that is degrading and not her job. I can't ask her to do anything having to do with individual student grades, so a lot of my administrivia has to be done by me. She comes to me to ask how I would do certain projects for others, as she knows I have been in AA jobs in the past. For that reason alone, she can make some copies for me -- because that is what she knows how to do.

For me this isn't a gender issue -- I really think the fact that I don't ask more of our AA is due to age/seniority, not gender. I've seen the members of our department/division (none of them philosophers) who give our AA a lot of their traditional secretarial work. They have been teaching forever -- and are about equally male and female. The faculty members spending their afternoons in the copy room making lots of copies are also about equally male and female.... and haven't been around for as long as others.

I've also been in teaching situations where making your own copies was a given. I suppose part of that was because i was an adjunct and thus low on the totem pole. I'm sure it will be no shock to you that one place said that they had clerical support for adjuncts and then made the process of getting copies so complex that it was easier to make them yourself.

I've also been in a grad department that had a 'copier number' scandal, in which one grad student used another's copier number to make a bunch of copies -- and thus leading the department to impose a strict, 'no copies for grad students' policy. I'm not sure that hasn't changed, but it has lead me to mail two copies of every paper to my grad department rather than send file-attachments which would be printed and copied down there.

I do find it amusing that copies and other kinds of clerical work can get academics all riled up like nothing else.


New Kid on the Hallway said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with having people make copies for you (in case I gave the impression that I did). I think it's about context - in my previous job, our office staff were perennially overworked, including doing things that it seemed like faculty could/should do for themselves (i.e. type an exam), and I was one of the disorganized people who printed/copied stuff ten minutes before class started. Hence, I did as much as I could for myself. Where I am now, we have lots of support, they're not overworked, and so I have no problem asking them to make my copies. Your reasons all make lots of sense.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Hey all,

I should be clear -- I didn't get the impression from any of you rational, reasonable people that asking the support staff to make copies wasn't reasonable -- that came from my real-life co-workers at BNCC :).

I do wish faculty support were actually paid sufficiently to attract and keep people with the high-tech skills we need. I also wish our administration would discuss support staff hours with the faculty before they are hired -- as they don't seem to consider the idea that departments have significantly different needs. As it is, we end up with people who will take the low-paid job because the like the hours.

T-Mac said...

I'm sold...also, I think you should tell her your thought process here because I'm pretty sure she would appreciate that you even had this discussion/thought about it at all.