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Back to Basics

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2013/06/17 at 22:16
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines. 

Several incidents recently drew me into the core of my University’s business: students. One was a failed suicide attempt. Last semester, we had one who was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Less tragic were two students known to me who have similarly dropped out of school: one who was a recipient of a food subsidy program I had been supporting and another a Political Science junior whose health could no longer cope with the travel from her remote mountain village to our campus in Miagao. Being chair of a Division that runs two undergraduate programs with 420 odd students, having 4 students fall into the cracks as it were may be statistically insignificant. But being a teacher, any addition to the score of (near) dropouts is heartbreaking.

Our University runs a socialized tuition fee scheme (STFAP) that provides 100% tuition subsidy and a modest living allowance to qualified students. The living allowance (paid in monthly cash installments) is all too often insufficient to get a young man/woman 3 healthy meals a day and a shared room (bedspace) for living quarters. Putting together the application for this scholarship is no easy feat; as is “staying” on it. One grade of 4.0 (conditional failure) or a 5.0 (failure) merits disqualification.  Our campus is home to numerous “bracket E2”- bright students plucked from the obscurity of their remote national high schools and grim $2.5 dollar/day earning households. Alas, to many of these STFAP grantees, the compounded effect of poor quality prior education and poor nutrition makes for a far more difficult climb. Their communication and mathematical skills are often too handicapped. Where they are mixed in with age cohorts from better income backgrounds, often only those more socially adept and resourceful (“ma-diskarte”) survive four years of college life.

True injustice lies in a student failing his/her class because of not having enough food to eat, missing a bedspace rent payment or not having enough money to pay for a jeepney fare to go to classes. To me, a University which misses out on these bare facts and instead focuses on the realm of research outputs and ISI publication is like Socrates in Aristophanes’ The Clouds. Setting grade standards to retain the scholarship is fine; but FOCUS on those getting in/out of bracket E2s is as serious a business. Worry we must to those whose only chance at a college diploma hangs by a thread.

My friend whose work involves conducting background investigation of these STFAP recipients attest to the remarkable hope and doggedness of spirit that pushes them from their miserable origins. She works with another colleague who independently runs a food subsidy program that targets those who get disqualified from STFAP. They are joined by a small band of colleagues who put together thesis monetary support and donate to a pool of short-term student non-tuition loans. Collectively, they fight the vestiges of poverty that debilitates an institution of learning. Because in this setting, students should and will always come first.

Iloilo, Philippines

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

The “Bad” Chair

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2013/06/08 at 21:52
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

Over the past few weeks, I have learned some bittersweet lessons about work relationships inside the academic community that my erstwhile, busy, juggling between administrator-teacher-researcher roles precluded me from seeing. The episodes have left me emotionally drained and tired but I would like to think, a better Chair than I was previously.

Lesson 1: Context is everything.

As Chair, I am unafraid of challenging colleagues about what I perceive as a wrong doing. Whether it is failing to submit a required report; tampering with the schedule without prior notice, or missing classes without filing for official leave, I come down heavy on the side of equity. But in this job, my being forthright and public (bringing matters to a wider audience rather than a one-on-one talk) is my Waterloo. My intentions of collective lesson learning (what do we as a community take away from this bad experience?) never gets picked up; instead I just earn personal animosity.

A friend gave me a useful piece of advice: to not gain enemies unnecessarily. Behavior modification can be attained by playing politics, not though carpet bombing. I must learn to overlay my social network map onto my decisions. Which colleagues are  friendly, and who does not get along with whom? Who is most loyal to a former teacher? Only by harnessing these connections can I avoid the being labelled enemy number one.

Lesson 2: Indifference is the new normal.

I have gotten into two serious fights with colleagues about hiring and firing. To these fights I have brought to bear my expertise in legal argumentation, with the expectation that if colleagues READ my position, I’ll win them over to my side. Alas, I realize many would rather not join the fray or make their positions public.

I need not generate a yes-you-are-absolutely-right crowd. Given that policy decisions in my academic community are not time-sensitive (they need not be done right away), I should just pay careful attention not to scare the indifferent. There is no point in emulating Machiavelli’s Prince, who is better feared than loved.

Lesson 3: Colleagues are not automatons.

Being task-oriented and impatient, I realized that I see colleagues by way of a simple traffic light system of green, red and yellow for the three University tasks: teaching, research and extension, or institution building. Those with at least  two  “greens” I never worry about; those with at least one red or yellow, I pay attention to. To the last two, I give personal pep talks, advice about applying to graduate schools and research fellowships, insights in to packaging research proposals or preparing a manuscript. Instead of appreciation, a junior colleague bluntly stated that I see them as “my projects”; he said that I come across as disciplinarian, intent on molding them to be like me, but not really caring about their well-being beyond their respective careers.

From this I learned that I need to pay more attention and take time to recognize my colleagues’ personal quirks. I need to participate in more group lunches, out of school outings, encouraging them to bring their families to gatherings, and take more time out of my office to see and talk to them individually.

Lesson 4: Do not fix things if they aren’t broken.

I had a weird conversation with a colleague over the phone who pointed out another colleague’s lapses in student advising.  There was a parallel episode of a colleague complaining about another who has not been helping in the preparations for the curriculum review of their cluster. To both, I offered to talk to the colleagues in question about how can they improve on their job. Surprisingly, the complainants emphatically said NO, I SHOULD NOT because I will make things worse rather than better.

Because personal relationships are a premium over working relationships, I should let minor incompetency slide. Aggravating as it may be, I should derive comfort in knowing that this incompetency will never amount to anything threatening to the collegial body.

Realizing that I am the least political and least social when it comes to my job as Division chair was never easy. But it’s never too late.
Iloilo, Philippines

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

Thinking Globally

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2013/03/15 at 11:58
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines. 

This January, my University hosted a group of Monash University students from Malaysia on nine-day, non-credit study tour. Eighteen months of logistical preparation, including securing permission from University authorities, preparing University facilities and recruiting student guides, preceded this visit. While we are not strangers to international exchanges, this marks the first time we are doing institutional hosting of this scale. This event follows other initiatives like the Balik (Returning)-Scientist, Visiting Professor and other recruitment schemes directed at attracting Ph.D. holders from abroad to join our faculty in Iloilo. Even our academic journals are getting a much needed title and editorial board revamp with the conscious inclusion of foreign scholars.

“Internationalization” is the new buzzword as our University strategizes to catch up from its 200th place rank (out of 300) among educational institutions in Asia. We are hopeful that by increasing international linkages, we can reach light year speed and engender better performance from the faculty in terms of publication and other academic metrics. It is a tough gamble knowing the tight fiscal predicaments of foreign donors and the moral imperative of  balanced (rather than lopsided and patronizing) engagements. The push to “democratize” linkages also means bringing my University outside its traditional fisheries and coastal resource moorings that initially grew out of graduate school networks (since mostly Fisheries colleagues obtained graduate degrees abroad and therefore had the contacts). Today, my unit rivals the Fisheries College for its cosmopolitan feel. A third of my Division’s (social sciences)  faculty received advanced degrees from American, Canadian and Japanese universities (including 4 Fulbright grantees).

But to be more international carries its own perils. At a recent conference, a colleague revealed we fell victim to a broker of shady Chinese colleagues with dubious intent: they  primarily want us to be a feeder English language training school. An MOU was already drafted when their faulty credentials were discovered. Parallel proposals for a more robust faculty exchange (lectures and research) with Korean Universities were met with skepticism because of concerns about their English language skills. Because of our June to March academic calendar,  it is difficult to enter into a credit-earning scheme for foreign undergraduate students in the region who are on September to June mode. A host of infrastructure-related dearths, such as lack of housing and broadband Internet for on-campus computing services are also impeding us. Should international partnerships be expanded beyond traditional “rich” enclaves (i.e. Japan or Canada) to have a more Asian or South-to-South focus, such as the current one with a Fisheries school in Liberia?

The Philippines will be part of the ASEAN Free Trade Area by 2014; the race is on to harmonize educational systems and standards across the region. My University’s own policy emphasis on internationalization parallels the controversial K-12 push at the elementary and secondary levels. Down the free-market road for education, we will compete with better placed institutions in Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia for the best faculty and students.

I am not one of those globalism pessimists. I am a firm believer of the enriching power of diversity in academic provenance, the “leavening” effect of exposure to international academic trends, and the equalizing potential in open and free markets for tertiary education. The first order of business is to shift our mindset: it is NOT enough to be among the top three schools in the Philippines; regional ranking matters.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

How am I doing? Reflections on What Teaching Entails

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2013/01/18 at 22:49
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

At a General Education course training, I was disconcerted by a colleague’s presentation which showed carefully selected personal notes from students, which she made them write at the end of every session. I was equally perturbed by other news that one of my younger colleagues has been cooking(!) in his Southeast Asian History class; and another opted for a study tour in place of a written final exam.

I am not passing judgment on these creative or technologically-innovative ways of teaching, but this great pedagogical diversity is making me wonder whether as a University, we are losing sight of the nuts and bolts of our profession. Previous attempts at peer-to-peer teaching assessment, where another teacher sits through your class and offers suggestions for improvement have been rebuffed by worries of infringement on academic freedom.

With over twenty years in the business and with experience at a US institution for comparison, here is a summary of my own lessons on what works:

1. Focus on the takeaway.

Every class is about what students learn at the end of each encounter.  I take to heart a former professor’s wisdom of delivering 3 or 4 maximum points per session, to arrange, reiterate and sum up my lecture or activity around those points and those points alone. Students have busy lives; they have other matters to think about. What makes your lessons stand out are their portability and enduring character. Vocabulary building,  human stories–these are things that will stay with them longer.

2. One size does not fit all when it comes to class materials.

There is a need to customize reading selections with the type of students/nature of class (i.e. level? homogenous versus mixed majors? undergraduates or graduate level?). In the US, this is solved by the instructor’s choice of a textbook or a custom-made reading packet that meets the minimum criteria of (a) readability and (b) content match with syllabus themes. There is no merit in inducing undergrad student “nose bleed” by assigning them materials you were given as a PhD student (no matter how brilliant you think the material is).

3. Keep students busy with short and easily-done assignments.

I routinely have my students handwrite (an anti-plagiarism measure) reflection papers from audio files and deliver news reports for sharing. In one GE class on gender, I had them keep a diary based on themes I pre-assign. It’s a lot of work marking assignments for 20-30 students but well worth the effort of making sure some “internal” learning process have occurred.

4. There is no substitute for face time.

I insist on actual make-up classes for sessions I miss due to official travel for meetings or research. I pre-schedule individual consultations for reports, papers and thesis; 10-15 minute minimum face time turning my office into a never-ending queue of waiting students. Students I find, place value on those encounters. It’s also a foolproof way of flagging under performers and absentees, as well as giving positive feedback to those who do their job well.

5. Do not assume that students know.

My classes come with Lego toy-esque instructions. I spend time walking students through the rubrics of writing essays, the format of scholarly papers with correct citations, how to deliver good oral reports (do NOT read from your notes; limit slides to 10 and use parsimonious text; use summary tables), speaking and writing English properly (I correct grammar and punctuation), and how NOT to plagiarize. More than content, students need to know what and whether they’re doing things right.

6. Treat students with respect.  

Contractual obligations in the syllabi run BOTH ways. If students get marked down for absences, tardiness and delay in turning in exams and papers, then the same holds true for the teacher. Scolding students for shortcomings in front of their peers or dismissing their responses as inconsequential show insensitivity. In my class, there is no wrong response when asked, but affirmation of how their answers link to the matter at hand.

There may be a thousand and one ways to be the best teacher one can be. To me, putting the student’s interest first, not your ego or your convenience, is key. That and remembering to always put yourself in their 16-18 year old shoes.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Boss Who Gets Work Done, and Then Some

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/12/16 at 02:27
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

Recently, a supervisor remarked that I am “too Americanized” and lacking in good-old-fashioned sensitivity [pakiramdam] as Division chair. Clearly, my brand of managing has critics. But as I constantly remind myself and my superiors, I only get half semester load credit for my administrative job. To live the other half of my academic life teaching, doing research and publishing,  I have to  follow work practices that will get the admin job done in a University machine that is in “low” gear (read: slow decision-making). To administrators, here are some unsolicited operational tips, guaranteed to get you through:

  • Yahoogroup and Chikka are your friends.

To ensure that announcements get out, vital information disseminated, and work assignments done in real time,  Yahoogroup and Chikka (a free web-based text messaging system) are lifelines.  You don’t check your email; you lose. The old excuse  “I was not on Miagao campus” no longer flies.

As Chair, I find the yahoo platform useful because it gives me a de facto filing system, stored in my mail program, which I can access by a quick word search.  It is also a good discussion platform on academic issues. In Yahoogroup, colleagues can let others know what they are up to or articulate support or discontent, supplementing the paucity of face-to-face encounters found in our split campus situation.

  • Teach your old staff new tricks.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Rather than complaining that the staff never does enough, I devised a method to keep them busy. First, new tasks. Capitalizing on Sam’s internet-savviness, I taught him to abridge lengthy notices into concise messages for Yahoogroup postings and use the Yahoogroup attachments as “virtual” filing system for letters and reports I send for printing. Bing, the other secretary, writes periodic reports and make silly tables, leaving proofreading to me! Second, I email them daily/weekly notices of tasks to keep track of the things to be done. This makes for easy justification to the human resources office why the staff deserve an excellent performance rating. Third, relay system. I am told when either one is out of office; unfinished work endorsed to the other staff and notice of absence POSTED at the office and in the Yahoogroup.

  • Create a cheering squad by delegating.

You may do things faster and better, but giving work to others spreads a sense of accomplishment and pride. To this end, I tap mostly junior faculty members– assessing transfer/shifting applications, faculty scheduling, creating content for the university newsletter and website, crafting proposals for curricular review, lining up lectures, etc. For socials, I nurture a pool of reliable committee workers committed to team spirit. I am the rah-rah leader, humble in asking favors for unpaid committee work and generous in positive feedback for the job done well.

  • All Division affairs are an open book.

Gossip, that insidious element which foments conflict is easily defeated by prior disclosure of facts. To  minimize the politics of hiring/firing and promotion, I opened the process heretofore reserved for the Division personnel committee for discussion of the concerned disciplinary cluster. Where there is lack of consensus, the entire faculty is brought into the loop to gain legitimacy for a majority position. I am known to post in the Yahoogroup lengthy chronological process accounts and decision briefs for my faculty’s reading pleasure.

  • Put it in writing.

John Nagl, one of the brains behind the US Army Counterinsurgency Manual, says it’s important for any current commander to think about the day when he turns over his job to the next guy. To this end, keeping a thorough record of lessons and insights is critical. It is time consuming to document all agreements, guidelines, decisions and standard-operating procedures, keeping them in paperless version and in a virtual location. It takes an obsessive-compulsive personality to do this; but it’s essential for the “norming” process of the organization.

Administrators in my university are known to crash and burn after their term. As I have no ambition to go further up the administrative ladder, a good management template for other subsequent Chairs to follow is enough of a legacy to leave behind.

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

In the company of friends

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/11/06 at 23:10
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from IloiloPhilippines

For the majority of my research career, I was a one-woman show. Except for the services of a research assistant to arrange my travels, make the field preparations and sort the paperwork, I do all of the thinking, from conceptualizing the proposal, implementing the project (including facilitating the focus groups and conducting the interviews) to the final write up. In this solitude, the only intellectual conversation transpires inside my head — between the data and the literature to which I am hoping to contribute. I have had previous experiences of “research collaboration” but it was rather a short-hand for “I do it my own way; you do yours,” with the tying up of findings falling into my lap. The collaborative aspect has also proven contentious, with serious disagreements about methodology and fashioning a suitable output.

In the past few weeks, I had a taste of what a nurturing intellectual environment and collaborative research should be. In one project, I am part of a select pool of academic-experts on the Philippine military, the military brass and NGOs working on security issues tapped by  a foreign foundation to conceive and implement a project assessing the latter’s internal security operations. Four half-day long brainstorming sessions (and counting) in which participants had to be flown into Manila resulted in a frank, policy-driven discussion about security sector reforms. This was “the dream three-way conversation” I had in all those years of solitary trudging in remote army camps and communities affected by militarization. The officers in this group are seasoned field commanders with advanced degrees from the US; the NGO and foundation reps are senior staffers with parallel academic and field credentials. After one meeting, I did my homework, scoured the literature and ended up supplying the framework and operational definitions that will anchor the project. I never had to bite my tongue to honestly tell the honchos of military operations that if they were serious about turning over internal security operations to the police, they should cut back on their size. It was also a lesson on humility. As a case study specific scholar, I did not know much about conflicts in other parts of our country, particularly in Mindanao Islands. While I understood the importance of safety in doing research in a conflict area, it was still sobering to hear that one of my teammates was a kidnapping survivor, and  to hear stories about their friends who never made it. All these brought out questions about whether institutions (cookie-cutter contraptions designed by imperial Manila) matter in ungovernable spaces. The military is tired and wants out; the local government is an absentee landlord; NGOs for all their talk are scared to venture in.

I had a different kind of intellectual buzz from another project with a more sedate topic and membership: water governance with high-brow academics from various University of the Philippines units. We are a motley crew of resource and agricultural economists, psychologist, anthropologists, community development specialist, gender expert and political scientist (me)– published, with a hefty record of externally funded projects under our belt and scientific designations. From a largely email-based project conceptualization process, we had an intensive 2-day inception meeting at bucolic UP Los Banos in Laguna. In between delicious local Tagalog cuisine, Vietnamese coffee and bread from a campus-based French-inspired bakery, I had the most inspiring discussions from colleagues who never have an iota of “I am the greatest” syndrome. We hammered out fundamentals of the conceptual framework, agreed on definitions (resource conflict I found, the economists understood differently!), and began work on the instruments. Water policy being NOT my organic research issue area, I was the most novice of the lot. But I am as excited about this ambitious endeavor– policy, socio-economic and community interventions, all to be done in 5 years in 10 provinces, 3 major watersheds and 7 replicates. It is the traveling group of accomplished sisterhood (we have some men in the team) very similar to the collaborative API project I did in Batanes in 2010, but minus the ego. In October, we do the scoping in Iloilo, Benguet and Laguna– mountain and riverside hiking which I look forward to.

Interdisciplinary, collaborative, policy-focused– these are becoming “lived” concepts as I evolve in my line of research work. Scholarship (and publication in ISI outlets) is the life blood of academics, but more importantly scholarship that is informed by conversation with those who make policies and is geared towards making a difference in communities is the current template. I am expanding my circle of friends among practitioners and men-in uniform, exploring more of Muslim communities in my country and inching closer to my dream of scholarship that matters.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Graduate School Pep Talk from the Chair

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/10/02 at 03:03

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

In my 20 months as Division chair, I have seen the departure of several male junior colleagues for graduate school in Manila and abroad. It may sound like no big deal, but to any young man few years out of college or who hasn’t lived abroad previously, starting graduate school far from one’s comfort zone is daunting. Like any mother hen, I did the usual “let’s have a serious talk about your academic career” and “what the University expects from you” routine with each one of them. A walk through choices of graduate school and programs, housing, fellowship applications, return service obligations, University clearance — this process takes a lot of time before they can finally board the plane and begin the next 2-4 years away from the demands of teaching.

I also take time to celebrate this important transition from a teacher to a student. Like I had been toasted and feted with gifts of winter clothes, shawls and Philippine native accessories when I left for the US in 1996, I want my soon-to-depart colleagues to feel that I am as proud and hopeful of their success. The scarf, hat and gloves essential for cold weather upon landing; a set of flannel sheets; a chapter or the entire Lonely Planet to inspire travel; some coins or singles for when they get hungry in between airport transfers. Along with these, I drum up the following tidbits of wisdom and advice, which I hope they will take to heart:

1. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Getting the degree is the end and be all of this journey. There are plenty of distractions in the form of additional courses, internships and “rackets” (moonlighting) that may provide ready cash or added skill. But at the end of the day, the faster you can finish the degree the better, so you can go back to and really start your career.

2. Your dissertation is not your magnum opus.

Statistically, fewer than half of students who start Ph.D. programs graduate, and fewer still complete their dissertation after gaining an ABD status. This is a valuable piece of advice given to me by Professor Chris Bosso at Northeastern, which I repeat like a mantra to my young colleagues. Toil on and get it done.

3. Socialize and build friendships.

A scholarly life is not spent in solitude at the library. Make friends, go out for drinks or coffee, finagle an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner or Labor Day weekend barbecue, have your meals with somebody, go on a road trip and to school-sponsored activities. Aside from a diploma, earn memories of this important phase because this is the only “end stage student experience” (if in a Ph.D. program) you’re ever going to get.

4. If program has optional foreign language courses, take them.

While English remains uncontested as scholarly language, speaking another language helps in strengthening one’s specialist training. Spanish, Bahasa, Japanese or Chinese– these are handy for any specialist building a career in the region.

5. Your written English and your undergraduate/graduate training is not as good as you think.

It is both humbling and a liberating experience to have somebody critique your work for what it is. It pays to take criticism constructively and grow from it. This may require some serious brain re-wiring, but you’ll appreciate it down the road when you write your 200-page dissertation or tome.

6. Immerse yourself in the culture of the place. Don’t be the snob foreigner or the homesick nationalist

It’s normal to long for the fish sinigang using batuan (sour soup) but the clam chowder is equally interesting to the palate. Join a parade, watch the fireworks, attend a folk concert, visit the local museum, try the food at the local hangout. Every locality, no matter its demographics is a place of interest. You will be happier and more well-adjusted if you learn to appreciate what your host community has to offer.

7. Save money, but don’t give up the opportunity to travel.

Being in graduate school is synonymous with poverty. There are plenty of innovative ways to stretch your budget without necessarily living on a perpetual diet of canned goods and cheap fast food. If you are abroad, treat it as likely the only chance you’ll ever have (given the difficulties of applying for a visa). Ponder about which places/cities you want to see; plot how to get there the cheapest way during school holidays; team up with friends for road trips together. Travel enriches.

With misty eyes, I send them off. But not with a last minute reminder to send progress reports and copies of grades. And a postcard to adorn the Division bulletin board.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Forays into a Temporary Administrative Position: Being OIC

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/09/03 at 00:03

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo in the Philippines.

As a faculty administrator with a travel schedule that gets me away from my station, I rely on a small group of dependable colleagues (who need to be tenured faculty) to act as officer-in-charge (OIC). I literally live much of my official life vicariously through a parade of OICs who have to make routine and (less often) controversial decisions in my name. At the opposite end, I haven’t had much experience being a temporary administrator. I recall only two times in recent past: one for a week supposedly as a “dry run” for my eventual assumption as Division chair the week after (but curiously, I served only a few days of this appointment); second as a 2-day OIC director for the Oil Spill program. Both of which were short, and frankly, unremarkable. I just had to deal with travel orders, payment vouchers and other bureaucratic things which require the boss’s signature or else somebody won’t get paid. In general, the expectations are low for an OIC: you show up, you sign papers, move things along, anything major you leave behind for the real man/woman to take care of.OICs fulfill the one basic requirement of a traditional society that puts premium on face-to-face engagements: being physically present. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a University manual or guideline regarding temporary positions and responsibilities.

The relatively “low” expectation of performance in OIC-ships does not apply to the Director of Student Affairs post. As the office responsible for the concerns of UPV’s 2500+ students (dormitories, students organizations, student-related activities, etc.), it is NOT a job for the weary and faint-hearted. As in many occasions, students get into scrapes, and if they do, the Student Affairs director (or his substitute) is expected to trouble shoot. I know enough of this trend from conversations with previous directors to not consider applying for the post: staying up in the city jail to process and eventually bail out a student who tried to hold up a taxi; camping late at a hospital to attend to an ill student (en loco parentis you are); mediating between two warring fraternities; appeasing guests at a major event for the rather untimely display of student male genitals during the famous Oblation run…the list goes on.

But reciprocal demands of friendship led me to accept a week-long stint as temporary student affairs director, during which I cut my first mettle. Two weeks prior, a fatal tricycle accident led to one student’s death, 2 seriously injured and scores of students traumatized for having witnessed the event. Despite prodigious debriefing sessions conducted by Psychology faculty members, there was gloom and a sense of ill foreboding on even the much-awaited student event of the year, the Hinugyaw (a themed fashion competition between academic groups). During the same week, the city campus dorm also had their Open House. Any other time, I would have skipped these events (in the past I use this week off to do field data gathering). Societal niceties require that I be present in both, even driving 80km back-and-forth the two campuses in inclement weather. In between, news came to me (via an SMS from the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) that one student was hospitalized for a “nervous breakdown.” That prompted a series of calls to the student’s friend at the hospital and a teary conversation with the mother. While sitting through 3 hours of deafening student cheers and pouring rain over GI sheets at the Hinugyaw, I had to track down by SMS the roommate of said hospitalized student and co-organization members to go talk to the distraught mother.

Lessons learned: (1) An administrator requires a distinct skill set from an academic. I just do not have the emotional wherewithal for these kind of things; (2) It is tougher dealing with students than adult faculty members with whom I can be frank and persuasive. I did not realize until being an OIC director how little I know of what students do outside of the classroom – the sheer range of extra curricular activities they are involved in. (3) being director of student affairs is the toughest job in my university – on call 24 hours for the largest number of clients.

They were lessons worth learning.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

From the Administrator’s Nook

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/07/28 at 00:00

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo in the Philippines

An announcement was made few days ago that my University has increased its allocation for the Doctoral Studies Fund. Said Fund provides full support to faculty members getting into Ph.D. programs in the Philippines and abroad. No surprise that the announcement was met with lukewarm response by my younger colleagues. At the recent review of our 5-year faculty development plan, those who were supposed to go have all decided not to. The usual reasons were cited: concern over leaving behind young children to go to school in Manila or abroad, on-going research projects or consultancies which they can’t afford to leave behind. Others, content in their tenured job (tenure only requires a Masters and one peer-reviewed publication) just do not have the drive. There may also be some remnant fear that Ph.D. work is just too daunting, particularly if one is to do it in UP Diliman where some programs are notoriously un-nurturing.

When a Ph.D. only merits a few promotion steps or is, by itself, insufficient to allow one to cross ranks from Assistant to Associate Professor, it’s hard to sell the idea. A Ph.D, is punishing work. I remember an old professor from Northeastern University who told me that unless I was set for a life in the academy, I shouldn’t bother wasting 4 years or more of my life earning a doctorate. Spouse, children, bi-locality, maintaining separate households—there are plenty of deterrents to this career path. While single men/women like my then self had found it easier to go to graduate school, I have known only of few strong-minded Philippine female academics who successfully juggled graduate studies with raising a family. There’s also the money issue. Poverty is synonymous with being a graduate student.

Downsides notwithstanding, my job as Chair is to motivate my young faculty members who have the drive and the interest to go for a Ph.D. 2012 is a bumper crop: we have two who just returned with fresh Ph.D.’ s and two in the two-year pipeline. Two of these four I have proudly mentored; encouraging them to apply for scholarships and to take bold steps in seeking program admissions. Another Political Science colleague I have recommended will start a Ph.D. program at Northern Illinois University this Fall under a Fulbright scholarship. There are five more I am still trying to push, with great difficulty since they just started or are thinking about starting a family.

I believe the best way to “pitch” the idea of a Ph.D. is to share as much of mine and other’s humbling experiences as a graduate student. I organize platforms for this sharing: hosting send offs, welcome backs and simple get-togethers amongst colleagues who are going to or returning to graduate school. I make time for personal chats with colleagues for advice on their career plans. I share opportunities from my network for Ph.D. programs with bursaries; alerting them of dissertation grant opportunities and other means to finish their work. I keep an eye on the bureaucratic stuff at UPV’s end, ready to trouble-shoot should any problem arise with their paperwork. Most importantly, I tell them stories of life-long connections through Ph.D. work; the leisure of being a full-time student and the intellectual space it affords; of having a caffeine-loaded existence and losing your 20/20 vision from too much reading.

Having been there (and done that), there’s no belittling the importance of a support network while one embarks on a journey to earning a Ph.D. I was very fortunate to have that during my time: a Chair who made sure my papers were processed on time; a Chancellor and a University President who understood my career goals and senior colleagues who offered me well wishes (and plenty of going away gifts of sweaters and winter garb).

More than money and opportunity, this support is what counts.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Taking Care of (Administrative) Business

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/06/14 at 03:58

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, in the Philippines.

In academia, the summer break inevitably leads every professor to confront the very tasks he/she has put aside during the busy semesters of teaching: finish that research project; complete that journal article or book; catch up on more readings of favorite authors; brush up that syllabus; weed/add class materials, etc. To many, summer is really not a breather of one’s academic self, but merely a dedicated time to concentrate on things other than teaching. Except for the shorter library and office hours, and the minuscule number of students roaming about campus, summer is business as usual to many of us whose work follows wherever one goes.

My May summer vacation is different only in one regard from my regular semester: I am in the United States rather than my post in Iloilo City, Philippines. Although labeled as “official travel”, in actuality I am running my Division’s affairs as Chairperson from wherever I can get access to the Internet. Since landing, I have written letters of all sorts– requests, endorsements, explanations, justifications, committee appointments, reports– to my bosses bearing electronic signature (which, fortunately for me, the Dean and University officials accept as official). Remotely, I arranged for our Division to conduct a series of training with employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; part of our extension activity. I advertised, received applications and arranged to hire substitutes and lecturers for the first semester, which begins in June 1.  From whatever convenient desk I can open my laptop, I troubleshoot on course offerings and faculty loads- answering distress missives from the College Secretary about needing to open more General Education sections for incoming freshmen, a new recruit who suddenly pulled out because of legal encumbrance from her current University affiliation, and a faculty member who asked to defer going on study leave the last minute. Not even the 12 to 15 hour time difference could absolve me from delivering timely advisories to colleagues who are returning from or about to go on prolonged leaves of absence (for graduate studies or sabbatical). With email, one never really has time off; not even if one is 9,000 miles away.

Summertime is also a period of deadlines for research project proposals or travel grants.  Therefore, if I wish to do something productive in the next calendar year (which begins June 1), I must turn in my applications during the summer. The writing and accomplishing of forms needed at home had to be wisely interspersed with sightseeing and visiting family and friends. Electronic connectedness, while a bane to my existence as Division chair is also a blessing if I were to turn in proposals in time. Another plus is that I am able to supervise a team of field researchers back in the Philippines through Skype. I have never appreciated electronic bank transfers until now; and the power of Google voice which allows me to place relatively cheap international phone calls to the Philippines.

But alas, the writing break which I sought and planned to use to anchor my summer days has long since disappeared from sight. Except for the two full days spent slogging over materials at the Library of Congress last weekend and yesterday getting my bearings at my University of Maryland College Park Library, I have not made progress on the writing bit. The pile of books (marked for relevant chapters) at my UMD office stares at me with alarm, asking, “why haven’t you read me?” Just like a colleague at Johns Hopkins who similarly laments having not done any writing since he took a 4-month sabbatical, I am inevitably torn between doing my job and fulfilling life goals.

Summer is just like any month of the year to an academic and administrator with a full plate. The illusion of summer idylls are only for those without deadlines to meet. Regardless, it is a privilege and a treat I truly relish that I am spending my academic summer in another country where I could get access to materials, get connected with the right people, network, relish cool weather, grab pizza, cheesecake, pulled pork sandwiches and lots of other caloric-laden sinful treats I couldn’t get in the Philippines. It’s my version of happiness.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed


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