Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nothing Revives a Dead Blog Like a Little Righteous Anger

Today on the local NPR station, I was listening to Dr. Gordan Gee, the president of The Ohio State University discuss whatever topics people called in about. As I first heard him, I thought to myself, "Gee, I have some things I'd like to bring to your attention, but too bad I'm wimpy, and would never call in." Plus I was driving back from exercising with Aleatha by walking, which was wonderful to get out of the house, and also to go outside and walk in a metro park.

Anyway, but as I drove home, closer to my home phone, the more determined I became, and after pulling in the driveway, actually went inside and retrieved my phone, dialed the number....and ended up in the inbox of some lady from the financial aid office. I went outside, listened again for the number, it looked right, dialed it - and hit the Financial aid office again.

So I had to sit and listen, and not let my voice be heard, since they never repeated the number for the rest of the show. You have to understand, I do not like calling people, and in fact this could be one of my defining characteristics - doing acrobatics to avoid phone calls (yes, even in this last week, I have asked Avram, "What do I have to do to get you to make this phone call (to our landlords, to report frozen pipes), I will do anything.") And yet I voluntarily called, and they had the gall to somehow make me call the wrong place! Well, for the sake of full disclosure, I could have heard the number wrong.

In search of a balm on my troubled soul, I had to come to what soapbox I have, however dusty and neglected (not for lack of love, mind you, more like the lack of free and open time without children climbing me, and mental peace and calmness of mind and space wherewith to write in).

Let's pretend this is the phone call, "Hi, I'm Thora, and my husband is a Ph.d. student at OSU, in the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. He came here to a brand new Ph.d. program, and we have nothing but positive things to say of the quality of teaching, and the individual attention and care given by not only his adviser, but all the professors in his field. However, since coming here, the financial aspect has not been as rosy. His department has struggled to find money to support this new program, and although the professors and faculty have done their utmost to stretch the little funding there is to cover all the students, there has not really been enough, particularly when you take into account that a new program continues to grow year by year.

My husband has not just depended on school funding, although he received a school fellowship, which contains in the fellowship instructions to the department to give the student full funding for five years (which he has not received) - he currently holds a fellowship from the affiliated Melton Center for Jewish studies, which we are grateful for. But as he approaches working on his prelims, and then dissertating, there is no money, no classes to teach, no fellowships. I know that his department was hit hard by the recession, but I feel that the university did not fully do the foundational work of preparing a new Ph.d. program, which needs to include financial preparation. There is no financial aid for any of his cohort past their coursework, and even during their years of coursework there have been more than one financial blip for all his cohort.

This is both a comment, but also a question - what can and will the University do to repair this lack of attention to a new program, that sometimes feels as if it's floundering as much as growing? Why did you make a new Ph.d. without adequate preparation before hand?

(The next part would not have been in my NPR commentary, but since I'm here in an expanded format, I cannot resist more loquacity) In a lesser amount, the Ph.d.'s academic direction was not always laid out beforehand either - there are different ideas and expectations for what the completed coursework should entail, and what subject matters should be covered by the Preliminary Examinations. As well, in a larger department, the new professors highered have not reflected the interests of the new Ph.d. formed, meaning the program is not being supported academically in the direction that the department is heading, either.

And, finally, there are certain requirements for highering in my husband's field, and one of the basic ones for NELC, is usually having had experience teaching Biblical Hebrew. My husband has taught a class in another subject, but there are no undergraduate classes in biblical Hebrew, and therefore no graduate students to teach them. And yet this is a basic requirement for getting a job - how is my husband supposed to get a job, when he can't teach Hebrew - when there is no option for it? (This is also extra I would not have mentioned, but since we're on a rant here...).

And then Dr. Gee would have said something along the lines of, "A lot of work goes into the preparations of new programs, and it is not the university's sole responsibility to provide funding [except he received a scholarship where it WAS the University's job, but whatever] blah blah blah."

But since this is my blog, this is his response, "I've never given a two second thought to your husband's Ph.d. field or program, and really, I know less than you do about it. And we were hit hard by the recession, and although the University has just been given 100 million [what part of the NPR show was discussing with him], not a single penny will go to your husband or to his Ph.d. program, which seemed to have been created by a random passing thought, and been given all the love and attention of a baby jelly fish in the grand sea of academia as far as funding goes. But I'm glad you like the professors and advisers, because they really are great."

But at least Dr. Gee would have, for a moment, been aware of the plight of the NELC graduate student, and maybe, just maybe this would have been a small pebble that starts the avalanche of change. As it is, it only started an avalanche of digital words, and perhaps if I want to be really extreme, I can link to it on facebook, and start a digital movement with no form or substance. I just want some funding options - not even secured funding, but even just something to apply for! Is this too much to ask?


  1. I hate to make phone calls, too. When I was younger and had to make them for my job, I would sometimes pretend that I was my twin sister. For some reason, that helped. Clearly, I'm warped. As for your rant, I'm glad you got that off your chest. What a pickle you're in! It's not fair and it's not right. Not much about this economy is.

  2. Thora, the phone didn't work. But your post left me sad and frustrated. Can you write this up and mail it to the university president? The local newspaper? The student newspaper? The dean of your college and the department chair? All those places? Do you have a graduate student union? This needs to be heard by people who can help fight.

  3. Way to stand up. that would be so frustrating. on a different topic I am sooo glad you are not dead. I was getting worried. Good to have you back.

  4. Yay! You're back! I should do that--get back to blogging, that is. Although, I must say it was a little releiving to visit your blog after a month or so of neglect on my part and not have so many posts to read that I thought I would never catch up. I love to hear your voice speaking in my mind as I read your blog.

    And pooh-pooh on that nasty president who gave you such an unsatisfactory answer in your mind. And also because you didn't even get to actually speak to him. I've never called a radio show, either, though I have almost felt ired enough to a few times. Way to get your dander up!

    And also thanks for posting so conveniently where you are right now, because that is secretly the real reason I came to your blog today--to remind myself where you are.