Blogs > Cliopatria > S.N.A.F.U.B.A.R.

May 17, 2004 9:26 am


I decided to invent a word: SNAFUBAR. It's a concatenation of the abbreviations SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fouled Up) and FUBAR (Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition), both of military origin. SNAFUBAR is to be used when the situation is incomprehensibly bad for structural reasons that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future; systemic crisis, in other words. Yes, other people have thought of it, too, though I couldn't find anyone who defined it, so I'm claiming it. No, this isn't a comment on Iraq, though I wouldn't be surprised to see it popping up in the near future. Along with"Pyrrhic victory," a decidedly underused concept these days.

What I'm referring to is my own institution of higher learning, and the failure of my department to hire a dedicated world historian. The search didn't fail: we identified and interviewed some excellent candidates, and brought one out for a quite successful campus visit. We told the Dean and EEO officer of our choice, and passed on the application to the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs (VCAA), and that's where the story gets ... unpleasant.

Though the search was technically suspended (all non-replacement positions on hold for undisclosed financial reasons), we had assurances that this position was at the very top of the list for whatever funds became available. Our department chair did her usual vigorous advocacy, lobbying [hounding, but not stalking] our Division Chair, Dean and VCAA at every opportunity, not omitting the Vice-Chancellor for Administrative Affairs (also VCAA, which is terribly confusing; I'll call him the VCAdmin) who may or may not have been the person in control of the budget. Our candidate was waiting eagerly for our letter of offer, putting off her other offer, a one-year visiting position at a local institution.

We waited, and waited. But the letter still wasn't going out. Finally, we heard that the VCAdmin had released money to the VCAA for new hires. But the VCAA was claiming that the money went to cover replacement hires, not to reopen suspended new hires. The deadline for our candidate to reply to her one-year position offer came, and we still didn't know when or whether we'd be able to make an offer, so she took the short-term position. We were pretty unhappy, but our chair was determined to not lose the position: we contacted another person from our short-list and began to make arrangements for a campus visit.

The EEO was informed of the change of plans, and demanded an explanation. The VCAA then issued a decree that suspended searches really were suspended and no visits or interviews should be scheduled, whereas before we were proceeding under the understanding that the suspended searches' status would be resolved in time to make offers or close them down appropriately. At that point our chair decided, with our agreement, that we could not proceed, withdrew the second campus visit invitation and closed the search.

We were not the only department affected: there were close to a dozen suspended searches. The department chairs were incensed, and wrote a collective letter demanding reform in the hiring process. A meeting with the Chancellor reportedly resulted in a demand for a full accounting from the VCAA. SNAFUBAR: systemic crisis. And it's not going to get any better until we stop trying to run searches without committed funds: lots of people got caught in this and a lot of useless cv's and recletters were generated by people who need jobs and mailed and read by a lot of people with other things to do.

Our department is not taking this quietly. The position was given to us in exchange for teaching larger sections of World Civ surveys, to meet the increasing demand for intro-level seats at our growing university (enrollment's reportedly up another 3% for Fall). It's also a good idea, for reasons I explained before, but that wasn't what got us the position. If the university doesn't want to follow through on our good-faith efforts, we're not going to make it any easier for them, either. In addition to canceling the three sections to be taught by the new hire, we've dropped the enrollment cap on our World Civ surveys from 50 [not the largest classes offered here, but the largest concentration of large classes] to 30 [pretty much the normal cap for everyone else, except for 20-seat writing intensives].

Before anyone whines about students not getting into classes they need, let me just say that they were warned. We all agree that we can teach better classes at that size; It's time to focus on what we do well, and the students who really want to do it, instead of picking up after administrators' poor planning. If the administration is concerned about the availability of seats in classes, they can hire some new faculty: we're not taking on that much of the load again until we start seeing results. Nothing in our contract requires us to teach large classes, as far as I know. So far, the administration doesn't seem to have noticed the change, but our World Civ sections are 3/4ths full and first year students haven't started signing up yet. We think the administration will notice sometime over the summer and come begging us to open up sections or raise seating caps. Haven't decided what we'll do at that point, though, as one of my other colleagues says,"paid up front doesn't work": doing favors to build up"goodwill" for something down the line just doesn't work in this system.

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