"You can date students," the lawyer said. "You just can't date your students."
So concluded another session into my orientation into the world of the modern university, further ushering me one step closer to becoming, according to a radio host I tuned into on Thursday's commute, an official card-carrying, Volvo-driving, latte-sipping, arugula-munching member of the liberal elite.
That's right; after five years of toiling in the science mines, I have now attained the lowest rung of a brand new ladder! I am now a real live college professor. How weird is that?
Before you answer - keep this in mind: my primary (and indeed sole) responsibility is now to shape the minds of America's youth, many of which may one day perform tasks from designing artificial blood for a new generation of killer robots, to surgery - perhaps on you - to remove shrapnel from a killer robot attack. So, yeah. Weird.
Do I feel adequately prepared for this awesome task? No, but I'm totally psyched, anyway. Besides, if grad school taught me two things, it's that:
1. Feeling underprepared is normal (normal? more like necessary).
2. Always keep a change of clothes in the lab.
So, I'm doing what I did when I first taught in grad school - skimming the book, and crossing my fingers. The difference is that now, the entire course is mine - I'm writing the syllabus, I'm writing (and grading) the exams, and I have no higher authority onto which I can shift questions, concerns, or calls from parents.
The orientation, unlike the one I attended for grad school, was only really two days long. The first day, we learned about the university offices, administrative support, and various facts and figures about the school.
There are approximately 22,500 undergraduates here, 3187 of which are new incoming first-years. 99.1% of the overall population are full-time students, and 4.6% are international. The mascot of UNC-Charlotte is "Norm the Niner," as in "fourty-niner." confusingly, this date does not refer to the gold rush of 1849, but to the year 1949, when UNC-Charlotte was absorbed into the UNC system. He's a miner because of Charlotte's history of gold mining, which (doubly confusingly) dates back to 1799, 50 years before the California gold rush.
Also, UNC-Charlotte is on highway 49, which is probably just a coincidence.
At lunch (free AND delicious!), we all divided into tables for a semi-interactive exercise. Each table was given a form with a scenario on it, and we had to discuss it and then share our table's opinion with the room.
Our table got the first (and easiest) scenario, which was about a student calling the course we taught "bullshit" after having received a graded test on which he/she did poorly. Our solution: ask him or her to speak with us after class, and always return tests at the end, not the beginning, of class. The rest were similar, dealing with behavioral problems or mental illness. At the end of lunch, everyone was careful to point out that the student population was wonderful, and not generally enraged or depressed.
A recurring theme during the orientation (and commencement) was parking: parking here, according to everyone, is a nightmare. And really, really expensive. My faculty parking permit cost me three hundred and thirty five dollars, a 558% increase from what I paid before. The traffic and capacity problems come from the course schedule, which shoehorns nearly all the classes on campus into 8 AM to 2 PM, Monday through Thursday. What I found out after I had already paid for my permit was that I could have paid $40 to park at a local movie theater that shuttles faculty to campus. C'est la vie, perhaps next time.
Then we talked about benefits. The highlight of this session was the speaker getting to a section in his PowerPoint slides titled "Leave and Vacation Time." He asked if anyone in the room was hired on a twelve-moth contract, and no hands went up. He said, "oh, well, then, that's easy. None of you get vacation or leave time, so we'll just skip over this." Shortly he realized what he had said, and let us know that, as nine-month faculty, we pretty much had the same amount of time off as the students, so it all evened out.
And will it all even out? Will your dear author survive his encounter with the undergraduates of Charlotte? Will he ever find a parking space? For these answers and more, stay tuned!