What I didn’t know then (though later I found out I secretly knew anyway)

And there is a moment
eating bread and butter
on the Mekong River
when I taste the butter.
~ Ellen Bass, “Boat, Vietnam”

You will have to order
a separate filing cabinet for program files.
A filing cabinet does not work like Hermione Granger’s purse.
Sorting files is mostly a joke.
In this well-defined space, the universe is filled with daily chaos
you will come to expect and embrace, if not necessarily love.
At regular intervals you will join in with others
in the general complaints about the perennial scarcity
of resources and the expectation to creatively do more
with less; or about the clumsy/outdated/unbeautiful
webpage templates that do absolutely nothing to represent
the critical and artistic edge, the stunning originality
and vitality of your faculty’s and students’ research interests.
And it will all feel oddly familiar, like call and response in church.
You will develop an extensive email directory tree
with folders sprouting from all its branches.
You will congratulate yourself on achieving some minor success
in this department until the day central
computing services announces that all archived material
prior to a certain date will disappear.
It takes an entire first term (or three years) of service
to decide you will not read work emails on weekends.
You tell yourself you are not an emergency room doctor.
Which for the most part makes for a convincing script.
There is still going to be the occasional temptation to peek.
Which is the moment you know you are doomed.
Mondays will be hell.
They are always hell anyway.
You will learn what it’s like, dealing with hell.
There’s just no way around it but through it.
You also find out you have actually become
passably good at dealing with hell.
Except perhaps for that piece of hell called
faculty course scheduling, when everyone
wants the sweet spot and no one wants to teach
at 8 in the morning or from 7 to 10 at night.
The people on the ninth floor are your friends.
Depending on the time of year, your level of stress,
or the number of your committee assignments,
the people on the ninth floor are not your friends.
The people on the ninth floor are your colleagues.
The people “up the chain” are sometimes referred
to in collective third person.
The people “up the chain” will appear in group emails
and it will perhaps make you feel like you are in a secret club.
There is a handbook.
There is a staff and employee handbook.
There is a student handbook.
(Oh my god is there a student handbook? Did you all forget
to write a student handbook?)
Yes there is a timeline.
There are several timelines, but there is no clock in the lobby
or in the hallways near the elevators which can be counted on
to break down once or twice a month.
There is an orientation.
There are several orientations including this one.
There are helpful orientations and there are
orientations that are meh.
It will become part of your job to help give feedback
so that there are hopefully more of the former than the latter.
There are acronyms. Consensus is a value and not an acronym.
There are acronyms for all our special procedures.
Did you WEAVE yet? Are we getting SACed? Have you
encouraged your students to PFF at least once?
And there are reports. Did someone mention reports?
There are reports submitted after reports.
There are short reports and long reports.
There are annual Peterson’s surveys that will require
deployment of basic arithmetic procedures across a small grid.
There are internal and external program reviews
and the first time you hear the Associate Dean refer to these
exercises as self-studies, you look around to check
if there might be a yoga mat or meditation cushion in the room.
But above all things, you are here for your students.
You know they are so talented and that they do so much.
You would unreservedly sing their praises
except perhaps when they drag their heels completing and submitting forms
or registering for the required 9 credit hours per semester on time,
which generates a memo from the office of the Associate Dean. Or when,
despite advising on prerequisites, they take the dubious road
less traveled by, which gets them in one kind of administrative
conflict or another. They are fine for the most part
except perhaps for that one time they barge into your office
in a meltdown, weeping and screaming, demanding
the assistantship they deserve after coming into the program
despite not having been awarded funding; and you wait patiently
and calm them down, offer a tissue, and print a link through which
possible work opportunities on campus might be explored.
To reiterate: you are here for your students.
And it gives you great joy to announce their triumphs
and successes in Tweet-worthy and Facebookable moments—
Because you know that social networking is now a vital aspect
of program life and administration directly connected
to program marketing and promotion, especially if you do not have
the big budget bucks to buy full page color ads even once a year
in your discipline’s hallmark publications. It is wonderful
to follow the careers of alumni who have gone on to earn
doctoral degrees, published books, won important fellowships
and book prizes, and landed on the New York Times’
bestseller lists. It is wonderful to see that the glow
radiating from Commencement group selfies is not merely
the effect of Instagram filters, but from that real,
old-fashioned pride in one’s accomplishments.

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