Do not hazard / cross materials

all work and no play

Readers coming to this site may wonder why someone employed at a university — historically a holy grail of internet access — would have set up a website somewhere other than on their uni’s server. And not just this site; I have used wordpress.com for my course websites for my students for some years now, and before that, I used blogger.com. Before that, I used Movable Type hosted on the University server back when it was open source. Which ended in tears. More on that later.

So what was the final straw, the wobbly Jenga block, the yadda yadda that has driven me to write a blog post several years after having decided I was done with all that? This. This little banner which suddenly appeared two days ago at the top of every email sent to our uni accounts from outside:

To our additional annoyance, it was soon discovered that the banners stay attached if one includes the initial message in the response. There is grumbling, in offices and hallways — despite the end-of-term timing — and on the closed Facebook group where many of us go to keep in touch. Some signalled their intent to complain to the uni IT services, and so doing my part, I sent off the following missive:

I am writing to voice my dislike of the banners. I have read the material posted [on the uni website] and do not find it convincing. I feel the banners are alarmist and patronizing. Further, I doubt they will do any good as people will become used to seeing them, and ignore them. I suspect in the end, their only effect will be to create bad feeling within the institution. For myself, every time that I have seen the banner so far it has reminded me of all the decisions that I feel that ITS imposes on us, either without, or sometimes in spite of, consultation. The problem is that we as faculty cannot work without IT services — they are intimately connected with what we do — and most of us have opinions, preferences, and feel a degree of ownership ourselves. In that sense, ITS is unlike any other grouping within the university. And yet it can seem one of the least consultative.

I sincerely hope that ITS will reconsider the policy of making these banners mandatory. Or perhaps they can be moved to the bottom of the message, as I understand is a possibility. Failing that, perhaps they could look less like police tape at a crime scene. Perhaps if they were white and not hazmat yellow and did not begin with “CAUTION” in all caps, it would feel less like someone was surveilling our mail.

While drafting, instead of closing, I began a new paragraph: “Speaking personally …” Then I thought better of it. Not the time or place.

This may not be, either, but it’s nobody’s paid work to read this so if you’re still here, things are about to get petty.

And all of a sudden, I have grown too tired to write about it. In brief, then: I once had a blog, a lovely, lovely blog, which lived on my uni’s server back in the early wild west days when individuals and departments designed and maintained their own wonderful, ugly webpages. I spent hours and hours designing sites for English and Gender Studies, and blogging. scribblingwoman was in large part a book blog and so to some extent professional; to the extent that it was “creative” it was also professional, in a discipline where poets and writers of fiction claim professional credit. Not that I ever managed to sell that argument to my administration. An argument which became moot when the University web site was reorganized, the pages standardized, the branding synchronized, and my stuff — was not only no longer linked, but no longer there.

I want to be crystal-clear here that I have nothing but warm respect for the ITS staff and none of this post is directed at them. They are not the ones making the sweeping decisions, though all too often, I am sure, they are the ones who have to listen to complaints.

The same story has played out in lesser ways with the periodic switching of software packages for, one suspects, transitory economic reasons. I once made the mistake of uploading several years worth of course materials onto the favoured classroom management platform, only to have that platform subsequently replaced by one not appreciably different but incompatible; there has been at least one other changeover since, possibly two, but I’m not sure as I have opted out.

The turning point, for many of us, was our strike. We learnt quickly and unceremoniously just how little the university is a community when we were denied access to our accounts, and even after our access was restored it took a long time for some colleagues to go back to using their uni email. A few have not to this day. I hate the idea of even the tenured and tenure-track academic as some sort of intellectual entrepreneur or contracter, an idea put forward by a colleague for whose ideas I have the upmost respect in practically every other instance. But the neoliberal university catches us flat-footed all too often; when we can exercise some control, we ought to do so. Hence, this off-site site. And WordPress. And iCloud instead of the University server for storage.

And if they don’t get rid of those hazmat banners, I may end up reserving my uni email address for mailing lists. Which would be infuriating. But so is cringing every time I open an email.