It’s that time of the semester. Time for midterm chicken. The rules are simple. The administration sets an impossible deadline for midterm grades. Teachers then hunker down and wait, discussing among themselves whether this deadline will be moved and speculate about what the new, much more reasonable timeframe will be. And we wait to see who stands down.
The administration threatens: all grades are due Saturday (less than 24 hours after the last midterm exam). The electronic grading system will be closed, so you’d better hurry.
Many teachers inevitably won’t meet the deadline, at which point the deadline will inevitably be moved because…it always is. I’m not sure what would happen if the system was actually closed and never reopened for all the late teachers. It would probably look a bit like a US government shutdown in miniature.
In this twice-a-semester game of chicken, the administration always looses. But this year they had a new trick up their sleeve.
In addition to the midterm dealine, today is also “Subbotnik” (субботник), which is roughly translated “Saturday Cleanup Day.” An order comes from on high for students and teachers to come on Saturday to clean up the campus and surrounding streets. I’m sure there would be rioting if American students and teachers were told they had to come to school on their day off to clean, but as I drove up to work today I saw dozens of students dutifully sweeping up leaves and picking up trash, under the watchful eye of their “kurators.” A kurator is a cross between an academic advisor and a governess. Each student is assigned one of these surrogate parents, who give advice on how to navigate the twists and turns of university life and provide lessons on patriotism and ethics. Kurators also make sure their sheep come to important university events like Subbotnik.
As I left for the university this morning, I tucked a rag into my shoulder bag along with ungraded midterms because I assumed we would be doing some cleaning. It’s Subbotnik after all. When I arrived, I found teachers seated in front of their computers–no rags, no bleach, no brooms. I realized very quickly that Subbotnik was a thinly-veiled pretense to get teachers to work on Saturday. Now we have no excuse for missing the deadline.
I dutifully wiped down my desk, which took about thirty seconds. I straigtened a few books, which took an additional twenty seconds. And I sat down to do my grades for the next three hours while students and kurators labored outside.
So will the deadline be moved? It always has. We’ll have to wait a few hours to find out if the precedent will continue. The administration will probably flinch and teachers will once again win the game of midterm chicken. But here we are, at work on Saturday–victory never felt so much like defeat.