Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Does Lawrence Summers Keep Getting Work?

Here's a rather somber news item from Inside Higher Ed on recent trends in the political tendencies of the US professoriat.

The results of the study find a professoriate that may be less liberal than is widely assumed ... The authors of the study also found evidence of a significant decline by age group in faculty radicalism, with younger faculty members less likely than their older counterparts to identify as radical or activist.
The article includes this sobering chart:

Percentage of Faculty Members, by Age, Identifying as Left Radicals or Activists


Left Radicals

Left Activists










The authors of the study also note that:
Marxist identity was also low, but with less identifiable shift by age group (the range was 3.9 to 4.7 percent) and with the strongest disciplinary support in the social sciences (17.6 percent) and humanities (5.0 percent), with negligible support elsewhere.
The right's attack on academia has paid off it seems with universities shying away from the hiring and tenuring of overtly leftist faculty members. It appears that the LumpenProf will only get lonelier as the years pass. However, just to add a little extra dose of crap into this mix, the article quotes at length from Lawrence Summers who participated in the discussion at the presentation of these findings. Summers, the former President of Harvard and former Chief Economist for the World Bank commented:
... the extent of the imbalance and some informal research he has conducted “give me pause” and has him wondering about the possibility of bias against right-leaning thinkers. He examined the scholars being asked to give Tanner Lectures (a top lecture series at leading universities) and the political leanings of economists and political figures among honorary degree recipients at a top university (which he declined to name). Liberals receive more such honors by far, he said.

It’s not that there are no conservative professors, he said, but their share is so small as to raise questions that deserve more attention. Summers wondered if the situation isn’t like it was in the early days of baseball’s racial integration, when people trying to say equality had arrived could point to the relatively equal performance of black and white stars. “But it appeared that there were not any African-American .250 hitters,” Summers said. “The only [black] players who played were stars.”

I found this statement to be deeply shocking although, considering the source, I should have expected something of this sort. Summers is famous for making shockingly heinous pronouncements. During his stint at the World Bank, Summers authored a now infamous memo arguing that the World Bank should be "encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]." While President of Harvard University, Summers called into question the scholarly chops and academic integrity of Cornel West (thus strengthening Princeton's Center for African-American Studies). This was followed by his remarks on the dearth of women faculty in the sciences as being due to the innate differences in intelligence between women and men. It's not every academic that manages to get his very own "Controversies" section in his Wikipedia article.

Now we learn from Summers that right wing faculty are just like African-American baseball players during the height of the civil rights movement. wtf?! Why does this man keep getting work?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Code Monkey

Some days the LumpenProf strangely identifies with the Code Monkey...

Code Monkey get up get coffee
Code Monkey go to job
Code Monkey have boring meeting
With boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey very diligent
But his output stink
His code not functional or elegant
What do Code Monkey think?
Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write god damned login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy, just proud

Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew
Code Monkey very simple man
With big warm fuzzy secret heart:
Code Monkey like you ...

Code Monkey have every reason
To get out this place
Code Monkey just keep on working
See your soft pretty face
Much rather wake up, eat a coffee cake
Take bath, take nap
This job fulfilling in creative way
Such a load of crap ...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day

This year, December 8 will be Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. For some reason, I like this a lot:

You must spend the entire day in costume and character. The only rule is that you cannot actually tell anyone that you are a time traveler. Other than that, anything's game.

There are three possible options:

1) Utopian/cliché Future - "If the Future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly the reenactors would dress." Think Star Trek: TNG or the Time Travelers from Hob. Ever see how the society in Futurama sees the 20th century? Run with it. Your job is to dress with moderately anachronistic clothing and speak in slang from varying decades. Here are some good starters:

- Greet people by referring to things that don't yet exist or haven't existed for a long time. Example: "Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?" "What spectrum will today's broadcast be in?" and "Your king must be a kindly soul!"

- Show extreme ignorance in operating regular technology. Pay phones should be a complete mystery (try placing the receiver in odd places). Chuckle knowingly at cell phones.

2) Dystopian Future - This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Freejack. The important thing to remember is dress like a crazy person with armor. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travelers are very startled that they've gone back in time. Some starters:

- If you go the "prisoner who's escaped the future" try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you've never seen it before.

- Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "Then there's still time!" and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

- Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say "In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that." Then slip away.

2) The Past - This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture's set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:

- Airplanes are terrifying. Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.

- Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.

- Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Encouraging News

Here is some encouraging news on rethinking the tenure process from Inside Higher Ed and Western Carolina University:

Western Carolina University — after several years of discussions — has just announced a move in the other direction. The university has adopted Boyer’s definitions for scholarship to replace traditional measures of research. The shift was adopted unanimously by the Faculty Senate, endorsed by the administration and just cleared its final hurdle with approval from the University of North Carolina system. Broader definitions of scholarship will be used in hiring decisions, merit reviews, and tenure consideration.

Boyer, who died in 1995, saw the traditional definition of scholarship — new knowledge through laboratory breakthroughs, journal articles or new books — as too narrow. Scholarship, Boyer argued, also encompassed the application of knowledge, the engagement of scholars with the broader world, and the way scholars teach.

All of those models will now be available to Western Carolina faculty members to have their contributions evaluated. However, to do so, the professors and their departments will need to create an outside peer review panel to evaluate the work, so that scholarship does not become simply an extension of service, and to ensure that rigor is applied to evaluations.

Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (through which Boyer did much of his work), said Western Carolina’s shift was significant. While colleges have rushed to put Boyer’s ideas into their mission statements, and many individual departments have used the ideas in tenure reviews, putting this philosophy in specific institutional tenure and promotion procedures is rare, he said. “It’s very encouraging to see this beginning to really break through,” he said. What’s been missing is “systematic implementation” of the sort Western Carolina is now enacting, he said.

What could really have an impact, Shulman said, is if a few years from now, Western Carolina can point to a cohort of newly tenured professors who won their promotions using the Boyer model.

John Bardo, chancellor at Western Carolina, said that a good example of the value of this approach comes from a recent tenure candidate who needed a special exemption from the old, more traditional tenure guidelines. The faculty member was in the College of Education and focused much of his work on developing online tools that teachers could use in classrooms. He focused on developing the tools, and fine-tuning them, not on writing reports about them that could be published in journals.

“So when he came up for tenure, he didn’t have normal publications to submit,” Bardo said. Under a trial of the system that has now been codified, the department assembled a peer review team of experts in the field, which came back with a report that the professors’ online tools “were among the best around,” Bardo said.

The professor won tenure, and Bardo said it was important to him and others to codify the kind of system used so that other professors would be encouraged to make similar career choices. Bardo said that codification was also important so that departments could make initial hiring decisions based on the broader definition of scholarship.

Asked why he preferred to see his university use this approach, as opposed to the path being taken by many similar institutions of upping research expectations, Bardo quoted a union slogan used when organizing workers at elite universities: “You can’t eat prestige.”

Monday, October 01, 2007

Where all the children are above average...

There's a very nice article over at Inside Higher Ed on the problems of upping the GPA requirements for admission to certain majors beyond the GPA requirements for graduation:

Progression requirements produce what a colleague calls “academic boat people,” because these students drift from major to major even though they meet, and often exceed, the university’s general 2.0 GPA standard for continued enrollment. What are we to do with these students? What are we to tell parents when they complain that their child has a 2.4 GPA and yet cannot gain admittance into any of three preferred majors? Who should teach these students, and help them graduate? At my university such students become “undeclared majors,” and are transferred automatically into the College of Arts and Sciences. Do deans of the other colleges send flowers and chocolates in thanks of such generosity?

More important, who are these students? Last November I spied one of them late one evening at the local Sam’s Club. She was a decent writer in my upper-division course, but consistently earned C grades, and contributed very little to class discussions. She was at work, of course, and her lapel button held a photograph of her infant daughter. She greeted me kindly, and noted that she worked full time, was a new mother, and that soon she would finish the research paper for my course. At once my assumptions about her ability changed; suddenly her course grade reflected the complexity of life, and was no longer a simple metric of future success. Much the same happened months later when I encountered another student in a restaurant. He too earned a C from me, and as we conversed he noted that he worked more than 40 hours a week while enrolled in my course. He attended my 8 o’clock class, went straight to work, and then returned to campus for a class at night. As a progression requirement pusher I failed to incorporate the reality of these students into our department’s standards.

To be sure there are many students who do not work late, do not face double days with families, and who simply do not apply themselves in courses. This does not justify progression requirements, even though the goal of excluding just such students motivated my own jump into rule making. And herein lies the problem: progression requirements are exclusionary. They keep people from pursuing their particular academic goals. They prevent students from specializing in a field of particular interest to them. Yes, budget constraints mean that universities sometimes cannot meet the demand for programs. But often such issues are absent, and yet progression requirements remain. Take it from a former progression requirement pusher: Such exclusion, as well meaning as it may be, prevents universities from fulfilling the call to educate our citizens. As such they should be eliminated when possible, reduced when feasible, and abandoned as a means of determining in advance who will and will not be successful in life.

This an area of academic discrimination that is increasingly important to resist. Often its source lies in a self-aggrandizing desire to see our own fields has the hardest, best, or most demanding coupled with a, perhaps understandable but still unjustifiable, desire to teach only the best and brightest students with the most time to devote to our subjects. Even where admission to programs needs to be restricted simply because there are not enough classes to meet the student demand, a lottery might be a much better way to apportion those scare seats rather than setting ever higher GPA requirements.

To Market to Market...

I'm declaring a moratorium for awhile on whiny posts like the one below. This blog is my primary outlet for such whines and rants, but even I get tired of them sometimes. And the whine accomplished its therapeutic goal – I'm feeling much happier. So... Onward!

I've been reading some of the posts scattered around lately on the fear and angst generated by the impending job search season. Lumpenprof is basking in his first year in more than a decade of not being either on the market, or up for tenure or contract renewal. That's a long time. So I feel perfectly justified in wanting to cleanse my mind of all things job search related. And then it happens. I get the word that I'm to serve on search committee this year. "Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in. "

However, this will be the first time I've had the opportunity to participate in a job search from this side. I'm a hardened veteran from the other side. And even though I would like a year off from job search related tasks, I find I'm getting interested at the prospect of being involved in a search committee even though I know it's likely to be a stressful process.

This search will be something new for everyone involved. Since it won't be a search for a faculty member in my recently defunct department, we are being charged with finding a faculty member for someone else's department – although we don't really know which department that will be. The flipside is that most of the folks on the search committee won't be searching for a colleague to work with themselves, but to work with me. Plus the committee is going to be super-sized to include all the various stake holders involved. Whee! I get a little rush of vertigo just thinking about it. This is going to be fun...

Sadly, I won't be able to blog much about the process for good reasons of confidentiality. I want this search to go well. And since it's the first of its kind, I also want us to try to set some good precedents for future searches. Wish us luck!